"So," Hannah started, looking a great deal like half of a very suspicious chipmunk as she spoke around her mass of unswallowed nibbles. It was adorable. Of course, if we'd taken the 'suspicious' part of this mess out of the equation, it would have been even better. You couldn't have everything though, I guess... "Do you two know each other? It sounds like you have some history."

Me, being myself in my current circumstances (falling, hot, cast-iron cookware to the big toe fucking hurts, even if just for a second) turned out to have nothing constructive to say. Lots of swear words under my breath, mostly, as I attempted to smother the fire that I'd accidentally started on the stove with my bare hands. You know. Like the genius I was.

A maker of two-hundred IQ plans and plays, I most definitely was not. How anyone thought I was in charge of my life was beyond me. For all the crap I gave Lisa, as I do when I see a problem in one of her schemes (which are a lot, when she bothered to fill me in on them), I needed her more than I liked to admit.

And, no. That wasn't a reference to sex or companionship, even if those were very nice. I was being quite serious.

I wasn't actually an idiot. Far from it. I just had impulse control issues and, at the end of the day, this world wasn't mine. It was similar in some ways, sure, but it wasn't mine. A better part of three months of native living or not, the half-remembered stylings of a very prolific writer or not, I was surrounded by pitfalls and landmines.

An imperfect navigator was better than no navigator at all, yeah? Yeah.

Anyway, I was the proverbial five-year-old advisor. With some differences, obviously. I needed help getting dressed (clothes in my size weren't exactly off the rack), sure, but any five-year-old with even half of the perks I got on the daily was going to need a caseworker and a therapist… Considering how Coil had existed as a person at one time before he'd got himself turned into an extra-fine jam spread, that thought was a great deal more depressing than it should have been.

"Oh, yeah. We got loads of history," Kat breathed as she took a seat at the table on the chair closest to her friend then started moving. Shuffle-hopping even closer, invading the dusky woman's personal space with her exuberant personality and most of a mixing bowl's worth of breakfast cereal... I was missing it already. "There's a story there I'm not sure you're ready to hear. A lot of shit went down the last time we talked. Big day, that one. A real beaut."

Finally remembering that this was a gas stove as drama continued at the corner of my eye, I turned it off and went back to smothering. I suddenly found myself drastically more successful in my attempts at keeping this house in one piece. Go me.

"Oh, god," Hannah whisper-screamed, about as subtle as you'd expect anyone to be when you learned that your roommate and someone you'd just been with had history. "You didn't sleep with him, did you?"

And, suddenly, I found that I'd be happy if I was anywhere else but here. Awkwardness. Every time, I swear… That I'd just licked my hands for extra smothering power just made it worse somehow. Not one of my best ideas, considering how ashy they were. The ten seconds of quiet right after that as I sucked it up and swallowed just seemed to rub it in.

"What? I don't see how that would even-" Cereal sloshed as Kat broke the silence and did a double take at Hannah. The way her mask was built, the round ears standing tall at either side of her head, added a special sort of comedic emphasis to the motion, one that I suspected was entirely intentional…and I thought it was nice. If there were more heroes like her and less like Shadow Stalker, the world would be a better place… Now, admittedly, a rabid koala in spandex would be better than Sophia, but it was the thought that counted. "No! Of course not! What kind of question is that? You act like you don't even know me!"

"You called him Mr. Sexy Voice! You never do that!"

"I'm allowed to appreciate pretty things, Hannah! Have you heard the man speak? I've never even seen him in person till today and it was the best way I had to describe him at the time! It stuck! Thanks for screwing up my story before it even started, Colonel Killjoy! Here it goes!" She gestured angrily at me with her spoon as the fire was brought under control. Soggy marshmallow bits fell to the floor to celebrate my victory like a gentle, sugary rain. "He's the guy!"

"The guy?"

"The guy."

"... The guy." Hannah's head turned towards me, eyebrows raised near into her hairline as I turned to join the conversation, the palms of my hands as black and ashy as a CEO's heart. Verging into vantablack, to be specific. "The one that-"

I held a hand up to interrupt before she could ask the question I knew was coming. "That was me, yeah. I was the one that made the call." I reached for a nearby dish towel to wipe off my hands with, giving up the game before it could get going. How I sounded wasn't exactly common, so no real point in denying what I'd done...and it had been the right thing to do. No shame in owning up. "Heard some stuff on the grapevine and I didn't have it in me to let it happen without a word."

"The grapevine? That's a little vague, isn't it?" Hanna probed further, the words accompanied by a visible relaxing of her shoulders and the shift of her power from an unhealthily large, drum-fed shotgun to a police baton… How horrifying. "Does the grapevine have a name?"

Not really. Not one they could accept without me spilling my guts anyway. I wasn't feeling up to that right now...or probably ever. Giving people an existential crisis, then working them through it, wasn't exactly my idea of fun.

"It might," I said in airy reply while Kat made a humming sound and scrunched her nose at me over her bowl of increasingly soggy, and greatly lessened, breakfast cereal. "But, seeing as it would probably be a good idea if I talked to them first before I started handing it out…" I tossed the towel to the side and took a, careful, seat on the floor directly across from the two to start picking at my meal with my fingers. "But, seriously." I gave Kat a nod. "I'm glad you're okay."

"Oh, yeah. For sure. I'm doing great. I'm still alive and that's pretty awesome. Thanks bunches for that, not even kidding." Kat then let out a snort in between shovelings. "The problem here is that I've got two million dollars in blood money and the IRS breathing down my neck. I can't even use any of it in my civilian life without legal complications. Bless Legend for giving me the reward, but it's about as useful to me as tits on a bull. How's that for okay?"

… This had taken a turn I hadn't seen coming. For some reason, I'd expected more thanks... And more attempts to attach herself to my face. I wasn't complaining or anything though, the change in my circumstances, in this case, being greatly appreciated, but I had to admit that it had put me off my game.

People could get used to anything if it went on long enough.

"Uh… Shit. I just meant physically, but okay. That's pretty fucked up." I blinked and processed that as best I could while I chewed on about half of a melon. I hadn't even considered that would have been an issue. The bounty, I meant. That, and how she'd be able to spend it on stuff she wanted without getting outed. Goddamn. Fuck the government for making shit complicated. "I can see your problem. I'm not a Thinker or anything, but it sounds like you need a lawyer."

"And there goes my money. Up and away. I knew thee well." Kat did a fluttering motion with her left hand to give it the impression of wings. "You aren't wrong though." Her tone took a turn towards the whimsical. "I think I'll be giving Calle a call."

Hannah winced. "Oh, Christ. Him. Why?"

"If you didn't want me to hire him, you shouldn't have talked him up so much."

"I was complaining to you! And that pun was terrible!"

"Complaining. Complementing. When you're talking about a lawyer, that's the same thing." Kat laughed and dropped her spoon, her bowl now empty of anything but dregs as Hannah's expression soured. My attempts at hiding my own good cheer could have been better... "And punning is a science. I wouldn't expect a layman like you to understand."

Hannah sighed but didn't fight it. Smart. If anything sounded like a lost cause, it was a pun battle when only one of you was armed and it wasn't you.

"It hasn't been all bad though. I'm mostly whinging for the sake of it, really. I carry my home with me. Don't need all that much besides a roof over my head at the end of the day… I might have got fired from my job though. For not calling in. I don't know." Kat chewed on her cheek some. "Haven't exactly been checking my mail lately."

"Ah…" I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, the reminder of my own sporadic workplace attendance a metaphysical itch… Did I even need to work anymore, really? It wasn't like I was hurting for money now...and that was a question I'd never had to ask myself. I felt strange for even having that as an option. "Sorry to hear it. Again."

"Nah. S'okay. It was just soulless cubicle shit anyhow. If anything, it gives me time to think and do something productive with myself." She waved me off and took a stand, bowl and spoon under her arm as she shuffled towards the sink. "I actually met this kid a couple of days ago, a new Trigger if you can believe it, poor thing. She's nice. Cynical, if still a little naive where it counts. She's got the heart though if anyone does." Dropping everything with a clatter that somehow didn't end up with the lot exploding into a bunch of ceramic, she spun around with her arms spread open wide and dramatic. "My brush with my own mortality hath opened mine eyes! The future lies not with us old biddies—"

"Speak for yourself, hag," Hannah interjected tiredly while I looked on with rapt attention.

I'd never met anyone that acted like this as a matter of course...and so easily at that. It was fascinating.

"—but with the youth!" Kat pushed on heedlessly over her friend's words and my stunned bemusement. "The young and the impressionable, looking for someone to show them the face of true heroism! Of style, grace, and snappy banter that doesn't come out the other end of a social enhancement program! Hear ye, hear ye, foolish evildoers! You face your doom!" Her head tilted up towards the ceiling as her arms reached towards the heavens, with a faux-rapturous expression on her face that was as serious as a can of silly string. "The Mouse hath found an apprentice!"

"... Does she know that she's your apprentice?"

Kat held her pose a while longer, the popping of her elbows under the bathrobe, and a breathy sigh, her signal to let them drop... If it hadn't been for the loose sweater she was wearing under the bathrobe, this would have been a lot more awkward. Just a thought. "No. But it wouldn't hurt to take her under my wing anyway, even if it isn't official."

Considering the casualty rate for new Capes in this city, that was as good of a reason as any I'd ever heard.

"Or you could direct her to the Wards, instead of leading her into the hard and thankless life of a heroic vigilante." Hannah pushed her plate to the side, the creamy expanse completely empty of everything but a single drop of syrup (I still had it!), and put her elbows on the table to leer at the rodent-themed superhero over her interconnected fingers. "That's an option."

"And let her turn into yet another one of you stuffed shirts without a fight? Never!"

Feeling as if I had to say something, just to throw my hat in the ring as might have been expected of me, I raised my hand and started digging around in one of my pockets. "My team would be happy to take her as well. We aren't picky and we've already got the ground rules set up and everything."

They both turned their heads to give me a blank stare as a pair of pamphlets were spread out over the table's surface. That neither of them had expected me to have a stake in this at all was implied.

"I have educational material if you're interested?" I flipped one of them open and pointed at the first page, this one with a caricature of me on the cover. It was actually pretty good and I had to wonder who the artist was. "It's got pictures even."

… It's got pictures even? The hell was that? Had I picked up a concussion without noticing or something? Hadn't I just told myself that I wasn't an idiot? Jesus...

"Pictures, you say? How devious of you." Putting a hand out until a pamphlet found its way into it, Kat began her perusal just after Hannah did. "Did you put one of those coloring mazes in the back? A crossword, maybe?"


"Shame," she murmured sadly, even as she continued to flip through it anyway. "You should add something shiny and plastic to this as well. Maybe both at once. Just saying. People love free stuff, especially if it lights up or clicks. Just a suggestion."

Hannah chuckled and put down her material, a quick glance from front to back all she needed to know everything on it. "She would know. If she's stopped buying Happy Meals for the toys, I'll eat my bandanna."

"I get it for the value, capitalist scum," Kat replied normally, as normally as one could when you'd just called someone 'capitalist scum' anyway, before she started speaking out of the side of her mouth at me and at a whisper. "Don't listen to a word she says about this. She's biased; jealous of my gold-plated, limited edition, super rare and completed promotional trading card collection...and my burger flipper Barbie."

A bark of laughter that had Hannah jolting right up in her seat with interest (and only Hannah, oddly enough) was my response to that. There would have been more, a declaration of how I thought that was pretty cool, mayhaps, before I was interrupted by the great mood killer itself.

My new phone was doing its thing, and damn if it wasn't making a show of it. I appreciated that Lisa had taken the time to get me a custom but, well…

"Your pants are vibrating," Hannah helpfully pointed out, the quiet rattling of the dishes; the jittering of her chair and the ripples in the contents of a pitcher full of orange juice adding further weight to her wide-eyed observation. "And so is everything else."

That. It was that. How embarrassing…

"Big guy problems, big guy solutions. Sorry." One apologetic grimace and some light teasing from Kat about how my smartphone was the size of a King James Bible later, and any chance of me being able to relax for the week went up in smoke… And here came unexpected work's best friend, anxiety. "Shit. Gonna have to cut this short. Got some team stuff to do."

"Team stuff, huh? Anything big?"

"Honestly?" I ran my fingers through my hair and stood up with a groan. "I have no idea. Our team Thinker thinks this is important, so-"

"Say no more. I understand." Hannah stood with some haste, causing the bedsheet she'd tied around herself and draped over her shoulders to flare, somewhat alarmingly, outwards… Not for me, of course. Any further though and Kat would have gotten herself an eyeful. "Thank you for the breakfast." She beckoned me down, her face tilted invitely towards my own as I gave her a quick peck on the lips. "And for the, uhm..." Her eyes flickered towards her erstwhile, and extremely nosy (She wasn't even trying to hide it), teammate as some anxious color rose to her cheeks. "The time we had. Yes."

A wide, teeth-baring smile spread across my face without prompting as, for a second, I was able to forget about work and whatever it was that Lisa had done that needed me to keep it from blowing up. "Anytime."


My all too cool and suave, manly man swagger lasted long enough for me to get out the door, down the street, and into an alleyway; the first shortcut of many that didn't involve me jumping blindly across several city blocks. I was riding high on life. Life, and the afterglow, and the feeling of a plan gone right for once.

So, of course, that was when a horrifying revelation took its chance to whack me over the head. Because, with me, there was no such thing as a plan going right.

That this realization had happened in a dirty, garbage-strewn alley was almost poetic.

My hand shot out to the wall for support, fingers sinking through the brick like they were clay as my breath ran ragged and I pulled out my phone. "Dial, Lisa." I gasped into the mic, a confirmation beep my soothing reply… It was a security hole, yes, but there wasn't much we could do about it yet. The big boy solution to my fingers on a touchscreen had yet to be solved to satisfaction.

Four rings. Another beep and Lisa's voice rang out, loud and clear. "Hey, baby. Miss me already?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I did." I exhaled deeply through my nose as pressure started to build at my temples, like a giant...an even bigger giant had got me by the head and gave a go at using it like a stress ball. "I think I screwed up. Maybe. I don't know yet."

She paused, the movement of paper in the background going completely silent. "... How? Why? What did you do?"

"It's hard to explain."


How was I to explain that I believed that Taylor Hebert, the last hope of humanity and the future Slayer of Zion… might have been snapped up by Mouse Protector first? Or, horror of horrors, starter of heart attacks...that I'd forgotten all about her.

"Send Amy first, please." I croaked, feeling faint all of a sudden as my not at all metaphorical and as to now unknown medical issue came to light. "I think I'm having a heart attack."

Silence. The rattling clicks of a pen being dropped on the other end. "... I'm - pretty sure that's impossible? With you, I mean. Never thought about it before, and I'm not a doctor, but...yeah. It's very unlikely that you're having a heart attack."

"Is it really?" I coughed, interested in this despite myself. It was a good distraction if anything. I thought I might have been feeling a little less faint, actually. More ashamed at my, very slight, overreaction… White lies were what kept civilization together and, if I had my way, my forgetfulness would follow me to my grave. "I don't have to worry about heart problems?"

"And a lot of other things. You're not human, Moss. You're a nuclear-powered sex machine that runs on tree bark and fruit salad. Is a lack of the biological capacity required to have a heart attack really all that surprising? Now, stop being dumb and come home so that you can tell me about what's got you spooked. That sound good?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it does." I sighed. "And what did you call me for again?"

"Come home and I'll tell you. Like I said. Quid Pro Quo. Give and take. No need to air our dirty laundry in public if we don't have to." She raspberried me, the tense undertone to her voice forcing me to stand up straight and prepare for a jump. "There'll be a briefing in thirty minutes. I have the buffet table set out and everything if you're hungry." Her tone lowered further yet. "You shouldn't be. We're going to be working today."

Well. That wasn't ominous at all.

"... Can we make it forty so that I can catch my breath?"

"We'll see."


"This is a lot more overhead than I remember there being. Sweet." Was the first comment to come out of my mouth when I didn't run my forehead into the very first doorway in the base. My greatest foe, low-hanging architecture, had been laid high… Most people would have thought that sounded overly dramatic. Of course, most people hadn't repeatedly, and accidentally, headbutted a steel wall hard enough to leave a dent. The tiny folk had no idea what they were talking about. "How long have I been gone? Two days…one? Something like that?" I gave the nearest man in grey coveralls and a hardhat a nod, and got a salute in turn. "Maintenance does good work."

It wasn't just that department, admittedly. The general level of competence around here, after Lisa had done some weeding, had really made a difference. That the survivors of the purge were glad to still have a job at all, and that none of them had got their shit wrecked by Super Barbie and Friends, was doing wonders for company morale… As were the bonuses (never forget those) that had been taken from the impending paychecks of those happy few that hadn't quite fit the company image for some reason or another.

We were following OSHA guidelines now. OSHA. That hadn't even been a thing before we'd come in...and neither had the HR department; the very basics of the workplace, non-existent. Coil had been an even bigger bastard than I could have ever believed. I honestly wouldn't be all that surprised to find out that there was a pit somewhere in here. Bottomless, maybe, or filled with a bubbling green acid that required full MOPP gear and a prayer to whatever God you believed in to breathe near.

… I really hoped that they'd filled that in by now. If anyone was going to fall into it, it was probably me. My situational awareness could be better. That I'd noticed all the new workplace posters hanging around the place, most of them featuring kittens, didn't mean anything. It just meant I was a child of the internet that really needed a custom keyboard.

Sitting behind one of the girls while they did whatever it was they did on the net only got me so far. It just wasn't the same as doing it myself. My physical needs might have been met, but my intellectual? Not so much. I missed my fanfiction, damn it! Man did not live on bread and sex alone!

Oh, god. Idea. Was Harry Potter a thing here? Naruto? MLP? Because, if not, then I had my niche(s). Working for my girlfriend was great and everything, really, but relying on her for everything in my life up to food and shelter was a little far… I'd forgotten. That was the reason I still had a job. The trophy husband life wasn't for me, nawp.

Nice to know that I was doing things for a reason and not just because I was full of life and whimsy. I had to ask myself about that more often than was probably safe, maybe, and...and I'd just realized something. Something big.

Japan was underwater. Nothing was being made. None of my shows were being made.

I stalled, just five feet away from the cafeteria door while I allowed myself to take that in. No more 'One Piece'. No more 'Jojo'. No more 'Bleach'...no. Never mind. Fuck that one. 'Boruto' wasn't worth it either. Try again… Oh, yeah. No more Konosu...ba… Okay. Here came the truck flashbacks. Again. Fuck.

Today was a day of many horrors, many of which were positively Lovecraftian in scope. How anyone dealt with shit like this on a day-to-day basis was beyond me… Anyway. Yes. Related. Back to my day-to-day.

I opened the door, gave the room full of momentarily staring employees (and a weirdly serious Lisa at her really tall podium, with what was left of the Undersiders in the wings) a wave before making a beeline towards the buffet table and taking a seat. Still on the ground, as always, which made it kind of hard to get comfortable while I picked out the choice bits for the workday that was coming at me...but that was fine. The chair was in the mail. I could be patient. To a point.

That all depended on how bad this shitshow was going to be. Width, depth, general saturation. The average criteria involved in determining whether or not you should pull a fuck-the-world lever or its equivalent.

That was all really important stuff to know. Basic, actually. How would I know how far, and how deep, I had to dig to wait it all out without them? … That was a metaphorical question. I'd be here either way, up till the point when someone hit what remained of the self destruct; just enough to collapse the base without taking the surrounding area with it.

Coil had been compensating for something. That was the only explanation I could think of as to why he'd focused so hard on emulating every Bond Villain that had ever existed, fluffy white cat not included. My money was on a shit childhood. A British kid had stolen his lunch money one too many times or something, that team-killing cockbite.

Any and all conversation in the ranks, what there was of it that hadn't been Alec before Brian had punched him in the shoulder, ended as soon as Lisa tapped her microphone.

Me, having been content to empty the general area in my field-of-view of tasty things, turned my attention to the important things.

"Alright, you lot." She began, suspiciously warmly. "I've given everyone more than enough warning to get here on time. If there is anyone missing still, I expect their respective officers to inform these individuals that they are, from this point on, without a job."

The warmth had been a lie, as expected. If there weren't people missing from the lineup, I'd eat my recently tailored and gifted fancy hat. I had no idea what it was called, the style, but it was definitely fancy. Posh, even. Eating it would be a real shame.

"They aren't getting a favorable review from me, just to be clear, so it would probably be a good idea to keep me out of their resumes from this point on."

She took a sip of water from a nearby bottle and cleared her throat as the lights began to dim and a projector came to life with a telltale whir. A picture of the city in its entirety, covered in lines and numbers and dots sprang into existence at her back, completing the scene I'd found myself in. "This meeting is a briefing; the beginning of your first combat action with me as your employer. I don't think I need to explain why that is important, do I?"

… Well, shit. Something like that, and what it implied, made my worries sound positively petty, didn't it?

"Our moles in the Empire have all been reporting the same thing. Being a skinhead isn't what it used to be." A click from the projector, one that I suspected was purely for effect, turned the picture behind her into a pair of bedbound, bemasked wrecks in traction. "The loss of Victor and Stormtiger, along with forty of the rank and file to a prison that isn't the revolving door of the PRT's holding cells, hurt them. A lot. Not in terms of manpower or anything, not really, but in morale. Public perception...and New Wave being forced to get up off their ass for something that wasn't an anti-drug statement."

Another click. Another picture. One with a glowing-knuckled fist uncomfortably close to the lens and a snarling Brandish's features in the upper-right corner… Whoever had taken that one had gone above and beyond the call of duty. That their face and the camera, or whatever they'd used to capture that moment in time, was now a part of their face was a given.

"As you can see, they didn't take the Empire's attack on Glory Girl and Panacea all that well," Lisa continued at a drawl, the periodic clicking and flashes of Parahuman on neo-fascist brutality a strong backdrop to her dry observation. "The PRT isn't happy either, of course, but they're out of the running when it comes to most arrests these days."

A graph popped up, a very simple one with PRT/Protectorate statistics on one side and New Wave's on the other. Across the board, the government was doing pretty well. Captures, confiscated contraband, destroyed weapons. Normal stuff. New Wave, on the other hand, had a 'broken limbs' and 'ruptured organs' column, with a capture rate that was threatening to break through the roof of the screen.

"These are the people that are all about accountability, just to be clear. Not that any of that matters anymore. The kid gloves are off. The rules of engagement no longer apply. Any chance our enemy had of salvaging something from this mess without a fight has come and gone." With one last click in the now uncomfortable quiet of the room, the city made its return. "Kaiser's Rome is falling down all around him and he's thinking about setting the fire himself before he pulls out the fiddle."

… Yeah. I could see that. That sounded like something Max would do if anything was. He'd always struck me as that one douchebag that flipped the board on a game of Life on a bad spin. Making the city worse than it already was, was just board flipping made large… If this was going anywhere near where I thought it was, we were finally going to be doing something about him.

Finally...not that I'd been told not to, or anything. It had just never come up for some reason. I couldn't help who I did or did not meet when on one of my trips, now could I? No. Of course not...no longer having that excuse was going to be nice.

Lisa exhaled loudly through her nose at that, right into the mic, interrupting my thoughts like normal as she reached for her bottle again. "While our Parahuman assets do their thing, all squads from Alpha-1 to Kilo-7 will be our civilian protection details; their primary positions will be assigned to them through their commanding officers. Lima to Tango will be responsible for non-powered enemy asset suppression, while everyone else will be on Base to defend our primary fallback point and the Principal as they direct the men's efforts to best effect."

That the horde of grizzled men (and women) that I'd been tangentially attached to, the disillusioned vets and private sector jumpshippers all had nothing to say about this said a lot about the world, post-powers. Good, bad. It was what it was. You couldn't get all that much different than having a company's worth of hired killers take a teenage girl in a purple spandex costume seriously… A teenage girl with absolutely no military experience or inclination in such that I'd noticed.

Being in the same boat as her, my family's long history of military service no substitute to actually being in said military…I had to wonder just how badly she was mangling this speech. Not like I minded because, you know, no experience worth a damn, but there was most likely more than a few people in this room that were thinking real hard about their next paycheck and whether it was still worth it.

… Now I had to wonder if Brian was grinding his teeth or not. The sound-eating smoke slipping out from the bottom of his helmet was doing a good job of hiding if he was. Suspicious.

"Any questions? Reservations? No?" Lisa's bottle, now more than half empty, loudly hit the podium for emphasis. There was no response. "Good. I appreciate your candor. Your Parahuman support will be the Undersiders, New Wave, and local law enforcement. Try not to shoot them even if they shoot first. Them non-lethally attacking their allies isn't a good look for them and hazard pay will be doubled for any one of you willing to play it up for the camera."

With a twirl of the finger in the air above her head, she checked her wristwatch...which was new. And more than a little sparkly. "We've got two hours or so till op start. More than enough time. Let's get on it, people, and remember your training."

Taking that as the signal that it was time to stand up, I stuck to the edges of the room while the men began to file out in orderly lines; almost duck-like, if not for the jingly bits and the sound of mil-spec boots on metal flooring. If the situation weren't so serious, I would have laughed out loud. That it was so serious though limited me to a smile, which was good enough...somewhat.

I probably wasn't treating this whole thing like it deserved to be treated. Just a thought.

I'd never really considered this thing with the Empire to be a war for some reason. Whether that was something with me, or if it was just that I'd gotten complacent after being entirely unchallenged so far, I couldn't really say. The urgency and anxiety that other people felt about this was almost entirely absent… I think this was called 'being emotionally detached'.

Maybe things would change as soon as I get stuck in there. Who knew? No point in worrying about it until it happened, I supposed. I was going to have to take this as it came.

When I walked up onto the stage, I didn't even hear a creak. Good construction. Good enough for me to not worry about being careful as I power walked up to Lisa while she was in the middle of stepping off the podium with a 'Military Lingo for Dummies' book in hand. "We've got two hours, you said?"

"Hi, Moss. Yeah. We've got two hours. About that much. I could push it back a little if I need to...maybe. Privileges of power only go so far." She looked up at me with a wry grin, away from her foot and its tentative hovering over the more than one-foot drop she'd been debating taking. Why it was as high as that, or the podium as big as it was, I had no idea. A burgeoning Napoleon complex, maybe? "Help me down? This is kind of freaking me out."

"Sure, sure. Whatever you need me to do, I'm here to save the day." I put my hands under Lisa's arms with a laugh, lifted her, and put her back down on the solid ground where she let out a sigh of what might have been unfeigned relief. "We do need to talk though. I've got some stuff to say."

"I wasn't expecting anything else...and I might have been looking forward to this a little." Lisa stuck her tongue out at me, took me by the hand, and started 'dragging' me towards the direction of her office. "Just a little… I'm thinking its sharing time."