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Avenger Assembled

It's Me, Daystar (IC)

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The evening of Tech Compliance 

 

Ben, 

 

Thank you very kindly for your letter today.

 

I appreciate that you are thinking about my sister and I. I'm sorry about what happened at Tech Club today, and I hope you feel better soon. 

 

But you should know that it's not a secret that Ashley and I are from another dimension. We are comfortable with who we are.

 

Speaking of which, I was wondering if you'd be interested in joining me at See You At The Pole this Saturday. It won't be as big as the one in September, but we have some big plans. I know it's getting a little chilly for outside times, but there's hot cocoa and good times, and there's some really good fellowship.

 

Yours, 

Judy Smith 

 

Judy looked at the message, nodded, then pressed send. 

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Octoman

 

Hey Chica, thanks for hitting me back so fast. Hope Big Sis isn't reading over your shoulder. Don't even sweat covering for her with me. I know we're all technically still kids and everything, but she's too friggin' old to blame YOU for what SHE does, know what I mean? Like, she's sevenTEEN, she ain't SEVEN. I wouldn't mind hanging out in-person, but I'm legit worried that she'd try to start something and I'd wind up hurting her. I don't WANNA hurt her, I wouldn't TRY to hurt her, but, like, I can shoot hoops with a Prius, and I'm still kinda learnin' how to hold back on all that. That's why I'm HERE, right? And, like, I'm a reasonable dude and all, but if she comes at me and starts swingin', there's only so much I'll put up with before I'll END it, y'know?

 

Also, like, that's nice of you and all, but I had to Google that Pole stuff, and, I mean, there's no polite way to say this, but ya gotta stop assuming that everyone you meet thinks Jesus Is Magic, or that they WOULD think that if you just had the chance to explain it to 'em, or that they wanna be part of your super-special club and they're just waiting on the invite. My grandma on Tatay's side is Catholic, so I get, like, Christmas presents and stuff, but basically everyone else in my family is Jewish. I know I don't exactly advertise, so it's easy to miss, plus there aren't a whole lotta brown Jewish guys walkin' around (tho there's WAY more than you'd think!), but "not advertising" is kinda part of our whole deal. To be honest, I'm not really sure if I'm "a believer" or not, but I got like eight years of Hebrew school under my belt, twice a week since I was five.

 

What else was I...RIGHT. Look...how can I put this...when it comes to you, everyone may know WHERE, but they don't know WHAT. You wanna keep playin' like I don't know what I'm smellin', and what I'm NOT smellin', fine, that's cool, you do you. Like I said, I'm not gonna drag you outta that closet. You wanna come clean and get some stuff off your chest, or you want someone to talk to Leroy, feel him out, see if he'll freak or if he'll be down, lemme know, I'm always down to help out peeps in need. But, like, the longer you try to hide it, the worse it's gonna be when you DO get found out, and you WILL. I mean, don't get me wrong, they did a real good job makin' you seem like somethin' you're not, but, like, this life's MAD dangerous, and when peeps like us get hurt, other peeps start askin' QUESTIONS. Take it from me, I know what I'm talkin' about. There's a whole buncha people in town who know what my blood looks like 'cause they got a REAL good look up close when it was gettin' pounded outta me like I was a fast-food ketchup packet. Now, if you do get outed before you're ready, don't get me wrong, I still got yer back, and I'll try to bite my tongue and not say "I told you so". I just hope you got SOMEONE to talk to who's in on it.

 

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Judy considered her response carefully for a while. Did he write this with speech-to-text? 

 

Ben, 

 

I'm sorry you feel that way - you're always welcome to join us if you see us in prayer. You might even enjoy the experience, or at least get a chance to try something new. High school is a chance to experience things besides what our parents taught us, right? Her mouth twisted in a smile as she wrote that, but she kept it in there. She considered adding something about how she wasn't 100% white herself, but she didn't know Ben well enough to have that conversation. I know I've had a fine time every time I've been in a synagogue, and I'd want to make sure you felt just as welcome with us. 

 

Speaking of feeling welcome, you should know that if you're trying to be friends with a girl, you shouldn't tell her how you're going to get into a fight with her sister. Ashley's seen some very bad things and wants to keep them from happening to me, and if that's a problem for you, I don't think we're going to be good friends. 

 

She considered that for a moment, chewing on a pencil, then added 
 

I don't like talking about powers and fighting very much. I'm here at Claremont so I can turn my curse into a blessing for others, and so I can get a good degree and get into a good college when we graduate. How about you? 

 

Judy. 

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Octoman

 

Wait, "CURSE"? Why's it gotta be like THAT? I said I KNOW what you are, I didn't say there was anything WRONG with what you are! "What you are" is PRETTY FREAKIN' SWEET actually. Real talk, I'm kinda jealous. If I got to choose, I'd damn sure rather be like you than like me.

 

Also, damn, Chica, if you don't wanna be a superhero, you should go into POLITICS. That's some TOP-SHELF spin you put on what I said. LeBron can't spin a ball as good as you spinned that. Let's not get it twisted: I didn't come at Big Sis. Big Sis came at ME. And if she takes a swing at someone who ain't swingin' at her, and you put that on them instead of on her and expect 'em to just "turn the other cheek", then, news flash, they ain't gonna "be friends" with YOU either. So while you're drawin' lines in the sand for everyone she's mad-doggin', maybe you should draw one for her, too.

 

Oh hey, what were you doin' in a synagogue? MULTIPLE synagogues, sounds like? You got, like, a Jewish aunt or somethin'? Like I said, Catholic grandma. Or, in Mamá's case, Catholic mother-in-law. Y'all weren't the leads in my movie, but ya had speaking parts. Tell you what, go ahead and add me to your "God Stuff" mailing list, and next time y'all getcher Jesus on, maybe I'll swing by and liven up the festivities.

 

When you're like "I don't like the powers and the fighting", I'm like "Is she even speaking ENGLISH?" I legit don't get that. Like, "powers and fighting" are the reason I'm sitting in front of this keyboard and not in a decade-old pile of dried-out Grue-poop. Wait, do Grue even poop? Lemme look that up real quick...OK, Google and Wikipedia are surprisingly UN-helpful here. SAFE SEARCH RECOMMENDED on this one!

 

Edited by Grumblefloof

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"...Ashley, what's happening here?" 

 

Judy called Ashley over and the two of them studied the screen. "I...don't know," said Ashley with a shrug. "He must be writing text-to-speech. You sure you don't want me to take this over?" she said. "I've got some ways to focus his attention elsewhere." 

 

"No, it's fine," said Judy reassuringly, "I've got this." She studied Ben's email and tried to view it strategically. 

 

Ben, 

 

I've been inside a lot of places - and the one thing I've learned is that people aren't so different on the inside, whatever they're like on the outside. She studied the email, flexing her fingers, and it occurred to him that the easiest way to distract Ben would be to tell him about her own connections to the Grue. But those were lies; and she didn't want to lie to Ben. I'll go ahead and put you on our mailing list. You never know, it might do you some good. ;)

 

She considered for a moment, then asked - What do you want to do when you graduate? 

 

 

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Ben continued to ALT-TAB between the code he was writing, the streaming video he was half paying attention to, and his email exchange with Judy.

 

"People aren't so different on the inside." Oh man, if only THAT were true. You should get a look at my X-rays sometime. But not, like, right before eating. Not unless you need, like, the mother of all weight-loss diets. Just keep a copy in yer wallet, and every time you get hungry, look at it, PROBLEM SOLVED. Or right after eating, now that I think about it. That's gonna make a mess. I mean, I don't exactly look human on the OUTSIDE when I'm not fakin' it like a big ol' CHEATER at the Game o' Life, but on the INSIDE? That's the REAL freak show.

 

He whispered to himself. "Man, I'm SUPER-curious what Robot-Girl looks like under the surface. I know her stuff doesn't work for real, but, like, did they make it look real for show? She's so dead-on on the outside, they MUST've at least made it look good enough down below for her to, like, get on an airplane. They didn't bother giving her, like, sweat or bad breath or anything, but does she bleed? But it's not polite to ask, and you know me, I'm a GENTLEMAN."

 

Yeah, yeah, I know that's not what you meant, I can hear you now...well, OK, I can't, good one, but you know what I mean. I dunno about that, tho'. I bet yer not exactly the Dark Web type, but if you really wanna heave up your dinner and my X-rays aren't gettin' the job done, maybe you used them too often and now you're, like, "desensitized" to it, see if you can find a mirror of one of Josef Bankowski's vlogs. Tell me THAT GUY's "the same on the inside" as you and me. Or read the comments from the guys sending him ByteCash.

 

When I graduate? I dunno, write some code to pay the bills. Doesn't really matter. Keep hittin' the STREETS, THAT'S the REAL plan. Keep payin' it FORWARD, know what I mean? Geckoman didn't save me so I could just focus on my OWN green. Just get mine and the rest can go and play? Nah, SCREW that. Guys like Bankowski are EVERYWHERE, and every time one of 'em takes a swing at someone, I'm puttin' myself between them and his fist, and feedin' 'em a mouthful of calamari rings. I'm-a' flex the spandex 'till they BURY me in it. THAT's why I'M here.

 

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That got Ben an image attached to Judy's next email - a fairly high-resolution one that looked like the product of an MRI machine. Ben wasn't what you'd call a medical specialist, but he was reasonably sure that this was not the inside of a normal human body. Organs did not seem to be in the right place - or were missing entirely. 

 

Ben, 

 

That's me - or at least, that's what I look like now. I don't eat, or get cold or hot, or sleep, anymore. She looked at the words on the page, her face pensive, then wrote more, My body runs on electromagnetism now. If I get taken out of a city and don't have a radio with me, I'll die of thirst. She licked her lips, remembering those first two days before anybody had figured that out. And they told me I'm not done changing. That's alien DNA for you. 

 

That bothered me for a long time, until I remembered that my body isn't my soul. Whatever happened to you doesn't change the kind of person you are - and a lot of people I know say you're a good friend. That's all I need to know about you. 

 

She paused for a moment to do research, and found herself after a quick question with Ashley over her shoulder again, double-checking why she was researching someone who had made a credible threat against the President and "his fat squaw wife and little half-breed daughters." 

 

As for what's-his-name, I do know who that is, and if you fight him, you're doing God's work. Judy hoped for forgiveness for sinners and everything, but she also hoped that maybe somebody would strap that man to a table and take him out of the world. Come to think of it, if _she_ shot him, would that be bad? 

 

I want to be a nurse when I graduate. I've already got a lot of first aid training, and I'm number one in the disaster response class here.  

 

Judy

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Oh man. Oh wow. This is...a lot like mine, actually! Not, like, the part where it looks like I have a buncha giant worms crawling around inside me, but your deck's shuffled like mine is, and you got some cards missing too.

 

"Alien DNA?" NICE. That's a good one. Makin' just ONE backstory, that's amateur hour. Nah, a real pro makes LAYERS. Anyone pulls back that first layer, there's gotta be somethin' else beneath it, so they THINK they got the truth, and they stop digging. Double-bluff action. I read a lot of detective novels, I know the score. Sure, "alien DNA", I'll play along. Wink wink.

 

Me, I gotta eat (OH MAN DO I GOTTA EAT) and sleep (doesn't matter how much Blue Ox I drink), and even not wearin' clothes, I still get hot. But I don't get cold. Honestly, since I got all mutated, the best night's sleep I've had? Bathtub. Water feels great, nice and cool. I got full-on gills, so I can breathe down there, and I'm squishy, so I can just kinda fold myself up and get my snooze on. Not really practical, though. Figure most people would be grossed out using a shower some sea-monster slept in all night. Getting up early every morning to scrub it down would be a real hassle. The parents would freak out if they caught me doing it back home, and I'm pretty sure the R.A.s here would snitch on me to Summers. Had enough of her busting my balls for one year, no thanks. Could maybe get away with it if I could stay invisible while I'm asleep, but I can't. None of the shapeshifting holds if I'm not awake. That's why they roomed me with Dave. He's the only kid in school who can see what I look like when I wake up in the morning without throwing up, 'cause he looks just as bad. And I like to sleep in. Real night owl, obvs.

 

Real talk, I'm not even sure "souls" are a THING. Some scientists say everything we think of as our "mind" is just, like, a by-product of the stuff our brains do, and stuff like "souls" and "ghosts" that telepaths pick up on are just, like, ECHOES. If THAT's true, then not only is the whole religion thing just a buncha fairy tales, but that would mean that we ARE just our bodies. I dunno. I don't WANT that to be true, especially not with MY body, but I just...I dunno. Most people just don't wanna think about it. But my parents taught me to ASK questions like that, not HIDE from 'em. Their faith is, like, INFORMED faith, not "stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" faith.

 

I got to fight Bankowski once, but it was before he got his powers. I mean, the powers he's got NOW. He had powers THEN too, but different ones. It's a whole THING. That first fight, I don't like it, but I gotta call it a draw. We were neck and neck. Someone else came in and broke the tie, he went to jail, doctors said he was gonna die, it didn't take. Now his poor ex-wife and kids are in Witness Protection. I want a rematch, and I've been keeping an eye out, but I haven't been able to find him yet. I'm busy with school half the time. He's always gone by the time I get there. Try to track him, the trail just DISAPPEARS after a while. Scent doesn't WORK that way. I can tell what kind of sandwich my teacher had for breakfast two days ago and retrace his steps back to the food cart where he bought it, but I can't bloodhound THIS loser. I've tried to crack his ByteCash wallets or DDOS his vlogs or SOMETHING, but his cyber-security's rock-solid. No WAY that meathead can even remember his own passwords, dude's probably got sticky notes taped to his phone, but whoever he's got doing his tech support, they got MAD skills. I've pulled off some righteous cracks before, but I can't even put a dent in this dude's stuff. I promised those kids they'd be safe, and I'm lettin' 'em down. Some superhero, amirite?

 

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Judy smiled thinly, thinking about how boys were the same even if they did have tentacles and a beak. (Leroy was an exception, of course.) At least she could relax more around Ben, which was nice. 

 

Ben, 

 

Thanks again for your message, but I've got to get back to studying. I could use extra arms when trying to write these papers, ha-ha! If you do still want to come worship with us, we meet after the chapel at 10 every Sunday morning. 


Your friend,

Judy

 

She sent the message, still thinking. 

 

"Do you think he's on drugs?" 

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Yeah, I hear ya. I think at least one of the...thirty-seven browser tabs I got open right now is homework. Or at least homework-adjacent.

 

Can't write your papers for you, sorry. Now, if you needed someone to hack into the school's database to change your grade directly...nah, just kidding. (OR AM I?)

 

10AM, Sunday...I'm usually in bed by then, but I might make an exception.

 

PEACE.

 

P.S.: You'd make a really good nurse.

 

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