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Fall 2020 

The kitchens 

 

Between one thing and another, Orange Squad had not had many opportunities so far to get to know each other. But with the traditional American holiday season settling in, it was evidently time to change that. Professor Lynn has spread the home ec class throughout the big Claremont kitchens as best she can, trying to stay out of the way of the hardworking group of student professionals and community volunteers who actually make the meals Claremont students eat. 

 

"All right, everyone, I have your assignment. All of you represent different culinary legacies to one degree or another," she said, giving a special smile to Ryder who was clearly already one of her favorite students, "and it's the integration of the whole into one that makes for a really good team!" She smiled, hands inside her apron, as she went on, "what I want you to do is come up with a dish that truly represents your blended legacies. And don't think I'm asking you to cook your lived identity, either, because that's nonsense. Come up with a dish that represents a combination of your past, your future, your skills, and your talents - and prepare a version of it that can be served at dinner tomorrow evening. That's just in case your first attempts don't work out," she added with a smile as she moved among the group of students. "remember, there are accidents in the kitchen - but only happy ones!" 

 

Eira extended the finger on her left hand and then began unscrewing it, slowly undoing each joint with an audible click-click-click, watching the organic students as they talked to the home ec teacher. This was not a class to which she had contributed very much. 

 

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Natalia was looking bored - and in fact was bored, if not as bored as she looked - with half-lidded golden eyes watching their teacher move through the classroom. She didn't mind home economics, not really, but she'd never done much cooking for anyone but herself and had found that she wasn't much for performative gastronomy.

 

She was looking forward to the section on sewing. She would destroy that section and glory in it. Bury her enemies in perfect stitching and entomb them in flawless repair.

 

"I'd actually thought she was asking us to dig into our family backgrounds, for a moment, and dreaded to think what we might combine with borscht or sour shchi without turning someone's nose...or stomach." She'd lapsed into a thick Russian accent toward the end of the sentence. She waved a hand to dismiss it, and the idea that it had carried in. "I don't suppose anyone has any thrilling ideas on how to present a person as food without resorting to cannibalism? ....or recycling."

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Eira raised an eyebrow at Natalia, snapping her finger back into place with an audible click-click-click. She, Abby, and Davyd were the senior members of the team this year, but between one thing and another they had never actually met to discuss how they might work with the younger students. "As I do not eat except for pleasure," she said cooly, "it is of no matter to me."She hmmed, then added, "Though it must be vegan. We are not contributing to the animal slaughter industry for a school project."  There was real disgust in her voice at the last point, even as she began staring off into space, her eyes unfocusing. 

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Horrorshow

 

"Uncle Sasha told me once about a meeting he went to where they served sushi on top of some models," Davyd said, looking up from his notebook and turning to face Natalia & Eira.  "Though, um, I don't think that's, uh, quite what you meant... and I don't think Professor Lynn would allow that, anyway," he gave a quick glance to the instructor.

 

He cocked his head slightly more towards Eira, "vegan's the one that has no animal products of any kind, yeah?  No milk, butter, cream, eggs... honey?  That...," his voice trailed off into a deflating balloon sound.  "Maybe if I... no, no, that won't..."  Suddenly, a light went off above his head, literally, as a bioluminescent anglerfish lure emerged, "oh, deruny!  Ah, potato pancakes.  Just need to figure out a substitute for the egg."

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Ryder looked absolutely delighted by Natalia's brief slip in accent but then he seemed delighted by most things. He raised his eyebrows at her as if to say he wanted to return to that topic later then placed a reassuring hand on Davyd's shoulder and kindly but firmly said, "Nobody's being a plate. That's kinda super messed up." One of the little robotic insects that accompanied him everywhere, the glossy black kabuto beetle, crawled up and over the edge of Davyd's desk and somehow managed to deliver a very flat look with its little optic sensors. Ryder clapped his hands together enthusiastically. "Making it vegan is easy! You just need to avoid getting hung up on the normal ingredients and think about the actual result you're going for, y'know? Pancakes are a great starting point! Pancakes means stacks, stacks means layers, layers means variety!" The light blue cricket Robug chirped in cheerful agreement, dancing about underneath Eira's elevated hands. "And I don't want to assume Abby has a maple syrup hookup but, like...?" He gave the Canadian student a hopeful shrug and slightly dimpled grin.

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Abigail wasn't quite scowling at her station, but she was annoyed enough with the task at hand that she almost missed Ryder's comment.  She blinked, and cocked her head to the side as she looked up at him.  "I may know some people," she said, letting her previous annoyance slide away and she favored him with a grin.

 

"Agreed on the pancakes, layers and such.  But what about cakes in general?  They can layer too."

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"No, Davyd," Nocturne confirmed in a tone that threatened to frost over the desk, "I think I speak for the other girls here when I say that we are not going to be plates, whether or not the teacher would allow it. If you boys want to, you can work that out yourselves."

 

She'd pulled out her phone and had started paging through, presumably, recipes - though she wasn't given any sign of finding anything interesting. "Someone more invested in bee cruelty than I am may have to give input on cooking without honey - or eggs, if our veganism is excluding even the cruelty-free sort." She dropped an eyebrow at her phone, thumbing through a series of pictures. "So far it looks like vegan potato pancakes aren't so much pancakes as they are...croquettes? Cake could be an option, but a single cake has to be...cohesive. You can mix and match pancakes separately, with their own toppings. You cannot mix and match a cake so easily."

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Eira made a dismissive snort Davyd's way, rolling her eyes and muttering something that sounded rude. As she focused on the others, she added. "If we can be assured that the honey and the eggs have been procured ethically, I have no objection to using them - but I will not partake except to ensure the proper flavor and consistency has been reached." She considered a moment, then said, "Americans love thick pancakes, yes? We could prepare a pancake in a pan, like so." She opened her hand and demonstrated by displaying a holographic depiction of pancakes being cooked inside sheet pans. "If the base itself is vegan, you could customize the individual pancakes with whatever additions you think is...appropriate." She waved a hand, dismissing the image, and added, "There is a bottle of agave syrup in the kitchen stockpile.

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd had shrank, slightly but perceptibly, at the responses to his serving suggestion.  Maybe mom's right, spending too much time with Uncle Sasha has warped my perceptions.

 

He shook the thoughts of his mother's reactions away, and took a deep breath (re-inflating himself as he did), and looked to Ryder and Natalia, "okay, I get that that was a poorly thought-out remark, and I apologize for any discomfort I caused."  He looked down at his notebook, then up again, to no one in particular, "and, uh, as for toppings on the deruny, it's usually something savory, not sweet, or not too sweet.  Sour cream is most common, but," he quickly glanced over at Eira, "it could also be a mushroom sauce, or some fruit preserves.  Maybe apple jelly, or tomato jam."

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Ryder gave Dayvd a cheerful thumbs up, impressed by the well handled apology. He turned the gesture into finger guns in Abby's direction. "Cake is valid, extremely valid! I feel like the other groups are going to go for desserts, though. It's sort of easy mode, like, 'hey we all like sugar, wild!'" Ryder's imitation of someone being overly enthusiastic achieved a level of irony that may have been lost on him. "And this is supposed to be thematically substantial, yeah? So savoury but we can also go rich." He motioned with both hands as though holding something with metaphorical weight. "I'm am super down for the fruit preserves. That's totally my jam." His eyebrows rose into his strawberry blond bangs and his grin broadened enough to deepen his dimples as he waited for a reaction to the pun.

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Eira made a thoroughly disgusted noise, then another when she seemed to come to a realization. 

 

The teens went about their work, after a short discussion about milk substitutes that settled on the use of nut. It wasn't actually very difficult to make pancakes, so while some of her classmates concentrated on gathering what they'd be adding to theirs and whatever of several possibilities was going to make this both savory and rich, Eira concentrated on whipping the flour into the milk. Finding herself near Nocturne she shot a look at the other girl and said, "Hsst," unsubtly, nodding her head to get her attention. 

 

"I did not ask her to do that, you know," she whispered when she had a moment with Nocturne. "On move-in day." She looked too annoyed for a moment, scowling at her work, to name names. "I am not like that.

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Natalia arched an eyebrow, but she didn't look away from the dry scale she was using to measure assorted ingredients by mass. The correct way. She'd claimed the job at the first discussion of measuring powders by volume.

 

"You're going to have to be more specific," she said - not quite quietly, certainly not a whisper, but not loud enough to attract attention over the rest of their work. She held out a hand and one of their bags 'fell' sideways across the table and into her hand. "Our floor contains a great many hers," she pointed out, still not looking up from the careful measurement of what the package said was some manner of crushed nuts, "and you aptly demonstrated yourself to be very much like several thats. If you have some specific defense to make, make it."

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Eira shot a glare Natalia's way and hissed, "I am not weak. I did not need Veronica Danger to - intercede on my behalf." She picked out each word with a frosty precision as her left arm moved with a robotic efficiency that mirrored the last stroke of the whisk every time. "That is how it is here, you know? Some know how to bite, some of them know only how to hide. Even Chelone knows how to bite and she is a tortoise."  For a moment it looked like she wanted to say more - before she smirked and said, "So you and Ryder are friends, eh? He once tried to set me up with his sister for smoothies." She snorted loudly, almost a guffaw, and shot Ryder a friendly elbow at the comment. 

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A startled Ryder managed to launch of trio of plums in three different trajectories as he abruptly straightened up. A streak of light blue bounded through the air as Cyan intercepted one of the fruits while Yellow caught another against her underside, clamping her legs around it and tumbling in tight circles to absorb its momentum. They returned the plums to their creator while Magenta smugly presented a pile of neatly sliced plum cubes. "Whoops! Thanks, guys." 

 

He turned to give Eira his attention, tilting his head to one side like a confused golden retriever. "I did? Sorry, wasn't on purpose!" He ducked his head apologetically and palmed the remaining plums again. "I just thought you'd have stuff to talk about with the whole 'designing a body that authentically represents you' thing. She is pretty popular like that, though so maybe it would have gone that way anyway? Either way, smoothies!" He laughed cheerfully and went back to chopping fruit. From a nearby table Black levelled a flat look at Eira and clacked his mandibles once.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Horrorshow

 

Davyd had chuckle-groaned at Ryder's preserve pun while attending to the base of the deruny, the potatoes and onions.  He'd started with the onions, figuring those would be the most difficult, and his initial attempts had brought about many tears.  "Ugh, there's got to be a better way to do this, yeah?  Oh!  Yeah!"  He closed his eyes, which then sealed over, leaving the top half of his face a smooth, featureless blank.  His ears then grew, wider and longer, more chiropteran.  He made a series of clicking noises, nodded to himself, then continued grating onions into a large metal bowl.

 

He had been trying to ignore Eira & Natalia's interactions, with little success.  I really don't want to get into that, but I'd best keep an eye out in case Eira gets in one of her moods.  And to see how Natalia reacts.  He turned slightly to Ryder & his robugs, hoping it would make his observation less obvious.  "Hey, so," he started, still an eyeless bat-thing, "you said you made those?  All four of them?  Wow!"

 

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"I did, yeah!" Ryder confirmed enthusiastically, taking the opportunity to give Yellow a reassuring pat on the head with fruit juice stained fingers. "Magenta's the youngest but they've all been online for almost a year now! Of course we're always trying out different upgrades so I don't know if they'll ever really be 'done', ha!" Cyan hopped up to take his customary place on Ryder's shoulder as though supervising the arranging of the various fruits into colourful piles. "Sometimes I feel like it's more like they made themselves though, y'know? They all started with the same basic behaviour program but figured out their own personalities pretty much right away! Kinda reminds me that everybody gets to decide who they're going to be for themselves!" His grin was broad enough the Davyd could pick it up with echolocation alone.

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"Of course you aren't weak," Natalia agreed, all too easily. "You are literally a robot. Physically, you're very strong - your cr--"

 

She cut off, Davyd's transformation finally enough to draw her attention away from her work. She clearly wasn't sure what to make of the eyeless bat-thing, eyebrows raised, nonplussed, but after a moment she put two and two together. "I'm not sure what that is, Davyd," she mused, glancing down at the onions, "but I hope it likes onion pancakes."

 

She shook her head and turned back to her measuring. "You could probably lift a car," she continued, neither complimentary nor disdainful, "or whatever your body was built for." She finally looked Eira's way, flashing her such an uncharacteristically saccharine smile that, however convincing, it couldn't have possibly been genuine. "And my opinion of you is so important, the idea that someone might think you're weak hurt you so much, that you've been worried about it for days and had to bring it back up as soon as you could."

 

She let that one - and the smile - hang in the air for a moment before turning back to her work. "Ryder is very useful in a fight and worryingly disarming. I think I'll find a way to weaponize him some day."

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Eira seethed visibly before responding crisply, "It is important you know what is true and what is not true - or you will make stupid decisions, yes?" She turned and looked at Ryder, her scowl fading a little, and admitted, "Ryder shows an acceptable regard for the lives of others."

 

She cocked her head and stared at Black for a moment, eyes briefly unfocusing - and suddenly a smile burst across her face and she snorted through her nostrils. "Hah! I have thought of weaponizing such a thing myself but the use of mind-altering sonics raises ethical questions." She looked at Davyd and called "Speaking of - why do you adopt both the senses and the appearance?" She didn't sound offended, just curious. "Would it not be easier to pick one way and go down it, Abby?" she asked with a wink at her 'cousin'. 

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Abigail blinked at Eira's comment, thought about it for a moment, then choked back a laugh while her face flushed.

 

"Ha, yeah, easier," she said, popping open a cupboard to look inside before closing it again.  Her brow furrowed a little in concentration while she made a small twisting gesture with her fingers before touching the door of the cupboard.  There was a small pulse of light around the door, and when she opened it back up the contents had changed.

 

"Here's the syrup," she said placing a jug of it on the counter.  "I'm sure my sister's friend won't mind us raiding her pantry."

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Horrorshow

 

"Oh, wow!," he responded to Ryder.  "And are they linked together?  I know the stories about insects have hive minds, do they have something similar?"  He faced each of the four robugs and made a few high-pitched squeaks, and marveled at the sonar-generated images.

 

Davyd shrugged at Eira's question, "that's just the way it works.  I want to fly, I need to grow wings.  I want to swim, I grow gills.  I want the eyesight of an eagle, I get the beak and feathers, too."  He set the bowl of grated onions aside, rinsed the grater, then set to work on the potatoes, grating them with the skins still on.  "Biology may be messier than robotics," he 'looked' to her and the robugs, "but it gets the job done."

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"Or I'll convince you not everything needs to be a weapon first!" Ryder replied to Natalia with a cheerful laugh and a wink which was in fact worryingly disarming. "Biology and robotics are both great! Porque no los dos, right?" He extended an open hand and accepted a high five from one of Magenta's curved forelegs. "I respect Davyd's commitment to the aesthetic anyway. Like, you don't need to colour coordinate with your powers or have big shiny wings but that sounds like a deeply boring way to go through life." Paint splattered overalls with the straps hanging about his waist paired with a tight black t-shirt emblazoned with an enlarged panel of pop art done in Ben Day dots made it clear where Ryder stood on the issue.

 

"I want to know more about the magic cupboard! Is that defining a set of liminal dimensional coordinates to bridge two separate physical spaces while disregarding geographic causality?" He leaned over Abby's shoulder to examine the cupboard door. "That's what my belt does!"

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"Aesthetic is vital," agreed Natalia, setting the last of her ingredients on the scale. "If you aren't willing to commit, why do you even bother? Why would they even venture outside and inflict themselves on the rest of us if they lack the necessary flair."

 

Finally satisfied with her portions, she leaned back and stretched, tiny black and gold particles whisking the measuring cup off the scales and toward their bowls. "Not everything needs to be a weapon, Cricket, but everything can be. How am I to crush my enemies if I'm not properly armed? Do you think I have such poor enemies? That's an insult, Cricket, and I won't stand by it." That was possibly too friendly for the table. She tried to gracefully dial that back. "I believe I'm done here, if there's anything else that needs doing to hurry this along."

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"It is a secret mortal men were not meant to know," said Eira with a portentous smirk from Abby's other side, having finished her side of the project and passed it off for the actual cooking phase - not something she actually had much experience with, though it was easy enough to access the relevant Youtube videos. "Fortunately some of us are neither." Leaving Abby with Ryder, she took Davyd's finished potatoes and onions over to the oven before asking, "Do you ever model? I know the mainstream organizations exclude metahumans but you could probably make money as an independent, yes?" She smiled thinly. 

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Horrorshow

 

Why does she keep talking like... that?, Davyd wondered of his newest squadmate.  He hadn't interacted with Natalia much before today, and he knew he should, but her whole attitude.  Hold on, now, maybe this is why she was put on Orange Squad: to learn to lighten up!

 

He looked to Natalia as she moved the cup off the scale, "you control gravity, yeah?  Seems to me like you don't need any weapons."  He nodded slightly, "must take a lot of concentration, though, yeah?"

 

Eira's question drew his attention, wait, did she just... compliment me?  He let out a nervous chuckle, "uh, no, not really.  I mean, yeah, there are a few pics of me in costume from various plays, or Halloween parties, but that's it.  And, yeah," he shrugged, "I know there are a lot of models to've come from Ukraine, but I prefer to work more behind the scenes.  Backstage, not on it, yeah?"

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