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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Machinations - 2. Arc 1, Chapter 2

By the time they got back, Iris, Hermes, and Grapple were waiting in the rec room, draped across the blue couches that lined the room. They all greeted Enmachina as soon as he got in the door. “Everyone, we have a newbie here,” he said. “Act as embarrassing as you can.” They laughed.

Introductions!” Grapple called. She had her hero top on, a sleeveless purple piece of armor with one of her labrys-shaped grappling hooks in white, but jeans underneath instead of black pants.

Right. Usual rules: hero names for others, only you give out your civvie name,” Enmachina said, more for Rainbright’s sake than theirs. He pulled off his helmet and shook out his hair. “Hi. I’m Nathan.” He held out his hand, which Rainbright shook. Maybe it was a little early, but he’d never liked deception, no matter how necessary it might be.

Nice to meet you, Nathan!” Grapple said.

You just volunteered for the next intro,” Nathan said. “Rainbright, this is Grapple. She’s got strength, invulnerability, and telekinesis. But only for ropes.”

Yep!” Grapple said, walking over and holding out a hand. “I’m a hugger. You a hugger?”

Um. Sure, I can have one.” Rainbright eyed Grapple’s muscular arms.

Great!” Grapple hugged Rainbright, lifting her off the ground. When Rainbright squeaked, Grapple instantly put her down. “Too much?”

A little,” Rainbright said, her face completely red.

Quit hogging her!” Hermes called. “It’s our turn.” He teleported right next to Rainbright, making her jump. “Hi!”

This is Hermes, resident teleporter.” His black winged helmet and purple boots were off, but his grey cloak and white armor were on and he still had his winged staff. “Iris?”

Iris waved from the other side of the room. She was still wearing her white, gray, and pink suit, and probably the armor underneath, but her helmet was off and she was wearing a domino mask instead.

All right, so Iris has superspeed. She can get over here when she wants.”

And they,” Grapple said. “Iris has she/they pronouns.”

Uh, okay,” Rainbright said. She looked a little overwhelmed.

And you’ve met Angelica. That leaves only Scope.” Nathan glanced over at where he’d seen Scope’s gradient-green scrubs. The costume was lying alone on the couch with his chest symbol, a black stethoscope in the shape of an infinity symbol, facing up. “Where’s the rest of him?”

Lying down,” Grapple said. “You should go check on him. We’ll take good care of the newbie. Recruit her into the basketball team.” She slung her arm around Rainbright’s shoulder.

I prefer soccer, actually,” Rainbright said. She was blushing again.

Iris’s eyes lit up and she zoomed over, the colored ribbons on her back leaving a rainbow blur behind her. “You play soccer?! Me too! What’s your favorite position?

Nathan took advantage of the distraction to rescue Scope’s uniform and sneak away to their room before Angelica could catch him. The lights were off, which was a bad sign. Without turning them on, he knocked on the bedroom door and then walked in. “Raph? Got your uniform.”

Thanks,” came Raph’s tired, muffled voice.

Nathan deposited it in the laundry basket and stripped his own armor off. “How did the fight go? Last I heard, the bad guy was cornered.”

Yeah,” Raph said. “Had some sort of force field. Hermes couldn’t get through. Grapple punched it until there was a hole for him and Iris and they took it down and took the villain in.” He yawned. “Too many injuries. Too many bodies to scan.”

With his suit finally off, Nathan sat down on the bed. “Need me to go away for the night?”

If you don’t mind,” Raph said. “Just need to be alone.”

One of these days, we need to get you one of those sensory deprivation tanks,” Nathan said. “Nothing but you, floating on salt water in darkness and silence.”

Sounds nice,” Raph said, burrowing further into the sheets. “You going to go see Eric?”

Yeah, if he’s available.” Nathan picked up his phone from the nightstand. It was dead, so he sent power into it, but didn’t turn it on. No sudden light when Raph was suffering from sensory-power overload.

Use protection,” Raph said.

Always do,” Nathan said. “Especially since Coral’s picked up a new partner. I’ll head out now. If Eric’s not available, I’ll be at Ma’s place. Call you in the morning. Love you.”

Love you,” Raph said, pulling his sheets up over his lips. Nathan gave him a kiss through the sheet and then went out into their living room to text.

Epic, are you available tonight? Raph needs a break. I’d love to see you. Nathan sent it. While he waited for the response, he put together a sandwich for Raph when he needed it. Two slices of bread, a leaf of lettuce, one slice of deli meat and one of muenster cheese, and then ketchup and mayo in between the meat and cheese so the bread didn’t get soggy. He set the sandwich on a plate and then put a bottle of soda and a bottle of water in the fridge. Since Eric hadn’t responded, he amused himself by folding the napkin into a heart.

His phone finally pinged. Oh, you finally got my name right. Nathan frowned and glanced back at the previous text. Yes, he had said Epic instead of Eric. He was more tired than he’d thought. That or his phone’s autocorrect just sucked. Yeah, Coral consents to being kicked out.

Be there soon, Nathan replied, setting the heart by the sandwich, and headed out the door.

***

Nathan finally reached Eric and Coral’s cozy little apartment. He paused outside the door to steel himself. Neither of them were in the superhero loop: to them, he was just Nathan, who did IT work for an IT company with nebulous products. Telling them the truth would mean outing everyone around him. Not telling them meant lying to them. Still, that was a lesser sin than possibly endangering Raph, his ma, and his coworkers and friends. Nathan took a deep breath, trying to become someone who was just like himself but with no secrets, and knocked on the door, preparing to enter into yet another lie.

A few moments later, Eric opened the door, grinning. “Hey,” he said, pulling Nathan into the apartment.

Hey.” Nathan kissed him and dropped his overnight bag. “Sorry I’m late. The boss demanded a report right as I left.”

Eric wrinkled his nose. “Seriously? When you’re off? Why don’t you tell her to…” He frowned. “I can’t think of a way to phrase it that wouldn’t get you fired.”

That’s part of why, yes.” Nathan said dryly. That and he knew full well that Angelica was under a lot of stress as it was, even if some of it was her own fault. If she decided to fire him, he would probably never work again, at least not as a hero. More importantly, if her bosses decided she needed to be fired for not reining in a rogue hero, the entire branch could be shut down or micromanaged. Given what was currently happening to Cogsham, those were probably the same thing. In any case, he’d accepted the chewing out and then told her how Rainbright had done, gave her some training recommendations, and then left as soon as possible. But he couldn’t tell Eric any of that. “Coral still here?” he asked, mostly to get off the subject.

Coral is,” Coral called from the bedroom, waving an arm out. There was a pink bracelet on her wrist. “I’ll be gone in a few minutes.” She sounded tired.

Come on,” Eric said, leading Nathan to the couch. “Had dinner yet?”

Nope,” Nathan said. “If you want to order something, I can pay.”

Nah, I got it. So, want to watch something or move straight into the bedroom afterwards?”

Eh,” Nathan said. “Kinda tired. Had a day.”

I’m in charge, then?” Eric asked. Nathan nodded. “Then relax.” Eric tugged Nathan’s arm and guided his head into his lap. Nathan closed his eyes. “I heard about this classic sci-fi movie the other day. I’m not sure whether it sounds good or bad enough that it’s good. Guess we’ll find out. So for dinner…”

I could do Chinese,” Nathan said.

Sure, but what’s for dinner?” Eric asked.

You know what I meant.” Nathan tried to glare up at Eric, but his neck didn’t twist that far and he had to put it back down. “Usual order.”

Right. Want anything for tomorrow, Coral?”

Nah,” she said. Or rather, they said. When Coral came into view, the pink bracelet had been replaced with a yellow one. “It just doesn’t taste the same after a microwave.”

Again?” Eric asked.

Yeah. Again.” Coral looked extremely annoyed and pale as a snowman.

What happened?” Nathan asked.

I’ve switched three times today. I even hit masculine for a few hours, and that’s fun when you’re on your period.” They shook their head. Nathan could have done without that detail. “Oh, and I got called in to work in the middle of the night because someone decided not to show up. And The Sergeant was in charge.”

That’s awful.” Nathan hesitated. “You know, you don’t have to leave. You could stay.”

Coral raised an eyebrow. “Does that mean I can watch?”

Um. No.”

Not much of a choice, then.” They wrapped their hair up into a bun that was ambiguously man. “Apartment this small, either I’m in the room or I’m listening to you two, and that’s a very frustrating thing, so no. I’ll be fine with Addy.”

Well, we don’t have to have sex,” Nathan said. Eric made a disappointed noise.

Coral looked between the two of them. “Like that’s happening. See you tomorrow.” They gave Eric a quick kiss before heading to the door. “Ta ta!”

Bye,” Eric said, and Nathan waved. Once the door closed, Eric picked up his phone. “And it is officially the Magic Time, so time to order.” He dialed. “Hey, Crystal. Your granddad there? Yeah, making an order. Thanks.” A longer pause. “Wái. Géi hóu. Néih jeui gáhn dím a?”

Nathan tuned out the rest of the conversation. Aside from the fact that he didn’t understand Cantonese, Eric tended to talk to Mr. Wong for a while; they were friendly and Eric’s mom played xiangqi with him. He closed his eyes. Eric loosened Nathan’s ponytail and gently stroked his hair along his scalp. Nathan could feel stress flowing out of his body. It went on for quite a while, and yet the stress kept going. He had a lot of it.

Eventually, Eric finished the conversation with a “Jóu táu,” and set down the phone. “All right, food’s here in half an hour. Let’s get that movie started.”

The movie was not good. It was bad and it was amazing, but not good. The food arrived, so Eric paused it and spent a few minutes chatting with the delivery guy, who was also one of Mr. Wong’s descendants. Nathan stared at the paused screen, which was a scene of two people, one stuck in mid-yell with bulging eyes and open mouth. He imagined the man stuck yelling like that all the time: during dinner, in the bath, while gardening…

He was snickering by the time Eric finished. “What is it?” He asked, setting the bags down on the coffee table.

Nathan waved at the screen. “Just that.”

Eric glanced at it. “You sure you’re awake?”

Eating will wake me up.”

Eric looked skeptical, but dug through the bags instead of saying anything. “Ooh, looks like we got some sweet pastries.”

Well, yeah, if you ordered them,” Nathan said.

I didn’t, though. I never told you this?” Eric sat down, handing over a pair of cartons. “If I order close to the end of the day and chat with him during the order, sometimes he’ll toss in some stuff that didn’t sell and won’t keep ‘til tomorrow. I don’t ask him to, he just does it.”

Sounds like a good deal,” Nathan said. “You spend time with a lonely old man, and you get benefits for it.” He frowned. “That sounded weird out loud. Did that sound weird to you?”

Eric raised his eyebrows and reached into the bag. “Sounds like you’re saying that I’m...” He pulled out a wonton. “A little wanton.”

Nathan snorted in laughter. “That’s not funny. That’s a terrible pun. That’s not…” He dissolved into giggles.

Well, I had to. It was the perfect setup. Here.” He handed over the wonton. “It’s cream cheese, no pork or seafood.”

Thanks,” Nathan said, accepting it. “You ordered this for yourself, though, didn’t you? Why didn’t you get pork?”

Eric shrugged. “Why would I want to defile you with my pork breath? There are so many better ways to do that.” He waggled his eyebrows.

You don’t have to. I mean, I appreciate it, though.”

It’s fine. I like the cream cheese, anyway. Very American, but tasty.”

Nathan eyed Eric’s stir fry. “So nothing you bought contains pork or seafood?”

Nope.”

Ha!” Nathan picked up his chopsticks and stabbed them into Eric’s stir fry, grabbing the first thing he could. “Ha-- Oh.” It was a carrot, which he hated. He dropped it back into the carton.

Serves you right,” Eric said. “Now eat.”

Yes sir,” Nathan said, dipping a water chestnut into his rice carton as Eric unpaused the movie.

The movie finally ended, with the heroes cooling the alien planet down so much that it somehow made it explode, and sailed off into the sun. Except the final shot showed that the alien itself was hidden in their dirty laundry, or possibly it was a whole new alien that spawned there. The movie hadn’t explained enough for Nathan to be sure it wasn’t spontaneous generation.

That was so bad,” Nathan said.

I loved it,” Eric said, scooting closer on the couch and pressing a kiss to Nathan’s cheek. “Still feel awake enough?”

Yeah. Just… mentally tired.” As much as he liked his job, it was ridiculously stressful even before regular-life stuff came in. “I want to not think for a while.”

I can do that,” Eric said, cupping his cheek and going in for a kiss on the lips. Then he stood up, hand moving down to Nathan’s jaw. “Clean up dinner. Anything with food goes in the fridge, otherwise trash. Then go to the bedroom and get yourself ready. I’ll be in the shower and I expect everything will be done by the time I’m out. Understood?”

Yes sir,” Nathan said, pressing a kiss to Eric’s wrist. Once Eric left, he began gathering up the discarded cartons.

It really was a shame that Raph wasn’t into this sort of thing. As much as he loved Raph, their relationship wasn’t a perfect fit. But then, Raph also needed regular time away from a partner and didn’t mind being in a poly relationship. It worked out differently from a so-called normal relationship, but it worked. And he loved Eric, too, though in a different way from Raph. Raph was home, the steady, stable place he wanted to be every day; Eric was camping, naked in the forest surrounded by bears. Exciting, but not something he wanted all the time. Besides, he didn’t think Coral would be happy if Nathan was around all the time instead of once or twice a week.

Come to think of it, their next relationship summit was coming up soon. All four of them would get together and discuss the state of the relationship, make sure everyone was happy, and then go off and do something together. Last time, it had been a baking competition – that was Raph’s idea. Next was Coral’s turn. He really hoped they didn’t suggest laser tag again. That was a little too close to work-related stuff to be comfortable.

Other than the possibility of getting shot with lasers, the summits were great. All of them hung out, there were fun activities, and he knew for sure that Coral and Raph were still onboard with this. That last was the most important part. Even after a couple years, he still worried that Raph would wake up one day and say that he really wasn’t okay with it.

He’d put the food away, so he headed to the bedroom, loosening his clothes along the way. Worrying about the future was the exact opposite of what he wanted. What he had now was satisfying and exciting. Why not enjoy it?

***

Nathan woke up, hair tickling his chin. Definitely in bed with Eric; Raph’s hair was shaved so short that he’d be feeling Raph’s scalp. He peeked an eye open. Eric’s eyes were closed. Probably asleep, which was a little bit of a problem, since he was draped across Nathan’s right side.

He reached for his phone, which he’d left on the nightstand, and immediately sent power into it. There was no charger there for it, but Eric never questioned how it stayed charged all night, which he was thankful for. He started a text to Raph – I’m awake. You? – before checking his other messages. Ma wanted him to stop by as soon as he could. There was some activity in the Corps chat, which he skimmed, but none of it was directed at him.

The display lit up with Raph’s name and began to jingle. Nathan quickly hit the button to pick up the call. He glanced down, but Eric still seemed to be asleep. “Hey,” he said softly.

Hey. I got the sandwich. I loved the napkin, too. Thanks.He still sounded tired.

Great. Feeling better?”

Yeah. You can come back if you want.

Can you get your phone outta my hair?” Eric grumbled.

Oh, sorry.” Nathan adjusted it upwards, but there wasn’t much room.

Is that Eric? Tell him hi.”

Raph says hi,” Nathan said, trying to wiggle out from under Eric.

Eric lifted his head up. “Hi, Raph,” he said into the phone. “Seriously, can’t you put that thing on the other side?”

Sure, if I want my pacemaker to blow up,” Nathan said. He finally got out from under Eric and sat up on the edge of the bed. “Sorry about that.” He took a moment to figure out his lie. It was getting disturbingly easy to do. He hated it. “Ma wanted to show me a new project, so I was thinking of swinging by her place to see it.” He ran his fingers through his hair, but hit a tangle on the way down. “Few hours, maybe, until I get back.”

Around lunchtime?”

Yeah, that sounds likely.”

All right. See you then. Love you.”

Love you, too. Bye.” Nathan hung up and ran his fingers through his hair again. Where had he put his overnight bag? Oh, right, by the door.

I am so glad I don’t have long hair,” Eric said, curling back up under the covers. “It looks awesome but it also looks like a pain to manage.”

Nathan smiled. “Your hair would be. It’s straight. For me, it’s actually easier this way. Without the extra gravity, it’d just poof up.” Sure, his hair was still curly, but it actually went down instead of out. Sure, he still had hair caught in his helmet all the time, but it was individual hairs instead of whole chunks. “Anyway, I should get going.”

All right,” Eric said, hauling himself up and giving Nathan a kiss. “Love you.”

Love you too,” Nathan said.

***

Nathan knocked on Ma’s front door. A few moments later, the door buzzed and clicked. He let himself in. “How are you, Ma?”

Nate!” Ma wheeled herself over and reached up to bump cheeks with him. He obligingly bent over. “Mwah.” She settled back in. “I’ve been fine. Everything is good. Especially if you come to dinner Saturday night.”

Smooth,” Nathan said. “Sure. I don’t have any other plans. Unless, of course, some supervillain decides to show up.” He shook his head. “That’s supervillains for you. No respect for the day of rest.”

Or laws in general,” Ma said. “So, I made us breakfast. Hungry?”

They ate breakfast and then Ma took him to her workshop. “So, what’s the big surprise?” Nathan asked, following her in.

I’ve been adapting a piece of gear from my original suit,” Ma said. “Very simple, but very useful against supervillains.” She held up a pronged… thing. It looked a little like an electric razor, but if it was meant for stabbing. Whatever it was, it could slot into his suit’s arm, since the arm had a revolving set of components. He normally kept the pulse gun active, since it was most useful.

What is it?”

It’s my old taser. I modified it so the electricity’s shielded from your hand. That and it can be activated with your power.”

This sounds a bit dangerous,” Nathan said, eyeing it.

No more so than the rest of your suit,” Ma said. “There aren’t any live wires by your hand, and you don’t get electrocuted by activating anything else. The electricity at the zapping end should be dealt with by your suit’s Faraday cage.”

If you say so,” Nathan said. “I’m still testing this out at the doctor’s.”

Perfectly reasonable,” Ma said. “Now, the other thing I wanted to show you…” She went to the other side of the room, where she pulled a sheet off of a humanoid figure. “Here we have the next generation of suits!”

Nathan looked it up and down. It was less bulky than his current suit: other than a more masculine cut, it looked more like Ma’s version of the suit, but in his teal and blue colors rather than her red-pink and orange. They also had his green carnation on the helmet and chest rather than her stylized violet. “So you cut down on the shielding?”

A tiny bit, yes. The biggest difference is the streamlined flight pack and inertial dampeners.” Ma wheeled closer. “I was also able to add a couple more slots to the gun arm. Most importantly, though…” She picked up a nearby remote and hit the power button. The suit straightened up and took a few steps forward. “I made two. You can use one as a decoy, or make it come to you if you’re caught without it.”

How’s it supposed to fly, though?” Nathan asked. “I mean, the flight pack only works if I power it. Without that, it’s just as grounded as you were.”

You’re right. It can’t fly. But villains won’t know that. More importantly, if you ever need to appear somewhere as Nathan at the same time as Enmachina, you have an alibi.”

And who’s gonna control it if I’m in civvies?” Nathan asked.

Well…” Ma wheeled over to a computer. She pressed a button on the keyboard and the suit took another step forward. “I do have experience controlling a similar suit.”

Is this just an excuse to get back out into the field without actually going outside?” Or having working legs, he thought but did not add.

Ma shrunk down into her chair. “Maybe.”

Well, it wasn’t like it would put her in any danger. And if she was this adamant, could he really stop her? That would just upset her, and without her, he couldn’t get new suit upgrades. “You know, I think that’s a great idea. I take it you have a way to keep anyone from tracking the signal here?”

She brightened up. “Yep. Basically, onion routing. Well, technically it’s garlic routing, but the same principle. Anyone looking for me would have to be able to analyze hundreds of connections simultaneously to find me. Assuming they can get past some of the more interesting codes I’ve set up in a few of the dead ends.”

Then it sounds like a good plan. When will it be ready?”

A month or so. I’m still dealing with some issues that need a wearer to resolve. We can get the taser installed immediately, though.”

What’s the name of this series?” Nathan asked. She liked naming her creations.

The Golem Series.” Ma looked very proud of herself for that.

Maybe a little obvious, don’t you think?”

Ma shrugged. “First, who’s gonna know the name? Nobody, unless you tell them. Second, it’s been thoroughly absorbed into gentile culture, so even if they do know the name, they won’t figure out it’s specifically a Jewish thing. And third…” She frowned. “I don’t really have a third, but I do like the Rule of Three.”

As long as you don’t cover it with the Shield of David, I guess.” He toyed with his own necklace, which had the same star on it, right next to the medical ID for his pacemaker. The pacemaker info was also etched into the suit, though, directly over his heart.

Right. Now, let’s get your arm loaded.”

In the end, he left Ma’s house with the spare arm, taser included, carried in a gym bag. The suit was modular, so he could just replace the existing arm with the spare, and then that would become the new spare. It was a pretty elegant system.

He made it to the Corps HQ and headed straight for the staff area, waiting forever for the gate to open, and parked underground. There wasn’t an extra car down there; he would have thought Rainbright would bring her own. Though maybe she wasn’t cleared to park down here yet.

Finally, he made it back to his own quarters. As soon as the door opened, he caught a delicious smell, like baked bread. And cheese. And sauce and toppings.

I’m back,” Nathan called.

Raph poked his head around the corner. “Just in time!” he said, coming in for a kiss. “I tried frying the mushrooms this time. Really hope they didn’t dry up.”

I bet it’ll be delicious,” Nathan said, snuggling closer to Raph.

Yeah, but the timer’s about to go off…” The timer went off. “Time.” Raph extricated himself and hurried off to the kitchen.

I got it,” Nathan said. “I’ll serve.” He smiled as he cut the pizza. Back home, finally.

Copyright © 2021 Flamboyant Chatoyant; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for reading!

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Awesome chapter. We get to learn alot more about are superheroes, what makes them tick and some of there relationships. Looking forward to reading more.

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