An Impromptu Adventure

Tags: Toronto, Canada, Alice “Oathkeeper” McGowan, HIVE, Justin Trudeau, Eli “Naut” Vallejo, Hamilton Tideward, Hard Reset

 

Canada has just finished a recent election, and the hunky new new Prime Minister is visiting the city of Toronto. Heroes are there for their own reasons – protection, opportunity, or circumstance.

Continue reading “An Impromptu Adventure”

Dancing with the Faeries

DANCING WITH THE FAERIES

 

THE FAERIE GLEN NIGHTCLUB

BOULDER, COLORADO

 

It’s Saturday Night and the Faerie Glen is busy, but not crowded. No special performances are planned for the evening, though go-go kids and oiled-up cuties of all genders and body types flit from table to table, serving drinks and food.

 

Nat is already here, flitting about more literally than the other employees; ey’s literally swooping through the air to give big hugs to regulars and employees ey hasn’t seen in a week.

Continue reading “Dancing with the Faeries”

Panic! at the Restaurant

Corey and Jinnra go to visit Fi. THEN SHENANIGANS HAPPEN.

 

The Stormcore suit was by no means a common sight in Winston- Salem, but Corey was actually quite good in keeping mostly out of sight. He ghosted between the buildings on quite jets, a flash of a memory for the various denizens of alleyways. He landed in the backalley close to Fiona’s workplace and eased out of the Stormcore. He was wearing his typical uniform of close fitting workout gear and this time had  thrown a jacket on and wore a cap to hide his cranial upgrade. The jacket had a slight bulge under his arm, it always paid to be safe. The Stormcore closed up after as he left, limping slightly on his prosthetic leg. He turned the corner and stepped through the door.

 

A redhead that Corey would certainly recognize by now is bustling around from table to table. She looks .. fed up, actually, though each time she stops by a patron’s table, they get a thousand-watt smile, and she chatters with them in a way that could be considered obnoxiously cheery. Her uniform is a plain black apron, plain black tee, and her hair has been carefully tugged back into a ponytail. She spots Corey, passes by, doubletakes, and nearly drops her serving tray. “Shi–..n…gles…” She steadies herself, waves. “Heyhey! uh- … you can take a seat wherever gimme a minute, please.”

Continue reading “Panic! at the Restaurant”

Snuggle Party

THE FLYING FORTRESS

INFIRMARY, ROOM 212

 

“So this game is apparently not, like. You don’t ‘win’ it? You just pay your mortgage. To a raccoon.” Nat explained, tilting the game system so Fi could see it.

 

“I don’t. Understand at- … at..” She kind of hushes, shrugs. “..why am I mortgaged to a raccoon?” She settles into her chair, brow quirked.

 

“Everybody in the game is an animal except the player, I guess. That’s why it’s called ‘animal crossing’. The raccoon is, like. A merchant guy.”

 

“Why.”

 

“Why what.”

 

Chad and Jess showed up hand in hand, and Chad blew kisses before running off to get the food ready!

 

“Why what what?” Jess poked her head in. “Heya babes!”

 

“Hiya! And ey’s – explaining … Animal-walking…” She glances over at Nat, unsure, “To me.”

 

“Jess! Hi!” Nat smiled. “Look, I’m conscious! For now!”

 

“It’s exciting! I’m excited. Are you excited?”

 

“Animals walking what?” She nudged the door wide open, and leaned on it flat against the wall, holding it open for Chad and his eventual armful of foooooddds.

 

“It’s very exciting! And animals crossing… I dunno, your path? It’s really about buying furniture, picking fruit, and paying your mortgage. Scott hacked it so I don’t have to play as a boy or girl.”

 

“Neat! That’s so great of him!”

 

“It is. I’d rather be flying around, honestly, but this helps. Also, they took off the straps on my hands and feet, finally, tho I’m still tied around the waist so I don’t float away in my sleep.”

 

“It was kind of funny the first night they let you out of the restraints. Bumped the ceiling constantly.”

 

“I don’t know why they didn’t keep me on at least one tether. There’s a reason I either sleep in a hammock or tied to Fi.”

 

Fi shrugs. “No idea, honestly. Was still kinda funny.” She hmhs. Opens her mouth. Stares blankly and slowly closes it. “i- .. I lost my train of thought.” Fi… does look awful tired.

 

Jess slid the door jam under the door and went to Fiona. “Snuggles, smoochbuddy?” She held her arm out.

 

“I mean- I like those, yes?” She kinda. Traps Jess in a big hug.

 

“Oh Fi, you… you gotta go home, sweetie. You’re not sleeping well here.”

 

No.” It’s quite firm. It’s also probably surprising in that Fi sounds sure of anything.

 

“I can tag you out and stay for you? Heck, you can even have my bed here. I don’t use it. And it’s all right for a bunk.”

 

“Fi, it’s all right. I’m all right. It’s just one more procedure, and I’ve had it done before once. Barely invasive. I… I really love having you here but I can see you wearing down.”

 

“I’m fine!” She punctuates this with a rather large yawn. Promptly looks annoyed.

 

That yawn prompted a squeeze hug.

 

Suddenly, an imposing figure appeared in the doorway: a brown-haired woman in a pantsuit, with her hair tied into a neat bun with ornamental hairsticks. She looked… serious.

 

“Adam Nova is visiting Madame Prestwich in the next room over, kids,” Tabitha said, “so no loud orgies, all right?”

 

And she strode away.

 

“…I’m not sure how offended I am right now. I’m going with “pretty”.”

 

“I heard loud orgies. You guys heard loud orgies? I sure did.”

 

“I’m busy being miffed right now, sugar.”

 

“Why’re you miffed? It seems like a reasonable request.”

 

“It’s also an incredibly presumptuous request that basically says a lot about how we’re viewed collectively.”

 

“Young and horny?”

 

“I think she was joking, but like. We kind of are a thing, and the earth staff around here is kinda thin so word travels fast.”

 

Fi grumbles.

 

“Okay but. Adam fucking Nova?”

 

“I guess?”

 

“Is it…is it like bad manners to gawk at Adam Nova?”

“she didn’t say we couldn’t. just no fuckin’.”

 

“I think I heard the door close, actually.”

“Damn.”

“They’ve ruined your plans.”

 

“does this mean the orgy is back on”

 

That’s an interesting shade of red Fi just turned. “I’m trying really hard to be mad why won’t you let me be mad?”

 

“Because being mad is bad for your health,” Nat smiles, “and I want to be a positive influence on you.”

“Since when is it bad?” … she does seem, if only slightly, mollified.

 

“Hey Jess.” Nat’s grin gets a distinctly evil cast to it. “Do you want to see something extremely adorable?”

“I don’t trust this.”

 

“Hah! Always!” Jess grinned.

 

Nat reaches up and places two delicate fingers on Fi’s jaw, gently turning her head so that their eyes meet.

 

“Hi, Fiona,” ey says, “I love you.”

 

Fi turns a brilliant shade of red. She also makes several very interesting, though probably nonsense sounds. Sputters. “uh-i- we-” … “loveyoutoo”  It’s.. kind of hard to tell what she said, since it was a good octave higher than her voice usually went.

 

Jess let out a soft yet high pitch squee. “eeeeeeeeeeee you two are so adorable!”

 

It gets worse. There is literally no way to describe the sound Fi makes after that, other than high-pitched and mortified. She also looks a bit woozy from all that blood taking up, apparently, permanent residence in her face.

 

Nat giggles, blushing a little bit emself. “Isn’t she absolutely darling? You should have seen how she reacted when I said I’d never fallen in love with anybody before.”

 

“why is the room not staying still?”

 

Jess gently gives Fi a squeeze, eeeing softly.

 

“Don’t faint, sweetie,” Nat puts a hand on Fi’s arm. “Deep breaths, okay? Have some water.”

 

“‘m not gonna faint…” She maybe did. Or maybe she just forgot how to words.

 

Nat and Jess both catch Fi at the same time and ease her onto the hospital bed; between the two redheads, about a normal human’s width is taken up on the bed, possibly less given how close Nat snuggles her.

 

“So, uh, yeah,” Nat smiles and shrugs a little sheepishly at Jess. “We’re a thing. I really like it.”

 

Jess held up her hand for a high five. “Hun, I’m like so happy for the two of you.”

 

Nat grins and returns the high-five. “Thanks. Me too. You’re an awesome metamour. Or whatever the kissfriend equivalent of that is.”

 

“….what’s a metamour?”

 

“Oh it’s a polyamory term,” Nat explains, petting Fi’s hair, “it means the person who’s dating a person you’re dating. Your love’s love. Some people use the term OSO, which means other’s significant other.”

 

“Ah, okay. Will remember it.” Jess fondly patted Fi’s shoulder. “You okay with her on the bed with you? I can move her to my room…and hope she doesn’t get lost when she wakes up.”

 

“I like her being on the bed with me. Now that my limbs are free I can snuggle properly. I just wish there were room for you on her other side!”

“i’m awake.” “That’s nice sweetie”

 

“Heyyyyyy better behave you guys.” Chad comes back in with his hands full of treats and food and games. “Then again…” he leans in to Nat and offers his cheek for smooching. “Long as it’s not a loud…uh…” a huge grin.

Nat rises from the bed a little and pecks Chad’s cheek, grinning.

He smooches her back and eyes Jess just in case she might smack him. He’s still pretty sure she might.

“Shhhhhh!” Jess said, with over exaggeration. “Adam Nova is next door. We can’t be too loud.” She winked.

 

“We got all the best shit for our sickie here.” he announced and spread food in front of Nat. “I hadta get mean to get them to heat it up right! You can’t just toss it in the nuker!” he scowled, then grinned at the others. “And after you eat, check it: SMAAAAAASH.” he held up a game disk looking super proud of himself. “I’m gonna kick alla your asses!”

 

Jess gladly grabs a handful of snacks and starts munching.

 

“I bet you will, cuz I’ve never played!” Nat laughs. “I got like no friends at college.”

 

“You got your XDS right?” he looked suddenly worried. “I can run an’ grab it if you don’t”

 

“Um, yeah, actually! Emi bought me one! I’ve been playing Animal Crossing, and like. It’s kind of fascinating how far games have come.”

 

“Blegh, Animal Crossing. No way.” He teased as if he didn’t like that game. “Check it – I got Monster Hunter 8 day it came out!” He looks in his bag. “Ok, we got enough controllers.” he sneaked a sneaky look at Jess all excited but thought he was being really subtle.

 

“An this is for you Nat.” he pulls out a gift bag and hands it over. Inside are Monster Hunter 7, Pokemon Yang, and LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy. There was also a Nintendo Eshop card for so Nat could grab some games.

 

“Can uh. Can I just watch? I’m not very. … good at the video game thing.”

 

“I’m not either!” Nat grinned. “I barely played ’em at all until today. I usually just go clubbing or read about bugs. I do wanna eat first, though, I’m finally back on solid food.”

 

“Yeah that’s cool. Eat up yo you gotta get better.” he started to set up the WiiMo and got the projection up on a bare wall. He had a few controllers and then pulled a package wrapped in orange paper out of the duffel. He got a big goofy smile. (There was a grandiose amount of food. Almost like the person that brought it had no idea other people didn’t eat as much)

 

Fi abruptly remembers her promise, scooting to the edge of the bed and giving both Chad and Jess pecks on the cheek. (Also big hugs but that’s kind of a given, one may surmise.)

 

Nat grins. “You’re all the best.”

 

Jess grins, grabbing a controller. “You guys are the best too. And, Cutey, I’m going to smash you.” Her grin was huge when she looked at Chad.

“I’m in a paranormal polycule and that is so cool

 

Fi, after a moment’s contemplation, picks up a controller. She stares at it like it may actually bite her.

 

“Aww you think you’re gonna. Ain’t no way!” He stuck his tongue out at her and noticed her controller. “Uh…actually that one’s for Fi and…”  He shuffled for a second and got all bashful. “

This one’s for you.” he handed her the wrapped box.

“oh my gosh”

“Isn’t he cute?”

“this is the greatest. yes he is.”

 

Jess made a little meeping sound. “For me? But why?” She took the box with both hands.

 

He scratched at the back of his neck. “Well I noticed when we were at your place the other night you ain’t got one.”  he admitted. The words kinda spilled out of his mouth. “Anyhow you were sayin’ you wanted to try Fire Fates and I had like a million points saved up and Black Ops 12 isn’t out til next month soo….” he got more and more shy until he trailed off.

 

“Nerd.” Jess was smiling fondly, then pulled Chad over for a quite detailed kiss.

Nat squealed, delighted.

Fi covers her eyes. Yes, really. Nat immediately sings, “don’t you daare close your eyes!” a la aladdin in her ear.”I swear to God, Nat. I- .. I don’t know what yet but you’ll regret this.” “maybe I can make it up to you.”

He went all droopy and tangled one of his big hands in her hair.

 

Jess giggled. “Dope.” Then in his ear. “I’m so gonna whup your ass.”

 

When she bit his ear he shivered and made a high little whuffle noise then blinked rapidly so he wouldn’t embarrass himself!  “Guuuurl.”

“Heeheeheehee.” She sneaks in a grope.

Evidently finding the scene inspiring, Nat nuzzled Fi’s cheek. “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

 

“..a place where we’re all affectionate with each other and nobody feels slighted by it, and everyone is actually enjoying themselves?” It’s a little flat, like she’s trying to be properly sassy, but hasn’t mastered the right tonality, exactly.

 

“Mm-hmm,” Nat agrees, getting real close to her face. “Terrifying, isn’t it? I’m told it’s the kind of thing that’ll bring down society.”

 

Nat is far too close, bee-ess-oh-dee imminent. “Um. Yes it is definitely the scariest thing?

 

“So scary…” and now Nat’s kissing her deeply for the first time in days.

 

“Oksoyeahsmash….?” Chad was trying not to get distracted, the only problem was Jess was incredibly distracting. He was about to disappear into makeouts land.

 

Jess grinned. “Let’s go get some chairs in here.” She moved out the room, slapping Chad on the rump as she passed.

 

“You break it, you bought it!” he tossed to her as he grabs a whole stack of three chairs to bring back in.

 

Nat and Fi are still kissing when they come back in.

Yep.

 

The Old Razzle Dazzle

BOULDER, COLORADO

THE FAERIE GLEN NIGHTCLUB

 

It was a performance night at the Faerie Glen, and the joint was jumping.

 

Spacious as it was after numerous renovations, there was still plenty of room to maneuver between the knots of people and across the dance floor. Oiled-up dancers and dapper waitstaff weaved expertly through the crowd, serving food and drink to the diverse clientele.

 

Nat flitted through the crowd, schmoozing and flirting. Ey was dressed to perform in an outfit made entirely of ribbons, though it didn’t seem that ey’d be taking center stage.

 

 

A faintly teal glowing neon skeleton covered in opaque black synthetic muscle sauntered into the club. He was still wearing his performance clothes, a headwrap covering the top of his skull and lower jaw, a long elegant coat of deep blue with golden designs and fur around the edges, as well as some pants that poofed out towards the bottom. The synth muscle gave him a very fit build that mimicked a certain Adam rather closely, and his bare chest and strange garb fit right in with the club. “And I heard there wasn’t much to be found in Colorado.” He mused, mingling with any staff that came his way as he explored the dance floor.

 

Dellen found the staff shockingly chill about his nonstandard appearance; those nearby made sure that he had a drink and food if he wants it, and a few even flirted with him in passing.

 

“Heyyy, it’s the skeleton guy!” Nat seemed genuinely delighted. “From the other night! Glad you made it; did you bring that friend of yours, the video game protagonist?”

 

The skull made a soft and deep chuckle at that. “Oh yes, “The Prestigious Callister.” He swirled about a drink he had just bought. “He informed me that it would take time for him to “Prepare for his destiny.”, Odd kid that one. And how are you on this fine evening…?” The inclination in his voice carried he was about to add some kind of pronoun, but then decided against it.

 

“Oh, I’m simply peachy. Have you been seen to– oh gosh, I never did actually ask your name. They call me the Damselfly, but my name’s Nat. I’m genderqueer; my pronouns are ey, em, and eirs.”

 

There’s a roar of a jetpack, heard even over the DJ and through the building. Someone was flying low, possibly not sure where the Glen was. ((Tag))

 

A girl, in her twenties or so, was ordering her first drink of the night. When she had her bourbon, she leaned back against the bar and watched the crowds. There was something… academic about the way she watched people. Detached. Not unfriendly, though.

 

 

Further down the bar, a young man grumbled into his appletini.

 

“Nat. It’s a pleasure.” He extended a neon glowing hand, the bone fingertips sticking out ever so slightly. “I go by Dellen. Or the Baron by some of my fans….but I really do prefer Dellen when i’m not on stage. Ey, em, eir. I will do my best to remember.” He gave an OK with his other hand. “It’s a lovely facility.” He commented as he examined the roof, looking for hooks, contemplating the idea of bringing his show here. He spotted Ash and tensed a bit, but then allowed it to flow out of him. He was new now. Different. No need to be afraid.

 

“Why, thanks!” Nat beamed. “It was pretty great when I first signed on, but since I Emerged my boss has done an amazing job sprucing up the place. You should see the lightboards; you practically need a degree to run ’em! Pleased to meetcha, Dellen; what pronouns should I be using for you, by the way?”

 

A few minutes after the jet pack scream, a man in a heavy suit of powered armor walks through the door, slowly. The color of the armor is dark green, and the suit machinery whines quietly as he moves. Despite his size, he moves quietly as a man in a thousand pound of metal can. Most people just get out of his way, looking up to the seven feet of cold metal. Yellow eyes of the helmet glow brightly in the slightly darkened club, and he heads over to the bar with slow, unhurried steps. To Nat, he gives a small wave.

“Wastey, heyyy” “Hi!”

 

“Wasteland,” Ash says by way of greeting. “Hi. I’ve followed your career, actually. You’re with the Freelancers, right? Nice to meet you.” She offers a hand, which is tiny in comparison to the heavy gauntlet.”

Behind the helmet, Wasteland blinks. He shakes her hand, demonstrating a massive amount of gentleness and dexterity that the suit was likely not designed for. “Oh, uh…. huh. Now I’m embarrassed.” He chuckles, the speakers in the helmet deepening his voice to a near Vader baritone. “Thanks. Pleasure to meet you, uh…?”

 

“Ashley Rose-Sinclair. I’m ah, interested in… pursuing a career in Paranormal service.”

 

“I identify as male, thank you for asking.” He says sincerely, pouring some more of his drink down his throat. You could see it swimming inside the muscle faintly, discoloring the dim neon of his spine. “It seems that fellow over there could use some entertainment…” He turned his head over to look at Solomon, checking closer. “Or perhaps he found himself in the wrong place. Yes…it seems more likely the latter.” He noted, observing him completely ignore the gorgeous dancers strutting with high energy around the man.

 

“Well, I’ll just have to make sure he gets enough drinks in him to loosen up?” Nat shrugged. “Speaking of which, do you have everything you need? If you like to party, I can hook you up with a hot new thing. Designed for para metabolisms, named after me.” Wink.

 

“A pleasure to meet you, Ashley. And I can say that the Freelancers are always looking for more who are interested in Paranormal service, though they might be…” Wasteland paused, trying to think of the right words… “uptight about… uh… recruiting.” He paused again, and signaled to the bartender. “A beer, please.” He turned back to Ashley. “Okay, to be fair, it can be like banging your head against the wall sometimes.” He sighed, and a straw like device came out of his left hand, and into the beer when it arrived.

 

“I’ve actually already received offers from both the Heroes for Hire and the Legion.” Ashley said with a small smile, sipping her drink. “I have an… impressive academic record. I attended Yale, took every extracurricular I could… Just trying to find a good home now, I guess. Somewhere I’ll fit in.”

“Well now, life WOULD be extremely dull if we didn’t try something new every now and again wouldn’t it?” There was a grin in Dellens voice as he pulled out a card from his pocket. “A paranormal drink seems very suiting of this place.” He mused as he looked around at the others here, at least one obvious man in a giant suit just a short distance away. “Damselfly….Dazzle. Ah. The new drink they were handing out at the club? And to think I was so disappointed I missed it.”

 

“Well it’s a powder, but it dissolves in liquid or you can take it as a caplet. I’ve got the caplets on me.” Ey surreptitiously passed a small powder-filled caplet to the skellington man. “It only takes about 15 to kick in, and you’d have to be halfway to Oathkeeper not to feel it. I’m gonna mingle, but come hit me up! We’ll schmooze.”

 

Wasteland blinked, then laughed. “Well, you’re ahead of the game on me, then. I wish you the best of luck, then, Ashley. Freelancers or Legion, you seem like you could fit in either.” The big armored man spun to lean against the bar, his drink finished. “Yeah, fit in quite easily. Why my career, if you don’t mind me asking? There’s plenty of more famous people than I am.”

 

Ash produces a golden ornate lighter and flicks it open, igniting a spark. “I’m a pyrokinetic. Not much of a tank, or a fighter. But I can destroy things. It, ah, I hope you don’t take offense, it just – there are parallels -”

Dellen takes the capsule in his jutting bone fingers, looking at it closely like a jeweler might a diamond. “Fascinating. I will be there shortly.” He lowered his scarf and pushed the capsule between the creases of his synthetic muscle, letting it drop down into the liquid you could see still swirling in his chest. “Now comes the waiting.”

 

“That’s incredibly weird,” comes a soft voice. “Not as weird as a talking horse. But weird.”

“Oh hey, Fi!” Nat grins. “Dellen, this is my primary partner, Fiona. Fiona, Dellen.”

“Hi.” She seems to have already gotten distracted by something mildly sparkly, somewhere. Her attire is typical – halloween orange-and-black striped hoodie, black slacks, and perhaps unusually: A ballcap. It reads, “I’d rather be sailing.”

“A pleasure.” He says softly, ignoring the weird remark and extending a hand. “Orange suits you famously. I apologize if my appearance caused any fright.” His voice echoed gently but sounded sincere.

“Haha oh, no. Definitely not. I’ve seen some shit, friend.” Fi shakes his hand.

“Sweetie, Dellen and I just took some para drugs, but I brought some regular ones if you want to trip with us.”

 

“I’m kinda a teetotaler. In fact. Except wait no that just means you don’t drink, doesn’t it? … I do not know the word. But thanks for offering!”

 

“Okay!” Nat doesn’t seem at all thrown by this. “Well, the staff knows that your drinks are free. I wanna go say hi to Wasteland, do the two of you wanna come with?”

“I’m gonna say hi to wasteland yes.”

 

Dellen gives them a polite wave, leaning against the counter. When this hit he didn’t feel comfortable being mid conversation. Instead he enjoyed the experience, feeling the Dazzlefly evaporate inside him slowly but surely.

 

Fi waves back. “Bye, mister skelet- Dellen! Yes. Sorry.”

 

“Have a nice night you two.” The skeleton called congenially.

 

Wasteland shakes his helmet, the yellow eyepieces focusing on Ash. “No offense taken. And I can understand. Actually kind of jealous. Have to ask, what’s the hottest you’ve gotten a fire going?” Ah, much better. Shop talk. He can do shop talk.

 

“About as hot as a propane torch. I think I could do better if I had training… Which is why I’m leaning towards the Legion. They do have a lot of knowledge on various powers, you know? But the Freelancers pay better, and they’re not exactly slouches.”

The dark skinned man shifts closer, clearly interested in the conversation between Wasteland and Ashley.

 

“Freelancers have damned good scientists too. They just tend to have less of what normal folks would call a ‘bedside manner’. Or a manner to begin with. Don’t get me started on one our power’s techs. Very nice, on the heat, by the way. I’ve not met many pyrokinetics that can go that hot.” Wasteland’s helmet shifts towards Solomon, and his tone changes slightly to chill politeness. “Solomon.”

“Thomas. I’m Solomon, by the way – Ashley, was it? I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.” He offers a hand, which Ash shakes. “Always nice to meet another ambitious individual.”

“That isn’t my name, Solomon. You know this. I’ve asked you to not refer to me by that. It isn’t who I am anymore.” Wasteland stiffens, and the yellow eyepieces glow a bit brighter. In his mind, there are screams. His name, his old name, over and over. And the flames. Screaming for help. Screaming why. And when he reaches them, nothing but bleached bones that burn slowly to ashes in his hands. There’s a slight shaking of his helmet, as he brings himself back to reality.

 

“We have talked about this. We’re distancing ourselves from humans, alienating ourselves, creating this unnecessary gap between human and paranormal. I suppose I can call you Wasteland if it makes you more comfortable. This is a social outing, after all.”

“Oh dang, I must be interrupting something,” a redheaded pixie hovered over the arguing freelancers. “Should I come back? Or buy y’all a round?”

 

“Hi, Wasteland!” Chirps the other redhead, who is not a pixie, just someone who distorts reality on a regular basis. “And. People who aren’t Wasteland. I don’t know your names.”

 

“Ashley Rose-Sinclair. Ash for short. Hi.”

“Solomon Swift.” He smiles, leaning back, and sipping his appletini. “Nat, right? The famous Damselfly?”

Nat beamed. “Alive and in person. But most importantly, alive! I’ve been laid up for the past week and now it’s party time. If there’s anything y’all need, please do not hesitate to ask for it. I’ll make sure you don’t lack for drinks, and if you want something more interesting I can hook you up. Oh! And this is Fiona, my primary partner, she’s great. Summons things with cards.”

 

“Pleasure to meet both of you.” Solomon says, all smiles. “I’ve been meaning to come out and check this place out. It’s all the talk in Archaven, which is quite an achievement. I hear Cheney’s spitting mad that the Freelancers can’t put on an equal show.”

“The Faerie Glen is neutral ground,” Nat tapped eir nose. “Everybody’s welcome, so long as they behave.”

 

“I can behave!” Solomon promised. “Don’t worry, I’m just interested in watching and learning what all the excitement’s about. But I’m not much of a drinker or a dancer.”

“Hi Fi, Nat. Good to see you too.” His tone is a bit wooden, after clearing his little episode. “Uh, I’ll… what the hell. What’s the highest proof you’ve got here? I don’t have any dance moves, but I do have one fun party trick.” His tone is much friendlier as he continues speaking, and his body language changes to one of a much more relaxed kind.

 

“You-” She stares for a second. “..you can do party tricks? I need this in my life, man.

 

“‘Highest proof’ is kind of a misnomer, wastey. Like, we’ve got 151, and we even have some everclear stashed away that Tommy used to make perfume a few times. But the strongest stuff available is drugs. If there’s anything that, like, you could aspirate through your burny stuff, I’ll totally cough it up. I have a new para drug that can be inhaled but that’s not helpful if it literally turns into nothing by the time you breathe it.”

 

“I think the trick in question is contingent on alcohol, darling,” Fi says, peering over at Nat, then back to Wasteland, possibly for confirmation. Helmet nod!

 

“Cool! I’ll go get the everclear.” Nat zips away.

 

“The only neat thing I can do is probably not suitable for this place. Or time. … well I can do origami? I’m really good at origami?”

 

Literally seconds later, Nat returns with a jug containing a clear liquid. “195 proof liquid, anyone?”

“Is that actually like, safe to drink?” “Only diluted by, like, a lot.”

“I’ll take that!” Wasteland raises his hand, chuckling. Once given the bottle, the straw in his gauntlet would extend to the bottom, and start draining the everclear out. “Don’t mind if I use all of it, right?” Per confirmation, Wasteland drains the Everclear, and then looks at everyone. “Ya’all might want to stand back, just a tad. It’s a cool party trick, but not safe for hugging distance.”

 

“Even if I’m fireproof?” Ash teases, but steps back.

 

Solomon stays where he is, stubbornly close.

 

Fi hops back a couple times. Nat zips in behind Fi, circling eir arms around her waist and snuggling her.

 

“Right, here we go.” At that, all the ports in Wasteland’s armor open up, and a bright blue flame jet about a foot long leaps out of them. Two ports on his head, a couple around his gloves, two on his knees, and one on each elbow.

 

“Rocket maaaaaaaaaaan!”

“Burnin’ out his fuse out there alooooone~”

The flames stay for a bit, hissing and burning, like a firework, as he walks around, showing off. The flames ARE hot, however, and he makes sure to steer clear from getting to close to anyone.

 

“Oh em eff gee, Wastey, you are fucking adorable.” Nat claps, hands still around Fi’s waist.

 

Nearby, one of the staff members complains to another about there being sand in the building. Sand? Yes, blue sand. Did we do a beach theme? No, there’s just blue sand. Weird.

 

There is a spooky scary yelp of surprise whose origin is hard to discern.

 

Ash laughs. “This is incredible!” She snags a bit of the blue flame out of the air and rolls it between her hands, all smiles. “Oh my God, that’s the best party trick I’ve ever seen.”

Even Solomon has to applaud.


Fi seems transfixed by the flames, nodding after a moment. “That’s. Not what I was expecting, exactly!”

 

Wasteland laughs as the fire dies down, thank you, thank you.” The vents close. “My best party trick, really.” He laughs, a little embarrassed by all the overwhelming support. “Gotta have some good party uses for powers.”

 

After the fires die down, Dellen finally gets around to clapping. It was very impressive.

 

A swirl of blue sand kicks up into the air, then, near the entrance to the club, a pink glow at the center. The sand coalesces fairly quickly into the shape of a woman, complete with fabricated clothes. Some heroes may find the figure familiar… (it’s… it’s Pariah btw)

 

“I don’t get it,” Fi finally says, gesturing at Pariah. “I can’t think of any situation that would call for um. Being sand.”

 

Pariah turns to Fi and says something, but as she’s a few yards away her voice isn’t loud enough to be audible.

 

“Yes.”

 

“She’s the wonderful, mysterious vigilante cleaning up the mean streets of Detroit,” crows a short redhead, stepping out from behind the figure of Sand. “Paaaaaariiiiiaaaah!”

Pariah grins and says something that’s probably coy, but that no one but the (new) redhead can hear.

 

“C’mon, lady, let’s see what you can even drink as a sandperson.” The redhead saunters up to the bar. “Hi, hi, Gwen Smith, so nice to meet you -” Her eyes fall on Solomon and her expression becomes slightly strained – “all.”

Pariah approaches the bar, and is close enough now that people can actually hear her whisper, “I can sort of eat…”

 

“I know who she is I mean- ..I was more wondering why she was sand. Last I saw her he was glass. This seems like an improbable backstep in the process.”

“Hey, Pariah. Powers still giving the wonky adaptations, hmm?” He nods at her, and at Gwen. “Hi, Gwen, nice t’meet you. Wasteland.” Wasteland walks back towards the bar, and orders another drink for himself.

 

“I blame Travis, mostly,” Pariah whispers, “but it’s actually pretty handy, Fiona. I can slide around in sand form and wrap around stuff and teleport it. For now. And the dark blue means I’m harder to see than when I was glass.”

 

Dellen appears at the bar, his neon teal now tinted with green, you can see a forest haze filling up his skull and wafting out the holes of his eyes. His skeletal grin seemed…wider. “Heh….heh…..heh….now this is what I am talking about. I need some more of this.”

 

“You’ll be fine with that amount for now,” Nat says. “Hey Pariah, Gwen, d’you wanna party? Or drinks, or food? I can hook you up.”

 

“Chicken fingers and fries, thanks. I shouldn’t drink tonight. I’m the DD.”

Wasteland blinks at the skeletal paranormal, but then shrugs slightly. Once again, it isn’t the strangest thing he’s ever seen. “Teleportation, hmm? That’s pretty cool.” He looks from Gwen to Solomon, then around the little group again. Oh goodness, he’s towering over everyone. Awkward. Well, Pariah is 5’8″, at least…

 

“It’s very useful. Dellen. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He spoke a bit quicker than his usual slow and deep tone. “Will need to buy some for home later is all. Good stuff.” His eyes continued smoking.

 

“I’ll hook you up,” Nat giggles. “And yeah, I’ll get you some food, Gwen! How bout it, Pariah? You wanna party?”

 

“Darlin, should I try the Damselfly’s weird para drugs or no?” Pariah asks.

 

“I dunno, you deserve to treat yourself. As long as you can handle it.”

Wasteland doesn’t really say anything. He’s not one to tell what other people to do, anyway.

 

Fi has settled on a stool next to Wasteland, presuming one is open. She wishes she knew what was goin’ on but alas. They are speaking of The Drugs, and she is not privy to such experiences.

 

As if the party weren’t crowded enough.

 

Standing at the door is someone who is Clearly a Paranormal. The figure is one that would typically be read as female, wearing a fine fitted trenchcoat and cabbie cap. What made them stand out, though, was the color scheme: the coat was red on the right and black on the left, and the cap was the opposite. The figure’s face was also covered by a white mask covered in shifting red and black alphanumerics.

 

The figure looked… lost.

“What the hell, I’ll try your weird paranormal drugs.”

“This’ll be fun! Should I just empty the powder into your… mouth?”

“Yeah that may work.”

 

Dellen was making himself quite comfortable, leaning his elbow on a stranger standing next to him, blowing smoke rings (without lips, somehow) out and watching them rise to the ceiling, testing out all the shapes he could make.

 

“I’m glad to know that my head height is appropriate for leaning on, Mr. Dellen.” She doesn’t sound miffed or even bothered. She’s just kind of pointing it out.

 

Multi-talented, Fi. Multi-talented.” He chuckles.

 

“I am!”

 

Solomon Swift has distanced himself from the group, and is chatting with Ashley. The two of them seem to be getting along okay! Which is. Surprising.

 

Gwen gnaws on her chicken fingers, and then nudges Nat. “Hey, new kid on the block. You think they’re a villain or something?”

Nat blinks. “No idea. Never seen em before. Welp!” Ey zips over to say hello to the stranger, who takes a startled step back before returning to a merely wary state and talking back.

 

Dellen takes his free hand to readjust Fi’s hat back into the correct position on her head, but does not cease leaning. “It is a very comfortable head of hair. My thanks for lending it to me sailor.” He lets out a magnificent volcano of lime green smoke straight up into the air, his jaw almost unhinged. “Fascinating.”

 

Nat zips back, leaving the ostentatious stranger alone at the door, hesitating. “She says she goes by Ledger, and she’s the newest Freelancer recruit! I told her to come on over!”

 

Pariah stiffens, the expression on her sand-sculpture face transmogrifying from “oh no, that sounds familiar” to “oh no, I just took drugs and am about to be in a complicated social situation.”

 

There’s another sound of jets that pierce through the heavy bass of the crow. A white and blue armoured suit steps through the door soon after. Shorter and smaller than Wasteland, the Stormcore suit was suited more for air maneuverability and speed. Right now, he was cutting a swath through the crowd, dancers in their thin shoes suddenly mindful of their feet. He looked around, taking his helmet off, and found Fiona in the crowd. He waded towards her, his helmet tucked under his arm.

 

Fi visibly tenses. Her experiences with people looking right at her and coming right for her are not positive ones. It’s not too long before she relaxes because, c’mon, it’s Corey! They’re pals. She shoots him a big smile and waves, “Heya, Corey! How’s it goin’?”

 

“It’s been good. Who’s your friend?” Corey looked at the skeletal Dellen, nonplussed. “And is Nat around? I need to ask em if it’s fine to wear the suit inside. I didn’t want to leave it out on a night like this.”

 

“Dellen. And Nat is–” She is interrupted, but doesn’t seem to mind.

 

“Oh yeah, it’s totally fine! Hi Corey! I haven’t seen you since… the para hunter thing, Fi is suddenly fascinated by the floor beneath her. right? Yeah you can have the suit on in here. Want anything to drink or… drink? Or drugs? Can I get you anything at all?”

 

The woman in red and black slowly approached the party, gloved hands at her sides.

 

Dellen turned to Corey with his big grin, shutting his mouth so he wouldn’t breath green gas into his face. He spoke without opening it, the sound resonating from deep within the skeleton and synth mass. “Charmed to meet you. That’s quite the suit you’ve got there. Very impressive.” He let go of Fi’s head and offered a brisk handshake.

 

Corey shook Dellen’s hand, carefull taking the other man’s hand in his mechanised grip. “Thank you. I’ve worked long and hard on it.” He turned to Fi and Nat. “Thank you, no. Water is fine.” He looked around at the partying crowd, his expression dispassionate. “I see that people are being quite creative in their gyrations.”

“That’s what we do!” 🙂

 

“We’ll leave in like, a second,” Gwen whispers to Pariah. “Let me just finish these chicken fingers.” And then she mows through the plate with as much speed as she can muster.

 

“Hey.” The voice of the masked Ledger was shockingly ordinary, with a slight accent and a lot of anxious energy behind it. “Uh, I’m the Ledger. New Freelancer. Nice to meet you all.”

 

“‘mGwn-” muttered Gwen around a mouthful of breaded chicken.

 

“A new Freelancer?” Ash glances over from her conversation with Solomon. “Oh! So you must know a lot about what it’s like to join up?”

“Um, maybe?”

“Well I mean.” Dellen brings his arms up in a shrug. “Uncreative gyrations are really just sad. So very, very sad.” And then he turned his head to numbersface. “Ledger. Now THAT is an interesting name. Dellen, pleasured, pleasured to meet you.” He had said it so many times today it had begun to lose meaning. Or maybe that was the drugs.

 

“Fi. Fiona? I guess. Either one. I don’t do anything of note, and you are free to pay little attention to me.’

 

Ash sidles over. “What’s the benefits package like?”

Solomon follows her, still sipping at his Appletini. Wasteland has beer. It is good. He stays quiet, listening and enjoying the other people talking.

 

“Cool,” Ledger says. “The benefits package… well, I can tell you more but it seems to be pretty personally tailored. And um. Hey. You’re the Pariah, right?”

 

Pariah freezes.

 

“It sounds like you’ve… seen some shit,” Ledger says. Then, after an awkward pause, “I’m sorry about that.”

 

Not far away, in a clear area in a dark corner of the club, a burning, roiling and bubbling pool of blood appears. A figure slowly rises from it, his eyes closed, his scarlet red hair styled with artistic carelessness. His torso appears next, his shirt is silk and unbottoned to the chest. Next, his lower half, leather pants and three belts, one in studded metal, and another with metal plates. His feet appear last, and he steps out of the pool, unmarked by it.

 

Dellen bamf’d behind Callister immediately, gripping him by his biceps, and then teleporting right next to Nat and left Cal there. Then he poofed one more time to a dance platform hanging from the ceiling, where he sat with his legs hanging off the side, ready for his favorite show.

 

“I–” Pariah stammered.

 

“Wh!” Nat exclaimed as ey was suddenly face to face with a video game protagonist. “Oh!”

 

“Uh–” Pariah stammered.

 

“What–” Ledger gasped.

“Hello, Ledger. I’m Corey. We met over Twitter.” But the noise of the club ate his words and Corey shrugged.

 

“Okay, that is kinda new….” He eyes Callister warily, then looks at Dellen.

 

“Why are we so…” Fi gestures vaguely. “Those noises. Did we forget words?” She glances at Wasteland, “..are we the two sane people? Did that happen, now?”

 

Wasteland shrugs. “I’m sane, sounds like you’re sane. Maybe we’re just too hardcore to be stunned.” He chuckles at Fi, then looks at Ledger. “Oh, hey. Nice t’meet you. Wasteland, also met you over Twitter?”

 

Callister was about to give a reply that was full of his deep, dark, feelings for the spritful Nat when- One of the windows to the club creaks open – wait, is that supposed to open from the outside? Almost certainly not. And it’s definitely not supposed to have six and a half feet of furious Rooster tumbling out of it. She hits the floor with a meaty “THUMP” and immediately gets to her feet. “HEY NAT!” She yells, pitched to carry. Jaw open, Callister looked taken aback at his stolen entrance.

 

“Yo, Max! Over here!” Nat waves over Callister’s shoulder. “Shit is super weird right now!”

“Is it? It doesn’t feel weird…”

 

Rooster stomps over to the crowd around Nat. “Hey there. Y’look better in person. I’m having a fucking shit night so give me the goods NOW, please.” She holds out a hand. Wastey waves.

 

Without another word, Nat drops a capsule into Rooster’s hand. “Skol.” Ey then turns to Cal. “Uh. Do you… want some drugs too?”

 

Callister opened his mouth, preparing to explain to Nat the ills of drugs, and the virtues of keeping a pure body when –

 

Rooster dry-swallows the tab. “Where’s the bar?”

Nat just hands her eir drink, which is still nearly full, then points at the bar.

 

“God, you’re a lifesaver.” She downs it all and heads for the bar, where she immediately does two shots.

 

“I like her.”

 

“Hey, partner. Shit day. You want maybe I should shake them down and you clearly had nothing to do with it, but hey, I helped?” He offered as kindly as he could. He helmet nods to her as she does the shots, and shrugs a little.

 

,Dellen breaths three consecutive smoke rings that travel all the way from his perch, until they dissipate against Callisters face. “Talk. To. Her.”

 

“Pronouns!”

 

“Em” poofs down from the perch gently flying between them. “Hey, thanks.”

 

Nat finally gets eir bearings a little bit, and turns attention to Callister. Ey smiles a bit. “You sought me out faster than I expected.”

 

Post-shots, Rooster nods back to Wastey. “Ah, thanks man, but it’s my girlfriend, she wouldn’t like it. Some fucker stole from her but she inexplicably doesn’t want me shaking down her neighbors.” She shakes her head and orders a tiki drink.

 

Figure I’d offer. Sucks ass.” He waves for another beer. “One hell of a paranormal night.”

 

Mouth open to proclaim his undying devotion to Nat, Callister was suddenly interrupted again.“HEY I HEARD THERE WAS A PARTY?” came a voice from the door. And then the sound of a kazoo. When mother ruled the world, there will be no more kazoos!

 

Corey turned to Ledger, one of the few sane people in this place. Or time will tell. “Settling in well?” Yes, that was a correct question for someone new.

 

“I have no fucking idea,” Ledger replied.

“No? What are you having trouble with?”

 

“I just don’t know what constitutes ‘well’.”

 

Tiki drink drained, the massive woman sets her eyes on the dance floor. She’s not shy about elbowing people aside so she can get to the action. She’s also very willing to cuss out and physically remove men who try to dance with her. Depending on the crowd’s makeup and preferences, she either quickly becomes the center of a hub of queer women, or gets ample space to herself.

It’s sort of a combination of the two. Certain patrons and staff get close and cheer. Others veeeeeeer away.

 

“Oh dear. You’re going to have to get a new floor….” Wasteland chuckles as Rooster goes full tilt. He looks to Ledger and Corey. “Well, you haven’t lost your mind, and you haven’t blown anyone up. You’re doing quite well.”

 

Corey shrugged. “I don’t see why I should be upset at any of this. People seem to be legally enjoying themselves and no one is bothering me.” He gives Wasteland a small smile. “People are fine. I am not.”

 

Pariah shifts uncomfortably. “I didn’t expect you to get along with… an independent like me,” she says to Ledger.

 

Ledger shrugs. “I’m having to rethink a lot of things.”

 

“That’s one of the first things anyone does once they become paranormal, from what I get. I definitely did. And Corey, you’re fine, and doing fine. Speaking of which, forgot to ask, when’s a good time for testing out a few of those rail guns you’ve got?”

 

Corey laughed. “Call me when you’re next free and we’ll see. I need to test them. My only regret is that I can only carry one at time or else I lose speed and maneuverability.”

 

Nearby, Callister was once again trying to talk to Nat, his deep red eyes full of deep passion.

At this point, Nat’s equilibrium is back, and ey raises an eyebrow, waiting for Callister. Of course, someone probably interrupts.

 

Rooster’s amassed a small crowd by now, and she’s dancing with some of them, but none of them are the pretty little thing she came here to see. She glances around over the heads of her dance partners, looking for Nat, and spots em a short distance away. So, naturally, she makes her way over to em and plants a hand on eir shoulder. In eir ear she breathes, “Heyyy.”

 

Nat can’t help it. A looming, colorful muscle butch, breathing in eir ear? Eir face goes full ahegao for a moment, and ey has no attention to pay to anything for a bit, especially not Cal.

 

“Dance with me, sweet thing.” And before Nat responds, she grips eir waist and starts rocking her hips against eir back.

 

Dellen opens his mouth aghast in despair as Callisters chance is taken from him! Oh if only he had some popcorn to fill the void. He probably looked somewhat like skeletor from this angle. A ghostly trail of smoke pouring from the void of his throat.

 

“ANYway,” Pariah elbows Gwen, which would be less conspicuous if she could speak louder than a whisper, “we had probably better get going, even, um.” She visibly loses her train of thought as the drugs start to take effect.

 

“Dooon’t worry, I’m the DD. C’mon, girl, I’ll getcha home.”

“Yeah, me too, maybe,” Ledger shrugs. “I dunno. Maybe I’ll have a drink or something.”

 

“Ohh, fuck,” Nat murmurs, grinding eir hips back in a way that makes Cal feel really funny, probably.

 

“Byeeeeee,” Pariah whispers as she gets led out, then, looking at Rooster and Nat, “Oooo. Can we do that when we get home.” Wastey waves. “Night!”

 

Fi, apparently, is just content to watch all of this strange happen, although she’s gotten a bit bored of doing entirely nothing, and ordered a drink. She sips it. Kind of waits for the Next Act of Strange to unfold.

 

Wasteland watches all the goings on with Fi, drinking his beer through his gauntlet straw. “People are.. crazy.”

 

“M’ partner’s pretty weird. Erryone’s pretty weird. – .. Not you though. You have party tricks, and that’s worthy of respect. Wasteland laughed quietly. “Thanks.”

 

Callister watched helplessly from the sidelines as Nat…danced (for lack of a better word in his vocabulary). He felt his anger rise, and he pushed it down, though his eyes blazed. He was a fool. He was not welcome here. He spun on his heel to an unoccupied corner where a bubbling pool of flaming blood erupted.

 

“Hey, spookums. You alright?” Yes. Fi just called Callister “spookums.” He may not realize.

 

Spookums did not! Instead he stepped into the pool and sank away. The pool splurped once, then disappeared when it had fully consumed Callister.

 

“Holy fuck that was metal.”

 

Dellen makes a sad.

 

Corey turned to Dellen. “So. What’s your story? There are not many other blue skeletons around here.”

 

Still up on his perch, Dellen looked down at Corey. “Oh you know. I’m paranormal. All my skin fell off and left an animated skeleton. It can be quite a hassle I assure you, but being a professional, you learn to make the best of it.” It was a speech he had practiced and used many times since joining the acrobatics team…..a day and a half ago. But hey. It worked.

 

Rooster watches her rival fade into the floor with a shit-eating grin. This whole time she’s been continuing to grind up against Nat, murmuring into eir ear: “God, you smell so good. Whatever you have, kid, that’s what I want. You and me, we’re gonna tear this place APART! Fuck.”

 

“Fiiiii,” Nat calls, “I need to go fuckdance with Rooster, ok?”

 

“Um. Okay?” It sounds exactly like she is the one asking a question, not answering it.

 

“Okaytalksoon,” Nat is spirited away.

“Haaave fun.”

“Isn’t that your boyfriend?” Ledger asks.

 

Fi stares intently at her drink. Oh fuck. Did- Did they cover the proper form of address there? Oh no. She can’t remember. Uh. Her other immediate response (“Isn’t that your boyfriend”) doesn’t seem to fit, so she keeps that one to herself, and finally says “Um. Yes? That’s my partner.”

 

Wasteland looks to Ledger. “From what I understand, Nat doesn’t identify as girl or boy. Ah, gender neutral, or some such.” He shrugs.

 

“Yeah okay that’s… weird, but,” Ledger gestures vaguely at the dance floor, “if you’re, uh… if you’re dating…?”

 

“Poly- poly– .. whatsit.” Fi actually digs out her phone and starts googling before she announces, “Polyamorous. Yes. Um.  It’s. .. that thing.” Why yes, Ledger, she does sound completely unsure and a lot confused.

 

There’s a long, incredibly awkward pause. “Oh,” Ledger finally says.

 

“Yes.” … That – that answers nothing, Fiona.

 

Corey almost casually reached down to pick Fi up and placed her on the other side of him. “Sorry,” he said to Ledger. “She is a little breakable.” He picked up his glass of water and took another sip. “ So, how are you at sparring and hand to hand? I need a partner who won’t think it fun to break me.”

 

“I can’t go up against anybody who has enhanced strength or whatever,” Ledger says, “but I used to do amateur MMA when I was in– at– before I Emerged. I also need to check out the range; I requisitioned some handguns for my mission kit.”

 

“That’s good. I’m not enhanced. My only paranormal ability is a superhuman immune system. The last time I went against a null, I spent two days in bed, blind and leaking. Out of this suit, I’m 5’9” and 150lbs. I can show you the range and the gym. Both are well equipped.”

 

“Wish I could do some too. Unfortunately, only can do anything with anyone in the suit.” He nods towards the dance floor. “My sparring partner is one of few folks that can really take as much as I can dish out.”

“…sometimes I have riddle contests with my demons?”

“Try sparring with Apex….wait. If you do, ask him not to pierce through your suit.” Corey made a little huff.”

 

“I’d lose riddle contests. And Apex would be an… interesting fight. Though if he did pierce my suit, it’d likely be the last thing he ever did.” He chuckles, and looks to Ledger. “MMA, really? Damn. Not many folks still into that, far as I know. I could just be out of the loop, though.”

 

“I’m kind of an old fashioned gal, I guess,” Ledger shrugs. “In a bunch of ways. Trying to adapt, though. And like. I can… stand up to stronger paras, but I end up paying for it later.”

 

Dellen appeared next to Fiona. “So…demon summoning. That’s one I haven’t heard before. Messy business?” ((tag))

 

Fi got picked up and tucked into a nice lap. No worries keep talkin.

 

“Hiiiii~” And she shakes her head at Dellen. “No. Pretty clean. Pretty simple.” There’s a faint shrug. “Don’t really need blood sacrifices like everyone always says. i t probably helps though.

 

“Well I mean, not having a mess to clean up after sounds pretty nice as well.” Dellen chuckled slightly, ordering himself another drink. Something fruity. “Did it take a lot of practice?”

 

“Took some uh. Learning, mostly. Once I figured out how to do things, went okay.”

 

“Fuck,” Ledger mutters under her breath, clearly a little thrown by the environment.

 

The big muscled  dude holding Fi looked over and his brows knit. “Gurl you good?” he asked. He didn’t know her. Did he? Nope. He’d remember somebody in a red-and-black trenchcoat-cap-mask combo.

Corey gave Ledger a look from the corner of his eye. He’d been where she was, when the situation threatened to overwhelm you. “You look a little tired. Why don’t you go back to HQ?”

“Yeah.” She nodded. “Yeah.”

 

“Exceptionalism comes from experimentation.” Dellen said with a finger pointed up in thought, before grabbing his new glass and throwing it down the hatch. They could see the orange drink intermingle with the blue glow and green gas inside his body…his chest looked something like a lava lamp. “At least that’s what my….” He seemed at a loss for words for a moment. “That’s what they say!”

 

“Who says that bro?” Chad asked with honest interest. His hand was rubbing Fi’s back. He was also maybe a little stoned.

 

A flying redheaded pixie looped over the dance floor in lazy spirals, hair mussed, visibly a little… not present. Ey gradually drifted toward the gathered paranormals.

 

“Oh…you know. Them.” The green haze coming out of the skeletons eyeholes indicated he was most likely also under the influence of some kind of drug or another. They sort of looked like the ends of a bong. He truly seemed not to know.

 

“Someday, we’ll know who they are. And that day will be a judgement.”

 

The big dude just stared at the Skeleton. It seemed like he was just about to realize something. It was coming. Slowly. Aaaaalmost there. “Dude…” he breathed. “Are you…?”

 

Corey gently patted Fi on the shoulder. Very gently and mindful of his mechanised metal gauntlet. “And my social algorithm program tells that when philosophy is brought out, it’s time for me to make my excuses and leave. Have a good night, everyone. Don’t let any of those dancers touch you. They look unhygienic.”

 

When the guy pats Fi, Chad looks annoyed and opens his mouth to say something, then catches himself. Shuts it again and just holds Fi a little tighter. “Take care dude.”

 

“Hey, uhm. Corey, I’m gonna just. Go with, if that’s all right,” Ledger says, slapping a tip on the bar and springing to her feet.

 

“I don’t mind. I was going to use the teleports. I can’t make it all the way to Archaven as is.”

 

“Make sure you scrape your shoes”

 

“Bye, Corey! I hope you have a nice night. You too uh. Ledger, I think you said.” “Yeh.”

 

“Hey sweetie,” Nat smiled, floating to Fi’s side. “How’re you holding up? Oh hi Chad.”

 

He looked up and gave a big dumb grin and made smoochy face. “Yoooooooo–” Nat cut him off with a kiss. His eyes flew wide but he hummed and went alll gooey. Natkisses yeaaaaahhh.

 

Max emerges from a private room, stretching as she does and looking absolutely smug. She looks around the room and ends up heading back up to the bar.

 

Dellen decided to teleport to the dance floor and bust a move for a bit. He did an intricate dance, like some strange mix between breakdancing and an arabian sword dance. The movements were slow when they needed to be, elegant, and then turned to swift grace and precision. He made sure to teleport if his limbs were ever about to smack anybody.((tag))

 

“I’m okay,” Fi responds, quietly.  She’s resumed her position of quiet observer, and she seems okay with that.

 

“Okay! Love you.” Nat lifts Fi up enough to slip under her, settling on Chad’s lap and setting Fi on eirs.

 

She’s okay with this, too. “Love you too sugar.” She squirms and fidgets and finally faces Nat, hugging her, then hugging Chad too because hugs for everyone. Nat makes just the happiest noise. Just the happiest.

Chad is also down with this. It’s not like he’s running out of lap.

 

“Oh hey, it’s three outta the fearsome foursome!” Max scootches over toward Fi, Nat, and Chad. “I just … met … Nat. And you must be … Fiona, right? And CHAD! MY MAN!” She holds out a hand to him for …a chest bump? Aren’t there, like, two people between her and him? It’s unclear what her plan is.

 

“ROOSTER YOU HOOOO.” Chad gave a gleeful holler. He was already shooting out his hand to give her a rightous brofist when she moved and he kinda just ended up punching her in the boob. Oops. :/

 

“I’m Fiona, yeppers.” She stares at the hand. … stares some more. Slowly. Awkwardly. Fistbumps.

 

Max notes the fistbump and returns it with only slightly confused gusto.

 

Dellen continues his dance on stage with the performers.

 

At the titpunch, Max stops. Stock. Still. She gives Chad a look of exaggerated horror. “Oh you did NOT. Are you tryna move up our fight date, little man?” She’s trying to maintain the scary vibe but a snort-giggle escapes her at the end of the sentence.

LITTLE MAN?!?! Was she calling him out when he had a lap full of PRETTY? Aw hell no.

Girls were watching. Chad only just barely stopped himself from standing and spilling Nat and Fi. He stammered for a couple seconds then put his nose in the air. “Aw, don’t act like you ain’t shakin.”

 

Nat looks at Rooster, then at Chad. Then at Rooster, then back at Chad.

 

Huge hot people were going to fight, and ey and eir girlfriend were between the two of them. This wasn’t gonna work. Ey hoisted Fi’s weight and just… gently… floated… sideways, off of the danger lap.

 

Fi seems weirdly disappointed by this. She’s pouting now, Nat. Has she ever given you the Full Pout before? Oh no whyyyyyyyy what did ey even do Fi only knows. She’d probably explain herself if asked.

 

“Should I… not have gotten you out of the way of the fighting cuties? I don’t want you to get flattened, love.”

 

“Right but I don’t want either of them flattened either I mean what if chad gets hurt – I’d ask about maxine but but – uh..” Her response is quiet probably for the sake of the Bravado Duo™

 

“You kiddin’? This is like recess for them. They won’t break each other.”

 

Mid backflip, Dellen teleported to a good observation point, his interest peaked. \

 

“… y’know what? Why the hell not. I’m drunk and high, but that’s probably equal to you on your best day. Y’wanna go? The parking lot’s got plenty’a room.” She gestures expansively.

 

Locates marks, and begins organizing “The Betting”.

 

Chad sucks in a huge breath and POINTS his finger right at Rooster with righteous indignation and announces: “You talkin a lotta shit for a woman ‘bout to get her ass beat.” “Ooh he said that on twitter”

 

Max just grins, pounds a fist into her palm, and starts making her way for the exit.

 

Chad makes sure his lap is clear of cuties and then stands, doing a little stretching out thing that just happens to show off his muscles spectacularly. Like his biceps. And abs. Holy crap those abs.  Is there a word for that color Fi just turned? “I bet I could get them both back to your apartment.” That wasn’t a dignified squeak.

 

He glanced over to Nat. “Hey didn’t you have something for me.” he mentions offhand.

 

“Sure, but it will not make you fight better.” Ey holds out a little capsule full of powder. “But it’s only fair, I guess, cuz Rooster’s on the same stuff.”

He didn’t really think about it just took it from Nat and offered his face for smooching – for good luck! Smooch.Then he headed out to meet Rooster in the lot. This was gonna be fun.

 

Out in the lot, Rooster’s doing her own stretches. There’s a significant amount of hooting involved.

 

It doesn’t really occur to Nat that maybe ey should put Fi down and let her walk her own damn self to the parking lot. Ey just kinda drifts in that direction, still holding her.

 

Chad gets out there and hands over a bunch of things to Fi: wallet, phone, keys, watch, stuff like that. He kicks off his shoes and almost forgets to hand over his NFL ring, but somebody reminds him. He turns to Rooster and grins, making a ‘come at me’ gesture.

 

Fi has things. They are Chad’s things. She doesn’t have all that much pocket space so she just kinda holds most of it.

 

Rooster dumps the contents of her pockets on the ground near some spectators. Maybe not the wisest plan, but who the fuck is going to try to rob her?

 

Chad is hopping around on the balls of his feet. He’s excited!

 

Aaaaand – FIGHT! Rooster charges for Chad, trying to grab him around the waist and knock him off his feet.

 

Which she absolutely does. He got distracted by some cutie in the crowd and was winking at her and making finger guns. So of course he flew right off his feet and crashed into the ground, giving a howl of surprise. His hands started shoving at Rooster as his feet kicked for purchase.

 

She slams him to the ground and puts him in a hold. “Give up already? You baby?” She shouts at him.

 

Nat idly chews Fi’s shoulder as ey watches.

“..what’re you doin’.”

“Chewin”

“Why.”

“Cuz.” “oh. Okay.”

 

His face under her arm has an expression of quizzical indignation. “Nah gurl nah I just want you to feel like you doin ok you know?” he retorts as he wriggles his shoulders, slowly getting some leverage back.

 

“Heh. Nice of you, but – “ she grunts, putting him in a headlock “ – so very, very unnecessary.” [tag]

 

“Aw.” he grunts before giving a furious kick and getting his legs under him. He sends a fist into her side until she lets him loose and rubs at his smooshed nose for a second before trying to get her in a leg hold.

Nat is no longer really paying attention to the fight. Ey snuggles Fi earnestly.

 

Jupiter gently floated down, her arms were full of pizza and bags of fast food. “Whatcha guys all doing out here?” Then she spotted the brawlers and she grinned. “Go smash her, babe!”

 

Fi is watching it like it may be the cure to the common cold.

 

OK, maybe she was getting a little overconfident there. Before she knows it, she’s on her back with a leg in the air … But she jabs the other one into his ribs and rolls up. And then it’s time to take this to the big leagues.

 

She starts moving at superspeed, shoving her fists and elbows into his torso.

So Chad might be a bit stronger than Rooster, but he didn’t have her speed. He tried to keep up with blocking her strikes, but for every one he deflected she got another in. He let himself get pushed back and back, just concentrating on keeping her fists out of his face until he could find an opening. He grabbed for her legs, launching his huge body into a spin so that he could…well, just throw her, releasing her like a discus thrower with a whoop of elation.

 

Jupiter echoes that whoop, flinging her arms up, sending up a rain of pizza and burritos around her.

 

The dive Fi makes for a flying burrito would do any outfielder proud. …as would the sudden dive that Nat does to re-catch Fi so she doesn’t skid on the asphalt.

 

She goes flying. Spectators may have to run out of the way. She lands in the concrete and leaves a dent. But you can’t keep a good woman down: she’s got one arm up shoving herself upright almost immediately. She cracks her knuckles.

 

Then she runs at him, charging like a bull, head down. She’s telegraphing it, it’s obvious, he could get out of the way – if he’s got the speed. It’s a ways to go, so it’s not a given she’ll make it before he can blink, so the question is: how good are your reflexes, Chad?

 

Oh shit. She was fast. Chad saw her coming but did he have time to get all those muscles out of the way? He ended up just dropping down and catching her by the legs, and they tumbled down into a ball of furious dust with limbs randomly poking out. Or at least that’s definitely how it would have been animated.  In the end they stopped paying attention and…were they heading toward a road? The crowd yelled to warn them, and in the end they just rolled down an embankment and into a chilly creek!  The people who came to the lip got to see them both out of breath and laughing, Chad with a bloody nose and his lip quickly starting to swell. Rooster probably wasn’t gonna have a scratch. So unfair.

 

((how is that)) [it’s dope as hell is what it is]

Nat floats just a foot above the pavement, facing up and curled into a basket around Fi, who cheerfully munches on a burrito while her partner dozes quietly.

 

By the end of this Rooster was laughing like an idiot. “Hahaha. Man. Oh man. We learned our fuckin lesson, don’t fight while high on random shit Nat gives you.” She swipes a thumb over Chad’s upper lip where the blood’s starting to run into his mouth. “Sorry about that, man. Can I buy you a drink?”

 

“Hell yeah!” he impulsively grabs her into a big manly hug with thumps on her back. “I love you man!” he blurts out because drunk Chad just friggin loves you.

 

“Wow, dude, gay”

 

You’re gay.” he retorts (obviously) without thinking.

 

((I feel like that’s a good ending hahaha)

[yeah that’s perf]

Barflies

“It is time to be social.” Corey heard an unexpected voice, hissing into his ear.

 

Corey didn’t flail. He didn’t wake up in a start. He didn’t cry out. He didn’t even question what the other Freelancer was doing in his room.

 

But he did reach out and push Apex’s face away from his ear. “No. I’ve four more hours of scheduled sleep time.”

 

They were in Corey’s cell of a room. There was a bed. Corey wasn’t on it. There was a desk. He wasn’t there either. He was on the clean tiled floor where he normally slept.

 

Corey’s hand brushed against the air. Apparently Apex had moved. “Dr. Meda said it was time for me to be social. I cannot do it alone.” Apex’s voice was deadpan serious. Almost scared. A tail wrapped around his waist and managed to heft him up in the air, as the creature casually strutted on all fours, catlike, towards the Anvil.

 

“Wait. If we are to go out, let me get a jacket. And a gun. And my leg.”

 

Corey was not going to hop around all night.

 

“I suppose.” Apex said, offhandedly letting him down. Allowing it’s tail to reach out and grab his leg for him, handing it over. “The other one….the one with the working knee, no, the black one.” Apex sat patiently, letting his tail do all the work in finding the right one, disorganizing the room more and more with everything he touched.

 

Jacket, hat, gun holster with a spare clip in a pocket.

 

Corey considered body armour. Decided against that then strapped his leg on.

 

“Lead the way.”

 

Inwardly he was thankful Dr. Meda hadn’t given him the same orders to socialise.

 

The tall creature of about 7 feet currently rose to a bipedal position, making his way awkwardly towards the Anvil. He had long, lanky limbs today, and as always was covered in bone plates. Between them he was covered in black fur, and around his head was a mane of crow feathers. A blank bone plate covered his face with an indent of a horn around the center, but other than that it was featureless. It kind of moved like a xenomorph from Alien. The sharp claws struggled with the door to the bar, sliding off the reinforced door and handle since he didn’t want to scratch it.

 

He was followed by a shorter fellow. Much shorter. Perhaps 5’8”, 5’9”. He was dressed in grey and blue workout clothes that fit like a second skin, a jacket with the Freelancer patch on the arm, and walked quite smoothly with his prosthetic leg. There were glints of metal at his hands, some circuitry and wiring visible on his neck, and a metal plate that covered a good quarter of his head, part of his face and a bit of the back of his head. A blue optical lens was set over his right eye…or where his right eye should be.

 

He pushed against the door, letting the 7ft creature in.

 

Rooster is sitting relaxed at the bar, one empty glass already on the table, slurping something frozen and magenta in color. Her red-and-yellow hair flops over to her left side, bouncing around when she moves her head, and she’s animatedly chatting with the bartender.

 

When the two other Freelancers walk in she turns to see them from the side and waves warmly. There are empty seats on either side of her.

 

Apex nodded a small thanks to Corey before slinking into the bar. Chances are he hadn’t met Rooster before, and Rooster most likely didn’t know him, as the Freelancers had tried to keep him under the rug for the most part when the media was concerned. The blank face tilted a bit, somehow sensing the wave. He turned to Corey. “I believe there is a friend of yours waving to you from the bar.”

 

Corey looked at Rooster, then behind him. His expression was blank. “I don’t think I know her. We should go up and ask what she wants.”

 

Not terribly far from Rooster is someone who may be drunk or just doesn’t agree with stools. Swaying dangerously and sipping at – who knows what, it’s violently pink though, is a dark-skinned woman in oddly stiff looking clothing. She seems to be having trouble with her short-ish hair, running a hand through it at random to make that one spot stay down god damn it. She waves at the new-comers, because … well, who the hell are they?

 

“….Apex. Why are there more than one female waving at us?” Corey was rooted to the spot, but attempting to look casual…stiff muscles made it difficult to draw his gun. “They must think you are handsome, or wish to hunt you as prey. One or the other.” “…their eyes must be defective.”

 

Rooster spins around on her bar stool and pushes off it, sauntering toward the door, where the two Freelancers are standing around. Once she gets close by she grins at the two of them. “Hey, it’s Corey, right? I think you’re a friend of a friend. Max.” She holds out a hand to shake.

 

And Corey’s social algorithm programs kicked in. He stepped forward and met the handshake firmly, with precalculated firmness. “Corey Adams.” He nodded. “And this is Apex.” Now he recognised her from newsarticles and the Freelancer newsletter. “Apex, this is Rooster.”

 

He looked around Rooster at the other waving lady. “Is that a friend of yours?”

 

Apex gave a small wave, moving it’s fingers accompanied by the melodious cracking of his many knuckles by doing so. Then he looked at waving lady. It took him a few seconds, the implant in his brain working on auto. “Do I smell pizza. Does anyone else smell pizza.” Apex seemed very frustrated at not being able to locate any.

“did someone say pizza?”

 

“Hey, Apex. Good to meet you.” She glances over her shoulder at the other woman. “Nah, don’t know her. Jeez, she looks smashed.”

 

“Well, an invite is an invite.” Corey’s algorithms indicated that this was a socially correct action as he wound his way around the bar to the waving lady.

 

“Good evening, I’m Corey Adams. You waved?”

 

“Heyas, yeh.” She nods. It looks a bit strange, like her bones just over-extend for funsies. “Ain’t seen ya before – … or y’spooky-lookin’ friend over there.” She holds a hand out. “Naut. Y’kin call me Eli. All the sames t’me.” She does not sound drunk. She just talks funny, it seems.

 

Apex nods. “She smells….not very drunk. Clean breath. Ish.” “‘Cause I ain’t.” He looks back to Rooster. “It is very….nice to meet you as well. Rooster?” There was a lot of uncertainty in his voice, as if he was unsure he was pronouncing words correctly. To be fair, his voice did sound like a chain smoker got dragged through a patch of gravel by a pickup filled with growling lions. So it made sense he wasn’t sure if people could understand him.

 

Rooster follows the two guys [?] closer to Naut. “Rooster or Max is cool. Did somebody want to order a pizza? I think there’s a couple places deliver here.”

 

The door opened in a gust of blustery wind, pulling in a tall black woman who walked like she knew where she was going. She was wrapped in a navy peacoat with bright brass buttons, and her sensible boots clomped on the floor as she pulled earbuds from her ears and tucked them away. She cast her eyes about the place.

 

“Feel free. I don’t eat solid food.” Corey hoisted himself into one of the stools. He considered the drinks. His social algorithms indicated that he should order something. Water was unacceptable. He sighed and got a diet soda. “Would anyone else like a drink?”

 

“Nawh. I’s got this – …” She stares at the violently pink concoction. “…I got no idea. I jus’ told ‘em ta surprise me. Y’may color me s’prised.” She pauses, clearly trying not to play into the rumors, then says “..I also never says no to pizza.”

 

The big creature decides to stay quiet on the subject of pizza, instead taking a long whiff of the pink concoction. It then decides to stay silent on the ingredients involved in that as well. “I will drink water.”

 

“Wowwww. Fuckin’ water and no solid food. You two are a lot of fun,” Max jokes. “If we can’t get you drunk we should at least make you eat something spicy. Here -” She pulls a phone out of her pocket. “I have one place’s number in here – who likes hot wings?”

 

Corey sipped his soda, wincing at the sweetness. “I think Apex does.” First rule of survival. Throw your friends under the bus.

 

Apex flexes his muscles tightly for a moment, claws growing another inch before he settles himself back down. He turns to Max. “Wouldn’t that be….cannibalism though?”

 

“what.”

 

Corey’s face was perfectly neutral.

 

She gives a blank look. “What.”

 

“B-because….” The hoarse voice nearly broke. “You are a rooster.”

 

The broad woman bursts out laughing, slapping the bar. “Ha! Oh, fuck! That’s hilarious.” She runs one hand through her … let’s be honest, it’s a crest. “You’re funny, big guy. OK, I’m ordering.” She steps slightly away and starts dialing. [tag]

“Hey, is this Wings Over Archaven? Yeah, can I get two – no, make it four orders of hot wings? … Yeah, deliver to the Anvil. … Yes it’s Max. … Pfff. Yeah, same card as usual. Oh, and add garlic bread”

 

“Extra garlic bread.” Intoned the no-nonsense woman as she wandered over. She gave the others a brisk nod, then leaned down to whisper something into Eli’s ear.

 

Eli perks up. “Oh hiiii,” she chirps at the no-nonsense lady. She helpfully adds, “an’ you two don’t gotta worry, I’ll eat whatever y’all don’t,” nodding at Corey and Apex.

 

Corey didn’t breathe a sigh of relief. He did take a sip. “And I hope you enjoy it,” he said sincerely. He canted his head. “Interesting suit you have there.”

 

“Maybe make that 6 boxes.” Apex says with a serious nod, trying to reduce its claw size without being obvious about it.

 

In the distance, there’s a roar of a jet engine, and a loud thoom of something very heavy landing outside. A few moments later, the door to the Anvil opens, and a 7’ foot armored walking tank enters the bar. The bright yellow eye lenses scan the area, as the machinery whines a little from moving at a much more normal pace. The jet pack hisses a little from the heat as he enters, and he spies Rooster and the group, heading towards them, with loud, clanking thunks. “Evenin’.”

 

Rooster quickly ends her take-out call. “DUDE!” She calls out, striding over to the tank. “Good to see you! This is shaping up to be a regular party. You know these guys?” She gestures to the growing group.

 

“Rooster, you always start the party without me. Drinking first when you KNOW I’m still flying in. Did you already hit on every woman in here without me?” He snorts, very mechanical sounding through the helmet. His tone is gently mocking, though almost harsher through the speakers that make his voice much lower and deeper. “Ah, can’t say that I do. Wasteland.” He nods politely to the group.

 

“Corey Adams. Stormcore. Good to finally meet you in person.” Corey held his drink up.

 

“You smell like explosions.” the creature added casually. “I’m Apex.”

 

Naut waved lazily. “Naut. Eli. ‘s all the sames t’me. Nice to meetcha.”

 

The lady in the peacoat gave everyone a curt nod but didn’t make social efforts.

 

“These two -” Rooster gestures at Apex and Corey “- are being lame and ‘not drinking’ or ‘can’t have solid food’ or whatever, so I ordered hot wings and I’m gonna make Corey do a shot of hot sauce.”

Corey surreptitiously checks online for a list of ingredients in hot sauce. Excellent. Processed and no animal products. It’ll be fine.

 

“Nice to meet all of you. And I tend to smell like explosions, I guess. And that is lame. But, luckily I’m here. Wait, did you mean the Anvil’s Special Sauce, or regular hot sauce? Because the Special Sauce is just cruel and unusual to a newbie trying it.” The armored man chuckles, and finds a decent place to stand. The bar owners were tired of him ruining their chairs, but they haven’t gotten a new one for his weight class just yet. He waves down one of the servers and orders one of those craft brews, not the Budweiser crap. “Hot wings are good. Miss hot wings.” When the beer arrives, a straw pops out of his left guantlet and starts sucking down the beer. Yuuum.

 

Apex has one claw stuck in his glass, and the water level is slowly going down. “Powerful sedatives are basically booze right?”

 

“M..may..be?” Naut shrugs, holds up her half-glass of pink-what-is-that, and says “What was this, and can I get another.” To her mild alarm, the bartender just shrugs. Naut’s brow furrows slightly, and she seems to have no real response to that.

 

Rooster sits down on the stool nearest to Naut and mutters to the bartender, then glances over her shoulder and gives Naut a wink. “I gotcha, babe.”

 

The Doc raised her eyebrows, a certain look in her eye.

 

“…so’s, y’actually know what that was cause I’m sorta wondering if I should be callin’ poison control right about nows.” It’s not quite deadpan. She’s trying to be, but she’s not good at it. Mostly since she sounds like she’s about to laugh.

 

There’s a short burst from Wasteland’s speakers… oh, he’s laughing. Chuckling, probably. “Far as I know, the bartenders don’t sell anything that directly lethal. You’ve gotta let them know about special needs. Like I knew one guy who ate only trash. People HAD to throw it away, or he couldn’t eat it. Some kind of compulsion with his powers.” He looks to Apex. “And… not really? Depends on what you’re drinking.”

“You’re kidding.”””Nope, Poor guy. Always said he ate well, though.”

Apex shrugs. “It was more injected, really.”

 

“Look, I’ve had the entire menu of pink shit this place has to offer. It ain’t that extensive.” The bartender puts a glass resembling Naut’s previous order down on the bar, and Rooster puts a few dollars down and picks it up to hand to Naut. “Enjoy.”

 

“Thaaanks.” Naut smiles faintly. Stares at the pink mystery. “…ain’t got no idea what this is. Maybe I don’t wanna know.” She shuts one eye like that’ll help her figure it out. “..nah. I don’t wanna,” she concludes, then takes a drink.

 

“If you’re nice to me I’ll tell you some of the active ingredients, promise.” Rooster looks around. “Wait, okay. Who’s eating wings, when they get here?”

 

“Before we get the wings also i can’t eat wings should we have Corey try the hot sauce, see if he wants his wings spicey or non?” Beneath the helmet, he smirks at the ‘smooth’ Rooster, then nods to Apex. “I guess the best thing to compare booze to would be like a very, very mild sedative, with a better taste. If you’ve got taste buds, that is.” He chuckles at Naut’s statement. “SOmethings, just better not to know, I guess. Though Rooster DOES have the inside scoop on pretty much everything they make here.”

“I dom’t eat solid food, but I’ll try a shot of hotsauce.”

 

A red light and beeping can be heard from Apex’s feather mane. “Hmmm. Speaking of sedatives. Excuse me.” He moves towards the bathroom. ((Going to have to take a break for a while, just assume Apex swallows a box of wings in one go.))

[I think I’m gonna have the wings show up at 11:30 real time, i.e. in 3 minutes]

 

“Tonight: The night I just ain’t askin’ any questions.”

WINGS ARRIVE! A delivery person comes to the door and Rooster goes up to take the food and tip them.

“Sounds dangerous. Also, why not solid food.- OH hello wings.”

“I don’t like thinking about the textures in my mouth.” “Ah.”

 

There are four boxes of wings and they smell amazing, if you smell and like food. There are also little plastic things of sauce, and Rooster proffers one to Corey triumphantly.

“oh god this is going to be bad…”

 

Corey takes one, looking amused. He flicks the cap open, and downs it.

 

He shrugs. And lets the pain dampeners in his brain take the brunt of the sting.

 

“I don’t see what the big deal is.”

 

“OH, BEASTED!!!” She claps him hard on the back. Um. Maybe a little too hard? She’s super strong and a little drunk.

Mostly mundane little Corey was almost knocked out of his stool.

 

“Huh.” He manages to put a lot of surprised and a decent amount of respect into that single grunt through a speaker. “You must have some crazy tolerance. First time I tried something that spicy, my dad laughed for days because I was begging to try it, and then regretted it instantly.” He laughs. The beer is halfway gone, and he laughs again!. “Enjoy the wings, don’t stand on ceremony.”

 

“…Alright. I’m impressed.” Naut finally says. She doesn’t even slur her words, in fact. “That stuff is… maybe not the hottest? But it’s somethin’.”

 

Corey surreptitiously tested his tongue against his teeth. Then dampened momentary panic at the thought of having both tongue and teeth and tried to distance himself from existential dread at being human (for the fourth time that day!) by taking himself mentally into the white room.

 

He covered this all up by taking a sip.

 

Rooster starts going to town on wings. She is deeply occupied by this experience.

 

Naut… sort of picks at aforementioned wings. She’s apparently not quite as ravenous as The Pizza Incidents may have lead one to believe.

 

Wasteland just watches them start eating the wings, well, Rooster and Naut. And Apex apparently came out of the bathroom, ate an entire box, and then went back inside the bathroom. He nods at Naut. “Could be right. I’m not sure. Haven’t had wings in forever.”

 

The no-nonsense lady came back, her peacoat tucked over her arm this time. She ignored  the wings but taking some pizza and garlic bread, if it had indeed be ordered. She tucked her phone into her pocket and gave Eli a certain look, settling in behind the wobbly lady and signalling for a drink.

 

Corey jerked his head at Apex. “You don’t want to watch him eat.””yeah, figured… don’t know what told me, though.” “The fact he doesn’t really have a face?””might have been it.”

 

Corey cleared his throat. “How’s the new armour holding up for you?”

 

Naut finally settles back on her stool after having finished a reasonable amount of wings. Except… she settles back a little too quickly, and, kind of abruptly flops over backwards. Not all of her. Just her upper half. She blinks. “What a nice bar this is, upside down,”

 

Wasteland looks at Corey, looks at his right arm, the mechanics whirring quietly. “This thing is better than a tank. I’ve been hit by Rooster a few times in sparring, and only felt half of what she could do, maybe. Went through a concrete wall, even, wasn’t even that bad.” As Naut flops over, however, he just kinda pauses, reaches out a bit, pulls back. “Uhm. You all right there?”

 

It’s ok cause the lady moves forward to brace her without really thinking about it.

 

Corey raised a brow. “…you don’t have a spinal structure?”

 

Naut corrects her mess with Bones’ help, and kind of shrugs at Corey. “I probably do? I’d think I do.” She doesn’t sound at all sure about that. “..guh. mebbe I don’t.” She blinks, staring into her drink, now. “But uh yeh- jus’ fine, big guy. ‘m kinda.. bendy? … Well. More like gelatins I guess.”

 

Rooster sits up in alarm when Naut falls over, but seeing that she’s okay, relaxes. “Damn. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.” She wipes her mouth and fingers. “How’s that work in a fight? Nobody can get ahold of you?”

 

Sawbones opens her mouth to correct Naut, then just shuts it again. Then opens it. “I’ve explained it.”

 

“‘m pretty easy to grab in most situationses? Like. I’m inna big — yannow what?” She fishes in her pockets, digs out her phone and fusses with it for a minute, then sets it atop the counter so everyone who’d like to look can do so. It’s a news report with a short video of – presumably Naut. It’s a little hard to tell, since outside of a momentary face shot, it’s just a big stompy exosuit mopping the floor with some unfortunate criminals. “… I means. .. s’pose it wouldn’t be real hard t’break outta someone’s hold since. … the way most of ‘em work is by preventing movement since you’ll break something. Pffft hah.”

 

To Brown, she says, with a little frown, “And you used words like, way bigger’n I know.

 

“I explained it layman’s terms.” she insisted, with a stony look. “There’s nothing wrong with using the proper words for things, do…” she cut off as Rooster spoke up.

 

“Okays, but I’m dumb.”

 

“Ooh. Nice suit. So … y’only go around like this -” she pokes Naut’s hand, presumably causing it to jiggle slightly – “when you’re off-duty?”

It does jiggle. So does part of her arm. “..ya-huh.”

 

“Oh, damn. That is a nice suit. Oo. Ouch. Oo. Right cross. Ow. Aaand right into the dumpster. “I was pretty prouda the dumpsters drop, yeah.”  Ouch.” Wasteland narrates the scene, chuckling. He raises a hand for a high five to Corey and Naut. “Armored heroes unite!” He chuckles, and after the possible high five, orders another beer.

 

Corey could not not respond, not after his algorithms said it wasn’t not socially correct not to.

 

Naut concurs, high-fiving Wasteland. It looks weird, since once her hand impacts it ..kinda loses a definite shape, and she looks mildly miffed, shaking it a little while it re-forms into a more …handy…shape.

 

“You should be proud of the dumpster drop. Ain’t managed to make one of my own, but then Rooster did two in one day for a couple of thieves. So pissed I wasn’t recording, was running a little late.” He raises a beer to Rooster, chuckling. *appreciative nod* “What about you, Corey? Anything fun in your work?”

“Not as yet. My suit is specialised for aerial maneuverability and speed as opposed to front line unarmed combat. I much prefer to maintain ranged combat. And I still haven’t had a chance to bring out my anti-tank rifle.” He sighed, full of regret.

 

Apex stumbles out of the bathroom, hotsauce coating his claws and around it’s mask neck feather area. He wobbles a bit, but rejoins the group. “Is there any leftover sauce?” Corey just handed over the still full cups of sauce.

 

Naut looks at Apex. Opens her mouth. Thinks briefly. Closes it.

 

Sawbones hands it over, giving Apex and up-and-down. It’s not weirded out, it’s…appraising.

 

“I’m so proud … helped a weird monster discover what gets it high …” Rooster sighs.

 

Apex sticks his finger in the cup, and the sauce slowly lowers before disappearing. “I need to store it in my sack.”

Naut snorts into her drink

“… You know, I’m not going to go there. Not risking it. Nope.” *snicker*”not giving in!” Wasteland makes a successful effort not to be a dirty, dirty, armored tank. Instead he looks to Corey, and nods. “We’ll have to change that. Anti-tank rifle backup for some of the heavier hitters would be amazing.”

 

Corey grinned. Seriously, this would be the first display of expression that they would have seen. “Excellent. The railgun or the pulse blaster?”

 

While Wasteland and Corey talk anti-tank weaponry, Rooster leans closer to Naut along the bar. “So, if your power’s not really … combat-focused, how’d you get into freelancing? Seems to me like you’d have a lot of career options.”

 

Apex picks up one of the last remaining mild wings and a gland just under his chin shoots it with hotsauce. “Yes. This will do.” He hands the wing to his tail and it goes under the table and the wing disappears. “What even?”

 

Naut stares at Apex. She has so many questions and wants to ask none of them, so she just responds to Rooster. “Eh? Not s’many that I’s can think’a.. Also’s, I can put a guy through a wall like, right now. Ain’t gotta have the suit.“ She awkwardly shrugs a little.  “Y’probably right but…”

 

Wasteland nods approvingly, overhearing Naut, but then turns back to Corey. “Pulse blaster for populated areas. Cut down on civilian damage and collateral as much as possible. At least, I think. Remind me, pulse blaster doesn’t penetrate very deep, but just hard hitting? Otherwise, Railgun for open areas. Not necessarily. I’m accurate for three miles. Even if it doesn’t penetrate, hurts like hell. One time got hit by .50 cal sniper rifle, shoulder. Couldn’t move my arm for a week.” He chuckles.

 

Rooster looks impressed at Naut’s mention of her strength. “Nah, I mean, I get it. Best job in the world! But, so … you can just … bend any way?” She puts some serious eyebrow-raising on that last phrase.

 

The woosh of it passing just over Naut’s head is audible. “Yeppers. Could prolly tie m’self up in knots if I’s felt the need.” She lets a beat pass. “I’s never felt that need. Topically.”

 

Corey does look impressed. Then he looks mildly constipated. “Ah. I need to get going.” He tapped the metal plate on his face. “My alarm is ringing.”

 

“… so can you eat yourself out?” There’s a sudden clang, as Wasteland helmetpalms.

 

Apex’s attention was peaked.

 

PINK BOOZE ALL OVER THE BAR. Coughing.

 

Wasteland looks over, eyebrows raised under the helmet. “Uhm.” Huh.

 

Corey looked at everyone, confusion in his brown eye. “What did I miss? Anyway, I need to head off.” He waved and ambled away. “Night Corey! We’ll hit the range sometime!”

 

“What? Don’t tell me you never thought about it.”

 

Apex bites his claw in curiosity. Then remembers he has not grown a mouth. He proceeds to touch his face. Maybe I should ask Dr. Meda for new sedatives.

 

“Rooster, just… how many have you had?” He chuckles, lightly, though, enjoying this whole thing. Even if there was a large amount of pink booze everywhere.

 

She gives him an “oh, come on” look and holds up two fingers, with the back of her hand facing him. [accurate account and rude gesture all in one!]

 

Wasteland snorts, and just shakes his head. The armor  around him is shaking. He’s really trying not to just start laughing, very hard.

 

“Well I h-h-have now!” Naut says through coughs and sputters. “I’s can safely say I ain’t tried.”

 

Rooster shakes her head. “That’s just sad. D’you want another one of those, by the way?”

 

Sawbone’s voice cuts in, hard as stone. “Enough.” that’s all she says and she doesn’t explain.

 

Rooster leans back, hands up in a “my bad” gesture. “Ah, shit, sorry. I didn’t know.”

 

Apex waves a server down with his awkward lanky arms, moving the table back and forth. “I don’t suppose you have a towel?” He asks. The water hands him one. It gets stuck on his claws, but he tries to clean the pink anyway. “Not a fan of the smell.” He mumbles.

 

There’s a small beep from Wasteland’s armor. “Aw, damn. Need to do some repairs, apparently. Some of the rad filters are getting a little too full.” He nods at everyone. “Sorry was just a quick visit. Great to meet all of you. Naut, we’ll have to pound some bad guys sometime, Armored heroes, woo. Apex, you need to try some beer. Trust me. Rooster, sparring tomorrow, same time? Ah, miss, nice to meet you too. (To sawbones.)” He does a little casual wave, then lumbers over to the exit. A few moments later there’s the roar of a jet engine, and Wastey’s gone.

 

Rooster orders another drink – this one’s electric blue – and kinda awkwardly turns away from Naut.

 

Naut… does not seem to know what to say. She waved at Wasteland when he left and just kinda. … internally shrugged.

 

There is a constant squeaking as Apex’s claws drag on the table, while he fails to clean anything. Awkwardness intensifies.

 

“So … Apex! What the hell were you doing with the hot wings? Do you even have a mouth?”

 

“I mean. I do occasionally. When I need it. It’s ill advised to have it out in the open when I am not using it.” He admits a bit quietly. “Or at least that’s what I hear.”

 

“Aha. Very considerate of you. D’you normally … eat … food?” She flounders.

 

“I don’t like it when people see me eat.” Apex’s voice was quite serious there. He seemed averse from going into more details. It’s possible that he would though. ((tag))

 

[…this has sorta ground to a halt, for me. I feel like the awkward is overwhelming]((Sorry for that xD It’s a very touchy subject for him))

 

Naut bumps back in, seeming to have gotten over it. “..Why’s that? I’s get it if ya don’t wanna talk about it but. I’ admit curiosity.”

 

“You’re vulnerable when you’re eating. Something could sneak up on you. Get you. Hurt you.” Apex sort of mumbled, scratching into the table much harder and quicker now.

 

She seems to suddenly make the link. “Apex. Oh. Like- … hmm.” She trails off, then taps Rooster’s shoulder. “Hey-hey. It’s cool. No harm. No foul. I’s just … well. That is not a question I’s fielded before.”

 

Apex slowed down on the clawing, slowly lifting his hand. Even on this reinforced table, it looked ripped all to hell. He gently moved his fingers. “It’s alright. I should ah…I should probably get back to my room anyways.” He placed his palm down to begin getting up.

 

“Ain’t gonna make you stay, but if you don’t wanna go no where you don’t hafta.” Naut is clearly trying to fight the awkward with geniality. It is … mostly unsuccessful

 

Apex pauses. “Thanks.” It was sincere, or at least…it sounded sincere. With his voice it is a bit hard to tell. “I ah….sorry. For making. The. Ah. Awkward.” He looks down and clicks his claw on the table as he thinks up the words.

 

Naut laughs. “Oh, oh that wasn’t you, sweetie. Not you at all.” She actually grins a bit “I’ve got enough awkward for at least six people. Was all me.”

 

“Heh.” Apex’s laugh wasn’t as terrible as his speaking voice. “You’re full of shit. But thank you. Was nice to meet you…Naut right?”

 

“Nah. I’s meant what I said. Otherwise I’da not said it. But yes. Naut. Eli if ya prefer.”

 

“I still think i’m going to call it a night, hope to see you around some time Eli.” His voice was more relaxed than it had probably been all night before he turned around, being careful not to hit anyone with his hot sauce tipped tail, giving a last word of thanks to Rooster, and heading out the door. All by himself too. Even if there was still a rag stuck to his hand.

 

Naut waved and resumed drinking. Who knows when she’ll stop.

 

((probably scene.))((Sounds good!))

Bugs, Drugs, and Electro Soul

THE FAERIE GLEN NIGHTCLUB

BOULDER, COLORADO

 

Excitement hung in the air, an electric tension that vibrated through the speakers, stage, and patrons alike. The Faerie Glen was reopened, its previously-hospitalized employees were ready to work, and after weeks of being gone, the Damselfly was coming back to perform again!

 

The lobby bar was nearly empty, but the dance hall was not; there was enough space to travel the room as needed, but the crowd got very thick at the edges of the stage. The Damselfly wasn’t mingling yet, but eir friends Alex and Adam were winding through the crowd, serving drinks and flirting with their relieved regulars.

 

((roll call! Once you’ve chosen a color, please feel free to write your character’s entrance below.

Narration is, as always, black. The Damselfly is fuchsia!

Chrys is a sad, wilty moss green.

Kay Washington is a classy hunter green.

))

 

Kay strolled into the club, full of excitement. Boulder’s famous para strip club, finally open, and she had finally managed to carve out the time to visit. She surveyed the crowd and chose a seat at the bar. When did the show start?

[appearance notes: Kay’s a young white woman wearing pressed black slacks, a flattering blue blouse, and snappy glasses. Her light brown hair is in a pixie cut.]

 

Chrys, and her ever-present, unfitting Not-Victorian Dress sauntered into the club, peering around. After a moment of contemplation, she figured that the people sitting near the stage surely knew something she did not, and headed that way, settling in at an empty table.

 

Shouldn’t- Shouldn’t there be like, menus and stuff? This is confusing. Wait. Should she have waited for someone to seat her ughh society. Fortunately, Chrys being Chrys manages to forget all of that in about the space of thirty seconds, and settles for staring off into space, rocking a bit to music that surely was not coming from the speakers.

(Chrys wears a black* dress that looks vaguely victorian in design, but hasn’t got nearly enough ruffles or ribbing. She always looks vaguely pleased about something, too. Just because. Said dress being nearly floor-length means the rest of her outfit is a mystery, and she has reddish hair tied back into a braid ‘roundabouts halfway down her back.)

 

As Kay gets settled, a baby-faced young man dressed in a revealing tuxedo-themed leotard and fishnets sweeps by. She notes a transgender symbol tattoo on his collarbone, and a fading bruise on his cheek. “Have you been seen to, honored guest?”

 

Around the same time, a Greek Statue of a boy with black curly hair appears near Chrys. “Oh my goodness, I just love your outfit!” He gushes.

 

Kay smiles at the server. “No, I haven’t, and I’d love to be. Does this place have a cocktail menu?”

 

“Absolutely. While our bartenders are amazing, and can whip up just about anything you can ask for, here are our themed drinks this season.” The young man hands Kay a laminated card, then beams. “I’m partial to the Firecracker, but that’s cuz it’s named after me.” Wink.

 

“Cuuute. Tell me what you’re made of, Firecracker.”

 

“Snips and spice, and some tails are nice. But the drink is cinnamon whiskey, sour apple schnapps, and cranberry mist soda… with a garnish of pop rocks.”

 

“Ha! Pop rocks in a drink? Okay, I’ll try it. Can you open me a tab?” She fiddles with her wallet and hands him a card. “Also … do you know when the Damselfly’ll be dancing tonight? I’m a huge fan of eirs.”

 

“Yeah, ey’s getting ready now. Should only be a few minutes. I’ll put in your order!”

She stops her constant rocking, smiling. “Why, thank you,” she chirps. “I find myself fond of it as well … maybe I should-” And she just trails off. Right there.

 

“You really should!” He agrees. “May I get you anything? Food or drink, or if there’s a dancer you’d like some private time with, the champagne room is open.”

 

“Oooh. Well! I’ve never been here before. Maybe you could suggest something?” She glances about once more, then shrugs. “I’m er. Not particularly familiar with most things I suspect are served here.”

 

“We love introducing people to new things.” His smile was just so darn genuine. As genuine as his pectorals were shiny. “Come right this way! Do you have any dietary restrictions?”

 

He leads Chrys toward a seat at the bar, only a couple of seats away from where Kay sat.

 

“I only have dietary restrictions if I eat too much,” is her simple reply. “Oh. And silver. But I don’t think that there’s some sort of liquor with silver in it. That seems a waste.”

 

“Silver!” He exclaimed, showing her to a seat two away from Kay. “Are you a real fairy, then?”

 

Chrys grins bright. “Usually I’m asked if I’m a werewolf.” She does not actually answer the question. And of course, she takes the offered seat.

 

“Fairy or werewolf alike, you’re certainly welcome here. After all, one of our performers is a predatory insect!” He grins. “I’m going to start you off with the Zygoptera cocktail. It’s named after the Damselfly emself. Elderflower liqueur, berry-infused vodka, and a touch of limoncello. I’ll also put in an order for our hand-cut potato chips. Does that sound all right, mythical guest?”

 

“Perhaps not so mythical! Mostly. I think.” She trails off, then nods. “But yes! All of that sounds quite lovely.”

 

“Great! The chips will be a bit, but I’ll try to make sure you have your drink before the Damselfly goes onstage.” He slips behind the bar, whispers to someone, and continues on his route, leaving the two new guests alone for the moment under the club lights and gently pulsing music.

 

Chrys waves cheerily and resumes swaying to whatever it is that she hears – it’s certainly not to the same beat as the music.

 

Kay turns in her seat to greet the newcomer. “Hey there. Come here often?” Her ever-so-slightly-smirk-like smile says “yeah, I know it’s an old line, but it’s a good one”.

 

She glances at Kay – this time, the not-quite-synchronous movement does not stop. “Oh. No. Unless something happened I am unaware of, I have never been here before. It seems nice. I may make it a habit.”

 

“Oh hey, it’s my first time too. I’m Kay.”

 

“Chrys. Or Chrysanthemum. I do not particularly care. A pleasure to meet you, Kay.” Another brilliant smile. It’s a bit hard to imagine her doing anything else, really.

 

“Nice to meet you, Chrys. So … you got the flirty treatment from your server too, didn’t you.”

 

“Oh, yes. Or.. I think so? He asked if I was the sort of person who lives under hills. Quite the compliment, I suppose. Fairies are supposed to be quite fetching.”

 

“Hmmm. Well, are you?” She leans a little closer, propping one elbow on the bar.

 

“One Firecracker and a Damselfly,” the Greek Statue beamed, setting cocktail glasses in front of the two. “The Damselfly is about to perform, but we’ll have those chips out for you soon, and if you need anything, ask for Adam. That’s me. Or Alex, who is the other fellow serving this area. Anything more I can do for you two before the stage lights darken?”

“Ooh, thank you!” Kay takes her drink, watching the pop rocks sputter in the liquid. “You’re a sweetheart, Adam, I think I’m all set. D’you need anything, Chrys?”

 

A shake of her head. “No, no thank you. This looks lovely.”

 

“Wonderful. Then—oh, there go the lights. See you soon, dear guests!”

 

Sure enough, the lights were going down on the room, and the crowd got a bit more hushed. A minute later, the lights focused on a point in midair and the Damselfly emself descended from the ceiling into that focus, lit on all sides and in a costume that appeared to be made of rope, with weights dangling from the sleeves.

 

To a thrumming electro beat, Nat danced. It was a fairly new routine, and very complicated; the weights spun, ropes coiling and uncoiling around different parts of eir body. Each new trick elicited cheers from the audience, and when ey finally cast the weights up into the ceiling, barely clad in anything at all now, the crowd roared its appreciation to the Damselfly’s bow.

 

Kay had been about to say something to Chrys when the lights went. As soon as the Damselfly made eir appearance, her mouth fell open and whatever she’d been thinking was completely gone.

 

She was transfixed, barely even aware enough to clap or cheer, but when the last moment came and the Damselfly made eir last flourish, she clambered onto her barstool and screamed as one with the room.

 

Chrys makes an odd little noise and becomes incredibly interested in her drink, until about halfway through the performance. Her clapping is much more subdued than most, inaudible above the cheers, whistles and considerably more enthusiastic applause.

 

Occasionally she cants her head this way or that, seeming to make a note of something the Damselfly just did, but for the most part, she goes between looking at her drink and looking at the performance.

 

At the end, the most audible thing from her – that is still probably lost in the crowd – is a loud “Well done!”

 

Once ey’s taken eir bows, Adam walks up to the front of the stage and beckons Nat over. Ey zips down and listens to him, then perks up, smiles, and grabs an appetizer basket from the young man.

 

Three seconds later, Nat is hovering just over the bar, setting the basket in front of Chrys, mere feet from Kay. “You came!” Ey exclaims.

 

Kay’s dropped jaw closes, just enough for her to let slip a high-pitched “fuck”. She takes a slurp of her drink

 

Chrys nods quickly. “Yes. I said I would.” Beat. “At least, I believe I did. Gia was attempting to learn whether or not Assmaster – our bird. Her bird? – wanted us to help wizards, or wanted us to help with problems caused by wizards.” Chrys sounds absolutely, utterly serious.

 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Nat says, smiling broadly, “but I’m happy you came to see me! Who’s your friend?” Indicating Kay.

 

“The bird – it only says “Help wizards.” She starts to introduce Kay, but–

 

Kay grins and extends a hand to the Damselfly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Damselfly. I’m a huge fan. Kay Washington. I absolutely loved your performance.”

 

“I love huge fans!” Nat hovers a little closer and shakes her hand. Eir hand is small and delicate, just like she imagined, but has a rigid strength behind it too. God, ey smells good. What the fuck, is that eir sweat? Fuck! “Lovely to meet you, Kay! Thank you for coming to my welcome-back performance!”

 

hhhhHHHH, get it together, Kay, you’re not a teenager anymore. She grips eir hand firmly and then returns her hand to the Firecracker. “I’m a bit of a…” – don’t say collector don’t say connoisseur FUCK – “… fan of paras, in general. So. You caught my attention.”

 

“I can see how that could happen. Yes.” Chrys nods. “You are very…” And then she just trails off again. But actually picks it up this time, wonder of wonders. “…Impressive. Grace and control.”

 

“Aw, thanks Chrys. It’s my calling, honestly. I feel more comfortable up there than anywhere else. And Kay, you’re a para fan? That’s great, you’re in the right place. Paras from every faction come here! In fact—Chrys, you’re a Paranormal too, right? I know you’re a Legionnaire.”

 

Chrys inclines her head slightly. “That is correct. Perhaps not the most notable or interesting, but certainly … mh. Unusual.”

“Aw, c’mon. You’re noteworthy and I don’t even know what you do.

“Does that work that way?” Sounds like an honest question.

 

“Yes, I’ve been enjoying myself a lot. The…” She swallows. “The service is incredible here. Y-you’re incredible. Nat. Can I call you Nat?”

 

“Aw~ Kay, sugar, please do. You’re too sweet. I wish more of my friends were here so I could introduce you.”

She shakes her head. “Hah, not a problem – I’ll be back. Soon. For sure.” She’s … focusing very directly on Nat, making eye contact with em.

 

Chrys does not seem especially inclined to interrupt the little chat, resuming her little swaying-dancing once more, now that she’s not being jarred out of it by confusing thoughts like “Do I look at the Damselfly?”

 

Nat returns the gaze for a moment, then something weird happens. Ey seems to… see something in Kay’s expression, something behind her eyes, and the flirtatious expression pulls back, the sincerity pulls back, replaced by a… a caution. Eir face is still openly friendly, but ey noticed something that gave em pause, and when ey speaks again, it’s to Chrys.

 

“Didn’t you say you might bring your girlfriend, Chrys?”

 

“Oh, yes. That would be Gia. She was arguing with our – her – .. the bird again.” Her voice lowers a bit. “I personally suspect the bird is mocking her because of the name she gave it.” She takes a drink from her cocktail. “That, and she was feeling under the weather.”

 

Kay takes a long sip, then stands up, pushing back from the bar. “I think … I should get some air, for a second. But don’t go anywhere.” She grins and walks off.

 

“That makes sense! Lovely talking to you!” It was genuine, just… reserved. As Kay walked away, Nat continued speaking to Chrys. “I guess I would be pretty irritated if somebody named me Assmaster…”

 

“Assmaster Nine Thousand, in full. No. I do not know why. … It seems nice enough, and I’ve never seen it command a mule.”

 

“Um, ‘ass’ also means butt, Chrys.”

 

“Can one truly be a master of posteriors?”

 

“I do my best, but no. Not really. Gia seems like an interesting person.”

 

She clasps her hands a bit. “You would probably enjoy meeting the rest of me. I like to think most people do.”

 

Nat opens eir mouth, closes it, squints, then drifts down to the barstool. “So tell me more about how you’re more than one person.”

 

Chrys blinks. “Gia does all of the other things. The things I don’t do.” It’s not a very good explanation, but it seems perfectly sensible to the theoretical half-a-person. She eyes her cocktail, drains it. “Well. We do some of the same things. Gia is very good at video games.”

 

Someone pokes his head out into the room. “Yoooo.”

 

“Chad!” Nat grins and waves him over. “Chrys, have you met the Brozerker?”

 

“Not as such.” She inclines her head at Chad  “Good evening.”

 

((Tag)) [hey all it might be time to merge the streams? – tili]((yeah let’s all skip to the bottom. -inu))

 

[THIS SCENE MERGES WITH THE OTHER AFTER THE NEXT SECTION]

 

 

On the street outside the club, Kay leans against the wall and hugs her arms to herself. What in the fuck is this?

 

She pulls out her phone and starts googling:

“Damselfly secret powers”

“Damselfly pheromones”

“Damselfly magic”

 

The results are… inconclusive, but suspicious. Lots of creepy men’s rights rhetoric, a trail of arrests, weird stalkers, and a truly stunning number of very, very obsessed people. It wouldn’t be hard to extrapolate that there is something… paranormal about the Damselfly’s ability to draw people in, but there’s just no proof.

 

A woman strides down the sidewalk, sizing up the Faerie Glen’s entrance like it’s the entrance to something truly terrifying. She takes a few steps forwards, then back. She’s a slender blonde, and at first you hardly notice her, but her third rotation finally draws your eye.


Wait, that face. The hair is wrong, but…

 

Kay looks up. Oh, my god. This is her lucky night. She pockets her phone and strides up to her. “Hi there. Are you looking for something?”

 

“Uh, haha, me? Well, y’know, I got a friend who works here, as a… dancer? I think that’s the right term. And I was thinking about, y’know… saying hi… as a friend, just dropping in to see my friend.”

“Oh sure! Uh … please don’t take this the wrong way, but I follow the news, and … are you Alice McGowan?” She smiles in what she hopes is a disarming fashion.

 

“…I am. Please tell me you’re not taping this.”

“Oh, jeez, no, I’m sorry.” She holds out a hand. “Kay Washington. I’m not press, don’t worry, just a fan.”

 

Alice shakes it. Her grip is firm. “Nice to meet you, Kay. Always great to meet a fan. Um, is there anything I can do, like, sign something or…?”

She laughs. “No, thanks. Ah, if you were hoping to catch Damselfly’s performance, I’m afraid you’re a little late … though ey might dance again tonight, I guess? I’m not sure what the schedule’s like.”

 

“Oh, that’s perfect, it’ll mean ey have clothes on.” (editor’s note: no it won’t) Alice breathes a sigh of relief. “I’m going to head in. Are you on your way out for the night?”

“No, no, just getting some air. It’s a little … close in there. But I was just talking to Nat when I left – I can show you right to em.”

 

“Fantastic! Thank you so much.”

((tag -transition?)) [yes I think so -Tili]

 

((MEANWHILE BACK IN THE FAERIE GLEN))

 

“Well, okay! Chad, this is Chrys. Chrys, Chad. Chad is a Legionnaire too, goes by Brozerker. He’s a great party guy, and he’s dating Jess, I think, and me too. We’re kind of like this… polycule thing.”

 

Fascinating.” And Chrys seems to mean that.”I’ve not heard of such things. Well. Outside of fiction.” She throws another smile at Nat.

 

“Hey Chrys!” he grinned. “That’s a word Nat made up but I like it cause it don’t mean nothing.” Chad said, very confidently, and grabbed Nat up for massive makeouts.

“Mmf!” Nat is swept up and kissed before ey has time to react, but leans into it pretty quickly.

 

A pleas-ohmy.” Chrys sort-of-sputters. Oh no. Her drink is empty. What to do what to do. Uh. Back to sort-of-swaying-and dancing. Just do that more intently. Safe plan. Grand plan.al

That boyish guy that was serving Kay earlier sweeps by and murmurs, “Another?” At Chrys’s nod, he sweeps away to comply.

 

Kay walks back into the club with a new friend in tow, and quickly rejoins Nat and Chrys at the bar. She waves hello to Chrys and … blinks, seeing that Nat is now … busy.

 

Alice looked at Nat and Chad, looked at the stage, and turned to the nearest employee. “Do you have wine?”

Chrys pretty much falls out of her seat, then turns it into a rather impressively intentional leap to her feet. She curtseys. “Ah. Good evening!”


Nat squeaks, then wriggles out of Chad’s grasp. “Okay so first of all, I didn’t make the word up, it’s totally a thing. Second: Alice!!”

 

Ey swoops over to the off-duty Oathkeeper and gives her a big hug.

 

Oh god, ey smells like emself and Chad. It’s like if Axe Body Spray actually did have pheromones in it.

 

Alice makes a face over Nat’s shoulder, but pats the Damselfly on the back, before realizing how few clothes ey is wearing. “Yes. Um, hello, I… wanted to thank you for come seeing me in the hospital, and…” She makes eye contact with the server and mouths: Bring the bottle.

The oiled-up greek statue of a boy winks and moves to obey.

 

Kay is breathing. Breathing. She looks at one of those drink-menu cards and realizes what she must do. Beckoning over the bartender, she orders a Zygoptera.

 

“Of course I came to see you in the hospital, you– you’re like–” Nat huffs, finally releasing Alice and folding eir arms. “I care about you, okay?”

 

“I care about you too, bug, and that’s why I’m… here.” Alice gladly accepts her first glass of red wine.

 

“Oh my gosh, you’re even using the Boss’s nickname for me. Um. Are you and Tabs okay yet? That was like. Awkward for a while.”

 

“Don’t worry. We made out. UP. We made up.” Alice finishes her glass of wine and pours another.

 

Nat gaped, then covered eir mouth with both hands, eyes glittering with poorly-suppressed glee. Fannish excitement and the desire to keep her eyes on Nat are as one in this moment filling Kay with joy.

 

“Those are very different words,” Chrys says in a tone that suggests this is useful information, and then she goes back to her delicious drink, and her not-quite-dancing.

 

“It’s the wine. Ha ha! Chad, how are you?”

His eyes went wide. SO wide. “Sexy…boss….ladies.” his brain is just a mess of mice running about very excited.

 

Alice poured herself some more wine and shook her head, lips pursed.

 

Kay takes a deep breath – wait, god dammit, that doesn’t help, stop doing that – and says, “So, Nat, who’s the boy?” Did that sound nonchalant? It sounded nonchalant, and not infuriated, right?

 

Chrys. Sort of scoots over a few chairs. Just in case people feel like they gotta get their makeouts on again.

 

“Oh, uh. Kay, hi.” Nat squints, like he didn’t expect her to… look the way she looks now? It’s not clear what ey was expecting but it wasn’t the Kay of right now. “Well, um, this is Chad. He’s one of my partners, and he’s also seeing my primary’s girlfriend. Oh shit, sorry, do these terms make any sense to you?”

 

Alice listens in, and it’s clear she’s mentally taking notes.

 

“Man Nat is so cute talkin like that.” Chad says, all starry eyed. It’s not really clear if he understands it all.

 

A man in black full body armor, along with an adorable german shepherd with a fabulously shiny coat walk in. He seems kind of awkward. “Uh. Don’t panic anybody. The big guy is new here and comes in peace.”

“Markus!”

 

“Markus mah MANNNN SUP BRAH!?”

“Uh, yeah, no, you’re … poly? I guess? Cool, good for you.” “…thanks?” She’s definitely still staring at Nat, but at least it’s a little less intense now. “Nice to meet you, Chad. I’m Kay.”

 

“Yo, sup.” he offers his massive hand. His handshake has hints of being practiced so as not to accidentally crush anyone.

 

Through the doors, a gigantic snake thing slithers through the door. There are muscles that seem to be without skin on the upper torso, a wide bone structure around the head. Its upper and lower jaws are so full of teeth that it looks like a great white’s wet dream. Eight eyes cover the massive skull, tilting this way and that as a number of humans, staring at it, and its staring right back at them with the cats eyes.  Two gigantic forelimbspikes made of alien steel help it slither along. Tiny little millipede like legs help the slithering, sinous movements of its tail as it rears up to its full height 8 feet, looking around.

 

Mentally, it broadcasts. “This is the breeding ground? So many lights.”

 

Nat stares at the creature, then at Markus. “I hope this doesn’t violate our fire code,” ey murmurs.

Kay frowns, staring at the monster in the door. To the group of people nearby, she asks, “Did you all just hear that? About … lights?”

 

Markus waves at his friends. “Nat! BRO! How’s it hanging!” And then his friend slithers in. He hears it’s call and just turns to him, tilting his head. You could only imagine the look on his face. “That’s so rude Ten. “Ten that asshole kid from twitter?”  You need to study earth culture more. So rude.” He shook his head. “This is a….uhhhh….Nat. Can you help me educate. Pretty please?”

 

“Nah he’s the space ambassador man.”

 

Chrys brightens – yes, brightens. Her swaying continues apace, but she waves. “Oh! Hello hypothetical predator. It’s a pleasure to properly meet you!” Even the Ambassador gets a brilliant smile.

 

“Um,” Nat stammers, mind racing. Explaining weird stuff to people who didn’t understand it was kind of eir thing, though, and so it only took a few seconds: “Well… Ten? This is a multi-purpose entertainment venue. It’s not used as a mating ground, but sapients seeking mates may find suitable candidates here and then take them elsewhere for actual mating. In addition, controlled ingestion of psychotropic and mood-altering toxins, consumption of indulgent sustenance, and bright and loud stimuli can create a heightened emotional state that many people find exciting. I guess that’s sort of… a start?”

 

“Yeah we come here to PARTY!” Chad whooped with a fist pump!

 

Markus clapped his hands together and then pointed at the two of them. “Yes! That and that! You guys do have like….concepts of fun where you come from right? I’m happy to explain earth customs but sometimes I need some insight on how…the whole. Hive mind thing works. Yeah.” Markus scratched the back of his helmet.

 

The Ambassador lowers itself to its normal height of about six feet, the snakelike lower body coiling slightly. The eyes focus on Nat, and then one to the side focuses on Markus as they speak. After a moment, it broadcasts what can be translated into words, something like “We do not understand the concept of party. And it is a type of Earth Plumage. Interesting. To attract mates, and ingest artistic design enhancements. Our *untranslateable* design and commune with unique designs, sharing their visual and sensual experiences with the One Mind.” It slithers closer to Nat and the rest of the group, lower mandibles clacking and separating.

 

“That is our fun. New creations to be shared and sensed. As well as the Hunt.”

“Whoa, that’s…deep, man.”

 

As Ten approaches, Kay looks more and more agitated, fidgeting with the swizzle stick in her drink and tapping her fingers on the bar. When it finishes … speaking? She stands up, looking more than a little unsteady. “God, I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling well – where’s the restroom?”

 

“I gotta get out of here myself,” Alice confines in a low voice to Markus. “I’m drunk, and this is an alien race I haven’t met – this is a major diplomatic incident waiting to happen. Where’s the back door?”

 

The Faerie Glen staff appears from nearly out of nowhere to assist.

 

“Right this way,” Alex coos to Kay, leading her about toward the back of the club.

 

“A discreet exit for the discreet hero,” Adam smiles, guiding Alice in a similar but slightly different direction.

 

Chad shoots Nat a concerned look and an unspoken message, and stands quickly to escort Alice. “Oh, um. Hi,” the Greek Statue of a boy also escorting her looks up at Chad appreciatively. “Hey. Aaaa…..dam right?” he tries and winces a bit anticipating a fuckup. “I got this, you prob’ly wanna…keep a eye on things.” he almost runs into a pole. “Lookin’ good bro!” he blurts. Dammit!

 

Kay makes it into a stall and locks the door. There’s a horrible squelching, ripping noise from inside it. Alex, waiting outside the restroom, feels a cold shiver and doesn’t know why.

 

“Oh uh…right.” Markus says as Alice and Kay flee. He had gotten kind of used to this reaction when touring the big snake shark around town. “Huh. Well if you want to learn the concept of the party….I bet Chad can help us out with that sometime.” He frowned a little anyways though. He doubted the big alien dude would get it even if they tried. Worth a shot though.

 

Chrys is an excellent metronome. She keeps watching Ten and Markus, occasionally taking a long drink from her cocktail. And then it’s gone and oh no so are the servers oh noooo. She makes a small noise of sheer despair.

Chris to the rescue! Another employee, not quite as cut as Adam but still quite fit, swoops in and asks, “What are you drinking, honored guest?”

“Damselwhatsits.”

“One Zygoptera, coming up.”

“Yeh.”

 

“Alice!” Nat hisses after eir boss, then makes a ‘call me!’ gesture. Ey casts a concerned look over at the bathroom and receives a helpless shrug from Alex in response. After a moment of discombobulation, ey turns to the Tenebrian Ambassador. “Please don’t hesitate to ask about anything you want to know. I’ll be dancing again in a bit.”

 

The Ambassador clicks its mandibles together once, and there is a general feeling of agreement broadcasted towards Nat. One eye looks towards the exiting Alice. “That one smelled of one of your champions. And alcohol.” Another eye notices Chrys, whining about the alcohol. “Have we caused another incident?” “No. I am just not the best at crowds.” The ambassador sways like a snake, eyeing the humans. The massive forearm spikes help draw the ambassador over towards Markus. “We would appreciate seeing Earth artistry. The color mix is pleasing to the senses.” It settles a little in a coil near one of the bars, shaking its head.

 

“It’s impolite to talk about people’s smells.”That is how we identify your species. You all look the same.” Especially when they are in earshot.”  Markus scolded, a tone of voice the ambassador was no doubt at this point used to. “And I don’t think that was a general, I mean sure they look a little like alice but….I don’t think she’s ever had her hair that short.” He shrugged. “Let’s find a table with chairs we can move out of the way, and I will buy you a drink my friend.” As he walks by he quietly thanks every server dearly for being so cool about him possibly scaring their customers away.

 

Chrys and her swaying halt – rather abruptly. She seems almost alarmed by her own stop. She blinks, noticing Alex. Waiiiit. Wait. Hang on. Kay went that way. Now that fellow looks concerned. She slides out of her seat and strides over to Alex. “….Is ah. Is there a problem? You look–” She gestures. Vaguely. Surely Alex will be able to interpret her hand-waving.

 

“Just, ah, keeping track of the nice lady who’d been sitting with you. I think she might be sick?”

 

There’s a noise from the stall like claws on the tile, or scraping against the door.

 

“..That is the most impressive bout of sickness I have ever head,” Chrys says somewhat flatly. “..I. Believe I ought to check on her, yes?”

 

“You’re both– Nat’s friends, right? Yeah maybe you should. Yes.”

 

“Yes.” It is completely impossible to tell if she’s agreeing that they’re Nat’s friends or that she should be checking. If the door’s not locked though, she’s gonna head straight in. Nothing bad could ever come of busting into a (rest)room unannounced.

 

The Tenebrian slithers after Markus, hissing quietly to itself. “These drinks are your mind altering substances?” It questioned mentally as it curled itself around the table, forearms clacking into the floor to guide it. “And our senses are usually not wrong. We were made to be able to identify and adapt to your species.” The ambassador sounds almost huffy.

 

Nat fidgets nervously, eyes flickering between Markus and the Ambassador. Ey doesn’t seem to know whether ey should clarify or keep quiet about the ‘champion’ comment.

 

The door to Kay’s stall is locked, but shortly after Chrys knocks [or walks up to it, if she doesn’t knock], she hears a horrible squelching, ripping sound and then, Kay’s voice:

“Chrys? What’s up?”

 

“That. … is what I was going to ask. Are you feeling well?” She seems surprisingly unshaken by the horrid noises, voice as even and chipper as can be. “That is – We were thinking you were, perhaps sick? And there were” What do you even define the stuff you just heard as, Chrys? “…Noises.”

 

“… oh, god. I’m so sorry. Hang on, I’m just getting dressed, I’ll be right out.” There’s the sound of someone pulling on clothes. “It … uh … I’m actually a Para too, and something about the … atmosphere in here just -” She opens the door. She looks completely fine, though her hair’s a bit mussed. “Didn’t agree with me,” she finishes. “But I should be totally all right now.”

 

“Ah. Very good, then.” She hmmms. “If the atmosphere continues to trouble you, perhaps we could step outside? Proper fresh air – … well. As fresh as one can get in the city – may do you good?” There is the distinct feeling you just became her ward for the evening, Kay.

 

Kay sighs, and moves past to adjust her hair in the bathroom mirror. “Yeah, you may be right … it’s a shame, I was really having a good time! I just …” She shivers. “Eh. I wanna go back out for a bit at least, anyway. But don’t worry, I won’t overdo it.”

 

“Oh, yes, yes. Absolutely. Let us see how it goes!” Chrys seems content the suggestion. “Er. Would you prefer I wait for you outside?” Yes. Good question. Good job, self.

 

“No, no, let’s just head back to the bar. I’m all set.”

 

A brilliant grin, and she holds the door open for Kay.

 

“Yeah yeah adapt to our species sure.” Markus chuckles and takes his seat next to the strange beast. “Let’s get something easy on the alcohol percentage to start off with. Don’t want the guy thinking i’m trying to poison him. Or girl. Or. Uh.” He scratched his helmet again. This job was really weird. He kind of missed escorting Summer around. At least she was….sort of human. Ish. He shook his head a bit. “Shouldn’t think that way!” He silently reminded himself.

 

The Tenebrian Ambassador looks at Markus with all eight eyes. It gives off the unnerving impression that it knows what Markus is thinking. Plus, it looks like it might eat him. But it looks like it might eat everyone. One eye turns towards Nat. It brodcasts to Nat,  “Our people indulge in artistry of sense of eyes, smell, taste, touch, and share them with each other. Your people do the same with your…. Internet, is this not true? But it is limited. How does one share an experience over long distances?”

 

Kay and Chrys emerge and return to the bar, where Kay orders a beer.

 

Alex scurries after the two of them, making sure that they’re all right and have all the drinks and food they need.

 

“We use the tools we have,” Nat shrugs a little, “language to describe our feelings and sensations, art to summarize it. It’s imperfect, but in some ways that communication becomes its own entity in our culture. The imprecision of our communication informs the art we create. Welcome back, ladies!”

 

Kay smiles and waves. “Hey, Nat. Ah … hello again, Ten. Hi Markus.”

 

Chrys waves, too. “Hello! Again, I imagine.” She slowly seems to come to a realization, and turns to Alex. “Do. … Are milkshakes a choice?”

 

“Absolutely,” Alex confirms, then places a hand gently on Kay’s shoulder. “Are you feeling all right, now? I realize that the Damselfly can sometimes have an, um. Effect on some folks.”

 

Chad pops back in, seeming pensive.

 

Markus doesn’t really seem to be afraid of the ambassador despite that look. He just seemed tired from the long hours his job demands. Hell, that was why he brought them here. “Yeah…honestly I couldn’t imagine living in a perfect world. It’d be….boring.” He shrugged.

 

The Ambassador clicked its lower jaw mandibles twice. It seems to be some kind of recognition, or greeting, Markus might realize. Then it broadcasted back to Markus, as its eyes focused on the man. “We have never claimed to live in a perfect world. These new experiences bring more information into our Mind, and we adapt and change. Perfection is a goal, that can never be achieved.” It thinks at everyone… diplomatically. A few eyes focused on Kay, and it rose up a little in its ‘coil’. The jaws moved a little wider, and the forearm spikes moved solidly in position against the floor.

 

Markus poked a finger into the folds of the ambassadors snake skin. “Hey. Staring is rude. Stop that.” With each sentence he added another firm, but unthreatening poke.

 

Over her shoulder to Alex, Kay says “… ah. That’s a known bug? I… I guess … is it all right, though, if I stay in the bar? I really think I’m feeling better now. You don’t have to worry about me.”

 

Her brows furrow as she sees the Ambassador … squaring up at her? She takes a pull on her beer.

 

“Kind of,” Alex says, uncertain of how much he should say. “You should probably ask em yourself.”

 

Chad throws looks between the two, moving subtly into a space almost between them, but he doesn’t say anything.

 

Chrys shifts very subtly in her seat, after spotting what’s caught Chad’s attention. Better safe than sorry. “…So- So. You said something about yes milkshakes, right?” She hesitates, then with far too much enthusiasm blurts, “is there mint chocolate chip?”

 

“What is a Milkshake?” The thought broadcast of the Ambassador is unperturbed.

 

“Do you want the earth definition or the kind of definition you are probably going to look up on the internet later?” sacrilege.”

 

The Ambassador turns back to Markus, then with definite defiance, looks at Chrys. “We, too, would like a Mint Chocolate Chip Milkshake.” Arrogantly defiant and mildly curious in its thought broadcast.

 

“Yes. This is a correct choice. At all times.”

 

“Alex, why don’t you just bring a whole bunch of shakes. Malted vanilla too, okay?”

 

“Yeah, okay.”

Chrys may never live down that “eee” and clap. “Make mine malted chocolate, and thank you so much!”

Alex smiled and… blushed a little? “Happy to!”

 

“Oh sure, ignore the guy who is paying.” Luckily the mask kept anyone from seeing Markus roll his eyes. Meanwhile Frank walked in, munching a hotdog. “How’s it going boss?” Markus rolled his head in his hands. “Frank aren’t you supposed to be doing weapons training right now?”

 

Kay smiles at Nat. “That was a good call. When you’re finished being a stripper, clearly you’ve gotta start a new life as an alien negotiator, Nat.” She rests her elbows on the bar and her chin on her hands, looking at em.

 

“Uhm,” ey scratches the back of eir head. “You’d be surprised how useful it is in this job.”

 

“Ha … yeah …” She swallows. “I’m … I should ask … Alex mentioned you sometimes, well, have an effect on people, and …” She trails off, then re-boards her train of thought. “God, my point is, I’m sorry, and if you’d like me to leave I will.”

 

Nat blinks. “That’s…” ey knits eir brow. “No, you don’t have to– you’re kind of different, aren’t you?”

 

The Ambassador nods politely to Frank, picking that up from humans. It appreciates the human who always is eating.

 

“Uh … different how?”

 

Frank shrugs off Markus’s question. “Want a bite? It’s meat?” The ambassadors past experiences with frank have been most pleasant.

 

“We would consume this.” The Ambassador’s thought process is humorlaced. Everything is meat, clearly. Silly human.

 

Nat lowered eir voice, so it was only audible to Chrys and Kay. “I can tell that my Lure hooked you, but you’re… walking away, and shaking it off on purpose. And then coming back.”

 

“…yeah, I mean …” Kay tries to … breathe normally? Shallowly? It is incredibly inconvenient that normal relaxation breaths don’t work here. “I don’t … want to eat you, or something, that would be awful. But I’m really enjoying hanging out. So.”

 

“Do you typically want to eat people?” Chrys sounds genuinely curious, as opposed to mocking or joking. “I suppose you probably don’t. You did say awful.”

 

“Not normally, no.” Very emphatic and flat. “I’m not some kind of … predatory monster. Jesus.”

 

“I get that that’s probably a given for you,” Nat says, “but it kind of isn’t for me. I’ve been targeted by some… real predatory monsters who looked a lot like people. But I believe you when you say that.”

 

Chad’s arm slipped casually around Nat’s waist and snugged her close; he didn’t’ seem to be paying much attention.

 

Frank hands him a piece of his hotdog. He plops it in the shake. “Tastes better that way.” He assures. He is completely earnest and sincere. Markus just looks in shock. He is being Frank.

 

The Ambassador’s eating habits leave something to … be desired. In that it consumes the shake, the paper cup it was in, the straw, and the hotdog piece in two large, lightning quick bites. There’s a loud gulp and one can see the powerful throat muscles roll down towards the stomach area.

 

Chrys hasn’t said anything, completely engrossed in now having a milkshake. Life is complete. She peers around at everyone else with her wide, permanently surprised-seeming brown eyes. Slurp.

 

“God, yeah, I get that.” Kay sits back and rubs her temples. “Sorry. I know you can’t tell the difference by looking between a safe person and a creep. I mean, I work in tech, there’s a fuckload of monsters in suits.” She sighs. “But – I mean, is there an … antidote?”

 

Nat averted eir gaze. “No idea.”

 

“… well, would it be all right if I came to your next dance night?” She can’t hide the desperate hope in her words, alas.

 

Frank watched as the shake was devoured, almost with a chunk of the table. “Maybe now you can help me with something. You had two bites. One with hotdog, one without. Which one was better?” Markus just stared with his mouth open inside his helmet. So this was Franks plan all along. To prove to Markus once and for all that hotdog in milkshake was a good thing. Classic Frank.

 

“I think that’d be okay, yeah,” Nat replied, then thought about it, then asked: “what if we, like. Went out for coffee or something, and I brought some friends, and they sat kinda close but not super close. I feel like we should talk about this more.”

 

“Oh. Wow, yes! Honestly, I’d love to meet more of your friends regardless – Chad seems like a ton of fun – yes, please!” The words come out in a rush.

“Huh what?” he’d been distracting gnawing on Nat’s shoulder. “Yeah let’s party! We should…should totally party.” a pause.  “Right?” He totally knew what they were talking about. Yep.

The Tenebrian Ambassador stiffens suddenly, spines rippling along its back. Which promptly garners Chrys’ attention It’s thought tone, once laced with humor, is deadly serious, as it turns to Markus. “There is an issue. We must return to orbit.”

A vague, muffled sound. Chrys waves slowly. “ave-un-n-sps”

 

“He’s very dear,” Nat pats Chad’s shoulder, “though you should probably meet our other two partners at some point. They have… other strengths. Oh!” Nat noticed the Ambassador’s change in demeanor late. “You’re leaving! Um, thanks for coming by! Hope it was a good time!”

 

Politely, the thought broadcast is to Nat and the general area. “It was enjoyable to experience and share this with the Mind. We may return for more perspective.” The mandibles click three times loudly, before it begins slithering out towards the exit, not minding its handlers.

 

“Kinda weird guy. Cool, though.” is Chad’s verdict now that the Ambasador was not longer steppin’ up.

Kay decides to start alternating drinks of beer and milkshake. It’s a good combo. She smiles at Chad. “I’d so love to go on, I guess, a … double date? Or something? I’ve got poly friends but I haven’t really done it myself.” “Haha poly’s a weird kinda word isn’t it what does that even mean.”

 

“This sounds much more like Jess’s jam than Fi’s,” Nat nods thoughtfully. “How bout it, Chad? You, Jess, Kay, and me. Double date. I’ll talk to Fi, but I’m learning that I can only drag her out of the apartment so many times a week.”

 

“Yeah, our Bee is kinda a homebunny.” he nodded. “Man I useta have the worst time tryin’ to get her out dancin.” he took another sip of beer and then blinked. “Yeah yeah totally! Let’s do it! We can go to that place with the huge stuffed pizzas.”

 

Faintly: “Did- Did someone say pizza?” “You’re not even in this scene, c’mon.”

“Where is that? I live in Rock City, and I work a lot, so I might not be able to make it out to Boulder all the time.” It’s as though some connection has slotted into place, and the vague pauses and awkwardness are gone. She takes out her phone and opens a calendar app; it’s jam-packed.

 

His business being done, Frank left. Markus now approached the others, taking off his helmet to reveal a somewhat sweaty and tired face. “Hey guys how’s it going?”

 

“I can get to Rock City pretty easy, though I should check with my– other job. About what my legal status is there, and teleporter licenses and stuff. Oh hey, Markus. Your friend is… interesting.”

 

“He’s…..kind of more of a job than a friend?” Markus grimaced. “Rock city though…I hear that place is like. Really fancy or something? Got a cool rock monster man who has an awesome voice.”

 

“It’s a great place to live, but it’s expensive as hell. My apartment is, like, big enough to fit me and a fridge and nothing else,” she jokes.

“You should come hang at me and Markus’ place! It’s TOTALLY SWEET.”

 

…SLuuuuuurp. “How sweet is totally sweet,” inquires the milkshake addict

 

“Not everybody has unlimited teleporter access, gang,” Nat chides. “It’d be a lot easier for us to get to Rock City than vice versa.”

 

“I was only asking. I am not so presumptuous to assume the invitation extended to me.” …That god-awful sound  a straw makes when there’s not that much liquid left. Chrys looks heartbroken.

 

“Like SUPER sweet! I got a big hookah and a huge bed I built in college and a huge plasma tv and Markus just got us a 3-bit 20K VR setup, it’s tight!”

Nat swiveled in midair and, with the placid air of someone who was used to cracking jokes like this, said, “Chrys, if you wanted to date me too, you only had to ask.”

 

“Oh, heavens, darling. I’m married on the astral plane.”

 

Kay smiles. “Teleporter’s pretty doable for me, actually. The real issue is work – speaking of which, I should head out. I’ve got a meeting tomorrow morning.” She hails down a bartender or server to settle her tab.

 

“Oh no, don’t even,” Nat shook eir head. “Leave a tip if you’d like, but this is my treat. For all of you.”

 

She whistles quietly. “Damn, Nat, thank you. I’ll just get my card back and make sure to tip well, then. Like I said before – great service.”

 

Chrys fishes in her pocket and deposits a tip on the counter that’s probably about twice as much as what she would’ve paid.

 

Yes. She just went around your rule.

 

Nat smiles, not seeming bothered by the exorbitant tip; it’d go straight into eir friends’ pockets, which suited the Damselfly just fine.

 

She hesitates. Peers at the bartender. “..do. Can I- Get milkshakes to go?” The woman has priorities.

 

The bartender looks down at the tip, then up at Chrys. “Yes. How many and what kind, we’re on it.”

 

“Two? And mint chocolate chip again. Ohh! Do you think some of that mint stuff you have would be good in them?”

 

“Creme de Menthe? Absolutely. We have an alcoholic milkshake, actually, we call it the frozen grasshopper. Creme de Menthe, Creme de Cacao, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. You want it?”

 

“Um yes.”

 

“I’ll have the horchata spice boozeshake, actually,” Nat piped up. “Me too.”

 

Kay gets her card back and scribbles on the receipt, then stands to leave. “Thanks for a lovely evening, Nat. And it was really great meeting you all.” She takes off.

 

“Bye! Talk soon!”  And then Chad scooped up Nat and tossed them over his shoulder and hauled off this most excellent prize!

ATTACK!

 

LOCATION: A darkened few blocks of warehouses, in a rather ramshackle industrial district of Tongzhou – itself a mostly-industrial suburb of Beijing. There seems to be a dim light coming from the slitted basement windows, but the rest of the place is dark. There are…quite a few punks on motorbikes idling about. So that’s interesting.

Outside the Warehouse

Jupiter Strike flashed across the sky. At blazing, lightning speed, she had become one with the zzzaaaappppss! She stopped abruptly overhead, the resulting crash of thunder rolled over the city. If the camera cared to pan towards her instead of away to the next appearing hero, the mic would pick up her battle cry of “Yo! I bring the sizzle!”

 

“AND I BRING THE BAM.”  Ooh, that sounded good. They should remember that.

 

On the ground, a young woman with a red and orange uniform crept through the alleyways. In one hand she held an elaborate silver lighter. “C’mon,” she whispered. “C’mon, this is going to look incredible in your portfolio -”

 

Like some sort of metal-and-jello sentinel, right outside the slitted windows, is Naut. She is not clinging to the shadows or even bothering to be shady. …What could possibly be a problem, here, she wonders. Then… sort of wanders to and fro (THUD THUD THUD)

 

Ash decides to move towards the shouting and thumping. She’s here to get noticed, after all, and an alleyway doesn’t get anyone noticed. With practiced grace she throws herself up onto a pile of boxes, then up onto a roof, and then she takes off, sprinting with very human (if highly trained) speed towards the noise and light.

 

The gangers started to look…distinctly uncomfortable, with all these new arrivals. They – almost as one – started taking out their devides, and thumbling in messages. A few of them started to amble in toward one particular warehouse.

 

Naut cants her head, watching them do their thing, although she doesn’t really… decide to engage or cause problems. Unless they’re going to the Wrong Warehouse. Then she might take umbrage. But so far, no. For all she knows this might be completely unrelated.

 

“Hey,” Ash whispers from behind Naut. “Hi. Ashley Rose-Sinclair. Nice to meet you.” She offers a black gloved hand.

 

“Bang!” A flash of, well, Jupiter, slammed near a gangster. She grinned at him and grabbed him, zooming back up into the sky.

 

They’d later find him clinging to the top of a streetlight.

 

The thug screams, then yells at her. “HEY, I’m in the UNION bitch!” but as he’s speaking Mandarin, she might not understand.

 

Okay. That happened. She’ll accept it. She absently takes Ash’s hand, shakes. “‘ssssup. ‘m Naut. Y’probably ain’t heards of me but that’s okay.”

 

“Eli Vallejo, right? Semi-solid state, been with the Freelancers for near a decade now, served in Barcelona, Toronto, Paris…” Ash rattles off a list of facts.

 

Naut looks impressed. “…Barcelona wasn’t on the record,” she says simply. “I’s gots questions but y’know, I’ll just let that go?”

 

Ash beams. “Top of my class, I know how to research, and I’m interested in a career in the Freelancers, maybe, or the Legion if I can start at a – Well. That’s not important, we’re on the job. Anything you can share with me?”

 

“No ideas what’s up, frankly. This’s shady as it comes but-” With a whine of mechanics, she shrugs.

The gang started moving, as one, toward the warehouse. They’d already had it surrounded, it just hadn’t been obvious until now. Strangely enough, only one or two of them seemed to be armed, and those? Only with spanners or a tire iron.

 

Another flash of orange and white, and one of those armed goons also disappeared.

“We may not even hafta do anything.”

Probably screaming.

 

This guy they found in the harbour.

 

It is about that time that Naut realizes that not only are they coming from the way she is looking, but (roughly) everywhere. She grunts in what is probably annoyance, THUD-CRASHING her way to the other side of the building, scooping up a ganger as she goes and… winding up and… well, hopefully that guy over there is a good friend of this guy. Because they’re about to have a reunion at high-speed.

 

The two crash together, crying out – but both jump up again, drawing something from their sides. They run forward, as one…

 

A-HA! A chance to show off – ah, contribute! Ash flips that custom lighter, and then coaxes one hand around the spark that ensues. Once she’s created a good size fireball, she puts the lighter away and springs forward, the flames snaking around her forearms and ready to spark outwards at a moment’s notice.

 

The ganger nearest her gave a startled cry and turned, his hands coming up in front of him. What was that? Just his mobile! The flash went off in her face.

 

Ash shouted in surprise, taking a few steps back. The flames around her arms roared higher, and a wall of smoke assailed the man in front of her. He’d be sore and he might need an inhaler, but he’d live.

 

He staggered back, pulling a baton from his pocket and flicking it open. He ran at her with a sharp cry, whipping it at her in an unrelenting assault, hoping to get her disoriented before she could flame on again.

 

On the other side of the building, Naut is making a game out of trying to hit multiple thugs with any one that gets close enough to be tossed. She’s not really trying to cause lasting harm – they seem mundane, after all, and this is not a fair fight.

 

That works pretty well for a while. Until they get wise, and draw batons. One of them has a pistol, and manages to clock her ear with it while he’s getting thrown, the pistol skittering across the gravel. Another runs for it, skidding and rolling.

 

Naut made a thoroughly humiliating noise, cringing and rubbing at her ear. “Ow. Ow. Fuck. Ow.” is more or less her mantra for a few seconds.

 

“BRO. NOT COOL.” the one with the pistol crashed into the warehouse wall.

 

He wasn’t having a good day. He tried to stagger to his feet, drawing something that crackled with current.

 

Chad ran at the guy and grabbed him by the collar, lifting him up a few feet. “What you DOIN smackin a lady bro what is WRONG with you!?” he bellowed.

 

Is Chad paying attention? Because the current-stick shoves right into his gut.

 

Even if Chad isn’t, Naut ain’t happy with this guy, and should Chad demonstrate even a hint of discomfort, she’s going to rip the poor guy out of Chad’s grasp. Literally, if need be.

 

He isn’t! DAMN. He starts making this shuddery gasp and his teeth are chattering together. He starts trying to punch the guy through the wall. That’s the problem: there’s gonna be a hole in the wall if he keeps that up.

 

“Whoa. Whoa. I think he’s down.” She cringes. So thaaat’s why they call him brozerker. That makes so much sense, now. You’d think she’d have considered this before, but no. Apparently not.

 

An emaciated looking person wearing a hoody and baggy cargo pants peeks around the corner, a thin skeletal hand gripping the edge. Just seems to be watching what is going on from under his hood.

 

Ash freezes for a moment when she sees Chad, but springs into action and pulls him away from the wall. “Back off, big guy. Take a moment. You’ve been shocked. We have this. Just breathe.”

“Hey, cute stuff, lay off the guy, he’s down.” Jupiter Strike landed neatly nearby. She began playing with a ball of fizzling lighting, tossing it from hand to hand.

As the poor schmuck doubled up and crumpled to the ground…so did that little section of wall. OOPS. The gangers all turned to look, and most of them were on the move, heading toward it as fast as they could go. Naut felt something bang into her, but…where were they?

 

Any who ran past the hoodied figure would slide on a thin sheet of ice coating the ground. They did not move, instead only tilting their head towards Jupiter, their head gently following her lightning.

 

“Someone – head in there, make sure they haven’t come from other side. I’ll block this part off.” She gestures forward. “I’d do it myself but uh. I can literally make them need to go through me.” As she speaks, she looks around, trying to figure out what was smacking into her rig.

 

No-one in sight. There was the little problem of: Streetlight guy? He was back. He was headed straight for Jupiter at full speed, with head down.  

 

“Check out that icy slide!” Jupiter finger guns the guy in the hood, tossing the ball of lighting into the hole. “Hope you guys are on a light diet!” Good lord, Jess.

“i want ya’s t’know that parta me jus’ died.”

 

Hood man moves back behind the corner out of sight and the ice turns into water, letting her lightning ball hit all of the intended targets. He is no longer in that location. ((tag))

 

Ash grimaces at Jupiter Strike’s joke. Only people who are next to her would hear: “I thought Legionnaires were supposed to be cool.”
“I hear they get paid by the pun.”

Jupes didn’t take notice of the banter. Instead she sighed. “Aww. Is that all of them? I mean. Brozerker only smacked one guy.”

 

“…Like I said, someone ought to–” And then she sort of nudges Jupes out of the way of the charge. It’d be a hip bump if one could apply such things to exosuits. And then? She just steps right in front of it. How much can this guy possibly do?

 

Her question was answered by one of them crashing into her from behind at full force. Or would have, if Naut hadn’t interfered. As it was, Naut takes it…and ends up looking at the stars, or would if Tongzhou hadn’t be filthy with light pollution. Too bad, really – there was supposed to be a meteor shower that night. She and Brown had been in the country to watch it.

 

Jupiter let out a whoop. “Party!” She crashed into the ground, then turned and grabbed him. Into the sky with the both of them.

 

They found this one hanging off a flagpole.

 

As she headed toward the ground, she found herself with a sudden (and likewise flying) companion. A young woman with cloth over the bottom half of her face, and glinting metallic eyes. “Nei li go sui zai!”  

 

The flagpole hanger was probably face to face with the hooded man, who was now standing on top of the warehouse. Jupiter might see him on the way down. He tilts his head, examining the hanging person. He speaks their language. “Seems you picked a bad day for crime. Wish you better luck next time.” Is all he says, rather frankly. But doesn’t do much else before disappearing again.

 

Jupiter tilted her head at the woman with the veiled face. “And who’re you supposed to be? I’m betting Kylo Ren.” She grinned.

 

The woman made a face, and even if she couldn’t understand the words, she knew that name. She knew that name, and she was offended.  She zipped toward Jupiter in the air, catching at her clothes and trying to drag her along, up up up!

 

Jupiter only laughed. “Where’re we goin’, hon? We seem to be going at lightning speed!” She grabbed hold of the woman with one hand and manipulated  the ions around her. Lighting was called, summoned, to Jupiter’s hand. There was the smell of ozone. And a bright sudden zaaaappp, followed by deafening BANG!

 

The woman gives a horrible, choked little gasp. Behind the smouldering fabric that’s now melted into skin of her chest, her heart shudders…and stops. She keeps choking, her hands moving frantically as she can feel the effects of electrocution move through her. She seems horribly aware.

 

“Oh hell! Now I gotta get you to Emergency!” Jupiter grabbed hold of the mysterious woman and zoomed off.

 

Inside The Warehouse

Naut – flops and whirrs around for a moment before finally righting herself – a strangely ponderous process, and probably the biggest hint anyone’s gotten so far as to what to do about it. Also: Very shameful if it hits the internet. She finally decides that if all the thugs are trying to get into the warehouse, maybe she should also.

 

That’s her next step. And the one after that. And…

 

Chad fell into step beside her. “Uh, sorry.” he shook the brick and plaster dust out of his shirt. “About the wall.” he gave Naut a guilty look right before taking a tire iron to the head. Well that was distracting.

 

The emaciated cargo pants man was now appearing at the knocked out goons bodies and rummaging through their pockets, plucking wallets and gold chains and the like. Whatever seemed expensive.

 

They all had top-of-the-line mobile Devices, and most of them the conspicuous kind of wealth popular among the young, brash, and fond-of-crimes.

 

He quickly began filling his hoody pocket with whatever he could find, at one point disappearing and then reappearing with a backpack to collect even more items.

 

(if you’re looting, the other mooks ignore you. Let me know if you want to do anything else! :D)

 

The skinny fellow would then find a corner to observe from again, keeping an eye out for more people to loot. ((tag))

 

( I got less than twenty more minutes -Eu. If you guys want to knock Jupes unconscious, go ahead! 😀 ooor I can have her take the masked woman to emergency…XD))

 

(up to you, hon! do you guys want to wrap this part of the fight?) ((I’m good for Jupes to fly mysterious lady to the hospital and take her out of the fight))(ok. tell you what. we’ll do a lil epilogue for you tomorrow. <3)  (wooop!)

 

Inside the building Chad was trying to fight half a dozen guys at once. He wasn’t moving as smoothly as usual, and was just kinda jerkily tossing people and swinging his arms around. He took a tire iron to the face and went down with a whole bunch of mooks piling onto him.

 

The skinny man really didn’t feel like watching some hero get murdered today. He approached the group on top of Chad quietly. Silently. A small blade of ice forming in his hands. The skeletal hand gripped the nearest member by the coat, pulling him off, and he brought the knife to the man’s throat, pressing on it until a drop of blood formed. “Get off or you will be responsible for this man’s death.” A deadly serious voice commanded over the pile. His grip was like a vice of cold, and the hostage was most likely already going numb from anywhere contact was made.

 

Naut re-emerges from the shadows a moment after the skinny man takes his hostage. Her eyes flick back and forth, taking the scene in, and she sidles up next to the skinny man – not in a threatening way, but just to make sure no one goes for him, next. She quietly affirms this with a low-mumbled, “i’s gotcher back.”

 

Most of them – most of them were too busy trying to keep this giant that had been mauling them down. A few of them looked up, though – one ignored, but another went pale and pulled away. Speaking in a language hoodie didn’t understand, she held up both hands in a gesture of petition, shaking her head.

 

“Wǒ shuō nǐ huì tíngzhǐ huò nǐ de péngyǒu sǐle.” The man repeats, this time louder, a gentle mist of frost coating the pile. The immediate area gets much colder. He nods at the surrenderer to leave. Fast. He accepts Nauts presence with no objections, and Naut might see something of a bluish face under the hood, very gaunt. His cantonese wasn’t great, but he had learned some during the few months he had been bumming there.

 

She looked at him with utter confusion, ut decided to cut her losses and bolted, shivering and rubbing her arms.

 

Naut seems – a bit lost. Like most languages, the only phrase she can understand is simply a confirmation that no, Naut does not speak that language. She look around, alert for anything coming their way.

 

Ash follows the more experienced heroes, flames lighting their way. After all, she’s here to make a good first impression.

 

This should be the moment that the pile of guys explodes upward revealing the hero Chad, triumphing over crazy odds! It’ll happen any minute now. Any minute now…

 

Maybe there’s just too many. That could be it. Naut finally wades in, swinging at random, yanking thugs off of the poor, poor Brozerker as she goes along.

 

FINALLY IT HAPPENS! They all fly up!

 

It’s a good fashioned BRAWL! Mooks versus heroes! Things flying! Of course, you can hear gunshots but it’s probably nothing…

 

And the sound of the Auteur voice over the crackling speakers is almost impossible to ignore, adding a strange, surreal soundtrack to the chaos and punching.

 

(players, feel free to be mooks for one another if you get bored waiting~ I’ll be below an will check back here)

 

Hood man shrugs and kicks the hostage into the large brawl. “Last time I try to be a hero.” He mutters, going back to looting the flying bodies as they get knocked out.

 

One of the doors to the nearby warehouse slams open and a person runs out. He’s ring a black hoodie pulled up over his head, so you can’t get a clear look at his face. He stops short suddenly, confronted with the brawlers, and seems paralyzed for a short while, looking this way and that.

 

The looter looks up from his crouch. “Take a picture. It’ll last longer.”

 

He makes a decision and bolts through what looks like the clearest path. A set of handcuffs flaps from his left wrist, the other cuff not attached to anything.

 

A wall of fire blasts up in front of the runner, herding him back towards the heroes. Ash glances over her shoulder at the berserker throwing mooks off of him. “I knew he’d be okay,” she mutters half-resentfully, in the way that only someone who knows Chad can.

 

“THAT’S RIGHT BABE!” Chad bellows and gives a triumphant fist pump. He took a fist to the face and dove into the brawl. A dude went after Ash and Chad reached out and clotheslined the guy, shaking his head. “Not cool, bro.”

 

He screams and jumps away from the fire, tripping over someone lying prone and ending up flat on his back.

 

Skinny hood poofed next to them, lifting them up with a cold hand and not so gentle grip. “You don’t seem like the type to be hanging with gang members.” Was all he said, before looting the person they tripped over.

 

The man in the hoodie glances around for an escape vector, but doesn’t see one. “No – no, I don’t know anyone here!” Up close, the thief can see his strikingly pretty features – and if he pays attention, the thin seam running along his jaw.

 

Handsome hood would see a bluish ice skull looking at him with hollow black eyes. “You should go that way. Warehouse is empty.” He pointed a long shriveled finger lazily at the warehouse adjacent to them. He knew desperation when he saw it. ((tag))

 

Chad threw a guy. “Hey…you ok, bro?” he asked the confused-looking new guy. He also gave a double-take. Def not checking him out, though. No way!

 

Naut is bumped into by a tossed, sad, sad person now and again, and usually just – picks them up and tosses them further in that same direction, between brutal hooks and haymakers that, if not outright disabling someone, would certainly make them question the wisdom of continuing.

 

“No, I’m not okay. I think running may have run down the battery much faster than I was guessing, and the doctor is hurt.” He gives Chad a scared look. “Can you help her? There’s a man in there riding on drones and talking nonsense.”

The information that Bones is hurt causes Naut to immediately disengage, heading towards the Very Loud Guy, and presumably, the Doc. She assumes they’re in roughly the same spot, at least.

 

Chad’s about to ask what Doc the pretty man meant, when he sees Naut’s reaction and his eyes go wide. “Aww shit somebody’s after the Doc? Oh no man, where?” he looks around, reaching out a hand to simply hold someone away from him by their face as their hands frantically try to punch him.  His eyes finally see the open door, just as a mook jumps on him from behind and starts pummeling his head.”RUDE!” He huffs, annoyed.

 

[fyi anyone confused – both Doc and Auteur are inside the warehouse, through the door Yuanxing threw open]

 

Skeleton man puts down another ice sheet around Chad, with a path letting him get out of it. The head hitting man slips and falls directly on his face. “You should probably go check on that.” He mutters.

 

Chag is really relieved to not be getting punched in the head any more. “Thanks, bro!” He extends his fist to Skullcicle to bump it, then looks startled and vaguely disappointed that he isn’t gonna get that brofist. Skullcicle connects his cold, mostly knuckle skeleton fist with chads, and then disappears.

 

Chad looks gratified – if maybe a little creeped out? – and then sets off after Naut at a gallop.

 

And not a goon was left unlooted.

 

(thinking it might be best to move the rp to the bottom?) [agreed]

INSIDE:

 

Sawbones pressed her hand to the door. She could feel someone on the other side, but she had nothing else. Wait. Healthy, youngish… but not a child. Well, that was lucky. She reached into her pocket, curling her hand around something. “Remember what I said?” she looked back at Yuánxíng. “If I go down…”

 

He nods. “I’ll run. I’m ready.”

 

“Once you’re through, get in touch with Eli Vallejo. Naut. She’ll take care of you.” she promised. And then she drew her pistol, easing the door open and peeking out.

 

A young man bent over a crate, clutching a crowbar in his right hand.  He was skinny, the kind of skinny you don’t get without being sick (stimulant addiction is a disease).  His skin was the jet-setting international tan that could be light-skinned Trinidadian or baked Norwegian.  His haircut was asymmetrical and bang-heavy, black with shinier-black highlights.  He was dressed to make a statement.

 

The black turtleneck said “I am a serious thinker,” the professional-grade liveshades said “I am a content creator, but not a stuffy one” and the cape said “I may have problems greater than my lack of fashion sense.”  

 

He probably would be making more progress in actually opening the crate if he weren’t whisper-yelling into his own mobile.

 

Aww, fuck. Sawbones shouldered open the door, aiming with a steady, practiced grip. “Hands on the floor.” She ordered, in the kind of voice that made men like them feel compelled to a junk-check

 

She was close enough to hear him now…

 

“I don’t care what’s happening.  I NEED you on the set now!  They’re already INSIDE!”

And the man sprang to his feet, brandishing his crowbar!

 

“Who are you?  This is a CLOSED SET!”

 

“You know who I fucking am, punk. Hands. on. the. floor.” she ordered again. Who was this fuckhead?

 

The man dropped the crowbar as he raised his hands above his head, the mobile dangled from a rhinestone-encrusted wrist-strap.  Could it really be that easy?

 

“Lights,”

 

the man said, seemingly ignoring Sawbones.

 

“Camera.”

 

A buzzing noise, still whisper quiet, became louder.

 

“Action.”

 

And two things happened over the course of a second.  A pair of drones–the kind you see surrounding every media star, sports game, police riot and fat guy falling down while eating a hot dog–descend.  On the underside of each was the same skull-U sticker that was stuck to the bikers’ jackets.  And the drones ascended, with the man gripping their attached handles.  And where once was an auteur, only a half-jimmied box and a discarded crowbar failed to slip the surly bonds of earth.

 

Sawbones swore, steadied herself, and took aim. She fired, aiming at one of the drones.

 

The drones swerved erratically, taking evasive maneuvers that caused their passenger to turn almost sideways.  They zoomed along the warehouse’s catwalks and high ceilings as the man howled in rage.

 

“You WILL NOT get her!  She will be MINE and everything WILL BE PERFECT as it SHOULD ALREADY HAVE BEEN!”  (tag)

 

“Who the FUCK are you talking about?” The Doc’s voice rang in the sparsely-filled warehouse. She took aim again, trying to ping the other one. A pause, one finger tapping at the back of her hand.

 

The drones’ autopiloting systems, recognizing discretion as the better part of valor (Machine Learning is wonderful stuff) dropped their passenger in the catwalk and zoomed off in opposite directions.  The man leaned down at Doc.

 

“Would YOU answer that if SOMEONE were shooting at you?  Show some RESPECT for an ARTIST!”  He ducked behind a cable that attached to the skylight.  Something about it looked vaguely load-bearing.

 

“If that somebody had a real good aim and no fucking patience, yea. I would.” she stated. “Think about it.”  From above them, there was a sound of something hammering at the wall. A moment later, puffs of dust started moving across the floor.

 

“NO!  You would shoot back, laying down suppressing fire like a PHILISTINE!  Whereas I!” Doc could hear the drones humming in the rafters.  “Have a better plan!  Two of them!”  

 

And there were three of him suddenly.  Holograms, Doc knew.  But at this distance and from this angle.  She couldn’t make out the imperfections.  Worse, the drones appeared to have speakers.  And his voice filled the warehouse.

 

“As soon as I have what I need, AND THE NEED IS IMPERATIVE, I will be gone!  I am not a VIOLENT man!  I do not seek REVENGE!  And, god willing, I SHALL NOT NEED TO!”  

 

The three of him bobbed and wove around the stacks of crates and pallets, along the catwalks.  Always two of them close enough that she couldn’t tell which was him and which was the projection.

 

She did hear him whispering, the drones picked his whispers up with crystal surround-sound clarity.

 

“Grips!  Best Boy!  I need you on set!  Your DIRECTOR is being SHOT AT!”

 

She was listening. Whispered under her breath: “He’s fucking monologuing.” And with the holograms, her old eyes couldn’t quite pick out her target. Not reliably, and she didn’t have an infinite clip.  

 

So she closed her eyes. Kept them closed as he fucking monologued. Then, finally, she aimed again. It wasn’t that her aim was as good this way. It was that she knew this kind of person, and she knew what it would do to them to know: I can shoot you with my eyes closed.

 

She fired.

 

“Call off the drones.”

 

There was an audible “crash” and a bedazzled phone strap, phone attached, fell to the warehouse floor.  The drone speakers buzz for a sec and suddenly there’s a beep “voice feed lost, switching to auxiliary audio.”  And then the Auteur’s voice came through the Drone’s speakers themselves.  

 

“NONSENSE!  The Drones are NOT NEGOTIABLE!  The contract CLEARLY STIPULATES that this be LIVESTREAMED!”  There’s an edge in his voice, and the sound of a gulp followed by the crackle of wrapping

 

The Doc scrambled for the device on the floor.  “You didn’t know you’d be up against a fucking PARA, did you, punk?” She cried out. “You wanna come explain what’s going on, or is it time for me to fry your brain with my fucking mind powers.”

 

“WHAT’S HAPPENING is that I HAVE JUST WON!”

 

In the shadows, the Prototype Yuánxíng found themselves suddenly gripped by two arms – yet there was no-one in sight. It was nothing like the Doc’s sturdy embrace. This felt somehow desperate and fragile, and it came as a surprising.

 

The android twisted in the stranger’s grip, trying to get free or at least get a glimpse of the person holding him. [NB: at the moment Yuánxíng looks male and I’m using male pronouns] “Doctor!” He hissed, hoping his voice didn’t carry much further than the doorway.

[For your benefit Brand: Yuánxíng looks like a very pretty Chinese man, wearing slacks and a black hoodie over his head. Also while i like the diacritics really do not feel obligated to keep them]

[Oh, perfect.  Auteur will LOVE this.  And diacriticals are option-e so I’m good.]

 

The man holding Yuánxíng was older than the bikers outside, visibly balding and dressed like a common laborer in an open blue workshirt and beige pants.  He was not particularly tall, but his neck was buried in his slab of trapezius.  He wore only two pieces of ornamentation: a gold chain around that hulking neck and a shiny silver phone earpiece.

Yuánxíng heard him whisper: “Package secure, boss.”

 

And then the speakers broke out.

 

“AUTEUR!  While on set you will address me as Auteur or there WILL be consequences!  Need I remind you, I PAID for DIAMOND!”

 

“Tell your boss there’s been a misunderstanding,” Yuanxing murmured to the man holding him. “If there was some sort of deal regarding me, it’s off. Maloney’s left the country.”

 

“Boss…uh…Arthur…”


“AUTEUR!” The volume was ear-splitting.

 

“Author, right, who’s Maloney?”

 

“BEAUTIFUL CAPTIVE, who is this Maloney and WHY should I CARE?  Gunwoman!  Allow your PRETTY to speak or I shall have THE GAFFER ruin BOTH OUR DAYS!”

(Tag, apologies)

[I love me talking to Brand, it’s like some kind of pastel nightmare]

[These are now canonically the colors of the Auteur’s trousers.  Striped, naturally.  No.  Not striped.  The main pants are teal, the pockets, fly and belt loops are mauve.  Possibly also stripes down the sides.  Or is that too much?] [honestly I feel like it could work, it could be kinda haute couture][I intended The Auteur to walk the thin line between fashionable nonsense and legit madness.  So I’ll take that as a compliment]

(so logically, Sawbones would be DOING THINGS now, but this Auteur crazy is so delicious it feels morally wrong to interrupt? help me explain this moment of quiet.)

 

The man who had been holding onto Yuánxíng suddenly careened to the side, holding his shoulder. Sawbones ignored the Auteur – for the moment – and walked to to stand over the man. Mistake. He wasn’t down, and his hands quickly encircled her knees. She went down, scrambling to keep hold of her pistol.

 

Yuanxing stares confusedly at Auteur. “You … you don’t know Maloney? What- who do you think I am?” It’s a genuine question, not bluster.

 

“Do you remember Moshi-moshi to Mata-ne?  TRICK QUESTION!  EVERYONE remembers it!  Ten years ago, it CHANGED TELEVISION FOREVER!  But it was FLAWED!  As we know Min-Na needed to choose between Eamon Chang, the Pharmaceutical Heir, and Skyler, the rough but loyal bassist!  And the NETWORK bowed to AUDIENCE PRESSURE and had her marry Eamon.  And when I capture you, you will DEFINITIVELY PROVE that Skyler should have ended up with Min-Na!” Yuanxing can practically hear the spittle dripping from the drones’ speakers as the three Auteurs continue running around crazily.” [note: Min-Na was played by Minna-chan, the first synthetic actress.  This is a common fact known to everyone who has seen a movie in the last decade.]

 

Yuanxing barely notices his assailant being knocked to the side. He turns uncertainly to Doc. “Doctor … do you know who this man is? Is there a possibility he owns me?”

She Doctor looked up, giving a vicious kick and raking her fingernails across her assailant’s face.  She scrambled to her feet, backing away, and turned to look at the person she’d already come to think of as her ward. “Fuck him.” she spat, with utter conviction. Nobody owns you.

 

“That seems unlikely.”

 

“They’re traffickers, Yuánxíng.” she coughed out, rubbing at a bloody lip.  “Run!”  she cried, looking around frantically for her pistol. The huge man was rising to his knees, pulling something out from his belt. She backed away, but was always, at every moment, keeping herself between Yuánxíng and the man.

 

He broke into a run for the nearest exit.

 

“NOT SO FAST!”  The speakers on the drones nearly blew out with the force of the shout.  And a single drone descended at about 33% the speed of gravity, the Auteur hanging from it by one hand.  In the other, a pair of shiny silver handcuffs.  “Not without my star!”

 

And the drone swooped down, like a landing airplane, the auteur’s feet just grazing the floor as he slammed into Yuánxíng with an audible thud!

 

Yuánxíng fell over, hitting the floor with a hollow sound. He stared at the stranger on top of him. “I think you’re confused. I’m not an actor.” Then he tried to push the Auteur away and regain his feet.

 

“You…ooof…sell…yourself…SHORT!”  And the Auteur, pushed half of Yuánxíng, managed to slap one on the cuffs around the android’s upper arm and the drone lowered to allow him to attempt to latch the other onto its handle.  “You…are…BEAUTIFUL!  And PERFECT!”

 

Yuánxíng jerked his arm away from the drone. “Please, don’t try to suspend me by one arm! You could damage me! And – go away!” He starts scrambling for the door, making for an awkward grapple between the two men and the drone.

 

“Come back!  I brought more cuffs!  Lights, a little closer.”  The nearby drone did its best to remain within reasonable cuffing distance as the Auteur attempted to wrestle his unwilling star into position.  “Camera!  Come down here!  SLOWLY!  We want the shot!”

 

A gunshot rang out. This time, Doc had both eyes open, and the drone went FFZZZTTT and exploded into a shower of very expensive parts.  She reached for the cuff, trying desperately to get it off.

 

Yuánxíng seized the moment and ran desperately for the door, bursting out into the open.

 

“LIGHTS!  No!”  And, for the first time that night, the Auteur forgot to monologue.  He did not even chase the Android for the three seconds it took the four rotors of the drone to come to a complete rest in a pool of blood.  

 

Sawbones took off running after Yuánxíng, shoving her pistol into her waistband as she went. She ignored the man behind her, ignored everything but – she could feel Yuánxíng moving, she could feel Eli, so close…they’d get out of this. They would.

 

“Shūshu!” Came a voice from nowhere. The heavy iron bar skidded across the floor toward the brawny man, who grabbed it up and sent it flying.

 

The Doc took it right between the shoulder blades. She went down with a strangled cry, before  getting her hands under her to push herself back up with a grunt of pain and effort.

 

Which is the exact moment she felt a meaty forearm scoop her up under the throat and the hand attached to it lock onto her right shoulder.  The hulking man pulled her roughly to her feet and she heard him whisper.

 

“Keep friendly.  Maybe you’ll live.  Now call back the package.” (tag)

 

“Hah!” She couldn’t help it. It was just all so absurd. Of course she tried to struggle free, stamping savagely on his insole, but her arms were locked tight – she was tall, but he was twice as wide. She looked up, her hands yanking rather ineffectual at his muscled arms. “Don’t come back, Yuánxíng.” she ordered, her voice a bit breathless but still full of command.

 

The wall of fire had dissipated by now, the pyrokinetic no longer maintaining it.

 

Yuanxing bolts. Within a minute, he’s no longer visible, gone into an alley or behind a building.

 

Jupiter crashed through the roof of the warehouse like doors were out of season (during Lent), landing on the floor in a crouch. “Dudes! I am piiissed! I just had to take this lady to emergency and they said she had to wait! I am so mad! I just wanna zap some bad guys!”

 

Chad hovered a bit behind her, uncertain at the moment. He was good at hitting things. He was less good at tense hostage negotiations but he really wanted to punch that guy!

 

“Babe! You would not believe my day!”

 

He turned to her, eyes wide, holding up his hands. He didn’t know what was going on but Jess was even more ‘punch first questions later’ than he was.  

 

“Babe.” Jess grinned, making a heart with her hands.

Dammit she was cute. He couldn’t help grinning even as his face fell back into worried as he looked back toward Naut. He seemed torn between making sure Jess was ok and protecting the Doc.

 

“Okay, protecting the Doc? Yeah, I can do that.” She grinned. “Fo’ sizzle.”

He pulled her close. “Somebody’s got her.” he said, low as he could. “We gotta be like mad careful, babe.” he still couldn’t help but cup her cheek for a second. “You ok?” he looked her over just in case.

 

“Babe, I’m good, I’m gold, how’s your hands?” Jess picked his hand and wiped away the blood. “Well…I was going to kiss your boo boos but…blood.”

 

He gave a low laugh and pulled her close. “Gurl. You can kiss me all better when we’re outta here.” he promised and scrubbed his hand against his jeans.

 

“Uh-huh, and you’d better rub my neck just the way I like it….”

 

“Jessie baby, I will rub you so good…” his voice was almost a purr now and he nuzzled her nose but remembered their duty! “Just soon as we’re done here.”

 

“Oh yeah…bad guys to lightning punch.” She grinned.

 

“Hell yeah!” he turned and raced toward Naut.

 

—-

 

Naut had finally finished brutalizing the seemingly limitless thugs, stomping over to within some distance of Bones and the seemingly one competent thug. She hesitates, glowering in his direction.

 

 

“You have ten seconds to call back your package.”  The man reiterated.  His grip tightened.  The wickedly curved blade tapped Sawbones on her chin.

 

She took a deep breath. “Allright. Okay. Let’s…let’s talk. I understand you’ve got a job to do.” her voice was carefully calm. She could see the others – so close! “I’m a businesswoman myself – why don’t we calm down.”  a pause. “I’m a shit hostage.”

 

“Ten.”

 

“That girl that just ran out. Pretty blonde. Get her.” she said, her voice hard. “Who gives a shit about some old black lady?” her thumb was tapping out a message into the palm of her hand.

 

“Nine.”

 

“How much is he paying you.” she said, her voice reasonable. “Going by your knockoff vans, not enough.” This never worked in the movies but, she’d happened to learn, it worked surprisingly often in real life. “You’re a professional. Like me. You deserve to get paid.”

 

He considered.  He barely understood the logistics of the plan.  Not because he was dumb, but because it was technical.  He left that sort of thing to his nephew.  Where was the stupid kid?

 

“Five K.” she said, though internally it made her scream. It would take weeks to make that back again.

 

The man thought it over.  Five K could buy a lot of things.  

 

Five K could certainly shield him from the wrath of the man who was now clutching his remaining drone like a St. Bernard puppy and shaking his head.  

 

Five K could certainly get his landlord off his back.  Five K could certainly pay for a couple weeks, maybe months of soft living until the next gig depending on how he conserved it.  Even after his nephew gave the phone people their cut.  But there was something he was missing.  Something in the corner of his eye. There was this rasping gasping sound just at the edges of his attention.

 

“Eight,” he said, leaving it open whether he meant K or seconds…

 

“How about five, and I take care of that toothache. How long that been bothering you, couple months now?”

 

Six weeks.  And gnawing plantain root just wasn’t cutting it anymore.  It’d mean flaking on a job though.  And that’d fuck his reputation.  That’d fuck his nephew’s rep, and it’s not like the kid had much of a rep to begin with.

 

“How’s about you lower that knife a lil’. We’s can talk this out, hm?” Naut sounds weird when she’s trying to be placating. The tone just sound wrong coming out of her.

“It’s ok.” Brown’s eyes were on Naut’s. “I got this.”  Eli knew that voice. She was scared but she was also real, real good at keeping herself steady. No shaking hands, when you held a scalpel.  

 

And then he saw the pool of blood.  

 

And then he noticed the edge of the pool of blood.

 

“Fuck.”

 

“No.”

 

At the edge of the pool of blood lay a man.  A kid, really, with a bad haircut and a jacket just a little too new and too big.  A kid with a patch proudly stuck to his arm bearing a U/Skull.  A kid who looked up to his uncle, who volunteered his biker gang for this gig even if it meant him getting sub-peak rates.  A kid who had taken a bullet and whose last act was tossing the closest thing he had to a father a tool that he’d just thrown away.

 

She followed his eyes. Sawbones couldn’t really go pale but her face went slack for a moment when he eyes found what his had. “Aw, shit.” she choked out. I’m sorry.

 

Naut tenses, servos quietly humming. Still, she hesitates, trying to figure out a way to get Brown out of the line of fire, and hopefully before it is much too late.

 

The job did not explicitly authorize the use of deadly force.  The Auteur had not explicitly ordered it and had in fact been a damn pussy about the idea.  The man did not give a damn.  His sister’s only son was dead on the floor.

 

He had a linoleum knife. It was only right that he jam it in at the left hipbone like he was punching her in the gut and then twist it, letting the jagged tip do some real damage.  It was crooked, it was slow, it was anything but clean. She could feel a dozen grimy floors on the edge of the blade as he cut her open. (Tag)

 

Her eyes met Eli’s as they went wide and bright with sudden pain.  

 

Okay. That’s enough for Naut. She sweeps forward, making a grab for the man’s arm, trying to clamp the fingers of her exosuit around his wrist and stop him. “Just drop it,” and now she sounds much less placating, and a lot more angry.

 

((Tag))

 

O SHIT

 

The Doc, for her part, just gives a little choked noise and doubles up. The man’s hand crunches and he gives a cry. After his moment of red-out rage, he seems almost dazed.

 

Naut shakes him by his unfortunately crunched hand. Kind of viciously. “Fucking let go,” she doesn’t say, so much as growl, as snarl. She actually squeezes harder to suggest to him on a deeper level that yes, it is in his best interest.

 

He does, then. He does everything she says. His fingers loosen on the filthy wooden handle and he staggers back as much as he cant. He keeps looking at that kid on the floor, shaking.

 

She shoves him, rough and hard, to send him sprawling away, before stooping next to Brown. “…I- C-can I move you?” The rage is gone, replaced by genuine fear. She is not good at hurt. She is not good at treating hurt. She kind of mumbles something about head injuries, then tries to help Brown up and out.

 

“Bitch, I can walk my owndamnself.” Her voice hoarse and shaking, Brown pushed herself up. Her hand was shoved against her side, quickly going dark and wet. She was quiet for a moment. Closed her eyes, assessing the damage.

 

Naut seems relieved. After all, Brown is well enough to cuss at her, so she’s not actively dying. Still, Naut hovers close by, ready to pick her up and wander off–

 

Brown gives her a grateful smile, pulling her close and wrapping an arm around her neck, pressing their brows together in an intense hold, whispering words the others couldn’t hear. She releases the other, after a moment. “Remember that hot chinese guy? Go after them.”

 

Chad watched that happen with stunned horror. He rushed forward but then noticed Naut and hovered all unsure. The minute it seemed right, he stepped forward and quietly scooped up the Doc like she weighed nothing at all. He gave Naut a nod and turned to Jupiter to say something.

 

–but is beaten to the punch by Chad! “He-hey! Be… be careful with her, o..okay?” She sounds strangely plaintive.

 

“You got it, Cap’n.”

 

She nods at Brown, and hurries out. If she were a hot Chinese guy, where would she be…

 

…She’ll figure it out, eventually!

 

“Hey, Ash?” Chad had Sawbones in one arm, phone up to the other. “Could you radio for a med transport? I’d owe ya a big one!”

 

A single drone buzzed, its servos straining to hold the weight. A figure dangled from it, alighting atop a cargo crane. The Auteur had lost his star. Had lost his phone. And, judging from the carnage below, had lost the deposit on those hired thugs. The Auteur would not have given up except for one thing: he only had Camera. Any director worth his beret knows this: you’re done shooting when you’ve lost the Light.

 

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Ash decided to let the others take care of the villain. Bringing in an asset – now, that was something that got the attention of recruitment officers. She sprinted after the fleeing – man? – through the warehouse district. “Hey, I just want to talk to you -!”

 

He doesn’t respond and keeps running away, taking turns whenever possible.

 

Wildfire refused to let this daunt her – she kept running, bringing up walls of fire. If she could herd him… She just needed to talk to him.

 

Dellen was lugging his loot down an alleyway when WHOOSH! A wall of fire nearly caught him in it’s path. He quickly removed his shoe and began stomping it out with an ice cold foot. “WHAT THE FUCK JESUS” The usually quiet man screamed.

 

Yuanxing stopped, hemmed in by fire. He spun, looking the other two in the eye. “Who are you? What do you want from me?”

 

And then Ash shifted easily from pursuer to PR representative. “My name is Ashley. I’m here to help. How can I help you?”

“You can buy me a new shoe!” The skeleton man growled, though the crackling of flames most likely shouted it out. He huffed and sat down on the ground, mourning it for only a few seconds before pulling his lifeless foot back inside, the toes sticking out.

 

“I wasn’t asking you, whoever you are -” Ash has quickly assessed the skeleton man, deemed him as not a professional contact, and moved on.

 

Yuanxing glanced between the two, trying to understand. “I … the doctor told me to run, so … if you want to help, can you get me out of here?”

 

Being in a petty mood, Skelehood decided he could at the very least steal his shoe scorchers thunder. He touched a finger to the ground, and a sheet of ice cooled the flames next to him. “You want to keep going down this street here, take a left at the soup shop. Then you will find yourself at the center of the city. Lots of police there, you should be safe. Least until you’re doctor shows up.”

 

“I can escort you. Keep you safe. There might still be ruffians on the street. Not worth the risk to go it alone, I think.”

“Whom do you work for?”

 

“I’m… an independent contractor. I picked up the distress call on a radio I rigged up.”

“I work for me.” Dellen shrugged. “And I don’t charge for giving directions.”

… I think the thing now might be for Yuanxing to pass out, having exhausted the cellphone battery he’s running on ((Hey, that really sucks. You get rest ok? Will have Dellen set him somewhere safe for Naut to find em.))

 

“Well that IS unfortunate.” The skeleton…grinned? At Ash. Before then teleporting right next to the robot, picking them up, and teleporting away again.

 

“Oh, God damnit.” Ash looks up. “There goes the accolades. I’m hardly going to get anything out of this. At least I got some face time with the pros. Ugh.”

((tag))

Between a Rock and the Anvil

BETWEEN A ROCK AND THE ANVIL

 

THE ANVIL, ARCHAVEN

 

The bartender on duty was a tattoo covered woman who knew when to pay attention to her patrons and when to ignore them. She was ignoring the slim woman at the bar – Vera Newman, who kept shifting her face to look like various Freelancers in an attempt to screw with the bartender.

 

Corey limped in soon after. It wasn’t that his leg was injured, more that he was walking in that stiff manner that indicated his torso was injured. He was dressed as he always was, in skin tight activewear, a cap, and a jacket with the Freelancer patch on the shoulder. He didn’t pause to look around, but just headed to the woman with the changing face.

 

She was surprised to see him; for a moment, her face got stuck as Rooster’s before it snapped back. “Hey.”

“Vera.” He nodded, levering himself onto a stool next to her. He looked different out of the suit, much shorter than and a lot thinner than expected, though still very fit looking. There were metal braces on his hands, and exposed circuitry on what skin you can see.

 

“You holding up okay? Sorry I couldn’t do more out there.”

“I’m fine. Just healing ribs and a patched lung. I’ve honestly had worst.” He ordered a diet soda from the bartender. “And I am relieved you’re not hurt. There’s a reason I like armoured suits.” He gives a faint smile.

 

A healthy-looking, uninjured figure stepped into the bar with a shuffling, wobbly gait. Once again in her dual-hued trenchcoat and hat, with her character-shifting mask firmly affixed, she nonetheless failed to cut a terribly heroic figure as she looked like someone who’d just come out of a marathon fifty shades of grey fanfiction reading.

 

She practically stumbled to the bar.

 

“Christ,” Vera said, her face shifting into Michael Cheney’s. “You look fuckin’ rough.”

That flickering mask stared at Vera for a moment, then Ledger’s voice croaked: “I’m goin back to the infirmary.”

 

“Yes, but imagine going all the way back there.” Corey sipped his soda and made a face. “Why are these things always so sweet?”

 

Ledger slid onto the barstool next to Corey with agonized, slow movements. “I’ll have two fingers of blow. Or whiskey, I guess.”

 

“Blow only comes out after midnight, sweetheart. Whiskey it is.”

Vera sips her chocolate milk. “You would not want to see what happens to this -” She shifts her face into Corey’s for a second. “When I’m high. Bad news bears.”

“Is this how you’re always gonna greet me when I finish paying off a debt?” Ledger picked up the proffered whiskey glass, raised it to her face, and… drank it through the mask? Technology, man.

 

Corey remained silent though the talk of narcotics and getting high as he sipped his soda like a professional designated driver.

 

Wasteland entered the bar area, the machinery whining softly as he moved towards the group. He signalled to the bartender, and nodded as he stood, rather than sat, near the group. “Hey, folks. Glad to see you all out of the infirmary.”

 

“Still kind of tender,” Vera says bashfully. “But I’m healin’ -” Her eyes move to the door and her face pops back into being her own and twists into a mix of disgust and incredulousness. “You know what, yeah, I’ll take something strong bartender, thanks.”

Solomon Swift enters, holding a heavy book by Dr. Atlas.

 

“Wasteland, come join us. We could have used you in that fight.” Corey gave a small wry smile.

 

Solomon sits just close enough to the group and listens in while pretending to crack open his book.

 

“I think I did pretty okay for my first Big Girl mission. I mean, I didn’t die! I totally expected to die.”

“Your… first big girl mission? W-what does that even mean—” Ledger sounds kind of horrified.

 

“Eh, the Freelancers used to put me pretty much exclusively on…” Vera shifts again and it’s suddenly Chloe Karsgaard, famed actress and celebrity sitting at the bar. “Y’know, pretendin’ to infiltrate certain interviews and stuff? Spreading propaganda and just generally being in the right place and the right time?”

 

“Which is desperately unethical -”

Vera scowls.

Ledger swivels in her seat to stare at Swift. It’d be more impressive if she actually had visible eyes.

 

Wasteland ignores Swift.  He does, however, join the group, nodding at everyone. “Wish I could have been there. Only got the call just as you guys were dropping. May have words with the dispatcher. Collateral… is a big gun. Rooster or I should have been there to back you up. But that you guys managed on your own? That’s major respect, even if you did take some hits.” He nods at the bartender, who gave him a beer, and he puts a straw from his gauntlet into it.

 

“I underestimated her.” Corey shrugged. “I should have been faster, kept my distance. “ He looked like he was about to say more, but only sipped his drink.

 

“I did great,” Vera bragged. “Perfect distraction, only got a couple of bruised ribs, didn’t die despite actively pissing someone who calls themselves Collateral off.”

Solomon leans past Vera and reaches a hand out to Ledger. “Hi, Solomon Swift.”

After pausing briefly, Ledger took his hand in her gloved one and gripped it, giving a single, decisive shake. “Ledger.”

 

“What’s your actual name?”
Oh here we go…”.

Ledger released his hand. “Ledgelie L. Rutledge.” Even without the benefit of facial expressions, the acid tone in her voice betrayed that Solomon had not impressed her. “Ha!”

 

Solomon rolled his eyes. “See, if you ask me -”

“No one did.”

“There wasn’t even a question. Here, let me: if I buy you a drink, will you leave me alone about my personal details? There. Now you’ve been asked.”

 

Wasteland is trying, not very hard, to hide his amusement. He fails miserably. The armor shakes a few times in suppressed chuckles.

 

“I’ll take an appletini.” Solomon finally says, voice dripping with – disdain? Really?

“I say, barkeep,” Ledger leaned against the bar, “your finest appletini for my lovely new friend. And I’ll have two more fingers a’ blow.”

 

Corey looked amused and decided that it was socially appropriate to change the subject.

 

“Wasteland, tell us about the time you defeated Cancer.”

 

“Wasn’t really much. Just a guy…. In a crab suit. I mean, the suit was pretty well made, but…. It was a crab suit. I don’t even understand why.”

 

“Just someone in a crab suit. Heh. I need to find some footage on this.”

 

“Wait a crab suit? Like, what, foam? One of those inflatable deals?” Ledger sounded skeptical. He had to be pulling her leg.

 

Corey hadn’t moved from his seat, nor was he holding a phone in his hand. He was staring at some midway point, then burst in a soft laugh. “No, mechanical. What was that foam string stuff he shot at you?”

“Foam string?

 

“Yeah, some kind of foam. It was…. Really, really dumb. But Cheney called me himself, saying that it was probably the best PR opportunity he’d ever seen.” Wasteland snickered.

 

Solomon scoffed. “You see, it’s people like that that are sullying the image a layperson has about Paranormals. Honestly, the code names and costumes are just degrading.”

 

“Shut up, kid.” Said the scowling black lady who came in, unloading her heavy bag onto the bar.

Without hesitating or even looking up, Ledger launched her empty whiskey glass across the surface of the bartop. Swift managed to lift his Appletini well before the glass collided with it, but the message was clear.

 

“What in the fuck,” said a woman who had just spent the last two days in near-constant pain, “do you know. About laypeople, mister Swift?

 

“I’m the only person in this bar using their real name,” Solomon said, unflustered and disdainful. “I’m the only person who doesn’t wear some stupid mask or spandex.”

“Sure you are.” Said Doc Brown. Who was wearing a sensible oxford and docs.


“Do you know what the name Corey Adams is associated with?” Corey turned a bland face towards the boy. “Do you know that by the time I was your age, I’d been a soldier for eleven years in a war I was forced to fight in? Do you know that I had caused the deaths of thousands of innocents by the time I was twelve? Do you really think that I want to be associated with that? Please do think about the experiences that others around you may have had that you have been fortunate enough not to have experienced yourself.” He took a calm sip of his soda.

“Like this kid’s name is actually Solomon Fucking Swift anyway,” Ledger growled, evidently trying not to get involved further but still visibly pissed.

 

Now that the topic was on his favourite topic (himself), Solomon became visibly animated. “Right, but that’s what I mean – I’m privileged, I recognize that, but I don’t try to remove myself from humanity. If you ask me, this whole Paranormal thing, this whole Freelancer and civilian thing – if you ask me, we should all be civilians.”

“The door is that way. Feel free to lead the way.”

 

Ledger glanced over at Vera’s face, then at Solomon. “You really think that’s an option for all of us?”

 

Wasteland LOOMS over Solomon. His beer is finished. He stares, and the yellow eyes seem a little brighter, staring at the little SHIT that said those things.

Sawbones perked up a bit. She liked that Wasteland kid.  She caught his eye and gave an encouraging smile.

 

Corey idly held his glass in his hand, his expression blandly amused.

 

Ledger stood, and put a gloved hand on Wasteland’s metal-shod arm (a faint hiss came from the glove, and she took a moment to be thankful that she was wearing gloves at all). She shouldered past him slowly.

 

“Solomon. I get that it’s real easy to think that everything works the way it’s supposed to work. Yeah? But the fact of the matter is that we are the way we are because life is flawed and complicated. It’d be real great if I should show my face or tell you my name and not worry about whether my life would be hell later. It’d be nice if Wasteland could take his armor off, ever.” Thank goodness she’d read a few dossiers. “It’d be real cool if Stormcore had an upbringing that’d let him… eat solid food. But none of those things are true. Get me?

 

“You’re coming at us like we’re aloof, acting above humanity. But it ain’t so. You’re just acting above us.”

 

“I’m just trying to start a conversation.” Swift shot back. “Have you ever thought about how -”

Vera punched him.


And he went down.

 

She stood, horrified, holding her hands over her mouth.

 

“I – shouldn’t have done that.”

“And you didn’t. I did.” Corey sipped his soda, still calmly perched on his stool. “And that’s what everyone else here will say. And if Cheney asks why, I’ll say it was to save his life or Wasteland would have done it.”

“Shit, I was all but about to go into Debt again to shut his dumb ass up.”

 

Brown gave a snort. “That’s what I saw.” She nodded.

“I’ve wanted to do that for years.” His tone is positively, demonically gleeful. “Thank you.”

 

“And Cheney ain’t gonna ask. Cheney ain’t doin’ shit.” The Doc seems rather sure of that.

 

Swift bolted to his feet faster than humanly possible and stared at Vera with something very close to hate. Then he stormed out of the Anvil, slamming the heavy front door behind him.

 

For the first time many of them could remember, The Doc actually looked not-grumpy! She raised her beer to salute the others almost cheerfully.

 

“You know,” Ledger returned to her seat and swiveled to face the bar. She lifted her whiskey glass and sipped it through her mask. “I was sorta worried that I’d have trouble getting used to this work environment. Don’t think I’m too worried any more.”

 

Vera relaxed. “Oh my God. Oh my God. I just punched Solomon in his stupid face. This is the second best day of my life.”

“I hope the first best wasn’t the one I was there for,” Ledger quipped.

 

“Did I get that on video?” Wasteland pauses for a moment. “Oh my god my helmet cam caught most of it. THIS IS GRAND.” He’s ecstatic. “Buying a round for everyone. And the next one. LIFE IS PERFECT.” And he does. He’s got the cash. Why the hell NOT.

 

For the first time, Vera finds herself being the hero of her peers. She turns pink, hunches down around her drink, and grins widely.

 

“Well. He’s already reporting this on social media.”

 

Sawbones drew herself up, and announced with the utter conviction that only old women who’d been through hell could summon: “Fuck that guy.” Ledger toasted to that. As did Wasteland

 

“It’s fine. I just sent in a report of the evening’s events taking full responsibility.”

 

“Good man. And this made my week. Aaaaah… Thank you, guys.” He chuckles again. Clearly he’s watching it inside his suit.

“Okay I gotta hit the little heroes’ room,” Ledger swiveled in her stool, then vaulted off of it. She looked a lot steadier than she had a half hour ago. “Back in a bit.”

 

As she walked away, she took her phone out of her trenchcoat pocket and started poking at it. Those who caught a glimpse of it would see a popular cat-trading game on the screen.

 

Corey considered another soda the same way teetotalers consider another drink. In the end, he cut himself off and got a glass of water.

 

The door swung open, and Vera turned to sneer: “Come back for another round, Swift?”

Instead of Solomon Swift, it was six armed people, wearing animal masks. Their leader held up a rifle and aimed it directly at Vera’s chest. Before the shapeshifter could react, a tranq bolt sank into her neck and she swayed and hid the ground with a thunk.

 

Sawbones was moving before she really even realised what had happened. Soon as she could get her old bones off that stool, she’d moved to hook her arms under Vera’s armpits and start dragging her behind the bar.

 

Ever seen a guy who was casually sipping a glass of water on moment and had dived for cover in the next heartbeat? Corey shook off the air of casualness like a veil and turned into a trained professional. He ducked under a table, flipped it over and ducked up with a handgun in hand. “Attention. You do realise that this is a Freelancer bar, correct?”

 

The six animal masks look up: Zebra, a Tabby, a Bulldog, an Elephant, a Goat, and an Anteater.

 

They don’t say anything. Hesitation or determination?

 

Sawbones went instantly into Doctor Mode. She pulled out the tranq dart, looking up at her bag, sitting up on the bar. Dammit. “My bag, kid!” She ordered in a voice that didn’t brook arguement.

 

Wasteland CHARGED at the group, hands blazing already. “This was a VERY BAD IDEA.” He swung at the nearest guy, probably Bulldog. He seems like a good choice.

 

Someone tossed the bag at Sawbones. Solomon Swift stares her down, as if expecting her to object. He must have snuck back in with that super speed of his.

 

She gave him a cursory nod, and dug into it, giving a series of rapid-fire orders. Yep, Swift was being bossed like a kid. Deal with it!

 

The Bulldog crumples under Wasteland’s assault, and the other five turn on him, automatic rifles firing all at once.

 

Corey aimed, his optic lens flashing, then fired one accurate shot. It hit the Zebra in the knee. He took aim again, finding a new target.

 

Zebra stumbled forward, colliding into Wasteland’s armour. The other four scattered, Anteater sliding under a pool table.

 

The automatic weapons didn’t really do anything but ricochet against said armor, firing lethal little pellets every which way. But at least it was concentrated on him. He put Zebra down with another fist, and looked at the scattering crooks. “You guys really might want to give up now.”

 

“Yes, do consider your life choices about now.” Corey tracked the Tabby and found a nicely exposed shoulder. He aimed and fired. Tabby cat cried out and no doubt learned a lesson in keeping cover.

 

“What in the hell—” Ledger emerged from the bathroom, a stun pistol in hand. She glanced about, then noticed an animal-masked figure hiding under a nearby pool table. “Glad you yahoos are in uniform,” she muttered, taking aim and firing immediately.

 

Anteater took a shot and fired back at Ledger, sending a burst of automatic fire her way!

Ledger reeled, throwing up her free arm to catch the gunfire, which mercifully glanced off of her armored coat with enough force that would leave bruises but not send her back to the infirmary.

 

“You fuckin asshole! Do not make me go back in the red!” She dove for the cover of another pool table, returning a volley of stun bolts.

 

Corey, too, ducked low when there was a burst of gunfire in his way. He stretched on the floor, idly checking his magazine. There was a lull, then he poked his head around the side and shot high, aiming for the light fixtures above one crook. He ducked back behind.

 

Wasteland launched himself at the Elephant, fists ready. “C’mon then!” He went after Elephant, relying on Ledger to take care of the asshole Anteater.

 

That left Goat.

 

Corey continued shooting out the lights above him in an obvious intimidation tactic.

 

Goat threw up his hands. “I surrender! I surrender!”

“Throw down your weapons, take off your mask, and lie face down with your hands on your head.” Corey wasn’t going to step out until Anteater had also been subdued.

 

Ledger kept blindfiring around the corner of her cover for a few moments, then muttered “screw this” and scuttled across the floor from her pool table to the goon’s. She peeked around the corner, then as her assailant thrust a gun in her face, she grabbed it and yanked hard, eliciting a yelp from Anteater. He grabbed her arm, only to scream even louder as she shifted her weight and neatly broke his.

 

A moment later, she stood up, dusted her coat off, and picked up the submachine gun from the ground.

 

“I go to take one leak.”

 

Corey reached into a pocket and handed a ziptie to Ledger. “And read him his rights.” He went to collar Goat and herd Tabby and Zebra to the center of the bar.

 

“No hold up! I haven’t memorized the speech yet! Also I’m still tipsy!”

 

“You have a speech?” Solomon asked in disbelief.

 

“The you have a right to remain silent, that kind of thing, Solomon.”

 

“It’s totally different here than it is in the states, and I wasn’t even a cop over there. I don’t carry the fuckin handbook everywhere.

 

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Sawbones spat, and looked up at Swift. “She’s stable. Good.” she said, with the barest hint of approval. She didn’t say thank you, but it was Doc Brown so really, subtly acknowledging his help was enough. Right?

 

Corey sighed, poking at Tabby’s shoulder gunshot wound (and eliciting a scream of pain). “I’m calling in Emergency. I hope they have insurance.”

 

“Anyway, you all have the right to remain silent…”