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January 2020 

 

Eira sat in the library meeting room, staring at the closed door. The lights were off and it was quiet, and she had arrived several minutes early for the Orange Squad meeting. She was wearing an oversized blue hoodie and jeans, a concession to the relative cold that her robotic nature didn't actually require. This would be the first time she'd met most of the Orange Squad, the team to which she'd been assigned upon her admission to Claremont - an admission made possible by her parents connection to the hero community and substantial wealth. It was team-building day. 

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Mia was the first to arrive, after Eira. She had been interested in meeting the new student, mostly because she had heard little about her beyond the bad attitude. That intrigued her. The fact that this was a team-building day did not, really. She didn't know exactly why they were doing this now instead of at the start of the semester, but hey. Whatever, it was a credit.

 

Heading into the room, she smirked as she saw Eira, taking a seat across from her. Mia was dressed fairly casually, wearing the new psychedelic hoodie she had gotten for Christmas from her dad, along with a set of faded jeans and a new set of cherry knockoff Doc Martens. She felt fairly fancy today, these were probably the most expensive pieces of clothing she had ever worn in her entire life. Sure, she could make stuff like this for free, but actually receiving it from her parents? That was special.

 

"So, you're Eira," Mia said. "I'm Mia."

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"Jesus, Judy, I mentioned that in confidence," Mia mumbled to herself, before looking up at Eira and sighing. "No, it was shoplifting. I, uh... Grew up poor and not allowed to use my whole..." She paused, and generated a small Funko pop style doll of Eira. "Matter thing." She laid the thing down on the table, sliding it over to Eira. "Go ahead, take it, it's genuine matter."

 

"Can make anything I want, so long as it doesn't have a soul. Even elements they can only make in labs," she said. "Though, uh, can't make any precious metals, money or anything like that or the government will kick in my ribs." She had given the speech before, but she found it useful to point out. A few people were really into the idea of her making herself rich. 

 

"What's your powers?"

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Eira picked up the doll and gave it a frank, assessing look. The sight of herself as a toy seemed to unsettle her, and she put it down suddenly, a bit too hard. With her hands free again, she began cracking the knuckles on her other hand, crack crack crack. "Hmph. Flight. Strength. Cybernetic interface." Silence, and then she fixed her gaze on Mia again. "Is that why you are here?"  

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Mia nodded. "Cybernetic? Nice, cyborg. I'm a teleporter and matter manipulator. Powers come from an energy field I am projecting thanks to some crystals in my mom's blood when she was pregnant with me. As for your question... Yeah, I'm here because I'm doing time. My mom was worried I was gonna make some mistakes and... Anyway, yes. Here for shoplifting."

 

"So what are you into? Movies? Music?" Mia asked.

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At the door, a sudden explosion of movement preceded the arrival of a tall, slender young man with long frizzy hair, darting, sleepy yellow eyes, three long white scars on each cheek, a rumpled green robe fringed with gilt lotuses and a silver ring shining on his right hand. Stifling a yawn he clambered awkwardly into a chair, waving generally at the two women.

 

"Grrraughm, L'rry, good mrAAaaaughningmmmmm." His eyes alit on Eira, and he frowned. "Alexander? Where're the rest f'your several heads? This a dream? J's'a'mom't..." 

 

One arm pulled back, and Leroy slapped himself with a force the other two could feel across the table. "Ow." he said.

 

"Impossible to say. Now that I am fully awake, I remember that most of my dreams are already very painful." Blinking in the light, a brilliant smile spread across his as he saw Mia. "Mustafic-Markov! so this was the correct building after all! my dream was real!"

 

His eyes swept back to Eira and his smile, already stretching his scars out of sight, grew wider. "Hullo, miss! My name is Leroy Ransome-Conte, I am the Dragon Prince of Earth-2 and very happy to meet you!"

 

"I hope this is not a hurtful question, but are you acquainted with our Saviour?" He propped up his head on the table with his ringed hand, eyes sparkling with hope.

Edited by Ari
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Eira blinked a few times. Her eyes moved past Leroy and Dio to (very briefly) look at Mia. "Eira Katastroff Natt och Dag." She looked down at her fingernails (flat and neat and a bright shade of green), then back at Leroy. "I have met too many gods to worship only one." She gazed at him for a moment, then said, "Wait a moment. Your uncle is in prison. You nearly were arrested. And my uncle was...away for a time." Her voice tightened as she spoke. "Was this someone's idea of a joke?

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"My uncle," Leroy said, "was condemned for being black and valuing the oppressed over their oppressors. I confess to knowing nothing about your kinsman, Night, but I suspect mildly similar family history is not the reason we are here."

 

"I do apologize for raising what is apparently a settled question for you. That is not what I meant, but it would be ungracious to press."

 

Beside him, the hulking wall of green scales and leathery hide scratched his frilled neck with a claw. "There are a lot of them, that's just a fact." Dio said to Eira. "I can hook you up-." he was about to say more, but catching the angry tail of Leroy's eye, the monster sank into sullen silence.

 

Settling back further in his seat, the Dragon Prince took a black crystal out of a pocket in his robe, setting it on the table before him. "May I offer some refreshment?" smiling at Mia he added "I have not your creative talent, leader Mustafic-Markov, but I can recreate some forms of nourishment with traditional tools."

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"Ooh, is this our new squadmate?!"  A pale redheaded girl had just entered, accompanied by a plain-looking brown haired boy who walked a few steps behind her.  He was a few inches taller than her, but he hunched a bit, making them appear about equal in height.  The girl, wearing pink furry boots, denim jeans, and a denim jacket over a pink shirt, strode forward.  "Well, hey there, Mia!  And Leroy, you ol' so-and-so!  Oh," she looked around, "but where's Abby?  Oh," she waved a hand, "Ah'm sure she'll show sooner or later, all mysterious-like."

 

She offered -- thrust -- a hand towards Eira, "hey there!  Ah'm Lousie Beaumont, but all mah friends call me Lulu!"

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Eira looked up, her face confused for just a moment before it settled into an expression of disinterest. She folded her arms inside her hoodie's front pockets and leaned back, her eyes fixed and unblinking as she studied 'Lulu' and 'Davyd'. Come to think of it, no one in the room had seen her blink at all. Time went by and time went by, and she smirked. "Impressive. Most metamorphs get the infrared wrong." 

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'Davyd' shook his head and sighed. "I told you it wouldn't work," he said in a slight Ukrainian accent, which didn't sound quite right. "I don't think my powers work on her at all." The young man faded from view, leaving two Lulus in identical outfits. "She's just too hard to fool, Davyd." 

 

The genuine Southern girl sat on the edge of a table and waved at Leroy and Mia with a wry grin on her face. "Hey, y'all. It's me."

Edited by Heritage
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"What the heck was that, just there?" Mia asked, tilting her head at the newly arrived duo. She didn't know why they would try to trick the new girl by pretending to be one another. Maybe to just see it they could get away with it? 

 

"And uh, Leroy, it's considered Not Cool to just start witnessing to someone when you've just met'em," she said. 

 

"Anyway, welcome to Orange Squad, Eira. We are kind of the misfit group but we're all pretty cool," she said with a smirk. "Could also be considered the 'weird power' group. Lulu's a telepath, Davyd's a shapeshifter, and Leroy..." She trailed off, staring into the ceiling, before looking at Leroy.

 

"I just realized I don't know what your powers are."

 

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"Yeah, well, practicin's still good, right?," the fake Lulu replied to the real one with a shrug.  She rolled her head, and her form smoothly shifted back into a round-faced Ukrainian-American teenage boy.  "There is skill required in the use of our abilities," he addressed the group, "so we should be practicing constantly, yes?  And if doing so causes a bit of harmless confusion among our squadmates, well," he shrugged again, "that's better than practicing in an unsafe environment, with unknown actors, yes?"

 

Maybe there was some truth to what he said.  Or maybe it was just an excuse to use his powers, which he did love doing.  Or, perhaps, a bit of both.

 

He smiled and extended a hand to Eira again, "Davyd Palahniuk, also known as Horrorshow.  A pleasure to meet you!"

 

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Without standing up, Eira shook Davyd's hand, her grip bony and a little cool to the touch. "It was a good trick," she said softly. "I will remember that about you." She studied Davyd, blue eyes seeming to unfocus slightly, before she said, "The accident at the university, yes. So are you our minder?" she asked him frankly. "The one we are supposed to be like?

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If Davyd had been drinking, he'd be doing a spit-take about now.  "Your minder?  No, no.  No, no, no," he waved his hands as if to brush the thought away.  "I'm just a student, here to learn, same as all of you.  If you want to be like me, I won't stop you, but I think you should try to be... well... you."  He glanced around at his squadmates, "that is what they say high school, being a teenager, is all about, yes?  Finding yourself, figuring out what sort of adult you want to be?  Stepping out of our parent's shadows, becoming your own person?"

 

It suddenly dawned on him that three of his squadmates would be very keen on getting out of their respective "family business."  Hunh.

 

"So I suppose," he sat down, "that's what this meeting is about, yes?  Learning about each other -- not just our powers, but our personalities, our hopes and fears.  Not just what we can do, but why we do what we do."

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Leroy clapped lightly "Well said, face-dancer! And good morning, Davyd, good morning Louise Beaumont, to see you is a joy!" 

 

"Those questions do cut to heart of this matter," he added to Davyd, nodding respectfully to shapeshifting boy, "well worth the asking. Though neither question has a spectacular answer in my case. A star from another dimension lives in my heart, and until it grows and consumes me its overlap with my physical and metaphysical self grants certain advantages. As for what I do, well..." he frowned at the ceiling for a good moment, "...come to think of it, I do nothing much. Largely what Judy tells me. The girl whose boyfriend I am," he added, for Eira's benefit, "I have no ambitions. Not for myself, to be clearest. I have sufficient, to seek more would be a waste and a sin."

 

"Highest causes, lowest means." warned Dio, to the visible annoyance of the Dragon Prince.

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The door to the library's meeting room opened and closed quietly and one of the last members of Orange Squad stepped inside with little fanfare.  She glanced at the assembled, and gave the ones she knew a small nod and faint smile, but then cocked her head curiously to regard the newcomer.

 

The curiosity lasted for only a moment she she shrugged one shoulder and settled down in her seat, setting her book bag down on the ground and fishing out a notebook.  She withdrew, as she always did, into her notebook and pointedly ignoring everyone around her.  Occasionally she'd stop to brush a bit of her dark hair out of her eyes and tucking it behind one ear.

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"What exactly do we do?" asked Eira, looking from one face to another. "Claremont students have traveled the world, and to other worlds. They have saved the world - more than once!" Her cheeks colored again. "And all we do is sit here talking to each other like...like babies, trying to get in touch with our feelings?" She shot a look at the new arrival, not necessarily a hostile one, but not a friendly one either. She looked down and briefly made eye contact with the toyetic version of herself that Mia had made earlier. "Last year at this time, I was in space! A year before that, I was having breakfast with a living ghost! Now I am here - because the world out there is afraid of what happens when I step out of its shadow. Have the rest of you not seen the same?" She folded her hands before her, slim body practically vanishing inside her oversized hoodie, and stared flatly at the rest of the room. 

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"I am gonna level with you," Mia said flatly. "You're whining an awful lot. This Halloween, we were all kidnapped by an evil haunted house and I recently fought my ex-best friend because it turns out super-science turned her into a living curling iron. I don't really like you assuming stuff about me or this group"

 

"Seriously, lose the attitude. You might have super strength or whatever, but I can blast people as hard as a missile can hit people and crash world economies, Lulu can turn your brain into pudding with a mean thought, Davyd's successfully befriended an army of poultry that regularly fought off the Grue, Abby's the Craft but in real life, Leroy helped make life... Like, you're not that impressive, so, you know."

 

"Get over yourself."

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"Good morning, lady Storm!" Leroy waved enthusiastically to Abigail "Night, this is Abigail, she has a talent with the elemental forces and an unquenchable thirst for justice."

 

"I would not be so harsh, leader Mustafic-Markov. Night has certainly an accurate picture of me." Leroy smiled reassuringly. "Without the Phoros, I should be as helpless as any babe-in-arms."

 

"That aside, I agree such a macro-scale view of our situation is unproductive and, worse, misleading. No genius or might turns a child into an adult, only time and the exercise of curiosity. So! Let us try a more short-term and personal view of each other: our immediate goals. Not what we want for tomorrow, or next year, or ten years, today. For example, I am considering how to make some fufou and hot peanut soup. Beaumont, I understand you come from a region noted for culinary excellence. Would you like to try some?" Leroy hovered a hand over the dark crystal, and within its stygian depths a cold light awakened. Lurking. Hungering.Watching.

 

"A word of warning: the soup I was raised on is something of..." Leroy glanced at Dio, who mouthed something with an inhuman mouth unfitted for forming human sounds, "...an acquitted taste. It should, however, serve to make us feel less fierce."

Edited by Ari
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Davyd smiled and waved to Abby, then turned back to Mia.  "I've also befriended some giant space bears," he added with a solemn nod.

 

Then his attention turned to Leroy.  "I would advise against bringing food in here," Davyd offered.  "You know the librarians hate that.  Besides, based on what Benny told me what happened in Tech Club, I'm not entirely sure the stuff you make is... ah... safe."

 

Wait, Mia's our leader?  Did I miss something?

 

He rose from his chair, "so you don't want to be here.  I get it," he flipped his chair around, "you think you're too cool for school, that you've been done wrong."  His voice and form shifted, "but you're here, now, so," and now The Patriot was sitting backwards in the chair, looking right at Eira, and pointing at her with hie right index fingers, "what do you think can be done to make things right?"

 

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Her blue eyes wide, Eira stared unblinkingly at Mia as Leroy and Davyd spoke, finally turning to address not his patriotic face but his fingers. "Don't you know, it's not polite to point?" she asked sharply. She looked from one face to the other among her squad, running her left thumb along a scar at the top of her right knuckles. "The last time I told someone what I wanted, they sent me here to learn how to be normal.'" she said acidly, spitting out the last few words like so much venom, "But if I was a normal girl, I would not be here." With that, she began a remarkable metamorphosis of her own. First her skin seemed to compact, collapsing against her body and turning a distinct shade of silver. Then her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes seemed to dissolve to dust, just before her clothes did the same. As her blue eyes shifted from blue to a brilliant, featureless white, the robotic teenager folded her jointed fingers before her and watched the others, their faces reflected in her smooth, silvery skin. 

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"Yeah, Leroy, I'm gonna pass on food for now, not really, ah, feelin' hungry," she said, narrowing her eyes. She recognized what Leroy was attempting to do, but she really wasn't in the mood for defusing things.  When Eira began transforming, Mia folded her arms, leaning back in her chair. Okay, she's a robot. Whatever, she thought to herself. 


"Cool," Mia said in a monotone. "My godmom is a cyborg, my half-sister is a weird clone baby. Somehow, they both manage to not act so goddamn high and mighty despite also not fitting the whole 'normal' thing. Like, you clearly think you're better than us, and like your situation is supposed to be unique? But we're all 'not normal', and somehow the only person with a problem here is you."

 

"Everyone here is hard done by, none of us are normal, and yeah, a lot of us would have rather not gone here. Join the club," she said, spreading her hands wide. "But you know what? We all got over it, and you will too, but it will be a hell of a lot easier on you and all of us if you start trying to do that now."

 

 

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Lulu waved at Abby and mouthed a 'hey, then frowned and shook her head at Leroy's offer of weird soup. And then everyone started to piss each other off and Eira transformed, and suddenly Lulu was on her feet with both her hands out.

 

"Y'all need to calm down, alright? Ah think the two of you-" She looked pointedly at both Mia and Eira. "Have a lot more in common than you think, which is probably why you're ready for a dustup. Both of you've been screwed over, both of you've got attitude, but somehow we all have to coexist in the same building without blowin' out the windows, okay? High school's only a prison sentence if you make it one." She turned to Eira and shrugged. "You don't have to like us; you just have to study and practice with us. Maybe watch a movie or play a game. If you can handle high school, you can conquer anything."

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