Chocolate and Basil

Chocolate and Basil greet me as I show up to the appointment. No, I mean Sass and Stranglehold, whatever, it’s fine, I’m definitely paying attention to my teammates. Anyway, the two dogs rush up to me (aww, Chocolate missed me! Aww, Bas is more excitable than earlier!) and lick my hands (one hand each), and it’s all very gooey and mildly disgusting. I love dogs.

My teammates, who are the ones I have the appointment with, not the dogs, keep trying to say something to me, but there are dogs instead.

“No, it’s fine,” the artist says, “he needs a quirk, right? His quirk is that all the dogs love him. All of them. In the entire world.”

“Yes,” I say, “I love all the dogs in the entire world. Wait, what?”

He laughs at me. “Your, uh, subplots, I guess, is the closest thing.”

“Oh,” I say, “sure, sounds good.”

“Do you even read the comic, Teke?” Stranglehold asks me.

“No,” I say, completely honestly. Then, because I’m in front of the artist, “I mean, here and there, but it toes the line a little hard for the communities I spend time in.”

The artist snorts. “It’s official stuff, there’s only so much we can say.”

“Well, as long as it’s not harmful to say he likes dogs,” Sass says, shrugging.

“Probably not,” the artist says. “Do you have a dog? Just out of curiosity.”

“No,” I tell him, “can’t. Allergies.”

He looks dubiously at two of my several new best friends.

“Not my allergies,” I clarify, “I don’t live alone.”

“Okay, well, that works out nicely,” he says, “let’s get you a dog. What kind?”

“Poodle,” I say, immediately.

He looks up. “What?”

“Poodle,” I repeat. “Everyone’s used to them being clipped and dyed in interesting patterns, so my poodle sidekick can look exactly like my suit.”

“Oh my god, that’s brilliant,” Stranglehold says.

“This is so clearly not the first time he’s thought of this,” Sass says.

Whatever. People have daydreams.

“That will work amazingly,” the artist says. “I mean, we may have to hire someone to design a poodle for some publicity shots – you okay with that?”

“Uh,” I say, “absolutely, unequivocally, yes, how would I not be?”

“Great,” the artist says, “I’ll do some mockups later, you can look them over. May have to rent a poodle for interviews, now that I think about it. It’ll go over. We’ll get approval first, of course.”

“Sure,” I say, “do a lot of people read these for the pets, or?”

Sass laughs. “So far, I’m the only one with animal sidekicks. I’ve apparently gained the power of communicating with cats or something? I have a dozen of them. They follow me.”

“I think those are former agents under a magical curse or something,” the artist says, “sorry, that was the last guy, I’m trying to mostly leave out magic.”

“That makes sense,” I say, even though it really, really, doesn’t.

He holds up a masterful sketch of a poodle. And I do mean masterful. This is – how quickly did he do this? And it’s clearly just a sketch, I mean, it’s not shaded or anything, but it’s – really fucking detailed? I’m impressed. I mean, I know we get about a page a day done, but I’m really impressed by the whole thing.

Oh my god, the colors though. It matches my suit exactly. I’m now even more excited for this hypothetical promotional photoshoot with this imaginary poodle, because I want to see this done in real life, it’s amazing. Poodles are amazing. I’m going to have to start reading the comic, probably.

My suit looks weirdly good on a dog?

Anyway, I think a lot of this hairstyle wouldn’t work on a poodle in real life, because obviously a lot of it is just in the drawing method, to stylize me and the poodle like each other, but still. I want to see this purple poodle with these blue accents, amazing.

“What about you?” the artist asks.

“What about me?” I ask back.

The artist shows me a sketch, not nearly as much detail as the poodle, but stylized the same way. I think they’ll look good together.

“Uh,” I say, “yes?”

The artist laughs. “No, I mean, are there any changes you’d like me to get in there?”

I shrug at him.

“Obviously this is going through vetting before I put it on the page,” he tells me, “but if there’s anything you’d like, you know, make the character better, tell me now.”

I hold out my boot for him to see, “make it cooler.”

He frowns at it a second, then fiddles the sketch.

I look it over. “No, what I meant was, the boots are always too practical, I mean, obviously, give it some sort of – I don’t know. Make it a cowboy boot or something.”

He considers it. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot. Let you know what upstairs comes up with.”

“Maybe make my hair a little bigger,” I add.

“Hmm?” he says, glancing up, “muscles bigger?”

“What? No,” I say, flexing self-consciously, “why, should they be?”

“Probably not,” the artist says, “we like to do the buff thing for the white hats. Support positions tend to be stylized smaller. Tekes usually go kind of lanky.”

I look down at myself. Lanky’s fine. I mean, I don’t know the comic. “Sure,” I say. “No, the hair. I keep it short. Make it a little longer?”

“But same style?” the artist says, peering at my hair.

“Yeah,” I say, “just a little bit longer.”

I mean, hey, if we’re putting me in a comic, I may as well have a nice haircut. Pretend me has a great poodle and probably much better powers (and social life) and fights – last I checked space monsters? I may as well be more capable of maintaining more complicated hair.

“Ooh,” Sass says, “don’t forget the sunglasses.”

I stare at her long enough that the dogs get upset with me.

Stranglehold grins at me. “The whole team wears sunglasses. For…I don’t know. Reasons?”

“Uh-huh,” I say, “and how prominently am I going to figure in this whole thing?”

Sass huffs. “It’s not a big deal, Teke, we only show up at random, anyway.”

“That’s why we have to all wear the same sunglasses,” Stranglehold adds. “I think it’s the only way the artists can keep track of us.”

“Not the readers?” I ask.

Sass laughs. “You’re obviously not familiar with our reader base.”

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Cheese Toasties

Cheese Toasties!

He gives an excited whuff and wags his tail really hard, enough that I can hear a fairly loud smacking noise each time, while Chelsea makes aggravated faces. Cheese Toasties pulls forward slightly, glances up, and then inches backwards until he’s parallel with Chelsea’s shoe again. He looks forlornly at me, then resolutely sits down, turning away from me.

“You will refrain from any indications of affection,” she tells me.

I nod, looking at his training vest and definitely not having to fight myself not to pat him on his nose, which is still determinedly pointed away from me.

“Good boy,” she says. To Cheese Toasties, not me. I’m not the one who needs reinforcement not to go against the training regimen. Because I am a professional and know better than to pet a dog in a service vest. Although, I do still have some maple sugar candies. You know. If I needed them.

“What brings you to my office?” I ask.

Chelsea pulls up a chair, letting the puppy lie down next to it. “This sweetie needed a little break. Too much stimulus for too long, I think.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “today was maybe not the best day to have brought him in.”

Chelsea grins, shaking her head, and makes a ‘stay’ hand gesture as she gets up to grab a cup of coffee. “Very best day, really. He’s mostly used to humans, by now, but sometimes he gets worked up around other dogs. We’re trying to get him to relax around them.”

“Well, as long as you have a plan,” I say, but Cheese Toasties looks perfectly content to lie by the chair and wait for whatever happens next.

“Where’s your sugar, Travis?” she asks.

Shit. That’s what I forgot. I walk over to the cabinet, trying to remember whether I stocked the sugar in the lower or upper cabinet.

No wait, I put it in the fridge. I grab the sugar shaker off the drying rack, make sure there’s no water in it, and put it right side up on the counter. It doesn’t take very long to fill the shaker. It does take very long to figure out where the ring that’s supposed to fit into the cap went (also the fridge, but this time by accident) and actually manage to get it stuck back into the cap, which then doesn’t want to go on properly. I get it to Chelsea in due time, though, and it would’ve worked perfectly well if she hadn’t stolen my maple sugar candies to use instead, how dare she.

I put the sugar shaker back by the coffee pod tree, where it’s supposed to go.

“Wow, you’re right, it does give a nice mapley kick to the coffee,” she says.

I sigh. “Now you try it. You couldn’t have picked a time I wasn’t running low?”

“I’ve actually been convinced you were trying to prank me, up until now,” Chelsea tells me, heading back to her seat. “I didn’t think there would actually be any available.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Prank? No, absolutely not, that would be a disgrace to both coffee and maple sugar candies. There are things we don’t joke about, Chelse.”

“Do you run the animated series?” she asks me.

“I,” I say, “what?”

“The animated series,” she says, “the one with the characters based on your students, come on, you have to watch it.”

“Uh,” I say. Come on, Fox, tell her something other than Perry doesn’t ship underage RPS.

“Have you ever watched it?” she asks me.

I shrug. “I think I saw that special they did, where Arsenal saved a cat or something.”

“Gods above,” she says, dropping her face into her hands. “Okay, I get that it’s terrible, but it’s the main recruitment strategy, and you’ve got to support local cable, right?”

I shake my head at her. “You say that like I want recruitment. Also? Those shows are a terrible recruitment strategy. They’re full of lies.”

“They’re full of harmless adventure stories for children.” Oh, she’s laughing at me now.

“It gets the kids’ hopes up. There’s not a single student who doesn’t complain about the lack of adventure for their entire first year.” Oh, actually, except FiendPuncher. Well, she’s the kind to actually read the informational packets, I guess.

“I bet it makes her feel better that she’s doing so well on the show, though,” Chelsea says.

Wait, what? Was I talking out loud, or –

“FiendPuncher? She’s a fan favorite right now?” Chelsea clarifies, “that was who you were saying is complaining about the lack of adventures, right?”

“It’s the tiny little bows, isn’t it,” I say, at last.

“I mean, it’s been long enough since someone wore that,” Chelsea says, “they had to do a whole new mold for her hairstyle. It looks great, though.”

“Ah,” I say.

“You have absolutely nothing to do with the animated series, Travis, do you?” she asks.

I shake my head.

She laughs. “Well, that’s some help, I guess.”

“What do you need it for?” I ask.

She waves her hand vaguely. “So, one of the organizations I volunteer with wants a special done about service animals, and the thought is since I know you –”

“Me, me, or Teke?” I ask.

“It doesn’t actually matter,” she says, “I’m the only one who knows anyone at the agency. I just thought you might know something about it, or at least who to ask.”

“Honestly,” I say, “you’re probably better off heading over to one of the UC’s and asking if any of the animation students work on it.”

“Ooh,” she says, “I actually was going to head over later. That’s not a bad idea.”

“I can ask around on the production end,” I tell her, “but I don’t think I know the right people.”

She drops her head against the chair. “How hard can this actually be to figure out? Everything but the holiday special has tiny viewer numbers, it’s not like they need security or anything.”

“Probably be easier if they had security,” I muse, “we could just follow home whichever local channel people had, you know, armed guards.”

“Travis, if I had the time to follow them around and study their lives, I’d just wait to see which one had Top Dog fly through their window in the early evening,” she tells me.

“You can probably ask him,” I say, “I think he’s around right now.”

She frowns and shakes her head. “With my luck, he’s not involved either.”

“Is it actually any good?” I ask her, “really?”

“Oh,” she says, “no, it’s awful, but in a really fun way. They still tell you what they learned at the end of every episode and everything. Here, let me show you this one, it’s really cute.”

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Potato

“Look!” Vector Analysis has a dog. Vector Analysis is not supposed to have a dog yet, she was supposed to have a dog in a month or two months or something. She has a dog now. It’s a border collie like I expected, but it’s still early – is this an extranormal dog? Can it time travel?

I stare at the border collie for a moment, who stares back at me, cocks its head, and tentatively wags its tail. Still suspicious. Then it reaches up a paw to gently pat my knee, and, okay, wow, yes, best doggo, wow, what a good dog. Amaze.

I’m making incoherent doggo-talk at the pupper by the time Vector tells me his name is Potato. Potato! The best dog name! What a good dog you are, Potato, yes you are, yes you are a good dog.

We have become the best of friends.

“Aren’t you going to ask me where I got a dog, Trav?” she laughs, setting down her tray and organizing it a little, whoa, when did she get food, have I been talking to her dog the entire time she’s been getting lunch, okay.

I look up. “Oh? Oh, yeah, where did you get a Potato?”

Vector gives Potato a soft pat, which is not very effective, because I’m afraid I’m monopolizing scritchie time, but we’re getting along really well, for sure.

“You remember the waiting list?” she says.

“Sure, sure,” I agree, patting this great doggo.

“Anyway, I’m not on the regular one,” she adds, “I mean, I wasn’t. It was for the reject dogs –”

“Who rejects a dog?” I ask her, staring wide-eyed in horror.

“Assholes,” she says, then shakes her head. “No, it’s for the ones that don’t conform to show standard. Some of them you can tell right away, some of them it takes weeks – you can even get a dog several months old if it turns out to be the wrong size or just not trainable.”

“Go on,” I say, fluffing up these pointy fluffy ears, and wait, wow, she got me to dogsit this entire time without even asking me, that is so rude, I mean, I was right here the whole time talking to her dog – actually, you know what, she probably did ask me and I just didn’t hear, yeah, that sounds like me, but, really, it’s probably fair to take it as agreement when someone keeps playing with your dog instead of talking to you, because look at this dog, look, will you lookit, what a good doggy yes.

“Anyway, right, I was on this list,” she says, “with no preferences, because you know, pet, what do I care what the breed standards are? Or what kind of junk it has?”

“Potato,” I say, softly, to much tail wagging.

“Which means I was also their go to if any of the older dogs were up for adoption,” she says.

“The ones that are too big or too small?” I clarify.

“Or don’t like being trained,” she agrees, “so they call me up and say they have this puppy, this somewhat older puppy, looking for a home.”

I regard Potato more closely (although I don’t stop with the fluffs and pats), and, yeah, I can see that, a little older than I might have expected for a new puppy. And so fluffy!

“So the story is, this was one of the overflow puppies, just not quite the right color they were looking for, so they sent him off to some family,” she tells me, “and they wanted to know if he’d get along with their other dogs, which he did not.”

I look up. “What? What happened?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know, apparently the other dogs were super happy to have a puppy around, but then Potato doesn’t like the attention? And doesn’t like loud noises? And their other dogs are super loud, so they say, one of them is a chihuahua, you know how noisy they can be.”

I make a sad face, and give Potato gentle pats.

“So they got along at first, but then later not so much, and they think he’d do better in a one-dog household, and you know, I don’t have any other dogs and needed one by Tuesday, so.” She grins.

“Aren’t their other dogs going to be sad the puppy’s gone, though?” I ask, barely managing to pay attention to my words over the puppy mlems.

She shakes her head. “I think they’re taking the puppy I didn’t, so it all works out.”

“Potato,” I say again, and Potato licks my hand.

“Oh, yeah,” Vector tells me, “that’s because he kept curling up, you know, into a potato, and would keep falling asleep like that when they held him. It was a nickname, but now he responds to it, and won’t respond to his old name at all.”

“What was his old name?” I ask.

“I know, right?” she says, “nobody remembered to mention, so I don’t even know, and I bet that’s going to bother me for days, not that it even matters.”

I rest my hands against Potato’s paws where he’s resting them on my legs. “Maybe it was something horrible. Like a slur. Or the brand name of some awful company. Or Juggalo.”

Vector snorts, almost dropping her juice as she struggles not to spit it all over me. I catch it and float it toward the table while she waves her hands in front of her face, turning kind of red.

“You okay?” I ask.

She shakes her head at me. “No, of course not, Travis, what the hell kind of name is that for a dog, why would you say that to me?”

I dip my head ruefully. “I’m sorry, Jules, I won’t do it again.”

“And in front of Potato no less!” she adds.

I nod at the puppy, too. “I’m sorry, Potato. I shouldn’t have said something so terrible.”

Potato gives me a happy little bark.

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No shark

“Travis,” Hunch says, clapping a hand on my shoulder, “come have lunch with me, would you?”

I try to give him a skeptical look, but he’s walking ahead of me, so it’s kind of difficult. “Look, Gene, I appreciate you checking in on me, but honestly my mental health is not that precarious right now, and I don’t need a babysitter.”

He throws a glance over his shoulder. He looks confused. Shit. What have I done now?

“You, uh,” I say, “you heard about what happened?”

“No,” he says, slowly, “what happened?”

I shrug. “Nothing.”

He looks like he’s about to say something about it, but changes his mind, turning back around and heading towards the cafeteria again. “Okay. No, I didn’t want to talk to you about ‘what happened’, I wanted to ask your advice on something.”

“Oh,” I say, and wonder if this is really the best time for him to be asking my advice, “alright. That’s alright.”

The cafeteria is full of dogs.

Hunch glances at me. “Unless you wanted to go out for lunch? My treat.”

I shake my head. “No, I don’t really want to be away that long. I have a lot of, like, paperwork and stuff to catch up on. You know.”

God, I can’t even sound convincing when I’m telling the truth.

“Okay,” he says again, and heads over to pick out some food, “you want to share some onion rings? Or mozzarella sticks, if you want.”

I shrug. “Onion rings are good.”

“Great!” He grins at me. “If I only get half a terrible fried appetizer I can have half a terrible sugary dessert, too.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how eating healthy works,” I tell him, but I had pie for breakfast, so I’m not really one to talk about nutritious dietary selections.

“Uh-huh,” he says, “did you want to split a cheesecake or a tiramisu?”

“Cheesecake,” I say, without thinking, because, again, I’m not one to talk about nutrition. I am one to talk about a good cheesecake, though, just try and stop me.

Anyway, the point is, our lunch selections are in no way healthy, and I’m probably going to feel sick later from eating junk food all day. Maybe I can have a vegetable for dinner.

“So,” he says, “you know about the kid?”

“You’re asking me for parenting advice?” I ask him.

“A little bit,” he says.

“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” I say. Okay, all these dogs are influencing my speech patterns. This is…all I can think of is ruff, goddamnit. (Life’s a bitch.)

He laughs. It takes a minute to work out that it’s not because of puns. “I mean, it’s not in the strictest sense of – you know I’ve raised three babies before, right?”

“Right,” I say. “What were you asking?”

“You know the kid,” he repeats.

I pick at the onion rings. “By ‘the kid’ do you mean the new baby or Lee?”

Hunch waves a hand. “Both. You know, I’m just introducing the situation, so you have context for my actual question.”

“Okay,” I say, “shoot.”

“Should we get a dog?” he asks.

I blink at him. Then I look around the room. Then I look back at Hunch. I have to wonder whether I heard a different question than he asked. Or whether he’s just as influenced as I am by the dog thoughts. Such pervasive thoughts. What good thoughts, yes they are.

I want to pet every single dog, I swear.

Anyway, because I’m a professional…

“A dog?” I ask.

Hunch nods. “Should we get a dog for Lee?”

I sort of half shrug and make a non-committal noise. “I guess?”

Hunch rolls his eyes. “So the therapist is convinced he’s going to have trouble adjusting, and you know, he’s been a little bit annoyed about it, but I think it’s mostly he doesn’t like how much talking we’re doing about baby things, not that he’s jealous or anything, but she thinks he’ll have an easier time of it if we can get him something of his own to take care of. Hence, the dog.”

“Oh,” I say. “I mean, that sounds reasonable. What do I have to do with it?”

“I mean, you talk to him sometimes, right?” Hunch asks. “Has he been jealous? Does he feel left out? Would a dog actually help?”

“I don’t,” I say, “he doesn’t talk about anything personal really? Mostly he sends me facts about reptiles. It’s not like he complains about you or anything.”

“Reptiles?” Hunch says.

“Reptiles,” I agree, “the kid’s huge into reptiles.”

“He hasn’t said anything,” Hunch says. “He doesn’t even bring up animals unless Mel does.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I say, “this has been a thing for at least a couple years now. I mean, he hardly ever talks about aliens to me, so what do I know. Maybe he thinks I like reptiles?”

“So you think we should get him a snake,” Hunch says.

I stare blankly. “I have no idea where you got that out of what I said.”

Hunch nods. “No, that makes sense. If he likes reptiles, needs a sense of purpose, we can get him a snake. I’ll need to find, uh, someone else to recommend snakes to me, though.”

Oh. I look around. He was planning to interrogate people about their dogs. Well, today’s a good day to do it if you’re going to.

“No emails about the baby?” Hunch asks.

I shake my head. “Like I said, they’re not usually personal? I mean, he sent me an essay he wrote, because the teacher ‘is bad at essays’ and didn’t like it, but that’s about all lately.”

“Was it any good?” Hunch asks.

“It was fine,” I say. “I think some of the teacher’s comments were fair, and some of them weren’t, I don’t know, typical school stuff, really.”

“Lee won’t let us help with homework anymore,” Hunch says, with, what is that, nostalgia? He’s not going to tell me kids grow up so fast next – “A pet might help him with that independence, anyway.”

“Okay,” I say. “Not that it’s probably relevant, and it’s waned a little in frequency, but he really likes sharks, still.”

“Travis, I am not getting my child a shark,” Hunch says. “Where would it even live?”

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All the dogs

So it turns out I didn’t actually have to worry about running into Darren today, because it’s Bring Your Dog to Work Day. I forgot. Which goes to show how fucked up I am today. Anyway, the building’s full of dogs. And I do mean full. What the fuck, does literally everyone have a dog, or…?

As promised, Arsenal has brought his Golden Retriever, an extremely friendly dog who walks right up to me as soon as I walk into the room, wagging and sniffing. What was the name – something sugary – I scratch her behind the ears.

“Marzipan,” Arsenal calls, laughing, “come back here!”

Marzipan, that’s right. “Who’s a good dog? Who is? It’s Marzipan!”

Arsenal is laughing even harder at the fact that his dog has completely defected, deciding to shower me in love instead of him, and is enthusiastically thumping her tail against one of the chairs, making a ping noise with each wag. She stands on my toes, in an effort to lean into the scritchies, but she doesn’t jump on me, so at least I have no trouble staying upright – I feel like she’d be a particularly excited jumper, honestly, and don’t particularly want to be knocked on my ass right now.

Stranglehold also has a dog. I guess he was telling the truth after all – I hope he got a dog because he was actually planning on getting one, not because we teased him about it – which means two thirds of us brought dogs. Damn. Maybe I should’ve borrowed one of P&P’s cats. (Why does no one ever organize a Bring Your Cat to Work Day?)

“He’s not mine,” Stranglehold says.

“What?” I ask.

Stranglehold laughs. “Bas. Basil. He’s not mine, he’s my cousin’s, and they’re just visiting for the week, but he said I could bring Bas in to meet you all. Right, puppy?”

Bas slowly raises one eyebrow in response to the question, but otherwise doesn’t move, contentedly flopped out next to Stranglehold’s chair. He’s a St. Bernard, and big even for one of those (or maybe just fluffy? and he is lying down all stretched out), so I would hope Stranglehold isn’t trying to keep him in an apartment long term. I mean, I don’t know how big where he lives is, but I can’t imagine it’s big enough for a St. Bernard. Don’t these guys need acres to run around in or something?

Marzipan’s gone back to rest her head against Arsenal’s knee.

I point a finger at him. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

He looks guilty for half a second. “Whatever. It’s just a pep rally. I don’t remotely want to be there, and it’s not like they write down who shows up, you know?”

“They’re wasting school time on a pep rally?” Bartok says, with a snort, walking in with a tiny bundle of curly fluff in her arms. I bet it’s a dog.

I reach out a hand. A tiny nose pokes out. Then two tiny eyes blink at me. It is a dog! Tiny ears perk up, and then a tiny pink tongue bleps out. I try to decide what color to call this sort of brownish-blond. Bronze? No, that’s too metallic. I want to say maybe ‘wheat’ or something, but I’m not sure if that’s actually a dog color.

“You can pet him, you know,” Bartok says.

I do. What a soft friend. I love this tiny dog. I think I’m making those little cartoon eyes, with stars in them and all, because that’s pretty much the face that both Stranglehold and Arsenal are making. Even Marzipan seems interested in the tiny ball of fuzz. (Basil seems to be asleep.)

Our teammates gather around to give the puppy (probably an adult dog, actually) pats and scritches, and it is adorable. It’s a very bonding experience. Even if I can’t quite reach with two other people in the way, very bonding. Bring Your Dog to Work Day is the very best idea for teammate bonding ever, and we should do it constantly. Every day.

“What’s his name?” Stranglehold coos.

“Champagne,” Bartok says.

“Champagne,” the other two repeat, enamored – wait, no, shit, I did it too. Fuck it, fine, this little Champagne dog is now my best friend. I can’t believe I didn’t know Bartok had a dog.

Anise walks in with Laces a minute later, but we all knew he had some sort of almost-Scottie-looking mutt, you can’t get away from the photos, so that’s not quite as surprising. Of course, she looks a lot more like a Scottie in person, which is a little surprising. Maybe it’s the haircut.

This pupper does jump up and down on my feet and legs repeatedly, but she’s tiny, so it’s cute, even though it shouldn’t be, because you’re really supposed to train that out of them aren’t you, but how can you say no to a bouncing doggo? I let her head bop into my hand repeatedly.

Okay, but, we’re seriously being overrun, though. I know for sure Hunch doesn’t have a dog. I’m fairly certain Sass doesn’t have a dog. I have no idea whether Boomerang has a dog. We’re not even going to have room for them all.

Boomerang does indeed have a dog. It’s a multicolored smallish-medium sized creature that looks like someone was brushing static electricity all through its hair, and it wags happily, looking around at all the other dogs, then goes to sit in the far corner away from them, thumping its tail against the wall. With a yawn, it relaxes onto its front paws.

“Everyone, meet Cayenne, the sweetest doggy in the whole world, she’s shy, leave her alone,” Boomerang says, grinning at his dog and tossing over a dog treat.

She leaps up into the air to catch it, wags again, and lies back down.

Ugh, now I want a dog even more.

Then, as if we weren’t outnumbered enough, it turns out Sass actually does have a dog, which is a lab, who is named Chocolate, and they wander in…late? I don’t know. The meeting is full of dogs. There’s no way we’re going to get literally anything done. How do you tell if someone’s late to a meeting where nothing happens? Is that even metaphysically possible?

Anyway, Chocolate the lab, who I did not expect to exist, is also very excitable, and jumps up into my lap to try to sit on me, so I have a dog in my lap the rest of the ‘meeting’.

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Nutmeg

I wake up to Nutmeg bopping my nose, and have to pick her up and set her on the dresser while I pull on, I don’t know, sweatpants and a shirt, I guess, not that my hosts probably give a shit. The shirt is the right size – it might even be my shirt – the sweatpants are too small for me. I don’t know. I’ll ask them where they put my clothes once I’ve had something to eat. Nutmeg climbs from my shoulder to the top of my head.

I carry her in my arms down the stairs, because she’s too lazy to walk down on her own I guess, and she purrs all the way, nuzzling her face against my t-shirt. I manage to trade her for a cup of coffee.

“Was she in your room all night?” Perry asks.

I shrug, sipping the nectar of the gods. Fuck, Perry has good taste.

“How many times did you wake up suffocating,” Priscilla calls, from where she’s making, what is that, French toast? I hope it’s French toast.

“None,” I say.

Priscilla laughs, shaking her head at Perry. “She was probably in with Cinnamon like usual.”

Perry gives Nutmeg a little kiss on the nose and calls her silly, then sets her down on one of the brightly colored pillows that this whole fucking apartment is designed around, I swear, they’re exactly the right accent color in each room, it looks like one of those home design magazines, it’s ridiculous, I’m ruining it with my clothes that don’t fit while everyone else is in designer pajamas. Nutmeg immediately leaves the cat bed and goes to sleep on my foot instead. At least I’m sitting already.

Priscilla brings over a plate of – yes, it is French toast – delicious smelling chocolate and bananas on fried bread, and gives me a kiss on the head. “Comfort food, right, sweetie? You let me know what else you need and I’ll whip it right up.”

“He’s only going to say he needs more coffee,” Perry says.

Priscilla ducks away for a second, and comes back with a carafe, filling both of our cups and giving Perry a kiss too. She’s gone for slightly longer before she comes back with her own cup.

I look at both of their breakfasts, which consist entirely of coffee. Not that I haven’t done that myself on occasion, but still. “Aren’t you eating anything?”

“I’m on a juice cleanse,” Perry says, smugly, then drinks the rest of her coffee like that isn’t even the point, what is she even –

“Honey bunny, it is far too late for breakfast for the rest of us, we ate hours ago, and also, that is not something I eat on mornings where I still want to be able to jog,” Priscilla tells me.

I try to look around for a clock, but it doesn’t fit the décor or whatever, so I settle for just having a pervasive sense of temporal unreality.

Perry frowns slightly. “You’re not going to be late to work, if that’s what you’re wondering. You’ve got some time.”

I look between them. “Why are you still here?”

Perry gives me a look even more scalding than my coffee (bless these two, they always have the very best coffee in the very best state). “I called off today.”

I glance at Priscilla.

“Don’t look at me, I don’t give a fuck about your mental health, sugar,” she says, “I’m just home because the new trainee doesn’t like me and refuses to learn while I’m there.”

“Yeah, I barely care about you, either,” Perry says, “but, whatever, we’re stuck with each other, so I guess it’s this or nothing.”

I wrap her in a hug.

She bumps her head against mine. “You want that piece of key lime?”

I consider it for a moment, stare at my empty plate (even of chocolate; I scraped off the melted chips), and think, fuck it. I’m not so not hungry that I’m definitely not hungry. I can eat pie.

Perry brings the pie. Priscilla brings the coffee back. Nutmeg crawls up into my lap and purrs, very loudly, much too loudly to be unintentional. I don’t feed Nutmeg any pie. At some point, some kind of throw appears around my shoulders. I don’t know who brought it to me.

“You want to talk about it?” Perry asks, finally, when I’m, I don’t know, several hundred cups of coffee in, and Nutmeg is asleep again.

I shake my head.

Priscilla shakes her head back at me. “You probably should, though.”

I open my mouth, close it again. My voice sticks. “Darren and I had a fight.”

“Sweetie. Baby. Cutiekins.” Perry closes her eyes. “That much was fucking obvious.”

I shrug at her.

Priscilla swirls her coffee with a stick of cinnamon. “Yeah, I don’t know, Fox, you show up at our place overnight, I got to think it’s because you don’t want to go home.”

Perry points an accusing finger at me. “We had to go and buy an entire new wardrobe. Literally rebuild your closet from the ground up.”

I look her right in the eye. “No. You really didn’t.”

“Well, you better hope they’re the right size –”

“No, Perry, they will not fit you, I made a point of checking that before I bought them.”

“We can have them tailored.”

They both burst out laughing.

I stare down into the abyss of coffee in front of me. It stares back. “How the fuck do you guys know my sizes in things, anyway?”

Priscilla snorts. “Oh, like this one here doesn’t make me keep a chart with everyone’s sizes, just in case, in case of what, you ask? Nobody knows.”

“It never hurts to be prepared,” Perry agrees.

“Is this why you steal my clothing?” I ask her, “to check size labels?”

“Oh, honey, I just eyeball that,” Priscilla tells me, “you think I could do my job if I couldn’t?”

I frown at her. “You do hair.”

“Oh, if only,” she says. “You do something well one time….”

Perry rolls her eyes at me. “How do you think I manage to buy you something that fits perfectly every single Christmas, then?”

I grin at her. “I’ve never checked to see if they fit. I return them before the sales even start.”

She blows a raspberry at me.

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Case File: Doctor Blueprints

Independent – Criminal – Large Group (Lieutenant) – Neutralized

‘Doctor Blueprints’ a.k.a. ‘Octavian Bolt’ a.k.a. ‘Alan Turing’

Legal name(s): [redacted]

Black or African-American male, [redacted], 25-35 years

Active 5-10 years ago, San Salvador

First known appearance in or near [redacted] (see incident report [redacted] for details) – [some injuries, no deaths]

(see incident reports [redacted] for additional suspected and confirmed incidents prior to arrival in San Salvador)

First confirmed appearance San Salvador, prior to naming (see incident reports 1-2 for details) – 1 dead on scene, 2 in hospital, 7 critically injured; suit, gun, some sort of throwing weapon, [redacted]

(see incident reports 3-12 and 43-51 for activities prior to the foundation of PLC)

(see incident report 13 for first known use of handle ‘Doctor Blueprints’)

 

Note: this file has been modified

 

Known powers: technological insight, construction (robotics), enhanced memory ([redacted]), [enhanced senses], [enhanced strength], [redacted], [redacted], [deadeye]

Suspected powers: [redacted]

Addendum: Further speculation is discouraged.

Blueprints has a small applicable range for [redacted], on the order of one or two meters, and the larger end of that range has only been observed under stress. However, keep in mind that most of his skill lies in creating and utilizing autonomous objects, especially [redacted], which have effectively no range limit. His reliance is mostly on his weaponry rather than his [redacted], and in most situations he can be observed to [redacted]. There is no known limit to [his deadeye range].

Blueprints’ technological insight is extremely advanced; he appears to be capable of reverse engineering even [alien technology]. He needs little to no previous familiarity with the subject, and has to our knowledge no formal training in any form of engineering. According to reports (classified level 20), he [redacted]. He can [guess a fair amount of information] through observation alone.

His construction, in terms of suits, conventional weapons, and various unique projectile objects, is both prolific and advanced. When compared to agency equipment [his is better]. (Classified level 20) When compared to other independents with similar abilities, [his is better]. (Classified level 25) [He has never built a standalone robot of any kind.] He is capable of creating many other electronics, modifying electronics, and fixing equipment discarded as beyond repair. [He is not a programmer.]

His memory appears to be [very good]. (Classified level 25)

[He has enhanced senses. The most notable is his ability to detect movement, through both visual and auditory cues. He also has good eyesight and hearing overall. He has better long-range vision than average. He has a strong ability to differentiate tastes and smells. He has ESP related to technology but he is not a technopath.]

[He is very strong. He is about twice as strong as human normal.]

[redacted] (classified level 25)

[redacted]

[He has very good aim. He can hit small targets. He can hit distant targets. He can hit moving targets. He can hit many targets. His range is much larger for this than his other abilities.]

[He does not have any additional powers.]

 

Equipment: standard, suit (advanced), standard projectiles, nonstandard projectiles

Blueprints can be expected to carry a standard kit, including screwdrivers, twine, crowbars, etc. either in addition to or within his suit. This equipment [redacted] due to [redacted]. His suit is extremely advanced ([redacted]), and one on one fights are heavily discouraged; any unit smaller than three should not attempt to engage him, and only flying units. The suit uses [redacted]. It displays all expected abilities to greater degree than expected, and has no unusual abilities except a large number of [storage compartments], [redacted], and appearing completely airtight (or having the ability to become airtight at need).

Standard projectiles include a variety of guns in a variety of sizes, all of which he has high proficiency with, and [he is good at aiming]. He not infrequently carries a rocket launcher. [redacted] He has been noted on occasion to carry other projectile weapons, such as crossbows and an atlatl. He may sometimes throw knives or throwing stars. [His deadeye ability extends to those.]

Nonstandard projectiles include many items Blueprints has created himself, including [redacted]. They should be avoided if at all possible. [redacted]

His associates may be using equipment and weapons that he has designed or built.

 

Current threat level: [He is not a threat.]

 

In case of incursion incident: yes, safe, standard compensation (See PLC report for additional details and list of resources available) Addendum: no longer applicable

(See list of incursion involvements – 3)

 

Deaths directly attributable:

Confirmed: (Classified level 20)

(See list – Confirmed: civilians and non-mask personnel – classified level 20)

Attempted: (Classified level 20)

Implicated in the deaths of [redacted]

(See list – Suspected: villains – classified level 25)

(See list – Suspected: identified victims – classified level 25)

(See list – Suspected: unidentified victims – classified level 25)

Implicated in the disappearances of [redacted]

[All suspected homicides should be routed through Classified level 25]

 

Previously high up in the command structure of ‘PLC’ (San Salvador Maniacs) (see Classified level 20), he was one of the founding members and helped lead the team from early in the formation of the group until around six years ago. He was heavily involved in recruitment and organization of the structure. He may have been involved in some kidnappings, [but there is no evidence and the cases are no longer being pursued]. He was the contact point for many other criminal organizations, but has since been replaced, and little if any contact between groups has been lost.

The location of the PLC compound has changed since Doctor Blueprints was a member of the organization, and any evidence found in his files should be discounted. Likewise, equipment use and tactics have changed heavily. The PLC, among other criminal organizations, continues to use his older designs and further designs modified from them.

Undercover operatives are known to have been executed on his orders.

He has been neutralized.

(See list of deaths: ordered and collateral – classified level 20)

(See list of additional crimes – classified level 20)

 

Known associates:

[redacted]

 

See also:

PLC

Klepto

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Anchor

When 9:30 rolls around, I try my hardest not to talk myself out of it, and head over to Tau Axis’s office with both fists clenched and walking as quickly as I can. It’s fine. I have no problem with time travelers. I don’t. They’re not nearly as creepy as every says they are, and it’s fine.

I rap lightly on the door.

“Come in,” he calls. He doesn’t look up. He just types at his computer.

“Tau Axis,” I say.

He glances at me. “Teke.”

“It’s 9:30,” I say.

He glances at his computer again. “So it is.”

“You wanted to tell me something,” I say.

He cocks his head. “Did I specify what?”

I try not to glare at him. “You said you were going to tell me what I was wearing.”

He stares at my clothes for long enough that I start wishing I had a trenchcoat or something to hide behind, and try not to pull my uniform closer around myself.

He grimaces. “Do you happen to remember when I told you this?”

I frown. “This afternoon?”

He sighs. “When this afternoon?”

“I don’t know,” I say, trying not to snap. “Early-ish, I guess. Does it matter?”

He sucks on his teeth for a second. “Well, let’s hope not.”

Then he disappears. And reappears.

“Teke!” he says, and glances at the clock. “Oh, good, you got here on time.”

“Sure,” I say, “good.”

“For future reference, please remember the time coordinates. I know I forgot to tell you, but, uh, hell of a headache when I don’t get it exact, sometimes causes trouble reintegrating, you know.”

I don’t know. But I nod anyway.

“Awesome! See you around, buddy!” he sits back down and starts typing again.

“Um,” I say.

He looks up.

“Were you going to tell me why I sent you back?” I ask.

“Like I said,” he says, with a shrug, “you didn’t specify. I don’t know, you seemed really upset. Big mood. Didn’t feel like getting in the middle of that.”

“You said you were going to say what I was wearing,” I tell him.

“Yeah,” he says, “didn’t figure you were going to change in the alternate timeline. Seemed like as good an anchor as any.”

“What?” I ask.

He waves a hand. “That, roughly. I mean, it’s not exact, it doesn’t have to be, but you were just in your uniform. It’s not interesting.”

“Oh,” I say, “well, okay, thanks.”

“Did it go okay?” he asks.

“Did,” I say, “what?”

“Today,” he says, “I mean, you seem pretty together and all, looks like nothing too terrible went on, so, you know, did we avert the disaster?”

“I guess so,” I agree, and turn to leave.

“Hope it all works out for you,” he says, as I walk out the door.

It’s not even an exaggeration when I say I almost forget to change out of my uniform before leaving, and probably would’ve if someone hadn’t made an offhand comment, but I’m getting nothing done, I’m no help to anyone, and the kids are long gone, so even if there were something no one could handle but me (because I’m so irreplaceable as a go between, you know), it’s not going to happen until tomorrow. I’ve been checked out all day, so I may as well check out for real. If I didn’t have to wait for Tau Axis, I probably would’ve been gone hours ago.

There’s a slight lull before the night crowd starts shuffling in, and I just make it, not even paying attention to which of the three drinks Tony offers me and just. Sit. And wait. I don’t even taste it when he finishes making it – I thank him for handing it to me, I know I do, but I just sip it without processing – and hope to fuck Perry actually got my messages. I sent seven texts and left three – four? – voicemails, and I even called Pris, too, and that’s not even counting –

“Hey, sweetie, what’s up?” she asks, planting herself across from me.

I thank whatever deities I can think of, which at the moment is not a lot, although seems to be a kind of esoteric assortment. “Can I stay with you?”

“Always,” she says, “how long?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “tonight for sure. Maybe longer. We’ll see.”

She pulls my hand into hers. “Do you want to talk about it?”

I shake my head vehemently.

“Okay.” She looks me up and down. “Are you bringing anything, or…?”

I cross my arms in front of me, and just put my head there. Just for a minute. Just until I have the energy to get up and move again. It’ll be fine.

“Pris, honey?” she says, but it’s into the phone, I know it is, because my field is not currently under my complete control, and it’s only her and me at the table, and someone – someone’s jacket, I don’t know, something at the next table.

I try not to eavesdrop. I don’t know how much I care.

“A couple days is probably fine – I don’t know, he won’t say,” she says, “it’s probably best not to pry. Yeah. No. Let me text you a picture of the shampoo.”

After that it’s mostly aimed at me again, but nothing concrete I can pick apart, or, at least, if I do, it blurs together afterward. I know I answer at least a few questions, but I think they aren’t pertinent, and even if they were, I don’t remember the information being anything I was particularly stuck on keeping back, so it’s probably fine. I don’t know. Perry doesn’t tend to lead me wrong, not in things like this. Taste in clothes – and décor – yes, job advice, yes, but –

Perry’s a good friend. I follow her out to her car. She opens the door for me, buckles me in, settles a pillow under my head. It makes soothing noises as she moves around the city, and the seat is warm underneath me. I fall asleep a few times. The basement is dark and smells like concrete, but the elevator is bright, and the carpet is red with some sort of pattern on it, and the lights are made to look like a chandelier, even if the ceiling isn’t high enough for that. And Perry’s apartment is quiet, and warm, and familiar. Nutmeg cuddles up on top of me.

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Board

I step into the gym in sweatpants and a t-shirt, and get mad at Darren all over again for demanding his sweatshirt back, because goddamnit, it’s cold in here. I hop from foot to foot to try to get my blood to stop running so sluggishly, I swear my entire insides are made of slush right now, like, I know it’s hard to heat a room this size, but fuck. I move into warmups while I wonder whether I’m early or Sensei Domino is late, and try not to panic that I’ve somehow wrecked the timeline.

“Teke,” he says as he, I don’t know, saunters, bounces, does a jig, something way too fucking happy for a Monday, anyway, his way over to me.

“Sensei,” I say, doing the bow he taught me and managing not to feel ridiculous at all.

“Look what I’ve got!” he says, and, god, I can just see little exclamation points and like hearts and fucking flowers all around him, what the fuck is he so excited about, anyway.

I look.

He pulls a stack of boards out of his bag. I stared at them for a minute.

“Are those for the kids?” I ask.

“Nah,” he says, shaking his head and holding one up. “Just for fun, right?”

I look at it, trying to figure out what the fuck everyone wants from me this week.

He lowers it slightly, frowning at me, “you said you’d never kicked a board in half. I thought you could try it. If you want. You don’t have to.”

I stare at my socked feet, then back at the board.

“It’s not going to hurt or anything,” he says, holding up the board again, “give it a shot.”

I kick out at the board, way too lightly, I can tell from the beginning of the kick there won’t be any followthrough, and I shift my center of gravity so I don’t fall when I bring my leg back down. My foot makes a soft sort of thunk against the board. I sort of frown in apology.

“Maybe a little harder than that,” Sensei Domino suggests, with a shrug.

It’s a little easier to aim, this time, knowing how far I am from the board, and I kick out, and at least that’s a movement that I’m used to, compensating the angle reflexively, even though I shouldn’t out of the suit, and my knee is probably going to hurt later. There’s a satisfying crack accompanying the short pressure against my foot.

Of course, I kicked too hard and managed to aim straight into Domino, because that’s just how my day is going, and we both fall over.

“Sorry, you okay?” I ask, shoving myself off the ground and offering him a hand.

“Yeah.” He takes it, and, once he’s up, he presses both halves of the board into my arms. “There, see? I told you you could do it.”

I look at the neatly split wood. Huh.

“If you promise to go a little easier, I’ll let you punch one in half, too,” he says.

“Will you let me karate chop one?” I ask.

He waves a hand. “Honestly, you might not be able to do that, and if you can’t, or you do it wrong, you could really hurt yourself, and, uh, medical kind of has a problem with me. So.”

I raise an eyebrow. “What kind of problem?”

“They think I intentionally injure my students,” he grumbles. “Whatever. If you’re an adult I’m going to trust you know your own limits even though, apparently, it’s my fault you don’t.”

“Oh,” I say. “They just think I’m faking unless I’m actively bleeding.”

He laughs slightly. “Yeah, there’s that.”

“But punching is fine?” I ask.

“Oh, absolutely.” He holds up another board. “I’m going to trust you’ve had enough practice punching things I don’t have to give you safety tips.”

I cock my arm back, this time careful to remember I’m not in the suit, then drive it forward hard enough to go past the piece of wood, but not directly into Sensei Domino’s stomach. He arches back away from me, anyway, just in case. This board splits cleanly, too, though, and he hands it to me.

“See? Good job, Teke,” he says, with a grin.

I grin back. “Alright, that’s not bad at all.”

“I even gave you the medium boards to work with,” he says. “Kind of figured you’d knock me over if I gave you the kiddie boards. Oops. Live and learn.”

“Sorry,” I say again.

“Well, now you have something to frame and hang on the wall,” he says.

I hold up my board halves. “How exactly do you frame one of these?”

He shrugs and grimaces. “I don’t know, nail both halves to the wall, then nail up a frame? Glue them both to a bigger board? Get a display case?”

“How do you keep yours?” I ask.

“I never kept any of mine,” he says, “they would’ve filled up my entire room. I think my parents have the first one I ever broke in a keepsake box somewhere, but I was tiny, so I don’t know.”

I look dubiously at my wood scraps. “Should I keep these at all, then?”

“I don’t know, man, you seemed sad you’d never done it,” he tells me, “maybe you should build a birdhouse out of them or something.”

Oh. Now there’s an idea. I look at the wood – yeah, it’s about four equal pieces. Give it a top and a bottom, drill a hole in one side, should work. I should find my drill.

“Is it cold in here?” he asks, rolling out a mat, “it feels colder than usual.”

“I guess winter’s just setting in a little early,” I say, but I do step onto the mat, and my feet thank me for it.

“Guess so,” he says, and starts into the usual warmup, practicing a set of blocks I’m starting to get the hang of. “Are you going to see the new movie about Sunspot?”

“Why, is it good?” I ask, “I’ve heard mixed reviews.”

He shrugs, correcting my form slightly. “I haven’t heard any particularly strong opinions either way, but it’s always fun to make fun of a colleague, right?”

I laugh. “Trying to organize an agency-wide event?”

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