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 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.