“Sufficiently caffeinated?” Hunch asks me.

I give him a dirty look.

He shakes his head at me forlornly.

Arsenal hands me a mug, because there’s a guy who takes caffeine as seriously as it should be taken, he is so precious, and an amazing addition to the team, and I have no idea what we would do without him. I take a sip. Oh, god, it actually has enough sugar in it and everything. I toss Arsenal a grin.

Wait, no, bad Travis, what the hell have you done.

The kid is crimson.

Which actually goes pretty nicely with his costume. Although I do kind of wonder who designed all of these – that’s not even it, it’s who thought they would go well together? I mean Stranglehold and Sass match well enough, they’d have to, and it’s not like their extra-sparkly neutral is going to clash with much of anything (I mean, how does mother of pearl clash with anything, even with gold-tone accents). Bartok and Laces are just wearing plain khaki flightsuits (I’m pretty sure that’s standard for them), and I can’t actually remember what their armor looks like (or even if they don’t come paired, wow, I feel like I should maybe pay more attention to Flight Crew), but Hunch is wearing precog green, and it would look bizarre next to Arsenal even if I weren’t here.

Boomerang is some sort of swirly multi-colored abstraction and looks bizarre on his own.

Also, we have like three items to tick off the agenda, and then Hunch hands me a stack of old files to go through.

“Hey! Where are my files?” Arsenal asks.

Hunch shakes his head and points to the corner. “Do your homework.”

“Look, I’d have to go all the way down to the locker room to get it, and besides,” Arsenal huffs, “if I couldn’t plan around doing homework, I wouldn’t be here.”

Boomerang snorts at him. “What are you, still in high school?”

“Yes,” Arsenal says, with a pointed glare.

Boomerang smirks. “Did you get held back because–”

“That’s enough, Boomerang,” Hunch says, “Arsenal, go get your homework.”

“There’s no point in me drawing a paycheck if you won’t even let me work,” Arsenal grumps, but heads on down to locker rooms to get his backpack anyway.

“Lucky bastard,” Laces says, tossing his pen in the air, “wish I could draw a paycheck and not have to work.”

“Well, looks like it’s your lucky day,” Bartok says, engrossed in her own files and not even looking over to see him, well, leaning back in his chair and tossing his pen in the air.

“You two,” Laces says, pointing his pen at their tablets, “tell me how to get the white hat complex. You guys don’t have to work.”

“Fuck you, Laces,” Sass says, tapping at her keyboard.

“Well, you know what they say,” Stranglehold mutters, “do what you love….”

“Are you even latent?” I ask.

Everyone’s eyes swivel towards me and I want to crawl under the desk.

I’ve got to remember that this is technically a mixed space.

Boomerang waits nervously for me to get a piece of someone’s mind, Sass shrugs sympathetically, Stranglehold shrugs less sympathetically, and Bartok just shakes her head at me. Hunch has his face buried in his hands, but if he didn’t, he’d be making his goddamnitTravis expression from the good old days. This is what Arsenal’s going to walk back in on, isn’t it.

“Funny story,” Laces says, rubbing at the back of his neck, where the white-blond hairs are just starting to grow back in, “I don’t actually know.”

Bartok shakes her head again, but this time at him, and puts her headphones on.

“You don’t know?” Boomerang snaps, and seems like he’d add more without Hunch’s hand on his shoulder.

“I thought you were req-” Stranglehold says, “none of my business.”

It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who forgets to think first, though.

“I, um,” Laces makes a vague motion with his hand. “I had a religious exemption.”


Well, actually, that’s when Arsenal walks back in, all what-did-I-miss. So not entirely silent, but possibly even more awkward.

“You got a religious exemption?” Sass repeats.

“Well, I’m not anymore!” Laces says. “I just, you know, never updated it and I didn’t even remember I’d opted not to get tested until I was here, and they didn’t test me during intake because I still had that on file, and they said they would if I wanted to but it just seems like so much hassle.”

“Oh my fuck, he doesn’t know whether he’s latent?” Arsenal says, which sums up the situation quite nicely, even if it does make Laces bury himself in files.

I busy myself with them, too, because, hey, that’s what we’re here for, for putting little sticky arrows on anything that might be relevant and not actually for harassing our coworkers about what kind of fundamentalist compound they did or didn’t spend their childhoods on and which may or may not have insisted on filling out all the extra paperwork for that sort of thing.

“What kind of crazy-ass cult did you grow up in?” Arsenal mutters, shaking his head, as he pulls out his homework and starts doing – looks like math.

I do not miss being 18.

“And didn’t the Air Force beat it out of me, yes, I know,” Laces says, “and, yes, they did.”

“They didn’t beat it out of you,” Bartok says, emphatically, headphones tipped slightly off one ear, “they loved and tolerated it out of you, and Eagle was practically your best friend for a while there.”

“Yeah, well, he was the only one who didn’t steal my shoes, so hey,” Laces retorts.

“Tolerate may have been a little strong,” Bartok murmurs, and adjusts her music, snickering.

“You should probably get tested,” Sass tells him.

Laces shrugs.

She shakes her head. “I mean, high stress environment –”

“I’ve had higher,” Laces says.

“– high stress environment, you’re likely to pattern off one of ours,” Sass says. “At least learn the hypnotic tricks to make yourself a hat.”

“You can use mine,” I tell him, “I’m a textbook teke. Shouldn’t cause you any trouble at all.”

“Thanks,” he says, with an eyeroll.

“It’s so not worth the hypnosis if you’re not actually going to manifest,” Stranglehold says. “Forget just the X-test, get yourself a probability screening too.”

“You know those things are, like, three quarters accurate, at best,” I tell him.

“Yeah, but they can pin them to situational bias these days,” Arsenal says, and sighs when Hunch’s finger flicks between him and his work.

“Go fuck yourselves, you guys,” Boomerang says, “he doesn’t have to test if he doesn’t want to.”

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