“Are you going to say it outright, or are we just going to imply it at each other until we’re blue in the face?” Perry pulls me inside and slams the door behind me.
I sigh, making my way over to the living room. “Yes, Perry, they switched me to mask.”
“I thought all the masks started out mask?” she calls from over by the coffeepot, where she’s gone to get coffee, because there’s no way I’m having this conversation without any coffee and she knows it, “you want sugar or honey?”
“I don’t even care,” I call back, “bring it black, I won’t even notice.”
She brings me one of the big mugs they have for expressly this purpose, filled to the brim with delicious piping hot coffee. Incidentally, I better get lunch out of this also. “Sugar then, Caffeind.”
I make a face at her.
“Well, you haven’t exactly told me your code name, have you?” she says, grinning.
I sigh. “Teke.”
She rolls her eyes at that. “Catchy. I thought there already was one?”
“No, we just had Gates Teke visiting for a while.” I shrug. “Wasn’t my pick.”
She sets her coffee down, looks around for Pris, and leans towards me. “Seriously, though, are you safe?”
I shrug again, sip my coffee. “Mask is statistically safer than armor, anyway.”
“Yeah, and when it isn’t safe, it really isn’t safe,” she says. “How big is this project? What do they want you for, what are they making you do? Do I need to call someone?”
“Perry,” I say.
She shakes her head at me. “Don’t give me that, Travis. Don’t play it off like you’re not worried.”
“Perry,” I repeat. “They want me to coach the kids.”
Her eyes widen slightly, and then she snorts hard enough to have to squeeze her nose so she doesn’t sneeze, and a fair amount of coffee manages to dribble out of the corner of her mouth anyway. She dabs at it with her sleeve. Then she starts laughing.
“Oh, fuck you, Perry, you wanted me safe, I’m safe,” I tell her.
“You’re gonna, you’re gonna,” she gasps, red in the face, “you’re gonna get chicken pox or something, you’re gonna end up in the hospital with chicken pox instead of stabbing.”
I sigh. “Perry, I’ve had chicken pox. You gave it to me.”
She pauses, then snorts again. “No, I’m sorry, I think that makes it funnier, somehow.”
Priscilla chooses that moment to walk back in, carrying lovely, lovely bagels and lovely, lovely coffee, and takes one look at Perry and says, “well, I’m sorry I’m late.”
I shrug. “Apparently, she’s easily amused.”
“Mm,” Priscilla says, “funny name or funny costume?”
“Neither,” I tell her, “funny job, apparently.”
Priscilla frowns. “Why, what are you doing? I’d think we would’ve noticed sooner if you were doing PR, and I can’t imagine there’s much else quite that amusing.”
“Coaching,” I say. “I’m teaching kids how to punch things.”
Priscilla raises an eyebrow. “I don’t get it. I mean, I guess I don’t know you as well as laughy-pants does, but that doesn’t really seem all that funny to me. What do you, hate kids or something?”
I shake my head and shrug. Perry’s eyes are watering now.
“Come off it, Trav, you do too hate kids,” Perry says.
“Not more than anyone else,” I tell her.
She nods, eyes still watering as she takes deep breaths. “Fair enough, but still, come on. Like you got into this to mentor the next generation on how to be warriors for the light or whatever.”
“I’m only training them in running, and controlling their powers, and karate, and stuff,” I complain, “I’m not even training them in karate; Sensei Domino’s training them in karate.”
“Teke,” Priscilla says, pointing a finger at me.
“Informational packets,” Priscilla explains. “We’re doing a fluff piece on Coach Domino next week; he’s going to be endorsing some gyms or something.”
“Oh, tell me we’re not,” Perry says, “are we still sucking up to them just so they’ll let us use the archive footage? We don’t need the extra seven minutes that badly.”
“Oh, no, this is some other thing,” Priscilla says, “some friend of a friend’s boss’s nephew, or whatever, someone owes someone else a favor, who can ever follow that shit.”
“So we didn’t get the seven minutes after all?” Perry says, “shit, there goes my award.”
“You weren’t getting an award for that, darlin’,” Priscilla says, “that thing is shit with or without the seven minutes, and you know it.”
“I know,” Perry says, with a grin, “that’s what makes it award-bait.”
Priscilla rolls her eyes. “You want an award, ask ‘Teke’ here to do some sort of retrospective about Switchblade with you. Nostalgia points, progressive points, action, romance, everything.”
“Romance?” I say.
Perry rolls her eyes at me, then. “Because you’ve never heard a thing about him and Ultraviolet. That’s definitely possible.”
“That never happened,” I tell her.
Perry sighs. “I didn’t say it did happen, necessarily, but –”
“And you know, of course,” Priscilla says, “because you’ve met personally, right?”
I open my mouth to respond, then close it again.
“Shit,” Priscilla says. “Well, there goes that narrative thread.”
“That would’ve been pretty creepy, though, if it were true,” I say.
“Sixteen’s not that creepy,” Perry says, “and no one ever guesses younger than sixteen.”
I shake my head at her. “Sixteen is super creepy –”
“Well, you have to say that,” Perry deadpans, “or you’ll get fired.”
Priscilla shakes her head at Perry, too. “I was going to go with eighteen, at least, thanks.”
“Go too much older and there’s not enough time to build a plot,” Perry says, with a shrug, “but you do you – oh, wait, we decided against it altogether, just because it’s ‘not true’.”
I throw my hands up in the air. A throw pillow falls off the couch.
“Hey, none of that,” Perry says, “making ‘not true’ true is my job, sweetcheeks.”
“Although, I feel obliged to point out, you decide on thirteen or fourteen,” Priscilla muses, “then ‘Teke’ here sure does have the right end of the stick. When did Ultraviolet start the program?”
“What,” I say, “do you want me to look up the records?”
She shakes her head at me. “They all got scrubbed as part of the arrangement, Fox, don’t you know any history at all? This is only your job to follow, you know, and yet I know I have hundreds more alerts than you do.”
“Following criminals is my job,” I say, “actually, that’s not even, my job is to teach kids to punch things and stop them from punching each other.”
Priscilla laughs. “Well, bless your heart, honey pie, I’m fucking with you.”
Perry waves her phone at us. “There’s only two shots of you so far, and they’re blurry.”
“They’re supposed to be,” I say, “we were working something sensitive. Why are there any shots at all?”
Priscilla pats my shoulder. “Special interest blogs, Travis, it’s not like we’re the only ones who have alerts set up. You’re going to get to be the star of a bunch of after school specials!”