New chapter! YESSSS! Other than that, I got nothing. Enjoy!
Edit 1:17 5/29 — In my haste and excitement to get this chapter out, I overlooked some things. Misspellings and the like, they’ve been corrected for the most part. Sorry about that, folks. -B.
The simulation ended unceremoniously after we saved the prince. He was pretty much a little shit who complained all throughout our egress from the burning capital. At one point I pushed him to exhaustion and subsequently a very deep, very relaxing sleep.
When we were back in the bowling alley basement we all kind of stumbled around for a bit trying to adjust to the transition. Apparently it’s always a bit rough regardless of your familiarity with the process.
“Good work, everybody,” Zashir said, once he’d gotten his bearings. “Shugo, how’d we do?”
He was a kid again, bald and serious. “Not bad. A nice bit of teamwork from the new guy and the harridan.” He snorted. “Too bad if they did that in the real world they’d have racked up quite the body count.”
“Easy, old man. You may only have half a body, but I think we’ve established that you can still feel pain,” she said casually. Her smile was full of easy malice. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the story behind that statement. Shugo ignored the comment and looked over at me.
“You’re starting to get the hang of things though, aren’t you? You clearly need some endurance training, but you’re getting adventurous, so your breadth is getting a little wider. Much more impressive than the skills you started off with.”
“How do you —”
“I’ve read your dossier, kid. I’ve read everyone’s dossier.”
I was starting to wonder exactly how much shit was in this dossier, but I didn’t mention it. I was willing to take praise when and where I could get it.
“Aside from that I would say that you might want to keep trying different variations. We have no idea where the limits of the new kid’s powers lie and how he might amplify what you all can do,” Shugo suggested. “But there’ll be plenty of time for that. For now, you all might want to get some sleep. The simulation isn’t real, but your exertion is.”
I hadn’t really noticed until he’d mentioned it, but I definitely felt pretty exhausted. Zashir was stifling a yawn and Devon had straight up sat down cross-legged in the middle of the floor. My own eyes were bleary and watering. Not to mention how much sweat I’d poured into my new clothes over the course of the simulation.
“Alright, we’ll take your advice, Shugo. Let’s get out of here, guys.” Zashir said.
We grabbed our stuff and started making our way out of the bowling alley. As we did Zashir took Akma aside, presumably to semi-covertly ask her if I’d sucked as a teammate. I struck up a conversation with Devon half to distract myself from worrying about what they might be saying.
“So what’s the deal with Shugo? Does he just stay in this basement all the time?” I asked.
“No, not really, at least I don’t think so. We’re not sure what he does or where he goes. Like he said, there aren’t that many Walkers and they’re a pretty secretive lot apparently. There are rumors floating around the internet, but apparently people still believe that we can all control the regular human population with our minds,” he laughed, then looked at me. “Well, I mean you can, kind of, but not all of us. Anyway, Shugo is a special case I think. He’s known Zash forever, so they have some kind of history that the rest of us little people aren’t privy to.”
We went into the parking lot of the bowling alley and Zashir called a cab. I vaguely wished that I was a flier at that point. The idea of a trek across the city and the cab fare that would entail didn’t seem appealing at all. At least the rest of the team had a relatively short trip to their place at Emerald Hill.
As if he’d read my mind, Devon brought it up. “Don’t you live like way the fuck downtown?”
“Yeah,” I said, only slightly crestfallen.
“Dude, I don’t envy you.” Then he said, “if you want you can spend the night out by us. We have to be back at headquarters in the morning, so one of us can take you home a little early to get changed and such.”
“Sure, it’s not a problem. I mean Akma drives like a maniac so I don’t suggest going with her, but Zashir or I won’t mind.”
“I drive like a maniac?” said Akma, who I hadn’t realized was in earshot. “Do you even have a car under all those dents?”
“Hey, my license has never been suspended, Calamity Jane.”
“Says the man who left his bumper in a mall parking lot.”
“Listen, lady —”
The two of them devolved into bickering along with plenty of name-calling that I have to admit was pretty amusing. Zashir just watched them fight and shook his head. “This happens a lot obviously. You’d think they script this stuff.”
It did have a certain tone to it that seemed kind of…familiar, even perhaps familial. It had been a while since I thought about my siblings, but once upon a time we’d sounded like them. A pang of something like longing went through my gut and I roundly ignored it.
The cab finally arrived and drew the argument to an unsatisfying — for the two participants — conclusion. On the way back to their apartment in Emerald Hill, Akma fell asleep with her head pressed up against the window and Devon put his headphones on. Zashir and I chatted idly.
“I know you haven’t had that long to get used to us, but how are you feeling about everything so far?” he asked.
“Good. I mean, you’re all clearly…colorful,” I replied.
“A diplomatic answer.” He smiled. “Maybe you’ll survive us yet.”
“I hope so,” I said. “So how did you come to be the leader of this little band? Not that you’re not suited to it, but aren’t you a little young to be a team leader, no?”
Zashir nodded. “That’s a fair question. I was the sidekick of a pretty well-known hero for a few years, maybe you’ve heard of him: The Talent?”
I had never followed the hero scene very closely. I’d thought it was all outsized personalities, ego complexities, and over-the-top costumes. But even I knew of The Talent. He had six or seven abilities that would manifest at different times during the lunar cycle. It was a weird power, but he was actually far better known for his intellectual prowess. He had been among the second-wave of heroes who took over once the old guard had started getting…well, old. If Zashir had played second fiddle to The Talent it made sense that he’d have ascended the ranks to his own team fairly quickly. I said as much to Zashir and he agreed with my assessment.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean I was ready though. My first team, I started it about four years ago after I was given clearance to do so by some of the higher-ups. It…didn’t go well. I was headstrong, impulsive, virtuous — all things that are good for a hero in moderation and lethal to a team in excess.
“Short story short: they didn’t respect me enough to stick together. I got another chance eventually and I don’t intend to fuck up again.” Perhaps realizing he’d gotten a bit serious, he patted my leg. “But that’s not something you should have to worry about, Nick. We’re here to work together and become better. You don’t have to prove yourself to me any more than you already have. Just focus on getting the knack of your power for now.”
Zashir was quiet for the rest of the trip. He just kind of stared out the window, so I found myself keeping my own company and having a little time to myself. Time which I mostly squandered worrying about whether or not my new teammates liked me, whether I’d be able to get along with them. And any number of other, very stupid, mostly pointless things.
We made it to the Emerald Hill residences just after midnight and Zashir and Akma split the cab fare, apparently Devon’s trendy outfit didn’t leave room for a wallet. Their condo was expansive when compared to my sad little studio. It had about five bedrooms, one of which had been converted into an office. Apparently this was where Zashir did the leonine amount of paperwork that was required to keep a superhero team afloat.
The place had a very modern feel and was fairly spare in terms of furniture, but there was art all over the walls. Apparently Akma was a bit of a painter and Zashir a bit of a collector. Between them there was a ton of color and wild shapes on the wall. It gave a sense of necessary chaos to the otherwise orderly living space.
As soon as we got there, Akma headed to her room to resume her sleep while Zashir went to his office. Devon showed me around their kitchen and grabbed me a beer, which he thrust, unasked for into my hands.
“Thanks?” I said.
Devon didn’t hear or didn’t care to acknowledge the trace of confusion. “I guess you can sleep in my room, the couch isn’t really fit for sleeping in. It’s more of an ‘art piece.'” He added exaggerated air quotes. “I have a futon in the corner, it’s no biggie.”
We retired to Devon’s bedroom which was light and airy, cleaner than I’d have thought and devoid of almost anything personal except for a poster of the man himself on a surfboard gliding through the air. He noticed me looking at it.
“I used to be pretty good, I was on the competitive surfing circuit. Then, when it came out that I had powers there were some allegations that I was using them to give myself an unfair advantage. Bullshit, of course, but…” He rolled his eyes, but there was something in the cast of his shoulders that didn’t quite communicate the devil may care chill he was going for.
He took off his vest and threw it into a hamper hidden behind a sliding panel in one of his walls and then peeled his shirt off. I tried not to notice the blond hair peeking out from his waist or the thick cords of muscle running through his arms. I wondered, if his hair was naturally blond then why did he go the peroxide route, but I never got a chance to ask. Devon grabbed a sheet and pillow from the closet and walked over, shirtless, to the futon and handed them to me.
“One rule: you can’t use my bathroom. Everything else is fair game, but my bathroom is mine. There’s one on this floor that’s not adjoined to anyone’s room so you’ll be pretty much the only one using it.”
“Doesn’t sound like a problem to me.”
“Great,” he said, then headed over to his king sized bed. He started to unbutton his pants, then turned to me. “You don’t mind, do you?”
I didn’t entirely trust myself to speak, so I shook my head and Devon took his pants off. Have you ever done poppers before? Amyl nitrate? If you haven’t, it’s like a rush to your head, an increase in blood flow that makes you lightheaded, makes your heart race, and…well, if you’re inclined toward horniness at that moment it gives you a bit of a jump start. That’s what it was like when Devon stepped out of his pants and crossed the room in his tight, sleek black & white trunks to put this last article of clothes in the hamper. I quickly climbed into the futon and covered myself with the sheet he’d provided so that my massive erection would not give me away. I made myself into a student of restraint and kept my eyes off of his bulge, but only a saint wouldn’t sneak a peek at that ass. Overall he looked — when undressed — like he’d been drawn by a lecher and breathed life by a sadist to punish everyone who laid eyes on him with unrequited lust.
It was a bittersweet relief when he finally climbed into bed and covered himself up. He fell asleep quickly and I spent half of the night awake wondering if I could push him a wet dream.
How fucking hot would that be?
The next morning Devon gave me a ride home a half hour before we were supposed to be back at the SLA for our meeting with Owen. He offered to wait for me to shower and change, but I waved off his concern and told him I could get to there without issue. Once he drove off (and his car really was full of dents) I went into my apartment, locked the door, and closed the shades so that I could rid myself of the prodigious throbbing ache between my legs.
After I had finally gotten to sleep I woke up to Devon doing vertical push ups and I pretty much wanted to throw myself out of the building. Aside from a slight audible exhalation every once in a while, he was almost completely silent. So when he noticed I was awake he looked abashed.
“Sorry, did I wake you?” he asked, still upside down.
“No.” I answered.
I started jerking off with that image of him, legs up against the wall and his chest, stomach and arms rippling with the effort of keeping him suspended. It didn’t take long for me to get off and if you had seen what I’d seen, it wouldn’t have taken you long either.
I cleaned up, got showered, got dressed and headed back out to see my teammates again and pretend I hadn’t just masturbated to one of them.
On my way in I ran into Justin who seemed genuinely glad to see me. It had only been a couple of days, but I had already started to miss him. We had been inseparable for so many weeks that it felt weird not seeing him first thing in the morning.
“How’s it going?” he asked. “The Checkers treating you ok?”
“Yeah, they’re great. Things are… mostly good so far.”
“Excellent,” he said. He was smiling like he’d run into an old friend. Maybe we were friends. He punched me in the shoulder. “Well look, Nick, keep in touch. I know you’re in a team now and you’ll probably be busy saving the world, but keep us plebs in mind, yeah?”
“Definitely. I will. I gotta run to this meeting, but we’ll talk.”
He stepped aside and bowed low to let me pass. I rolled my eyes, laughed, and walked away.
The meeting this time was mercifully in a conference room that I’d never been in and held no connection to. When I got there everyone was already waiting: Zashir, Devon, Akma, Owen, and another guy who I didn’t recognize. The stranger seemed multi-racial, he had smooth walnut colored skin and eyes that probably suggested asian heritage. He was dressed sharply, but carried it casually.
“Hello, everyone,” I said.
There were a number of responses. Including a wicked grin and a wink from Owen, the empath. Zashir though, as usual, took the lead.
“Nick, this is Exeter Holmström — our liaison to director Evers.”
Exeter smiled. “It’s good to meet you, Mr. Palavin. I was just telling your teammates that I’m not here to watch over you or to be punitive. The director is aware that she can sometimes be…intense, it’s the nature of her position. I’m a bit of a softer touch and my clearance level grants me access to any of the resources you might need to see this mission done in the fastest, cleanest way possible.”
I took a seat at the table and the meeting began in earnest. Mostly it was a threeway back-and-forth between Zashir, Owen, and Exeter. Devon, surprisingly took notes the whole time and Akma only piped in whenever she needed clarification. I wasn’t exactly sure what to add, so I kept quiet mostly. No one seemed surprised when halfway through the meeting Shugo appeared in a far corner as his child self sitting atop a particularly large lion cub.
Yes. A lion cub in the conference room and no one batted an eyelash.
The plan basically boiled down to this: Owen had been able to use the captive member of the quartet to tap into their empathic bond and he’d managed to suss out their location, or at least he thought he did. The problem was that they seemed to be aware of the intrusion somehow and that meant that when we made our move, it was likely that they’d be ready for us.
Zashir was understandably hesitant to roll into their midst with bells tied in our hair. Ultimately it was Owen who came up with the idea to draw them out using their captive member. He suggested that he could simulate a large dose of fear and apprehension from the prisoner and then the team could move him to a less secure location than SLA headquarters — more or less inviting his compatriots to strike.
Then it was Exeter’s turn to be hesitant. He explained that the director would be incredibly skeptical about taking the prisoner out of the direct custody of the SLA. In the end though Zashir thought that was our best bet: transport the prisoner to an “unsecure” location and wait for the rescue attempt. However before the operation we would go to this location and stack the deck in our favor by making sure that there was plenty of plant life, water and a ventilation system pumping significant levels of pheromones through the air.
Shugo spoke up for the first time all meeting and suggested the Capital City Greenhouse. It was a large structure that would fit all of our needs and the SLA had significant influence with its board of directors. And then just like that it was decided. Exeter placed a call to the director and got clearance (with the caveat that we “didn’t fuck things up” [direct quote, apparently]) and the plan was set in motion.
None of us figured how wrong things could go and just how quickly.