Let's Get Dangerous
By Red Cloud
“Right, first round powers. Argent, Rockem, in the ring.”
Jude wasn’t sure who looked more stricken, him or the low power TK kid who he’d been put against. His area of focus in class since he’d started had been just picking up the skills, practicing the forms, and sparring without powers so that he could learn how to move before bringing shit like superpowers to the fight.
It seemed, however, that his time had run out. Here, now, in front of a whole classroom full of students he’d been doing his damndest to scare into leaving him alone for over two weeks, he was going ot have to show off what he could do. Or couldn’t, to be precise. His tricks were great intimidation tactics, but there would be no making his opponent run away here.
He stepped into the ring, swallowing hard. Rockem was actually one of the more skilled martial artists in the room, so overwhelming him with brawling wasn’t gonna work. He’d practiced jiu jitsu since he was nine. And his TK Punch, the only real offensive power he seemed to have, was still the equivalent of a solid human force punch that he could deliver from twenty feet away.
Jude swallowed as the other kid glared at him, chin firm and lips tight as he faced down against the schools resident monster, from his perspective. WIth his dark skin, tight cornrows, and gorgeously toned body, he was someone that Jude would have loved to “wrestle” with in a different sense, if only he didn’t look so damn scared.
Hmmm...Jude swallowed and palmed a smoke pellet.
Rockem took half a step forward and Jude’s hand flicked at his chest, as hard as he could. The smoke pellet slammed into the other boy point blank and a cloud of choking grey smoke exploded around him. Jude shot froward as fast as his track and field practice allowed him, tracking the other boy’s position by the sound of him coughing, and shoulder checked him hard.
The other boy flew out of the ring as the smoke swirled away.
“Argent, 1. Reset.”
Jude swallowed and eyed the other boy as he stepped back to his place. Surprise had worked great, but it wouldn’t again. His mind whirled and he palmed a pellet to his other hand, then dropped one into place from the feeder, before turning and taking his stance.
This time Rockem started moving immediately, trying not to take another pellet to the chest. Jude calmly squeezed, and the pellets in his hands snapped, hidden by the cracking of his knuckles. Smoke started pouring from his hands as the liquid inside soaked his gloves. Rockem slowed, wavering, trying to figure out what the fuck was happening as Jude moved at him, fast, purposeful.
Jude grunted as Rockem TK punched him at the last second, when he was only three feet way, the hit taking him in the upper left chest. He staggered at the force of it and nearly fell, but managed to stumble around, correcting as he let the momentum bleed into a turn that was more “drunk at 5 am hitting a lamp post” than “master martial artist.” His reflexes kicked in and the knife slapped into his hands as he found himself almost on top of Rockem. He panicked for a second as he watched the fake knife drive in slow motion at the other boy-
-and Rockem threw himself backwards from the viciously humming prop, landing outside the ring.
Rockem glared at him, shaking all over. Jude realized suddenly that, from the other boy’s perspective, Jude had just made a solid effort at killing him. He wished he could tell the kid he hadn’t meant to do that, but Rockem was already stalking into the crowd, and frankly, even if it wouldn’t have blow his cover, Jude wasn’t sure anyone would believe him anyway.
Jude paused and stared at Tolman. Ok, the first one had been survivable. Throwing him against a one ton PK brick was just…
He turned to stare at the girl, pretty, curvy, brunette, glasses, lethally dangerous...Buckler was one of the harder bricks in the class. Her glasses and pony tail were modern, but the tabard with a made up coat of arms on it over her black body glove were more medieval styled. The mail-knuckled fingerless gloves she wore were entirely unnecessary given that she could punch holes in steel bare handed, but they worked with her look.
Jude fought the urge to glare at the crowd as Buckler flashed a smile. She stepped into the ring with him, her stance open, easy, ready to move.
Ok. She was faster, stronger, she could fly, and he couldn’t hurt her with a grenade, let alone his “powers.” But...she was predictable. She opened each fight against a new opponent by climbing for altitude and power diving. Actually, she did that a lot anyway, but it worked well, so..
Buckler jumped in the air, and Jude watched her as she shot up to twenty feet, hands folded in front of him, struggling to control his breathing as he waited for-
“Hiyaaaaaa!” She screamed as she dove at him.
His hands flew out and down and smoke exploded out to fill the ring as he jumped sideways. He heard the crack as she hit the floor where he’d been. He had half a second, maybe to-
He kicked like his life depended on it, a good old fashioned kick-the-can stomp kick right where he’d been standing a half second before. Even through his heavy, hob-nailed boots, he felt like he’d stomped a cinder block.
But the key difference was that the “cinder block” he’d stomped was only 105 lbs of teenage girl who was off balance and in the process of standing up.
Jude heard a sharp yelp and then, “Argent, 1.”
He blinked as the smoke cleared. She’d been right on the edge of the ring, right where he’d been standing...and he’d caught her by surprise enough to punt her out before she could correct with flight.
Ok, that had worked...way better than he thought.
Buckler seemed to think so. She flew to her feet, literally levitating up off the ground and lending on her feet, staring at him warily. She didn’t lose many fights, and he had a feeling she wasn’t going to be happy about this.
“You’re going down, Argent,” she growled softly, stabbing a finger at him as they stepped into the ring.
Jude privately agreed. Smoke, props...he’d done most of what he could with what he had, and she was still far more powerful than he was. His brain flashed back to Surplus, and he shivered.
This could go very, very badly, but...he didn’t have much left in the tank.
Jude reached up and pulled his glasses off, fixing her with The Look. Like most people he’d tried it on, the glare of cold fury he aped made her turn moderately pale. “Am I?”
He tucked his glasses into his phone pouch and adopted a stance he’d picked up on the internet, Kali knife fighting. Buckler swallowed and hurriedly got into a far more martial stance.
She rocketed towards him as he popped his knife out. The sudden buzzing snarl of it had the intended effect, and she veered off, face a mask of shock as she backed the hell away from him. Jude blew out a breath and advanced, chasing after her, knife flickering in very, very basic knife drills.
Buckler yelped, and the dance started. She’d lunge at him, but his knife was moving around his body as he flowed through the drills, and she seemed reluctant to test that “idea.” He would lunge towards her, thrusting, stabbing, and then flickering back into the drill. For a minute or two, they went back and forth, and Jude half wished he had a recording of this. They were Flynning, fighting without contact in a way that he was sure looked very cool, and he almost wished they were doing it on purpose, cause with a little choreography, this could be fantastic.
She pulled back, hovering ten feet off the deck near the edge of the ring, and Jude took a dep breath. She was watching his hands, and he saw the moment she started to tip over into being ready to slam at him again.
Jude made the knife disappear, straightening up, and “manifested” his lil jelly ball. It snarled louder, spitting and hissing violently as he raised it, copying the way he’d seen another kid throw lightning.
Buckler screamed and shot backwards five feet-
Jude froze and looked at Tolman. She looked at the ball, eyes flickering over it, then back up at him with a momentary look of utter disbelief.
“Overkill,” she snapped, her face shifting to glare at him with every appearance of wanting to rip his face off.
Jude processed that as she looked at Buckler, who seemed to be hyperventilating, eyes locked to the ball between his hands.
“Argent, 2,” Tolman called, almost grinding her teeth. She looked at him flatly. “Finish class without powers.”
He nodded, breathing an inward sigh of relief and fighting not to grin like an idiot as he made the ball disappear and put his glasses back on. Tolman absolutely could see him correctly, he knew that for certain.
Which meant she’d upped his cred deliberately.
Jude had never been so happy to be slammed into the ground repeatedly in his life.
“Argent,” Tolman said, her voice ice as class ended.
Jude walked towards her, and she started moving. He blinked as he followed her to her office.
“Door,” she said as he stepped in.
He closed it, swallowing a little.
The tall woman leaned on her desk. “What the fuck was that?”
Jude blinked. “A magic trick?” he hazarded.
Tolman’s face could have been carved from stone. “Can you throw it?”
“Does it act in any way realistically if you did?”
“No...” he said slowly
Tolman glowered at him. “So, to be clear: you have a non-offensive magic trick that does nothing but sit between your hands and you hope like hell that the other person reacts like Buckler and runs.”
Jude swallowed. “Um, yeah, basically?”
She leaned down. “That’s stupid. And I mean that in the ‘you almost got yourself killed’ sense.”
Jude licked his lips. “Uh-”
Tolman stabbed a finger at him. “You pull out a big ball of scary, and then what? You have nowhere to go. You can’t do anything with it. You can’t make it disappear and go back to the tools that are versatile and work well. You just ended your ability to keep fighting and hoped it would stop the fight. Imagine crushing a beer bottle in your bare hands, jamming shards of glass through it. You better fucking hope that’s terrifying enough to stop the fight, because you can’t fight after that.”
Jude shivered. “Oh.”
Tolman stood up. “Detention. You’re cleaning every inch of my dojo until it sparkles. From the outside, your cover will look fine. The rest of the school will think it’s cause you went too hard.” She leaned in, her glare sharp. “But I want you to know it’s for being unconscionably stupid.”
Jude nodded, shaken.
Tolman stood up and opened the door. “Cleaning starts now. And if you show that thing in my dojo again, the detentions will get worse. Clear, Argent?”
Jude nodded again. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Supplies are in the closet. Move.”
Jude stepped out of the dojo, aching all over. She hadn’t been lying in the slightest when she said every inch. He’d managed to wrangle the steam cleaner over most of the floor. Tomorrow he finished that and started buffing and waxing them. Then the next day, he was going to pressure wash the walls. Then strip and wax the bleachers. Windows next. He had a sneaking suspicion he was also going to clean the ceilings, and his aching muscles really hoped she wasn’t going to have him clean the showers as well. The grout would take forever.
If this was her starter detention, he really, really didn’t want to find out where she escalated from here. And given the lesson she was here to teach him, he had no doubt she had something worse in her back pocket.
He was /definitely/ stashing the "idea of unmaking" in his trunk and not touching it again, just as soon as he found something to replace it with.
He stepped out of the dojo and grinned a little at finding Althea waiting for him.
“You ok?” She asked quietly as she fell in with him.
Jude blew out a breath. “Fairly ok. Tolman might stop wanting to kill me after I completely refinish the dojo.” He thought back to the look on her face as she’d stood in her office door, watching him work. “Maybe.”
Althea grimaced. “You feel up to hanging out?”
“Sure?” Jude glanced at her, eyes wary behind his glasses. She sounded eager for something, and he wasn’t sure what.
They headed for the Lair, and he blinked when he stepped in. He’d spent most of the last few days since he’d joined the Seeds hanging out here, and he was moderately startled to see all of them here. Aside from his first meeting, the others were usually in and out at odd times. Most of them looked like they always did, the exceptions being Catalept and Anole, who seemed to change constantly.
Catalept was wearing a tight flamenco cut suit today in canary yellow with red piping, and Anole’s hair and makeup changed colors and styles daily. Today, she sported a mod style gogo miniskirt, white knee boots, little pink hearts on her cheeks, pink eyeshadow, pink lips, and pink hair. And pink nails. He’d never have known she was the Goth he’d met four days ago.
Manifold leaned forward, eyes alight. “Alright, spill. What the fuck was that?”
Jude blew out a breath. “Beg pardon?”
Manifold laughed softly. “Dude. You took down two students so hard that Tolman called bullshit. We’ve been trying to hold off, but what, exactly, do you fucking do?”
Shademark smirked. “Agreed. Your power testing records are sealed, not even Mani can get into them. So, as the man said, spill.”
Jude swallowed and cocked an eyebrow. “Yes, because you’ve all been so forthcoming-”
Anole laughed. “Camo skin and regen,” she called cheerfully. Jude’s eyes widened as her ‘makeup’ changed rapidly, and then her skin and hair roiled through a riot of colors and patterns before settling back to her normal.
Manifold sighed. “Yeah, fair. Gadgeteer.”
“Power mimic,” Shademark called.
“Manifestor,” from Warfang, drawing a blink from Jude.
Oathbroken wriggled happily. “I’m a devisor!”
“Psychometry, a touch of paragon, and exemplar,” Cellophane put in.
“I should think,” Catelept said, his voice harmonizing smoothly. “That it would be obvious, in my case.”
Dame smiled. “Exemplar, regen.”
Althea leaned back against a chair. “And if you can’t figure me out, there’s no hope. Now: what the hell are you, Judas Argent?”
Jude swallowed. “That’s…”
Anole chuckled. “Something with smoke, obviously. Manifestor, maybe?” she giggled. “Gods, that insufferable medieval bitch looked like she was going to wet herself when you smoked her. Just ‘whoomph’ you explode into smoke and she comes flying out of it. I’d love to know what the hell you did to her in there to make her scream like that.”
Jude’s mind spun as Oathbreaker wiggled forward in his seat.
“Or your knife! You said it’s like, an idea, so like, PK? PDP? Devise? Oh, is it a devise? Please say it’s a devise I’d love to copy it I do lotsa forcefields and I think I could probably make-”
Jude held up his hands. “Wait. It’s…” he blew out a breath. “Did it really look that...impressive?”
Althea chuckled. “Oh, yes. You blast one kid out of the ring, then nearly gut him, then blow a PK-4 away like it’s nothing, and when you stop hiding in your smoke, you pull a power so nasty that she almost had a heart attack, and Tolman gave you detention for overkill. You listen to Tolman talk about her sensei for more than five minutes, you begin to understand how much it takes for Tolman-sensei to call nope on something.”
Jude sighed and pulled off his glasses, rubbing his nose. “Ah.”
“So,” Cellophane asked, leaning forward. “What is it?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Jude said with another sigh.
Jude looked at Shademark for a long moment.
“Yeah, fine. I have no real powers.”
There was a long moment of silence.
Jude glanced at Dame and shrugged. “Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.”
Althea cocked her head, eyes narrowing. “Then...why are you at Whateley? And why does everyone seem to think you have powers?”
Jude flopped into a chair, suddenly even more tired than the cleaning had made him. “That’s the power. My power is a sorta empath field, yeah? Makes everyone think I’m dangerous as shit and then to just make that suck a little more, it has a paranoia component. People see me, and just...feel that I’m dangerous, and their brain starts making up bullshit about all the ways that must be true.”
Oathbreaker stared at him. “But...the knife and the smoke and-”
Jude reached up his sleeve and flicked the knife to safe then pulled it out and tossed it on the table. He set a smoke bomb next to it, and popped his jelly ball without turning it on. “Magic tricks. Dad and I came up with this cause when I don’t act scary, don’t give people something concrete to fear, they go nuts and start trying to kill me.”
The Seeds stared at the props, then back at him. Anole licked her lips. “So...so that story about you manifesting and having to run until your Dad could find you-”
“Yeah,” Jude said, rubbing his face. “My power is a neon sign that says ‘kick me I’m a threat’ and that lit up with no warning. The MCO, cops, and Knights chased me across three cities trying to murder me no matter how hard I tried to tell them I wasn’t dangerous.”
He looked up at them and winced at the looks on their faces. “It’s...I mean, I really did make the MCO scream with terror, and yeah, I faced a lot of Knights, and a superhero did try and fight me. But the MCO were screaming cause I blinded them with bread flour, I faced the Knights by running for my life, and the superhero was hunting Dad while Dad was looking for me. She was so busy watching him she flew through the wall of the building I was hiding in, and then blamed me for it.”
The silence rang and Jude sighed. “Sorry for lying, but...almost no-one can see through it, and...I wasn’t sure what to do-”
“Sweet Satan, that’s cool,” Althea said softly.
Jude froze. “I...beg your pardon?”
Althea grinned. “My father faces demons. Has lunch with demons, occasionally. I asked him about you, and he said you made him worried. Do you know how powerful your field has to be to make Hieronymus Gault, Demon Sorceror worried?”
“Fuck, the applications…” Shademarke mused. “You could be a hell of an enforcer. No leg breaking required, you just stand outside and crack your knuckles and the protection money flows like water…”
“Hell, bank jobs would be a cinch,” Cellophane said, grinning. “You walk in and shout ‘money or death’ and they’d just throw all the money at you. You’d be lucky if people didn’t throw their clothes at you trying to get their jewelry off fast enough.”
Warfang snorted indelicately. “Si grossier. He could blackmail and extort, work in the shadows, no? Who is going to deny him secrets? Who would argue?”
Dame nodded slowly. “Espionage. Contract out, Governments, Trin and Mcintyre, the Karedonian Crown Forces...everyone would love a spy that can bend sources to his will without leaving any trace of manipulation…”
Oathbreaker giggled. “Or start riots just by showing up…”
Althea rolled her eyes. “His Dad’s a mastermind, dorks. Think bigger. Think mob boss.”
There was a pause as their eyes all got far away...
Jude swallowed, staring at them. “Are you...what?”
Catalept considered him. “Your powers. They’re enormously flexible. Still, I’m curious: why the detention? Is Tolman actually aiding your cover?”
Jude flushed. “Oh. No, that’s...she’s gonna let everyone think that, but it’s cause um. It’s cause she thinks the little ball of doom thing is brain meltingly stupid and she’s mad that I did something so stupid in class and risked getting killed.”
Shademark burst out laughing. “That’s the Tolman-sensei I know. What was the problem?”
Jude picked it up and turned it on. Immediately everyone flinched back. “Yeah, see, it looks scary, but it floats on strings between my hands, so-”
Dame choked on the drink she’d been attempting to use to hide her flinch. “You tied your hands together in the middle of BMA?”
“Uh. Yeah, basically. Tolman said it was the equivalent of trying to win a barfight by breaking a bottle and destroying your hand with glass shards to prove how tough you were.”
Dame swallowed a couple of times, coughing. “Damn straight. Fuck. That thing is scary as shit, what the fuck was your plan if Buckler panicked and suicide bombed you?”
Jude flushed. “I...didn’t have one.”
Manifold shuddered. “God, no wonder she gave you the dojo detention special. You might as well have broken you arms while screaming ‘come at me.’ Fuck, Jude, you can’t do shit like that.”
Jude gritted his teeth. “I. Am. Aware.”
The others flinched and he raised a hand. “Sorry, sorry, slipped.” He rubbed his head. “I just...this is what I have, you guys. You’re all talking about how useful my powers are, but I got frustrated and you all, even able to handle it, flinched. I can’t do jack and shit, but I’m scary. And I’m not good enough at making shit up to come up with anything that will, you know, actually work and not just be impressive looking.”
Oathbreaker scampered over and picked up his knife, flicking it on and waving it around. “No, no, this is really cool. Like, great special effect, it’s really impressive. And it works ok, yeah? Like people think it’s a knife and you can use it like one?”
Jude nodded, frowning.
“And your smoke bombs are a great choice,” Manifold said, considering it. “Ninja specials, cheap, easy to replace, deep coverage-”
He broke off. “How do you deal with that?”
“Oh, uh, I have earbuds that sort of track sounds? Like, smart frequency stuff? I have them tuned to hone in on a bunch of stuff.”
Manifold laughed. “You just hit the squirrel section and went nuts, huh?”
Jude blushed and flipped his glasses around. “Yep.”
Dame nodded. “Nothing to be ashamed of. There’s a reason these are old standards, Jude. Smoke bombs, hearing enhancers, and those glasses are really strong force multipliers.”
Shademark grinned, but it was Warfang that answered. “It is a term used by the military, oui? It means something that increases the danger or power of a fight. A gun increases force in a fight, but so does armor.”
“And your knife is a great one,” Cellophane said, smiling a little. “It increases your options.”
“Which the ball does not,” Althea said, picking it up primly and switching it off.
Jude sighed. “Yeah, but...I’m not sure where else to go?”
Oathbreaker grinned. “I can make you all kindsa weapons!”
Dame put a hand on his shoulder. “Dat, your weapons tend to explode when other people use them. And sometimes when you use them.”
He blushed. “I can fix that!”
Manifold grinned and ruffled his hair. “Maybe, but let’s look at non-splodey solutions first.”
Oathbreaker sighed. “Yeeeeahhhh, fine.”
He flopped onto Dame’s lap and she rolled her eyes and scooched over so he was sharing the chair with her.
“Now, a gun-” Manifold began, drawing his own.
“Nope,” Jude said firmly. “I have to spend all that range time, it’s traceable, it’s a problem. Plus, I’m...kinda of a really lousy shot.”
Manifold frowned. “You throw things-”
“Little league, track and field, that kind of thing. I can throw, but a gun just...doesn’t seem to work for me.” Jude left out that he hadn’t shot one since he was 9, not wanting to push further on that.
“Fair,” Manifold said, sucking his teeth. “Some kind of energy thrower?”
Althea sighed. “Yes, a gun that shoots energy instead of bullets is the perfect solution to him not being able to use guns in the first place.” She hummed. “Magic? I can create something-”
Jude shook his head. “No, I don’t...for the same reason I can’t use a devise, I can’t use magic. I don’t want a weapon with a steep learning curve that might fail right when I need it.” He raised a hand as she bristled slightly. “Not that your magic will fail, but I’m not a mage, Thea. I can’t recharge it, and if it breaks, I’m out of luck til I get it to you or another mage, exactly like a devise.”
She sighed and nodded. “Fair. And any weapon you pick up needs to match your demonstrated abilities to begin with. Light and shadow.”
Jude nodded. “Yeah. You see the problem.”
The group fell silent for a moment.
Warfang slapped his forehead. “Oh!”
Jude watched as the massive teen ran from the room, and the sound of rifling and boxes shifting drifted in, accompanied by soft cursing in French. Then the huge kid came back carrying a little box.
“Voila!” he said, handing the box to Jude.
Jude blinked and opened it, finding several rows of small white spheres, about the size of his smoke pellets. “What?”
“Oh, that...yeah, that’d work,” Manifold said, reaching for them. “Those’re rounds for a special type of gun, it fires things with magnetic fields.”
The older boy grinned. “But they’re contact TASER rounds. They don’t need to be going fast to work. If you can trigger them without the weapon to arm them, they’ll be just as effective.”
Jude stared at them, and his mouth fell open. “So...so they’re basically versions of my smoke pellets that electrocute people?”
“Yep. And with a little work, we can make them look right…” Manifold grinned and stood up, walking over ot put an arm around Jude’s shoulder’s, making him blush. “Come on, let’s hit the lab. you can work the effects while I re-rig these for throwing.”
Jude blinked. "What do you need me for?"
Manifold blinked. "Dude, you're wicked at special effects. I can make the rounds work, but you're probably the best here to make them look right."
Jude grinned, blushing a little harder at the praise from the older boy. “Sounds good.”
Jude flicked his wrist, and a glowing, spitting ball of pure imagination appeared in his hand. It looked exactly like his knife, coruscating, snarling softly. He flicked it with the practiced gesture he used for his smoke bombs, and Dame yelped as it burst into a shower of arcs and crackles against her chest, knocking her flat on her back.
“Ow!” she snapped, sitting up and rubbing her head. “Yeah, they definitely work.”
Jude shivered, making another appear. Manifold had created a casing that gave the same impression of clarity as the base for his knife, and he’d figured out how to coat them in the same kind of stuff to create the appropriate effect. That had worked, but it left what were clearly COBRA TASER rounds with extra bits lying on the floor. After realizing the issue was the rounds had to essentially vanish on impact, Manifold had ended up just rebuilding them from the ground up. Jude had watched, stunned, as he designed a new sort of COBRA round in a matter of hours.
Sometimes, he really wished he was a gadgeteer or devisor.
“Not bad,” Shademark said, reaching for it. He carefully dropped it into her hand and she rolled it around. She flicked it at a target and it snapped and burst magnificently. She looked at him. “It’s a good start, Jude.”
Jude blew out a breath and manifested another. He had a capacity of 50, and the exact same style of feeder to drop them into his hands. Manifold had messed with it, and both tanks now fed to both hands through a process he wasn’t clear on, but that worked great.
“I mean...Shade, I don’t know where else to go with that. I have smoke, I have an actual offensive weapon, hell my knife can do shit too.”
He’d watched Manifold take the TASER rounds apart, and used the guts of the stripped ones to add a tiny strip of wire around the edge of his blade, almost invisible, that carried a sharp current of power. His knife was now a TASER as well.
Manifold chuckled. “And frankly, seeing you rig that makes me wonder if you have some kind of tech power hiding in there. Special effects like that are difficult, and you just-”
Jude coughed. “Followed instructions online and used known technology?”
“Eh, fair. Still…” Manifold said, eyes gleaming. “You might look into getting yourself down as a devisor or gadgeteer of some kind. If you can get access to the labs, you can make all kinds of cool shit.”
Jude blinked. Well, that was something he hadn't thought of. With his powers deliberately vague, he could pretend to be a devisor, neatly solving the question in students minds of what it was that made him dangerous.
He flicked his knife out, holding his hand near it to feel the sharp buzz of ozone. The problem would be, of course, faking it. “Yeah...no idea what I’d even build, though.”
Shademark patted his shoulder. “Just be thinking about it, Jude. And think about new and different ways to use the tools you do have, ok? You’ve got a lot going for you, but you need to stay on top of it.”
Jude sighed and nodded. “Yeah. I’ll...I’ll start working up some more ideas.”
Jude carefully opened the door to his room, just in case Gander was in. The other boy got startled hard whenever he just walked in, and he was trying not to do that to him as much. Plus, the box under his arm was a touch awkward. It was the size of a toaster but as heavy as a suitcase full of clothes. Apparently, if he fed it electricity, plastic, and metal, it would spit out up to thirty rounds of his ammo a day, in any combination of smoke and TASER. Apparently, the same gadgeteer that had left the COBRA rounds in the first place had left the manufactory as well, and Manifold had just tweaked it.
He stepped into his room and hid a wince at seeing Gander on his bed, tucked up in the corner. The other boy seemed determined not to run this time, scrunching into the corner as hard as he could and hunching over his laptop. Jude nodded in his direction and then placed the factory under his bed behind his trunk, plugging it in. He plopped the cubes of materials into it and set it to turn out more of his little shock rounds. He'd have to come up with a name for them soon, but for now he was just happy to have them.
Jude blinked and slid out from under the bed. “Yes?”
Gander stared at the floor between them. “I...I...Ihaveaquestionpleasedon’thurtme.”
Jude sighed and scooted up onto his own bed. “I’m not going to hurt you, Gander. What is it?”
Gander swallowed and folded his hands. “You...you...um. Why the, um, stuff?”
Gander shuddered. “You have l-lots of p-power, w-why d-do you u-use s-smoke b-bombs and a-armor and s-stuff?”
Jude blinked slowly, the bottom of his gut falling out. Of course his devisor roommate would notice his weird props and toys. Hell, Gander’s glasses looked like they could fly a space shuttle, he could probably see the gear. Jude blushed as he had the passing thought that he might not mind Gander having X-ray vision and using it on him, then he dismissed it. More important problems.
Like how to salvage his situation when someone that definitely didn’t trust him could see the smoke and mirrors.
On the other hand, he’d already told Gander the secret, a couple weeks back when they met.
“Ok, do you remember what I said when we met?”
Gander nodded silently.
Jude stared at him, suddenly curious. “Actually...what do you think I said when we met?”
“You s-said your powers we-were scary, and you wouldn’t h-hurt me if I-I kept th-the room clean and di-didn’t b-bother you. Th-That i-if I c-cooperated, you w-wouldn’t b-be dangerous t-to me.” Gander shuddered and curled in tighter. “S-Sorry, I-I sh-shouldn’t h-have-”
Jude gritted his teeth. “Gander, wait. Do your glasses like, record stuff?”
Gander blanched. “Um. I-I’m n-not go-gonna b-blackmail y-you-”
“No, that’s...can you watch the footage of us meeting? Please?”
Gander stared at him, and then nodded. Jude blinked as his glasses went opaque. He came back a minute later and shivered.
“Gander, what did I actually say? The actual words?”
Jude fought the urge to scream. “Ok, can you make a transcript of it?”
Gander nodded, looking slightly confused.
“Ok. I’m going to go in the hall, and you make a transcript and read it. Let me know when you’re done.”
Jude got up and stepped out into the hall, closing the door and leaning back against the wall. This might not work. It probably wouldn’t. He started running over ideas in his mind, trying to think what he could say to throw Gander off.
It was about ten minutes before the door opened. Gander was staring at him a little more directly, face troubled. “Um. C-Can we t-talk?”
Jude nodded, and followed him into the room. Gander flopped back down on his bed and eased away from him, but didn’t crawl into the corner.
Gander swallowed. “You...you didn’t threaten me, like...n-not w-with-” He gritted his teeth and swallowed hard a few times, then hopped up and grabbed a soda from his closet. He chugged it, and blew out a breath. “Sorry, nervous stutter.”
The chubby boy sat on his desk chair. “The words you said were that you aren’t dangerous, you wouldn’t hurt me, and you have some kind of power that scares people, not that your powers are scary.” Gander flushed. “And that’s the fucking truth, you’re terrifying.”
Jude nodded slowly. “Ok, so...where does that take you?”
Gander rubbed his face. “I don’t...I don’t know. The way you say it, the way you look when you say it, changes it. And even just reading it, it’s...weird, it’s...it’s like the words mean different things.”
Jude’s heart rose slowly, an impossible hope welling up in him. “But?”
“I don’t...I don’t know.” Gander took off his glasses and rubbed his temples. “You’re like a walking Diedricks episode. You don’t make sense, and you don’t make sense in a way that makes me panic and want to scream and run in place and no matter how hard I stare at you and see that you’re not...doing anything, I can’t stop feeling like you’re doing something? Like...like I only have a mild case, but like...the couple times I had an episode, a major one, I thought the mailman was the antichrist and tried to build a machine to dissect him to extract his demon essence to power-”
Gander broke off, blushing. “Um."
Jude grinned. "Both times?"
Gander coughed. "Yeah, uh. Moving on.”
Jude chuckled, but his mind was spinning, a whole new category of people he hadn’t considered suddenly open to him. He’d focused on people that were used to the danger side of his powers without once considering that there were likely people who were used to thinking their way through the paranoia.
“Gander," He said, staring at his hands, "that’s...that feeling you're describing, that's my power. That’s it exactly.”
Gander stared at him, then got up and grabbed a second soda. “You...you make people feel like they’re having a grand mal Diedricks seizure. Everyone around you. All the time. That you’re a big, scary, monster that’s out to get them.”
“Yeah. And no matter how hard I try, only a very small number of people can get past it long enough to see the trick.”
Gander laughed sharply, and then tossed him a soda as well. “It’s...its a hell of a trick,” he said, taking a shaky breath. “I’m...I’m still...I can see it, sort of? But it’s like...like acid in my brain, just eating away at me. I’m...I’m terrified of you. But you’re not doing anything, you’re just...you just make me feel crazy and scared.”
Jude shuddered. “That...must be hard. Do you want to switch? I can’t imagine having me as a roommate is easy with Diedricks if it feels like-”
Gander snorted. “No, I...that’s kinda…” He scratched his head. “Like...it feels like a Diedricks seizure, but it’s not. That’s what’s been fucking me up. I feel it, but I don’t ‘drick out, so it must be real, right? But...but now I know it’s not, and like...I think I can handle that?”
Jude shivered. “Really?”
Gander swallowed and took a sip of soda. “Yeah. Like...I can’t promise I won’t shit myself if you come up on me suddenly, and um-” he licked his lips and stared at his soda. “-and I apologize in advance if I have an actual episode and try to um, hurt you, but. If you’re willing to put up with me possibly lacing the room with capture fields when I lose it, I can handle you being a walking ball of insanity.”
Jude grinned a little. “That’s...yeah. I’ll try not to sneak up on you, and like…” he coughed. “Honestly, I can’t blame you if you flip. I’ve been kinda stunned you haven’t so far.”
Gander grinned a little. “Fair.” He blew out a breath. “Uh. Weird question?”
“Why the toys?”
Jude considered. “Gander, before I started looking scary, you had all kinds of ideas about me, right?”
“And then I got openly scary, what happened?”
Gander stared at him, mouth working. “Oh. Shit. You...you give people a direction, something to be paranoid about so they don’t...go over the edge panicking. Like...like guiding a paranoid delusion to keep the delusional person safe.”
“Exactly,” Jude said with a grin. “My toys are scary, and now that people can see something scary, they latch onto it rather than making shit up that I might not survive them testing.”
“Huh.” Gander eyed him sideways. “Another weird question?”
“Can...like, I’m not gonna out you or anything, and I uh. You don’t have to be, like…” He sighed. “Can I tell people we’re friends?”
Jude blinked slowly. “I mean...yes, but we could also just be friends, if you want. I don’t have a lot and I’d love more.”
Gander grinned a little. “Oh. Um. Cool.” He took a sip of soda. “So...friends, then. Um.”
He held out a slightly shaky hand. “I’m Ken.”
Jude grinned and shook it. “Jude, to my friends.”
“Nice to meet you, Jude.” Gander tapped his soda. “Uh, you like video games?”
Three matches into Toon Arena 4, and three straight losses for Jude, he looked at the other boy. “Can I ask a dumb question?”
The other boy laughed. “First of all, have you ever pissed off a goose?”
Jude snorted soda. “Oh, fuck, that’s fair.”
Gander chuckled and selected a character. “Second, well...I do holograms and hard light. And like...glasses and vision and stuff. I work with light. So...Gander.”
“Huh. That’s cool as shit.”
“Why Judas Argent?”
Jude bushed. “Sounds scary. Betrayal right there in the name. Argent means silver, so-”
Gander cackled. “You named yourself Judas Silver!?”
Jude shrugged, blushing. “It seemed dramatic enough?”
Gander giggled and shook his head. “It is that, yeah.”
“Can your glasses do xray stuff?”
Gander flushed. “Yeah, but like, I’m not peeking, I promise.” He took a sip of his soda and muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously to Jude’s enhanced hearing like, “much, anyway.”
Jude flushed and decided to let that go, picking a character and throwing himself back into trying to win a match. He managed to take one round, but solidly lost the next two.
“You’re...kinda not good at this?” Gander teased carefully.
Jude grinned. “Thanks, it’s the nerve damage.”
Gander blinked. “Oh, god, I’m so sorry, I-”
Jude held up a hand, giggling. “Dude. I’m messing with you.”
Gander huffed. “Rude.”
Jude licked his lips. “I...I do have nerve damage in my hands, but like...I’m not mad or anything. I’m just happy to be, like, gaming with someone that isn’t trying to kill me.”
Gander nodded slowly. “Fair. So...teasing is ok?”
“Hell yes, my dad teases me relentlessly about it.” Jude coughed. “His favorite is when I mess up and squish something delicate, like a banana or an egg, and he goes, ‘man, your poor dick.’”
Gander stared at him, and then he put two and two together and burst out laughing.
Jude grinned. “So, further weird question: why were you wanting to pretend to people that we were friends?”
Gander shrugged. “I am a fat DEV-2 with mild GSD who’s a touch of a pansy in a school of super hot kids and kids with wicked cool powers.” He took a sip of soda. “The bullying game here is way, way up from my last school.”
Jude binked. “You have a lot of trouble?”
“Yeah, I mean, mostly these two guys that pick on the weaker kids. Usually one of the kids that feels a way about that looks out for it, but having people know the school monster is on my side can’t hurt, right?” He coughed. “Um, no offense.”
“None taken,” Jude said, mind starting to tick over as they continued playing.
An hour or two later, he’d lost soundly, and was laying in bed, working on his homework while Gander did the same. Well, mostly working on it, he was still pretty far ahead, and his mind kept flickering back to Gander’s matter of fact statement about the bullies.
Sure, he was going to be pegged into the villain hole pretty hard, it seemed. But from what he’d seen on campus, the heroes were as like as not to be the bullies, and the villain kids were more likely to keep to themselves and watch out for each other. The culture here seemed to tolerate the villains and celebrate the heroes, putting the nominal ‘bad guys’ as the weird outcasts, but with the targeting of them justified by their ‘evil.’
For all he knew, every one of the Seeds was a monster. Catalept revelled in his serial killing father. Dame was openly a knight in a cult. Althea was a sorceress, and what she did with that he didn’t know. Oathbreaker thought his father’s villainy was exciting and cool, and Warfang was a born and bred criminal who openly planned to return to it as soon as they figured out how best to do that. The others all played a little closer to the vest, but none of them except perhaps Cellophane seemed at all perturbed by their parent’s careers. And Cellophane’s biggest discomfort seemed to be that his mother was bad at it. Hell, he himself knew that Locksley did harsh, terrible things for no real good reason, and had accepted that.
But...if the heroes were often cruel, villainous monsters...and the villains were quiet, well-behaved monsters...would it really be so terrible if he played with his image and protected the others a little? A touch of the hero, in more ways than one?
He looked sideways at Gander, allowing himself to consciously admire the boy a little for the first time. He had to admit that he more than one type, and Gander was several of them. Smart, sarcastic (once he opened up), shy, and soft. And reletnlessly bullied for it, apparently.
Jude had power, and he'd spent most of the last half a year trying ot figure out how to contain it, to keep it in check and stop it from fucking with him. But if he was going to have to use it, to learn it…
Why not use it for something good? Maybe not always, maybe it wouldn’t come out to be something he could use for good all the time, but…
Jude rolled over, a grin spreading over his face. “Tell me more about these bullies.”