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War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 39: Dinosaur Rodeo!
Sky High
Drama/Sci-Fi

Dinosaur Rodeo!

 

“Will, we’re going to have to delay the rest of your party-,” Mr. Stronghold was saying as he walked over to us, then stopped abruptly at seeing his son holding his emergency phone.

“Saurian Lord is threatening to unleash his dinosaurs downtown unless he gets ten million dollars,” Will said a bit nervously.

“The mayor doesn’t negotiate with supervillains,” Mrs. Stronghold said evenly. “Will, the Mad Collector is trying to steal the Statue of Liberty. We have to be in New York-.”

Muted conversation from everyone else’s parents started to get louder as everyone started to talk at once.

“There was a massive break-out at the zoo Layla, they need me. Someone spotted The Ringmaster,” Mrs. Evans was saying.

“We got the call too, they want us to round up the bigger animals before they escape-,” Magenta’s parents started.

“-something wrong at the dam-,” that was Ethan’s dad.

“-massive explosion at the power plant, half of Metro-city just blacked out,” Zack’s dad was commenting.

“-hostage situation by the Hate-Monger, I need to get to Los Angeles…” Mom trailed off.

“They get started earlier every year, don’t they?” Mr. Stronghold said with a bit of an off-hand laugh. “Will, I’m sorry we won’t get to see this, but we know you’ll all do great.”

Will’s parents pulled him over for a quick embrace, as everyone did the same around me, smiles and encouraging words flying thickly between parent and child. I knew I was frowning and trying to hide it. Yeah, some villains started pulling off their schemes on the heels of the Superheroes’ Ball just so they could take advantage of tired heroes, but this seemed awfully convenient.

Mom caught my eye briefly, and I felt a surge of encouragement from her. I quickly pulled her in for a hug, trying to suppress my unease and probably failing miserably to her.

“Good luck,” I said.

“Be careful,” she said more seriously, looking me in the eyes with a piercing gaze.

A faint thread of fear was tightening my gut, but I ignored it. Mom at least knew and was acknowledging what was going on. Probably everyone else was too, at least deep inside, but you’d never know it from their expressions.

With a few quick good-byes, everyone had scattered within two minutes, leaving us alone on the street. Will jerked his head towards his backyard, and we double-timed it to find a half-scrap of privacy to change.

“Academy?” Will asked sotto voce as we walked.

“Duh,” Zack said pointedly.

“That’s the point,” Ethan said quickly. We didn’t need to say anything else as we scattered quickly to change. The academy wanted to hurt us on our home ground, but then retreat to their home ground before anyone could retaliate. And they definitely didn’t want all of our parents anywhere near to overwhelm them.

“I just think they didn’t want to say it out loud,” Ethan continued as we gathered back together, Layla whipping her vines around Will and us both. This might have been a slightly undignified way of travel, and not how we wanted to be filmed at the Superheroes’ Ball, but it was the flat-out fastest way to get us where we needed to be.

“No kidding. Let’s go!” Will said, and Ethan and Magenta shifted for the trip as Will took to the air, towing us below him. Those two stayed shift not to reduce weight (Ethan’s mass didn’t even change when he shifted, and weight honestly didn't matter to Will) but to reduce air drag. Magenta was safely tucked in Zack’s pocket for the flight, while Ethan rested inside a pitcher plant, courtesy of Layla.

Our neighborhood fell away in a pattern of lights as Will sped towards downtown. Loud bangs, crashes, and what sounded like muted explosions greeted our ears as we left residences for businesses, and finally began to see things moving amongst the skyscrapers of Maxville’s downtown.

“They didn’t even wait!” Will cried indignantly.

“Betcha the mayor mouthed off about us,” Zack muttered, jutting his head forward to try to get a better view. The tradeoff with Zack’s powers was that although he could see clearly in even the brightest light, he had crappy night vision. Massive shadows were moving amongst the streets, and we were catching glimpses of something enormous running through the streets.

“They’re huge!” Layla cried, pointing downward.

“Way bigger than they should be,” Will called.

I stared down at the three dinosaurs rampaging through the streets of Maxville, childhood memories of reading books about them and looking at fossils barely jiving with what I was seeing below me. The skeletons I had seen on museum field trips during school had nothing on these things. The tyrannosaurus rex must have been nearly five stories high, and the triceratops and stegosaurus on flanking streets were equally oversized. I idly wondered how the hell this Saurian Lord had made these critters. And how he was controlling them. Ethan had come up with a blank on him, which had further argued for academy involvement. Growing creatures this large from scratch would have been incredibly difficult, even for a skilled mad scientist, and his willingness to risk three of them in a fight warned of either typical supervillain overconfidence, true madness, or some kind of plan.

All things considered, we were pretty much anticipating the third.

“Ok, ok, shoot, we got to get everyone clear… Violet, Viscosity!” Will called, pointing down to the streets where the triceratops and stegosaurus were running, tossing aside cars, bashing into buildings, and generally causing as much mayhem as possible. Not so coincidentally, they were heading right towards the entertainment districts, where some of the clubs were just getting started. Far too many people, drunk and tired, would be stumbling around in the streets, offering themselves up as potential victims.

“You two are on crowd control. We’ll take care of the T-Rex and then meet up with you,” he called. “Brilliance, I’m going to come in fast, you blind him, I’ll drop everyone off, then I’m flying up to punch him.”

“Vi, V, go left and right when we land. Rose, you and I gotta be ready to take the T-Rex down once Guardian reels him. Guys, don’t get cute, use something stronger than the stun-rays on these things,” I finished. We had done something like this in school before, and it was amazing how fast everything came together when things were on the line.

“Where’s Ron Wilson when you need him?” Magenta squeaked in indignation from Zack’s collar as will started to descend.

“Japan. They’re having a big rogue mecha problem, Dad told me before he left,” Will said shortly, and Zack repressed a laugh.

“On the count of five,” Will said, and began a steep dive.

“Five... four…”

The shining sides of the skyscrapers reflected us dizzyingly as we descended.

“Three…”

Zack had gone pale as he realized exactly how ginormous the T-Rex was.

“Two…”

It was terrifyingly close, roaring loud enough to crack windows…

“One!”

Ethan and Magenta shifted back as Layla retracted her vines. We all tucked and rolled with the impact as we dropped the last few feet, fanning out in an arc. I felt pretty good that we had managed to pull off that maneuver without anyone falling on their face. Ethan and Magenta ran left and right at the same instant Zack triggered the light bomb, Will swooping up again over our heads. It was too bright for me to see, but a loud crack followed by a muted roar told me Will had delivered one vicious uppercut to the T-Rex.

The glare faded, allowing Layla and I to uncover our eyes and got to work. Taking one look at the heavy, pebbly hide, Layla whipped out the thorny rose vines and began to bind the dinosaur up, as I lashed fire out across its snout. Another loud roar of anger made me smile grimly as Zack pulled out a sickly green raygun. It was a nausea ray, as opposed to his usual stun ray. We had learned from our last tangle with Cutter’s Crew, how the stunners were inversely proportionally effective with mass. Now was not the time to dink around.

Zack took careful aim, striking the T-Rex right in the face with a triumphant yell. And nothing happened.

“What the-?” he started, and then began to back up with me as it strained against Layla’s vines.

“I can’t hold it!” she called, even as more and more vines started to lash out.

“Save your strength. Guardian, hit it again!” I called on the com to Will. With three massive creatures on the loose, the last thing we needed was Layla to get power-exhausted this early in the night.

I saw Will whip back down in a tight arc, streaking towards the T-Rex, fists extended to slam it again. I kept whipping fire to each side of its head, making it reluctant to lunge for us, and Zack has switched out his non-lethal weapons for a more damaging heat ray. Anything capable of stunning or sickening something that big would kill anything else, and Zack wasn't going to go oh-for-two tonight. Jaw clenched, he backed up in tandem with me. The T-Rex jerked, snapping more vines, and I kept my eyes nailed skyward.

Blinding light filled my vision, followed by a booming crash of thunder. Layla yelled in pain next to me, and I hissed, blinking away tears. The lenses in my helmet had darkened in reaction, but it had been so fast I was still seeing spots. I kept fire dancing on my hands, but nearly lost it at Zack’s yell next to me.

“Lightning, lightning, he got hit, it swallowed him!” he howled in simultaneous awe and disgust.

It took me half a second to process that, in which the T-Rex looked down at us from its great height, licking its chops thoughtfully, its eyes terribly clear for a creature that was supposed to be blinded. Lightning hit Will while he was flying, he fell, and the T-Rex swallowed him? I thought incredulously. I sure hope they caught that for the morning news…

“Skybolt!” Zack said quickly, while Layla started not-quite-screaming into her com.

“Guardian! Guardian, answer me!”

There was a faint groan over the com; Will was still conscious. It would take a hell of a lot more than one bolt of lightning to take him down.

“Stop playing around with the dinosaur and get out of there,” I said to him, hoping to cut through his grogginess. I was violently suppressing a more extreme reaction, like charging into there like a moron to help get Will out. Layla shot me a disgusted look through her mask, but at least I had stopped her from getting any more worked up. Will would be fine; a dinosaur’s stomach might be disgusting, but unless it was filled with molten metal or something, Will would only be dirty, not dead.

“Everyone listen, Skybolt’s somewhere out there, watch your back!” I called to Ethan and Magenta. Hopefully Will or I would be more tempting targets, but it would dumb to assume they wouldn’t go after lone members of our team, given the opportunity.

We had a few extra problems of our own if Skybolt, or any of the others from the academy were up there. With Zack and myself being such bright and obliging targets, we would be next in line for special delivery lightning bolts. I grabbed the others’ wrists and hauled them to the shelter of an overhang.

No, no, no! Stupid, ugly, drama-queen, asshat, punk-boil, son of a inbred gecko!” I heard Magenta yelling in her squeaky shifted voice over her com. Zack choked back laughter even as he leveled his heat-ray at the T-Rex. Apparently Magenta was having fun with the stegosaurus.

I flung two more volleys of fire at the T-Rex as Zack zapped at its chest, and smiled tightly as it actually staggered back a pace.

Then it began to lurch back and forth suddenly, swaying violently, each sway accompanied by a loud metallic gonging noise. Everyone was getting thoroughly confused when Will’s voice broke into our reverie.

“This. Is. A. Robot!” Will shouted, each word punctuated by another gong. Everyone was startled into laughter as we realized Will was zipping around inside its stomach like a pinball, crashing into its sides, looking for a way out.

“Hey Guardian, don’t steer that thing into a skyscraper!” I called. Layla glared, and I shut my mouth on any further quips. Truthfully, I was quipping to keep a faint thread of fear at bay. Using robots this big was only a few steps down from using actual animals of this size. The academy had been founded by a technopath, and was supposed to have more than a few in its ranks. This “Saurian Lord” that was supposed to be controlling these dinosaurs would have a lot more tricks up his sleeve if he actually had technopathic powers.

“Guys, guys, something’s wrong, something doesn’t sound right!” I heard Will yell into the com, his voice echoing strangely from the T-Rex’s innards. I was about to snark back something about how exactly Will would know what did or did not sound right, considering his vast personal experience with robot dinosaurs, when I heard the noise too. It was a muffled whumphing sound, something I recognized, in moment of pure fear, as a lot of fire igniting all at once.

A split second later, the T-Rex opened its maw, the inside glowing luridly, and I reacted on pure reflex, shoving Zack and Layla to either side as it breathed out a huge gout of flames. It caught me square, shoving me back slightly, but doing little worse than tickling. The building behind me didn’t fare so well, as the awning burst into flame and the windows shattered. Over the com, Will yelled in pain.

He got caught right in the middle of it... I realized, stomach churning.

“We’re in a freaking Godzilla movie!” Zack cried with remarkable accuracy.

Shooting freaking laser beams from its eyes!” I heard Magenta’s voice break over the com, and wondered idly what Ethan’s triceratops was doing. He couldn’t talk while he was shifted, so we just had to trust that he was taking care of things on his end. We just needed to do the same on our end!

“Rose, bind and burn,” I said, ducking back into view, literally drawing fire away from my teammates. Lightning be damned at this point, we had to get Will out of that thing.

Bind and burn was a technique Layla and I had developed for things just like this. She would bind something up with resinous plants, and I would burn them. At the very least we could burn off its protective layer and expose more of its inner workings. Then it would be a hell of a lot easier to see where we could throw a wrench in its works.

It was a sign of how upset Layla was that she didn’t even hesitate; she hadn’t liked this maneuver very much, just because it seemed to so cruel. We would never do this on a living thing, but it was still slightly disturbing to watch it in action.

The dusty-looking creosote plants began to circle around the T-Rex, who snarled and lunged, caught short by the heavy vines. Layla wasn’t holding anything back at this point, but I was worrying about how warm things were going to get inside. She could, and had, increased the amount and volatility of the resin until it was a step short of explosive. It would definitely not be pleasant for Will, but…

I caught Layla’s eyes for a second when she nodded at Zack and I to start burning, and quickly quashed my reluctance. If we didn’t get Will out and out now, there were going to be consequences. Unpleasant, plant-based consequences.

“It’s going to get hot in there Guardian, hang on!” I called, and let the fire fly.

The T-Rex went up in a sheet of flames and metallic roaring, synthetic skin falling from it in melted globs, revealing the metal skeleton below. In the middle was something like a huge tank, now beginning to bulge out on both sides from Will’s repeated hits. The fire was intensely hot, enough to make Layla and Zack take several steps back, and I started to feel a little sick. Will was tough, but this was a damn inferno…

Warren,” a faint voice whispered in my ear. I kept an eye on the T-Rex even as I tried to suppress my shock. That was Monica’s voice. I had more than one com channel built into my helmet for just this reason; in case she needed to communicate with me. But why in the middle of this fight, with everyone else all around?

“Warren, Guardian’s hurt, but it’s not bad. Burns on his head and neck, everywhere that’s not covered. He’s fine,” she whispered. “Second degree burns at best, easy.”

I breathed a smothered sigh of relief, feeling unleavened gratitude for her right then. I had been imagining all kinds of horrible things...

“Is Skybolt here?” I whispered back, barely moving my lips. I was a few steps ahead of the others, and they shouldn’t be able to tell or hear what she was saying, considering Monica was on a different channel than they were, but caution was too well integrated at this point to drop.

“Yes, he’s here. And Brady. Saurian Lord,” she added, before I could ask. “I think they’re on top of Anderson Tower.”

“How’s he controlling these things?” I asked.

“Short-range transmitter, has to be. There’s no technopath at the academy strong enough to control three robots this big simultaneously,” she said quickly.

I knew a moment’s wild hope as a plan sprang into my mind, fully-formed.

“Thanks,” I whispered back.

In the few seconds of conversation, most of the creosote had burned itself out, revealing the smoldering-hot robotic core of the T-Rex in all its mechanical glory. It looked a hell of a lot freakier this way than it had before. A few more dents appeared in its middle as Will renewed his assault on the inside, but I heard a few near-curse words as the hot metal made it painful to do.

“Brilliance, I need you to short this thing out,” I said.

“Dude, I can’t stop something this big!” he protested, moving up next to me. The T-Rex was moving slowly, jerking its limbs out from the remnants of the vines; the fire had obviously done a lot of damage, and I was smiling fiercely.

“This hunk of metal has a transmitter in it somewhere. You can handle that, right?” I asked. Layla was lashing out again with more vines, trying to keep the fire-breathing monstrosity in one place as she listened to our plan with one ear.

Zack’s ability to fuzz out electronics had basically topped out at frying a laptop. A gleeful Coach Boomer had tried that experiment, to Ethan’s everlasting horror. And that particular attempt had left Zack unable to glow for several hours. He just flat-out wasn’t powerful enough to take down huge robots. But just the transmitter…

“Ok, ok… Dude, where is it?” he asked, looking at the struggling, smoldering mechanical T-Rex with trepidation.

“It’s usually in the head,” I said, remembering Mad Science class and silently thanking Mr. Medulla for teaching us Basic Mecha-mechanics. I looked over at Layla. “Can you get him up there? I’ll distract it.”

Zack looked less than thrilled by the prospect of being held up by vines next to those big metal teeth, but to his credit, he didn’t hesitate.

“Go!” he said, and Layla switched her attention from the T-Rex to Zack.

“Guys, it’s sealed off. This thing is really tough…” Will’s voice broke across our coms, and two more hard bangs from inside the robot made it stagger and finally go to its knees. There was a muted explosion off in Ethan’s direction, and a few Mandarin expletives, co-opted by Magenta, being screamed from her side. We were slowly coming to a three-way head.

“Now!” I yelled, and slung more fire at the robot, keeping its attention on me, and not on the vine-wrapped morsel sneaking up on its other side. It slid forward and snapped its jaws at me, bringing its head low, and Layla all but dropped Zack on top. A bright burst of light, just short of a photon bomb in intensity, exploded from atop the T-Rex. With a grinding of gears and a shaking of the earth, it slammed to the ground with force enough to throw me to my knees. Two seconds later, I saw Will rip through its side, his face angry red from the burns, and most of his hair singed off, but seemingly no worse for the wear.

“Guardian, top of Anderson Tower!” I called, pointing to a glass skyscraper just behind him. No further explanation needed, Will pushed skyward, his path darting left and right, not tempting another lightning strike.

His caution was needed, because just after he started skyward, more lances of lightning rained down on him.

“Go Guardian, go, go, go!” Zack cried, giddy with exuberance that he had managed to down the dino-bot. Layla and I finished hammering the transmitter into melted pulp as Zack gleefully crowed out to Ethan and Magenta how to take them down. Skybolt was so focused on taking down the larger threat of Will that he had no time for us on the ground.

“I see them, I see them. Come on, come on, not in my city, not in Maxville,” Will chanted. “Cover your ears!” he barked over the com, and Layla gasped as she saw him suddenly accelerate. This was going to be loud…

“BOOM TIME!” Will roared, and we all clapped our hands over our ears as he streaked over the building, shattering the sound barrier, stunning and deafening the unseen supervillains.

“Yeah!” I roared from below, and I heard identical shouts of triumph over the coms from Ethan and Magenta.

“They’re down, they’re down, the dinosaurs are down!” was eventually what I got from the ensuing chaos.

“Guardian, do you have them?” Layla asked, breathing a deep sigh of relief. We actually had time to look around now, and though the place looked like a war zone, we had managed to stop the robots before they had gotten to the entertainment district and the more vulnerable citizens.

Eh, so we’re messy. We’ll get better, I thought with a smirk.

“Yeah, I have Skybolt and Saurian Lord. I… I think I overdid it,” Will’s voice came in more softly over the com, and the three of us shot worried looks at each other.

“Get them down here,” I said in the same tone. Now that the chaos has receded to an acceptable level, people were starting to emerge, beginning with reporters.

“Brilliance, Rose, keep them busy?” I asked, and with quick nods, I headed around the hulk of the T-Rex’s body, where Will, laden with two unconscious bodies, found me.

Skybolt looked more or less like I had remembered him, tall and thin, with thick streaks of white through his hair. He wore a suit of metallic iron gray, shot through with white and gold lightning bolts, his face covered with a half mask. Saurian Lord was wearing some kind of ridiculous barbarian getup, little more than a loincloth and lizard skin cape, but had a very high tech-looking widget clipped to his belt. Both of them were bleeding from the ears and were dirty and bruised from where they had fallen on the roof.

I felt nothing immediately wrong with them from my powers, no matter Will’s concerns, and just checked them over quickly for anything else.

“I think they’re fine Guardian, you just knocked them out,” I opined softly, kneeling beside them.

“I know they’re not-. I mean, I didn’t want to punch them at that speed, and I thought that would get them both at once-. Um… Look, I know they’re probably ok, but you remember what they told us? That these guys would rather die than get taken prisoner? I just wanted to make sure they didn’t have anything on them or something…”

I hissed in sudden understanding. But I really, really didn’t want to do a body-cavity search of these two on the street though.

“Call the Bureau, tell them who we have,” I said, and then jerked Will down by his cape before he could wander off too far. “And hold still for a second. Throw me off if this gets too painful.”

Will didn’t have time to protest before I dropped myself into trance to take care of his burns. The news really didn’t need to see him like that, and best to have people thinking he was pretty much immune to fire. Better that than the alternative.

The practice I had gotten with Monica over the past two years had made me a lot faster, and considering that Will wasn’t that bad off, he shoved me away gently after just a few minutes.

“Didn’t want your parents to see you like that,” I said as I blinked myself back to reality. Other than the fact Will had more of a buzz cut now than his usual mop-head, he didn’t look too bad at all.

“Yeah, ballistic parents, very bad,” Will laughed, and pulled out his emergency phone to call for a pick-up group.

The bright camera lights were drowning out Zack’s glowing by this point, and I urged Will to go face the press.

“The second time is easier. I’ll keep my eyes on these two punks,” I told him. Let him have his moment of triumph alone.

And then the second he was out of earshot, I called Monica.

“Your friends are amazing,” she said in greeting. “Honestly, I thought they were going to get trampled but…”

“Violet and Viscosity are pretty good at not getting crushed,” I said, laughing in relief.

“You captured someone?” she asked more quietly, and I could almost hear her wincing when I described what had happened to her two “classmates.”

“Twenty bucks says they’ll have escaped or be dead within two days,” she said flatly.

“No bet,” I said grimly, and regarded the two on the ground with distaste. A very sick part of me wanted to end this, right here, right now. And it would be so very easy… Fuck this, I snarled mentally, jerking myself out of my black mood before I could go any farther.

If I didn’t put a half-ounce of trust into someone else at this point, I was going to go messily insane. The Bureau would be more careful with these two; Will had warned them specifically.

“Look, why didn’t they send more people against us? Two against six isn’t exactly good oods,” I asked instead.

“Skybolt’s certifiable. He might have been an intentional sacrifice,” she said harshly, and I could hear her holding back tears. The academy was taking out the trash. And she could have been chosen with the same ruthlessness, or could be at any future time if they decided she wasn’t necessary. As long as it existed, it held the power of her life and death in its hands.

“Hey, Monica…” I started, wanting to try to raise her spirits up. Mentioning the academy always tended to get her pretty depressed these days, and I wanted to distract her before we both ended up sinking ourselves. There was something very ironic about me having to be the cheery one upon occasion.

“Phoenix!” I heard Will call behind me.

“Gotta go,” I whispered, and hit the off button. The Bureau team had arrived to take custody of our supervillains, and Will was waving for me to come join the crowd. Swallowing lingering resentment, I went to submit myself to the lights of the media.


The next afternoon, Phoenix’s Sanctum

“This picture officially rocks!” Magenta exclaimed, holding up a big picture of her, unshifted, riding the back of the stegosaurus, apparently punching it in the back of its head. She actually had an electrical slap-cap in her hand, which was how she had managed to disable the transmitter, but it looked like she was getting ready to do some kind of crazy kung-fu move on it.

Ethan hadn’t gotten anything quite as cool. After discovering his triceratops had the ability to throw electricity from its horns, he had melted and literally thrown himself down its throat. Then he’d used one of the few tools he could actually manipulate while shifted to throw a wrench in its works, disabling its transmitter from inside and grinding the thing to a halt. While not as spectacular as our flambéed T-Rex, it had been a hell of a lot more effective with ten times less the property damage.


Skybolt and Saurian Lord, Monica’s gloomy predictions aside, had neither died nor escaped after two days. Instead, both remained in catatonic states in Metroplex Maximum Security Prison’s hospital wards. Monica had no idea if it was because of Will’s rather rough sonic boom treatment, the natural result of their insanity, or something engineered by the academy to keep them from divulging information. There were probably psychics poking at them around the clock, but I wasn’t particularly sanguine about them getting anything out of them either. The academy might be cruel, but they weren’t careless.

Due to mutual agreement, we had managed to convince the Strongholds that Will’s new haircut was due to a dare Zack has issued, rather than having it burned off, thusly preserving the peace for another short while.

Zack actually strutted around for two whole days due to his contributions, before Magenta had embarked upon a case of “therapeutic ego deflation” to get his head back to normal size. Layla and Will had been entirely phlegmatic about the fact they had been partially upstaged by their teammates, which completely suited both of them just fine.

It wasn’t like Will lacked for further spectacular rescues either. The Stronghold Three, or “World’s Champions,” as they called themselves in public, had been out in force, and Will had been at the forefront of world-saving events whether he wanted to or not. I had jokingly told Will he would be saving the world three times over in the week after graduation. I had a suspicion that Mr. Stronghold had taken my joke as a challenge; he saved it four times instead. Well, maybe it was the whole world, but he had deflected a huge missile away from Washington D.C., helped his dad destroy a meteor hurling towards earth, helped change the course of a raging river in the Ukraine, and finally had saving a crashing jetliner from impacting in the middle of O’Hare airport.

The rest of us were just happy that some things were going unequivically good for a change.


Surviving our first experiences as a superhero team had been easy compared to what happened next. Everyone surviving his or her cover jobs was the next big thing.

Ethan had decided to be a public relations consultant, much to everyone’s surprise. We had all expected him to work for the Bureau directly.

“I was going to, but I decided not to. I want to do something that I don’t have to lie to Chloe about,” he had explained firmly. “She’s moving to Maxville; there’s a good law school in the next city, and I want to be able to tell her the truth about where I work!”

Besides, Ethan’s high tolerance for bullshit and talent at “buttkissery” made him a wiz at PR. Zack frequently, but good-naturedly, joked about him being an evil genius.

Layla was working for the Maxville Parks and Recreation department as the Recycling Coordinator, a job for which she needed virtually no training whatsoever. Will joined his parents in their real estate business… for one month. By then he realized he was utterly horrible at sales, and quickly joined Layla at her job, working as one of her assistants. I found it quietly hilarious that our team leader had the quietest job of all of us.

Zack and Magenta ended up working at a dance club called Glitterdust downtown. Zack’s dancing skills aside, he was a great DJ with fantastic taste in music. Magenta, on the other hand, was actually working as a bouncer. Most people didn’t expect someone of her size to be able to take down adult men double her weight, and the loud music and colored lights made pinning down her identity virtually impossible. Not to mention it gave us a killer place to hang out.

Maxville suffered no more academy attacks for the rest of the summer, something that had Monica depressingly on edge for most of the time. She had gotten a lot more jumpy since Skybolt had been captured, and was leaning on me a lot for support. I didn’t mind at all; it really felt good to know I was making a difference just be being there for her. She couldn’t help me as much as she wanted to, considering how often I was working with my friends now, and was just concentrating on being the best damn EMT she could. Like me, she was trying to sublimate her feelings in work.

Other heroes, some of them our classmates, had to deal with the academy attacks we weren’t getting, and the fighting was brutal. More than one superhero had to take short leaves of absence to heal up, and sometimes whole city blocks were destroyed in the fighting. It felt sometimes like they were taunting us, daring the Champions of Justice to leave Maxville to help out others.

We were the strongest team by far from our class, and what supervillains did dare attack our city were smacked down pretty hard. We weren’t perfect; we oftentimes broke more things than we had to, I once started a fairly good-sized fire more or less by accident, and we nearly cracked the dam once when Will body-slammed a giant gorilla into it in an excess of enthusiasm.

The intermitable waiting for the other shoe to drop wore at us, though we tried to keep as sharp as we could. Training could only distract us for so long, and sometimes I knew we were distracting ourselves with more mundane things to keep from cracking. Something was going to give though. Something always had to give…

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