Guardian Angel tapped the sword on his knee where he sat in the back of the Metahuman Transport Van, returning to the Warden’s building. “This thing is useless,” he muttered.
“Yeah, no shit,” said Kismet, sitting across from him. “Flaming sword is cool. Maybe good for speeches and dramatic entrances. Less than useful in an actual fight.”
“Hm.” Guardian Angel pondered it for another moment, then looked around at the other heroes. “Hey Adam, you good?” he asked.
Adam grunted noncommittally through the battery tester he held between his teeth. His right forearm was open, exposing a dense network of carbon fiber muscles and circuitry which he poked at with the wires trailing from the battery tester.
“Yeah, just a sec. Need to eat some charcoal. My stores are low,” Adam replied after a few moments.
“You eat charcoal?” Kismet said with an eyebrow raised.
“Yeah. Silicon-tungsten-titanium carbide skin, carbon fiber muscles and bones. I’m mostly carbon.” Adam flicked the panel he’d opened into his arm with a *clink.* “I could use some silicon too.”
“That’s weird. You’re weird. You know that?” said Kismet.
“I am aware.” Adam jabbed his open arm with the battery tester, causing his hand to convulse. The light in the corner of his eye flickered.
Plateau barked out “Enough, Kismet,” then added an “ow,” when his ribs protested.
Adam added another sliver of metal to the pile of shrapnel he’d pulled out of himself.
“You shouldn’t have come today,” Sigil said to Plateau.
“I had to. I couldn’t- ow.” He winced as the van hit a pothole. “No, I shouldn’t have,” he conceded.
The van pulled into the Wardens’ building.
“Jamisson!” Guardian Angel shouted as the doors of the van opened.
There was no response. They climbed out of the van and entered the building through the near-empty garage.
“Jamisson, we’re back,” Guardian Angel repeated.
“Uh, where is he?” Sigil said as she helped Plateau out.
“I dunno,” Guardian Angel said.
“Either he’s taking a call or he’s not at the monitor,” said Plateau.
“Conference room. Now.” Jamisson said through the PA without warning.
Guardian Angel exchanged glances with the others. Jamisson had never been that curt before. “Jamisson, Plateau’s hurt. We should get him to the infirmary first.”
“Is he actively dying?”
“I’ll be fine,” Plateau said over the others’ shocked silence. “Let’s go see what J wants.”
They took the elevator up, and crossed the hall to the conference room. Guardian Angel held the door for the others, ushering them in.
Already seated were Legion, Jet, and Dame Danger, looking impatient, and Dr. Mind standing stoic in a corner.
“Okay, you’re all here. Have a seat.” Jamisson said from the head of the room. He set the tablet computer on the podium.
“So now you gonna tell us why you called us out here?” Legion asked. “I was busy.”
“So, uh…” Jamisson glanced at Dr. Mind, who gave a small nod. “I just want to let you all know how proud of you all I am. You managed to bring in down a powerful supervillain, which is impressive for a youth team working alone. You should be glad to know we have our case all lined up for the trial tomorrow, and he’s not going to be seeing the sky for a long time. But I have some bad news. It’s over.”
Everyone stared at him blankly. “The team. Is over. Um.” He paused.
“Seriously?” Kismet said, and stood, getting a few confused glances. “Damn.” She sat back down.
Jamisson tried again. “I got a call from Paragon in Washington. Since we don’t have an established team anymore, we can’t have a youth team.”
“What?” Plateau exclaimed, then coughed. “Can’t we just throw a team together?” he continued, weaker.
“I’m trying, but it wouldn’t matter. Youth teams have lost funding nationwide.”
“How?” asked Plateau.
“There was a congressional investigation of UMBRA, and Virtue managed to push a bill through Congress amending away youth programs.”
“Goddamn fucking shit,” said Legion without inflection, then stood and left the room.
“Luke!” Jet called after him.
“Fuck this shit!” Legion shouted, voice muffled through the conference room door. The door rattled as he kicked it. Jet started to get up, then sat down again.
“I can still make stuff, right?” Dame Danger asked, her voice quiet.
Dr. Mind spoke. “Don’t worry about that. I’ve purchased the warehouse we used for training to use as a lab, and you’re always welcome to use my equipment.”
“Wait,” Adam said, head lowered. “Does that mean you’re losing the building too?”
“Well, yes,” said Jamisson, sympathy plain on his face.
“Oh.” Adam looked down again.
“What are we going to do?” Jet asked.
“We’re apprenticing Guardian Angel to Paragon until he finishes the community service requirement. We’re doing the same with Shadow and Savage. Depending on whether we can get Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm to fill out the team, I’ll talk to Tipping Point. Dame Danger, you can work with Dr. Mind, and continue to tinker, but no beating up criminals.”
“And the rest of us?” asked Sigil.
“That’s total BS,” protested Kismet. Guardian Angel looked over at her, confused by the apparent non-sequitur, before he remembered the effects of her power.
“You’re minors. Letting you fight criminals is reckless endangerment, at best.” Jamisson paused then replied to Kismet in a quieter voice. “And yes, I absolutely agree, but officially, that’s the stance now. I can respect the idea- an armored police unit, or a Dr. SWAT team could probably cover more ground than we can without the Wardens of Justice, but… I can’t even offer you training or leadership and I know you’re going to do it anyway. This just makes it more dangerous for you.”
“Dr. Swat?” Dame Danger asked. “Is that a tinker? I thought I knew all the local tinkers.”
“It’s a colloquialism,” Dr. Mind explained for Jamisson. “Special Weapons And Tactics, Metahuman Division, also known as SWAT MD, ergo, Dr. Swat.”
“So you can’t let us, but you won’t stop us?” Plateau said to Jamisson, returning to the previous topic.
“Hah.” Kismet chuckled.
“Officially no, but yes,” said Jamisson still in a hushed voice. “Dr. Mind can help you. All the minors, meet him at the warehouse later.”
“I’ll tell Legion,” said Jet.
“Thank you, Jet,” Jamisson said. “Okay, that’s all I had to say. Oh, Adam, I need to speak to you, and Plateau, the healers are still here. Go see them.”
Guardian Angel stood and left the conference room with the rest of the team and extracted himself from his armor in the locker room. He was the only one there, the others busy or already gone. He rested the golden breastplate on the shelf and looked at it. No longer was it the shining polished piece of armor it had been. There was a dull splotch where Limelight had blasted him, and pits and scars from the claws of Mafic’s constructs. As armor went it was gaudy, heavy. He’d designed the costume with appearance in mind, not even considering practicality. It wasn’t actually gold, but as heavy and soft as it was it might as well have been. The chainmail was better, and much more flexible, but it still dragged him down like a brick when he flew.
And the sword. Absolutely useless. Being on fire didn’t do anything except make it more dangerous to use. Guardian Angel hung the sword on its hook in the locker.
The lightning rod was better, but it hadn’t been exactly useful. It hadn’t stayed on target at all, arcing out of the plasma channel to the metal vines and to ground before it could hit it’s target. Not to mention it was broken. He placed the cracked shaft in the locker as well. From what he’d seen so far, Dame Danger’s tech packed quite a punch, but wasn’t particularly durable.
“You’re going to have to take all that with you.”
Guardian Angel turned to see Plateau coming in.
“Right.” Guardian Angel frowned. “Weren’t you in the infirmary? You broke at least a few ribs.”
Plateau rolled his shoulders experimentally. “I got better,” he said, and chuckled. “But seriously, there are some healers up to take care of Charity. I managed to catch them on their way out and they gave me a once-over. Hurt like hell, but definitely worth it.” He walked over to his locker, scanned his palm and flicked it open. He started peeling his costume off. Plateau’s costume was essentially high-tech modern body armor. Lightweight, utilitarian, and flexible; everything Guardian Angel’s armor wasn’t.
Plateau shook ceramic fragments out of the upper half of his costume and replaced them with fresh plates as easily as changing shoes.
Sean tossed his armor and equipment into the gym bag at the bottom of his locker. The convenient part of the gym bag was that people didn’t tend look twice at it, Sean had discovered. It was the best way he’d found to carry his armor back and forth when he needed to.
Plateau flicked his locker open with his power. Sean hefted the bag over his shoulder and kicked his locker shut.
“Hey, just a moment,” Plateau stopped him from leaving, blocking the door shut with a small column from the floor.
Sean stopped short and turned to Plateau again.
“You need to step up your game,” Plateau said. “Since I don’t have to work under you for a while, I can tell you what I think, Your leadership is abysmal. You only care about what you look like and not practicality,” Plateau’s voice grew louder as he spoke. “Your plans focus on what looks coolest and not what would actually work. You don’t know shit about any of us and you don’t know shit about me!” Plateau was shouting by the end. “You almost-”
Plateau stopped abruptly and breathed hard for a moment.
“Have you heard what people think of us in this city?” Sean said, calm but for a faint tremor in his voice. “We need to show them we can be better.” Was that how he looked to the whole team? They seemed friendly enough for the most part, but every one of them had problems. Was it too unreasonable to think he himself didn’t? And worse, as their leader, that he had actively endangered them because of it? Sean blanched as he realized that Plateau might be right, but he couldn’t bring himself to admit it out loud.
“All you’re doing is confirming what people think! They think we’re elitist, that we think we’re better than them, and flying around with shining armor and a flaming sword doesn’t inspire awe, it just makes people resent you. Fuck, who doesn’t wish they could fly?” He paused again. “You’re right, we need to improve our image, but the best way to do that is to be useful, and that, you are not. You’re not Matt and you-” Plateau choked off his next words with a deliberate force of will.
“Matt,” Sean said, unable to conjure anything else to say. “Was that Phenomena’s name?”
“Fuck, I’m sorry. I- Sorry,” Plateau apologized, voice tight. He pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand. With his other he waved Sean away, dissolving the block that prevented the door from opening. He sat heavily on the bench across from the lockers and pressed his hand into his eyes. Unsure what to do, and still reeling from his realization, Sean left, walking through the halls in an introspective daze.
He made it back to Collswell University campus, gym bag heavy under his arm. Sore muscles protested as he walked, his back screaming at the weight.
When he returned to the dorm, he found Will lying still on his bunk, awake, staring up at the ceiling. He tried to put the events of the morning behind him so he could act normally when in his civilian guise.
“Hey,” Sean greeted Will as he hefted the gym bag into the closet and kicked a coat over it.
“Ah!” Will jerked. “You surprised me.”
Sean glanced at Will, and was surprised for a moment. He shivered underneath the blankets, pale and wide-eyed.
“Are you okay?” Sean asked.
“Yeah, it’s just a cold or something,” Will said. “Ugh, I hate being sick.”
“I’m going to, uh, try not to catch that. It looks unpleasant,” Sean said.
“Good plan. Oh, and if Sasha stops by tell her… Tell her… Something. I’m sick, so I can’t help her.”
Sean sat at his desk and started his homework. He stared at it, trying vainly to distract himself, and failing.
A knock at the door pulled him out of his thoughts. Sean stood and opened the door.
“Sean,” Sasha greeted him, holding a laptop under her arm. “Is Will there?”
“Yeah, but he’s sick. Told me to tell you he can’t help you right now.”
Sasha frowned. “Huh. Okay. Is there anyone you trust who’s good with computers?”
“You need your laptop fixed?” Sean looked back at Will, who had fallen asleep in the intervening time. “Didn’t know Will could do that.” Sean stepped out of the room past Sasha and shut the door so their conversation didn’t wake him up.
“Oh no, he… Said he knew someone who could.”
“Doesn’t the school have a laptop repair place?” Sean asked.
“Thing is…” Sasha scratched her head. “It’s not my laptop.”
Sean was taken aback. “Oh. Um.” He thought for a moment. “I dunno. Kevin, maybe? He’s in CS.” Sean started to walk down the short stretch of hallway between the rooms.
“Yeah, uh, he’s been weird recently.”
“His best friend got kidnapped. He has good reason to be.”
“Nah, before that, too. I don’t think he likes me.”
“Can’t hurt to ask, right?”
Sean turned to knock on Kevin’s door.
“Yes it can it can always hurt to ask-” Sasha tried to say, too late.
Kevin opened the door at first just a crack and peered out, but then threw it open.
“Sasha,” he spat. “What do you want?”
“What the hell, you’re already pissed at me?” Sasha retorted.
Sean took a step back and waved his hands, unsure how to handle the sudden hostility.
“You’re the only other person who could have accessed Wren’s meds,” Kevin said, voice livid with anger. “You swapped them with Denudine so he wouldn’t leave a trail the trackers could follow.”
“What?” Sasha exclaimed. “I didn’t-” she stopped mid sentence and her eyes narrowed. “I didn’t, but, I know who did.”
Kevin regarded her with suspicion. “Who?” he demanded.
“Fucking Liam,” she said. “Same guy who broke into my room, and I can prove it.”
“He broke into yours, too?” Sean asked, finding his voice.
“Yeah, that c-”
“How can you prove it?” Kevin cut her off.
“I stole his laptop.”