I stick another fluorescent orange arrow on the page. It makes my eyes swim. Or maybe that’s because I’ve been combing through these for an hour trying to find any references to any hint of the Vivisection Killer’s methodology. Either way.
I close the file and crack my neck.
“You really shouldn’t do that, you know,” Stranglehold tells me, not even looking up from his tablet, “it’s bad for your neck.”
Sass mimics me, grinning at him the whole time.
Arsenal stealthily shifts his homework to the side, watching to see if this is going to turn into a thing. It doesn’t. Hunch does notice us all being distracted and not working, and brings us muffins, but it doesn’t turn into a thing. (He still gets to stop doing homework, though, I guess.)
I start picking apart a pistachio one.
“Are you eating that upside-down?” Bartok asks me, horrified.
“This is right-side up,” I say, picking a piece off, “you’re just confused because the military trained you to eat them wrong. Everyone eats them this way.”
“True facts,” Stranglehold agrees.
Sass nods. “The first time someone explained to me why Flight Crew all ate yours backwards, it blew my mind.”
“Yeah, you guys have never seen someone eat a muffin before?” Arsenal adds, flipping his over to peel the wrapper off, too.
Boomerang snickers. “Yeah, even in Montana we eat them that way, have you really never heard of it?”
Bartok glares at us. Laces scoots back from the table slightly, shifting his gaze between us.
Hunch tosses them each a muffin. “Eat it however you want.”
Laces eyes his muffin warily.
“Stand down, Laces, this is not a quarantine situation,” Hunch says, “look what you guys made him do, he’s about to go into Imposter Protocol.”
“I was not,” Laces grumps.
“I’m about to go into Kick Your Ass Protocol,” Bartok mumbles, around a bite of muffin she’s eating the right way thanks.
“Yeah, that’s scheduled tomorrow for Arsenal and Friday for Boomerang,” Hunch says.
“Flying!” Arsenal says, with a clap.
“No flying,” Bartok says, pointing, “eat your snack.”
Arsenal rolls his eyes.
“And eat it right-side up, or I won’t even let you play with the controls,” she adds.
Arsenal holds the muffin up, widening his eyes innocently. “But it is –”
“Say it and I’ll make you run laps the whole lesson,” Laces warns.
“They taste better,” I explain. “You don’t get to the sugar until the end.”
“Muffins aren’t even supposed to have sugar on them at all!” Bartok snaps. “Corn muffins never have sugar on them. You put sugar on cupcakes.”
“Muffins are just cupcakes with no frosting and more pieces of foodstuffs in them,” I tell them, through a mouthful of muffin, picking off a pistachio to show them.
“This is the last time I try to bring healthy snacks,” Hunch mutters at us.
“You do not get to talk,” Bartok points at me. “You put perfectly good maple sugar candies in our disgusting day-old office coffee.”
“If you flavor them with regular sugar they taste like day-old office coffee,” I tell her.
“It’s supposed to!” she snaps, “that’s how you know you’re at work!”
“He wastes those things on coffee?” Laces asks Arsenal.
I turn to him. (Laces, not Arsenal.) “Fuckin’ A, you want to take this outside?”
“Maybe I do,” Laces says, sort of rolling his muffin around in a way that I think is supposed to be intimidating, but kind of just looks like he’s waving a muffin at me.
“Fine,” I say.
“Fine,” he says.
“Children,” Hunch says, but he’s trying not to laugh, even as Laces and I roll our sleeves up.
“Ah, a round of good old fashioned fisticuffs,” Stranglehold says. “To ten seconds pinned or surrender, no holds barred, powers neutralized, winner take all.”
“All what?” Sass asks.
“The muffins, I was pretty sure,” Stranglehold says, pretending to consult his notes.
“What the hell is a sugar candy?” Boomerang asks.
“Maple sugar candy,” Arsenal corrects.
Boomerang flips him off. “I heard the first time. Aren’t all candies sugar?”
Sass shrugs at him. “I mean, depending on what you call sugar and what you call candy, sure. There are ‘sugar-free’ candies.”
“That’s gross,” Boomerang says.
“Yes,” Sass agrees.
“Maple sugar candies are candies made from maple sugar,” Hunch explains.
Boomerang looks nonplussed.
“Maple sugar is sugar from maple trees,” Hunch adds.
“It’s like maple syrup,” Stranglehold says, handing over his tablet, presumably with information about maple trees or the syrup distillation process, or possibly birb memes or something, because whatever it is engrosses Boomerang pretty quickly.
“And Fox’s money is his to waste how he wants,” Hunch says, shaking his head at me.
“It makes the coffee taste good,” I protest.
“Buy better coffee,” Stranglehold and Sass say in unison, then hi-five.
“I did,” I tell them, “I used up the entire snack budget for my division.”
“Your division – you used the entire budget?” Bartok asks me. “That’s supposed to cover, like, ten teachers and almost a hundred kids.”
“Kids are covered under the class budget,” I tell her. “It falls under ‘goodwill’ or something, maybe just ‘catering’, and I don’t need much in the way of supplies, so.”
“So you ordered cheaper coffee for the kids, I take it,” Laces says.
“I don’t give the kids coffee,” I tell him. “I’m considering taking away their soda.”
“Aww, too amped up on sugar and not listening to you?” Arsenal says, “I remember those days well. So carbonated and carefree.”
“They just ignore me the whole time. Today they played Risk.” I sigh.
“I have an admiral’s kid going through retraining right now,” Bartok says, “thinks he’s hot shit even though he can barely use the scuba armor.”
“Keeps trying to correct her on how all the controls work,” Laces says. “And then afterwards he always winks at me. I don’t even know what he’s trying to convey. Like, is he hitting on me?”
“He’s not hitting on you,” Bartok says.
Laces snorts. “I wouldn’t say yes. If he says actually one more time….”
“He managed to get someone to sign a suit out to him and found a way to break it in ten minutes,” Bartok concludes.
“We have a new batch of local bigshots in for interview basics,” Sass says. “They keep throwing tantrums over their lighting and miccing.”
“They say they know how to answer questions,” Stranglehold says, “I mean, they answer them. They regret it after, but they answer them.”
“The guy who sits behind me in math and history keeps singing Beatles lyrics to himself,” Arsenal says. “Like, for the whole class.”
We all look at him.
“What?” he says, with a shrug. “I’m in high school. Bad students everywhere is all I’m saying.”
“Just keep them out of trouble,” Hunch says, “they’ll get back into the swing of lessons soon.”
“Yeah,” I agree.
“Hey,” Boomerang says, “hey, hey, did you guys know that trees can send, like, chemical messages to each other through their feet?”