“But the real question is, of course, how we break the news to Lee, because he’s sort of used to being the baby of the family,” Hunch says, speeding up when he notices his footsteps breaking pattern.

I tug my jacket closer around me, cursing how fucking windy it is, because the audio pickups aren’t going to get what they might’ve, but at least we’re not in costume right now.

“Isn’t he, like, twelve or some shit, he’ll get over it,” I grouse.

Hunch shoots me an amused look. “He’s fourteen, actually, or he will be by the next time you see him. Are you still planning on coming to the party?”

“The things I do for Sinead,” I mutter.

“Oh, come on, you loved that one,” he goads me, “you were all homesick and lonesome in the big city and she bundled you up in the goodness of her heart.”

“I’m from a big city, Gene,” I remind him.

“Yeah, but,” he laughs, “most people aren’t sad the first birthday they spend in Sally.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I tell him, “every time people call JCity that I think seriously about moving back to Gates.”

Hunch laughs harder. “Only a Golden boy.”

I glare at him. “Only a Golden boy, what, Eugene?”

He claps me on the shoulder. “You’ve just got to go all ‘JCity’ on us, like we’re some sort of fashion brand or something.”

“Bitch, please, ‘us’,” I say, shoving his hand off my shoulder. “You’re from Second City.”

“Ooh,” Hunch says, holding up his hands, “what’s got your boxers in a bunch?”

We both slow down as we pass by a couple tucked into an alleyway. People are a good sign if they’re finding a way to avoid the psycho, or a bad one if they’re so desperate for cash they’ll risk getting carved up over starving, but numbers are up just slightly. Too soon to tell, may be a coincidence.

“Let me guess, someone’s getting the silent treatment,” Hunch teases.

“Oh, fuck me, why does everyone want to know about my sex life today?” I ask him.

“Wow,” Hunch says, with a pointed head tilt, “I said nothing about your sex life. I thought there was maybe a lovers’ spat. I was going to jokingly suggest counseling.”

“And I was going to say ‘when in Reme’ or something, gotcha.” I shake my head.

“Who’s interested in your sex life?” Hunch asks. “It wasn’t Eli, was it, because –”

“Holy shit, you know about that?” I say, pausing for half a beat, and then taking extra long steps, because this adventure is probably timed down to the nanosecond.

Hunch looks at me like I’m an idiot. “He’s not real subtle.”

“Why the fuck would you put him on the same team as me if you knew about it?” I ask.

“If you’ll remember, you were actually the one who joined his team,” Hunch tells me, “which you’ll thank me for ensuring, because you know who the other choice was.”

“If I’d had him as a team lead, I’d definitely have turned down the job,” I mutter.

“I figured,” Hunch says.

“What are we going to do about it?” I ask.

Hunch waves a hand. “It’s just a crush, he’ll get over it. Sooner if he actually has to converse with you.”

I snicker.

“I mean he wasn’t actually asking about your sex life, was he?” Hunch says, “because I will have the harassment talk with him.”

“God, no, kid can’t even look me in the eye,” I say, “he’s going to have a hell of a time if he ever has to relay a message to me. No, it was P&P.”

He stifles a guffaw with his glove. “I doubt they like it that you call them that.”

“I actually think Perry would get a kick out of it.” I shrug. “But I don’t, to their faces.”

“I’ll bet that was an interesting conversation.” He practically looks like he’s whistling.

“They said you were too old to talk to about ‘bro stuff’,” I point out.

He looks affronted. “How the hell am I too old and what the fuck is ‘bro stuff’?”

“Sex and sports, apparently.” I don’t know who makes the rules any better than he does, but I kind of get their point, because it’s a lot funnier from this side.

“You hate sports,” he tells me.

“I don’t hate sports, I just hated how everyone assumed I was going to be all gung-ho over the 49ers when I really don’t give a shit,” I say.

He grins at me. “Like I said.”

“Oh, come on, you wouldn’t care half so much if Sinead weren’t regaling you with details for, what, a quarter of the year? Half?” I shake my head.

“Ha,” he says, “jealous?”

“Of what?” I ask, exasperated.

He marks down the coordinates of someone walking quickly away from us, which may be nothing, except that another pair of people walks nonchalantly across our path moments later, in conversation, but wearing what looks like emergency disguises.

“See, right there, you hate sports,” he tells me.

“Yeah, fine,” I agree, not missing the fact that they glance toward us and away, relaxing when they hear him finish his sentence. “I’d rather talk about sports than sex right now.”

“That bad, huh?” he says. “Do you want advice, or did you get enough of what sells from the marketing department?”

“They paid for breakfast, at least,” I say, because he knows, he’s met them. “Alright, shoot, what’s your advice?”

He frowns, going silent for a minute. I turn my head, slightly, in case he’s seen something else, but he’s just lost in thought. “Fuck, I don’t know, I expected you to say no.”

I shrug. “Well, I don’t know if there’s even a problem to solve, as such, you know. It’s basically come to a head, now, either it resolves itself or everything dissolves.”

“Cheery,” Hunch says, drily.

“It’s not like I want it to end,” I defend myself.

“It doesn’t have to,” he says, “I’m sure there are steps in between. Somewhere on the scale from ‘never see each other again’ to ‘constant sex in public’, there’s a spot just for you.”

“Ugh, god, is that really the other end of the scale?” I ask.

He smirks at me. “Well, I mean, in mixed company you generally go with ‘marriage and babies’, but you know I like to be careful about putting hetero-monogamy front and center.”

I roll my eyes. “I’d think you’d be putting babies front and center everything right now.”

“No, no, got to set a good example for the little one,” Hunch says, very clearly trying not to laugh, “can’t be planning out their whole life before they’re even born.”

“They can’t even understand you for, like, a year or two,” I say.

“If Adam’s anything to go by, they can’t understand you for at least twenty-four years,” he tells me, “especially when the concept you’re trying to explain is ‘government corruption’ or ‘super illegal’.”

We cut through an alley, purposefully ignoring the several people wearing too nice of clothes to actually be homeless (and the couple wearing too few), and trying not to breathe in too much of the acrid smoke.

“What’s he done now?” I ask.

“I don’t think anything too dangerous,” Hunch assures me, “but, you know, he doesn’t have a license to operate his powers indoors, and he gets a little pissy about it.”

I make a face. “Honestly, why he didn’t just get certified years ago, I don’t even know.”

“That’s our Adam,” Hunch says, with a laugh.

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Karate Lessons

I watch Sensei Domino through my office window, leading the kids in a pattern of blocks. I considered going to train with them, but I think it might undermine my authority that I don’t actually know most of this stuff, and it looks weird to just lean against the wall and watch them. He’s been doing this for ages, anyway; he knows his stuff. Even Jailbait is listening to him, and she’s been here for years. There’s no way she doesn’t already know this stuff.

(Gatling’s been here for years, too, but I would not be surprised to find he doesn’t already know this stuff.)

I don’t mime what they’re doing, in case any of them happen to look up at me, but I do consider asking him for private lessons of some sort. I know I probably can’t keep up with the kids, but it would be good to at least get a feel for what they’re learning. Karate can’t actually be all that different from what I did learn, can it? The blocks look familiar enough.

I turn back to my form. I want to get them out on a patrol – an afternoon patrol, I’m not insane – as soon as possible, because if they’re going to do it anyway, I want them to be able to do it safely. And I get the feeling that at least the new kid wants to try it out. Even if they don’t, it’ll show them what it’s like, if they do decide to join us – I’m not trying to convince Jailbait because she’s thoroughly convinced on her own, as far as I can tell – and I would like them to be able to make informed decisions.

Plus it’s on the list of goals I have for them. (Dr. Jerry made me set them out. Not that I have anything against Doc Jerry; he certainly cares about the kids and wants to keep them safe and healthy, the same as the rest of us. And any of Arsenal’s problems I can’t actually blame on him, because the kid’s had a hell of a time, but sometimes it’s like he’s not even trying.)

Anyway: learn how to control their powers, learn when and for what to use their powers, learn how to defend themselves, figure out how they want to help people, learn how our system works.

So the karate lessons are goals one through three, or, at least, clearly goal three, and Sensei Domino assures me that the philosophical bits apply as easily to use of their powers as to use of their fists, and that self-control as a basic idea is necessary to controlling their powers. I wonder if I should have them meditate. I wonder if Sass will teach them how.

Ha, no, they would’ve asked her to train them and she obviously said no.

Still, maybe I can dredge up what I know of the hippy-dippy stuff we had to do in elementary school, in case we got powers (or already had them, not that the school believed me until they ran the full battery, schools, amirite), because clearing my mind and centering myself definitely helped when I would just use them by accident and couldn’t make them go on purpose. Not so much, later, when I started to be able to feel myself using them, but I have no way of knowing whether the kids are at that point yet. And maybe meditating would help some of them, anyway.

“This is dumb,” Gatling calls, vaguely up at me. Or, at least, he’s definitely specifically calling out loudly enough that I can hear, even if he’s not looking at me.

Not that he needed to; I can hear everything going on in the gym from here better than I could if I were actually down there.

“If you’d like to take a break, just say so,” Sensei Domino says – pleasantly.

“I don’t need a fucking break, I need to be doing something not pointless,” Gatling says.

That boy has a problem with authority.

I turn on my mic. “How about twenty laps?”

“What?” Gatling yells, definitely looking at me, now, “how the fuck is that fair, just because I actually want to learn?”

“If you wanted to learn, you would be listening to your teacher,” I tell him, and wave him off.

Grumbling, glaring at me, he starts to run his laps. I catch him muttering one or two things he really shouldn’t be muttering, but that’s a talk for his parents to have with him, not me (and, knowing his parents, that they never will), so I leave it alone. FiendPuncher looks like she’s ready to tear him a new one, but I press my TK gently against her shoulder, and she gets the picture.

“Wow,” she giggles to her classmates, instead, “who tinkled in his cornflakes?”

There’s something about the way she says ‘tinkle’ that sounds even more sarcastic than you’d expect it to.

“What a jerk,” Enigma Machine says, Jailbait shifting uncomfortably while she acknowledges that, their other classmate nodding in agreement.

Caffeine snickers, leaning in to the rest of the group, “watch this.”

Then he runs up next to Gatling for a minute, saying “hey” before speeding up, slowly, just enough that Gatling is panting and struggling to keep up by the time Caffeine hits extranormal speeds, lapping him a few times. Then, to add insult to injury, Caffeine slows back down and jogs next to the grumbling and glaring racist/sexist/homophobe (honestly, he’s muttering basically all the bullshit), telling him to “maybe pace yourself a little.”

I maintain a stoic expression, because I’m not supposed to play favorites.

Caffeine winks at me, and I can see why they think he might have an extrasensory ability of some sort, or, in this case, maybe even something memetic. Personally, I think he just reads people too well, maybe even cheating and watching them in time-shift, because I bet there’s a lot you can tell about people if you watch them in slow motion.

Or maybe it’s blatantly obvious to everyone how much I hate Gatling. It’s blatantly obvious how much he hates me, after all.

Jailbait flips him off when she thinks I’m not looking. I don’t say anything. What am I, their parent? I don’t know why they expect me to say anything about it. I don’t know why she bothers flipping him off at all, anyway; everyone else is too busy laughing over Caffeine’s antics to notice, and Gatling probably has too much sweat in his eyes to see her.

Sensei Domino claps his hands together in the traditional pattern of ‘you are acting like children; do I have to start flicking the lights’, and they turn back towards him, half-heartedly clapping back. Jailbait, Caffeine, and FiendPuncher all stand to attention, Enigma Machine and the other continue jostling each other for a minute before they notice.

Sensei Domino stares them down.

“Sorry,” Psybeam finally says, Enigma Machine nodding vigorously in apology.

I take a minute to shake out my hand before I put pen back to paperwork. I think, if I put in the request now, forensics and patterns can probably map out something safe for the kids to walk by the end of next week.

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Same Old Same Old

“Meeting,” Hunch says, as he walks past my door, just as I’m trying to put down my bag.

I pick it back up again and follow him. We end up, like always, in a different conference room than last time, not that you can actually tell once you get inside. I figure it’s supposed to stop us from getting too used to the one room (because it’s not ours in any real sense), but people are sitting around the table the same way they did last time, with Hunch at the front of the room, the teenagers on either side of him, Flight Crew on the left and White Hats on the right, and me, directly facing him.

People toss me a few waves, and I wave back. Arsenal shoots me a quick grin and ducks his head. Boomerang glares at him, and I figure I should have Hunch give him a talking-to, even though hopefully, it’s some sort of jealousy or personal disagreement. Hopefully.

There’s no food this time (which is fine, my stomach already feels like it’s trying to ooze into my shoes), but there’s coffee, and plenty of it, and I wave at Laces to ‘keep it coming’ when he hands me a cup. He laughs. Bartok offers me a few packets of sugar, and I nod to her in thanks.

“So, our focus is going to be mainly on these three warehouses,” Hunch says, circling his laser pointer around fuzzy places on the map.

“I thought there were more than three?” Arsenal says, then his eyes go wide, and he snaps his mouth shut, hand clasped over it.

Hunch flicks a look over to him, hesitates just long enough to make the point Arsenal already got (his hand still over his mouth), which I think is mostly for Boomerang’s benefit, and points out two more. “We’ve got a lower probability on these, but if you don’t see anything at your primary target, try it out.”

Boomerang snorts, because apparently he didn’t get the message. “How do we even know? Last night you had us looking any which way, where the fuck is this information coming from?”

Hunch gives him the full force glare I remember from fucking up on my first night patrol (and now I climb down instead of jumping, each and every time). Boomerang leans back into his chair and every muscle in his face goes tense at once.

“Sorry,” Boomerang gasps out.

“We know,” Hunch says, sweetly, “because night shift mapped out more incident points, and forensics compared those to known hot spots that have gone cold.”

“Okay,” Boomerang squeaks.

“And if you’re really worried,” Hunch says, patting him very softly on the shoulder, “we did have patterns look through it to give us estimates.”

“I believe you,” Boomerang chirps.

“Good,” Hunch croons, and turns back to the map.

“We don’t want to do a stakeout,” Hunch says. “The fact that they’ve so thoroughly evaded us so far indicates either some perception ability or inside information.”

Bartok cocks her head. “Are we sending out for Null Squad?”

Hunch shakes his head. “They’ve got some sort of kidnapping ring in or around Gates, and they’ve only just mapped out what espers the traffickers have on staff.”

I make a little bit of a face at that, and wonder if I should call my family.

Hunch glances at me. “Under ten, with powers; they’re probably safe.”

Since my youngest cousin just turned eleven, he’s probably right, but I still think I should call – I’m certainly not going to interrupt a meeting for it, though. I feel Sass’s hand on my arm, reassuring me, and, come on, I can’t possibly look that worried. She should check on Stranglehold; he seems like he’s about to cry in relief. I nod at him, and he gives me a watery smile. But I’m the only one they want to check on. I mean, half of us are local, what the hell.

“Okay, Null Squad’s not setting up on their own or accompanying us,” Bartok says, moving the topic away from everyone giving me sympathetic looks, “do we need to call in the Jackdaws?”

Hunch shrugs. “If nothing pans out, maybe. If you could feel them out, it might be helpful – Laces, which one did you have a problem with?”

Laces waves a hand. “He transferred to Containment.”

“Shit, they let Urinal Dan into Containment?” Bartok says, choking on a laugh. “They know they’re not getting anyone to court martial in once piece ever again, right?”

Laces just crosses his arms.

Hunch clears his throat.

“We’ve created a list of patrol routes that should sense random to any espers in any of the five buildings,” Sass says, handing out sheets. “Make sure you stick very carefully to that schedule, use the alternate second lap if you need to.”

Boomerang frowns, but shuts up before he can make himself look worse.

“And if we have a leak?” Stranglehold says, then taps his sheet. “How carefully are we keeping this under wraps, or is it a trap?”

“If we have some type of esper we haven’t encountered yet, we shouldn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” Sass explains, “or one of the powers it’s hard to counteract; leaks will probably have carefully planned, maybe staged, random incidents. The route is secret, the how is secret.”

“The patrol isn’t?” I ask.

Bartok shrugs. “Probably better to keep it that way, just in case.”

Stranglehold shakes his head. “I hope you have a telepath on speed dial, Hunch. I doubt it’ll stay secret long enough to catch anyone, even if it holds through tonight.”

“Or they have a memetic,” Boomerang mutters, but everyone ignores him.

“We do, actually,” Hunch tells Stranglehold. “Manipulative Bitch says she’ll vet the staff if it does turn out to be one of us, just as soon as she finishes all the public schools.”

“A freelance telepath,” Laces says, but hesitantly, like he’s had this conversation before.

Bartok just smacks him upside the head.

“She went through the same shit to get her telepathy anyone else did,” Arsenal snaps at him, and, wow, when did he learn to yell, “are you really mad she has integrity?”

Laces holds up his hands, glancing back and forth between Bartok and her unexpected ally.

“Don’t look at me,” she says, “I haven’t even talked to him about it.”

“Arsenal has a cru-ush,” Boomerang sing-songs.

“You know, there are reasons she’d like to get some people fired,” Sass says, “reasons that aren’t leaks, that she can’t reveal because confidentiality and whatever.”

Stranglehold shakes his head. “Yeah, but to be fair, good reasons.”

“I didn’t say not good reasons!” Sass complains.

“Distracting reasons. I’m not saying it wasn’t a problem,” Laces adds, clenching his fists, “I’m just saying she went a little far in –”

“Oh, right, because they were actually listening and trying to solve the problem,” I cut in, before he can start this familiar train of thought. “People definitely always listen when there’s a problem.”

Stranglehold stares holes through the table, Arsenal stares holes through Sass and Laces alternately, Boomerang stares off into space.

“What I’m saying,” Sass says, “is she can’t necessarily reveal what she learns, but she can make it look like –”

“Oh, she’s not trustworthy now, because she has a conscience?” Bartok snaps. “I would think we’d all be on the same side here.

Hunch’s voice carries, even though he doesn’t raise it. “Does anyone want to hear what suspicious activity we’re looking for?”

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By the time I manage to get out the door, I’m awake enough, even without any coffee, to regret agreeing to meet at this absolutely amazingcredible new diner. I mean, I’m sure they do make a fucking mouthwateringly delectable French toast, and it’s nice of Perry and Priscilla to accommodate my schedule change, and I have to eat somewhere. They didn’t have to sound so excited over dragging me to a diner, but it’s nice of them to think of me and find somewhere where I can eat breakfast and they can eat lunch. I don’t exactly need that heavy of food right before a workout, but I always love seeing my friends and I’ll just have to not let them use my sleep deprivation to trick me into ordering extra.

So much for that. When I get there (they’ve already ordered me coffee bless them), I immediately order the chocolate raspberry French toast and hash browns and a salmon scramble, and also more coffee.

The coffee here is shit, but I’ll still order more of it.

“You are aware,” Priscilla says, with a dubious look at my cup, “that you can order something they have to put together. I mean, their drip is…not great, but their maple mocha is pretty damn good.”

I eye her, trying to see if she’s making fun of me. When it doesn’t look like Darren’s got to her (or read her in on something), I agree.

“Drip is for downing; you’re not supposed to taste it,” Perry says. She’s got her darkest sunglasses on, and I smirk at her, because maybe she’s worse off than I am. She catches my look and says, “oh, fuck off, Agent Smartass – some of us have late nights and early mornings for legitimate business reasons.”

“Yup,” I say, “was out late last night.”

They both give me a quizzical look, and, damn, they’re going to grill me as soon as they can get me somewhere private; I can’t believe I made that slip in front of people as avidly involved in the fandom as either of these, let alone where they can share a look to confirm their suspicions. I really need that coffee.

But at least they don’t mention that we’ll talk about it later, just give me that Look. I’m sure I’ll have the awesomest fake name and at least a dozen stories about me by close of business the day I do tell them, though. (I’ll have to give them that pamphlet.)

“So, how are you adjusting?” Perry asks me, “because I’ve got sleep aids if you need them.”

“What kind?” I ask.

Perry rolls her eyes. “Over the counter, Fox, don’t pull your goody-two-shoes bullshit.”

“You know, sugar,” Priscilla says, “for all you’re obsessed with not taking the slightest little illegal substance, you’re pretty decent about not watching anyone else take anything.”

I glare at her over my coffee (still drip, the damn mocha isn’t here yet). “My body is my temple.”

“Oh, please, you take in way too much caffeine – and alcohol – for that to possibly be true,” Perry says, and pokes me in the chest.

“Whatever,” I say, “drugs are not my purview. I give out cards for hotlines and support groups, that’s it.”

“Do you really?” Priscilla asks.

“Sure,” I tell her, frowning, not sure why the hell she’s asking.

“Have you always done that?” she adds, pointedly.

“Since before I was even interning, yes,” I explain, “there was a push for it with student ambassadors and stuff, trying to present a community-conscious image.”

“Doesn’t seem like it stuck,” Perry mutters.

I shrug. “They still get the freshman to do it, most of them do. And, anyway, it’s not like it necessarily helps all that much to hand out contact information, not with the internet.”

“Then why do you bother?” Priscilla asks.

I throw up my hands. “Well, shit, Pris, maybe I don’t like feeling helpless.”

She stares at me for a while. “What cards do you hand out?” she asks, finally, “sometimes I feel like some of the kids who work with us could use a pointer or two.”

“Kids,” Perry snorts. “How charitable.”

I dig through the pockets of my coat, where I’m sure I stashed at least one of them, and pull out a slightly crumpled card for her, with the website of the list and a reminder to order refills.

“That’s a real stupid name,” Priscilla says, looking at the card.

I shrug. “Yeah, but they get a lot of donations, send us all these boxes of cards for pre-vetted organizations to hand out. You can probably get them to send you a kit.”

Priscilla looks like she’s considering it, and Perry looks like she’s going to trash the idea, but the food comes and I get to avoid a fight.

Also, my better coffee drink comes, and I drink it, and it is much better, and everything is much better. I take another gulp of it and groan into my cup.

“Jesus, Travis, save it for the bedroom,” Perry says, giving me a disgusted look, like she doesn’t love her coffee just as much. She thinks she’s better than me just because she’s already been mainlining it for hours and doesn’t have to be uncouth at it.

Priscilla snickers. “And how’s everything going with that business?”

“Don’t remind me.” I bury myself in my coffee.

“Aw, poor baby, schedule change making it hard to slip in anything but a quickie?” She snickers harder, into the exact same drink as mine. I’m debating stealing it.

“Believe me, I’d be at least 31% less stressed if I could slip in a quickie,” I tell her.

“What, really?” Perry says, “I guess they think the promotion’ll get you to put up with whatever fucking trouble they want to dump on you.”

“Mm,” I agree, finally putting down my coffee and falling on my food.

“Unless it’s not the schedule,” Priscilla says. “It’s not, is it?”

“When’s the last time you got laid, Travis?” Perry asks.

I point my fork at them. “You two are far too invested in my sex life.”

“Nah, that’s how you bro-talk with your bros,” Priscilla explains patiently to me, and I’m just waiting for her to start drawing a flow chart or some shit. “We talk about sex and local sports teams.”

“You hate sports,” I tell her.

“I do not hate sports,” Priscilla says, “Perry hates sports, and I don’t try to engage people in the topic in deference to her sensibilities. You just assume I do because you project her feelings onto me.”

“That’s a shitty assumption, Travis,” Perry says, stealing my hash browns, “women are individual people, each with their own unique take on fruitless and mind-numbing play-acted warfare.”

“Yes, yes,” I say, “that all that money goes into and for what, I know.”

“And that is precisely why I’ve never corrected you before,” Priscilla says.

“Do you have to do this before coffee?” I beg Perry.

“You’ve had coffee,” she says, the heartless bitch.

“One,” I say. “I’ve had one.”

She taps my half-drunk cup.

“One and a half,” I amend.

“Well, drink up, sunshine,” Perry says, “because it’s rant time.”

I sort of…gurgle.

“Or,” Perry says brightly, “we could go back to talking about sex!”

“You’ve got to talk about sex with your best bros!” Priscilla says, even more cheerily.

“Darren is my best bro,” I remind them.

“You can’t talk about sex with Darren,” Priscilla says, scandalized. “How would that even work? That would defeat the entire purpose.”

“Of what, you perving on my vast and impressive exploits?” I shoot back.

“And you can’t talk to Hunch,” Perry adds, completely ignoring me, “as he’s far too old and married to give you any useful advice. Good opening for something, though.”

I roll my eyes and ignore that last part. “I can always talk to Vector, then.”

“What? No!” Perry crosses her arms. “We’re way better bros than Vector Analysis. Aw, damn it, Pris, you made me call myself a bro again.”

“Ha,” Priscilla says.

I manage to tune them out for that argument, at least, and pick at my various plates of food.

“Back to getting you laid,” Priscilla says.

“No, thanks,” I tell her.

“Travis,” Perry says, laying a supremely genuine and empathetic hand on mine, “we’re your…best bros, and we’re here to talk to you about your dick problems.”

“Oh my god,” I say, around a mouthful of eggs.

Priscilla proceeds to outline how to be gentlemanly and romantic. It’s over-the-top, but I’m fairly sure she’s trying to be helpful. Or fuck with me, either way. Perry keeps telling me what the best set-up would be if it were porn, and some days I think she went into the wrong industry, but at least I can be certain about her. Somehow, through all of that (and, for a while, a tangent into the optimal amount of background noises in outdoor scenes) I manage to actually finish my breakfast and haul my ass to work.

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Case File: San Salvador Mass Insomnia Incident (IX) (ref)

Primary insomnia inducing powers are: biological manipulation (hormonal or circadian), time dilation (impacting fatigue either subjectively or physically sans subject perception), psychoactive powers (impacting phobias, stress/excitement, dreaming, etc.), and sleep displacement.

(See Lee-Li ‘Extranormal Insomnia’ for a more in depth explanation and references)

Keep in mind that powers typically affecting only one individual may be shifted, copied, or otherwise made to impact other people through the use of various mirror powers. This may be done with or without the knowledge of the original user. Such powers are usually a lack of need to sleep or an ability to go without sleep for extended periods; when applied to other individuals, it may not override the psychological need to sleep generally present.

(See Park ‘Sleep Disorders and the Sleepless Quarter’ for overview on sleep deprivation)

Insomnia inducing powers that affect more than one individual typically affect no more than a few dozen. Even those powers may affect more individuals when used in conjunction with another power, though. Look out for power amplification (including, possibly, range or aim modifications), power stabilization (allowing the power to be used on multiple groups or causing it to last longer), or any form of energy or refractory manipulation (allowing the power to be used more quickly). Individuals known to have such powers should be investigated in conjunction with this crime.

(See Addison, Andrews, and Gaius Who’s the fairest of them all? chapters 3 and 10-19 for applications of power modification on multiple-target powers)

(See Moore et al. ‘Power Modification and Mass Crimes’ for a breakdown of the likelihood that various powers were used, as well as technological amplification) (Click here for this thing charted out by probability – Griffith) (Cleaned up the chart. You’re welcome. – Patterns)

This may be technological in origin. (Unlikely – Patterns) Monitor traffic in alien artifacts to see if any may have come in contact with suspects. Pay attention to any mentions of sleep deprivation in techie chatter. It’s also possible this is some sort of biological or chemical apparatus or byproduct. (Very unlikely. – Patterns) Addendum: Power mimicry/neurological fuckery devices also possible.

(See Dubois-Hayashi ‘Area 51’ for overview on artifacts and ‘Alien Mind Probes’ for a list of types with psychological or neurological effects)

(See Blackfoot Sleep Tech for technological developments regarding sleep patterns)

(See list of techie message boards by popularity)

(See incidents III and VI) (See Insomnia (Arizona) and Rise’n’Shrine)

(See Bhatia ‘Trouble Sleeping Sickness’ and ‘Sleepless Gas’ for theoretical explorations by probability and references)

Addendum: (See Bernard et al. ‘Power modification devices and active powers’) (See Smith This is Your Brain on Modern Science)

Previous incidents:

I – Night Terror (III) – 337 (max) – 2 weeks

Night Terror had a field effect power with a radius of about 12 m; the effects lasted for 48-96 hours after exposure, depending on duration of exposure. Effects of the field included anxiety about going to sleep, raised heart rate, inability to stay asleep for more than an hour, and the eponymous night terrors. Unmedicable, but symptoms abated within 96 hours. (Incident 21 of 26) Addendum: except in those exposed who were suffering from PTSD (treated and untreated).

II – Unsolved – 500 (at each stage) – 1 week

During this incident, the area of effect moved from east to west, crossing almost the entire distance of the city. Reasons for stopping unknown (all then-current leads have been flagged). Area of effect covered about twelve blocks at each location; no pattern as to those affected has been discerned. Groups were staggered in half-hour increments exactly. Symptoms persisted for upwards of a month, but were successfully medicated with benzodiazepines. Symptoms included inability to fall asleep, as well as a strong desire (almost immediate) to go to sleep, complete lack of fatigue, and symptoms of severe sleep deprivation from around the six hour point. Eleven potentially related cases. Unsolved.

III – Insomnia (Arizona) – 1009 – 3 weeks

Insomnia had a line-of-sight single-target power, however, targets remained affected for 31 hours after exposure, and exposure could be maintained by eye contact without engaging the power a second time (target looking at Insomnia was sufficient eye contact). Symptoms included an ability to power nap, apparently successfully (regarding physical health), and a strong irritability as usually accompanies exhaustion which persisted through all stages of sleep deprivation. Other symptoms are difficult to report given that this was (and in all other ways resembled) a hostage situation. Tranquilizers worked on rescued hostages; less powerful sedatives did not. (Incident 7 of 7)

IV – Lucid Dreamer (VII) – 1500 – 3 weeks

Lucid Dreamer had a reality warping power that created a hallucinatory dreamscape for the hostages. Everything encountered within the dreamscape was, by all accounts, real; some hostages suffered malnutrition (but none undernutrition), many developed strange injuries with strange processes of healing, some objects seem to have been created during this time and remained extant. During captivity, all hostages expressed a strong desire not to leave (all hostages later underwent therapy for the experience). Location and timing was set up to exactly mimic the previous incident, as well as, to some degree, choice of hostage. Unmedicable within the field; symptoms did not persist.

V – Unsolved – 661 – 2 weeks

Type of effect unknown; affected only people entering the same strip mall during this period. Exaggerated the effect of any sleep disorders (including narcolepsy) of those affected; 661 reported previously undiagnosed insomnia; smaller numbers reported the development of additional sleep disorders. Disorders were treatable by therapies commensurate with typical presentation. Effects were either long lasting or permanent (disorders progressed typically, according to medical reports). Probably technological. Two related cases. Unsolved.

VI – Rise’n’Shrine – 1621 – 4 weeks

Rise’n’Shrine had a touch-activated and virally communicative power, although the duration of effect dropped each generation. Operating out of an abandoned warehouse, Rise’n’Shrine presented this incident as a church, whereby new members could receive the ‘boon’ from closer to the source the more they demonstrated their loyalty. They were not permitted to touch people who had not been baptized into the church. Aside from complete lack of sleep and extreme emotional responses, asymptomatic, including those typical of sleep deprivation. Probably unmedicable, although all ‘church members’ refused treatment. Symptoms abated at 16 weeks from last contact for the inner circle.

VII – Lucid Dreamer (VII) – 2000 – 4 weeks

Not one month after Lucid Dreamer’s house arrest is up, what do we have but a second copycat incident! Only difference: the handful of repeat hostages did express a desire to leave while within the dreamscape. Addendum: Dreamscape was set in an elaborate cathedral for all four weeks.

VIII – Unsolved – 533 – 3 weeks

Probably touch-activated; 81% of victims remember being touched by a stranger in the days before symptoms started. Symptoms persisted for around six months, but all started within the same three week period. The person(s) responsible probably left the city after this time. Symptoms include a strong desire not to sleep, hypervigilance and being easily awakened, inability to enter REM sleep, and symptoms of sleep deprivation progressing normally from onset. Medicable with all stimulants, most successfully with a combination of amphetamines and caffeine; taken just before bed, this will induce normal REM patterns. Required dosage increases rapidly compared to addictive behavior. Switching medications will only partially mitigate this, but total fatalities low. Hard to say what other cases are related, since the only unique (and still unique, even flagged) factor is the optimally effective treatment; most other touch-targeted insomnia has comparable MO, if not comparable figures. Unsolved.

This case does not bear marked resemblance to any of the previous cases; do be prepared for Lucid Dreamer to take this one personally (again). Cross-index with Bay City and Newark files (probability of connection: low – Patterns).

(See list of Persons of Interest)

Addendum: In case the latest comes back (or something else shows up), Amphetamine (the person, not the drug) can counteract most types of induced insomnia by replacing it with her own. You still have to deal with those symptoms, but at least it won’t kill you. (P.S. Just for fun, see list of insomnia-inducing powers that end up killing you!)

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Home Again, Home Again

“Movie?” Darren says, the minute I walk in the door.  It’s disconcerting to see him home before me, and I’m too exhausted to really do it, trying to shift my schedule to start the day with lunch, even though I’m still getting up early. (Not sleepy, which gets old quicker now than it used to, but tired.) But it’s a peace offering, and he’s been moody and silent for ages now, so I sit with him.

“Take out?” he says, cuing something up. There are explosions on the menu, and I assume within the first ten minutes of the movie. I try to decide how hungry I am, but figure, what the hell. I could eat. So I nod at him.

We order Thai, the usual from the usual, and I try not to fall asleep right there. I get up, pad over to the fridge, and grab a couple of beers, trying to remember what the hell I was planning to do when I got home, because I remember there was something. Darren wrests one of the beers from my grip, flipping the cap off with the bottle opener on his swiss army knife.

He sticks the other one back in the fridge. “You stink, Travis. Go shower.”

I look over my shoulder, not quite wondering what happened to my beer.

“Food won’t be here for a while, Fox, movie will still be there when you finish,” he explains to me, turning me around and pushing me in the direction of the bedroom. “Shower.”

I toss my borrowed clothes in the hamper and try to remember where the most effective place to make a note to return them might be. “Darren?” I call out.

He shuffles into the bedroom, fluffy bunny slippers squeaking slightly against the floor (he hides them when we have company), sipping at his beer. “Yeah?”

“There’s.” I shake my head and try again. “Clothes. Arsenal. Note.”

“You need me to make a note for you to go clothes shopping with Arsenal?” he teases.

I poke my finger at the hamper.

“Oh,” he says, “alright. I wondered where those came from.”

I nod, turning on the shower, wondering why it’s so cold.

“Warm water, dumbass, got to turn the dial,” Darren says.

I grumble at him (not a thank you), and sort of glare half-heartedly, but I did forget to turn the water warm, so I don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

“You look dead on your feet, dude,” Darren says. Then he smirks. “Guess it’s hard wandering around at night, looking menacing and failing to find any suspicious activity at all.”

I flip him off and climb into the shower. The water’s warm now, after all that, and I sigh, relaxing into it. A few minutes later, I’m staring at the shower caddy.

“Shit,” I say. I stare a little longer. “Darren, did you happen –”

He hands over a bottle of shampoo. “Yes, but they ran out, so you have this.”

“Shit,” I say again.

“Relax,” he says, “it’s like half the price. You can deal with it for a week.”

“My hair’s going to get all tangled and shit,” I explain, but I use it anyway.

“How the hell do you get it tangled, you keep it shaved practically bald,” he says, running a hand through his own hair, which is only pretty short, but never gets tangles in it at all, no matter what (dick).

I kind of want to tell him to bleach it and grow it long again like he had it in college, because if he’s going to act like some kind of hair expert he should at least have something that might be remotely difficult to maintain, but it’s a lot of syllables to string together right in a row.

He hands me a towel. “You going to fall over if I leave you to dress yourself? Because if you can stop swaying for a minute, I’ll grab you something.”

“Bah,” I say, “I’ll just wander around naked.”

“At least wear the towel,” he tells me. “You’re going to get all freaked out the minute you wake up enough to realize the delivery people can see you from the door.”

I groan.

“Okay, come on, sleepyhead,” he says, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and managing to guide me to the bed so I can sit down instead of collapse. He tosses me boxers and a shirt.

I put the shirt on backwards, but I really can’t be bothered to care, so I just leave it that way. It’s loose enough that it’s not choking me, anyway. I’ll probably forget and then be surprised in the morning, all, how do you put on a logo tee backwards, why am I sleeping in clothes.

Darren’s got that beer back, though, open, waggling it at me from the doorway, and I lurch over to it, dragging myself all the way to the couch. At this point, I’m pretty sure Darren’s only keeping me up because he’s worried I didn’t eat, but it’s too difficult to explain that I did eat, and anyway, with Hunch basically telling me to ‘chug chug chug’, I didn’t even register whether I ate enough, just that I ate it quickly. I’m not not hungry.

Also, the couch is ridiculously comfortable and I’m never getting up again.

The movie starts to play, and, yes, explosion times ahoy. At some point, food appears in front of me, smelling like pineapples and hot peppers, and I eat it haphazardly, trying not to choke on anything if I nod off in the middle of a bite. Not that I do; eating is actually pretty good at keeping me awake, up until a certain point, as long as I make sure to keep eating and not zone out. I’m definitely zone-out tired, right now, but at least I’m not hallucinating, yet.

I wonder if I’ll get a decent night’s sleep before the weekend. I wonder how long it will take me to get used to the schedule shift, too. Maybe I can take a nap while Sensei Domino gets them up to speed on blocks and dodges. Not that a nap will help me keep my sleeping on track, but hey.

Also, I think it’s probably pretty uncomfortable to sleep at my desk, and definitely unprofessional to sleep on a mat in the gym; they’ll never take me seriously again.

Might make a good surprise attack on Gatling if I fake it, though. He’s sure to try something if he thinks I’m unconscious.

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After patrol, we debrief, even marking in our negligible trouble spots (like the occasional drug deal, but not cats) so we can pass it off to the next shift and let them try to find a pattern. I’m not hopeful, but Stranglehold and Sass think we only need a few more nights, and we’ll get a lead or two. I’m never sure whether they’re actually that optimistic, or whether they just forget to turn it off even when the cameras aren’t rolling.

Then there’s a brief argument over whether we actually covered all the areas we said we were going to cover. Laces almost demands we actually sketch out where we were at all times (up until Bartok smacks him in the back of the head), but at least no one demands Boomerang’s video footage as proof. He seems a bit happier right now, actually acting like he’s part of the team, arguing over how thorough we were and how thorough we should be tomorrow night.

Bartok asks what other cases are flagged in that area, aside from the main one, and there are a handful, but a quick glance at the files Hunch throws up on the screen tells me there’s nothing to look for I wasn’t already looking for.

I wander into the locker room to change, and grimace. I forgot to bring a change of clothes again. “Shit,” I say, staring down at the pile I dropped into the bottom of my locker.

“Something wrong, Agent Kuiper?” Arsenal asks, from the locker next to mine, where I’m a little annoyed I won’t be able to keep extra stuff anymore. Then I remember I have an office, now.

“You should probably go with Teke, Arsenal,” I say.

“Um,” he says, rubbing the back off his neck with one hand while he uses the other to fiddle with the strings on the hoodie he’s been wearing since the briefing. “You know you can call me Eli?”

“Better not,” I say, “opsec and all.”

He looks crestfallen. I don’t think he realizes I was joking.

“If I’m going to call you Eli, you’d better call me Travis,” I tell him.

“Okay,” he says, with a ghost of a grin, “um, Travis.”

I resist the urge to ruffle his hair. I hated that beyond belief by the end of high school, even when it was only meant to show affection.

“Um, Travis,” he says.

I try to look open and friendly while I wait for him to finish his fucking sentence.

“Is something wrong?” he asks.

I cock my head. Oh, right, because I just looked in my locker and screamed ‘shit’ at it, and now he thinks something really bad happened or is going to happen, or whatever.

“No,” I explain, gesturing at the crumpled clothes, “just forgot to bring a change. I guess I have to suck it up and wear the sweaty clothes. I mean, I’m definitely not going home in this.”

He laughs slightly, covering his mouth with his hand. “The costumes are pretty silly, huh?”

“Well, I like your redesign,” I tell him, gesturing at the suit he’s hung back up. “I have no idea what setting that is possibly camouflage for, but it’s very patriotic.”

He nods. “I like it better than before. I mean, the action figures sold really well, but I felt like, well, an action figure. So.” He shrugs and grins shyly at me.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, he has a crush.

“Um, Travis?” he says, fidgeting some more.

Fucking hell, what now? I smile at him. “Eli?”

“You could, uh, I have some clothes you could borrow?” He grabs a clean t-shirt and sweats out of his locker, shoves them into my arms, and runs away.

I mean, presumably to take a shower, not, like, fleeing the building. I shake out the clothes, which at least look about my size, and tug off my costume, hanging it carefully. The skintight undersuit I toss in the laundry, because I’m not wearing one of those twice in a row if I don’t have to. (And I’m sure they have more for me.)

I leave the underwear on, because I feel like I’m much better off not taking a shower right now, so I may as well not go commando. The sweats are kind of thin. I’m sure it makes it more comfortable to work out in something less bulky (and I’m sure the kid finds it all kinds of exciting to wear something a little clingy), but I don’t think the city needs that level of transparency from its law enforcement apparatus. It’s going to be cold, but this, at least, I can throw a sweatshirt and a coat over.

Then I curse my lack of socks.

But not out loud, in case Eli tries to hand me his.

My sneakers aren’t all that uncomfortable without socks, anyway, they’re just going to smell worse than they usually do come morning. I’ll have to get more of that deodorant spray, even though it smells like permanent markers: still better than feet. I wonder if Darren’s been to the store yet, or if I can still pick it up with the detergent and shampoo.

I wander back to my office, making up a shopping list on my phone (which I actually don’t forget to send to Darren, this time), and sit down to file an incident report. It’s sketchy enough on details that there’s no way the police are going to find anything, but if we’re putting it in our notes for the night shift, it had damn well better be on record somewhere. Hunch, like most precogs, is pretty fucking lucky about picking when to slack off, but it’s never going to be Hunch that they yell at for it, anyway.

The thing is like a paragraph long, and that’s only because just the one sentence looked lonely and half-assed. I’m glad someone stuck those cards in my pocket, though. I have a feeling they’re going to come in handy a lot while we’re out patrolling that area, especially if our asshole neighborhood serial rapist (serial killer? I should really look up what he’s been doing) keeps lurking around.

Then, thinking of Eli’s bright red face, I make a note to check and make sure I have cards for LGBT shelters, too, because some of these kids aren’t going to want to be anywhere near the Christian ones, and aren’t going to risk getting kicked out on the off chance they aren’t. Then I make a note to add more cards for hotlines, because at least that’s a kind of help most of the kids won’t expect to come with a price.

Then I look up the asshole, and it’s mostly just physical assault in varying degrees, although maybe more than one asshole is involved, all carefully photo documented so as to be legible. I shake my head and try to dislodge the images the whole way home.

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The costume is cold. I mean, I noticed that last time, but last time we weren’t even out for an hour, and it was a nice day, and it actually was day. Now it’s nighttime, and windy. It’s not exactly the same costume; it’s a more muted purple-bluish-gray. To blend into the background, I guess, so people won’t see us coming?

I would actually wager it’s because the palette shows up better after you adjust the saturation.

It’s basically the exact same costume, though, down to the little decorations on the end, or, if not, they feel pretty much identical in my peripheral telekinesis. Probably, they’ve produced a dozen of these, all the same, in a variety of colors for a variety of settings. There’s probably an extra brightly-colored but matte version in case I have to do an interview.

God, I hope I don’t have to do an interview.

The point is, for a coat, it’s fucking cold. It’s all just icing, anyway; I’ve explored it enough that I can pull the ripcord and the decorative part will fall off in just over a second. (The ripcord is a fancy intricate knot on the inside of the back, just between my shoulder blades. It’s too flat to feel against my skin, but textured enough to feel against my TK.) The standard armor is at least twice as thick, and also you wear it over clothes, and also you can toss a jacket on over it.

“Cold out,” Hunch says, and I almost smack him.

“Why don’t they make warmer versions of these?” I ask.

“Oh, who knows where the hell the military budget is going,” Hunch says. “If you want to bring it up to our in-house designers, be my guest. They won’t listen to me.”

“I expected you to pair me with Arsenal,” I tell him.

He stares at me for a minute, then snorts. “And have to spend my night walking around with the new kid? He hates following the rules, no sense of respect for authority, also no sense of boundaries.”

“So you left him with Arsenal?” I shake my head. “The kid’s a pushover. If they find something, I guarantee you it’ll get tossed out.”

“Oh, no worries, kid, I made them wear cameras as ‘training aids’,” Hunch says. “Now if they find something, we’ll know right away if we have to toss it.”

“Poor Arsenal,” I say.

“Yup,” Hunch says, “but he’s the only one of us who can disappear the murder weapon.”

“I thought you made them wear cameras,” I say, as we head around the corner.

Hunch laughs. “Oh, I’m sure he’s smart enough to destroy a little piece of evidence like that.”

I roll my eyes.

“How’s Darren?” Hunch asks.

“Same old, same old,” I mutter.

Hunch shakes his head. “Have you talked to him about it?”

“Oh, only several dozen times over the last three years,” I say.

There’s movement down an alley, and we dart forward to look. A spiky-looking alley cat hisses at us, stepping in front of half a hamburger and arching. Hunch reaches into his utility belt, pulls out a chunk of smoked salmon, and tosses it over.

“You have dog biscuits in there, too?” I ask.

“Yup. Stuck some in yours, too. You’re welcome.” He grins at me.

The cat sniffs the snack, wolfs it down, and lets us pass.

“No one’s out here,” I say.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “I can’t imagine it’s all due to the cold.”

“Scared of that guy, maybe,” I suggest. “What’s he been doing, anyway?”

“Nothing I’d like to share with sensitive ears, kid,” he tells me, with a little bit of a grin, and a little bit of narrowed eyes, like he really isn’t sure if I should hear.

I drop it.

“Is he still doing that thing, with the glittery sign saying ‘Darren’s Room’ on the door?” Hunch asks, smoothing his hands over an imaginary sign.

I laugh. “He’d never do something as counterproductive as using glitter. But yes.”

“Shame,” Hunch says. “At least he does a decent barbeque.”

“Shit, that’s half the reason he leaves it there,” I tell him. “He’s been a little morose since his friends declared it too cold to barbeque anymore, too. They won’t show up if it’s not on the deck.”

“We’ve had a couple nice days since then,” Hunch says, “no go?”

I shake my head. “Couldn’t get anyone together on such short notice.”

“Should’ve invited me,” Hunch says, “I’d show up. Hell, I’d show up for a winter barbeque, outside and everything. I’ve done those a couple times. They can be fun, in a cold sort of way.”

I shoot him a look. “You scared the shit out of him the last time you had us over to dinner.”

“It was just us,” Hunch says, sounding a little apologetic, but less than he should.

“He wouldn’t come out of his room for weeks,” I admonish. “He jumped a foot in the air if I got within two feet of him.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” Hunch says, sounding just a bit more contrite this time, “but honestly, the guy needs to get over himself.”

“Easy for you to say,” I begin, and then break off.

There are some people, sneaking. Where they’re sneaking from, or to, or what they’re doing, I have no idea, but they’re definitely sneaking. Worst case, it’s just some pro making an honest night’s living, and we tell them to clear out. I mean, whatever, we’re not Vice, not our problem.

I quietly slip my gun out of its holster, because if that’s the guy who’s been doing things Hunch would rather I not find out about, I don’t want to be caught with my pants down. I float it down to my side, under the coat, leaving my hands free in case I have to hold them up for whoever it is. We duck behind the building, leaning out to see what’s going on.

Some kid – wearing a jacket that’s way too cold for this weather – hands over a baggie. The other one (college probably, college sweatpants, anyway) hands over some cash. I wave at Hunch to put his gun away. I take a look at the baggie, but it looks like it’s just pot, although I’d guess the college student has a few more problems going on, from the shaking and the sniffles.

I sigh, leaning back against the wall, and fumble open one of the back pockets on my utility belt, plucking my gun out of the air and holstering it. Each of them gets a neat little business card; substance abuse hotline for the college student, youth shelter for the high-schooler (at best). He flinches slightly as he feels the card slip into his pocket, and, yeah, probably on the streets, because I have a deft touch.

I wave Hunch after me and he follows, waiting until we’re out of earshot to talk again.

“So, Sinead’s on a soup kick,” Hunch says, “you like leeks?”

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“Patrol tonight,” Hunch says, “hurry up and finish your food.”

“For fuck’s sake,” I tell him, “I just got here.”

“I know,” Hunch says, “that’s why I’m telling you to hurry up. If you’d been here on time, I’d probably just be bringing you a cookie.”

“Fuck,” I say, and start eating my food.

“Trouble with the kids?” he says, “no, don’t worry about it, keep eating, kid.”

I glare at him and chew furiously.

“Okay, confession, I checked in on you while you were training,” he tells me, sipping his coffee, “you did okay. Not great, but for your first day, I’d say it’s a good start.

“What you need to do is split up the training. Set one kid on a task, move on to the next kid. You’re trying to get them all doing something at once, which is not going to work out, unless they have similar powers. I mean, maybe you could get Psybeam and what’s his name, Bullet Brat, to spar, but I don’t know that it would do them much good, and one of them will certainly not be a lot of help in training the other one, if you follow.”

“Not just me, then,” I tell him.

“Eat,” he says. “No. it’s not just you. First year he was here, he spent a lot of time mouthing off at Weathervane. Poor kid almost quit the program – and he’d been planning to join up after graduation, too. But, I mean, after – well, not taking chances. So I got Ultraviolet in to hand the brat his ass, and he calmed down a little after that.

“Speaking of getting people in – no, you don’t need to arrange for guest lectures, there are other people responsible for that if you’re out – have you talked to Sensei Domino yet, because last I heard he said you hadn’t. He knows you’re new, so he’s kept his schedule clear, but if you have someone else in mind, it would be polite to let him know sooner rather than later.”

“Shit,” I say, around a mouthful of roll, “I need to talk to him.”

“Oh, good, you do want him,” Hunch says. “No worries. I’ll talk to him for you. Be prepared to put up with a little bit of a lecture. For some reason he’s under the impression that you’re disorganized and unprepared for this job.”

I take a sip of juice. “I am unprepared –”

“And he wants excuses?” Hunch shakes his head. “Look, I know they basically tossed you to the lions here, but you agreed – and this after you swore to me you’d never put on a mask, kids these days, I tell you – and you owe it to these kids to give them the best training they can get.”

“Never took karate,” I tell him, and go back to eating before he can tell me.

“I know,” he says, “you’re on my team, remember? I know your short size. The purple ones, by the way, not my fault. I always get cotton.

“The point of karate isn’t that it’s specifically necessary, anyway, it’s just that you want something consistent even if you have to change instructors, and because they’re dumbasses at that age – even Melanie, and she just got into a med school eight-year –”


“Oh, she keeps saying she told us so since she was three – and you need to give them some sort of philosophy to rely on so they don’t think they have carte blanche to use their powers on people.

“I know you think it’s about the punching, it’s not. Not that it’s a bad thing to tell them when it’s okay and not okay to punch people. You’ve just got to practice integrating that philosophy into your curriculum, too; subtle-like, so they don’t think their powers are theirs to use however they see fit. You’ve got to remind them that their powers affect other people. Especially the little shit.”

I almost snort coffee out my nose.

“Oh, please, Travis, you’re old enough to realize that your elders can hate an asshole little kid just as much as you can. Do you need me to get Ultraviolet back for you?”

I must have been about to say something skeptical about that, but it was only about the help, not whether he knew him; I know he knows him, we’ve even met. I guess he get that a lot, though.

“I do too know him. I helped train him before he decided to sidekick for – anyway, we stayed in touch even after he left. So, yes, I can ask him to come in if you need the help.”

I shake my head.

“If you’re sure. Offer’s always on the table. I did like your little time out, there, though. Nice to see you establishing your authority quick. You have several little troublemakers on your team; not sure about the new girl, yet. Looks like a cheerleader. How arrogant has she been so far?”

I shake my head again, and finish my ‘mixed vegetables’.

“Well, that’s good, at least. Let’s hope she is a cheerleader – that’ll give her a head start on the physical training, if nothing else, and you know how demanding the white hat course is. Tell her to join gymnastics if she hasn’t already.

“So, tonight we get to wander around the vicinity of half a dozen warehouses in case we see anything suspicious. Command can’t get us anything most specific than ‘somewhere in this area here with all the warehouses’. Yeah, let’s just wait until we see the one that happens to have the modified cuffs coming out of it, that’s a pretty good bet.

“They’re not even clear enough on which one for us to set up a stakeout. So keep your eyes open, but I’m not actually expecting success. Also, keep your eyes open for sickos – some asshole’s been hassling the prostitutes down there, recently, and Vice has no leads, so if we catch him, we get to keep him, isn’t that fun?”

I finish off the last of my coffee and get up to follow him to the locker room, and he glances at his watch, pronouncing me three and a half minutes faster than he anticipated. He grabs that cookie for me (for fuck’s sake), and he walks me back to where the rest of the team is only just getting started changing, luckily.

He tosses me a pair of briefs. “See? Cotton.”

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