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War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 18: Necessary Evil
Sky High
Drama/Sci-Fi

Necessary Evil


 Author's Note:  I stole the motto of the Bureau from Marvel comics (afficianados will know from which person I took it from), and I don't own them either. It was just so ridiculously appropriate I had to appropriate it.


Necessary Evil

 

Will’s phone rang. And rang. And rang. After about the fifth time I’d gotten Stronghold’s voice mail, I gave up. I really wasn’t a voice mail kind of guy anyway, and had left only a “Will, call me when you get a chance,” the first time. Since I had never tried to call him that many times in a row, hopefully Stronghold would figure out that this was important.

I watched the locksmith pull up from my bedroom window, and could see Mom standing on the porch to talk to him. The locksmith in this neighborhood was actually The Locksmith, a former Sidekick with a kind of weak technopathic power to deal with locks. He also did carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work, and had a few other employees that handled other odd jobs.

Around here, you needed someone with discretion, because otherwise someone was going to notice that five doors and two banisters had needed to be replaced at the Stronghold house in a month. Or that occasionally the Pattersons needed to replace wires or floorboards that had been chewed through, despite the fact that they didn’t have pets or pests. Or that somehow in the Peace house a lock had been heated until red hot and popped out of the door.

“So what happened this time, Ms. Joy?” I heard him ask. The Locksmith was something of a curmudgeon, but he was fairly proud of the fact that he was on a first-name basis with some of the world’s greatest superheroes. “Yer son forget his key again?”

That only happened once! I protested silently. And it was the back door.

“No, nothing like that,” Mom said, sounding a little brittle. “I’d rather not get into details right now, if you don’t mind Joe. I’ve had a rough night.”

“Yer sure? This looks kinda serious,” he pressed. I heard some faint clinking as he quickly reassembled the lock.

“Very sure Joe. Please, I just want to get to bed early,” she said pleadingly. The Locksmith quickly folded under my mom’s gaze and finished up in nothing flat. In another minute, he was leaving, and I heard my mom lock the door. I rolled off my bed and headed to the living room.

“Mom? All done?” I asked her as I came down the stairs. It was a dumb question, but I was trying to work myself up to what I wanted to ask.

“What is it, Warren? Come sit down,” she said, patting the couch next to her. She looked at me searchingly, trying to find my question before I could ask. “I’m doing all right now, I think.”

“Yeah… Mom, how could your powers hurt someone?” I asked her quickly. That had been bothering me since Tobias left. It was good to know she could defend herself against someone like him, provided she got angry enough to be willing to use her powers offensively, but I really didn’t know everything about how her abilities worked.

“I… can manipulate all kinds of emotions Warren. Not just calmness, friendliness, and patience, but fear, hate, and rage too. My only limit is how much I’m willing to feel, and to channel. And if I can channel more than someone else can take… they generally break,” she said slowly.

Jesus H. Christ. No wonder she was so uptight in high school. I realized I was a lot more like her than I had thought. I drove people away with my attitude to keep from hurting them with my powers, and to keep them from hurting me. She had gone all formal and stiff for the same reason.

“My powers can be… insidious. That’s why I was so afraid to use them for the longest time. It’s very easy to justify trying to make someone feel better. And there’s a very thin line between helping someone and manipulating them. I… worry about that constantly. But when I’m angry, it becomes easy to justify letting someone know exactly how angry you are.”

“You would have done that?” I asked her cautiously.

“If he had gone a single step farther, I would have scared him out of several years’ worth of life, at the very least. He’s very used to power, and isn’t used to having others around that can put him in his place. He’s confident to the point of arrogance, and that’s a dangerous place for him to be in. I think he understands us both a lot better now. No matter what he thought he knew about us, now he knows what we’re both capable of,” she explained.

“And is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked.

“Probably both,” she sighed. “He likes to be in control. He’s used to his family obeying him. You impressed him, but also angered him. I know he was impressed by your audacity in asking for the pressure point hold, and even more so that you used it against him. But he also thinks you’re overly passionate and protective.”

“I am,” I snorted.

“I know it darling. Play it very cool with him the next time you talk. Don’t give him an excuse to dismiss you as someone who lets their feelings rule their head, or he’ll try to manipulate you again,” she cautioned. “He’s not a bad person, Warren.” I nodded reluctantly.

“Fine, I think I can do that,” I said with a sigh. I was going to say something else, but then my phone started to ring. I checked the caller ID reflexively: Will. I showed it to my mom; she nodded and shooed me upstairs for some privacy.

“Warren, what’s going on?” Will asked when I answered.

“A lot of things. How’d it go?” I asked cautiously. If things had gone worse for Will with his parents than he had hoped, I didn’t necessarily want to drop that kind of bomb on him tonight.

“Fine. Seriously, what’s going on with you?” he asked shortly.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

You called me. You never call me. You called me tonight, when you knew I was going to be talking to the parents. And you called me by my first name, which you’ve done maybe two times,” he pointed out.

“Um… yeah. I had a little talk with my family…” I said.

“But your mom already knew, didn’t she?” he asked, sounding a little confused and impatient.

“Not with my mom,” I corrected, taking a deep breath. “With my grandfather. Tobias Battle. He was here when I got home.”

“Oh man… ooooh man. What happened?” he asked. I hesitated a moment. Will probably didn’t need to hear how Tobias had burned my mom, or why, or how he had provoked me into attacking him. Maybe later, but definitely not tonight.

“He came to warn me. He said he had heard rumors about my… new power…” I started carefully. “He had heard people might start asking me to heal them. And some would be more… insistent. They might try to capture me and force me to heal.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone, and if I hadn’t heard some faint breathing, I would have thought he had hung up.

“Holy moly,” he said finally. “Like now?

I shook my head, despite the fact that Will couldn’t see me.

“No, not now. That’s why he… came over tonight. He… hadn’t heard anything specific; he just wanted me to… be prepared,” I explained carefully.

“Like how?” he asked.

“I need you, your parents, and everyone else that knows about what I can do to keep their mouths shut,” I told him. “Somehow rumors got all the way over to Europe. Tobias is going to try to… counter them from his side of the pond. I have to call the Bureau and talk to them about it too.”

“Sure, sure, I’ll tell them. I’ll tell Layla, I think it’ll get to everyone that way,” he said, the last with a bit of humor. Layla would take this seriously, I knew it, but if there was a faster way to distribute information than a sixteen year-old girl, I wasn’t aware of it.

“Heh. Yeah,” I said, cracking a smile.

“So… why did he show up now? I kinda thought he disowned you or something,” Will asked tentatively.

“It’s… a long story,” I said. “He told us… he kind of had to ignore us when… my dad got put in jail. But now he didn’t have to any more. He didn’t want to in the first place.”

“That sounds… kinda messed up,” Will offered.

“My family in a nutshell Stronghold. Go talk to Layla, I really need to get some sleep,” I shot back, trying not to snap.

“Sure thing… uh, I think my parents will want to talk to your mom though when I tell them. Better give her the heads-up,” he warned.

“Done. Thanks,” I said, and hung up.

I called down to Mom to warn her, and then collapsed back into bed. The phone downstairs rang five minutes later, but I wasn’t awake to hear what was being said. I just hoped Will’s parents wouldn’t say anything stupid; Mom wasn’t in a mood to deal with fools tonight.


My friends made a few tentative calls back to me over the weekend, offering their personal promise of silence. The house line rang practically off the hook as Mom fielded the call from everyone’s parents, trying to simultaneously quell old rumors and stave off new ones. I felt a little bad leaving her to take the brunt of it, but she was the diplomat.

 

It was Ethan’s call, though, that ended up being the hardest for me. Will had apparently reported verbatim what I had told him to Layla, and she had kept the information intact when she told everyone else. However, Ethan had more specific questions, and I ended up having to basically spill most of the confrontation to him. Then he picked something out of the whole mess that drew me up short.

“So which supervillain did he hear the rumors from?” he had asked me. I had had no idea, and came to the grudging conclusion that I had to call my grandfather to ask him. If it had been someone we could trace back to Royal Pain’s academy, then we couldn’t afford to pass up that knowledge. Cutter or Painbreaker might have seen me healing Magenta, and if they were the source of the rumors, we had to know.

I didn’t want to have to talk to Tobias again so soon, but realized I had somehow let that rather important bit of information completely slide past me. Mom provided me his number without comment, and I made the call on Saturday morning.

“Warren, good to hear from you so soon,” he greeted me smoothly. What, he has my number in caller ID already? I thought sullenly. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?”

“I wanted to ask you which supervillain you heard those rumors from,” I said, getting right to the point. Tobias was probably worlds better than me at fencing with words, and I wasn’t going to try to play so far out of my league.

“Ah yes. It was John Tennyson, the Weaponsmaster. Retired now; he realized he could make more money selling his weapons designs to terrorist groups than by robbing banks and mints. However, he’s a very well connected individual; if he knows, then probably a dozen others do. Which others, I’m still tracking down, though,” he said quickly.

“How… exactly did you get information out of him?” I asked.

“As I said before, in a roundabout fashion.”

“Enlighten me,” I shot back.

“My servants. My butler’s first cousin’s maternal aunt works in the Tennyson household as a cook. She heard it during a dinner party when she came in to accept compliments,” he said with a sigh. I almost laughed, but stopped myself in time. It sounds like some kind of bad romance novel…

“I… see,” I choked out.

“Most people who live in old money tend to take their servants for granted. But they’re wonderful sources of information because people forget to pay attention to them. We’ve often taken advantage of that fact,” he said a little proudly. I bristled at the mention of “we.”

“Why’s that? You don’t seem like you would care for the little guy that much,” I countered, my momentary good humor gone.

“When you’re capable of accidentally burning, freezing, or electrocuting someone if you become careless, you learn to pay attention to everyone around you, no matter how insignificant they may seem,” he said calmly. I shut up for a good thirty seconds. Damnit, he’s right again.

“Right. Thanks for the information,” I said after a pause.

“Of course Warren. It was good to hear from you.”

After I hung up I seriously considered melting the phone to keep myself from being that stupid again.


I spent the weekend working at the Paper Lantern and doing a lot of thinking, in between all the calls. I was working a lot less than I had been; the increase in class load had sucked up a lot of my former free time. Mrs. Lee had been understanding, and was already looking for a replacement. Now I was just grateful I had the time to myself. I sometimes thought better when I had something else to do.

 

I could guess that my friends were all probably torn, Will in particular. I mean, you didn’t think about superheroes needing to be rescued. During a fight, or maybe after a dastardly capture by a supervillain, but not after being snatched off the street. It wasn’t that I was any less freaked than the rest of them by the news, but I had almost immediately decided that I wasn’t going to hide.

If someone wanted to find me, they were going to find me. And if they really, really wanted to capture me, then that was going to happen too. That was the fatalistic part of me talking, but there was cold comfort in acknowledging the worst that could happen and accepting it. Of course, they could only take me with a fight, and most people had some reason to not want to get caught.

I traveled to work and school on a bus, my house had a security system, and when I went out, I was usually with people. Even went I went to the skate park, that place was never deserted, not even at the oddest hours of the night or morning. So I probably couldn’t be taken without someone seeing me, and then they would have to deal with my friends. I don’t think I could be much safer with them at my back.


I ended up having to make the request to the Bureau in person, something I hadn’t expected or was looking forward to. Mom took me after my shift on Saturday, driving me downtown to the central office. Most large cities had a field office for the Bureau, though only a very small part of it was open to the public. We had to take the elevator to the fifth floor, which was actually down somewhere underground. The buttons were actually power and fingerprint scanners; those heroes registered with the Bureau got shuttled down to the real part of the office belowground. Those that weren’t simply went to the regular floor aboveground as advertised.

 

The doors opened on the massive, high ceilinged, marble-walled vestibule. I wondered idly if all government agencies had some architect tucked away that made a living designing these spaces to make all visitors feels insignificant. The seal was laid into the floor in bronze, Atlas with the world on his shoulders, a rather appropriate design, I remember thinking. The motto was also inlaid just underneath, the personal saying of one of the greatest heroes ever to live: “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” It was an old saying, probably as old as superheroes, but it didn’t make it any less true.

Mom led me into the warren of offices and corridors, greeting most of the people she saw by name, introducing me to everyone with a bright smile. The smiles in return were a lot less bright, I noticed a little bitterly, but I was civil. I didn’t need to alienate any of my mom’s co-workers, not when eventually they were going to be my co-workers. That thought brought me up a little short, because come next August that was exactly what was going to happen. And that was a very strange thought.

Eventually we ended up in front of a set of massive doors, which Mom knocked on without hesitation.

“Hey Mom, whose office is this anyway?” I asked. I hoped she had made an appointment with whomever we had to see, because I sure hadn’t. I doubted they, whoever they were, would like it if we just barged in.

“Kane Adams,” she said simply, gesturing to the nameplate over to the left I hadn’t noticed. “The Maxville Director of Operations.”

I looked at her, wide-eyed. Kane Adams, a.k.a. Crimson Tempus, was a contemporary of the Commander, able to control fire. He was a particularly scary superhero, very physically imposing and intimidating. Apparently he and my dad had been friendly rivals in the Sky High Pyro Club, even though they were a few years apart. I didn’t know what he thought of me, but I wasn’t very interested in finding out.

“Why do we have to see the director?” I whispered frantically, knowing it was already too late. “Why can’t we just see one of the tech guys?”

“The director has to confirm all security clearances,” she said with a shrug as the doors opened. “Relax honey, he’s fond of theatrics, but his bark is worse than his bite when it comes to superheroes.”

The office was dimly lit, showing only a hulking shape behind a large desk. As we entered, a small bowl of oil ignited on the desk, showing the craggy face of the director. He stood up as we came in, an ill-suited smile coming to his face. He was at least a foot taller than me and built like a damn refrigerator. How the hell had my dad had any kind of friendly rivalry with this guy? He looked like he could pound Will into the ground with one hand, super strength not withstanding.

“Peacemaker, Mr. Peace, welcome. Please, sit down. Can I offer you anything to drink?” he said pleasantly. We both accepted coffee, and I killed a few minutes loading it up with sugar to steady my nerves.

“So, I was given to understand by the Peacemaker’s request that you’ve received some threats, Mr. Peace,” he said calmly.

Rumors of threats,” I corrected a little hesitantly. This guy was definitely rattling my cage, but not for any one reason I could name. He was someone who knew my dad. He could control fire and thus was probably immune to anything I could do to him. He might be thinking I was a born villain. He was the director of the Maxville branch of the Bureau and thus could make my life very easy or very hard depending on how he felt. He was physically strong enough to turn me into a pretzel if he didn’t like me… Any of those could have been contributing to my nervousness.

“Indeed, but from a rather reliable source. The Peacemaker told me all she knew, and I’m rather inclined to believe that Ember-keeper was telling the truth. Your grandfather’s superhero name,” he added when my face went blank at Ember-keeper. “The Battle family has traditional names for their members. The patriarch is Fire King, but the retired patriarch is always Ember-keeper. I prefer to use people’s superhero names when at all possible. Keeps from slipping up during a crisis.”

I nodded warily.

“So… you agree about the security clearance?” I asked.

“Certainly. Of course! This isn’t the first time this situation has come up; there are several superheroes that have powers that shouldn’t be bantered about lightly. You’re only the most recent to have that problem. I needed you here because I have to add your biometrics to the system. By the time I’m done the only people who will be able to view your powers are the directors, you, and your family… if that’s what you want.”

I hesitated a second, and looked over at mom.

All of my family?” I asked.

“Peace and Battle. Usually hiding something from family members is pointless, so we tend to include them as a matter of course. Unless you’d prefer not to,” he said, looking down at me. I think he was just daring me to cut them out of this, despite the fact that I only knew one of my extended family. I considered doing it, just to annoy him, but stopped myself. I did not need to antagonize Kane Adams. I think he was only trying to rile me to see if he could.

And maybe if my mom’s family realized what I could do, they’d be willing to mend fences. In thinking about it, it seriously annoyed me that it had been my dad’s family that had been the first to extend an olive branch. Maybe a little shame would do what my mom’s patient pleading couldn’t.

“Sure, all of them, why not?” I said, locking gazes with him. He stared for a second, and then nodded.

“You’re going to be all right, Mr. Peace,” he said, gesturing for me to come around to his side of the desk. In a few minutes, he had my palm-print, power-signature, retina patterns, and a few other measurements I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to know about locked into the computer, barricading the knowledge of my new powers to everyone but the most highly, or closely, placed.


On Monday morning, I knocked on the door to Mrs. Peterson’s office well before school started. There was an early bus for those of us with projects, appointments, or detention, and even though it killed me to get up at five a.m., I caught it anyway. I had a couple things to get done before class. A faint wind blew the door open, and I repressed a smile as the Stormrider waved for me to come in.

 

“Well then Mr. Peace, what can I do for you today?” she said cheerily, slowly typing something into her computer.

“You told me at the beginning of the year that I needed to figure out what to do when I graduate,” I reminded her.

“Ah yes, yes, all your friends are far too young for proper, official hero work yet. But you, yes you will be very ready in August, yes you will,” she said. She reminded me a little of Nurse Spex, but not nearly so together. She couldn’t be senile, not and still be working at this school, but that didn’t necessarily follow that she had all her marbles either. Superheroes were a very strange bunch.

“I had an idea about a cover job. And maybe I can do hero work on the side while I’m doing that,” I explained.

“Oh really? How marvelous! Most seniors still don’t have a single thing in mind for what they’re going to do when they get out. For a cover, I mean. Not usually. Well, except for three, they know exactly what they’re doing. And you now,” she said with a smile. “Delightful! What did you have in mind?”

“EMT,” I said. I had decided that Tobias’ advice, however poorly presented, was probably sound. I didn’t think I could handle being a doctor, even if I had had the time or money to consider medical school. Physical therapist or something like it was out for the same reason. But as an EMT I would be expected to be at the scene of accidents and disasters; it would give me a convenient excuse to be where I needed to be without cheesy explanations. Of course, this did mean I would have to learn how to drive…

“Well then, good choice, we’ve had more than one person use that as a cover in the last few years. Sound choice too, out of the spotlight. Would you believe Lester LaDuke actually wants to play in a band? Or Penny Potter wants to go to Paris to be a model of all things? At least little Stanley Sofferman had the good sense to want to do video editing or something like that. I’m a little fuzzy on all the technical things, don’t you know. Now let’s get some paperwork started so we can get you into the right classes…” she said, starting to fish through her filing cabinet for the right forms.

Lester? Stanley? Good grief, no wonder Lash and Speed took nicknames, I thought with amusement as I found myself inundated with questions about my near future.


My next stop was Principal Power’s office. The secretary, a rather motherly looking woman with a knowing eye, gave me a wary glance as I asked to see the principal. Mrs. Erickson was one of those people that knew, or thought they knew, everything about everybody. Since she tended to know exactly who ended up in the principal’s office and for what reason, she was a little nonplussed at students asking to voluntarily see her. Nevertheless, the principal granted me an audience, and Mrs. Erickson’s curiosity had to go unassuaged.

 

“Mr. Peace? Is this about the phone call I received from your mother this weekend?” she opened. I nodded shortly. Mom had taken care of Powers, Boomer, and Spex, saying, quite rightly, that the demand for silence would sound a lot better coming from her rather than me.

“I wanted to talk to you about the tapes from the Gauntlet and Homecoming,” I explained.

“You want them put under the same clearances that the Bureau does I take it?” she said.

“Yeah. I… Those tapes are the best hard evidence of my… new power. I don’t want everyone at school seeing them because Coach Boomer thinks it’d make a good training video,” I said. I was pretty sure Powers would have had to do that anyway, but I didn’t necessarily trust Coach Boomer to be as discrete.

“Of course, I was going to put those portions of the tapes under clearance this morning. You know, I got a call from your grandfather yesterday. As did Coach Boomer,” she added casually. I tried not to swallow my tongue.

“What?” I finally got out a little angrily. I can’t believe he did that. Does he think I’m not capable of taking care of my own problems?

“Yes, he was interested in how you were doing in class. He was very polite. I was a little surprised, I admit, I hadn’t known you were even in contact with your father’s family,” she said with a peculiar half-smile.

Arrogant, highhanded- wait, what did she just say?

“I… just started,” I said weakly, taken aback.

“Well, at any rate, yes, I will make certain the vital parts of those tapes are edited and put under proper security clearance. And you have my personal promise to keep quiet about what I’ve seen you do; Coach Boomer and Nurse Spex have said the same. I will be discussing this with Lash, Speed, and Penny later today,” she said, still smiling oddly as I stood to leave.

“And Mr. Peace? Trust me when I tell you that you have a great many friends here that would be very angry if you, or any other student, came to grief. Everyone here at Sky High has chosen to teach the next generation of heroes for a reason.”

I left her office in a somewhat disturbed state of mind. Mrs. Erickson was almost smirking when I came out, and I found myself darkly wondering if everyone knew what was going on but me.


Mr. Medulla’s term in our class was over, and we had yet another new teacher today. Our next subject was Superpowered Psychology, something that just made me want to bang my head on my desk, considering what happened last week. My mood was not improved by the fact that our teacher was Ms. Olsen, also known as The Mentalist. She was a powerful mind reader, and still on the active list within the government, probably somewhere ridiculously top secret.

 

“We will be having a visitor in a few minutes, then we will begin our class with our first section: The Hero Mentality,” she was saying, passing out packets of notes for us to follow along. Also she passed out some kind of psych test, and we spent the next ten minutes writing down our favorite color, least favorite food, and the first thing we had thought about this morning, amongst other things. I think she was just trying to kill time, because I don’t think that “Red, Anchovies,” or “Breakfast” was going to give any insight into my state of mind.

We were brought out of our busywork by the arrival of Principal Powers, our visitor. She looked a great deal less smug than she had a half-hour ago, and was watching us all like a hawk.

“This should just take a moment Ms. Olsen. Gentlemen, ladies, I will be addressing the school on Wednesday regarding Royal Pain’s academy,” she said quickly. All of us caught our breath; it seemed far too soon. It had only been two weeks since we had figured it out, after all.

“Because of the efforts of the staff of the this school, and the Peacemaker, we will have your parents on our side when we finally break the news to the student body and the school board. We’ve accelerated the training for the rest of the students in the week you’ve been gone, and all our best information has Royal Pain’s first class graduating with ours in the spring. After the setbacks she received in attempting to kill Speed, Lash, and Penny, amongst others, she’s going to be forced to be more cautious. It gives us breathing room, and now is the time to let the rest of the school know what they’re training for,” she explained.

“What do you want us to do?” Will asked.

“I need your permission to show the tapes from your defense of Lash, Speed, and Penny on Homecoming night,” she said simply. “Minus the part where Mr. Peace healed Ms. Patterson of course. We’ll just say you used the antivenin in the medical kit to stabilize her until you were able to get back to Nurse Spex.”

We all looked at each other, various expressions of surprise on everyone’s face.

“That was an ugly fight, Principal Powers,” Will said finally. Ugly? That’s one way of putting it, Stronghold, I thought to myself. I would have used screwed-up, crappy, or ridiculous.

“I understand that. I also know you don’t want your mistakes broadcasted to everyone in the school. However, you used excellent teamwork and a very fine set of tactics against Royal Pain’s group, even if things didn’t go according to plan. I won’t be showing the unexpurgated tapes. I’ll mostly be showing a very edited version depicting Cutter and her group, so the students can see what kind of opposition they’ll be up against.

“But I think at least some of the senior groups should see the mostly unedited tapes. Coach Boomer is going to start running groups against each other, and I want your group in there frequently. You’ve been in two real fights, which is more than I can say for any other group at Sky High,” she explained.

“Um… won’t the rest of the kids be kinda jealous that we got picked?” Zack asked. I winced internally; he was right. We seriously didn’t need to antagonize the seniors by flaunting the fact that a group of sophomores were chosen to handle the first real hero assignment. Principal Powers shook her head, smiling a bit.

“You all have a rather devoted little following. Quite the fan club, really. People tend to look up to you since you saved the school, do you know that?” she told us.

Fan club? Oh no. No, no, no, no, no… I dropped my head on my desk and tried not to groan. No wonder those people have been hanging around Will’s locker in between classes.

“Uh, we’ve been a little busy, um… working?” Will offered lamely. Powers laughed.

“We’ve been trying to keep you out of trouble. But I assure you; you aren’t going to antagonize the student body with my announcement. Probably a lot of people are going to want to talk to you afterward to find out what its like to be in a real fight. Of course, some people won’t like it, but there’s no pleasing everyone.”

“Dude, we got peeps!” Zack said with a broad grin. This time I did groan.

“It won’t be that bad Mr. Peace,” Principal Powers pointed out. “It might actually have the opposite effect on you, you realize. Because of how you defeated Cutter.”

Because I burned her. Yeah… I should consider myself lucky if anyone would sit on the same side of the cafeteria as me after seeing that. I shrugged fatalistically.

“If they think that, then they don’t know me. And I don’t want to know them,” I said, raising my head.

“But you got us! So don’t go all grouchy,” Layla said with a smile.

“Grouchier,” Magenta corrected, and I tossed her a withering glare.

“Then I’ll see you all on Wednesday morning,” Powers said with a firm nod. “Let’s just hope nobody panics.”


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