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Being Yourself(IC)


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August 4th, 2012, 1.05 P.M.

The Sondo family lived in a three-story apartment building, part of a three-building complex on the corner of 44th and L Street that housed most of the workers for the stores, factories and warehouses the slightly decayed district's inhabitants helped run. The place smelt of burned meat and sweat with an undercurrent of cigarette smoke in the hallways, held by the thick carpeting and thicker walls with sparse windows that let in blazing shafts of sunlight. The rush of traffic down the streets was punctuated regularly by the guttural passing of a freight truck heading for the industrial sectors of Freedom City, which did little to drown out the melodies coming from most of the rooms.

The Sondo family lived in room 307, just past the door striped green and red, with a small dent on the drywall beside the door and a brass knocker inscribed with the Latin phrase 'Unus pro omnibus et omnes pro uno', the literary significance of which was wholly lost on most of the Sondos, none of them being particularly big readers.

Inside the cramped apartment, the desperate last-minute rush to arrange things better was the cause for a constant stream of Spanish commands, questions and the scraping and bumping of furniture that seemed impossible to shift in any fashion, all of which drifted out into the hall where the guests awaited. The visit had been a long time coming, requiring a careful arrangement on the part of the family's various schedules to allow all of the hard-working clan the time to have a gathering so late in the year. It was determined that nothing that they could avoid would mar the afternoon.

Galanta's muscular form briefly swept out from behind the door, calling out brightly "Just a few more minutes, Subito!" she grinned and waved at the guests before vanishing back inside.

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In his button-up shirt and khaki pants, Subito looked deeply uncomfortable as he and the other two waited in the hall. He had thought that his father Pavor had been entirely sincere in saying that it would be a "casual thing". At Galanta's appearance he brightened up, only to slump forward a little when she made clear they hadn't gotten things quite disorganized enough. "Thanks sis!" he called after her nonetheless.

Well, at least he called the day before to tell me the dress code he thought glumly, tugging at the unbuttoned collar of his shirt maybe they won't scare Serge off completely. Unless Rodrigo starts talking to him about Babylon 5... he glanced at the staircase still visible from the door, and shook his head once No, I gotta stay and keep things from getting stupid! I can't run now! Commendable, Subito. I will do what I can to assist, but do not place so little faith in your family's ability to contain their enthusiasm at meeting your friends the deep, grave voice sounded in his head, its tone gently chiding.

"So...you guys have much trouble finding the place" he asked casually, rubbing at an irritated wrist that was being slowly worn down by a stiff cuff.

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Vicky absentmindedly fiddled with the lacing on her favorite white blouse. "Not really. Then again, I did sort of cheat in getting here," she said with a slight smirk, looking over dark tinted sunglasses and winking one black and red eye.

Sticking her hands in the pockets of her black slacks she leaned against the wall, she was somewhat regretting the choice of footwear already. Note to self; ignore Janis when buying shoes, she mentally groused as she fidgeted one foot in the pumps she wore.

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Serge's face was slightly red and sweaty, but he was breathing normally by now, and his blonde hair was more or less straightened. He wore kahki baggy jeans, a blue open shirt, and inside that, a white tanktop.

"Well... Kinda... yeah..." Serge responded more awkwardly than Vicky. "I decided against bringing my costume with me, so any form of fast travelling short of public transport was out of the picture. That meant that I had to take 3 buses and the subway to get here, and for a long while there I felt kinda lost..." Scratching his head, the young man let out a weak laughter. "But at any rate, I managed to find my way, so all's well."

Turning at Vicky, he asked "By the way, did you make many short-range jumps, or a few long-range ones? I'd imagine the later must be very difficult and require great amounts of concentration and visualisation, correct?"

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Vicky nudged the messenger bag she habitually carried with the toe of one white shoe, "My suit's in the bag, I pretty much never leave home without it. Not since the subway incident..." Running a hand through her snowy hair she sighed, "Plus, I had to do some running around before getting here. Mona wanted to discuss my working on something special for the next anthology her company's publishing."

"Mostly longer jumps," she replied, "But the only thing really harder about going five miles compared to a couple football fields is having more calories stored up to burn for the actual jump. Subito's seen my breakfasts after a good morning workout back at Claremont and they make those giant meals that if you can finish it's free look like a fun-size candy nugget compared to a normal bar."

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"Surge, cool down dude" Subito told his friend with a grin "Glad to hear that anthology thing is going ahead, Vicky, andthat both got here alright, and sorry for.." he glanced at the closed door "...uh...this" he finished, gesturing vaguely ahead of himself. Leaning against the wall next to the galring window he fidgeted nervously with his clothes as he went on "Usually this ain't how it goes, most of the time they're super-casual about get togethers like this, but I guess they wanted t'do somethin' special, or something? I dunno" he began to shake his head before stopping, tilting it to one side and listening to something with a look of relief "They'll be done in a few minutes, though. I can hear 'em. Mom's getting the good cups out" a sudden look of near-panic came over his face "Oh, mia Padre, I hope Galanta remembers to be gentle with those."

Shoving himself away from the wall he paced back and forth a few times, then turning quickly to Victoria and Serge. "So..how have your school years been going? Mine's been weird, fun, and full of snakey people. Also, I wanna ask about..er..something when dinner's over. About another student..uh" he blushed and bowed his head as he fumbled with a shirt-cuff before looking up again for their replies

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"Oh, mia Padre, I hope Galanta remembers to be gentle with those."

Letting a light laugh out, Serge said whispered to Subito "I take it your mom would go slightly ballistic at the sound of crashing porcelain, huh?" Waving his hand, he responded "I think I talk for both me and Vicky that we don't mind the fuss, really. A more simpler get-together would be more enjoyable, but if your folks feel they have to go out of their way to make it a special occasion, well, I'm not about to spoil it for them..." Serge commented, before adding, mostly to himself "...at least, I hope I won't."

"So..how have your school years been going? Mine's been weird, fun, and full of snakey people. Also, I wanna ask about..er..something when dinner's over. About another student..uh"

"You know... the beginning of the year had been very frantic, for me, but hey, by the time winter had rolled around, things seemed to fall in a neat pace. If nothing else, the courses, at least, are a million times more interesting than my older school's!" Serge nodded sagely. However, when Subito seemed to lose his trail of thougths at the end, Serge became a bit curious. "Eh? What do you mean? Did something happen? You had a fight with that student or something?" he asked honestly.

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Vicky added to Serge's comment about the fuss, "The first time I brought anyone over for dinner my parents did pretty much this only the voices were in Russian and English." She gave a quiet chuckle, recalling how surprised they had been when she'd asked about inviting a bunch of classmates over for dinner. "I think every family goes through this exact scenario at some point."

Answering the questions about the school year she shrugged, "Last year was nice but I'm looking forward to my first classes at FreeSA this fall. Not sure who much of an impact they'll have on my extra-curriculars but I do enjoy a challenge."

His last comments however caught her attention, more his blushing and trying, poorly, to hide it than anything else. She assumed it was probably something involving a girl but she wasn't going to push. Glancing at Serge the look she shot him was a gentle and subtle one to let it go for now, "No worries. We're here for ya."

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The stocky teen gave a sigh of relief and smiled at the other two "Thanks a lot guys. I know I wouldn't be as comfortable in a situation like this" he rubbed the back of his curly head as he considered how to bring it up, looking chagrined at Serge's guess. He knew his sister hadn't been as peace-keeping as he was, and had started to suffer a backlash because of it.

"Nah, I haven't gotten into any fights with any of the others at school, luckily" he took a deep breath and let it out slowly "I'll tell ya when supper's over, it's about Janis" he admitted sheepishly, looking hopefully at the door.

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"Wow. Must be a tough schedule, huh?" Serge mused about Vicky's plans. "So, is there any course that you'd be particularly interested to, Vicky? A close friend of mine is somewhat good at drawing. Objects are beyond him, and he can't replicate anything he draws to save his life, but he can make a mean character model. Nothing close to professional level, mind you, but it's nowhere near crude." Laughing a bit, as he remembered a few things about his friend, Serge added. "Maaaan, you should really see his working pace; he goes through A-4 paper sheets faster than a movie-goer goes through a pop-corn. Hahahaa."

At Subito's response, Serge continued giving puzzled looks at Subito and Vicky, before giving up. "Okay, sure." He said, shrugging, as he scratched the back of his hair. While the three of them were waiting, he proceeded to stretch out a bit.

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"Just a little," Vicky admitted. "As for particular courses I'm involved in the creative writing classes and sequential art as well as some computer graphics stuff."

As Serge described his friend's drawing habits she had to smile a little, "Reminds me when I first started actually. It took forever to get to my current level and working with Mona and Lou over at Archemedia, it makes me see I'm nowhere near the top. And going through paper like popcorn? I've got a few binders thicker than the entire Harry Potter series full of old sketches and half-finished graphic novel projects, some of which might end up being revisited down the line."

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Subito listened with interest to Victoria and Serge, whistling quietly at the white-haired girl's mention of having binders thicker than an entire novel series. "That is a lotta pictures, I really wouldn't want to have to figure out where to store all of 'em" he commented, eyes lighting up as Serge mentioned his artistically-minded friend. After a few seconds of thought he spoke up eagerly "Hey, how about we try and get together with this pal of yours, Surge? Vicky could give him some pointers, he could meet some of your other friends, it'd be great! What d'you say?" he asked excitedly, his earlier unease forgotten as he considered the possibilities such a meeting could have.

Turning to Victoria he added "Oh, yeah, just so you know, if Galanta asks if you do a lot of fighting, be as vague as possible. She can talk for hours about different fighting styles and stuff, fair warning" he shrugged casually "O'course, not sayin' you can't, but it would be a little rude, is all I'm saying"

He spun on his heel abruptly when a faint thud was heard relaxing with a sigh of relief, explaining to the other two "It's okay, they just shifted the table" he leaned next to the window, his head against the wall and the rest of himself stretched out into the hall at an oblique angle.

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"Sequential art, eh? Hehe, live the dream, Vicky. Live the dream!" Serge remarks light-heartedly. Getting slightly more serious, he says "But yeah, reaching the top can certainly seem downright intimidating, but don't lose heart; preservance is the first step towards success!" Flashing a smile, Serge frowned a bit, as he thought about what he said "... or... is it the second step, actually?"

To his male friend, Subito, Serge replied "Hmm, we usually see each-other once a week, during the weekend, depending on our schedules. I'm sure he wouldn't mind a get-together, if it's just us."

"It's okay, they just shifted the table"

The sudden noise startled Serge a bit, but seeing Subito's reaction, he couldn't help himself but attempt a friendly jibe "Are you saying that because you're honestly certain of it, or because you hope so?"

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"Actually, I'd been using the scanners in the school's library to copy and save most of them on a hard drive. Since setting up in my office, I've been continuing the practice during any meals I take at my desk," Vicky said. When Subito suggested a get together with Serge's friend she nodded with a grin, "I'm in."

Vicky fiddled with sleeve of her blouse, "Probably the second. I think the first is either getting off one's ass and trying or a dose of 'getoffyourassidone'. Still, I'm the youngest person in the office so I feel somewhat like the tag-along kid. The company receptionist is older than me for crying out loud. Pretty sure most of the webcomic guys are too."

The mention of fighting took the Russian off-guard. "...Ooookay. So, stifle the first reaction of 'well yes, I do enjoy throwing guys in high-tech battle armor through walls', gotcha," she said with a teasing smile.

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With a rattle the door opened again, this time to let out the smells of freshly-cooked meat, a myriad of cheeses and the unmistakable scent of corn along with Galanta, who Subito was surprised to see had somehow gotten a flower into her hair and was wearing a green dress with a vaguely Greek pattern on it. Walking out into the hall she hugged the guests warmly, yet gingerly enough that she didn't end up squeezing them with her powerful arms. "Thank you so much for coming to eat!" she said excitedly, throwing an arm around Serge and Victoria's shoulders as she maneuvered the three of them sideways into the wood-paneled front hall of the apartment, glancing back at Subito to make sure he was following "'Bito's been telling us about you guys for months now, I guess he's not as timid as I thought he was!" she added with a hearty laugh as she gestured for them to remove their shoes on a low rack of other footwear, tossing off her own sandals and leading them to the kitchen, the purple table of which was covered with plates of yams with beef and rice all but spilling out of them in glistening piles, chopped and spiced vegetables wrapped in corn-bread and steamed in the juices of the yams, a plate devoted to meat and cheese sandwiches with no two alike in contents, fried and mashed plantains, omelets served with prodigious mounds of bacon and rabbit meat, a plate of cheeses from several continents, and drinks that included plum juice, iced tea, mineral water and a tall ornate glass pitcher of milk. The room was a riot of color, with even the cupboards painted different colors(mostly blues and greens) and the ceiling a brilliant vermillion, with intricately woven tapestries depicting various scenes of Puerto Rican history on most of the walls.

Still fussing with the arrangement of these delectations, were a towering beanpole of a man with a clipped and curling beard and a bald head, and a stocky woman who put even Galanta's dense musculature to shame, him wearing a crisp white shirt and khaki pants, while she wore an elegant blue dress decorated with golden birds. Seeing the guests, the tall man walked forward, spread his arms and said in a grave, soft voice said "Welcome and hola! Be seated, and we shall enjoy this bounty together! I'm Pavor, Subito's told us a lot about you" he added in a much more normal tone, not smiling in the least but sounding deeply pleased to see them. The much more dour-looking woman nodded briefly to the guests, stepping away from the table one last time to inspect the array critically, smiled, and in a flash had crossed the meters between herself and the guests and gravely kissed them on the cheeks, gripping Vick and Serge's shoulder with powerful hands as she said "Welcome! Broma Sondo, welcome to our home"

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Vicky slipped out of her shoes, leaving them next to the rows of shoes in the rack by the door. The freedom of her toes from the pinching of the shoes was a sudden and welcome change. Being lead by Galanta towards the table, the sights and smells of the feast spread out all but made the young woman's mouth water.

Trying to swallow her accent she replied, "Thank you for inviting us." Taking her seat she waited for everyone else to do the same. Almost forgetting her dark tinted sunglasses she reached up and pulled them from her face, sticking them in the bag she hung on the back of her chair. "Sorry, I'm so used to wearing them sometimes I forget to pull them off."

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"Thank you so much for coming to eat!"

"Ah, thank you for having us." Serge replied politely.

"'Bito's been telling us about you guys for months now, I guess he's not as timid as I thought he was!"

"Likewise, we've been hearing a lot of words about his family as well. From what I gathered, it's pretty apparent that, Subito, is really fond of all of you." the young man said, stiffling a small laughter as he whispered at Subito "... or... should I say, 'Bito?" giving him a knowing look that said <Fair warning: I'm gonna milk this to make fun of you about that for the rest of your life>.

Serge similarly greeted Subito's mother and father, as they were ushered in. After a while, he asked them meekly "So... Subito told me about the Sondo naming tradition. I guess Galanta's name has the same roots as the word Gallant, but I'm curious, what do your names mean?"

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Subito followed close behind the others, relieved that Galanta wasn't in a bad mood today. It ain't like she usually is, but sometimes... he shook his head, not the time for that. Kicking off his shoes with two quick movements, he sauntered after his imposing sister and his two friends.

He briefly lost himself for a moment, staring in awe at the spread that lay on the table and giving a low whistle. Grinning broadly he turned to his dour mother "How come you don't cook like this every day, Mom?" he asked Broma jokingly "It might make Rodrigo a little less grouchy!" his smile gradually wilted under her grim stare, and he looked sheepishly at the ground before glancing up and muttering "<I..I'm sorry, I know..yeah>" he stood awkwardly, not knowing where to look. After a second Broma's face softened, and passing between Victoria and Serge she patted his arm kindly "

"... or... should I say, 'Bito?"

"Oh come on, Surge, It's just what they called me when I was a kid!" Subito protested hotly, turning scarlet and looking imploringly at his parents, who happened to have chosen that moment to look cheerfully at the other two students. "It was all he could say when he was four" Pavor explained calmly "it was adorable!" he hugged the red-faced mantle-bearer with a fervor belying his lean arms. After a brief few seconds of mutinous rigidity, Subito relaxed and returned the hug, stepping away with a smile of genuine affection for his spindly father. Suddenly looking over at Vicky he said curiously "Hey, Vick, what happened to your voice? I thought you had a Russian accent?" he looked baffled "Y'don't need to do that, you know. Not like they'll hate you for havin' an accent" Galanta pounded Victoria enthusiastically on the back as she began setting up some of the places for the meal.

With a soft noise of footsteps, a boy with a definite family resemblance to Galanta and Subito though with much finer and more delicate features walked in, wearing baggy clothes and large glasses. His hair was a profusion of curls, and after a second of grim observation he walked up to the two guests, holding out his hand "I'm Rodrigo, Galanta and Subito's cousin" he said quickly, already looking with wide eyes at the heaped table.

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Vicky allowed some of her accent back into her voice, though she enunciated a little more than she normally made the effort to do. "I do, it's just that I know how thick my accent can get when I get going." She gave a small, if embarrassed shrug, "It's pretty much the only downside to growing up in the kind of bilingual environment that I did."

The teleporter chuckled at a memory, "More than half my old school were children of Russian immigrants so most of us spoke the language pretty fluently. It was kind of funny when my old school's girl's soccer team would start a game by standing at complete attention, the couch yelling the usual pre-game stuff and the team calling back, the exchange taking place entirely in Russian. They freaked so many other teams out with that."

Looking up as the new member of the Sando clan entered, Vicky smiled and returned the handshake, "Nice to meet you Rodrigo. I'm Victoria Knight."

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Subito laughed heartily at Victoria's anecdote about her Russian-speaking soccer team. "I know what you mean Vi-er, Victoria" he amended hastily, catching the sharp glance of his mother "I've seen stuff like that happen just around here, when the Brasilian and Mexican kids play soccer get mad they start yelling at each other in Spanish and Portuguese, to let 'em know they're being insulted and keep them from knowing what to say in reply" he shook his head ruefully "It can get pretty silly, I tell ya!" he said with a wry grin while piling wraps and fruit onto his plate.

"Subito Sondo, the great humanitarian" Rodrigo said blandly and with a cold twitch to his lips as he selected with great care one of the sandwiches and a small pile of cheese.

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"It was all he could say when he was four; it was adorable!"

"You WILL, of course, show us some photos on that time from the album, later, right?" Serge asked Subito's parents, with the grin of a great white shark when he finds his prey plastered across his face, a grin that had <prime blackmail material> written all over.

"Hello, Rodrigo! Nice to meet you!" Serge said politely at Subito's cousin. "I'm Serge, and me and Victoria are Subito's schoolmates. Don't worry, we're making sure that your cousin doesn't get into too much trouble." He then decided to help himself at some food.

"Subito Sondo, the great humanitarian"

Blinking a couple of times, Serge felt a bit worried about the temperature in the room, so he decided to try and cool things off a bit in the best way he could think of. "Wait, what? A humanitarian?" turning at Subito with a mock expression, he asked "What's that I hear, bro? Didn't you say that you're into healthy food? And hey! Don't get any ideas; There's hardly any meat in these bones of mine." For added effect, he was holding his lanky hand with his left one.

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"Of course, Serge, I'd be glad to get you some copies of those old photos too if you'd like" Pavor said brightly, nestling his plate filled with rolls and fruit on one side of the weathered wood table. He glanced with a frown at Rodrigo after his comment, but the others payed little attention, least of all Subito. Serge's joke did a lot to ease the tension he felt in the room though, with Rodrigo grinning outright at it, saying "Well, it all adds up, you know? First you Serge and then..the world!" he exclaimed in exaggeratedly grandiose tone.

Once they were all seated and had begun the serious task of eating, Galanta took up the conversational lead, saying casually to Victoria "Say, at Claremont they teach you how to fight evil, right? You do a lot of fighting, Victoria?" she asked with a mild smile. Subito coughed furiously at that, turning quickly to Serge and telling him "Hey Surge, what was that new thing you were workin' on? I think you called it a 'resonance suppressor' or something? Could you tell us how it works? Rodrigo loves hearing about new tech, ain't that right?" he turned to his cousin for confirmation. The cousin chewed slowly for a few seconds before nodding once "Sure" he said quietly "that would be good"

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Recalling her friend's warning while they were waiting back in the hall she tried to evade the question, "Some, though the combat classes aren't my favorite course. They also make sure we have a well rounded education so we don't end up living out of a refrigerator box when not punching bad guys in the face."

While Subito prodded Serge to go on about the 'resonance suppressor', the young teleporter followed suit with the rest of the people at the table and filled her plate with food. The collection of assorted dishes looked delicious and the first bite of the omelet confirmed her suspicions.

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Serge nodded in agreement with Victoria. "Really, the majority of the classes are theory, rather than application. And even the few actual combat courses we get, are 9 parts helping us properly holding back, minimizing colateral damage, and protecting civilians, and only 1 part takedown maneouvers." as he took a small break to take a few more bites from the delicious meal, he continued "Befids, ids nod lig, *glump*, sorry, it's not like theory doesn't help a lot. Most heroes can certainly get by with working intuitively, but sometimes, knowing why you should, or shouldn't do something can be the difference between saving the day and not... then again, they did also stress the importance of trusting your gut feeling, when your brains couldn't help you any more, so..." he trailed off with a light shrug

At the change of conversation, Serge stared blankly, for a few seconds. "Ressonance suppressor? What are you ta-oh?! You meant THAT?!" he suddenly burst out, as light dawned him. "Hahaha, oh, no, no, that wasn't something important, Subito; it was just a minor adjustment for my suit. You know, a failsafe, so that my powers won't go haywire. In fact..." Turning in order to make sure he faced everyone on the table, the young man emphasized. "See? This actually ties with the whole <employ your powers and skills with proper caution> lesson that the instructors are intent on drilling on us; my natural ability to vibrate my molecules is greatly enhanced by my suit, but sometimes, I need to exert tremendous amounts of effort, in order to keep it under control. Our maths teacher, mr Skyler, advised me that I should install a failsafe for such an occasion were keeping my powers in check was impossible."

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Galanta's face fell at the two's answers "Oh, that's too bad. Bito's been really taciturn about what kind of fighting they teach there, you know? And from what I've heard it was the most interesting part" she dug into the mighty plate of omelet and and wraps that stood five inches thick. Eating with table manners this side of acceptable, and taking considerable pains to keep food from getting on her dress, she added thoughtfully "Alsho, f'om what 'e shaid that'sh the mosht intereshtin' part of the plashe." Swallowing loudly and ignoring the stern look her mother cast her way she went on "It's mostly about laws on superpowers and about learning ways to use your powers besides beating up evildoers, which seems pretty pointless to me. They teach you about super-science there too?" she asked Serge with real interest "Like, how to make robots that can fly on hydrogen and stuff?"

Rodrigo pursed his lips tightly for a few seconds, glaring at Galanta for a brief moment of utter hatred before turning calmly back to his meal. Pavor and Broma looked quite impressed at Serge's words, the matron saying with a touch of warmth "It is good to see you have such friends as this, Bito. You could learn a lot from him. Tell me Serge," she added turning to the mutant "Have you had your powers for a long time? Subito only got his gift last year, as I'm sure he's told you."

"For serious, quit callin' me Bito, I'm 17 by now" Subito muttered, looking ever more flustered at the recurrence of his childhood nickname. To Victoria he said "Speakin' of refrigerator boxes, how are you and Morgan doing? Morgan's Vick's boyfriend, another Claremont guy" he added to his family for their benefit.

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