A Stitch In Time: Person of Interest

“Okay, so this guy is calling himself ‘Otto da Fé,” the dispatcher said, audibly incredulous. “His powers aren’t anything to write home about: Fairly powerful pyrokinesis and hyperdurability, but that’s it. The reason he’s been elevated to immediate threat status is his MO, and it’s gruesome. He finds a place that he considers a ‘symbol of modern opulence’, goes in, surrounds the joint with fire, and holds the whole place hostage. Always makes sure that somebody’s filming or streaming the scene. He demands to see the people in charge or whoever’s most visible and burns them to death in front of an audience, then lets everybody else go. If he can’t find anyone, he just burns the whole place down and everybody in it.”

 

“Normally he’s real good about covering his tracks, but he slipped up, and we’ve got good intel that he’s currently in Boulder, Colorado. I’m compiling a list of POIs and we’ve got scouts looking into it. When we drop you, we need you to hit fast and hard. Don’t let him get a foothold if at all possible. We don’t care if he lives, but try not to let any civvies die.”

 

And so, just an hour or so later, a team had been sent from the Freelancer HQ in Archaven to Boulder, Colarado.


The first two Freelancers to arrive were a study in contrasts – Rooster, a woman who stood at 6’4” with broad shoulders, a wider grin, and a short blonde and pink mohawk was chewing gum. On the other side of the room was the 5’3”, long limbed and green haired Vera Newman, who was doodling in a notebook and hunching over the pages protectively.

 

 

Wasteland arrived a few minutes later, the new suit was a big, bulky monstrosity. Heavier armor, intimidating helmet. A shade of green so dark it was nearly black. On his back was a strange looking apparatus, some kind of new fangled jetpack, but more advanced than most people had seen. He was standing at an even seven feet tall now, and looked around. The helmeted man nodded to Rooster. “Rooster… “ And he looked to Vera. “Ah, I’m sorry. Haven’t been introduced. Wasteland.” He nodded at Vera as well, looking around for somewhere that he could stand without being too much in the way.

 

Bart walked in behind them, but at a distance. He knew they didn’t like being babysat anymore than he liked babysitting, but he still had to make sure the Freelancers looked good and no horrible incidents gave the legions news goons ammo against them. He watched vigilantly behind his darkened spectacles and leaned on his cane, still managing to keep an even few feet behind.

 

Vera stared at the armoured man with dull eyes, and then gave a half wave. “Throwaway,” she said. “Great name, isn’t it? Anyways, I’m a shapeshifter. This asshole’s looking for the person in charge, I can be the person in charge. Cool? Cool.” And then she goes back to doodling.

 

“Assuming, of course, we don’t kick the shit out of this asshole as soon as he shows his face.” Rooster said, offering the shy girl a big grin. “Alright, let’s roll out, team. Time to save a kickass strip club and some lives. Seriously, have you been there? It’s fucking aces.”

“Shit!” the dispatcher’s voice comes in through the comm. “He’s already inside, repeat, already inside the club! How the hell–“

 

Behind his helmet, he eyes Vera with one eye, kind of curious about that. He looks to Rooster, and shrugs, “Not really a plac- Oh goddammit.” He looks at Rooster, “Uhm, directions?”

 

“That doesn’t sound good.” Bart grumbles under his breath, taking out his phone and checking it. Yep, fire department on speed dial. At least he learned something in his time working with Wasteland. “After you. I can keep up.”

 

“Nah,” Rooster said, scooping Old Bart up under one arm and Vera up under the other without so much as a warning. “Let’s motor.”

And then she began to sprint.

 

The outside of the club is already on fire, an isolated wall of flames licking at the brick, metal and glass of the newly-renovated building. It is, without a doubt, the nicest-looking strip club any of the heroes have ever seen, and the flames would add a nice touch if they weren’t trapping the terrified patrons inside. Screams from within are audible even over the sound of the roaring fire.

 

“Oh I am going to kill this guy….” Wasteland mutters as he doesn’t even slow down because of the flames. People are trapped. Fire isn’t a problem. He would, however, slow down once he gets to the door, and rip the thing right off the hinges, if people are trapped in there. The armor’s servos whine a little as they give the living Furnace extra muscle to tear the door down. “Keep an eye out for this guy, he might try to escape with the civilians if he hasn’t already booked it!”

 

Rooster plunges forward through the flames, prepared to pummel any other enemies on the other side.

 

Bart was already on the phone with the fire station, just incase someone had neglected to call. He made his way around the building, towards the back entrance while he talked to them.

 

“Be careful heading into the dance floor, through the double doors,” the dispatcher says through the comms, “I’ve got video, and Otto is already up there on the stage. He’s got the para dancer and he’s demanding the club’s owner, Tommy Varo. He looks ready to burn the Damselfly if he’s approached. Sending you a photo of Mr. Varo, Vera.”

 

“Alright, got it.” Vera ducks behind the first barrier she can see and then emerges a whole different person. She is Tommy Varo, as far as anyone can tell – she even got the small scar on his thumb right. “If you guys let me get roasted alive, I am going to be so fucking mad.” And then she picks her way into the club, bringing her – his? – arms up to shield the body of Tommy Varo, moving into the club.

 

“Right. The rest of you, move, move!” Wasteland helps any civilians out as he can, guiding them to the exit as Vera moves in. Luckily the open doors and being up to fire code, the stip club isn’t as smokey and burning as it could be, plus, it was during the day. The fire wall wasn’t doing that much damage as it could have been. Not as busy as it could have been, thank whatever deity you want. To the man in the armor, the fire wall is like a slightly warm blanket, and the smoke certainly isn’t going to bother him. Rooster charged on through, though… that could be bad. “I’ve got your back, Uh…. “ He double takes at what he assumes is Throwaway. Quietly, he asks over the comms. “Ah, anyone know how long it takes for him to go from burning the place down to burning the owner? Lets not get anyone roasted if we can.”

 

When Bart got to the back and opened the door, he saw the same firewall as the front. He smirked. “Just like old times.” He thought to himself, taking a few steps back. He brought his shirt up over his nose, and tightened his heavy coat around him, forcing his bad leg to move faster as he did a short sprint, a leap, and then rolled onto the floor, patting the flames off. “Ah god my back…..maybe not as good as old times.” He grunted, finally sure the flames were out. In the corner of his eye he spots a fire extinguisher. “There we are.” He struggled to his feet, leaning on his cane a bit before taking it off the wall. He gave a quick spritz on the back fire wall to see how it fared against this paranormals blaze.

 

The scene on the dance floor is far less chaotic than that outside of it. The smoke from the fire barriers hasn’t wafted this far into the building, and other than the house music having been cut the setting is still decked out as it usually was every day. The clientele, however, is mostly gone, with a few pockets remaining. Terrified patrons unable to make it to the door for fear of being spotted huddle in the corners, under tables, on chairs. Sweating, crying, trying not to draw the attention of the man on stage.

 

Otto da Fe is imposing, at least on stage. Almost as tall as Rooster and broader in the shoulders, he wears a long coat clearly inspired by an Inquisition robe (though oddly devoid of any religious symbols). Tucked under his arm is a slight figure: a beautiful, young, androgynous dancer, wearing an outfit made entirely of ribbons and covered in glitter and makeup. Otto’s free hand is wreathed in flame and only inches from the dancer’s face, possibly explaining why ey does not struggle.

 

“I want the owner! Bring me Tommy Varo!” Otto’s voice booms.

 

“I’m Tommy Varo,” comes the reply from the dance floor. Throwaway strides into the middle of the dance floor, out of reach from the stage but close enough that Tommy Varo’s face is clearly visible. “Let go of the dancer, I’m here, okay? Let’s talk this out.”

With the owner appearing and Wasteland clearing out civilians, Rooster begins to circle around, ducking behind tables and bars in an attempt to close the distance.

 

Upon seeing the flames disperse, Bart smiled. Felt good to be in the action again. He set the extinguisher down and popped the top of his cane, drawing out a short sword. He went through the costume rooms backstage cutting hostages free, until one in particular, a dashing greek god of a man covered in what Bart could only hope was non flammable body oil grabbed him. “I’m not going! Nat is still out there!” Bart nodded to him, “Your partner going to be fine my friend. We have the best of the best out there right now. If you want to help, go grab me the fire extinguisher by the exit. And be quiet about it.” With that he left the young man, making his way to the closed curtain, pressing his ear to it to hear what was happening outside.

 

“Good,” Otto growled, a grin creeping onto his face. “Come onto the stage, Tommy Varo. You and your prize peacock here are going to be examples for my little crusade. This disgusting world has worn its ostentatious colors too long, and someone needs to pay. It’s either going to be your customers… or you.”

 

As if to demonstrate, a line of flames flickers harmlessly but demonstrably across the back wall of the room.

 

Vera-as-Tommy approaches slowly, hands up in a pacifying gesture but still slowly walking towards the stage. “Hey now, woah now, don’t you think that’s a little much? I mean, hey, we could do some charity work together. Go to a soup kitchen, yeah? Give out coats to the homeless.”

Rooster eases her massive form under and over tables, staying out of Otto’s line of sight, before slowly, carefully, quietly pulling herself up on stage. Almost, almost…

 

((tag – do we wanna pause and wait for Wasteland? It’s been a while since his last turn 🙂 )) ((I’m right here! Sure, can post, you guys were just on a roll!))

 

As many of the civilians on the outside were evacuated as he could get, which was a decent number of people. Huh. Wasteland heads towards the main dance floor, backing Vera up as much as he can. He can be the distraction, keeping his distance, as Rooster gets close. He hasn’t seen her since she charged in, so she’s either doing something sneaky, or taken out already. He really, really doubted the latter.

 

The orange-yellow eyes glare at the pyrokinetic on the stage, and he stands at the ready for anything to happen. Maybe a few more civilians manage to sneak out behind him, hopefully. The damage to the club wasn’t as bad in here, that was good. Okay, lets keep it that way, Wasteland… seriously? What the hell kind of thing was he wearing?… don’t make jokes about the homicidal firecracker yet. He did all he could to look imposing and scary and hopefully he didn’t attempt to flash fry Vera.

 

Adam would come up as quietly as he could muster behind Bart and hand him the extinguisher, but before he could speak OB brought his pointer to his mouth to “Shhh” him silently, then motioned for him to get out of there. Carefully, and quietly, he brushed the curtain aside just enough to see the stage and his target. Still holding the hostage, and facing away from him. He tested his leg, unsure if he could make it in time to spray him. “Damn it!” His lips silently mouthed.

 

“You think I care about your charity projects?” Otto sneers. “The example you set, your screams and flames, will do more to advance my cause than your efforts ever could. Get over here before I burn your little fairy and the rest of this place down.”

 

The dancer’s eyes flicker. Ey turns in place, seeing the agents that Otto ignored: the tall, colorful woman. The man with the sword cane. The suit of fucking armor.

 

“Tommy was at home today,” Nat murmurs, too quietly for Otto to hear. Ey looks up at Vera and raises eir voice. “Hey. ‘Boss’. Say when.” Eir incorporeal wings flicker behind eir back, ready to lift both Nat and eir captor into the air.

 

“Fuck it, when!” Vera calls up onto the stage, and Rooster makes herself known, charging at Otto so that he’s too startled to react to what comes next.

 

Nat darts upward quickly and forcibly, lifting the huge man’s entire bulk off the ground, leaving him dangling and vulnerable for a precious moment before he has time to realize what’s going on.

 

((okay, have at it y’all. Assume Nat is still being held by the man, but is now above him.tag!))((Will wait for wastey!))((yay!)) ((Well, rooster is jumping down, I thought?))((Rooster is on the stage, she just charged at the dude so he didn’t roast Nat when she lifted him. Nat and Otto are airborne, Rooster is below them on the stage, Vera’s in front of them on the floor)) ((gotcha!))

 

This was probably bad for the jetpack, cold starting like this, but a screaming roar suddenly filled the air as the armored man leapt as soon as Nat rose into the air, a jet powered intercept course with the big guy, and one hell of an armored fist coming right at the bastard’s face. Blue green flames burned out of the jetpack as he rose into the air, and plowed the dark green metal fist into Otto’s face (hopefully).

 

Seeing them all spring into action, Bart lurched into the brawl. Or he tried to. For a second, just before his body tensed up, and a memory was brought to mind. “Grandpa, where’s grandma?” “Why don’t we have a momma and pappa like the other kids?” A bead of sweat dripped down his wrinkled forehead, as his eyes watched the fight in front of him. He couldn’t risk that. It wasn’t him. This wasn’t what he was getting paid for. His grip on the extinguisher tightened. How could he just stand there? He had to do something! At least that’s what he told himself. He just couldn’t get himself to move, make that initial step. And so he watched from the curtains.

 

Nat spins in the air as Otto’s grip is torn free from eir arm, leaving em clear of the villain and the altercation. Ey recovers within seconds, and swoops down to the clone of his boss. “Want a lift out?”

 

Otto tumbles to the ground, rolls, and wobbles to his feet. He must be tough as hell to still be standing after a punch like that, but judging by the focus of his eyes and the set of his jaw, he’s not likely to withstand another.

 

“How dare you–” he slurs, and lets loose a burst of intense flame, which bathes Wasteland in temperatures that would turn a normal human to ash in seconds.

 

Wasteland is bathed in fire as he rises to his feet at the same time… and kind of gave a bit of a chuckle. “What, is that…. three hundred degrees C? Four hundred?” He charges after the man,  throwing a left hook at Otto, angling the man’s back towards Rooster for the woman to possibly surprise attack him. “That’s a cold, cold night for me, ya ass.” Indeed, the armor isn’t scorched, it’s barely even warmer than it was before.

 

“Oooo, looks like someone needs to go to the burn ward after that line,” Rooster crows, slamming her fist into the back of Otto’s head and following up with a kick to the back of his legs to bring hime down.

 

Meanwhile, Vera gladly takes the hands of the dancer. “Yeah, get me the hell out of here, thanks.”


Bart sucks some air in a cringe at the state of Otto’s face, snapping him back into reality. “I was right. They had it handled all along. No need to risk my neck.” Part of him wanted to though. To feel the rush he felt as a young man. He let the extinguisher slip from his sweaty hand just enough to gently thump on the boards of the stage as he caught his breath, cane sword pointed down.

 

The Damselfly’s dainty limbs are an odd contrast to the strength with which ey sweeps Vera up and carries her away from the stage and over to the door to the lobby, where ey sets her down and hovers nearby, eyes on the stage.

 

Otto, meanwhile, sustains several solid blows from superhuman powerhouses, and his enhanced durability is no match for the abuse. He slams into the ground hard, blood trickling from his mouth, eyes closed, alive but unconscious.

 

“Bastard. Sick, fucking, asshole..” Between Rooster and Wasteland’s hits, the man went down pretty quickly, just as Wasteland’s blood was getting up. And now he was out, cold, quickly. The man hadn’t suffered nearly enough. On the way here, he’d read over the evil bastard’s file. Innocent people, murdered for this guy’s own pleasure. Wasteland doesn’t stop hitting him, even after the man’s out could. The fire inside him rages, and temperature warning flare from inside. Old programming, the new armor could withstand these temperatures and a whole boatload more, but even so… This guy was one thing that was everything wrong with the world.

 

Thugs like this, people like this, needed to burn. Waste’s fists start heating up, hissing as each strike hits Otto. The metal on the gloves is upwards of a thousand degrees, and rising. “Bastard, scaring people. Killing some people just… *thoom* they don’t *Thoom* agree with your world *thoom* view.” Otto’s face is taking a serious beating. Ow.

 

Bart would slot his sword back into his cane, and slowly push the curtain aside. He saw the massive burns appearing all along Otto’s body where he was being punched. Second, maybe third degree? Nasty stuff. Then he glanced at the cameras. This wouldn’t turn out well if footage of it got out. “Wasteland. Enough. I said that is enough!” He would repeat, trying to get the enraged man to cool his anger. “We need his face intact. Or at least some of his teeth for the dental records. No point in killing an unconscious man.” Barts face was one of disgust, but not for Wasteland. For himself. And for Otto. The man deserved to die but….politics. Public opinions always complicating things.

 

“He’s right, Wasteland. We follow protocol, keep things professional. That’s why we’re Freelancers.” She scoops the man’s broken body up. “C’mon. Let’s call for a lift out of here. Where’s the kid?”

Nat is hovering just outside the doorway to the lobby bar, eyes wide with fascinated horror.

 

“Geez, you guys go hard,” Ey says. “Freelancers, huh? Um, thanks for the save. My name’s Nat. I’m the Damselfly. This stuff… happens to me kind of a lot, but this is the biggest asshole who’s sighted me yet.”

 

The fire inside mutters a few insults and curses at rational thought, at being brought back down to a smaller, tinier burn, but eventually does calm down. Wasteland backs off from Otto as Rooster scoops the beaten and burned man up. Wasteland takes a few calming breaths, before looking at Nat. His voice is a little rough, but luckily the helmet speakers hide it kind of well. “Yeah. We don’t tolerate scum like that.” He gestures to Otto, and then looks to Rooster, then looks to the rest of the patrons, then back to Bart. He nods at the man. If he could put expressions on a helmet, it would be one of somewhat grateful thanks. And then realizes this is one of the most public exposures he’s had. CUE THE ATTENTION FRIGHT! “Uhm… uh… right. Let’s get going?”

 

Bart watched as Rooster picked Otto up. The blood from his face dripping on the floor. He could have probably sped him up. Cause time for him to move faster, let his body acted like it were longer before he got treatment. It might even kill him, and nobody would even know. He thought about it deeply, but then caught Wastelands nod. He gave a small smile back, and a respectful nod in return. What if this one came back and did to wasteland what his own nemesis did to him? He couldn’t think about that now. “Glad you are safe.” He told Nat after a sigh, releasing the inner stress he had. He could think on it later.

 

“You want a job, kid?” Rooster said to Nat, pulling Otto over her shoulder and offering one large, bloodied hand for a shake. “Good wages, great working environment, you get to hang out with me…”

“Heh, um,” Nat’s expression was a study in restraint as ey shook Rooster’s hand with eir own delicate one, “it’s not that I don’t appreciate the job offer, but I’m way better at turning people on than caving people in. But hey, you’re all welcome back here whenever you want. We’re going for a para-friendly atmosphere, and we’ve got even more renovations coming on soon. You should see my act.”

 

Wasteland shrugs. A strip club. Suit of armor…. be nice, be nice… “Uh, maybe? Rooster, you’ve been here, right?… and did we lose Throwaway?” He looks around for the shapeshifter. Yes, because visually looking for someone who can look like anyone is going to be super useful. Right, the patrons. He waves for everyone to move to where the cops are probably outside. “Everyone, please, uhm, head outside, we got the bad guy.”

 

“Sounds exciting.” He responded to Nat. “Will let some of my clients know there is a new para-friendly club on the rise. Good luck with the renovations.” He had fully regained his mask now, flipping out his phone to speak with HQ about transport for Otto to the nearest Freelancer prison.

 

Nat blinks. “Throwaway? Geez, that seems like a harsh callsign.” Ey looks over at the space where his boss’s clone had been standing.

 

The clone, now a short girl with green hair and an impish face, just shrugs back. “‘s what it is,” she finally says. “No worries.”

“Yeah, I was going to ask…. I thought mine was horrific.” He looks at the short girl with green hair, and shrugs. “Oh, should probably read him his rights…. Protocol, and all…” Before walking over to Otto’s unconscious form, speaking quietly to the man about right to remain silent and everything. The ashen blood and skin on the man’s gauntlets flaked off finally as he moved, the heat around them dying pretty quickly.

 

“Prison escort is on their way. Also I think the firetrucks are outside, just waiting on us.” Bart said calmly.

 

“Well, hey,” Nat smiles and zips upward into the air, “thanks again. Y’all should follow me on social media and come see me dance sometime. I’m gonna start touring soon, but if you catch me while I’m here you’ll get a table or room dance on the house.” Wink.

Where There’s Smoke: Smoke and Mirrorballs

Smoke & Mirrorballs

 

THE FLYING FORTRESS

 

Someone had taken the Damselfly.

 

The whole point of the Damselfly, of Nat in the Legion, was to be bait. The problem was that a Legionnaire had given into the lure.


“This shouldn’t be…” Alice said, white in the face. “We screen people. We only recruit heroes. Villains go for Nat.”

Smokescreen, the Legionnaire who had taken Nat, was leaving a trail. She was tweeting as the Damselfly.

 

“It’s not that simple, Alice.” Tabitha said, trying to be reassuring.

Continue reading “Where There’s Smoke: Smoke and Mirrorballs”

Where There’s Smoke: Second Album Syndrome

SECOND ALBUM SYNDROME


Chad listened to the challenge from the loud speakers, took a breath and made to set Fi down. “Okay. I’m gonna…”  

 

Good enough for Fi. She stormed right inside.  

Continue reading “Where There’s Smoke: Second Album Syndrome”

Where There’s Smoke: The Hangover

A pool of flames and boiling blood erupted outside, and a tall figure in plate mail arose from it. He was carrying two figures – one over his shoulder, and another under his arm. He handed the smaller figure over to Gretchen, and then began to walk away with the unconscious Smokescreen.

 

“Drop the rogue agent!” Someone shouted. A poised woman in a flak vest, brown hair done up in a neat bun, ran onto the scene. She raised a stun pistol and fired it several times, but the bolts just bounced off the figure’s armor.

 

Callister ignored the bolts, not even deigning to smile at Tabitha Armitage. His bloody pool bubbled at his feet, and with each step, he disappeared. The bolts ting!ed off his armour, hitting the pavement. And then, he was gone.

 

Sawbones was there, with a kit at the ready. She went to Nat instantly, ignoring everything else.

 

The combat-suited woman holstered her stun pistol, cursing under her breath. She ran to where Sawbones was already attending to Nat. She looked like she was about to say something, but hesitated, nodded, and left her alone. She turned and strode toward Alice and the medic vainly trying to calm her down.

 

“Alice. Please.” Gretchen mumbled, settling Nat onto the ground so Sawbones can do her thing, and returning her attention to the panicky Paladin. “I do not think se-” She trails off, noticing her new company.

 

“It’s ANATHEMA, SHE IS BACK GIVE ME THE PHONE I NEED IT ARE YOU LEGION I AM A LEGION GENERAL GIVE ME THE PHONE -”

 

Alice Elizabeth McGowan,” Tabitha barked sharply, and Alice froze stock-still.

 

“T-T-T-T-T-T-Tabitha!” Alice said, hands frozen in panicked grabby motions around Gretchen, her face transfixed in a mixture of horror and an awkward grin as if it was possible to play this off.

She paused for a moment, thinking about her next line.


“Tabitha!” She repeated, this time less high pitched.

 

“I’ll… take her from here, Gretchen, thanks,” Tabitha shifted the infrequently-worn stun pistol’s holster further to the side and crouched down beside Alice. “Okay first thing, hon, let’s do a hug. Okay?”

 

The sound of music could be heard emanating from the club. Instead of dance music, it was the Sound of Music’s So Long, Farewell. Soapy bubbles carried the club staff, the Damselfly, and eir heroes to the club entrance with the rest of the Legion.

 

Nat stirred, groaning and coughing.

 

Fi ran in her bubble like it was a hamster ball before realizing that she could pop it, then kneeled next to Nat. “Nat?” she asked, cautiously.

 

Ey seemed to react to that.

 

“Nat? Yes?” Fi tried again.

 

With eyes closed, Nat reached out to touch Fiona’s face. “Fi. Fi. Fiona. Fiona, Fiona, Fiona.”

 

“Shh. Shh,” Fiona says, taking Nat’s hand. “Hey. Hey, I’m here, alright? Not going anywhere. And-” she looked around. “There’s like sixteen people here. You’re safe,” she said, trying to sound soothing.

 

Nat gripped Fi’s hand and practically tried to climb her arm, drawing her close. “The… she said, she—I thought I’d never see you again…”

 

The Legion gathered around, arguments and frustration forgotten. Nat was one of theirs, one of their family, and ey was safe.

 

Fae at Work

‘FAERIE GLEN’ NIGHTCLUB
BOULDER, COLORADO

 

If someone asked you to describe what the owner and operator of a national strip club chain and the largest queer dance parties in North America looked like, you’d probably describe Tommy Varo. He was an aging gay man who acted the part like it was still the nineties, stereotypical swish that you’d never see on television without outcry. He was tall and thin and well-dressed, and he carried about him a sense of authority that he wielded liberally, sending waves of his employees to carry out his whim and will.

 

“All right kids! Listen up!” He clapped over his head several times, and the assorted bustling staff of the Glen looked up. Many of them were cleaning, patrolling, studying, or messing around on their phones, but a few were practicing their dances on the poles and stage, and the Damselfly emself hovered above everyone else, pausing a runthrough of eir trickier aerial moves.

 

“I know you’ve all heard of Lights Show,” Varo said in a conversational tone that somehow still managed to be very loud, “and I know you’ve all been waiting for me to pin him down and make him sign something. Well, mission fucking accomplished! He’ll be spinning for us once every other friday and whenever else he and I agree to put him on the schedule.”

 

Varo gestured to Lights Show, and the staff cheered with genuine enthusiasm.

 

And, like a champ, Lights Show almost missed his cue!  He tapped out a few notes with a finger, a frown displaying on the LED of his mask screen, and then he jumped, spinning around, an exclamation appearing on the screen– he’d obviously gotten an upgraded helmet.  Just like that, he hopped up and over by him, helmet turning this way and that, looking around, then gave a shy little wave, shuffling from foot to foot.

 

A nervous laugh came out of the speakers on the side of his mask. “Uh… hey.”

 

Above, Nat squealed in unsuppressed delight, hands to eir cheeks.

 

“Go ahead and introduce yourself to the family, kid,” Varo gestured (a bit dismissively?). “Adam and Mac are our den parents, but Chris is all right too, I suppose. You know Nat. Our… handler will be by in a bit to discuss your other duties.”

 

Lights Show nodded, taking in the names, assigning them to faces, and giving one of those little wiggly finger waves at Nat with a 😉 on his mask as he did it.  On the ‘handler bit’ he glanced over at Varo, wondering just what he could mean by that but– OH YEAH he was supposed to be introducing himself!

 

There was that nervous laugh again, and he reached up, clicking the wheels around the speakers.  There was a small hiss, and Lights show lifted the top part of his mask off, revealing big honey brown eyes, freckled cheek and button nose, and a messy mop of curly blond hair sticking over to one side, the other side of his head shaved to stubble.  He had a lopsided grin, and was blushing ear to ear. Squealllll

 

“Hey, uh, I’m Elliot. Lights Show. You can call me Eli? Or Elliot. Or Anders. Or LS. Or whatever I don’t mind I promise.” He hugged his helmet top to his chest, shuffling foot to foot.

 

The two very handsome-in-different-ways young men who approached grinned and offered their hands to shake in turn, taking Elliott’s gloved hand without forcing him to let go of the helmet.

 

“Hi Lights Show!” This young man was muscular as fuck; developed pectoral muscles straining against the surface of a size-too-small white t-shirt. He had a mop of curly hair like Elliott’s, but his was black, his skin olive-toned. “I’m Adam. It’s great to have you on the team.”

 

“Elliott, it’s great to finally meet you in person!” The slighter and more boyish-looking of the two immediately pinged Elliot’s transdar, and a glance at his collarbone revealed a trans symbol tattoo, confirming it. “I’m Mac. Huge fan, for real.”

 

Was there a way for freckles to turn red and hide? They might have just found a way.  Elliot blinks once, twice, staring a little at Adam as they shake hands– yeah that was a double take on THOSE PECS– and then he sees Mac and the blush fades a bit but those eyes LIGHT UP.

 

“That’s awesome! I, um, uh–” he was going to say something, but lost it.  Where did it– Oh never mind. “Thanks for the great welcome. Y’all are great and amazing.”  Yes, that was a bit of southern twang that snuck into his otherwise plainly mid-western accent.

 

Nat descended from above upside-down, craning backwards like ey was leaning over the back of a nonexistent chair. “Elliott, you are one tough motherfucker to get ahold of. I’m so glad you’re working with us; you’re going to love it here.”

 

“That impromptu performance you gave a few months back?” Mac gushed. “I’ve been following your sets ever since. Just. Your taste is great, your transitions are seamless. We’re super lucky to have you.”

 

Adam just stood there, smiled, and looked pretty. Holy shit were his abs visible through the shirt? Oh my god they were

 

Getting accused of being hard to get a hold of reminded him! Lights patted down where pockets would be on normal jeans, front, then back, then went for chest pockets– nope. No clue where his phone was. Hopefully it was on the Musical Marauder.

 

“I’m stoked to work with you and–” And he’s distracted again because wow Mac is being cute af.  Lights just grins at him, like an idiot, because, like, what is he even supposed to say? If he’s like ‘yeah I’m totes a badass’ he’d sound like an asshole and that’s just rude, but– are Adam’s abs staring at him? They are totes staring at him.

 

They so are. Are they saying something? In a tiny voice? “Touch us, Elliot,” they whispered. “Lick us. Are you kids having fun.”

 

Whoa wait no somebody actually said that last one.

 

Wearing a slight smirk, Tabitha Armitage was looking at him. When did she show up? In spite of Armitage being merely the administrative lead of the Fortress, some people had started referring to her as ‘The Queen’ behind her back, given that she basically ran the entire goddamn earthside Legion.

 

“Hi Nat,” she nodded to the Damselfly. “Adam. Mac. Elliot.”

“Tab-Tab I need to talk to youuuuu,” Nat whispered.

“Not now, bug.”

 

Huh. That was. Wow, was his brain supplying this or did this guy really qualify on his cookie-jar scale?  Wait, kids having– OH NO HE KNEW THAT VOICE.  Elliot let out a little squeak, standing up a little bit straighter and reflexively almost putting his helmet back on, but he fumbled it instead, helmet bouncing a few times and out of his reach.

 

“Hey qu— uh– Mrs. Armitage.” Elliot cleared his throat, fidgeting like a kid in the principal’s office.

 

“At ease, Elliot, you’re not in trouble. I’m just here with a proposal for you, and a little info. Mac, Adam, can you give us a minute please?”

 

“Yes Miz Armitage!” Adam replies with a bad military salute, causing the too-tight shirt to stretch even tighter fuck. He puts a hand on Mac’s shoulder and the two scuttle away.

 

“Thirst. I mean. Um. I’m thirsty. Wow my mouth is dry. NOTLIKETHAT.” Elliot does, however, watch them go (his ASS, oh my god. BOTH of their asses. mmf) before turning his attention back to Tabitha, fingers fidgeting like they needed something to mess with and his fingers had no helmet or stringed instrument or piano for that matter, so there they were, becoming a tangled mess like his tongue right now.

 

“So uh, what’s up?”

 

“Let’s take a seat,” Tabitha gestures to one of the tall bar tables, and strides to it, her mid heels making that decisive click click click sound. “I’m sure you’ve run into my wife Emi at some point. Do you know what she does for the Legion these days? Not everyone does.”

 

Nat gasps and squeals, hovering a circle around the bar table. “Ohh, I know where this is going!!”

 

Lights doesn’t do sitting well. Oh no.  He looks at the chair, then leans against the back of it, because, y’know, compromise and all that jazz. “She’s that shadow ninja right?” He just blurts that out, then pauses, goes bright red again, and clears his throat, looking down.  Oops.

 

“She was,” Tabitha doesn’t seem offended.

 

“But then she took an arrow to the knee!” Nat chirps. “OH MY GOD HIGH FIVE”

 

“Nat, why do you keep saying that. It wasn’t an arrow.”

 

Nat just giggles and high-fives LS.

 

Tabitha sighs, then shakes her head. “Emi hasn’t been field-ready for a while. But her skills are still vital to us. She leads our small but focused Covert Ops department. Nat is our lead black ops agent, actually, and works directly for her. So does Tommy Varo, actually. The Legion has shared ownership of the Faerie Glen, and is bankrolling its remote franchises.”

 

“Whooooaaaaa.” Lights blinks a few times, looks over at Mr. Swishy, then back at Queen and Nat. “THAT IS SO COOL.”

 

For her reputation as a brutal machine, Tabitha’s smile sure looks sincere. “We try. Operation Faerie Ring is our attempt to expand our surveillance network, intended both to aid recruitment operations as well as to keep an eye on and capture hard-to-find Villains and criminals.”

 

She taps both fingers against the tabletop. “We’d like you to join the team.”

 

“Ooo, ooo! Does that mean I can be Double-Oh-YesPlease?” Elliot doesn’t know if he should laugh or be slightly ashamed so rubs the back of his neck instead. “I mean, yeah, that’d be EPIC. Like, dude.  Dude.

 

“We, ah, don’t really have separate designations for our black ops agents. Also, you need to be careful about talking about this to anyone. Obviously. The staff here is briefed and sworn to silence, and we’re slowly putting them all through basic training as well. They’re fairly good, actually. So. You’d be pairing up with Nat for some missions, luring in and pacifying very dangerous people, but sometimes we’d just have you playing gigs across the continent. Do we have your… synth?” Tabs made a face. That reference hadn’t gone as she’d hoped.

 

At first Lights pouted. No special secret code names? Like, what’s the fun in– TEAMED UP WITH NAT!  Elliot does the Success Kid pose, and the ‘item found’ sound from Zelda hits the airwaves around him.  “How are you so fucking cute” “Bug, can you wait five minutes to flirt” “haha no” Not to mention–didshejustsayplaygigsaroundthe–OH MY GOODNESS THIS WAS HUGE.

 

“Where do I need to sign? Like, can I just give you an epic guitar riff or like, do I need to press and hold X, like, what’s your deal?”

 

“The pertinent shellwork is in your secure Legion mail account. Complete it as soon as you can, please. You don’t have to do anything special yet, though; get settled in at the Glen. Play a few gigs. Work with Nat on custom choreo song combinations. Do your job, basically. Emi will be in touch about special training.”

 

A thought just struck him, and he got really thoughtful looking, like people could see the thought bubbles practically. “Does this mean… I get new costumes?”  He says it more to himself, but is seriously thinking about it.  Yes, the important questions.

 

“Oh yes, related: go see the Valkyrie sometime this week. Talk upgrades. We’ll fund them.”

 

“Valkyrie? The flying jet lady? I mean– that’s not what– this is a stri– I mean.” Elliot cleared his throat. “Cool, yeah, I’ll do that.”

 

“Well, you don’t have to,” Tabitha shrugs. “I have to get going. Estelle is going to expect me to be there to train her, and–“

 

“Wait! Tab-tab! So like! I heard that you and Alice–“

 

Tabitha slapped the table so hard and decisively that everyone in the room fell silent. She hissed, “come to my office, Mx. Zygoptera. Now.

 

Cowed, Nat floated behind her as she strode away.

 

“Oh shit.” Elliot clapped his hands over his mouth when that accidentally slipped out, staring as Queen took Nat away. Awww, that was sad. He wanted to hang out with eir.  Then again, he was supposed to maybe be working or something like that, figuring out work expectations or, figuring out what people needed for background on routines. He wasn’t really sure.  He was used to DJing house parties and birthdays, like, this was SWEET.

 

So he looked to Mr. Swishy like a deer in the headlights and just STARED.

 

Mercifully, the moment that Tabitha collared and frogmarched Nat away (as much as you can frogmarch a person who does not walk), Mac reappeared at Elliot’s side.

 

“Don’t worry about it too much,” the boyish dancer explained sheepishly, “Miz Armitage is like a mom to Nat. Ey gets in trouble all the time, and they’ll have worked through it within the hour.”

 

“Oh good, I was worried I’d have to like, barge in blaring that theme song I made for Oathkeeper or somethin’.” He laughed, then looked at his feet and shuffled a bit again, then looked up, giving a little nervous bite of his lip before talking, “Um, do you want to give me a tour? I feel like I’d be, SO LOST.”

 

“Yes! DEFinitely!” Mac leapt at the opportunity at once, gesturing for Elliot to follow him across the dance area. “You’ll probably spend most of your time in here in the DJ booth up there on the 2nd level, on that balcony. Though probably you could be way more mobile than our other deejays, which is just. So cool. The booths up there are reservable so our most high-profile clients and our agents or plants are gonna be up there during missions.”

 

“From up there, I could like, project my lights over the ceiling and it’d look SO COOL. I mean, I like being down in front of people, but I don’t want to get in the dancer’s way unless like, we work something out– Am I babbling? I think I’m babbling.” Elliot picks up his helmet while going past it, considers, then sets it on the bar. He’ll be back down after the tour.  THIS PLACE HAD MORE THAN ONE FLOOR. How exciting!

 

“Omigod tho, you and Nat together. Forget best burlesque performance, we’re gonna have the best performance, period in North America. Like I know that we’re a black ops front but this is just so cool. I’m glad I didn’t quit for real during that whole… Downer serial murder thing. Okay so this is the door to the backstage hallway…”

 

Nowhere was the Faerie Glen’s cutting-edge renovation more evident than backstage. A ladder and elevator both led up to a bank of automated lighting controls with multiple flatscreen displays and dozens of switches and sliders. The fly system for setpieces, curtains, and stage lights was mechanical and automated too, though a manual system stood as backup that backstage techs could use to manually raise and lower the fly bars above. Banks of brand-new, expensive, modular lights were arrayed like turrets at a military installation, ready to illuminate the shit out of whatever they focused on, switching from flood to spot and swapping color gels at the touch of a button.

 

It was the most theatre-like club setup that Elliot had ever seen, and put most theatres to shame, to boot.

 

“Badass, huh?” Mac grinned. “I almost can’t believe that when Nat Emerged, we only had two dozen lights. Two followspots, six PAR cans, twelve fresnels, and four cheap as fuck striplights.”

 

“THIS IS SO COOL.” And Lights is like a kid in a candy store, buzzing around from thing to thing, looking, hands close, but not touching because wow, it’s like the Holy Grail of set ups and I’M NOT WORTHY.

 

He did a little spin, taking it all in, then very smoothly moon walked back over to Mac, “Though with the kind of looks around here, don’t need this kind of set up to make y’all hot as fuck.”

 

“Hhhhhh.” Mac’s face went beet red at that, and he seemed to be temporarily unable to speak. He’d probably been about to say something, but that something was gone. Gone forever.

 

“So, what else you wanna show me?” Lights ruffled a hand through his hair, giving Mac a grin. He was trying his hardest to NOT babble on– a few puns about him being the Show, blah blah yeah no don’t blow it STOP– and totes ruin any brownie points he’d just racked up.

 

“I w-wanna show you–” by the look on his face, it was apparent what Mac wanted to show him, but instead he swept them both into the backstage hallway, face still flushed. “Th-this is the backstage hallway. There are um. Changing rooms, and the showers and bathrooms, and. The security office.”

 

“Whoa, you have an actually security office too– I mean, that makes sense with the whole super secret badasses in lace thing but– was that part of the remodel?” Lights is looking around with wide eyes, just taking it all in with wonder.  This. Was. So. Cool.

 

“Yeah, it’s important,” Mac coughed, gradually regaining some vague sense of composure, “and you’re gonna need to learn how to use it, actually. I think Tabitha wants you to figure out whether you can patch into it remotely. You’ll wanna talk to her later, but for now you should at least see it.”

 

Mac led them both into the security office. Wow that was a lot of screens. Not a whole lot of controls; it looked like a single computer controlled most of them, which was currently displaying a screensaver slide show of promo photos from the Glen’s numerous performances.

 

Once they were both in the room, Mac gently shut the door behind him. “Here we are,” he murmured.

 

Remotely patch in? Like some cyberpunk wet dream? OH HELL YES.  Elliot hopped inside, looking around with that same glee, and then paused at the screensaver, head cocked slightly to the side.

 

“You in any of these?” Elliot winked with that lopsided grin again, and glanced back at the screensaver, not touching anything just yet.

 

“Well,” Mac smiled and scuffed one jazz flat against the clean tile floor, “yeah. A bunch of ’em. See? There’s me. Just look for the guy in the binder.”

 

Sure enough, there he was. With most of his clothes off, it was apparent that Mac was extremely fit too, even though he didn’t have the same bulging muscles that Adam did. (as if on cue, the screensaver changed to an image of Adam wearing nothing but a thong that left nothing to the imagination.)

 

Elliot lets out a low whistle at that one. “Damn.” He gave the picture a glance over, then looked over his shoulder, giving Mac a very obvious one-up, nodded in appreciation and laughed, “Now I won’t be able to concentrate on the computer. OH WELL.” He laughed again, like it wasn’t really a loss as far as he was concerned.

 

“Ha ha, c’mon,” Mac’s blush deepened, and he wiped a bit of sweat from his brow. “You’re making me– heh, quit teasing! Is it hot in here?”

 

“I dunno, you still in here?” Elliot gave an over the top eyebrow waggle and blew Mac a little kiss with a very unbecoming giggle.

 

Mac looked a little faint. “Holy shit, Lights Show is hitting on me,” he said aloud, then realized he’d said it aloud, and his eyes widened, bright white over his bright pink cheeks.

 

“How do you feel about kissing?” Lights deadpanned that. Like, he was nervous AF inside, but man did being on stage help with stifling that some. “I mean, like, you’re cute, I’m cute, we should totes kiss sometime.”

 

“O-oh my god you’re– kissing? You w-want– yes please kissing. I want to– yes. Please kiss yes.”

 

Yes that was the victory fanfare from Final Fantasy. And a few lights that looked like hearts fireworks. What of it? Don’t judge.  With permission, he went right in for the kiss. Short, sweet, but he really knew what he was doing and might have nipped a bit of lip at the end there for good measure.

 

Mac leaned against the wall behind him in an attempt to steady himself, breathing ragged. He smiled. “Wow. Um. Wow,” he stammered, “please uhm. Forgive me, I should be so much more together than this, but– wow.”

 

Yup, Elliot giggled.  His uber-confidence was spent, and now he went back to shuffling and looking down at his feet and biting his lip. “Ha, um… so computers and stuff? Um?” Elliot did, however, reach out and grab his hand, holding it now with his own gloved one.

 

Mac smiled, looking away and then back up at Elliot. “Computers and stuff,” he said, giggling a little, “yeah. You don’t hafta learn the system right now, and we don’t have an account set up for you yet, but that terminal is what most of us use when we’re on eye duty. We’ve got cameras set up… pretty much everywhere. Even here, tho you can’t see it.”

 

“Well, I guess I should wave for the cameras, or say you’re welcome for the show or something.” Elliot blushed a little at that RESISTING THE URGE TO USE HIS NAME AS A PUN with all his might.

 

“Oh, uhm. Don’t worry too much about that. We all have a kind of. Agreement. That if you’re working security, you don’t share or keep anything you see, and nobody reviews the recordings unless we have to.” Mac shrugs nervously. “I’m… pretty sure that Nat has had sex in every room of this building. Like, methodically.”

 

“I need to high five eir later. Can you remind me to high five eir later?”

 

“I can probably remember that. Nat is pretty much in a constant state of wanting to high-five you. We’re all big fans, honestly.”

 

Oh he’s glowing at that, and gives Mac a peck on the cheek like it’s a reward for being such a sweetheart. “That’s awesome. I mean, I wanna see y’all work ‘cause I know I’m gonna be your biggest fan, like this is so cool.”

 

“Well, we’re… all on the same team, now!” Mac looked delighted, then looked nervous, then looked at the floor. “Look are– are you just being weirdly friendly though, or– I dunno, like. I don’t want to be the creepy fan, but I also don’t– want to–“

 

Elliot frowned, nose wrinkling with it as well. “What do you mean? I mean, like, I’m friendly but what do you mean really friendly?”

 

“Oh come on dude,” Mac stuck both hands in his short, tousled, messy-spiked brown hair, “it’s got to be obvious I have a huge crush on you. Are you actually interested, or just– I dunno, naturally flirtatious?” He leaned against the wall, then, kind of unbelieving that he actually said it.

 

“Oh. Hrmm…” Elliot thinks a moment, kinda sad that he had to let go of Mac’s hand for the obvious frustration hair pull maneuver, but it was what it was. How did he even–”So, you seem like a nice guy, and you’re cute as all hell, so I would enjoy sharing physical space with you and like, getting to know you? I mean, I’m like, pretty poly and whatever, but not really seeing anyone currently and I totes feel like I’m testing in front of a jury and shit can I like, not and just kiss you again?”

 

Mac nodded slowly, and finally said: “Yeah okay that sounds like some kinda interest. I’ll take it.”

 

This time, Mac moved in for the kiss, wrapping his arms around Elliot’s shoulders and pressing their lips together with hungry enthusiasm.

 

Well, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to use that wall that was behind Mac to be a nice stabilizer– and push him up against it, responding with the same enthusiasm, though it was less hungry and more playful.  He was a bit handsy, too, because he’s always been a very tactile learner, he plays a bunch of instruments, no duh, and hey, Mac was right there and sure.

 

Mac must have been some kind of instrument, because he made some Really Nice Noises in response to Elliot’s attentions.

 

“Whoa, nice,” Adam said from the doorway. “Mac, you give killer tours.”

 

Elliot looks up like a deer in the headlights– he is REALLY good at that look– turning bright red like a stripe painted across his face. “Um, uh, I… Um…”

 

“He’s not actually being sarcastic,” Mac whispered, face also bright red.

 

“Let me know if I can give you a tour too,” Adam winked and closed the door, leaving the two alone again.

 

“That also wasn’t sarcastic,” Mac added, giggling a little.

 

Well. That seemed like a seal of approval, and really, Elliot had no intentions of– FUCK IT. Why not?

 

The Tribunal: VIP

THE FAERIE GLEN

Like most nights that the Damselfly had a scheduled performance, the Faerie Glen was fairly packed. Today had a bit more buzz surrounding it than usual, though, as someone had reserved all of the balcony seating last-minute and no one knew who. It must have cost a pretty penny, but even the staff didn’t know who was gonna be up there; it’d been reserved under an alias: ‘Black and White’.

 

Nat didn’t know any of this; ey had spent the day busy making arrangements regarding hiring a freelancer to infiltrate Glenwood Springs. Ey didn’t know whether Tabitha would reimburse any of the fee, so ey was making sure to take more dance gigs to help make up for the tremendous amount of money spent.

 

Onstage, ey spun, twirled, and shed clothing in graceful, elegant arcs. Rolling abs, swiveling shoulders, twisting and rippling through the space above the stage, it was easy to see why the Damselfly had rocketed to stardom and stayed there. Nat moved in ways that no other human could. When the song ended, ey curled into a tight ball, rotating in a vertical spiral.

 

There was applause and noise and everything Nat was used to after one of eir performances, but there was something new – one part of the club was nearly silent, except for a single person clapping. It took em a few moments to recognize this change — usually the whole club was on fire after one of eir big shows, and a quiet pocket was… odd.

 

Nat swooped down briefly and asked a bartender, “Who’s up there?”

 

“We don’t know!” Came the reply. “Somebody important with a lot of money. Every once in a while a bodyguard comes down and gets a drink. We’re giving ’em space otherwise.”

 

Nat looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. “I’m the fucking Damselfly,” ey told emself.

 

The Damselfly zipped over to the kitchen, comped a bottle of nice champagne (a moscato. Ey was still the Damselfly, after all), and, still clad in very little, flew upward to land on the balcony’s railing.

 

“I hear we’ve got a high roller here today!” Ey began, stepping lightly down onto the floor. “I thought it really behooved me to meet—”

 

Adam Nova’s lips quirked into a small smile at Nat. “Well. It is a pleasure. I don’t believe we’ve seen each other before, even though we share some of the same circles.”

Even in the Glen, he still wore his trademark black peacoat.

 

“Mister Nova!” Nat blinked in surprise. Months ago, ey might have gone to pieces with anxiety and nerves, but ey managed to keep cool. However, even as inured to celebrity friends as Nat had become, seeing Adam Nova was still a tiny bit overwhelming. “What a pleasant surprise! I… had no idea you were a patron of the arts.”

 

“I’m getting older, and it’s pleasant to be able to come and sit and watch something expertly crafted by a professional. I certainly wouldn’t be able to move like that, these days. And if I could, no one would pay to come see it. Wine? How kind of you. Did you bring two glasses?”

“I didn’t, in case you already had enough. But—one moment—”

 

Ey turned around in midair, whistled down, nodded, signaled something to the bartender, then deftly caught a pair of crystal champagne flutes that sailed gracefully over the edge of the balcony.

 

Turning around, Nat smiled winsomely and shrugged. “Problem solved.”

 

Nova grinned. “Problem solving and dexterity. That’s quite a skill set.”

He opened the wine and poured one for each of them.

 

“You’ve had quite the year so far, haven’t you?” he said, taking a sip.

 

“That would be an understatement I could make, yes,” Nat settled in the seat the next corner over from Nova. Ey kept eir knees together, posture upright. It was a pose Nat had perfected in eir escort years and hadn’t had opportunity to practice much lately, but it still felt natural to em. “High highs and low lows like I never would have believed, if someone had told 18-year-old Nat.”

 

“I find that our 18 year old selves are often incredulous of our current selves.” Nova chuckled. “Young Adam wouldn’t believe me, either. He thought he’d be a professional baseball player.”

“Would you say you did better than that?” Nat smiled coyly.

 

“Depends on how you define ‘better’. It’s certainly more complicated. Pitching would have given me considerably less stress.”

“I’ll give you that,” shrug, “in some ways I lucked out of making that decision, for better or for worse. I can’t decide to quit being a Lure.”

 

“You could hire a Null to follow you around twenty four seven.” Nova suggested. It was hard to tell if he was serious.

 

“Ehhh, I don’t think it’d be worth giving up flying. So.” Nat leaned forward and took eir champagne flute, took a sip, and nodded to Nova. “If I may ask: what inspired you to come see me here at the Glen, here and now? I suppose things have died down a bit since Anathema’s arrest, but I hear that there’s an island nation breathing down your proverbial neck.”

 

“It’s been taken care of. You would be surprised at how many crises are going on in the world every day. If I only stayed in Arkhaven to work during a global threat, I don’t think I’d ever manage to get out. Besides, I take talent scouting very seriously.”

Nat quirked an eyebrow. “Talent scouting? I don’t suppose you’d elaborate on that, Mr. Nova?”

 

“I’m offering you a job.”

“Why, Mister Nova,” ey grinned and took another sip of champagne, “am I being poached? It’s barely a secret that I’m a Legionnaire.”

 

“Poaching, acquiring, scouting… The word doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s a war coming, and I want the best to face it.”

Nat allowed emself a small frown. “Well, like you said, there are always crises in the world. It sounds like you mean something of grander scope.”

 

“Another barely kept secret – the Legion is so short staffed because of some war in space. Doesn’t that bother you at all?”

“Is that the war you mean? The one that’s coming?”

 

“It deserves concern. Don’t you think so?”

“Well, I’m not a very big-picture enby, Mister Nova,” Nat lied, “but I’m curious what difference my talents would make on the side of the Freelancers rather than the Legion.”

 

“We have the larger staff, more infrastructure, higher salaries… We’re focused on getting things done, no matter the cost. From what I understand, that’s a bone of contention with you and the Legion. I’ve heard rumours that there have been… disagreements with you and management regarding… risks and rewards.”

“That’s very interesting to hear,” Nat nodded slowly, swirling the last bit of champagne in the flute and then setting it down. “Well, you certainly have my attention, Mister Nova. I’m not in a place to accept an offer—yet—but I’ll certainly listen to one.”

 

“Double your current pay.”

 

One eyebrow raised. “…and the Glen? Freedom of movement? Will I be subject to different interaction protocols?”

 

“All of that depends on the results of your testing. We don’t like question marks in our agent’s profiles. I can assume that you’d be given lax restrictions, if any, but… I can’t promise anything until there’s a full evaluation of how your abilities manifest.”

Nat nodded slowly. “And of course I’d be expected to resign from my post with the Legion,” ey ventured.

 

“There are only so many hours in one day. Moonlighting tends to… distract agents from their jobs.”

Nat smiled. “But I already have two jobs. I’m no stranger to moonlighting.”

 

Nova shrugged. “I’m all about personal freedom in an agent’s day to day life. But multiple employers can make things messy.”

“Understood,” Nat nodded slowly. “I’ll certainly give your offer careful consideration, Mister Nova. Is there anything else you’d like me to know? Or that you wanted to discuss with me, otherwise?”

 

“I understand you had some difficulties with Estelle Prestwich earlier this year?”

Only someone extremely well-versed in the subtleties of social behavior would have been able to see the way the Damselfly immediately went on guard. Ey knew that this was a potentially delicate subject. “We were both part of a rather stressful situation,” Nat conceded.

 

“…I’m worried about her. Did she speak about other dimensions to you? Things that didn’t quite make sense?”

Nat frowned. “She was pretty vague with us,” ey said. “She did talk about some kind of war coming, but… not other dimensions. She didn’t say anything very specific.”

 

“Hm.” Nova said, and sipped his wine. “If you won’t join the Freelancers, then that’s fine. But I do have a second offer for you, if the first isn’t to your taste.”

“I did say I’d consider the offer,” Nat said, “but I’m also interested in hearing a second one.”

 

“Keep an eye on Estelle for me. And I’ll owe you a favour.”

Nat tilted eir head. “What do you need me to look out for? Her physical safety, mental health, social standing? I can do any of those, but it’ll help if I know what to look out for.”

 

“…Signs that she’s… losing her grip. I know for a fact that it’s not a physical ailment causing her to slip. It’s something else.”

Nat squinted a little and nodded slowly. “You already know I’m not gonna accept your offer of employment,” ey admitted, shrugging a bit. “But this? This I can and will do. I’ll make friends with Estelle, spend some time with her regularly. Let you know how she’s doing directly, through personal channels.”

 

“Thank you.” Nova said, and Nat realized he had been as tense throughout that conversation as ey had been. “She means the world to me.”

“I understand that, Adam,” ey replied softly, nodding, then chewed eir lip for a moment. “May I… ask you one question? About what you were saying earlier, about the war?”

 

“You may. I can’t guarantee I’ll answer it.”

“Does this have to do with the Avatars?”

 

“Maybe. When you have only a few pieces of the puzzle, and no box with the preview image, it’s impossible to tell.”

“Understood,” Nat nodded, then smiled, eir cheerful performer’s demeanor slowly returning over the sober-faced Legionnaire demeanor. “Thanks. And thank you for staying for the performance! It’s a real honor to know that you saw me dance.”

 

“Any time. Let me know if I can help out. Pose for a picture, or something.”

“Well, I definitely wouldn’t say no to a selfie with you,” Nat grinned.

 

Nova leans in to pose for the selfie.

 

Nat zips a little closer, giving him a noseful of pheromones and a winning, toothy smile as ey took a few snaps.

 

“Great. Fantastic!” Ey giggled. “So. Stay as long or as little as you’d like. If you need to get ahold of me, you can do it here or ping me with the e-mail address I just sent your way. I’ll keep you apprised about Estelle.”

 

“Sounds good. Thank you, Mx. Damselfly.” He inclines his head slightly.

 

Nat stood, took a florid bow, blew a kiss, and then did a long backward somersault off of the balcony.

 

“Oh mannn~” Nat giggled. “Alice is going to flip.