Machinations - 7. Arc 1, Chapter 7
Nathan clicked and unclicked his pen against the table. The rest of the team was off doing various PR activities: Scope was off at a medical conference as a civilian; Grapple was doing some sort of publicity stunt, a weightlifting competition for super strength; Rainbright and the twins, Iris and Hermes, were at the local schools. That just left him and Angelica, as usual, and Angelica was doing paperwork.
Technically, he wasn’t supposed to be back on duty yet. The rules stated that after any major encounter with a villain, he had to be taken off duty for a month. Being knocked unconscious, kidnapped, and then having his face seen by a different villain counted as a major encounter. Honestly, though, he was grateful for the time off. He felt weaker than he had before the whole incident. The Corps therapist suggested that he could feel that way because he hadn’t saved himself. Telling himself that didn’t help, though, so he was working out and practicing with his suit. Either way, it couldn’t hurt. With a team as small as theirs in a city as large as the Cove, they really couldn’t afford to have one member out of commission for too long. So he was currently serving as backup in case of a major emergency. What counted as a major emergency was up for debate, but generally if someone was in danger, it was acceptable to save them.
Angelica walked into the rec room, shuffling some paperwork. Nathan lifted his head off his arms. “Hey, Angie,” Nathan said. “Isn’t it ironic that the safety guidelines won’t let me do any of the safe activities but will let me handle life-threatening emergencies?”
“I’m not sure I would call it safe, handling schoolkids,” Angelica said dryly, walking over to his table. “Seems like every time we do, a robot attacks.”
“Still better than this,” Nathan said.
“Bored?” she asked, putting the papers into one stack and tapping them on the table to straighten them.
“Yeah. Guess that’s a good thing, though.” He put his head back down and clicked the pen.
“Well, you could help me with paperwork,” Angelica said, putting a form down in front of him and heading off to the minifridge.
“Hmm.” He picked it up. It was the mission report from just before his capture, with the Alter Ego shifter. He read through it and nodded. “Looks right. Sign and initial?”
“As always.” Angelica came back, sipping from a soda.
Nathan signed and handed it back. “Glad I can do something right.” That came out more bitter than he’d expected.
Angelica paused, her hand hovering over the stack. “You certainly handled this case well,” she said, holding up the mission report. “Calming her down, making sure there were no casualties.”
“And then immediately afterwards, I got captured and had that livestreamed, and then I had to get rescued by a couple of supervillains!” Nathan sat back in his chair. “I’m an awful hero.”
“No, you’re not,” Angelica said, putting the paper back in the stack. “People love you.”
“Yeah, because of my cool suit. Which my mother made.”
“Your cool suit which can fly. And your mother couldn’t make hers fly, could she? Not without carrying a reactor too big to lift off the ground. You make it cool.”
“Because I was born with a power that’s otherwise useless! Like, what would I do if I didn’t have a superhero mom to do half my work for me?”
Angelica shrugged. “Singlehandedly solve the rocket problem for NASA?”
Nathan shook his head. “They said it wasn’t feasible. Aside from the fact that I can’t be an astronaut because my heart might explode on liftoff, designing rockets around my power would be incredibly costly for them if I can’t be there. Which I assume means the heart-exploding problem. So they’re going to stick with being flung into space by Flying Bricks.”
“Ah,” Angelica said. “Still, you could serve as an emergency battery for anyone or anything. Power plants. Hospitals. Labs. For that matter, if you did quit, we could hire you to do just that.”
“What, sit around all day in case of a power failure?”
“We know you can do that,” Angelica said, smiling. “Honestly, you have more options than I do. As helpful as it’s been for other things, my power isn’t exactly useful in a fight. If I quit, well, what else can I do with it?”
Nathan shrugged. “Become a mascot?”
“Ah, yes.” Angelica drained her soda and then concentrated. Her head grew and distorted, purple fur sprouting from her face. Within moments, she was the very picture of the high school mascot, Purple Panther, if that picture was made with distorted CGI. Her jaw stretched too wide and her eyes were too large to exist. His instincts screamed that there was a large predator in front of him and his brain screamed that what he was seeing was wrong.
“Nope!” Nathan scooted his chair back until he couldn’t reach the table with his fingertips.
Angelica reverted her head back to its normal shape. “You see?”
“Wait, you’ve done that before?” Nathan asked.
“Yes. I was experimenting.” Angelica got up and headed for the minifridge again.
Nathan eyed her as he scooted back to the table. First, she deliberately sprouted wings even though they really didn’t help her fight crime, and then she tried out animal heads? Maybe Hermes was right about her being a furry. “There are also things you could do that don’t involve your power, too.”
“True. But how many of those would let me walk around with wings?” Angelica asked, heading back with a fresh soda. Definitely a furry. “I’m too accustomed to them to stop at this point. You, on the other hand, could easily go incognito.”
“Yes, with a massive hole in my resume,” Nathan said.
“You know perfectly well we help with that,” Angelica said. “Or you could train for a new job in the Corps. We need all sorts of jobs. Bureaucrats, lawyers, chefs, and so on. You could be pretty much anything and we’d have room for you. Honestly, it’s a miracle we still function. Or you could retire. It’s a little early, but you’re not invulnerable and you have enough time under your belt for a good package. You could easily live off of that, if you’re careful enough.”
Nathan thought about it, then shook his head. “No. I want to be a hero.”
Angelica interlaced her fingers and rested her head on them. “Why? What made you decide to become one in the first place?”
“Because of The End.”
He’d been in middle school then. It had been a day like any other, until the school’s fire alarm had gone off. They hadn’t been warned of a fire drill – they hadn’t had super evacuation drills in those days, not before The End – but lined up outside as if it was one. From there, only 60 miles away, they could see flashes in the sky and hear a faint drone. All the buses had been parked there and they were told to get in, directed by one of the non-powered heroes. They’d gone to the shore, been ushered onto a huge cruise ship with anyone else who could get there in time, and sailed away, a new cruise ship pulling into the bay. Only then did they find out what was going on.
“I saw the destruction.”
An entire city had died in minutes. The property was still fine, aside from some car crashes and building fires, but somehow that made it worse. A perfect picture of everyday life in Blake’s Barrow, as portrayed by corpses. Bleak Barrow, they called it later. That was all they got from the cameras that were still running. Reporters hadn’t been able to get close enough to see more than faint specks in the sky. Some tried. After the first time, the teachers flipped to another channel whenever someone tried. And that was what happened before Endling started working. Then they got the news that Endringer and Endling were headed toward Candlelight Cove.
“And I saw them fighting it.”
Wave after wave of heroes – and even some villains – had flung themselves at the duo over the bodies of their comrades. The invincible ones lasted longer. Sometimes, the long-distance powers nearly hurt the duo. It wasn’t until Nightingale showed up that the tide turned. He still recalled the fear for her safety, and then the cheer when they realized that not only was someone winning, but it was one of their heroes.
“Afterwards… there was no more normal.”
As soon as the ship made it back to shore the next day, he’d been pulled aside and whisked away to a hospital. Lili had taken him aside and explained carefully that his Ma had gotten hurt while helping people evacuate from the city, that she wouldn’t be able to walk again, and that some of her other friends had died. He’d known and hadn’t known, both at the same time, what really happened. After all, plenty of other heroes survived, some also paralyzed, and he’d had his suspicions about what her job really was. He’d just realized that he had powers himself, and who could get that bruised from being a landscaper?
“I saw what happened without heroes.”
Crime had skyrocketed. Maybe it was because there weren’t enough heroes left to cover the city. Only a handful of Cove Corps members had survived, and even then Enmachina was forced to retire. Then again, maybe some people just didn’t feel it was worth it to hold back when any day, someone could show up and destroy them. If you could be slaughtered whether you were a king or a peasant, why not live like kings? Either way, he’d sat in the rehab center with Ma as she watched TV, doing his homework to the sound of robberies, arsons, murders.
“And… I saw what happened when ordinary people stepped up.”
His rabbi and rebbetzin had showed up the day after Nathan went to the hospital. They’d promised her that they would rally the synagogue and do what they could for her. By the time Ma made it home, her house had been modified: ramps up to the porch, stairlifts to the second floor and the basement, rails by the bed and in the shower. The home was clean, the garden was pristine, the freezer and pantry were stocked, and the cats were fed. She’d cried and promised to pay back the people who helped her, but everyone shook their heads. They were only paying it forward from the money she’d given them, the meals she’d cooked, the plants and pets she’d watered. If she wanted to do something about it, then she’d just have to pay it forward too. After all, when she’d helped them, that was what she told them to do.
He did suspect that his rebbetzin had gone directly to the Corps for some of the money, though. Stairlifts alone cost thousands of dollars and the synagogue couldn’t casually afford to spend that much money. She was clever enough to figure out who Ma was and motherly enough to guilt a bureaucracy into actually getting things done.
“So, when I figured out that my ma had been a superhero, I told her that I wanted to become one myself. My power wasn’t good for fighting, but I wanted to help people the way she’d helped them. The way she’d been helped. And she made her own suit. Not only could she keep me safe out there, but I could take on her old persona. Keep her legacy going.” Nathan smiled. “And then I turned out to suck at it.”
Angelica reached out and squeezed Nathan’s shoulder. “You don’t,” she said quietly. “You are the most dedicated hero on the team. You do everything you can. Sometimes, there are things you can’t do, yes, but you do anything you can. Over the past few years, you’ve arrested dozens of villains, helped nine people with powers out of control, and saved countless civilians. I haven’t even done that.”
“Well, yeah, but you’re doing other stuff. I’m not.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Angelica said, smiling. “I need to get you to do my paperwork.”
“Ugh,” Nathan said.
“Or maybe you need to pick up a hobby.” Angelica tapped the side of her soda can.
“I already have a hobby. I just can’t birdwatch from in here.”
“Then find another one that you can do in here. Have you considered knitting or crochet?”
“If I get any more gay, I’ll transform into a living rainbow.”
“Well, then,” Angelica said, spreading her hands. “That solves the problem, doesn’t it?”
Nathan smiled despite himself. “I’ll look into it.” He looked down at his pen. “I just hate not doing anything. I feel so useless and guilty, being able to do something and not doing it.”
“Chronic Hero Syndrome,” Angelica said. “I mean, it beats not caring at all about people. Look at Golden Star.” She grimaced. “Highly powerful, only cares about publicity. I swear, if I were his captain, I’d ship him off to Brokenpoint.”
“I’m not sure whether I’d feel more sorry for him or for the Brokenpoint Corps.” Nathan considered it. “Probably him. That crowd would just throw him into a rift and be done with him.”
“Probably,” Angelica said, slowly spinning her soda can between her hands. “In any case, have you brought this up in therapy?”
Nathan nodded. “We’ve been talking it out. There are… some things that help, but they’re not exactly things I can be doing while I’m supposed to be working.”
Angelica raised an eyebrow and picked up her soda can. After she took a sip, or tried to, she glared at it and got up to get another. “Find something you can do, then,” she said over her shoulder. “After all, if the problem is that you feel like you’re doing nothing when you should be doing something, then do something. That’s an order as your team captain, if it makes you feel better.”
“It does, a bit.” He had been thinking about picking up music. Maybe the flute. That was one of the more portable instruments, wasn’t it? And it sounded nice.
The fridge opened, even though Angelica was there. Nathan’s head whipped around to look. Hermes was there, plucking a soda out. “Hi,” he said, and then teleported over to the pantry. Once he got a few snack bars out, he teleported to their table. “Been slow today?”
“Yep,” Nathan said. “How were the kids?”
Hermes ducked his head. “Ask Rainbright,” he said.
Iris and Rainbright walked in, Iris patting Rainbright’s shoulder. Rainbright, on the other hand, had pieces of chalk and paper, and a dash of paint in her hair. “They’ll warm up to you,” Iris said.
“I hate kids,” Rainbright snarled.
Just this morning, she’d been bright and excited to go talk to kids. She’d even been given the elementary kids. “What happened?” Nathan asked. “Robot attack?”
“No!” Rainbright collapsed into a chair. “They hated me,” she wailed. “As soon as I got there, they asked me if I was the one who kept trying to capture Echo and I tried to tell the kids that Echo is a supervillain and deserves to be in prison, but then they threw things at me!” Her shoulders slumped. “A kindergartener kicked me in the shin. It hurt my soul.”
Nathan patted her on the shoulder. “Welcome to being Echo’s nemesis.”
“But people like you!”
Nathan shrugged. “I don’t tell kids that their idol should be arrested?”
“And,” Angelica broke in, “attempting to arrest Echo right after they rescued a teammate breaks the truce rules. They try to help us in an emergency, we don’t arrest them for the duration of the emergency. I told you that, so I know you know that.”
“But they kidnapped Scope!”
“And by the time you chased them, Scope had already told us where he was and had called in an ambulance for his dying boyfriend,” Hermes said. “Who Echo saved. Twice, really, since they brought him a medic. Sure, we really need to arrest them, but that’s just not the right time.”
Rainbright sighed. “So, what should I do? How do I make them like me?”
Angelica shook her head. “Don’t lecture kids and don’t break any more rules. Don’t bring up Echo and don’t respond to questions about them. By the time you make an arrest, they’ll love you again. Also, I told you to add shinguards to your costume.”
“You can borrow mine,” Iris said.
“Or you can make a catchphrase and let Echo ruin it,” Nathan said. “As long as you don’t care about it at all. Instant popularity.”
Rainbright looked at him as if she’d never seen him before. “Cogs of Justice was you?”
Nathan sighed. “Yes.”
“Wow.” She stared at him. “So all I need to do is make a really silly catchphrase?”
“And don’t break any rules, discuss Echo, or lecture kids,” Angelica broke in.
“Right, and that,” Rainbright said offhandedly. “What about something rainbow? I’m very rainbow. I can do rainbow things.”
Iris immediately glared at Hermes, who held up his hands in defeat and drained his soda. He teleported to the fridge to grab another soda and back to the table.
“Don’t wear yourself out,” Angelica said.
“With my binder, not teleporting wears me out faster,” Hermes said.
“Well, take that thing off, then,” Nathan said.
“Sure, if I want to hate myself.” Fair enough, then. “When can I get my top done?”
“Just a couple more weeks,” Angelica said, patting his hand.
“Can we just get a power swap for three minutes so I can fix everything without surgery?”
“If that was reliable, then sure.” She smiled. “That’s something I could do if I leave the Corps. Find a power swapper and sell my power to rich people for painless plastic surgery. And, of course, give people free swaps if they really need it.”
“What would you do with your powers if you left the Corps?” Nathan asked Hermes.
“Pizza delivery,” Hermes said with no hesitation.
“Really?” Angelica asked.
“Yeah. I like pizza and working there gives me free pizza. I wouldn’t even need a car. Just teleport across the city and I’m instantly there. I’d get all the Employee of the Year awards.”
“I don’t think you get free pizza,” Angelica said. “Just a discount on what you buy.”
“What’s the point of working there, then?” Hermes asked. “It’s not like they pay you a living wage or anything.”
Before either of them could respond, Nathan’s phone rang. It was Eric. He stepped into the hall and accepted the call. “Hey,” he said. “How’s Spain?”
“Fun, but a little tiring.” It was so nice to hear Eric’s voice. He hadn’t realized how much he would miss Eric. Maybe that was just because Raph was gone, too. “You busy?”
“Nope,” he said, leaning against the wall. “Still sidelined. Medical stuff.”
“How about a video chat?”
Nathan glanced back toward the rec room. The others were chatting without him. “I think I can do that. Let me just get to my room. I’ll call you back when I get there.”
“All right, then,” Eric said. The phone beeped.
Nathan hurried off. Eric was under the impression that Nathan worked at home, so he did have to hurry back to his room. Once he got settled onto his bed, he grabbed his tablet and called back. “Hey again,” he said. “I’m in my room.”
“I can see that,” Eric said. He appeared to be lying on a hotel bedroom. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually been to your place. I’ve been to your mom’s place, but not yours. I’m beginning to think you secretly have a husband.” Eric grinned.
“Oh. Well, that’s one of the rules of the place,” Nathan said, shrugging. “I’m not allowed to have guests over. It’s in the lease.”
“Pretty weird,” Eric said. “Maybe you should get a new place.”
“Maybe. The company pays for this one, though, so…” Nathan shrugged again. “Honestly, it’s probably better to use your place. Won’t have to sneak around people who wonder why I’m inviting another cute guy over while I have a boyfriend.”
“True. My neighbors don’t care about anything,” Eric said, stretching out on the bed. “Though I do feel a bit bad, kicking Coral out.”
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “Is Coral there?”
“Nope. Went out to explore a few things I wasn’t interested in with a group. We’re texting, but I’m alone right now. Oh, hang on, I should probably check in now. Gimme a sec.” He picked up his phone, tapped out a message, and then set it down. “While I’m waiting, how about I show you the view?” He stood up, carrying the tablet with him, and then flipped the view out the window.
Nathan leaned in to look. The sun was setting, which was slightly jarring considering it was mid-afternoon where he was. Directly below the window, there was a park. He could just make out a fountain between the trees. Beyond that, the buildings were white with orange-brown rounded roof tiles. It wasn’t at all like the Cove’s buildings, which were either gray or painted in very bright colors. “Very nice,” he said. “Seen any of the major sights yet?”
“Yep. Went to the Queen Sofia Museum just yesterday. Did you know that the guy who made the polio vaccine was the stepfather of some of Picasso’s kids?”
“Um, no, I didn’t know that. Wait, when did Picasso live?”
“Died in the 70s.”
“Whoa.” Nathan had to take a moment to reorient his worldview. “I thought he was ancient.”
“Nope. Pretty modern. Also saw some of Dalí’s work.”
“Was the melted clocks painting there?”
“No, that’s in New York.”
“What about the starry night one? That’s Dalí, right?”
“That’s van Gogh, and that’s also in New York.”
Nathan reached deep into his brain for artwork. “...The Scream?”
Eric gave him a baffled look. “Are you sure you’re gay?”
“Well, I’m not the fine arts kinda gay. I’m the disaster gay.”
“Can’t really argue with that,” Eric said. “Though we could still check to see if you’re gay. You know, just to be absolutely sure.”
“Oh yeah?” Nathan said. “How do you plan to do that?”
“Well…” Eric slowly unbuttoned his shirt, one at a time, grinning widely. Every button popped revealed just a little more dark hair. Before he reached the bottom, though, the alarm went off. Nathan practically jumped off the bed. “What’s that?” Eric asked.
“Fire alarm. Gotta go. Call you later.” He stabbed the End Call button until Eric disappeared and rushed to the ready room, not bothering to put on his armor.
Angelica and Hermes were looking at the map of the city, especially closely in Hermes’s case. Iris and Rainbright were standing in the corner. “Oh, good,” Angelica said. “Echo and Couronne are currently robbing a bank.”
Seriously? They barely got any money from it. Sure, the bank used to keep a lot of money on hand, but that had stopped after the first few attacks. Now it was reporting less than a few hundred lost every time. “Usual target?” Nathan asked.
“Usual target. Hermes will teleport the team there. Since there’s three on the team, we need coordination. You and I will run mission control.”
“Sounds… wait, what?”
Angelica handed her headset over to Nathan. He immediately almost dropped it. “You three ready to go?” she asked Hermes, Iris, and Rainbright.
“Ready,” Iris said. The other two nodded.
“Then head out. And put on the headset,” she added to Nathan.
Nathan put it on, almost dropping it again, as Hermes put one arm each around Iris and Rainbright. Once Nathan got it on correctly, he gave them a thumbs up and Hermes teleported. The headset’s background noise cut out and then crackled and reappeared. Angelica hit a button on the ready room’s remote and three camera feeds appeared.
“We’re here,” Hermes said over the comm.
“I can see that,” Nathan said. “Um. Can you see what’s going on inside?” He glanced at Angelica, who gave him a smile and a nod.
“No. One sec.” Hermes’s feed cut out, and then showed the inside of the bank. Neither villain was in view. Hermes turned around, only for the video to show nothing but flames. There was a yelp and then the feed cut out again. When it reappeared, it was outside. “Couronne confirmed.”
“All right. Iris, Rainbright, go in and confront them. Rainbright, I want you to try and trap Echo. Iris, go after Couronne. Hermes, get the civilians out of the bank. Understood?”
All three affirmed. Before they could go in, though, the bank doors flew open and Echo and Couronne flew out and into the sky, Echo clutching a bag.
“Change of plans,” Nathan said. “Hermes, try to get the money back. Rainbright, focus on Echo. Iris--”
Echo and Couronne split up, Couronne flying low to the ground.
“Iris, go after Couronne. Rainbright, Echo should be vulnerable now.”
“Got it,” Rainbright said.
Hermes’s feed cut out and then came back in, showing Echo beneath him. He fell onto them, grabbing the bag. Nathan heard a thump over the comm, and then Hermes was falling away from Echo. The feed cut out and then back in, safely on the ground.
Iris was still chasing after Couronne, from what he could tell. Her speed made the feed go fuzzy. Still, it seemed like she was catching up.
Rainbright caught up to Echo, after they were slowed down by Hermes, and got in range. She formed a red barrier in front of them, expanding it into a bubble when Echo smacked into it.
“Great job, Rainbright,” Nathan said. “Iris, still got eyes on Couronne?”
“Yeah,” came Iris’s voice, distorted.
“Great, then-- What?”
Rainbright’s feed was covered up by flames and he heard her scream and cover herself up with an orange barrier. Once the flames died away, he saw that Echo was now out of the bubble, flying alongside Couronne. At the same time, he saw Couronne on Iris’s feed, flying close to the ground through the streets.
There couldn’t be two Couronnes. One had to be fake. “Iris, stop! You’re chasing a decoy! Get back to the others!”
Iris slowed down. Her feed was clear again. “What? Since when do they have decoys?”
“Since now, I guess. The others are at Third and Forest.”
“Got it,” she said, and the camera blurred again.
Nathan flicked off the microphone. “Can we get a bodycam for Iris that doesn’t do that?”
Angelica shook her head. “Not with normal science. I’ve already asked. Here.” She handed over a bottle of ibuprofen.
“Thanks.” Nathan took two and then focused on Rainbright and Hermes. While Rainbright was fighting Echo, Hermes had teleported up to a nearby roof to keep an eye on things. Couronne had disappeared from Echo’s side. “Hermes, what happened to Couronne?”
“Dunno. Couldn’t see them after I teleported.”
“Mildly concerning. Let me know if you--”
Couronne flew up from underneath the roof. Hermes yelped and fell off, the feed cutting out mid-fall. Nathan sighed. Even though he knew Hermes was teleporting, it still made him anxious. He glanced over at Iris, who was still a long distance away according to the tracker, and Rainbright, who had another Couronne rush at her. When Hermes reappeared, there were five Couronnes and one Echo in the sky.
“All right, we need a way to tell which is fake and which is real. Any thoughts?” Nathan asked.
“It’d be a great time for your pulse gun,” Hermes said.
“Yes, but that’s not helpful,” Nathan said. After a moment, he remembered something. “Bright, when you were practicing, could the others use their powers through your bubbles?”
“No,” Rainbright said.
“I couldn’t teleport out,” Hermes said.
“Great. Bright, put a bubble around every Couronne.”
“Got it,” she said, and then did so. One by one, they snuffed out. The last one, in the blue bubble, broke out of the bubble instead. “Found them!”
“Great. Where’s Echo?” He couldn’t see them on either Rainbright or Hermes’s feeds.
There was a suspicious silence – not even background noise – from Rainbright and Hermes. Finally, a radio clicked back on. “I don’t see them,” Hermes said.
Nathan nodded, and realized a moment later that they couldn’t see him, either. “All right, do what you can to capture Couronne. Or drive them off. Whichever.”
“Got it,” Rainbright said. Couronne made more clones, this time out of Rainbright’s range, and they scattered. Rainbright went after the original one, but that one soon snuffed out. “What?!”
What if none of them were the original? “Hermes, are there any people watching?”
“Yeah, a whole crowd.” Hermes adjusted himself so Nathan could see a park nearby, full of people watching and holding up their smartphones. That made things more difficult.
“I want you to scan the crowd, see if any of them are acting weird. If you do, try and break their concentration.”
“You think Couronne is in civvies?” Iris asked. Her tracking dot was now with the other two.
“Yeah. Iris, help him with that. Run through the crowd and draw attention. And both of you keep an eye out for Echo.”
“Will do,” Iris said. Nathan could see her doing just that through Hermes’s feed.
He turned his attention back to Rainbright, who was currently trying to capture as many of the Couronne clones as she could. Cloneronnes? Clouronnes? Courlones? Whatever. Hopefully, this shtick wouldn’t stick around long enough to need a name.
Nathan shut off the comm. “I don’t think there’s much else we can do,” he said to Angelica. “If I was out there, or Grapple, then we might have a chance, but these three won’t work very well. Hermes and Iris can’t fly and Rainbright’s light powers simply don’t work on Couronne. And none of them are fireproof.”
“I think you’re right,” Angelica said. “We should count this one a loss.”
Rainbright managed to catch up to a Couronne which was standing on a roof. When she tried to put them in a bubble, the bubble failed, but this one didn’t make a move to evade her. That was odd. Rainbright landed and pointed her finger at Couronne. “Got you!” she said, walking forward.
Once she was face-to-face with Couronne, however, the villain leaned forward. “BOO!” they screamed, the flames flying away to reveal Echo. Rainbright screamed and fell off the roof. She caught herself, but by the time she did, Echo was gone, and so were all traces of Couronne. Rainbright landed back on the roof and yelled several things about Jesus that seemed anachronistic, improbable, and religion-crossed. Nathan really hoped she wasn’t in audio recording range.
“Right,” Nathan said, “come back to base. I don’t think we’re going to get any closer to capturing them today.”
“Got it,” Hermes said. As he teleported to the other two, Nathan turned to Angelica.
“You did pretty well,” Angelica said. “The biggest problem, as you stated, was the team composition, and that really wasn’t your fault. We just happened to have junior members with powers that don’t work well against those two.”
“We really need a Flying Brick,” Nathan said. “Or just invulnerability and flight.”
“I’m working on that, but apparently every other team needs them, too.”
Hermes, Iris, and Rainbright popped back in to the room. “Ugh,” Hermes said, sagging onto the nearest chair. “I might’ve overdone it,” he said.
“You can go and lie down, but I want you to fill out a mission report by tomorrow,” Angelica said. “Nathan, not bad for your first time on Mission Control. You’re dismissed. Iris and Rainbright, I want your reports now.”
Nathan was done now, so he hurried back to his room and called Eric back. “I’m back,” he said.
“What happened?” Eric asked.
“Some idiot triggered the fire alarm. But that’s over with now. So… Coral still away?”
“Yeah. Probably not going to be back for at least a few hours.” Eric smiled. “And your guy’s still at the medical conference?”
“Yeah, until tomorrow.”
“So, how about we continue what we started?”
Nathan grinned. “Exactly what I was thinking.”
Coral stumbled into the hotel room the next day, swaying like a limp noodle. “Are you all right?” Eric asked, getting up to help. Before he even got up from his chair, though, Coral had already flopped onto the bed.
“Mrgh,” Coral said. “Flying with your powers is awful. I could’ve been back in half the time with Nightingale’s.”
“Why didn’t you fly with hers, then?”
“Because I needed the heat-control thing to avoid the heat-scanning things. Also, invisible.” Coral pulled a pink bracelet out of her coat and put it on. “Would’ve been easier if you came with.”
“Yeah. If it makes you feel better, I did get Nathan to see Spain out the window. It was perfect.”
Coral grinned. “I got them so good.”
“Yeah, you did. Now scoot. I want to lie down.” Somehow, Coral had managed to spread across the entire bed, but didn’t scoot. “How are you taking up an entire two-person bed by yourself?”
“I am genderfluid. Fluid expands to fill every available surface. I am fluid. I am cat.”
“Ah,” Eric said. “Well, the interesting thing about fluid is that you can lie down in it.” He hopped up on the bed, settling himself on top of Coral.
“Depends on how vicious it is,” Coral said, making no move to stop him.
“Viscous,” Eric corrected.
“Vicious,” Coral said, and took a playful swipe at Eric that didn’t come close to him. “Rawr.”
“Well, rawr means I love you in Dinosaur,” Eric said, planting a kiss on the tip of her pointy nose. “Guess that means you love me.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she said. Before he realized what was happening, she’d flipped him over onto the bed. “I love you,” she said, pulling him in for a deep kiss that took his breath away.
“Love you, too,” Eric said once he’d regained his voice. “Stay with you forever.”
If only he could figure out whether to stay with someone else forever.
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