“Forget that,” Laces says, “the point is that astral projection is really unpredictable.”
“It’s not that unpredictable,” Bartok says, “I mean, it takes ten years to learn the formulas, but it’s pretty straightforward.”
Boomerang snorts. “According to who, exactly?”
Bartok cuffs him on the ear. “According to people with doctorates in applied physics.”
“Oh, sure, just call me Doctor Henries, then, that’s fine,” Laces says, “does us a shitload of good if we can’t predict it.”
Sass laughs slightly. “I’m almost entirely certain you need the astral projector’s biometric data to make predictions in the first place, so there is that.”
“Um,” Arsenal says, “I heard there’s a new company that can do it by extranormal fingerprint.”
“Really?” Sass says, “do they –”
“And where did you learn that, science class?” Boomerang asks.
“Yeah,” Arsenal says, “I did learn it in ‘science class’, okay, maybe some of us actually enjoy physics, so here’s the thing, fuck you.”
“Ooh,” Boomerang starts to say, and kind of trails off when the rest of us stare at him.
Stranglehold clears his throat. “But we think definitely some kind of traveler?”
Hunch grins at us. “Well, I have a good feeling about that, anyway.”
I may roll my eyes pretty hard at that one. I mean, I think most of us do, but, really? I finish tucking away the rest of the tracking supplies, in case it really is an astral projector, although they kind of make my utility belt feel lopsided. It looks fine, which I suppose is the main thing – I slide my field under it, just a little bit, just to stop the corner from stabbing into my leg. I mean, whatever. I’m making my coat swirl all over the place; I may as well even out my belt a little.
“How cold is it out there?” Hunch asks.
Sass and Stranglehold pause to share a smirk with each other. Boomerang pauses to look it up on his watch, I don’t know, he thinks it’s the coolest thing, he’s been showing us every five seconds. It has weather on it and, other stuff, cell phone reception or something; it’s not even an internet watch, it just has this really involved display. He proudly shows it off to Hunch (again).
Anyway, the point is, I hurry up and get the cold weather inserts from my locker while Hunch is still busy scolding the kids into dressing warmer, and believe me, they are lucky their costumes allow so much more room for padding, because my extra coat actually does very little. Meanwhile Laces and Bartok are all happily cocooned in their little tin windbreaks, and probably having to fight very hard to refrain from hi-fiving each other all over the place. I miss my armor.
“And they say we’re welcome to use their roof anytime,” Sass adds, as she steps into the hallway. “Apparently people are antsy around the new one because it’s still so shiny.”
“Well, you had to figure, right?” Stranglehold says, following her out, “but then I didn’t see anyone there, and just, I don’t know, no one wants to be the first one, do they?”
“How’s the food?” Hunch asks.
“Decent,” Arsenal says. “Chefs are still getting the hang of the recipes, but they’re getting there. A lot more fun coffee drinks than the other locations.”
Yay. I don’t do an actual dance, but their menu wasn’t small in the first place, so –
“Well, thanks, Yelp,” Boomerang says, “nice to know you’re on our side.”
“Look, it’s right next to my school, so I’ve been there a couple times,” Arsenal says. “Back the fuck off, dude.”
“Are they still doing the student combo plates?” Bartok asks.
Arsenal shrugs. “I think they’re just doing those for everyone now, but you get drink upgrades with your student ID.”
“People did always like those,” Laces says, pushing the door open for the rest of us. “I knew a guy went back to school just so he could get them without having to send his neighbor out for food.”
“His neighbor?” Stranglehold heads up the stairs. “How exactly do you even manage that?”
“Not like – I mean, he didn’t up and ask her out of nowhere, like knocking on her door in the middle of the night or something,” Laces says, leaning against the door. “She babysat his kids.”
“Still,” Hunch says, following, “going back to school just for a combo platter?”
“I guess he didn’t even need to bother, anyway,” Bartok adds. Her boots clang against the steps.
“Oh, well, he’s a physical therapist now, so it all worked out,” Laces says, and the door echoes up the stairwell as it slams shut behind us, cutting off the lights from the hallway and
Hunch’s arm is around me, I think my hand is on the railing because my foot slipped for a second there, people need to stop asking questions so fast
The carpet solid under my feet seems to swim a little less than the concrete did, but I can’t tell whether the looming shape at my side is Hunch or the wall. I stare at this bright green fiber sticking up out of a sea of bluish-gray but my vision doesn’t clear, even though the thread seems to wave at me every time someone calls my name.
“Fox,” Hunch says, but it seems to come from the other side, god, which way am I facing
“Travis,” Hunch says, “breathe.”
I take him up on it.
“It’s just Gene, buddy,” he says. I think he’s rubbing my back.
By the time my directional sense returns, everyone’s gone except Hunch, who’s holding me up by at least one arm – I trip the second I try to move, which is only fun and not embarrassing – and Arsenal, who’s brought me a mug of coffee, bless his soul. It’s hot enough to hurt my hand when I press my palm against it, but at least I don’t spill any coffee.
“You okay, kiddo?” one of them asks – Hunch, probably, because the other way makes very little sense. The other one says, “with extra sugar.”
The coffee burns my tongue more than tasting like anything.
“Thanks,” I say. I hope my grin doesn’t come out too much like a grimace.
“You should probably get going,” Hunch says, “we’ll be there in a minute.”
I have to assume he’s not talking to me, given that he still has hold of my arm, but I’m not real keen on trying to walk again so soon after I made an idiot of myself, and, anyway, I have coffee now, so there are more pressing concerns. I take another sip. Ah, feel the burn.
“Do you need to go home?’ Hunch asks me, and at least I have the presence of mind to shake my head.
He keeps his arm on my elbow as we walk down the hall, but lightly, so it doesn’t jostle me every time I try to drink my coffee.
“Do you need to talk to Dr. Waters?” he asks.
“Oh, fuck no,” I say.
Hunch laughs. “Do you want to talk to Dr. Jerry? Because I don’t think he’s left yet.”
I make a face. “It’s weird talking to him.”
“I know,” Hunch says. “Just thought I’d offer.”
“Thanks,” I say.
“Do you want a hug?” he asks.
“Are we going down to the cafeteria so we can pretend we meant to eat dinner before heading out all along, even though we’re suited up?” I ask. “Where they can stare at me and not ask?”
“Yes,” Hunch says.
“I would very much like a hug,” I tell him.
He’s careful not to spill the last of my coffee.