Black 3-II


With The Gang

For about ten seconds, the world seemed to stand still. We all stared into the bag, our minds and bodies frozen in a mixture of shock, horror, and (if we’re being perfectly honest) greed. Possibilities, explanations and warnings tumbled through my brain faster than bowling balls on a greased slide, filling my head with thoughts of danger and riches. I quickly abandoned the latter train of thought; we’d taken it from the Cabal, after all, and if it wasn’t either acquired criminally or payment for some criminal act, I’d eat one of Lis’ shoes.

But what would they have had to done to make this much money? If a job had earned them a giant stack of bearer bonds, I’m pretty sure we would’ve heard about it, or, knowing the Cabal, heard it, possibly in the last instant before our eardrums ruptured and our brains started to boil. They didn’t do subtle, or at least, they didn’t anymore.

So they would’ve robbed a bank, then. It was the only realistic way that they could’ve acquired the cash, outside of conjuring it out of thin air (and would that really be so weird? asked the guy who regularly fucks physics with his mind). But if that was true, then where were the ‘heroes’? Bank heists were practically a rite of passage for the wannabe supervillain, and they were one of the things the Tower actually responded to one in any significant way. Hell, the biggest bank in the city was built directly into the ground floor of the Tower, and there were waystations near every single significantly-sized branch in the city (don’t ask how I know that, it’s a long and convoluted story). If the Cabal had tried to pull that off, they would’ve been swarmed with heroes about thirty seconds after stepping through the door. And even if they’d managed to get away from that, there’s no way the heroes wouldn’t have followed them, and no way in hell that they would’ve taken only half their team for it. Now, I’ve never been good at math, but to me that screamed of an equation that didn’t add up.

Judging by the looks on the faces of the others, a similar train of thoughts was running through their heads.

"Oh cool, money!" Adib said, happily, reaching for the bag.

Okay, maybe not all their heads, then.

I slapped his hand down. "Alright, everyone, let's all just back up a little," I said. They stared at me blankly for a second. "Physically, that is. Could be trackers and stuff." They nodded assent, and stepped back, some more reluctantly than others.

"There aren't any devices," George said, staring at the bag with his eyes sort of out of focus. "The only electrical device in that bag is the pad."

I titled my head at him questioningly. "I can see the electricity," he said in answer to the unspoken question.

"You can do that?" I asked, surprised. He'd never mentioned it before.

He shrugged. "In a manner of speaking, yes. It doesn't really work in high-saturation areas, though."

"Interesting." I stored that little titbit of knowledge away. "But there could be some kind of power-based tracker, or a nasty surprise or something. Everyone back up further." I took a few steps back myself as they backed away. "Nat, can you do the handling?"

Now, at this point, you might be thinking that I'm being a little too paranoid, and you might be right. But we're a group of unregistered supers running a technically-criminal vigilante operation out of an abandoned warehouse. I have a supervillain ex-girlfriend, Ivan probably won't be allowed back in South America for the rest of his life, George is sworn enemies with the British government and I'm pretty sure at least one of Lis' parents is an assassin. Not only are they actually all out to get us, but they're also out to get each other and don't particularly care if we get in the way. Considering who we’d acquired the bag from, and how they’d probably acquired it, I wouldn’t be surprised to find some kind of weird power trap or Forge-made tracking device that didn’t need electricity or turned us all into newts (Forges are fucking weird).

Nat snorted at me. “You have to ask?” Her ridiculous scarf snaked down her arm at past her hand, extending out into the air like a cloth serpent (look, it looked like a snake, there’s only so many different ways I can phrase it). Once it reached the bag, the threads unraveled and split apart into two vaguely-hand shaped halves, complete with fingers. They grabbed either side of the bag, shook it a little, then unceremoniously turned it upside down onto the table.

We all jerked back, and I instinctively readying my power in a wash of pain, bringing my hands up to cover my face. After a few seconds with no forthcoming explosion, implosion or newt-wave, I chanced a glance through my fingers. One of the couches had been overturned, with Lis, Shauna and George hiding behind it, Ivan had surrounded himself with a forcefield, and a void of utter black marked Adib’s position. Jess had disappeared entirely.

“Natalie!” Shauna yelled from behind her cover. “What the hell was that?”

“Sorry,” she said, giving an insincere grin. “There aren’t any explosives, by the way."

“Nat,” I said angrily, “that was really-” there was a loud thud, and a thin cloud of dust rained down from the roof, “-really fucking stupid.”

“Why? Now we know, don’t we?”

I was halfway through opening my mouth to launch into a rant, when the skylight above us opened up. Jess fell through it, landing next to Nat in a wave of force that knocked her onto her ass and back a few feet, which, frankly, said everything I’d wanted to quite concisely.

Jess stalked towards her, a furious expression on her face, but I stepped between the two of them. “Later,” I said, staring up into her face. “That was fine, but any more and I'm going to have to stop you both.”

She stared at me, and for a second I thought she was going to take me up on that, but she eventually turned and strode away, fists clenched at her side. I sighed internally. I’d have to deal with her, and people skills were really not my forte.

“You might want to consider following her lead,” I said over my shoulder to Nat as I walked over to the pile. “I’m not feeling too well inclined towards you right now, and I doubt anyone else is either.”

I heard her feet scuffle on the concrete as she got up and headed for the door. There wasn’t anything new in the pile; just the money, the datapad and the piece of paper. I picked it up and turned it over; “$20 million, NC, OP in place”, it read. Well, that was fan-fucking-tastic. I picked up the datapad, checked its power levels, then turned around and chucked it at Shauna.

She barely caught it, hands fumbling with it in mid-air before getting a grip. "Lis, I need you to get me a safe, put all the money in it, and the find a secure place to hide it. Take Adib and Ivan." They nodded and hurried off, Lis miming drinking something as she did. "I haven't forgotten," I replied to her reminder. "Now is just really, really not the time." She made a face, but left.

I faced Shauna. "Find out what’s on that thing. It could be important.” She looked towards the door that Nat had left from, but I held up a hand, forestalling her response. “You know her better than I do. How do you think she's going to react if either one of us goes after her right now?" She hesitated, then frowned, acknowledging the point. "Let her cool down, then go talk to her," I said gently. "But in the meantime, figure that out. If you can, make a backup too." 

"What are you going to do?" 

I cracked my knuckles. "I think I it's time to have a chat with our newest member." 


Black 3-I

FLINT

Glad to be Back

With a solid-sounding thunk, I dropped the duffel bag onto the table, sending it skittering a few centimeters along the ground with a creak of protest.

With the exception of Sanjay, who’d not even bothered to stick around, and our glorious leader, who was still mysteriously absent, all of the Outliers were assembled, a rare occasion. The last time it’d happened was when Lis had accidentally sent out a group message about an emergency (it turned out she was out of Hot Pockets). Beyond the check-ins that we tried, and failed, to have semi-regularly, it was rare to see more than two or three of the others at one time, and ‘cliques’ of a sort had formed. Lis, George and I tended to hang out, Nat and Shauna had gotten deep into the ‘inseparable’ phase of relationships and hadn’t come out yet, Ivan and Adib had been becoming pretty close recently, Jess was new and still a little bit of an outsider, and nobody liked Sanjay. Except Talie, that is, who seemed to have the ability to get along with anyone and everyone (as if she wasn’t overpowered enough).

(Oh right, before I forget: you're probably a little confused, so it’s probably a good time for a roll call. Sanjay is Foresight; Lis is Ricochet; Shauna is Tide; Jess is Freefall and Nat is Ribbon. Those are the ones you should already know. The others are Stonewall, Vortex, Flatline and Void, real names Adib, Ivan, George and Talie. Don't worry about the superhero names, you'll get it eventually). 

We were standing, leaning or sitting in a staggered half circle around the rickety old table in the center of our base. The old warehouse where Talie had brought us all together for the first time, we’d cleaned it up, repairing the sagging section of roof and propping up the broken pillar. We’d left the maze of cubicles and offices that took up the front of the building dilapidated intentionally, but beyond the locked door that led into the main space, we’d cleaned the floors and brought in some furniture, couches and tables, a few lockers and cupboards, and a single computer that sat at the far end of the room, currently half-shrouded in shadow. The lights didn’t quite extend all the way to the corners of the room; they just created a sphere of illumination in the center. It wasn’t ideal, but considering the minor miracle that was Lis somehow managing to hook us up with power in the first place, no-one was going to complain.

With a grunt of effort, I hauled myself up onto the table, ignoring the protests from both the table, and my ribs where I’d taken the hit earlier. I made a note to follow up on that, just in case, but I’d had broken ribs before, and I was confident this wasn’t that.

“So,” I said, overly casual as I stuck my hands in my pockets, “I think that went okay.”

A chorus of boos sounded out from the group. Someone threw a shoe at my head. I caught it and lobbed it back, narrowly missing Lis’s head. 

"You fuckin' asshole, you don't get to jump in at the end and talk about it like you were there!" That was Nat.

“Fine, fine,” I chuckled as I raised my hands, “that was good, you guys. That was really good. I know I didn't approve, and I still don't, but the Cabal got their collective asses kicked, and I can get behind that. Plus a little bit of the opposite,” I said to Nat, who was sitting with Shauna on the couch. Thanks to her ‘fight’ with Strongarm, she looked like she’d decided to become a walking tribute to abstract art. Right now, her skin just looked a bit mottled, but there were hints of purple and blue under the yellow, and I was willing to bet that by tomorrow (or possibly later today, I hadn’t checked a clock since we’d gotten back) she was going to look like a Jackson Pollock original.

She scowled through a face full of piercings and flipped me off with her free hand. “I’ll kick your ass from here, Flint.”

“You’ll try,” I said with a grin.

“Bring it, fuckwad,” she said as she started to rise from her seat. She wasn’t in her costume any more, but her scarf snaked out from around her neck and into her hands, seemingly of its own volition. Before she could get up fully, though, Shauna stuck her arm out across her body.

Thin and wispy, there was no way she could have actually stopped Nat, who was built like a five-foot brick and normally had about as much respect for people in her personal space as the average bear. Despite that, after fuming for a second, Nat slowly sat back anyway. Shauna turned and glared at me behind her coke-bottle glasses. “We just got done fighting. Can you maybe save it for another time?” She'd reigned in her accent now, and only the slightest hint of the burr marked the edges of her voice.

There was a soft sound as a shoe thunked off of her head. She turned and focused the glare on Lis. “What was that for?”

“I wanted to see ‘em fight,” she replied nonchalantly, blowing some hair out of her eyes. “The shoe is retribution.”

“Frankly, I’m too amazed you even know that word to care,” she replied snidely.

I decided to head that little bit off before things degenerated further. “Anyway,” I interjected quickly, “getting back on topic, I do think that went well. You guys shut down the Cabal pretty handily, prevented them from getting what they wanted,” I gave the bag a light kick, “and I only had to come in at the end to save your sorry asses a little bit.”

“What is this, Flint being humble? Such a moment should never not be treasured,” George said with a smirk.

Behind him, a look of consternation swept over Adib’s broad face. “Never… not? So should it be seized or not? This is very confusing.”

George sighed. “It’s a double negative, Adib. It’s fundamentally the same as a positive, but it can have slightly different connotations.”

“Ohhhhh,” he said slowly. “I see. Or… I don’t not see?”

“If you like,” George said, amused.

“I don’t not,” he replied, a guileless grin spreading across his face.

“’Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair’,” Ivan rumbled out with the air of someone quoting something. “He’s not going to let that one go for at least another week.”

“I won’t-”

Ivan cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Please, no. I’m not nearly drunk enough to deal with you right now.”

“Let me guess,” I said, “you’ll be remedying that very soon.”

He groaned, leaning back and running a hand through his thick black hair. “God. If I had to deal with power fatigue, a hangover and him at the same time, I think I’d go insane.”

That got a few chortles, including from me.

The atmosphere of levity was broken, though, when Jess spoke up. Up until then, she’d been standing at the back of the group, arms folded and face sour. As the newest member of our little coalition, she hadn’t quite found her place in the group dynamic out of costume, despite slotting in well when we were out and about doing our thing. Add to that a probable perceived failure on her part to successfully lead her part of the mission, and I think it was understandable she was irritable.

“Enough,” she snapped out. “Open the damn bag. I want to sleep.”

“Someone’s butthurt,” Lis ‘muttered’, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Didn’tcha get enough hay this morning?”

I winced, but Jess just turned and stared at her, ice cold. I tried to stay relaxed, but I internally readied my power. If I used it now, it was almost certainly going to hurt like hell, but if Jess got angry, she could level this whole building, so I was willing to take that.

Thankfully, Lis folded first. “Sorry,” she muttered, breaking eye contact. Jess grunted and turned back to me.

“Fine, fine,” I grumbled, hopping down from the table, trying to hide the pain from my ribs as I did so. “But you owe me half an hour’s worth of showboating now.”

Everyone crowded round as I turned towards the bag, trying to get a better look. The zipper caught in the fabric the first few tries, but I eventually managed to get it working. I paused with it slightly undone. 

“We dedicate this tribute,” I said in a mock-official voice, “to our Lady and Savior Natalie Wilson, may she prosper eternal.”
Jess gave me a warning glare, and I stopped. “I’m bumping it up to whole hour now,” I said grumpily. I pulled on the zipper with one hand, the other holding the bag in place, and the folds of fabric parted.

Inside sat a datapad, some numbers scrawled on a piece of paper, and, filling the rest of the bag, a giant pile of bearer bonds. 


Ashes 2-Vignette


On The Job

Dr. Magnusson's heels clicked against the floor as he strode down the corridor, the latest test results tucked under his arm. He walked calmly and without hurry, as only those on the brink of sprinting can. The only thing that would have given him away to an observer was the whitening of his knuckles on the hand the held the binder in place. Not that there were any observers, of course; being beneath fifty meters of steel, stone and dirt tends to have that effect. 

He continued down the featureless steel corridor, passing through the pools of turgid illumination cast by the aging lights affixed to the ceiling, until he reached his destination. A simple featureless door, the only thing that distinguished it from the others he had passed was the number 1 carved flawlessly into the surface. The doctor stopped in front of it, paused for the best part of a minute, an inscrutable expression on his face, then reached out and placed his hand flat against the door's surface.

There was a brief flash of light inside the metal, and the solid slab of stainless steel seemed to dissolve straight into the surrounding surface. The now-empty archway led into a small office, and the doctor stepped over the threshold to enter. The room was sparsely furnished, a single wooden desk inside a steel box, with a computer monitor floating above a base. Three pens sat next to an immaculate keyboard, one five degrees out of alignment with the other, and the off-white color of two pieces of perfectly-aligned-paper in the inbox nicely complimented that of the three bleached human skulls that rested against it.

Behind the desk sat a chair of the same make, and on the chair sat a man. Broad-shouldered and heavy, with a thick mane of salt-and-pepper hair and an equally-thick beard of the same shades, he put one in mind of a hibernating bear. No, Dr. Magnusson corrected himself, not hibernating; merely lying in wait. The deep set eyes gleamed with a menacing intelligence, and he was completely and utterly still, for the man known only as Ulster did nothing that he did not intend do.

Dr. Magnusson swallowed silently as his superior's eyes settled on him. "Sir," he said, managing to keep the tremor from his voice. "There have been... developments."

Ulster's stare bore into him. "From the fact the you did not lead with details, I am to assume that they are not good?" His voice was a rumbling basso that seemed to reverberate within one's bones. Dr. Magnusson had never heard him raise his voice, and he desperately hoped he would never have to.

"Not... exactly, sir." He adjusted his glasses before passing the binder to Ulster, who took it in one giant hand and began inspecting the contents. "The latest experiments gave useful results across the board, and we've achieved successful hot splices between samples Y20-43A and Y17-2B, and samples Y5-3C and Y14-21A."

He flipped to the relevant pages. "Y5? I was not aware we had any of the Y5 samples remaining."

"Neither were we, sir. We only managed to acquire it in the last few months, but every scan we've performed showed UM counts consisted with a Y5 sample."

"Interesting."

"We certainly thought so. As far as we can determine, it seems to be a standard Y5, so either we're seeing a resurgence of older UM signatures, or, much more likely, that this one is an outlier that simply managed to fly under our radar until now."

"Why did you splice it? Surely an outlier should be studied."

Magnusson gulped. "We did, sir, but like I said, it showed nothing out of the ordinary for a Y5 sample, of which we already have a wealth of data. The hot splice was really the only test we could perform on it that hadn't already been done."

"I see. Do these results indicate that Research and Development can begin working with splices?”

"Under the supervision of me or one of my subordinates, yes."

He grunted. "Inconvenient. Reasonable, but inconvenient. You will assemble a list of those capable of supervision by the end of the day."

"Yes, sir."

He put the files aside and steepled his fingers in front of him. 

"Now. What is the other news?”

Magnusson took a deep breath. No avoiding it. "Two days ago, our New Chicago storehouse was raised. They took money, and ripped the servers."

Ulster raised a single eyebrow, but said nothing.

He continued. "We arranged a strike team, but the money, and the server data, weren't with them."

"Tracers?"

"Disabled, it seems. Given the fact that they no longer had the data, we believe they were simply a proxy, bribed, tricked or blackmailed into working against us."

"Likely," Ulster agreed in a gravelly tone. "Why is it you telling me this instead of Gunnar?"

The real reason was that Gunnar, the head of Security, was owed a fairly large favor by Magnusson and had called it in, but he wasn't about to admit that. Instead, he used a plausible-sounding half-truth. "We collaborated and decided that the information could be best delivered in one report. The majority of the content pertained to my areas, and as such I took it upon myself to do so."

"I see." He leaned back in his chair. "I will speak to Gunnar about the matter." The doctor had no doubt that Ulster knew exactly why he'd actually delivered the Security Chief's report for him, but it was doubtful that he cared. One of the first things Dr. Magnusson had learned about working under the inscrutable mountain of a man was that methods and justifications fell far below results in the order of priorities. As long as the job was done, nothing else mattered.

"Was there anything else?" Ulster asked him.

And here it was, the moment he'd been putting off as long as he could. Initially, he'd considered putting it off, or even hiding if entirely, but it hadn't taken long before he'd come to his senses and realized the futility such an idea. Ulster would find out; it was impossible for him not to. And if he discovered it from someone other than his head researcher, the consequences would not be pleasant. His best option, he'd decided, was to deliver the news himself, and run damage control while he did so.

"Yes, sir," he said with as much stoicism as he could muster. Rip the bandage, Eric. "We've lost another three samples."

For a second, the only sound in the room was a single person's breathing. Then, the creaking of wood, excruciatingly loud in the silence, as Ulster leaned forward. In a manner that was completely and utterly casual, he picked up one of the skulls and held it in his hand, staring into its hollow eyes. "Which ones?" he asked without looking away. His tone was calm and placid, and there was absolutely nothing in it that betrayed the rage simmering beneath.

The doctor unconsciously took a step back. "Well, ah... two of them were old samples from storage, a Y10 and a Y14.  We believe the containment may have failed a while ago, and we only noticed at all because one of them was scheduled to be spliced. When we discovered one was missing, we updated the inventory and found the second one."

"And the third?"

"The third... the third was the Theta sample, sir."

Ulster looked up at him, meeting his gaze, and Magnusson took another step back, bumping into the door. Without breaking eye contact, he reached down and picked up the wastepaper basket from the ground in one mountainous and set it in front of him. Then he held the skull above it with both hands, and slowly, meticulously, ground it into dust.

"Dr. Magnusson," he ground out in a tone that seemed to set the walls shaking. "Explain. Now. Or I shall have to find a new head researcher."

“I-it’s the containment system, sir,” he stammered out, his heart pounding in his chest. “W-we’ve beefed it up as much as we can, more s-so for Theta, b-but it’s flawed at its core. I really don't think, sir-"

Something in Ulster's glare made him stop. For a few seconds, silence reigned in the room.

"There is nothing else that can be done?" he asked at last. His tone was laced with fury, but the murder in his eyes had receded into something closer to a severe beating.

Dr. Magnusson said a prayer of relief internally. "Nothing that we haven't already done. Uh, sir," he added belatedly.

Ulster growled. "Then it is time we upgraded our systems. Dr. Magnusson, we are switching to Project Persona, effective immediately. All stored units are to be switched over. All of them. Is that clear, doctor?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then you are dismissed." He placed the waste basket back on the ground and stood, straightening his tie. "I shall speak to Gunnar about the Chicago matter."

Eric Magnusson managed to avoid sprinting until the door had closed behind him.


Ashes 2-V

Smell The Ashes

The snow had started to melt away as we arrived at school, creating puddles and mud everywhere. Dresden High School marked a boundary of sorts. Sitting right on the point of the Wedge, the section of suburbia that pierced almost all the way into the center of the city, it sat only a few blocks from the Tower, but still had expansive grounds and fields. The campus was an elongated triangle, with the various buildings at the point and the fields at the base, and a wall of trees around the edges to give it some privacy. Though, the skyscrapers that towered on every side made that last bit something of a moot point. The various bits of greenery were normally immaculately maintained, but again; middle of winter, full foot of snow and negative temperatures. The trees that weren't dead stood sadly solitary, and the limbs of the large pine that was the only one still green sagged under the weight of the snow.

It was a rich school, no two ways about it, designed and situated to cater to the upper-middle class populace of the Wedge and the upper-class who mostly resided in the skyscrapers nearby. There were some exceptions, of course; students like Sabah who'd gotten in on sporting or academic scholarships, plus the lottery students, but generally the rule stood.

We'd arrived at the front gate, scanning our ID cards and staring into a camera for verification, just as the bell went, so we'd had to rush across the snow-covered fields towards the Murphy building on the left of the triangle. We were in different classes, so once we'd reached the foyer, we split up with a quick hug and a promise to meet up at lunch and headed to our respective rooms.

My class was up five flights of stairs, so by the time I'd burst in through the door, slightly short of breath, Mr. Berghoffer was just finishing the roll.

"Ah, Ms. Kingsford (I generally went by just my mother's surname for simplicity's sake). So glad to see you."

"Sorry, sir," I said, still a little breathless. "The snow."

"And yet," he replied dryly, "everyone else seemed to manage."

I rubbed at the back of my neck, and smiled a little tightly. 

"Still," he sighed, "I suppose you're not technically late. Take a seat, please, and try not to offer any more distractions." I was more than happy to oblige.

My first two classes passed quickly. Mr. Berghoffer was a competent math teacher, but it had never been quite my tempo, and I mostly just sat there half-heartedly attempting some work.

English, though, was definitely my thing. We were currently studying contemporary poetry, and while I didn't really possess any skill for the style, that didn't stop me from trying. It was fun, and a good exercise for my creative writing skills.

My third class was Superhuman Studies.

Normally, I didn't really pay attention in it, having mostly picked it to have a bludge subject, but something was telling me that if there was any day to pay attention, it’d be today.

“So,” Miss Richmond was saying, “as I mentioned last lesson, today we’re starting our new unit: Class Ones, or as you’d know them, the Scalebreakers.” Hmm. I’d been hoping that it’d be about powers themselves, something pertaining to my situation, but I suppose that would have been too much to expect. Shame real life didn’t work like fiction. “You should’ve already downloaded the relevant classwork onto your pad, but if you haven’t, please do so.” I hadn’t, and proceeded to do so, giving it a quick glance over. Seemed like pretty standard school stuff, so I resolved to ignore it unless it actually became relevant to my life in any way (not that I was hoping it was; that was the last thing I wanted).

“Now,” she said, leaning back against her desk. "Who can start me off?" 

No-one said anything. There was a bit of awkward shuffling and coughing here and there.

She sighed. "Look. I know it's basic stuff, but we need to get through this to get to the interesting stuff, alright? Work with me here, and it'll go a lot quicker. Pretend you don't know any of this if it helps. So: Who's gonna start me off?"

There was more silence. In the distance, a car honked.

"Fine. You've forced my hand. Jones," she snapped, flicking a finger at him. "Names."

The boy she'd pointed jerked upright. "Uh, Pyrrha, Shiva, John Doe."

"See, was that so hard? Kingsford, powers."

"Gravity control, weird stuff, complete energy absorption."

Everyone knew about the Scalebreakers. And that’s not exaggeration; everyone knew. They were called that because, quite simply, they broke the scale. Most powers just distorted the laws of physics, but they straight told them to sit down, shut up, and stay quiet if they know what's good for them.

There are three of them, with varying levels of humanity and benevolence: Pyrrha, who has control over gravity on a macro scale and mostly hung out in the lower atmosphere; Shiva, the monster with the eight arms who'd single-handedly rendered most of India uninhabitable, and John Doe, the unidentified energy sink, currently in government captivity.

The lesson continued in that vein right up until the bell, loud and piercing, interrupted her. “Alright,” Ms. Richmond said, “I want you all to investigate one theory about the Class Ones, and have a minute’s report prepared on it by Monday." There was a collective groan. "It won’t be graded," she amended, "and I won't force you to present it, but it’s good practice for your assessment. Class dismissed.”

We all filed out of the room, grabbing coats and hats and gloves as we ventured out into the cold. The cafeteria was in the Carpenter building at the point of the triangle, and the separate flows of students streamed together as they approached.

As I reached the entrance, I started searching for Sabah among the crowd. I’m pretty tall, so actually peering over most of the crowd wasn’t a problem, but actually finding my friend, who’s pretty darn short (don’t tell her I said that, or she’ll probably hurt me), proved to be more challenging. By the time I’d grabbed my food, I’d given up, and once I’d found a seat towards the center of the room, I sent her a text, letting her know.

There were a few other people that I vaguely knew at the table, and I half-listened to their conversation as I ate, occasionally offering some basic comments. It was about something inane, fashion or schoolwork or something, and as such, I wasn't really paying attention when a supervillain teleported onto the table.