Emmett stood on the roof of Circuit Surgeons alongside Max, staring out at the setting sun. The sky was beginning to bleed red and it glinted off the glass and steel blue skyscrapers of downtown. He wasn’t sure how his roommate felt, but in that moment, Emmett felt like he was a little kid again, standing on the beach and staring off across the wide horizon.
He wished it was just because of the view.
Emmett had overheard part of Max and his mom’s conversation. Even though Emmett had been on the other side of the apartment, changing with his door shut, his hearing was a lot better than they realized.
Hearing about their troubles with money had taken most of the excitement out of the moment. It was one thing to feel like a kid again with his powers, but now he just felt like a kid who’d overheard his parents talk about losing the house. Despite the strength flowing through him, Emmett felt powerless.
Emmett glanced at his roommate—his friend—standing stoically beside him. Max was staring out across the same glistening steel landscape, his face unreadable behind his mask.
Maybe that was why supers wore masks. Because it was easier to hide.
Emmett clenched a fist, forcing himself to speak up. Just because he wanted to hide his identity didn’t mean he was going to hide from everyone.
“I heard you and your mom talking,” Emmett said.
Max didn’t turn. His head just dipped. He was no longer looking out across the city, but to the roof on which they stood.
“I forgot about your hearing.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Emmett asked.
Max kicked idly at a pebble. “I don’t know. We’ve been having trouble staying afloat ever since Dad left—so like ten years ago. A part of me feels like it’s no big deal, that we’re always just one thing away from losing the store. But the rest of me knows that’s the truth. Honestly, even if you agreed to work for free, I don’t think we’d be able to hold out forever. And Mom would never ask that of you.”
“I was thinking of going back to the lab… The Doctor was pretty good about paying on time. I could live here and pay rent.”
Max scoffed. “Yeah, I doubt the Doc is going to let you live there with your girlfriend anyway. …Yeah, I don’t know. It might be worth asking Mom about it.”
Emmett sighed in frustration. “We could always join the Summit. They pay. No idea how good the money is, but they’d probably still take us.”
This time, Max chuckled heartily. “They’ll still take me, for sure. Probably Mom too. Speaking of overhearing things… Do you ever want to talk about that Hunter guy? It sounded like you nearly killed him.”
“I, uh, I did almost kill him.”
“I didn’t know it at the time,” Emmett added quickly. “I didn’t mean to. I mean, I wanted to hurt him… The guy stalked me, stalked my family. He isn’t some by-the-book cape. He was there off duty and without backup. I didn’t want to kill him though.”
Max rubbed the back of his mask awkwardly. “Good thing TINA keeps an eye on you, right?”
“...Who told you?”
“Clara asked. She asked if you’d talked to me about it. She assumed you were talking to me about it; I assumed you were talking to her about it. …You have to talk to someone. I know we’ve seen some shit, but this wasn’t the normal sparring on the rooftops or fighting for our lives in a burning warehouse. You would have killed that guy—it was only luck that you didn’t.”
“Dude, you almost—” Max caught himself and continued quietly. “You almost murderized that guy in broad daylight. That’s not cape stuff, that’s…”
Max didn’t have to finish the statement. Emmett knew his friend was right. He’d known as soon as it happened. That’s why he’d buried himself in work and tried not to think about it, not to talk about it.
Talking about it meant admitting it.
Emmett’s chest was so tight, he couldn’t have spoken up if he wanted to.
Max sighed and continued, “Look, I’m not going to lecture you, but at least talk to me or Clara about it sometime. You’re not a robot, and you’re not on Mutagen-X—you can’t just bury things like that or forget they happened, or turn off your feelings. And you’re definitely not a supervillain. You’d be really bad at it, trust me. You don’t even like it when I pick the evil options in Mega Legendarium.”
Emmett spat out a laugh, the tension finally releasing in his chest. After he sucked in a breath, he replied, “That’s because they’re cartoon villain evil. They’re not even realistic.”
“Emm—Mod… It’s a video game.”
Mod and McGuire put aside their worries about the shop and ran off across the rooftops to meet Cherry, Larian, and Krystal. Clara—Arsenal—would meet them on the way. They settled on meeting in the old warehouses on the far Eastside. That way, they would have privacy and room to practice.
If Cherry, Larian, and Krystal were going to help them take on The Freakshow, then they had to bring them up to speed on team tactics and on their psychic defense.
“Hey guys,” Arsenal said over comms. “I’m inside the warehouse with the others. There’s a couple Summit capes circling the district overhead, so be careful on your approach.”
Mod and McGuire slowed their approach as they reached the edge of the warehouse district.
“Do you see anything?” McGuire asked.
Mod scanned the sky and saw the vague magical glow of a super flying through the sky. He watched a moment longer before confirming that they were flying North, leaving the area.
The duo continued cautiously across the rooftops until Mod spotted two more supers in the air.
Mod shook his head. “I think we’re taking the street the rest of the way. These guys don’t look like they’re leaving yet.”
McGuire glared up at distant dots in the sky. “The Summit’s always cramping our style.”
A few minutes later, Mod and McGuire successfully crossed the streets of the warehouse district, dodging homeless camps and climbing up the outer wall of the meeting place—Mod using his whip and McGuire using his bouncy shoes. They climbed through a broken window and found the rest of the group mulling about inside.
Cherry kicked idly at trash on the ground before looking up to greet them. Her eyes lingered for a moment on Mod. “Nice suit. We were wondering why you guys were going to show up.”
McGuire waved away her concern. “We’d have been here ten minutes earlier if it wasn’t for the Summit flying around.”
Krystal ran a hand through her bright blue hair. “Yeah, you’d think they’d be focusing on South Side where The Freakshow. Wonder why they’re patrolling over here.” She glanced in Mod’s direction and raised an eyebrow. “Could that be because someone keeps getting into trouble?”
Krystal’s tone was playful, and for some reason, that made it even harder to meet her eyes—even behind his mask. Instead, Mod glanced at Arsenal, who leaned against the far wall, arms crossed. She would’ve looked casual if not for her futuristic exosuit.
“I guess you told them?” he asked.
Arsenal nodded. “Just making sure everyone knows that if the Summit comes across us tonight, we run. Not fight. The last thing we need is our mission getting foiled before we even start. I also told them about the plan for tonight.”
Mod turned back to Cherry and Krystal. “Everyone’s still cool with taking on The Freakshow?”
The two women nodded resolutely. Cherry added, “We’ve got your backs if you’ve got ours.”
Larian was huddled in the corner opposite of Clara. Both he and his black jaguar summon, Indovu, were cloaked in shadow, almost disappearing in the gloom.
It was the first time Mod could remember seeing the jaguar outside of battle. The man and the creature regarded the rest of the group wearily.
“Count us in,” Larian finally said, standing. Beside him, Indovu, vanished into black smoke. “Now McGuire, tell us you’re joking about these pinching devices.”
The six supers worked steadily as the sun set and flickering street lights came on outside.
They settled on several formations, depending on the size and shape of the underground that they were in.
Narrow tunnels would force them to fight in groups of two. For these, they divided up so that each pair included a tank super and a ranged or support super. Mod, Arsenal, and Larian’s tree summon were each tanks. McGuire, Cherry, and Krystal were all either ranged or support supers.
In their narrow formations, the tank would lead as they fought in a tunnel, but also move to allow their partner to shoot over their shoulder. This way the squishier supers would be spared direct harm. Hopefully.
In the wider tunnels, they could fight as a unified group. In this case, Arsenal and Larian’s tree would be the lead tanks. Krystal and McGuire would play mid-range support, and Cherry would be their ranged trump card. Mod and Larian’s jaguar were both quick and versatile, and would move to wherever the most support was needed.
They took breaks every half an hour or so to work on their meditation and psychic defense, as well as lament McGuire’s autopinchers.
After their first practice round with the device, Cherry just shook her head. “McGuire, these have got to be the strangest invention you’ve come up with.”
McGuire clutched his chest and replied sarcastically, “That means so much to me.”
Larian added, “I much prefer the anti-illusion goggles.”
McGuire replied, “Don’t worry. I made a pair for each of you.”
By the time the sun set, the group was working cohesively. Just in time for Doctor Venture to interrupt their evening.
“Arsenal, put me through on hologram.”
The group paused and gathered around Arsenal. A moment later, her suit projected a blurry hologram of the Doctor in front of them all.
“Half an hour ago, the President addressed the nation about the growing threat of the Deep Ones.”
“Uh, who?” Krystal asked.
Mod replied quickly, “Telepathic hydroterrestrial—”
McGuire held up a hand to stop him. “Telepathic fish-dudes that live in every one of our oceans.”
Arsenal added jokingly, “Yeah, try to keep up.”
The Doctor continued, “Lately there have been underwater seismic disturbances… The Deep Ones have been weapons testing. The President just announced their existence to the nation, as well as the fact that we may go to war with their new species. Other world leaders are doing similarly.
“Protests are already starting across the Allied States. There’s already several groups massing in Belport. Most are downtown, but one is gathering in front of city hall.”
“Wait,” Cherry said. “What exactly are they protesting?”
“Going to war with the first intelligent civilization we come into contact with. If anything, the President undersold the severity of the threat the Deep Ones pose to humanity.”
“What should we do?” Arsenal asked.
“You should go downtown. You’ll likely need to help the Summit keep the peace. There will always be bad actors that show up to things like this, so prevent any looting or rioting you see, but remember that the vast majority of protesters will be peaceful.”
For some reason, all eyes fell to Mod. Rather than wonder why, he merely nodded and said, “The Freakshow can wait. Let’s go.”
~ ~ ~