Black 3-I

FLINT

Glad to be Back

With a solid-sounding thunk, I dropped the duffel bag onto the table, sending it skittering a few centimeters along the ground with a creak of protest.

With the exception of Sanjay, who’d not even bothered to stick around, and our glorious leader, who was still mysteriously absent, all of the Outliers were assembled, a rare occasion. The last time it’d happened was when Lis had accidentally sent out a group message about an emergency (it turned out she was out of Hot Pockets). Beyond the check-ins that we tried, and failed, to have semi-regularly, it was rare to see more than two or three of the others at one time, and ‘cliques’ of a sort had formed. Lis, George and I tended to hang out, Nat and Shauna had gotten deep into the ‘inseparable’ phase of relationships and hadn’t come out yet, Ivan and Adib had been becoming pretty close recently, Jess was new and still a little bit of an outsider, and nobody liked Sanjay. Except Talie, that is, who seemed to have the ability to get along with anyone and everyone (as if she wasn’t overpowered enough).

(Oh right, before I forget: you're probably a little confused, so it’s probably a good time for a roll call. Sanjay is Foresight; Lis is Ricochet; Shauna is Tide; Jess is Freefall and Nat is Ribbon. Those are the ones you should already know. The others are Stonewall, Vortex, Flatline and Void, real names Adib, Ivan, George and Talie. Don't worry about the superhero names, you'll get it eventually). 

We were standing, leaning or sitting in a staggered half circle around the rickety old table in the center of our base. The old warehouse where Talie had brought us all together for the first time, we’d cleaned it up, repairing the sagging section of roof and propping up the broken pillar. We’d left the maze of cubicles and offices that took up the front of the building dilapidated intentionally, but beyond the locked door that led into the main space, we’d cleaned the floors and brought in some furniture, couches and tables, a few lockers and cupboards, and a single computer that sat at the far end of the room, currently half-shrouded in shadow. The lights didn’t quite extend all the way to the corners of the room; they just created a sphere of illumination in the center. It wasn’t ideal, but considering the minor miracle that was Lis somehow managing to hook us up with power in the first place, no-one was going to complain.

With a grunt of effort, I hauled myself up onto the table, ignoring the protests from both the table, and my ribs where I’d taken the hit earlier. I made a note to follow up on that, just in case, but I’d had broken ribs before, and I was confident this wasn’t that.

“So,” I said, overly casual as I stuck my hands in my pockets, “I think that went okay.”

A chorus of boos sounded out from the group. Someone threw a shoe at my head. I caught it and lobbed it back, narrowly missing Lis’s head. 

"You fuckin' asshole, you don't get to jump in at the end and talk about it like you were there!" That was Nat.

“Fine, fine,” I chuckled as I raised my hands, “that was good, you guys. That was really good. I know I didn't approve, and I still don't, but the Cabal got their collective asses kicked, and I can get behind that. Plus a little bit of the opposite,” I said to Nat, who was sitting with Shauna on the couch. Thanks to her ‘fight’ with Strongarm, she looked like she’d decided to become a walking tribute to abstract art. Right now, her skin just looked a bit mottled, but there were hints of purple and blue under the yellow, and I was willing to bet that by tomorrow (or possibly later today, I hadn’t checked a clock since we’d gotten back) she was going to look like a Jackson Pollock original.

She scowled through a face full of piercings and flipped me off with her free hand. “I’ll kick your ass from here, Flint.”

“You’ll try,” I said with a grin.

“Bring it, fuckwad,” she said as she started to rise from her seat. She wasn’t in her costume any more, but her scarf snaked out from around her neck and into her hands, seemingly of its own volition. Before she could get up fully, though, Shauna stuck her arm out across her body.

Thin and wispy, there was no way she could have actually stopped Nat, who was built like a five-foot brick and normally had about as much respect for people in her personal space as the average bear. Despite that, after fuming for a second, Nat slowly sat back anyway. Shauna turned and glared at me behind her coke-bottle glasses. “We just got done fighting. Can you maybe save it for another time?” She'd reigned in her accent now, and only the slightest hint of the burr marked the edges of her voice.

There was a soft sound as a shoe thunked off of her head. She turned and focused the glare on Lis. “What was that for?”

“I wanted to see ‘em fight,” she replied nonchalantly, blowing some hair out of her eyes. “The shoe is retribution.”

“Frankly, I’m too amazed you even know that word to care,” she replied snidely.

I decided to head that little bit off before things degenerated further. “Anyway,” I interjected quickly, “getting back on topic, I do think that went well. You guys shut down the Cabal pretty handily, prevented them from getting what they wanted,” I gave the bag a light kick, “and I only had to come in at the end to save your sorry asses a little bit.”

“What is this, Flint being humble? Such a moment should never not be treasured,” George said with a smirk.

Behind him, a look of consternation swept over Adib’s broad face. “Never… not? So should it be seized or not? This is very confusing.”

George sighed. “It’s a double negative, Adib. It’s fundamentally the same as a positive, but it can have slightly different connotations.”

“Ohhhhh,” he said slowly. “I see. Or… I don’t not see?”

“If you like,” George said, amused.

“I don’t not,” he replied, a guileless grin spreading across his face.

“’Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair’,” Ivan rumbled out with the air of someone quoting something. “He’s not going to let that one go for at least another week.”

“I won’t-”

Ivan cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Please, no. I’m not nearly drunk enough to deal with you right now.”

“Let me guess,” I said, “you’ll be remedying that very soon.”

He groaned, leaning back and running a hand through his thick black hair. “God. If I had to deal with power fatigue, a hangover and him at the same time, I think I’d go insane.”

That got a few chortles, including from me.

The atmosphere of levity was broken, though, when Jess spoke up. Up until then, she’d been standing at the back of the group, arms folded and face sour. As the newest member of our little coalition, she hadn’t quite found her place in the group dynamic out of costume, despite slotting in well when we were out and about doing our thing. Add to that a probable perceived failure on her part to successfully lead her part of the mission, and I think it was understandable she was irritable.

“Enough,” she snapped out. “Open the damn bag. I want to sleep.”

“Someone’s butthurt,” Lis ‘muttered’, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Didn’tcha get enough hay this morning?”

I winced, but Jess just turned and stared at her, ice cold. I tried to stay relaxed, but I internally readied my power. If I used it now, it was almost certainly going to hurt like hell, but if Jess got angry, she could level this whole building, so I was willing to take that.

Thankfully, Lis folded first. “Sorry,” she muttered, breaking eye contact. Jess grunted and turned back to me.

“Fine, fine,” I grumbled, hopping down from the table, trying to hide the pain from my ribs as I did so. “But you owe me half an hour’s worth of showboating now.”

Everyone crowded round as I turned towards the bag, trying to get a better look. The zipper caught in the fabric the first few tries, but I eventually managed to get it working. I paused with it slightly undone. 

“We dedicate this tribute,” I said in a mock-official voice, “to our Lady and Savior Natalie Wilson, may she prosper eternal.”
Jess gave me a warning glare, and I stopped. “I’m bumping it up to whole hour now,” I said grumpily. I pulled on the zipper with one hand, the other holding the bag in place, and the folds of fabric parted.

Inside sat a datapad, some numbers scrawled on a piece of paper, and, filling the rest of the bag, a giant pile of bearer bonds.