“How familiar are you with these, anyway?” Laces asks.
“Not at all,” I tell him, staring at the flying armor. I wipe my forehead on my sleeve.
“You’ve got to be at least a little bit,” Bartok says.
“Well, unless they turn out to be exactly the same as the not-flying kind,” I say.
Bartok and Laces both nod enthusiastically.
I poke at it. Well, in that case, it looks okay. “What, everything’s the same, except the flying part? What’s the point, then?”
“Uh, ’cause it costs twice as much to roll out the flying kind?” Bartok tells me.
“And it’s a lot more dangerous to eject from something a couple hundred feet in the air,” Laces adds. “Which is why you’re being supervised.”
“There’s a reason I decided not to get certified for this kind,” I tell them.
“Oh yeah?” Bartok says, opening up the armor so I can step inside.
She’s really only half paying attention, asking more to be polite than to hear the answer, but it still brings me up short. I take the extra time to step inside the suit and try not to panic as it closes in around me. For fuck’s sake, it’s exactly the same. As long as I’m careful not to scrunch my toes.
“Takes years to certify,” I say, finally.
“I would’ve thought for sure it was because those Air Force Assholes make fun of you,” Laces says, “unless you went through one of the military programs.”
Bartok grins. “Yeah. One of the military programs.”
“I really don’t think, in the heat of battle,” I tell them, “I’m going to have either the time or the wherewithal to peel one of these off your unconscious body and put it on.”
“Make sure you take it off Laces preferentially,” Bartok tells me. “He’s got a much better chance than I do of maybe being latent.”
Laces flips her off.
I shift a little, easing into the warmups. I shouldn’t be so paranoid, the suit isn’t as sensitive as all that, I’m not going to go flying off by accident, but I still start out slow. It’s a little bulkier than the regular suits, and a lot heavier. That’s going to be the jets. I catch myself using my TK to balance, and reel it back in. It’s not going to do me any good to learn it if I can’t control it power-free.
“So, I hear you play the violin,” I say, stretching out my fingers and tapping them together.
Bartok grins. “You hear correctly.”
“Tell me that’s where you got your name,” I say, “this is all so much more confusing if it turns out just to be a happy coincidence.”
“Ooh, now I really wish I had a story prepared,” Bartok says.
“I’m still pretty sure that said ‘Bach’,” Laces tells her.
“Bach in no way has a k in it,” Bartok says.
“Oh, yeah, like we knew anyone who could spell.” Laces rolls his eyes.
Bartok shrugs. “Eagle actually spells better when he’s drunk, by about an order of magnitude.”
“I just think, if k was the only letter you could make out,” Laces says.
“B,” Bartok says, “it definitely started with a B.”
“I mean drunk enough to write that sloppily,” Laces says waggling a hand, “I don’t think anyone would’ve remembered who Bartok is, if they even knew in the first place.”
“What?” I say, finally, as I shift to practicing punches and blocks. Actually, it feels a lot like what Sensei Domino was showing me, and I’m beginning to get how annoyed he was that upstairs just wants us to skip that part and get straight to the flying around.
“I woke up one day to an electric blue sticky note on my forehead,” Bartok says, “and a shitty tape-recorded impromptu concert playing in the background.”
“It is absolutely possible to play the violin drunk,” Laces adds, “just not a good idea.”
“Shitty as in shitty playing?” I ask, “or shitty recording equipment?”
“Yes,” Bartok agrees.
“It’s okay, we got it played for us on repeat the rest of the day,” Laces adds. “To remind us how not to have hangovers.”
“And then I added a combination lock to my violin,” Bartok says, “because too drunk to get it open is absolutely too drunk to play it.”
“It’s not actually a combination lock,” Laces says. “It’s a sticker that says ‘go home you’re drunk’ with a vomiting smiley face.”
“Too drunk to remember that’s not a combination lock is definitely too drunk to play,” Bartok confirms stoically.
I look back and forth between them.
Bartok snorts and covers her mouth while her shoulders shake.
“No,” Laces says, “no, absolutely not. My mother said the exact same thing and she didn’t believe me either.”
I hold up my hands in front of me. “I believe you.”
“Yeah, no,” Bartok says. “God, would I not be on the same team as him if we were.”
“Not that we haven’t faked it for a couple of weddings,” Laces concludes.
Bartok shakes her head. “Fucking drunk assholes, man. I hate weddings.”
“I don’t know where everyone else gets this problem,” Laces says. “Literally no one has ever hit on me at a wedding.”
“That’s probably because you always use Bartok as a human shield,” I tell him.
Bartok hi-fives me. Carefully, because I’m still new to the suit. It’s okay. The pressure sensors and gyroscopes really are exactly the same, so it works out fine. Laces grins and shakes his head.
“Okay,” Bartok says. “Three inches up and hover.”
I frown. “Look, I don’t know –”
“Three inches up and hover!” Bartok screams, leaning in towards my faceplate.
I clench my fingers and toes, realize what I’m doing almost immediately, and relax, but not before I’ve shot about a foot off the ground. I adjust my grip on the foot controls slowly, drifting down to what I hope is three inches. Seeing my teammates eyeing it, I let my field drift out, and adjust my positioning to three inches exactly.
They give me golf claps.