Field Trip

It takes a while to get the kids organized. You’d think it would be quick, considering they all showed up in costume, but no, because they have to swap some pieces out and fix other things and Enigma Machine forgot to do his pre-patrol checks even though, honestly. I mean, that’s the first thing that got drilled into his head, they teach that one in school, that’s on the advice they send out even before the kids get here.

So Jailbait’s still complaining about the quartermaster not getting her the utility belt that actually matches her catsuit (she got the matte one instead), regardless of the fact that she doesn’t have anything to put in it; Gatling’s trying to get anyone to pay attention to his dilemma of which looks better, the plain domino or something that covers more of his face, and matches his jeans or something I don’t know, I should’ve been making him wear masks in class; FiendPuncher is fixing her bows, or maybe counting them and ticking them off in a spreadsheet or something; Caffeine is applying little flame decals to what I’m almost entirely certain is one of the old speed-skating uniforms for the U.S. Olympic team, a replica, I mean; and Enigma Machine is using some random cloth with our logo on it to polish his faceplate, but at least we’re out the door.

It takes almost three minutes for the troops to start complaining that they’re tired. I hand out little packets of trail mix, probably not entertaining the idea that I could accidentally pull the dog biscuits out of my utility belt instead. I mean, those would be hard to confuse.

At least they seem kind of interested in my explanation of how you judge distance based on landmarks. That interest will probably fall entirely flat once I get to how they can look out for any crime that isn’t specifically rooftop crime, not that even most rooftop crime is going to in any way involve extranormal abilities, but hey. Interest is interest.

“This is super boring,” Enigma Machine says.

Interest is not always interest.

“I thought we were going to do something fun,” Caffeine says.

“Like what?” I ask, “beat up a supervillain?”

Jailbait looks smug. “If you’d listened to me in the first place, you would know exactly what to expect. This is a training exercise, hello.”

“We’re not even going to see any supervillains,” Gatling says, and I can’t for the life of me tell whether he’s trying to back Jailbait up or complain at me.

“How do we get from roof to roof?” FiendPuncher asks, because she’s the only one who’s never done this before, so her interest hasn’t worn off yet.

I grin. I almost stop grinning, because I don’t have a suit anymore, so I can’t just jump from roof to roof, but this is still the fun part. “FiendPuncher, Enigma Machine, who wants to ferry and who wants to spot?”

“I’ll ferry,” they both say, because of course they do.

Jailbait gives FiendPuncher a distrustful look, and says, “as acting field commander, I say Enigma Machine should do it.”

“Why?” I ask her. I know why, I mean. Teachable moments, though, right?

“He’s rated for more weight,” Jailbait immediately replies.

“He’s rated for two hundred pounds,” FiendPuncher says, having completely dropped the cutesy inflection, “I’m rated for three fifty.”

“I dunno, he looks like he can carry a lot more,” Gatling says, looking between them, “don’t get your cape in a twist. You can go next time.”

FiendPuncher rolls her eyes, but flies down lower than roof height, waiting for anyone to fall. Once we’ve all made it across, she flies back up and starts walking with us again. They do not, in fact, let her go the next time, although Caffeine does tell Enigma Machine to leave him on the roof.

“Caffeine,” I say.

He grins at me. “I want to try something.”

“Caffeine,” I say, again, with a different inflection this time. Or maybe the same one but more.

“If I run really fast and then jump, the momentum should carry me over,” he says, “probably.”

I’m not actually sure exactly which version of speed Caffeine has, but better to let him go now, when I can catch him, than on his own, when he’ll end up one more unsolved. So I say, “sure, fine.”

“Really?” he asks.

“Give me a sec,” I tell him, and extend my field out slightly below the line of the roof.

“Do you really think you can catch me if I fall?” he asks. “I mean, I’ll be moving way faster than human reflexes can go, you know.”

“So does a bullet,” I say. “And yet.”

He shrugs.

He falls. Or, rather, he was falling and has stopped now because I caught him, even though none of us actually saw him take a running start. He’s grumpy from the time I lift him back onto the roof to the time we get to the next one, where, relenting a little, he lets himself be carried.

If they do the next roof the same way, I’m going to have to step in. Really, Enigma Machine needs time to practice being spot while I’m still here to fix his mistakes.

I glance around the streets underneath us, looking for anything interesting to point out, because none of the kids are looking at all, not even scanning the rooftops, the way I showed them on, I swear, every single roof we’ve been on so far. Not this one yet, though, and I consider that maybe I shouldn’t after all, just this once.

Right across from us, wearing what I could swear is a surprised expression, if that were remotely possible, because there’s absolutely no way he’s stumbled across a mid-afternoon training exercise by accident, I mean, what are the odds of that in a city this size, is the very worst person we could possibly have run into, and I mean possibly.

He doesn’t look normal. He’s wearing the coat and all, or one of them, at least, but his jeans are blue and his shirt is plain black without the logo on it at all, silky and clinging to his muscles, and his mask looks perfunctory at best, not that I could tell you exactly what it is that’s wrong with it, because I’ve never seen it before, not in person, but there it is, right above his mouth making a little ‘o’ and his carefully cultivated stubble. And he’s just standing there, on the other roof, paused mid-stride, and just staring at us.

Then Klepto tenses.

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Something happens

It’s pretty much a huge relief to get up to my office and change back into uniform. You wouldn’t think it would be, because the thing is not terribly comfortable and looks really weird, but at least they don’t have me playing politics in purple.

Yet. Oh, god, yet.

I tug my cuffs down my arms as I zip up the undersuit. They feel a little short. I know they have my measurements, so I have no idea if that’s an error or a design decision, but they seem to stop just a little bit short of my wrists. (I wonder if that’s so a cuff will slip on easily over them, but that seems a smidge paranoid. I mean, not that the designers aren’t paranoid, but, hey.)

I slip my holster and utility belt on, then pull the coat on after it. I take a minute to feel normal again. (Why, yes, normal is extremely relative.) And then I set the little decorations around the hem to spinning, because I’m going to forget to do it later if I don’t, and then what will people think of me all stalking around rooftops with a limp and lifeless coat on.

Then I sit down to wait for the kids to arrive. I feel like I probably ought to be doing something, but it’s maybe twenty minutes, and there’s almost certainly nothing I can get started on that has any point if I get interrupted that soon. My back starts to hurt. Not my nose or my eye, which will hopefully at least look normal by the time the kids get here, just my back. I shift in my seat. I should probably type up my report. Or at least make notes for it or something.

Instead, I lean back and kind of zone out for a minute, sipping at my coffee.

Which Psybeam has handed me. Holy shit, when did he get here?

“Agent Teke?” he says.

Man, this is decent coffee; I wonder where the hell he got it. “Just Teke is fine, kiddo.”

“If,” he says, and then pauses, considering his words. “If someone’s, you know, following me around and stuff, is that harassment, or.”

I swallow hastily. Some still ends up spilling, but out of the cup and not my mouth, at least, and I catch it before it lands on my costume. I mean, not that it would matter, I’m pretty sure it’s waterproof. “Who the hell is following you around? Is it Todd? Let me get you the complaint forms.”

He shifts uncomfortably. “No. It’s not To- it’s not Gatling.”

“Okay,” I say. “Do you want to tell me who it is, and maybe I can talk to them? Or you can leave an anonymous complaint.”

“It’s,” he says. “What if it’s. You know. An Agent?”

I groan. I also cover it up by coughing into my hand. “This wouldn’t happen to be Apogee?”

Psybeam’s mouth drops open in a way that would be pretty funny if he weren’t worried about being followed around.

“Okay, she’s not planning on anything, I promise, she’s just keeping an eye out,” I tell him. “You turn up a lot of places and people can’t always keep track of you.”

He kind of hunches in on himself. “It’s not like I can turn it off, you know. I don’t go anywhere I’m not allowed. People just. Forget.”

“Sure,” I say. “Have you considered wearing a wristband?”

He frowns.

“Not that you have to,” I add. “I would never tell you that you have to if you don’t want to. But if it would make you more comfortable to turn your powers off from time to time, you can get one.”

“I have,” he says, and sighs, gesturing to his neck.

My eyes widen. I try to catch myself, but there it is.

“Not like that,” he adds. “It just fits under my shirt better? People at school don’t know.”

“Sure,” I say, suddenly at a loss for where this conversation is headed.

“Anyway, I don’t have any, except for sports, and those are the school’s,” he concludes.

“You can sign one out,” I say. “While you’re here. I can get one stashed in the locker room for you, even, if you want.”

He grins at me. “Yeah?”

“You can’t keep it,” I explain. “But if you want to wander around, and not, you know, set off alarms, you could use it in the building.”

He scowls. “I don’t set off alarms. I told you, I only stay in public areas.”

“Right,” I say. “No. I meant. Metaphorical alarms, not actual ones. I meant Apogee.”

“She doesn’t like me,” Psybeam says.

I really don’t know what to say there, because you can’t really argue with that. I try anyway. It doesn’t go well. “It’s not that she doesn’t like you. She just gets a little paranoid about security.”

“What with the political climate,” Psybeam says. “Yeah. Whatever. You’d think she’d be a little more considerate with where she’s from.”

“I’ll talk to her,” I say. Then, trying not to cringe, because body language, “do you want to file a complaint? I can give you a form, or I can give you the link to the anonymous box.”

He shakes his head, fiddles with his mask as he opens his mouth, then ducks out of the room.

I sigh, and follow him down.

“We’re going on an adventure,” Caffeine sing-songs.

Gatling does some sort of dance.

“Field trip!” Enigma Machine announces to now-unruffled-looking Psybeam, who returns the sentiment and hi-fives him.

Jailbait is trying to go over the rules of patrol excursions, glaring daggers at the lot of them, since no one’s paying attention to her.

Well, FiendPuncher might be. She’s checking off some sort of list on her phone, which is either her verifying the rules Jailbait’s laying out, or her playing some kind of annoying classmates bingo, which seems like the kind of thing she would do. Or, at least, it was definitely the kind of thing I did back in the first couple years of training, when being safety lectured by people other than the teacher was probably my number one pet peeve.

Well, I didn’t really enjoy the teachers’ safety lectures, either, but shoes and feet, you know.

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The Quest III: The Questioning

When I step through, Mason’s gone already, and Chen’s neck just has a dark red streak down the side, which he keeps rubbing at as they do the mini-battery. It’d be a massive surprise to me if they turned up anything after that little scuffle, but, hey, bureaucrats love their procedure. Graham’s got that glassy eyed look like they injected him with painkillers, and Nightingale’s working on him, so I guess his arm was broken, after all.

“Hey,” says an excited voice, and I turn around.

Javier winks at me, flicking one braid behind her back. “Did you grab me a jockstrap?”

“Oh, sorry, in the confusion, it looks like we forgot,” I deadpan.

She narrows her eyes and purses her lips. “What confusion? Some jerk attacked you guys and ran away. Sounds pretty straightforward to me.”

I hand her the hockey stick.

Her eyes widen as she looks at, and then she bursts out laughing.

“I did bring you a bunch of evidence,” I add.

“Okay, sure, let’s take a look at it,” she says, pulling on a pair of gloves even as I peel mine off. Mine are white. Hers are the dark bluish-black the doctors and healers are wearing, and I wonder if she’s allergic to latex, or if she just grabbed the nearest ones off the shelf in here.

“Probably have Mason’s prints on it,” I say, gesturing at hockey stick. “She wasn’t cataloguing with the rest of us; I don’t know if she was wearing gloves.”

“Mm,” Javier says, shrugging, and holding up a baggie with paint scrapings. “Damn. She was right. You can get this shit basically fucking anywhere, double that if you order online.”

“Sorry,” I tell her. At least she’ll be faster at matching exclusionary evidence than most.

“Can I tell you how disappointed I was to learn it was a dude?” she continues, “here I was, counting on some chick showing up and making things interesting, but no. Has to be some bro.”

“Why a chick?” I ask.

She shrugs, flicking her other braid behind her back. “Bring up sports, everyone’s all, oh, it’s a he, it’s always a he, that’s just the way it is. I wanted a she-fan for once in the history of athletics.”

“Well,” I say, shrugging. “He’s not really a fan.”

“She anti-fan, then,” Javier says. “Better anyway. We’ve got enough stalkers around.”

“He’s not really an anti-fan, either,” I tell her. “He is, in fact, massively boring, and the only reason I can give even half a fuck is because he attacked us.”

Javier grins. “Mason says he just ran and caused all the damage by accident.”

“Remind me of that after I get my nose fixed,” I say, trying to ignore the increase in throbbing that comes more from thinking about it than from talking, although talking doesn’t help.

“Broken?” she asks, handing me a tissue.

I shake my head as I accept. It sends a kind of taunting stab through my eye socket.

“We still need more ladies in sports,” she tells me, “even anticlimactic archnemesis, accidental-punching ladies. Cackling semi- to mostly-competent ladies.”

“Maybe the lady villains are protesting women’s sports,” I offer, but the healer’s walked over to check on me at that point, so Javier takes the evidence off my hands and leaves. I don’t miss her Look.

He pokes at my nose. I clench my fists, resisting the impulse to pull away. I don’t know why they have to poke so hard – doctors, yes, because they’re prodding to see if the bones are broken or whatever, but not healers – but they invariably do, and I’m not going to give them an excuse to do it again by flinching.

Also it probably makes their jobs harder.

“Wow, you look terrible,” Saint tells me, poking at my eye now, “I can’t believe you can be so stoic about it. If it were me, that would hurt like a bitch.”

I’m tempted to punch him in the nose just to test the theory. I don’t, because he’s working on my injuries now, and my nose and my eye and even the forming bruise on my back have gone kind of numb at this point, and also because punching people in the nose is bad and I’m not the type of person who gets to resort to that kind of thing. And also kind of because people like Saint for some reason and you sort of have to be careful who you badmouth him to.

(People don’t punch Saint. Not even Hyde punched Saint. I wonder if it’s some sort of secondary power. You have to be careful who you suggest that to, too, though.)

“Okay, you’re good to go,” Saint tells me. “Try not to do any heavy lifting for the next day or two; you’ll strain your back and it won’t heal right. Got to have patience, man.”

“Sure,” I say.

Then he hands me over to a regular doctor, who checks over my injuries the regular way (with a lot of poking and prodding, but it doesn’t feel like much, for now), and pulls out a card, holding it up to me. I raise an eyebrow.

“Uh, no?” he asks.

I spin a couple of his little discs around for him, circling the card.

“Ah. I take it you’ve had those for a while,” he tells me.

I shrug.

He gives me a kind of rueful grin, double checking the new information against my chart, and frowns apologetically when it does in fact match.

“So, telekinesis, is it just telekinesis?” he asks, poking me with some new piece of equipment.

I sigh. “Yes.”

“Do you have all the normal secondary powers, or…?” he asks.

I wonder if he’d complain if I just walked out of here. I wonder if he’d refuse to sign off on me out of spite. “Yes.”

“Every single one?” he leans down a little, smiling at me. “No one has every single one.”

“No,” I agree, “but I got my powers when I was eight, so I have exactly the complex you’d expect. Can I go now?”

He frowns at me – almost pouts – and I wonder whether it’s just been a particularly slow day or I’m having more bad luck than usual. I wish Time were here. Time never pulls this shit. Plus Time’s both, so even when you do have to go through it you don’t have to go through it twice.

She dislikes me because of the puking incident, though.

Chen and I both have the same idea of well-wishing Graham, once we’re through, and almost walk into each other. Graham mumbles something incoherent at either of us.

“No powers?” I ask Chen, with a grin.

He rolls his eyes at me.

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The Quest II: Revenge of the Quest

Graham has the most hilarious expression on his face. I know I shouldn’t laugh – and I don’t – but I haven’t worked with him long enough for this to stop being funny and start being just, you know, uncomfortable or pity-evoking or whatever. I know he has to be just so over doing this for people, and he was perfectly game about checking the locker room over, but there’s something pretty priceless about him pointing out every single message to see if we can see them, too.

I mean, we can, they’re all there plain as day; there aren’t even any I can see that the other two can’t. I’d hope I wouldn’t find it funny anymore if he had to actually go and rewrite all the labels on the evidence bags. I mean, maybe if it were only one or two.

I’ve been sketching out the patterns the cameras move in, because they didn’t shell out for the specialty kind, just the kind you can’t see. I mean, they offer pretty good cover, and I’d guess unless you had a power specifically adapted to that you couldn’t avoid all of them completely, and you’d need a lot of practice just to keep your face off them, but it’s not like a professional thief couldn’t have a problem with the Lakers.

I would rather a cat burglar targeted one of the cat-named teams, because that would be hilarious, but you go with what you’ve got. (Not hilarious – crime is serious business, kids!)

He probably isn’t a cat burglar anyway. He’s probably a run of the mill deranged fan.

Then there’s a yelp from the showers, and before any of us can make a joke about walking in on someone, there’s the guy, sprinting past me, catching me – and I swear, this is not even on purpose – in the eye with his elbow, and across the nose with his forearm. He’s some white guy, looks a little like the kid from before, and I almost confuse them for about as long as it takes him to run past me.

(I fall into an open locker, which digs into my back, and damned if that isn’t a familiar feeling golly gee I do not miss summer camp.)

My nose is definitely bleeding, but at least not broken, and I can’t feel my eye at all, which throws me into a panic until it fortunately starts throbbing at me, after which point I decide maybe I would’ve been okay with a severe injury after all.

Also, I yank out at him and grab him by the ankle while he’s running out the door, and he trips and falls right on his face and I feel a little vindicated by that.

Of course then he whips out a field neutralizer and runs off again, but what can you do. It’s not like you can ban people from using military surplus stores.

(I wonder if it’s one of the home security versions. That would narrow the pool.)

Chen gives me a hand up, sporting a brand-new bruise all the way across the side of his neck; it looks like he got shoved down onto a bench or something. Also, wow, he bruises quick. That’s got to be annoying as hell.

“You okay?” I ask, instead of answering his question, which I think was the same one, actually.

“So I found an invisible guy,” Graham says, limping towards us with his arm clamped firmly to his chest. “Someone explain to me why he had a hockey stick.”

“No idea,” Mason, with said hockey stick, tells us, “but he wasn’t invisible.”

“Ok, let’s just go over the footage before we declare that,” Graham says.

“We can do that, we should do that,” Mason says, “because that’s the guy, there’s no way that’s not the guy, but I’m telling you, I could see him before you tagged him, Graham.”

“Tagged him,” Graham repeats, bitterly.

“Well, how should we know, your power pretty much goes off even when you hit his foot with your abdomen, right?” Chen asks.

Graham sighs. Shrugs. Nods.

“Fox got a look at him,” Chen says.

The other two turn to look at me.

I shrug, too. “White guy.”

Graham glares at me. “Thanks, Travis.”

I forgive him, because I think his arm is broken, or at least sprained. “Blond. Five-nine-and-a-quarter, slight build, callouses on his hands –”

“Hockey callouses?” Mason asks.

“Certainly could be,” I say.

“Slight?” Chen asks.

“Bulky sweatshirt,” I explain. “One thirty, one forty. Late twenties or early thirties.”

“Blue eyes,” Mason adds. “Blue or really light hazel.”

I tap out a short message on my phone.

Mason glances over. “Description or medical?”

“Medical,” I say, and she nods, typing out the other one.

Then a neat little portal opens up. I take a moment to reflect on how nice that is, because now we can all get checked out soon as, then take a minute to reflect on how annoying it’s going to be for that intern kid to find a way to get rid of the car. Mason hands me the hockey stick while she writes up an evidence tag as quick as she can, then helps Graham through. We’re going to have to send someone back to look for DNA, I think; he’s got to have bled on something. Chen and I pick up the rest of our stuff and hurry through after them.

Not that it’s much of a big deal because this guy – Will, that’s right, can open up a portal a hell of a lot bigger than this over a hell of a lot farther for a hell of a lot longer.

I mean, he’s done it before. I’ve read the articles. He is definitely famous. I knew I knew about that guy from somewhere.

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The Quest

“So, we’re trying to catch whoever’s harassing the Lakers,” Mason says.

Graham scrunches up his face in concentration.

“That’s a sports team,” Chen stage-whispers.

Graham’s face relaxes.

Mason sort of grunts and I can tell she’d have something to say (or maybe just be making the same faces I am at him) if she weren’t behind the wheel.

She gives us a rundown of the information we have, so far, which is basically that someone’s spray-painting the lockers and the locker room with insulting, but largely non-threatening, messages. Nothing’s gone missing (or, if it has, it’s nothing anyone cares about – we can probably ask them to inventory towels and things), no one remembers any shadowy figures lurking about, and someone-not-us is going to comb through hundreds of hours of security footage and thousands of ‘fan’ letters – because it doesn’t seem to match any of the known hate mail or threats.

To be fair, it does seem to be pretty tame messages. Not collect-it-for-evidence type stuff. And the players themselves haven’t seen anything or run into anyone (which is probably a good thing, since they’re never going to be there for us to talk to), and we’re going to need to send over pictures for forensics (handwriting matching) and extranormal fingerprinting for patterns (everything else matching), and we can dust for prints and hold magnifying glasses up to our eyes while we pronounce things interesting and deduce…whatever.

All in all, it doesn’t actually take that long to explain, and we ride the rest of the way in silence, and I once again consider the wisdom of sticking four people who barely know each other on a case together. Especially a case that takes two at most. With a driver who hates music, or has a migraine, or is intentionally driving us crazy, or something.

We step inside, and make our way to the locker room entrance closest to the court, where there’s a little frowny face graffiti that may or may not be related to anything at all. Mason grabs video of it. It’s blue.

“Oh, it’s basketball,” Graham says, apparently enlightened by…I have no idea, actually, we’re surrounded by basketball things.

Chen gives him a look like what did he think it was, moron. I refrain from giving him a look at all. Mason’s still got that huge camera pointed at each and every message, word, and letter, and just shrugs it off.

Funny how I think of the camera as huge when it can’t be much bigger than camcorders always were when I was little, and I never thought of them as big, for cameras at least. I wish someone would hurry up and program something into our phones so we could just use those. I know the recording technology is there. I’ve seen the websites where people fuck around with it. That’s on normal phones with normal video hardware; it can’t be that hard to program something to capture power traces on our supposedly top-of-the-line proprietary tech.

Unless the things that patterns wants are more difficult to capture than that, I don’t know, I, like every sane person, don’t engage that precariously in depth with patterns.

“I just assumed it was a professional fishing team,” Graham adds. “You know, lakes.”

I give him an intense look of not being able to tell whether he’s joking or not. Scratch that, all of us give him that look, including the high schooler or really young looking college student who’s been charged with showing us around. He’s wearing his ID card proudly hanging from a bright purple lanyard with little logos all over it. Everything else about him is just about as khaki colored as humanly possible, including his weirdly beige hair. It’s kind of disconcerting, actually.

And that’s leaving aside the kind of people who are that into their lanyards.

(God, I hope this isn’t the guy who got ‘bad vibes’ off of it. That’s just exactly what I need to deal with. Some borderline esper, best case – probably just an escrow with an acute sense of paranoia.)

I watch Mason film the very team-spirit wall-sized ‘You suck!!’, wondering if it means anything that it says ‘you’ specifically, and not ‘Lakers suck!!’ or whatever else.

“Here,” Mason says, handing the camera over to Chen, “email these to Javier, I have to go find someone to tell me how the cameras are programmed in case they’re being fucked with.”

“Who the fuck is Javier?” Chen asks, but Mason’s already gone. He turns to me. “You think that’s a first name or a last name?”

I rack my brains for a minute trying to figure it out, and then blurt out, “Lucinta Javier, forensics,” because, yes, I do remember that giant shrine thing with the life-size cardboard cutouts.

“Javier with all those signed shirts?” Graham asks, walking up to exchange his full evidence bags with empty ones, and I arrange them in the bag to make sure we’ll have enough space for, I don’t know, everything ever? It makes my head hurt to think about all the exclusionary DNA.

“That’s the one,” I agree.

Graham looks around. “I guess this is one of her teams? You think Mason wants us sending them to her for reasons, or just for bragging rights?”

“Probably for reasons,” I say.

He shrugs. “I don’t know how collectible crime scene photos are.”

Chen chuckles. “Oh, very, in the right crowd. Not a very big crowd, mind you.”

“Maybe more so when it’s famous,” I say.

Mason comes back, flicking a USB stick between her fingers, the way people do with coins sometimes, when they can actually get that talent down without, you know, cheating and resorting to TK, especially with something that much heavier than a coin.

“You,” she says, pointing to me. “You were saying something about me behind my back.”

“What?” I say.

“No?” She raises an eyebrow, then turns to look at Chen and Graham. “Okay, you two, which one of you was it?”

“Uh,” Graham raises a tentative hand. “I said you were maybe trying to brag. To Javier.”

“Uh-huh,” she says. “It’s always something. I mean, apparently it’s barely something, wow, do you guys just look incredibly guilty, always?”

“I sent it,” Chen protests.

Mason shrugs. “She was so pissed they wouldn’t send her out here, because she can’t match paint types from a photo, you know. I told her the paint type was probably not as rare as all that.”

“I’m bringing her a couple scrapings, anyway,” Graham says. “She can see them when we get back. One from every color from every message. Also the frowny face.”

“Yeah, she’s not really pissed about the paint, Graham,” Chen says.

Graham cocks his head.

“She wanted to meet the team, Graham,” Chen says.

Graham snorts. “They’re not even here.”

Chen shakes his phone at us. “Well, she did text me to tell me to steal something if I could, and I quote, ‘maybe a jockstrap’, and she doesn’t even know me, so.”

“Yup, fairly excited about being included at all,” Mason says. “She bullied the rest of the techs into letting her take over. I mean, not much bullying, because she has that category-match thing.”

“They should’ve just let her come,” I say. “We probably could have stopped her from ransacking the lockers.”

Mason snorts. “You know we’re all here exclusively because we hate sports, right?”

“I don’t hate sports!” I protest, reflexively.

“Well, neither does Chen,” Mason says. “Meanwhile, I talk about sports constantly, but I guarantee you I’m not here because they trust in my professionalism.”

“I just don’t bring them up,” Chen says, with a shrug. “I gave up after the third time someone explained the rules of baseball to me. Slowly. Even for baseball.”

I hear that.

Graham cocks his head. “I hate sports.”

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Hello! Would you like to go on a quest?

“Kuiper!” someone calls from down the hallway, which isn’t right, because I’ve definitely got the mask on right now. I check and everything.

I mean, not that everyone doesn’t know who I am, or at least everyone who’s been here for more than a few weeks, who have all definitely seen me with my mask off.

And also maybe some of the newer people. I haven’t been very good about wearing my mask, except in front of the kids.

Which is actually pretty fucking ridiculous, because everyone but FiendPuncher has seen me without it for whole weeks, even, and also knows my name. And FiendPuncher has a Plan or something, and isn’t giving that up to tell everyone who I am.

Not that I care, actually, because the last time someone actually went after a teacher was ten years ago or whatever, and that was in, what, Bay City? Agapolis? And the media came down hard on them, and people aren’t that stupid anymore.

Well, actually, people are definitely that stupid, and everything probably really is due to the identity protocols, and damn. This is why they don’t tap armor personnel.

“Kuiper?” the voice says again, from where its owner is leaning against the doorway, arms crossed, staring at me with a raised eyebrow, and, hey, when did she get here?

“Yes,” I say, tugging off the mask (I can’t believe I’ve gotten used to wearing these). “Right. That’s me. What did you need?”

“You’re going on a field trip,” she informs me.

I dip my head in acknowledgement. “That I am. I’m taking the kids on patrol later today.”

She frowns, opens her mouth, holds up a hand, and harrumphs. “Hang on, let me rephrase that. We’re going on a field trip.”

I don’t suppose she wants to chaperone the demon spawn with me.

“We, as in, you, me, Graham, and Chen,” she says, “we have a case.”

“We,” I repeat.

“Yeah, well, you know, special investigative squad or whatever,” she tells me.

Oh, god, I hate it when they put together handpicked teams. It never ends well.

Maybe they can find someone else.

“I have, you know, class to teach,” I say.

She gives me a Look (wow, I am just getting those in spades this week) and sweetly reassures me that, “you’ll be back in plenty of time for the kids. Now move your ass.”

“Fuck, fine,” I say, “is there a reason, or…?”

“What, why they’d pull a perfectly capable mask and stick him on our bespoke party of adventurers?” she says. “Why, yes, yes, there is a reason.”

Flicking the door closed (because I don’t want to change in front of the entire building, thanks), which she raises an eyebrow at but doesn’t say anything about, I head to the back of the office, where those tiny little lockers are, and pull out my regular clothes.

Yes, I do, in fact, have to change into my costume as soon as I get in every day, why?

(Or, well, at least, after I get something to eat and, you know, caffeinated.)

Mason politely turns her back while I fight harder than a human person should reasonably have to fight getting out of the glossy purple unitard thing (it zips; it’s not really a unitard). Lucky me, I don’t actually need anyone to unzip me, but they just never want to stop sticking to my legs. Especially at the knee, where it’s done that thing where it bunches and molds itself to my skin or something, because I’ve been sitting in the chair for a while, and now I have weird texturing on my leg.

At least it takes two seconds to put on pants and a shirt. I cannot for the life of me find my socks, but I know they’re around here somewhere.

Travis, Travis. What a dumbass. I tucked them into my shoes so I wouldn’t forget about them.

I’m also pointedly not asking her what the reason is, because two can fucking play at that game, Agent Need-to-know. “Armor or no?”

“Shouldn’t need it, just recon right now,” she tells me, eyes still on the window. Probably watching to see if anyone came into the gym.

“It’s alright, you can look now,” I say, and I can’t help but kind of laugh when I do.

She rolls her eyes at me. “Well, I can’t have your virtue threatened because I caught a glimpse of your equipment while it wasn’t in use.”

“I would think it would be more of a problem if you caught it in use, actually.” I shrug.

She frowns. “I have no idea whether you’re joking.”

I grin. “Recon as in let’s sit in a parking lot and stare at nothing for hours, or recon as in we’re doing forensics’ job but patterns says they’ll mess something up?”

“Neither,” she says, “we’re doing forensics’ job because we’re investigating something almost probably extranormally-influenced, where people don’t want names of lowly techs attached.”

Oh, god. “Do we even need four of us?”

“Four,” she sighs, and shakes her head. “No. We need precisely one of us, and probably not even that, because it’s not like there’s not security footage.”

“What a shame we won’t be here for that,” I deadpan.

She laughs. “I know. When we catch this guy, I’m planning on giving him a piece of my mind for not pulling this next week.”

“Why, how many interns are you getting?” I ask.

She shrugs. “It’s not how many interns I get, it’s how many interns forensics gets. Or, actually, how many have nothing better to do than comb through hours of footage.”

“So, probably some of yours, anyway,” I say.

“Probably,” she agrees. “I’m actually capable of reading and writing. Frees up a lot of time I’d otherwise have to spend dictating a report to an underling.”

“You know when they put you on the illiterate teams, it’s because they’re somehow convinced you can teach the guys to read,” I tell her.

She nods sagely. “I have always given off a high school principal vibe. I think it’s the glasses.”

I grin. The frames are your basic black, but they’ve got a little bit of a cat-eye shape to them. And she does have her hair pinned up (in the same bun everyone else wears, but still). And I can’t really see someone letting a teacher – even a principal – carry a high voltage Taser, because once you had one it would be so hard not to use it, but I imagine it’s just slightly more effective than a ruler to shake at people. The thing The Man never realizes is that some students just don’t want to learn.

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Surprise!

“Knock, knock,” says a voice from the doorway, and I don’t grit my teeth.

“Hi,” I say, instead.

“Can I come in?” he asks.

I wave an expansive hand.

He pulls a chair up on the other side of my desk. “So, what’s up, Travis? How’ve you been?”

“I’m fine,” I say.

“Coping with the new job?” he asks.

“Yes,” I agree.

The shrink sighs. “You know, I think you should consider moving back to a standing appointment. You have Mondays free.”

“I have karate practice on Mondays,” I say, hoping Sensei Domino will forgive me the slip.

“Doesn’t take all day, Travis, why are you avoiding me?” he asks.

I shrug.

“I don’t want you to alienate yourself, here,” he tells me. “I know it can be pretty stressful to move from armor to mask. I want to make that easier for you.”

I blink at him. “It’s really not that hard.”

“Well, statistically,” he laughs, and shakes his head. “Never mind, let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about you. What are you up to?”

I stare at him. “I’m taking the kids out on patrol later today.”

“Oh, good, that’s good,” he says, “that’ll be a learning experience for them.”

“I hope so,” I tell him.

“So, I hear people are writing stories about you,” he continues.

“I’ve heard that, too,” I agree.

He nods. “How do you feel about that?”

I stare harder. Maybe if I stare hard enough, he’ll catch fire. Who knows? I could have a secondary power just waiting to manifest, I really could. “I’m cool.”

“Really?” he frowns. “You’re not, you know, feeling nervous?”

What, did management get its first death threat against me? “They’re just stories. No one I know is writing anything about me, I did make sure to warn them about that.”

“Stories,” he agrees, “pictures, videos, essays. How have you been sleeping?”

I raise an eyebrow.

He looks pointedly behind him, at the closed door, and then down through the window, at the empty gym below us.

“Aside from getting woken up to deal with puke and the inability to stand up for longer than ten minutes at a time, fine,” I say.

“You can’t stand up?” he asks. “Ah, no, right. Are you okay with dealing with that?”

I wonder exactly how threatening he’ll find my telling him to get the hell out of my office. “I don’t know why I wouldn’t be. I’ve dealt with it often enough before.”

“Well, I know you two were having some problems,” he says, patting my fucking arm.

My finger twitches, and nothing worse happens than my shoelace coming untied, but damned if I don’t know why he keeps me cuffed in his office. “All arguments that can be resolved at a later date, when, you know, neither of us is trying to puke out our livers.”

“Travis.” He steeples his fingers, because of course he does. “You can talk to me.”

“I fucking know I can talk to you,” I tell him, and a poster tears off the wall behind him, but at least it doesn’t make any noise and goddamn that was an ugly poster anyway, “I just don’t have anything to say.”

“Okay,” he says, “okay,” but then he just sits there.

I wonder if I should’ve gotten breakfast. If I’d gone down to the cafeteria, assuming no one bothered me, I’d be more than a minimal level of caffeinated right now, and quite possibly had something decent to eat. Today’s shaping up to be a fine fucking day.

“Travis,” he says again.

“What?” I snap. “I got six kids, okay, one of them is the world’s most gigantic asshole, one of them thinks he’s some sort of genius for hiding the fact that it’s someone – someone who won’t join the program or even come in for an eval – else’s tech he’s using, one of them keeps trying to sneak up on everyone, one of them keeps trying to hit on everyone, one of them is playing some sort of fucking game whose end goal I can’t even imagine, and one of them I can only remember even exists about half the time, and that’s usually when my friends are accusing him of something.”

“I see,” Dr. Waters says, and my god, I will fucking strangle the man.

I drop my head into my hands.

“Go on,” Dr. Waters says, with a slight look of consternation. I almost laugh.

“You forgot him. You forgot him, too.” I shake my head. “Look, whatever, let’s hope Doc Jerry doesn’t, and we’ll all be fine, but, yeah. Six students.”

“And one of them is up to no good,” he repeats. “Have you told Dr. Skye?”

I shrug. “I’m pretty sure they’re all up to no good; they’re teenagers. Only one of them’s being repeatedly accused of doing something and even that’s probably not a big deal.”

He makes some sort of intrigued noise. “You think they’re all up to no good?”

I snort. “All teenagers do something. If they’re not doing something, it’ll just turn out worse for them in the end. When the repressed finally go, they go big.”

“I see. You’re worried about that?” he asks.

God fucking damn it, he’s tricked me into a session again. I am going to be having words. With whom, I do not know, but words.

It’ll probably be Vector, won’t it. Vector listens to my rants. I mean, her sympathetic nods are about 67% sarcastic, but she listens to them.

Vector will in no way get this guy off my back, but I think Perry would just be confused. Darren glares bloody murder if I so much as bring up any of the shrinks. Apogee plays it off like she just Does Not Understand The Concept (god, I wish I could plead Cultural Differences). It’s sort of fucked to play on Hunch’s responsibility to me when he’s got no authority over Dr. Waters, and I don’t know the rest of the team well enough to try it. (Oh, can you imagine if I talked to Eli about it? Of course, he’s probably got issues of his own with these guys, so.) Yeah, it’s gonna be Vector.

I guess I could talk to Paragon about it, but he’ll probably have no idea what I’m talking about. I wonder if the Minnesota shrinks even bother him.

“Yeah,” I accede, “I worry the kids’ll get themselves into trouble.”

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Case File: Incident report: The Evil Reporter – unlawful use of powers

Note: People, stop calling him evil. He’s not evil. He’s just a reporter.

Addendum: an evil reporter

Addendum: A regular reporter.

Addendum: evil

Addendum: regular

Addendum: EVIL

Addendum: Elmer season

Once upon a time, there was an evil reporter. (Addendum: a regular reporter! Addendum: no, defs evil – patterns) He was from a small, no-name town in the backwaters of California, and he wanted to know everything there was to know about all of the inhabitants of that sleepy little town. (Addendum: You guys, it’s just called Littlefield.) And so he watched. And he waited. And he followed people into their homes. Sometimes, when they were sleeping, he would watch from the windows, peering in to see what they kept on their desks and dressers. If they were to wake, he would lean in and whisper, “go back to sleep. It’s only the wind.”

And he would photograph them, and collect files on them, collating notes, scanning old receipts. He would go through their trash and print off any public records on them. He lived for gossip; he always stood just out of sight, waiting for someone to let a juicy detail slip. And he knew things, so many things, about all of his neighbors. Oh, he would publish an article, from time to time, but that wasn’t enough for him. No, he wanted more. His pinboard collages weren’t enough for him, anymore, his carefully curated recordings, his neatly typed manila folders with the names of everyone in town going back five generations. But only so much was of interest to the rag that employed him.

And so he stalked to the roof one night. He screamed to the heavens. Rain poured down. Lightning flashed. And when he was struck by a particularly powerful bolt, it was no ordinary lightning – it glowed the sickly green of radiation, and held steady for an hour or more. (Note: Randall, seriously, you have got to stop reading that tripe.)

And what powers did he gain? Why every power known to man or god, of course, and some known only to the whispers between the stars themselves, knowledge lost forever to the deeps of space, echoing back too slowly from the walls of the ever expanding universe.

(Addendum: Randall, really? Addendum: Not actually Randall that time; that lovely sentence is courtesy of Mic, who had the misfortune of meeting Evil Reporter and Slightly Less Evil But Still Sinister Journalism Student during sweeps. Addendum: Mic reads too much SF and/or physics, not sure which. Note: Mic wrote that sentence??? What are we, exquisite corpsing this shit now???)

(Note: In the interest of making clear, here, Evil Reporter does not in fact have every power known to man. So far as we can isolate, he has charisma, some sort of honesty/babbling type power, x-ray vision (Addendum: not an accurate name Note: Shut up Jameson no one cares), and basically every memory enhancement under the sun. (Addendum: You SEE?? EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN.) He also has access to a fair amount of memetic equipment, but there’s no way most of that is without some sort of technological aid.)

And never was the Evil Reporter the same again. He had POWER now, and could no longer be confined by the dreary manacles of small town life.

AND SO HE MOVED TO OUR FAIR CITY. THIS IS WHERE WE BEGIN OUR TALE.

(Note: Yeah, our tale began a while ago. Also, this is not a tale. This is an indecent report. Addendum: incident report. Addendum: Caught that before I sumbitted it, thanks.)

Winter, in our fair city. The dead of night. Now.

The Evil Reporter stalks the city streets, hungry, ever hungry, for a tale worth telling, a tale that will line his pockets and fill his cabinets, a tale that will bring him renown.

Or better yet, a tale he will take to his grave.

(Addendum: Smoke, when you do that, no one can tell whether it’s a threat or hyperbole. If so, thanks, we get it, he likes to know things for the sake of knowing them. Otherwise, no stalking, bad.)

Now the Evil Reporter comes upon a fair maiden in the blush of youth. Now the Evil Reporter feeds her lies, plying her for shards of truth. Now the Evil Reporter whispers love in her ear, now the Evil Reporter plays on her fears. (Addendum: Now the Evil Reporter sees through her clothes. What? With that power, no one ever knows.) Now the Evil Reporter demands of her facts, now the Evil Reporter yearns to learn of Evil Acts. (Note: Is this really how we’re playing this? She slapped him; it’s not like she was some sort of ingénue.) (Addendum: click for video of slapfighting bliss; it deserves love and view after view after view. Addendum: dance remix is life)

And then, of course, there was the time that he secretly videotaped that interview, like it wasn’t at all important to blur everything out for, oh, I don’t know, secret identities reasons, and then leaked it onto YouTube and we had to do a time jump. (Addendum: reclassified level 6-;::) (Note: for all interested parties, yes the actual file concerning that is locked, no you cannot request it, and there’s not actually anything interesting in there, we just swapped out half a dozen body doubles) (Addendum: gots to protect the timeline – patterns)

Addendum: Correction, guys, and then, of course, there was that time the Evil Reporter nearly destroyed the space time continuum by secretly videotaping an interview, apparently.

He went through my bag once.

Did he know you were watching him?

I wasn’t watching him. I don’t think he even knew I worked here.

Wait, went through it, like pawed through it with his Evil Hands? Why didn’t he just look through it with his cross-sectional perception?

Why would he infiltrate the Oscars just to look at all the winners early?

Why would he steal doodles from senators? Addendum: I think he was aiming for minutes, or at least relevant notes or something.

Why would he sort through the entire trash of the Met?

So, there he is, the Evil Reporter, snug tight in his very favorite locker in the locker room of the

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