The Only Currency Worth Anything Is Being True To Yourself.
“It wasn't her.” Stump’s voice was drawn and tired as she leant over the table. The gum rounds had completely covered her right arm, and after a few unsuccessful attempts to remove it, she'd given up and detached the entire thing instead. It currently lay on the table, the off-white goo slowly sticking it to the wooden surface.
“That's going to completely ruin the table,” Instance noted mildly. He was sitting in front of the television, which was currently playing the news, the volume muted. Right now, they were looping that same bit of canned helicopter footage that was going around between all the major networks. It showed the moment the fighting had spilled out onto the street, when Vortex, the forcefield-creating Outlier had come crashing out through the glass doors at the front. “You really shouldn't have done that, Eric,” he noted, absently watching the screen.
Chain, Eric, ignored him, continuing to patch up his wounds. He was shirtless, the tattered remains of the top half of his costume sitting on the bench next to him, as he applied cream and bandages to the more serious of his many lacerations. Even bruised and battered, he was still incredibly fit, and Stump found her eyes dragging their way back towards him every few seconds. She was pretty sure he hadn't noticed, but Instance definitely had, even if it was just because he was doing the same thing himself.
“It really changed the dynamics of the whole fight,” he continued, undisturbed by the lack of response from the other boy. “Gave them a lot more room to work with, and let Freefall set us up. Actually, most of their powers work better in open environment. Moving it out into the square really-”
Stump sighed dramatically, dropping her head onto her one remaining hand. “Would you give it up?” she groaned.
“Sorry, sorry. I just think it's important to take note of these things. It helps us improve.”
“Yeah, but that's what the after-action reviews are for. We don't need to talk about it here and now.”
“The after-action reviews,” said a whisper-quiet voice. Chain hadn't raised his head or stopped his actions, but there was a quiet intensity to his posture now. “The after-action reviews are so they can look at our ratings and our image. They don't care about tactics, or that we lost, they just care that we looked bad doing it.”
“Can you blame them?” Instance replied evenly. “That is what they pay us for. I really don't think you can complain about that. You signed the contracts, after all.”
No response. Instance looked at Stump, an expression of amused exasperation on his face, and she returned a little commiserating half-smile. “Well, putting that aside. You were saying something, S?”
“Yeah. It wasn't her.”
“Her. I know what you're thinking, you and Lucia and especially Tasha. But it wasn't her, I know it wasn't.”
“By her, you mean… Wisp?”
“Yeah, of course I mean Wisp!” she snapped. “Who else would I be talking about?”
“Why would I be talking about Ado?”
“Why are you talking about Wisp?”
“Because she didn’t do it!”
“Letting Ado out!”
“I thought you weren’t talking about Ado.”
“I wasn’t, now I am. Is that so hard to understand?!”
“Maybe,” he said innocently, and Stump glanced over to see a cheeky grin plastered over his face.
“Allah,” she exclaimed, “do you have to do that? It’s not nearly as funny as you think it is.”
“Do you have to do that?” he countered.
“Swap out random words. It’s like you saw a badly written foreign character on TV do it and now you feel you have to too.”
She spun on him. “What the fuck, dude?! Do you have any idea how offensive-”
She saw the look on his face, and stopped. “See,” he said with a happy grin, “I knew that would work.”
“Seriously?” she asked flatly.
“You were in a funk,” he said. “I wanted to help.”
“That is the worst possible way you could help-”
The door hissed, and Comet (she didn’t like being called Lucia while she was ‘working’) strode in. Her helmet was off, but she still wore her jumpsuit. Her hair, long and black, was bound up in a tight bun, and the lines of her face were drawn tight. “Explain it to me again,” she snapped, “in a way that makes me not want to strangle you.”
“Er, well, it’s still complex…” Thrust followed her, wearing slacks and the most hideous button-down in existence. “Basically, that thing that I said I could do, using the UM signatures to selectively remove Wisp from the cameras? Yeah, it turns out I can’t actually do that. Well, I can, it just didn’t work, and-”
“It should have worked, okay? I don’t know why it didn’t. There was no reason it shouldn’t have.”
“So was this a ‘didn’t work’ didn’t work, or a ‘went catastrophically wrong’ didn’t work?” Stump asked, amused despite herself.
“Instead of selectively excising our ‘friend’ from the cameras, it… just shut down the entire network whenever it could sense her.”
Instance looked incredulous. “How the hell do you get from the former to the latter?”
“I. Don’t. Know. There’s no reason it should’ve happened like that.”
“And yet it did.”
“Lu- Comet, I promise, this was not my fault. I just need to figure out why.”
She frowned, and Thrust winced. “Not good enough.”
Stump went to stick up her hand, realized it was currently sitting on the table, and quickly raised the other one. “Uhh, boss? Not to get all up in your business, but I think you’re being a little unreasonable to Carlos.”
The full force of Comet’s glare turned onto her, and she withered a little, but continued. “L-like, what more do you want from him?”
The frown deepened, but the glare lessened, and Stump let out a quiet breath. “I apologize, Carlos. My temper got the better of me, and I was being unreasonable.”
“No problem,” he said weakly.
“Unfortunately,’ she proceeded, addressing the room, “we still have the issue of Ado’s escape and- ...where is Fog?”
They all glanced around, noting her absence for the first time.
“Training room,” Chain said quietly. “Pay attention.”
Comet sighed. “Of course she is. Stump, go fetch her. I would rather not have to deal with her… her, right now.”
She didn’t really want to either, but she couldn’t exactly say no. She glanced down at her arm, now firmly stuck to the table. Oh wait: yes, she could.
“Sorry, boss,” she said, as sincerely as she could manage, gesturing at the arm, “but…”
Instance pointed at it and waggled his fingers. “Scourgify,” he intoned mock-solemnly. The white goo shivered like something had hit it, then dissolved into a clear gel that evaporated away into nothing.
She stared at him. “Did you just… do a magic spell?”
He shook his head. “Liquidate, supervillain in Orlando, dissolves non-solids. But that was a pretty good reference, right?”
Stump glanced at Thrust, who shrugged. “It was a reference?”
“Yeah, Harry Potter!” They both gave him a blank look. “Seriously?”
“I got it,” Comet said mildly. “It just wasn't funny.”
As Instance deflated, Stump picked up the arm and pressed it against the wooden stump that protruded from her shoulder, blending smoothly from flesh-pink into dark brown. As soon the two met, awareness and control of the limb flooded back into her mind, and she took control of it again, splitting the ends up into tiny strands that wove together and sealed it back in its rightful place. She stretched, and swung it around a few times to test the range of motion. All good, thankfully. It was nice to have two arms again.
“Just so you know,” she said as she trudged towards the door. “You’re all dicks for making me do this.”
The first thing that came into Stump’s mind when she saw the training room was ‘winter wonderland’. The second thing that came into her mind was that she pitied the person who had to clean it up.
Fog had coated the entire room in a thick layer of ice, uneven and opaque. In centre places, she’d brought it up into the approximate shape of a person, some larger, some smaller. It didn’t become apparent why she’d done that instead of using the existing training dummies until a second later, when a blur came speeding out from one corner of the room, wreathed in fog, and spin-kicked one in half.
Stump raised an arm, just in time for a pencil-sized shard of ice to bounce of it. The figure came to a stop, hovering a few feet off the ground, surveying the damage it had done. The cloud of fog fell away, revealing a black girl in what looked like black thermals, with high-tech silver boots on her feet that glowed green from the seams.
“New tricks, Tash?” Stump called out towards her.
Fog turned to face her, and Stump was surprised to see that she was actually smiling… sort of. She could never tell what was genuine and what was just anger when it came to the other girl. “Yeah, you like? Took ‘em up to Graves, got an upgrade. Now it’s like, shboom when I kick stuff. S’awesome. Now the next time we go up against those fuckers, I can get up close and personal.”
Nope, she wasn’t touching that one. “Do you actually know proper technique?” she asked instead.
The smile faded a little. “I’m hitting things with my foot. What technique?”
Definitely not even going to try with that one. “Never mind. Come on, Comet wants us all together.”
She snorted, floating down toward Stump. “Ooh, lemme guess, so we can talk even more about fuckin’ Wisp.” She didn’t set down, instead just following behind Stump, still suspended in the air.
“What’s your issue with her?” Stump asked. “Not a rhetorical question, I really wanna know. Why do you have so much of a problem with her?”
Fog harrumphed and folded her arms, staring at the walls as they passed by.
“Tash, come on. You know you’ve got no good reason to be acting like you are towards her.”
“Oh, I don’t? Some rich little white girl, comes strutting into my turf, trying to do my job and thinking she can do it better than me, and acting like she’s just oh so fuckin’ friendly and nice and FUCKIN’ REASONABLE!” She took a deep breath. “But no, I’m fuckin’ out of line. Of course. That makes sense!”
Stump blinked. “I don’t… I don’t think her race really has anything to do with it?”
“Oh, you don’t, do ya? Then I guess you’d better think harder, huh?” And with that, the glow on her boots increased, and she shot on ahead.
Stump stared after her until she disappeared from sight. “I should’ve gone into construction,” she grumbled to herself. “Agriculture. Whatever. But no, I had to have wanted to be a hero since I was a kid. And now not only do I have to deal with the nutjobs out there, I have to deal with the ones in here.”
She sighed. I guess that’s how it goes. You signed the contracts after all.
So suck it up, Sabah. You’ve got a job to do.
So suck it up, Sabah. You’ve got a job to do.
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