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stevita

like the pancake
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They needed a game plan. Dealing with a manipulative mastermind such as Crucifix would require nothing short of the skill of a chess grandmaster.


Luckily, Eddie knew a thing or two about a thing or two.


The conflict started over the phone.


"Bonjour! Who, may I ask, is calling?"


"Flame! It's…it's Big Tech. Me and Bombshell have a problem, but you can help us. I can't tell you everything, but would you be amenable to hustling some pool with a telepath, and possibly keeping him occupied until I give you a signal?"


"Sounds delightful. Details?"


"His name is Dante Collins, big dude, like, almost me-sized, can't miss him."


"Magnifique! Just text me a time, Big Tech!"


Click.


***


"Yo, Eddie, what's up?"


"Dante! Hi. Listen, thanks for all your help cleaning up my little mess at the office. I was wondering if you might meet me at Willie's Pool Hall. There's another fire I need help putting out."


"What are friends for, dude? How messy?"


"Astronomically."


"Perfect."


***


"Is an Evergreen able to come to the phone?"


"Speaking–and Big Tech! Where have you been? You haven't reached out since the housewarming party!"


"Have you seen the news lately?"


"I suppose you have been busy…"


"Listen, Evergreen, me and Bombshell are having a little supervillain trouble. I completely understand if you don't want–"


"Are you kidding me? I am SO in!"


***


"Martika!"


"Oh, hello, Eddie!"


"Listen, Oriana explained your plan to me, and I'm in full support."


"Oh, Eddie, you mean it?"


"Of course! Nothing is more important to me than a fair future for Ori's and my children."


"Wonderful!"


"In fact, we'd like to come to your rally tomorrow to show our gratitude, and so that Bombshell can take her rightful place as co-ruler at your side. Will you make sure that border patrol lets us in?"


"Done and done! Welcome to the family, Comrade! I'm so glad you've chosen wisely."


***


Poised to make their move, Eddie and Oriana made the trip to the Commune overnight. They checked into a hotel under false identities and took advantage of the hours before Crucifix's rally to rest and mentally prepare themselves for the biggest save of either of their lives.


Eddie's plan, thought Oriana, was as elegant as it was simplistic. In plainclothes, they would attend the assembly, and, once close enough to the stage, Oriana, unrecognizable as Bombshell, would use her signature fattening finisher on Crucifix, instantly immobilizing her. With their leader down for the count and no idea against whom to retaliate, the most logical course of action for the cult following of the divisive diva would be to abandon their evil agenda and stand down. They had invited Evergreen as a precaution, and soon enough she texted to let them know she had arrived in the Commune and would be keeping an eye on the rally from a distance, but if all went well, they could finish this fight before it started.


What was that Sun Tzu quote about winning without fighting?


***


"Friends! Comrades! True believers!" bellowed Crucifix, fully suited up in her mask and supervillainous regalia, into her megaphone on the stage of a grand arena. With Eddie close at her heels, Oriana made her approach. He grasped her hand, entwining his pudgy fingers with her own and squeezing firmly, hoping to lend her reassurance. "For too long, we have suffered as second-class citizens, pipelined into the military, utilized for our gifts and outcast as freaks in the same fell swoop, crushed under the boot of the heinous Heroics Division and the apathetic State! Well, I say, no more!"


The packed crowd of Deviants that comprised the audience gave a collective, deafening cheer.


Eddie had to admit, she had a point. In dismay, he realized there was truly no faction in this brewing conflict that held the moral high ground. The Heroics Division was just as dismissive of Deviant rights as Crucifix's army was of everyone else's. How, then, was he supposed to justify his and Oriana's decision to uphold a broken and unjust institution?


"Tonight," Crucifix went on, "we contact the White House and demand a transfer of power to the Commune! If they refuse, we will slaughter every Genetic Typical man, woman, and child who refuses to bow to our authority until the country is ours!"


…That said, this ***** had to be stopped.


Oriana chose that moment to strike.


The fattening of Martika Mitchell had to be the grandest display of biomanipulation Oriana had accomplished yet. The genocidal giantess' already ample frame ballooned with a ferocity never before seen, on or off of television, snapping the laces of her corset and the seams of her leather chaps and setting off a crackling cacophony not incomparable to a fireworks show. With a shocked screech, she fell backwards, her thickening arms flailing, stub-like, as they lost the competition for space to her titanic torso and bare breasts. Her stomach surged forward over her legs in a dazzling deluge of fresh fat, and the swift swelling of her derriere made her appear to rise inches off the stage.


That's when it should have been over, but Eddie had vastly overestimated the intelligence of Crucifix's criminal crew. Had he been a citizen of the Commune who'd just witnessed the defeat of his leader, he would have concluded, for the sake of self-preservation, that it was time to flee. But Crucifix's men weren't exactly a crowd of critical thinkers. Sure, some of them had doubtlessly joined her for ideological reasons, but many more were obviously here to sate their aimless bloodlust. As the audience's fervor gave way to chaos and they began to attack one another indiscriminately, Eddie lamented to himself that in hindsight, he should have seen this coming.
 

stevita

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Amidst the chaos, Eddie and Oriana managed to give the confused crowd the slip and make it back to the safety of their suite so he could retrieve his helmet and she could suit up. Each of them knew flight from what they'd started wasn't an option; any attempt to go back to their old lives would simply result in bringing the war to Blackwater City.


"We need to keep this self-contained," Oriana concluded.


"I'll go back to the stadium and keep an eye on the situation from above ground," said Eddie with a nod. "I'll see if I can get ahold of Evergreen, too. Why don't you investigate the border? See if there are any weak spots. That way we can at least get all the innocent who don't want to fight to safety. Reconvene at your location at 2200 hours?"


"Aww!" Oriana wrapped both arms around one of his and pressed her head back into his shoulder. These were some grim times, but it was nice being reminded of why they had teamed up in the first place: to protect civilian interests and civilian lives. Well, that and to have the best sex north of the Tropic of Cancer.


She wondered if life would ever go back to being as idyllic and playful as it had once been for them. Would they wake up a month from now in their own bed, cuddling sleepily until the last of their alarms forced them out of bed to get ready for work? Or would they be at war until the end of their days?


"What's that 'aww' for?"


"Same game plan," she said. He squeezed her around the shoulders and she dared hope that in the end, things were going to be okay. "Anyway, I'll get right on that. See you at ten."


***


By 2100 hours, Oriana hadn't found a hole in the border of the Commune--but she had managed to create one.


It had taken her four hours--blasted cooldown period and three-body limit--but all border security personnel a mile along the western perimeter had been incapacitated. If she had to guess, they were all still unconscious, their bodies exhausted from the physical toll of putting on hundreds of pounds within seconds, and, barring telepathic interference, they'd all have trouble calling for distress with arms too bloated with fat to reach their phones.


She was looking for someplace to take shelter until Eddie met up with her when the battle converged on her.


Hundreds of Deviants charging her from every direction. Fire attacks that filled her lungs with smoke, water attacks that threatened to drown her, psychic attacks that brought her to her knees, and yet…


Even as she endured the onslaught of pain, she was familiar enough by now to recognize the dreamlike quality of everything she felt happening to her.


"Dammit, Jared!" she screeched through her tears.


Then a new voice rang clear through the hallucination, giving her hope. "Alright, Human Hallucinogen, time to stop. Let her go."


Oriana came back to reality on her hands and knees on the pavement, gasping. She was shaken, and some of the pain still lingered, but at least there was no one here but herself, Jared, and, standing with her head high in a power-stance, hands on her hips, her red satin and lace billowing in the breeze…


"Scarlet Flame! What are you doing here?"


"I heard mon amis were in distress, so I made use of my sick days and drove down here as fast as I could! Did you really think I wouldn't join the fight once the bleeding started? We should make camp together. I have a magnifique bottle of Bordeaux with our names on it in the trunk of my car. But first…" She turned her attention back to Jared and said, "HH, would you mind standing perfectly still? Just like that. Now." She stepped back. "Bombshell, ma Reine, will you do the honors?"


"Jared, how many times do I have to teach you this lesson?" asked Bombshell before putting the hit on him.


By now, she'd hit him so many times that watching him fall over on his widening ass as his body swelled into a gelatinous sphere of adipose didn't even excite her anymore. She snapped a few quick stills on her interface before muttering boredly, "Compose: 'Get whacked.' Attach most recent picture. Send Tweet."


It should have been over. But then, a white hot ball of crackling electricity floated towards her, moving at about twenty miles an hour. It hit her square in the chest before dissipating, leaving no mark.


"What the--?" stammered S.


"Shock-proof suit," explained Oriana. "Big Tech's idea."


"Good thinking, Big Tech! And bring it on, Kilowatt!"


"That didn't look like Kilowatt's shocks. It reminded me more of…"


Oh no.


Her insides knotted.


She turned her gaze toward the direction of the source of the attack. Soon enough, who came running up but a confused and flustered Electromancer who she happened to know well, windswept, beret in hand. At last the mystery of the identity of Spark was solved. His eyes went wide at the sight of her.


"Ben?" she said.


"Oriana?! I didn't mean to hit you! Human Hallucinogen pinged me asking for backup, he didn't say he was fighting you!"


How had her baby cousin even ended up in the middle of this mess?


"Okay, first off," said Oriana, "Human Hallucinogen is not your friend. Secondly, what are you even doing here?"


"I live here."


"YOU LIVE HERE?! WITH CRUCIFIX?"


"I thought you'd be out by now! Crucifix said herself you weren't to be attacked. She doesn't want any Deviant blood unnecessarily spilled."


"DOES IT LOOK LIKE ANYONE IS LISTENING TO CRUCIFIX ANYMORE?!"


"Ori--"


"THE LUNATICS DONE TAKEN OVER THE ASYLUM!"


"Ori!"


"AND CRUCIFIX AIN'T YOUR FRIEND NEITHER! WE ARE IN WHAT USED TO BE THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, UTAH! DID YOU EVER WONDER WHY EVERYONE'S A DEVIANT HERE? OPEN YOUR EYES! DID YOU MISS THE FUCKING RALLY? CRUCIFIX KILLED ALL THE GENETIC TYPICALS!"


"Ori, please dial back," he begged her. Electricity swirled around him, crackling menacingly. "I don't want to hurt you, but you're putting out a lot of emotion right now. I can hold it inside for a minute, but I don't know how long I can keep the floodgates from--"


CRACK! A black gloved hand came down on Ben's shoulder, pressing some sort of dart through his costume and into his skin, and he collapsed, unconscious. Above him stood the figure of a stranger, clad in a yellow and black ensemble with the biohazard symbol emblazoned upon her ample chest, her whole face concealed by a clunky gas mask. "You're welcome!" she chimed, her voice distorted through her disguise.


Bombshell tilted her head. "Who the **** are you?"


"I'm Catalyst!" said the stranger. "I'm new."


"And whose side are you on?"


"My side, of course! When I heard through the grapevine there was a plot to end all Genetic Typical life, I thought to myself, why let the super-freaks have all the fun? No offense, of course."


Great, thought Bombshell. So this was just Super-Girl-Without-Any-Powers.


"So should I put him all the way down, or–?"


"No! I mean…look, I know Spark was finna hit me, but he didn't mean it. He's one of ours. Deep down, anyway. Mind helping me take him to camp?"


"No problem! Where's camp?"


"Big Tech and I have a hotel room on 5th. It'll do until we can find something better."


"I'll drive," offered Scarlet Flame, "if you want to navigate, beautiful B."


***


The fighting quickly dispersed from the stadium and spread throughout the Commune, which wasn't great news as far as the scope of the potential damage was concerned, but it did create pockets of safety amidst pockets of free-for-all brawling. From flight, Eddie reflected that the Deviants' tendency to cluster into epicenters of conflict was similar to the structure of Blackwater City created by the Genetic Typical population.


In theory, they should have all been able to just get along.


Evergreen had yet to answer her phone, but as he spotted a network of sprawling tree roots shooting out of the ground in the middle-distance, he got a clue of why that might be.
 
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stevita

like the pancake
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Joined
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Messages
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Location
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((A/n: TW for the death of a major-ish supporting character.))
***
The trio of Evergreen, Craniotomy, and Cannonball–or, as they were known in their classes and day jobs, Heather Greene, Chloe Nguyen, and Malcolm Jimenez–had arrived in the Commune as a trio, but when the skirmish broke out, it hadn't been easy for the three of them to keep an eye on one another.


She caught up with Chloe without a second to spare, the telepath had been fleeing for her life from one of Crucifix's goons, who had been trying to shoot her with his deadly spitballs full of corrosive acid. Heather had called upon the local flora to detain him, but he kept wilting her vines with his acid, and she didn't know how long she could hold him at bay.


Just then, the ground shook with a colossal impact. Either an earthquake had begun, or Big Tech had arrived.


"You can drop him, Evergreen. I'll take it from here."


Heather released her prisoner from his arboreal bonds and smiled, even as the brightness of the blue blast of Big Tech's photon cannon sent her stumbling backward, her footing soon slipping and causing her to fall flat on her plump rump. The enemy vaporized, the massive machinist approached her to offer her a hand up, while Chloe somersaulted off of the tree limb on which she had taken refuge.


"Thanks, bud," said Heather. Her savior pulled her to her feet, but not without a grunt of effort.


"I didn't realize it had been so long since we last met."


What a polite way for him to take note of the two hundred and someodd pounds she had gained since their first introduction. She was probably almost as heavy as he was these days. "Crazy story, actually," she said, reaching backwards, with some difficulty, to brush the dust off the back of her long, green coat. "Are you familiar with the invasive species Dionaea lipovora?"


"No, I'm more of an engineer than a biologist," admitted Big Tech.


"Well, it's a megaflora plant in the flytrap family that bears visually appealing, dopamine-inducing, and highly calorie-dense fruit. But you shouldn't eat the fruit, because you'll gain a lot of weight, and also you'll get addicted and keep coming around the plant, and once you're fat enough, it'll eat you."


"Don't get all scientific after the fact," said Chloe with a roll of her eyes. "She was totally in love with that thing. Kept calling it 'Lauren'. Anyway, we should reconvene with Oriana. Cannonball's on the move, he'll be fine. He'll meet us at our coordinates once he finds a safe place to charge his phone."


Heather should have known. Malcolm never remembered to charge his phone.


***


With a WHOOSH of wind, Malcolm arrived at the suite where Chloe had told him to reconvene with the group. He knocked five times, awaiting an answer from his teammates, until the door opened to reveal the vast and towering figure of Big Tech in the doorway. "Oh, good, so Evergreen and Craniotomy managed to meet up with you and Bombshell."


"Cannonball, right?" said Big Tech, ushering him inside. "This is a surprise; I wasn't expecting this big of a team!"


"Evergreen's gotten huge, I know."


"I meant in numbers. She didn't mention she was bringing backup." Indeed, not only was Malcolm's whole squad here, back together again with the reappearance of Ben, but Scarlet Flame had joined their ranks, along with a masked-up, curvy little woman dressed in black and yellow who Malcolm had never seen, but wouldn't mind getting to know. Out of the bunch of them, Malcolm was the only one who hadn't bothered with a costume–he was too much of a blur to be seen in action, anyway, so he'd figured track pants and a bomber jacket would do.


"Now," said Big Tech, "is this all the allies we can expect?"


***


By the time they had settled in at what had now become base, Ben had regained consciousness and Ori had calmed down enough for him to recount the tale of his plight, which was by now a rehash of what Crucifix had told her, only it hit differently, knowing Spark was her own flesh and blood. "I didn't know–"


"Ben, it's okay," she assured him. "Martika tricked me, too."


"I never set out to turn evil–"


"I don't think she did, either. But we're all gonna fight our way through this mess together, okay?"


As the cousins got reacquainted–man, this made the amount of FlashBang fanfiction on the 'net uncomfortable to say the least–Eddie went down the line, taking inventory of everyone's powers and crafting a game plan.


"Chloe–"


"Craniotomy," Chloe beamed proudly.


"Is that why she's dressed like a slutty nurse?" Oriana asked Ben.


"She modeled the getup after the waitress uniforms at the Cardiac Arrest Cafe, but the name does fit the theme, now I think of it."


"Since you have a long-range read on people's thoughts, you'll make an ideal scout and front lookout," said Eddie. "This'll put you at the edge of formation, so I'll be keeping watch on your back. But Evergreen? Flame? You'll be backing her up. Anything comes for her, you tie it up or send it away or otherwise make it stop. Catalyst, was it?"


The woman in the gas mask stood at attention.


"How precise is your aim with those tranq darts?"


"I dunno, usually if I have to throw something, I use a smoke grenade full of knockout gas instead."


"Perfect. You, me, and Spark will take the center as the heavy artillery. Cannonball, you're on emergency extraction duty, and you and Bombshell will split the back lines."


"The back?" blurted Oriana, scandalized.


"As the team's medic," Eddie explained.


"But I'm the highest-indexing member of the team–"


"You're also the only one whose powers can be used in a medical capacity. I know you'd rather take a more combative role, but this isn't the time to do whatever we want. Strategy is what's gonna get us all back to Blackwater alive."


***


Chloe knew Eddie would never have asked her to go plodding through the sewers in order to scout out the safest place to move their camp, especially alone. Desperate times, however, called for desperate measures, including getting down and dirty underground. She could sense the presence of the crowds above in her search for an isolated, deserted hideout even as the smell drove her to fits of gagging. Maybe, she thought to herself, they should just set up shop down here. Pop out of the ground by way of guerilla warfare.


Nah…they'd all go insane after a while.


As putrid as it was underground amidst the waste of Crucifix's cult, though, this was the safest way to slip through the Commune undetected. Nobody actually wanted to be down here, least of all Chloe, so she was certain she wouldn't run into anyone.


Until she did.


The little woman was face down in the river of discharge, half-drowned, bleeding out, and she knew she was going to die.


Chloe trudged through the mud to investigate, and, once close enough, turned her on her back so she might get a chance to utter some last words.


"Who–who–?"


"Marion, I'm Chloe. I'm a friend."


Though she had been the feeder in her recently ended relationship, Marion had always had a knack for biting off more than she could chew. She was a dreamer that way. When Big Tech told her not to follow him into combat against Crucifix, of course, she hadn't listened. Crucifix's men had made quick and easy work of her, and now, there was nothing Chloe could do except offer comfort in her final moments. So, she knelt in the mud and **** and grasped her hand.


"You…can read minds?"


"Yeah…yeah," said Chloe. "I'm a scout for Big Tech."


"Tell…him…"


"I will, Mari. I will."


She wasn't the first casualty of the fighting in the Commune, and she wouldn't be the last, but feeling her thoughts fade from a cry, to a whisper, to silence was no less sobering for Chloe.


She would tell Eddie nothing.


Between her upbringing as a military brat and her gift of mind-reading, she had no disillusions about where she was.


And war, all bravado aside, wasn't all about the valiant tales of victory you brought home.


Just as much, it was about the secrets you would carry to your grave.
 

stevita

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"I don't like it," said Malcolm, sidling up to Bombshell after Big Tech assigned everyone their roles. "Who decided that Captain Dude-Who's-Just-Some-Guy should be the head general, anyway? No offense…I know you're dating him. But if anything, it should have been you in charge."


"I can't say I'm thrilled about being benched," she replied, "but thinking it over, now I cooled down some, his strategy does make sense from a combat theory perspective."


"Does it? With Craniotomy on the front lines, even though she has no superhuman durability or offensive powers?"


"I didn't hear her complaining," Bombshell pointed out.


"Say, where did she get to, anyway?"


***


An evacuated hospital was actually a pretty ideal place for the heroic entourage to set up camp. Chloe just wasn't the proudest of why they'd had to reconvene there.


"You shouldn't have broken rank," said Eddie, standing over her while Oriana used a combination of biomanipulation and what she'd learned in Field First Aid back at Bellvue to repair her broken leg.


"All done," said Oriana, "but the X-Ray machine's broke, and I'm not a doctor, anywho, so just to be safe we should buckle down here for a bit so you can stay off it."


"Was it really breaking rank?" Chloe pointed out. "You told me to scout, so I went out scouting."


"Without backup."


"I thought I'd be fine with just telepathy."


"Clearly, telepathy isn't the same as omniscience!"


Chloe glanced off guiltily to the side. Eddie was right.


Malcolm WHOOSHED into the room and straight to the side of Chloe's bed. "Perimeter's secure. What happened to her?"


"Chloe here," Eddie explained, "thought she had found a nice secluded spot for us to move our base. Turns out, there was a reason it was secluded."


"I made a misstep and found an IED," Chloe muttered. "I got thrown thirty feet and Big Tech had to come and scrape me off a roof."


"You broke your leg stepping on a birth control thingy?" asked Malcolm.


"Not IUD, IED," said Catalyst. "Improvised Explosive Device. You know…maybe a couple of us should go see if there are any other bombs."


Ben nodded. "We could diffuse them before they become a problem."


"Or steal them," suggested Catalyst.


"Maybe a couple of us should go see if the hospital kitchen is operational," Heather pointed out. "I think we're all hungry and exhausted."


"Maybe we should...we should all know each others' names," croaked Chloe.


Standing over her on the side opposite Malcolm, Ben squeezed her hand. "Rest."


"What, like all go around in a circle?" said Malcolm. "'Hi, I'm Malcolm, and I'm an alcoholic'? What is this, some sort of teambuilding exercise?"


"We should know each others' names," repeated Chloe, "so we can contact each others' families, and like, settle each other's affairs if one of us, like...dies."


"None of you are going to die," said Big Tech, resolute.


"Yeah, but what if one of us does?" asked Bombshell.


"Why the sudden pessimism, Little Miss Bulletproof?" asked Malcolm.


"I'm not just talking about me," said Bombshell. "And besides, I ain't all as invincible as TV makes it look. Sure, I can stop a bullet--but only if I see it coming. A compulsive attack, though? If a mind controller was to make me turn on any one of y'all, I wouldn't fault you for–"


"Each person who knows our identity represents a liability," said Scarlet Flame. "I'm sure Crucifix's pet telepath is on his way to the Commune as we speak, if he hasn't arrived already."


"How will the enemy knowing our names make any difference?"


"I still think it's too dangerous," said Flame.


"Look, all I'm saying is, personally, if I go down--"


"Bombshell!" Big Tech snapped, not even wanting to consider the possibility.


"Let me finish!"


He stood down.


"If something happens to me...I don't want my parents to think I just ghosted. I want them to know it meant something. That I gave my life fighting for theirs. They deserve that closure." Though her voice was steady, she was weeping covertly behind her visor. A slow, sad burn of envy ate through Chloe. Of the eight in the room, Bombshell was the only one who had two loving parents.


Maybe her idea wasn't such a good one after all. What was the point of knowing who to contact in the event of a death if everyone was so isolated?


But they weren't isolated, were they? At least they had each other.


"Here's what we'll do," Big Tech decided. "Everyone write down your name and a list of beneficiaries you'd hypothetically want to bequeath your stuff if you…"


He couldn't even say it. Chloe could see why Bombshell picked him. As reckless as he'd been with his own life at his lowest of lows, the lives of others had always been his priority. That was why he had always been destined to fail as a villain.


He found a legal pad on a nearby table and handed each person in the room a page and a pen.


Bombshell was finished with her list first. She wrote the names of her mother, her father, and her cousin, D'von. She refused to entertain the idea of picking and choosing from amongst her teammates. To do so, she believed, was to separate them into categories of either 'cherished' or 'expendable'. And, like Big Tech, she wanted to expense no one...but to write anyone's name meant to gamble on their survival, and she could not, would not, play that guessing game.


She tucked her note into a pocket at her thigh.


Spark named his three beneficiaries as Chloe Nguyen, Heather Greene, and Malcolm Jimenez. He folded up his note and flattened it between his shirt and his belt.


Evergreen named her three beneficiaries as Chloe Nguyen, Malcolm Jimenez, and Ben Taylor-Moore. She rolled up her last will and testament and slid it into her fishnet stocking, against her outer thigh.


Cannonball named his three beneficiaries as Chloe Nguyen, Ben Taylor-Moore, and Heather Greene. He shoved his note into a back pants pocket.


Natalie Lafayette was the only one to withhold her name, and she wrote a fucking love letter.


'Bombshell, mon coeur, ma soeur--I may not have much, but if I die in the crossfire, I leave my everything to you, the one who, since we met, has been my everything. And I guess if you die too Big Tech can have all my merde. Don't attempt to contact my family. I don't want my mother to have the satisfaction. XOXO -Scarlet Flame.'


Catalyst pondered her choice, staring at the paper through the goggles of her gas mask. Her father was her only family, and it would break his heart to find out if she died in a super-war she'd recklessly thrown herself into. If it came to that, she decided, he didn't need to know. But she did have amends left unmade. At last, she wrote:


'If I die, everything goes to Eddie Salvidar. Tell him I'm sorry. I'm sure he is too.'


She scribbled her signature and printed her name below: Tegan Fanning.


Big Tech took his time. He had finally broken free from his mother, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that. Despite his obvious leadership capabilities, it took him a good deal of thinking to decide whether he was worthy of his found family. He still didn't know. But, worthy or not, he wanted to make a promise to them: that they would survive. No, not just survive: they would triumph!


Even in the event that he did not.


He wrote his own name, Eddie Salvidar, and then underneath, his seven beneficiaries:


Craniotomy

Spark

Cannonball

Evergreen

Scarlet Flame

Catalyst

Bombshell


Chloe completed her list last. 'Chloe Cezanne Nguyen,' she signed herself, and as her beneficiaries:


Ben Taylor-Moore

Malcolm Jimenez

Heather Greene

Natalie Lafayette

Tegan Fanning

Oriana Taylor-Moore

Eddie Salvidar


She folded the note, bent gingerly forward, leaned over the bed and dropped it into her shoe, sealing her fate.


All for one.
 

stevita

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The kitchen was, as it turned out, not only operational, but stocked full of a myriad of eats and treats that even Oriana, in all her eagerness to keep her man at the height of spoiled satisfaction, rarely kept in the house, if only because they were difficult to come by at the average Blackwater grocery store. That Martika was ever a fan of frivolity, even in the coldest and most clinical of settings. Then again, Oriana similarly tried her best to offer her inmates the best quality of life she could back at Fat Jail…


She wasn't feeding them lobster and caviar, though.


It suddenly felt like a shame, having to dismantle the Commune. It could have been something beautiful. But she'd heard the speech. Everyone had heard it.


Every Genetic Typical man, woman, and child.


At what point along the line had Martika become so warped in her views?


And if Oriana had stuck by her, instead of abandoning her Deviant life for an office job and a flimsy parody of normalcy, could she have saved her before it was too late?


After running all the dishes through the washer, she took stock of the walk-in fridge and multitude of shelves: there was everything from seaweed salad to saffron, along with some very expensive brandy that she was sure wasn't for deglazing a pan. As she contemplated her options, a plump-bellied male figure appeared in the doorway with a telltale gust of wind, leaning in the frame and glancing at her sideways.


"Cannonball, if you came here to try and get me to mutiny against my boyfriend, it won't work."


"I just wanted to thank you," he said, "for not going off on Chloe. She's smart. I swear she's smart. But she's–"


"Intrepid," Oriana filled in. "Eager to jump the gun. Ultimately, she cares too much."


"Military kid to a T," Malcolm agreed.


"Just as much, it can be a feeder thing," said Oriana. "We get told our whole adult lives that we're a destructive force to the people who love us. Some of us develop a need to prove we're not. Others…lean into the whole 'wreck someone' agenda. Although…your mileage may vary on whatever the hell it is I do."


"You save people. Obviously," said Malcolm. He sauntered a little deeper into the kitchen and took his own look around the fridge. "We should probably use the shellfish first. You ever made paella before?" He unstoppered the brandy, took a big swig, and offered her the bottle.


***


"Holy ****, Mal, thank you," said Ben, scarfing down seconds, still standing at Chloe's bedside. He'd been running strictly on ambient emotional energy for far too many hours. It was a wonder he hadn't electrocuted himself. His stomach full at last, he was feeling much more confident in his control.


"Thank Bombshell, I just did the rice," said Malcolm.


"So this whole time, malnutrition has been what's fucking up your electromancy?" asked Oriana.


"Crucifix is the one who helped him figure it out," said Chloe. "She had us all fooled about who she was. And in some ways, she did a lot of good. But it's no wonder she never took the time to meet me. I'd have had her number."


On the other side of the ICU, Evergreen, Big Tech, and Catalyst talked amongst themselves. They were too far away for him to overhear what they were saying, but he had more than one way to eavesdrop. "Is it just me, or is this Catalyst putting out some mad Big Tech fangirl vibes?"


Oriana, too, seemed to have noticed, even without a probe ability, the dynamic of natural ease between them: Catalyst gesticulating enthusiastically with her hands while Big Tech vigorously nodded in response, leaning in with a level of interest that suggested he was captivated by the chemist, or at least by what she had to say.


What coiled through Oriana was mostly hot, jumping jealousy, but it came with an acrid aftertaste of self-doubt right on the end.


"They're the only Genetic Typicals among us. Possibly in the whole Commune. They're bound to gravitate towards one another," said Chloe, who knew more than she was letting on, but was holding her tongue to protect someone, and Ben didn't mind. It was a welcome change from her usual habits of betting and gambling and gossip. "Spark, you're about to be up," she said.


A second later, Heather waved him over. "Spark, you're up!"


He broke away from Chloe's side and stepped up to the figurative plate before a determined Eddie, an apprehensive Heather, and a pleased Catalyst. "We've decided to take Catalyst's suggestion and try to salvage one or more enemy bombs," Eddie explained. "With Craniotomy down for the count, we need you to be on the lookout for hostiles…and, if it comes down to it, back me up with some extra firepower. I understand if you're not up for the task…"


For Ben, there was no question. Even though he had never fought another Deviant outside of Crucifix's rigged prizefighting ring, he knew he had an obligation to do whatever he could to undo the damage he'd incurred by helping the dastardly dictator to come to power, and right now, that was back up Big Tech to the very capacity of his abilities. "I'm in."


***


"Are you sure this is where Craniotomy said she found the bomb?" asked Spark as the party came across a barren stretch of field.


"Found," Big Tech muttered sardonically.


"She was just trying to be helpful," came Evergreen to her absent comrade's defense. "And there's definitely something here, in the ground. Try seeing what your visor scanners pick up?"


After a moment, Big Tech nodded. "Yeah, this place is a powder keg. I'm going to try and see if I can extract one. Everyone, give me a wide radius."


Tegan stepped back, not realizing Evergreen was so close at her heels and bumping with a bounce into her belly. "Sorry!"


"Don't sweat it."


Despite her insistence, Tegan started to break a sweat anyway.


At a distance, it was difficult to tell how Big Tech attempted to dig up the bomb, but whatever he tried, it didn't work. With a roar, the enemy landmine exploded in his face. Tegan shuddered in terror…


But once the smoke had cleared, it was plain to see he was quite unharmed. It seemed he was too heavy, and too heavily armored, for the blast to so much as move him an inch from where he stood. "Well, that was a bust," remarked Evergreen. "Maybe I should try?"


Just then, the air rung with a cacophonous CRACK and a white-hot bolt of lightning sailed blindingly over the heroines' heads. Tegan screamed, her flight instinct kicking in, but again, her path was impeded by Evergreen's hulking presence, and this time, the force of their collision sent the two toppling over, Evergreen landing face down on top of a petrified Tegan.


"Oof! Ohmygod! My bad," squeaked Evergreen, flailing in a futile bid to heave herself up. "Boys? A little help? I don't wanna crush her to death!"


Far from injured, though, Tegan startled herself by enjoying the pressure of Evergreen's warm weight on top of her. Irritating as the damp dirt and cold gravel felt through the layers of her costume, the colossal crusader's soft breasts and belly yielded comfortably to the curves of her own much more compact chest and waist in a way that steadied her, grounded her…


And there was more than simply comfort to the cocktail of sensations hitting her like a stiff mixed drink. She'd never slept with anyone heavier than the mid-to-high 200-pound range–or, for that matter, any woman–but she'd had enough good sex, mediocre sex, and in-between sex in her life to identify the cause of the shuddering gasp that escaped her throat as nothing other than pure lust.


Even after the men helped Evergreen to her feet and Tegan had pushed herself upright, she remained seated on the ground, dazed as she began to pick apart her potential proclivity for pudge, turning it over and back again in her mind like a treasure map marked in a language she was only just starting to learn. The voices of the others sounded distant to her, disembodied as they reached her ears.


"Here, I got it…"


"You alright, Spark? You don't usually misfire like that when you're fed."


"That wasn't me, y'all."


"Guys, wait…"


Tegan finally snapped out of her trance when Big Tech dragged her to her feet by her upper arm, and even then, her eyes widened in awe behind her mask as she realized his wrist matched widths with her bicep. "We've been discovered," he said. "There's about forty enemies about to rush us from due east. You can't see them yet, but they're approaching fast. You and Evergreen head back to camp. Cover each other."


"What?! And leave you two outnumbered twenty to one?" said Tegan. "Are you suicidal?"


"Look, there's no way you have enough ammunition to last through a fight like this, and there isn't enough plant matter around to give Evergreen an advantage."


"Come on. We have our orders," said Evergreen, grabbing her around the wrist to pull her along.


As irresponsible a move as she felt the team was making in forcing her retreat, there was something about it all–about being pulled and pushed around the battlefield by heroes so much larger than herself–larger than life, even–that rendered Tegan more breathless by the second.


Maybe Big Tech was right, and she ought to sit this one out.
 

stevita

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Oriana might've worn a hole in the floor with all her pacing. "Tell me again," she asked Catalyst, "Big Tech said there was how big of an army on its way?"


"I tried to tell him it was too dangerous to send us back," said Catalyst, "but nobody was listening to me!"


"You'd have been useless in that fight," said Chloe bluntly. Catalyst turned sharply to shoot her a glare, but didn't dare make any harsher of a move against the bedbound telepath.


Suddenly, Chloe perked up atop her nest of pillows. "They're back!" she announced. "And they're fine. They won."


"What happened?" demanded Oriana.


"They had to abandon the original plan and lure Crucifix's goons through the mine field. At least Evergreen managed to capture one of the bombs."


Catalyst turned to Evergreen, flabbergasted. "What? When? How?"


"I used the root system to dig it up," recounted Evergreen, pulling the bomb in question out of an inside pocket of her coat. "Remember? Right after you and I took that tumble in the dirt? You were sitting right there. I don't know how you missed that."


***


Eddie's whole body shook, his breathing ragged, as he and Ben arrived back at base, but it had nothing to do with physical exertion.


It had been Ben's idea to trick Crucifix's forces into rushing through the mine field and into their own massacre. And it had been a good one. Their only option, really, with the odds stacked as badly against them as they'd been.


That didn't make the resulting shower of carnage any easier to unsee.


"Take it you're not into feet," Ben said flatly as they staggered, side by side, through the halls of the hospital.


"Not when they're disembodied and flying at my head at automobile speeds, no," said Eddie.


Ben winced. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't joke."


"You saved our lives back then. It was us or them. I know I seem spooked…but I'll learn to cope."


"You shouldn't have to. None of us should."


"But somebody has to put a stop to the madness Crucifix started," Eddie pointed out. "And since we're already here…"


When they reached the ICU, Oriana bounded up to him and threw herself at him with a hug that didn't come close to wrapping all the way around him. "Thank God you're back!"


"Since when are you religious?"


"Yeah, well…ain't no atheists in foxholes." She stepped back, examining him at arm's length. "Baby…you're weak on your feet. Do you need me to cook–"


He shook his head. "Way too nauseous right now. It…it wasn't a pleasant fight."


"I bet." She gave his upper arms a squeeze. "But I think I know what I can do to help you spend some of that adrenaline."


"Ori, I want to, too, but I need to plan our next–"


"Please, Eddie. I was away for a month with Crucifix trying to radicalize me, and then we had to come straight here…there's still a lot of missing you I need to make up for. And I think you need me right now, too. Now c'mon. You can go back to being the genius tactician in a couple hours."


The thought uneased him of letting his guard down for such a vulgar indulgence as a tumble in the sheets when lives were at stake, but he supposed it was pointless to try and plan strategy while Chloe was still down for the count.


And he'd gone long enough without her passionate touch.


They found a secluded ward in the hospital and Oriana took a pillow from one of the cots to place under his head, though they opted to do it on the floor, lest they crack any furniture. His body was cushioned enough to withstand the sensation of the flat, unyielding ground against his rolls of back fat, and he barely noticed it, held fast in her grip of pleasure.


Her knees never even touched the linoleum when she straddled his hefty hips, wide as they were across, not that she ever held one position for long. She left no inch of his expansive body unkissed or untouched, and his head spun with a rush of pure bliss as he finished in her mouth, upon her, inside her, and into a crevice of flesh between ample rolls of his own belly. The whole thing only took minutes--trust a biomanipulator to make a joke of the male refractory period--but a part of him still felt guilty for turning his back on the horrors outside the door long enough to reach nirvana four times in a row.


And a part of him didn't. He felt excellent, actually. Since the battle with Crucifix's goons had kicked off, Oriana's passion had sustained him, just as he'd been hoping his determination had kept her going. She'd been needing him to let her enjoy him, and he'd been needing to find reassurance in the warm, wet, insistent press of her lips against his skin and the bite of her fingernails into his flab, as fierce as ever.


Now, in the aftermath, he lay in the same spot, his breathing ragged as she hefted up his belly to clean him up with a wet washcloth from the bathroom. A groan escaped his lips at her tender ministrations, overstimulated and sensitive as he was. Luckily for him, she was satisfied. He was sure she could have used her powers to force him erect once more if she decided she wasn't done with him yet. He wasn't sure if he could handle another round, especially when he was probably looking at a foreseeable future of running on rationed meals and rationed sleep.


"There...all clean." She tossed the washcloth aside and let his belly surge forward to cover his lap. He relished the familiar sparkle in her eyes as she hungrily drank in the sight of his whole body jiggling from the smallest, most effortless movement. "Mmm...I still can't get over how much I love how bottom-heavy you are," she said, giving his left love handle a slow, firm, adoring squeeze. "Maybe that's why I made you that way. Then again...this here's pretty nice, too." Both her hands migrated to the lowest, softest, most sensitive part of his belly hang. She lingered there for a moment, gently caressing his skin, before shifting to lay face down on top of him like a housecat testing a waterbed for comfort. "And right here…" With her head resting against his doughy chest, she squeezed his upper arms, and then slipped her hands under them to grip his sides where his moobs began to spill over his natural waist, if it could even be called that. "And here…"


He held her by her hips and delighted in the small shiver of contentment that ran through her usually unshakeable frame. It was a stroke to his ego, feeling so wanted. He was a protector, a necessity...not at all the useless burden he used to think achieving his fantasy goal weight would doom him to become.


Speaking of fantasies...he knew Oriana had always had her own, one of them in particular yet left unfulfilled, the ship long since sailed on its very possibility. "Do you ever wish we could have done this the natural way? Slow and steady, without the use of superpowers? Just food and all that?"


"I used to," she admitted. "Back when I was first startna plan my future. But that was before I knew you. That was even before Bombshell. Now...I'm glad I F'd you up good and quick all in one fell whack. I wouldn't want to wait years to get to have this much of you. Years I might not have…"


His heart tied itself into a knot in his chest. "No one under this roof is going to die."


"You say that...but right now, there's too many people fighting each other to even wrap my damn head around…"


"When you say it that way, it sounds like we're at war."


"You're just now figuring out we're in a WA--Jesus. Professor Mom really wasn't the best history teacher, huh?"


"We'll make it through this," he said. "We're Bombshell and Big Tech. In a few years, all our other adventures will make this look like another normal Tuesday."


"I know you don't believe that. You ain't no optimist, no matter how hard you try to fake it. But who said it's not already normal for me? Remember, I was Bombshell before you were a freshman in Zoom college."


Trust a veteran vigilante to really put things into perspective.


She shifted slightly and pulled her left hand free to glance at her watch--why was it hot that she kept her watch on during sex? "Now tell me something nice."


The best he could come up with was a cliche, but he decided in that moment he would never lose an opportunity to tell her anyway: "I love you."
 

stevita

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“Okay, me next! Never have I ever…been to France,” said Cannonball. This time around, Bombshell was the only one who drank. Cannonball quirked an eyebrow, staring pointedly at Scarlet Flame. “Aren’t you French?”


“She’s from Quebec,” said Bombshell. “Alright, alright, I got one. Never have I ever been swimming in the Blackwater River.”


“You keep naming things nobody would ever do!” protested Catalyst.


“If it can be done, I’ve probably done it!” Indeed, she’d been forced by the nature of the game to refill her cup nearly every round. “Babe?”


“Never have I ever played this game before tonight,” said Big Tech. Everyone else drank.


“Really?” asked Natalie. “It’s been around since I was a kid! Longer, even.”


“Apparently my mom never let me do anything fun in my own childhood. Except read The Art of War.”


“Hey, that’s one I’ve never done!” Natalie chucked back her measure. Bombshell refilled her glass. “Not all the way through, anyway, even if it was supposed to be required reading at Rivington.”


“Only Crucifix would keep booze in a hospital,” said the fattening femme fatale.


“I wonder if there’s any weed,” said Cannonball, looking at Craniotomy.


“How many times do we have to go over this? Telepathy is not the same thing as omniscience.”


“What’s that?”


“Were you not paying attention in Deviance Classification 101?”


“Well,” said Catalyst, “since it is my turn…never have I ever been to hero school.” Everyone but herself and Big Tech groaned and drank. The two token Genetic Typicals high-fived over the rail of a gurney.


“Never have I ever tried cilantro,” ventured Spark, necessitating another drink for everyone else.


“Yeah, but you did take a bite of my soap that one time. Some people think they taste the same,” Craniotomy teased.


Natalie snorted. Spark cringed.


“Look, it was bright pink and looked just like one of those Easter marshmallows.”


“Why would I keep marshmallows by the bathtub?”


“I ‘unno. Sometimes Crucifix likes to take a bath in champagne.”


“I know I don’t have a leg to stand on, since I kissed her on the mouth,” said Bombshell, “but did I just hear that you took a bath with Crucifix?”


“Oh, they did much more than take a bath,” said Craniotomy.


“Y’all!” snapped Spark.


“Alright, my turn,” Evergreen interjected, before her teammate could suffer any more indignity. “Never have I ever broken anyone’s heart.”


She and Natalie were the only ones who could justify, in their own minds, at least, abstaining. Notably, Catalyst looked the guiltiest as she took her shot.


Craniotomy gave Natalie a pointed look. “Really? You don’t think–?”


“No, because she broke my heart first,” said Natalie. “Not to mention the irreparable damage she did to my career.” The booze must have been starting to get to her–she never opened up like this about That Ex. “Here, though? Now? It hardly makes a difference. I know I can come off as a cynical ***** to those of you who’ve spent any time with me before all of this started…but I could have been so much worse.” She reached for the bottle and filled her cup all the way up. “See, the truth is, never have I ever experienced a single moment of job satisfaction on the heroic circuit. And many years ago, both the Division and the woman I was foolish enough to fall in love with fucked me over royally. You know…Crucifix actually asked me to join her. At her side, I could’ve gotten revenge on everyone I resent…but something held me back, and I’m glad it did, because I’d much rather be here, playing the Never game and drinking her booze in an ICU with an outmanned army of all my favorite people.”


Alcohol didn’t usually make her so sentimental. But that night, while everyone else was either watching the perimeter or in bed, she amended her last will and testament. Everyone in the ensemble made it onto her list, even if she knew them each only by pseudonym and had no plans to change that.


***


While Chloe was still in the recovery process, it made little sense for anyone to venture too far from the hospital. Patrols of the perimeter were made in teams of two, but other than that, Eddie was pretty adamant that nobody go out risking their necks when the team's scout had her mobility compromised. Ben, in his ever-eager quest to compensate for his time served as Crucifix's oblivious henchman, had volunteered to take over on espionage, as the empathic side of his power set would act as an adequate detection tool for enemy presence, but much to Oriana's relief, Eddie had declined his offer. Adequate, he insisted, wasn't good enough. He wanted to know what the mass-mob was thinking.


While Ben dealt with a touch of stir-craze, Chloe was all too happy to join Oriana on kitchen duty.


It was a refreshing experience for Oriana, learning her way around Chloe. She'd cooked before with other people, but nobody who'd been trained in back-of-house restaurant work, not that she had any training herself besides high school home economics, and it had inevitably led to the cooks in the kitchen getting in one another's way. Chloe, on the other hand, who'd worked every position from the host stand to the dish pit, fell gracefully into step, taking direction from Oriana without her even having to say anything, occasionally brushing her back or shoulder with gentle fingertips and muttering 'right behind' to signal her position, just like she was used to seeing on The Food Channel.


While Oriana chopped onions, peppers, and celery for the evening's stew, Chloe rinsed a pot of rice under the tap. They passed a little tune back and forth, softly hummed, until Chloe perked up, having picked up on a thought of Oriana's that she found particularly compelling. "I never knew that!"


"Knew what?" asked Oriana. "About the Holy Trinity of Cajun cuisine, or the secret origin of Mardi Gras?"


"About how we wash the rice to get the arsenic off of it," replied Chloe. "I never knew why it was done before. I just kinda did it because, like, that was what I saw. Oh, here." She handed Oriana the vacuum-sealed package of sausage she'd been looking for. "You know…I always thought if I ever ended up in a war, it would be more…miserable? I mean, I've already seen some ****…but things could be worse. The ration situation isn't terrible."


Just wait, thought Oriana.


"Yeah, yeah, I know," said Chloe. "But would it kill us to be grateful for our good fortunes while they last? Like, it might just be me…" She gave Oriana a playful nudge with her elbow. "But I totally think Eddie's gotten fatter since we got here. And I mean that as a compliment on your skills as a feeder."


Oriana would have thought it would be way more awkward, gossiping about men and feedism with someone who was dating her cousin, but what was the point of discretion around someone who knew every thought she was thinking, even if she didn't say it out loud?


She wondered, would the bunch of them even be here, in the Commune, if she had access to the same power? If she'd known all those years ago what Crucifix planned to do, could she have stopped her?


"You can't repeat the past," Chloe pointed out. "And to be honest, telepathy doesn't open as many doors as you'd think. It's one thing to read someone's mind, but there's no telling how they might change it. As for Cru–”


She stopped in her tracks and dropped the pot. It clattered to the ground, spilling a tidal wave of uncooked rice and cloudy water. Chloe clutched her temples.


“Chloe! Chloe, are you okay?”


“We need to reconvene. All of us.”
 

stevita

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[[CW in this installment for a brief mention of medical fraud and uuh...war crime. Nothing graphic...but there's some comic-booky action to come very soon!]]

***
Dealing with voices in her head en masse was nothing new for Chloe, but the onslaught of encroaching consciousnesses smacked way more painfully when their thoughts were as full of hostility as Crucifix’s goons’ were. By the time everyone had gathered in the hospital lobby to hear her latest intel, she was nearing tears, curled up in a chair with her palms pressed against her eyes to block out the light.


“So, without getting into who it was and risking a round of the blame game, somebody got bugged during the bomb retrieval,” she explained. She’d taken the bug out of Ben’s pocket and destroyed it before the headache had gotten as bad as it was, but the enemies still had their location. “Long story short, while we’ve been settling in, Crucifix’s guys have been sorting their own **** out. They’re a lot more cohesive now, and moving with a renewed determination to kill Bombshell and anyone loyal to her, even if they don’t have orders from the Big Boss herself. At this point, they’re just taking it upon themselves. And they’re coming. Like, forty or fifty of them.”


“I do not like those odds,” said Bombshell.


“What kind of superpowers are we dealing with?” asked Catalyst.


“That’s not how telepathy works!” snapped Chloe. Then, “Sorry. It’s just that my head is killing me right now.”


“She needs liquor,” said Cannonball.


“We ran out earlier in the week,” said Flame.


“Bombshell’s right,” Big Tech agreed. “We’ve got enough of a warning this time to retreat, so it doesn’t make sense to take the risk of engaging. Not hand-to-hand, anyway. We do still have that bomb Evergreen retrieved…it’s nowhere near powerful enough to take out all of them–”


“Maybe not on its own,” said Bombshell, unable to believe she was even suggesting it. “But we do have a gas stove in the kitchen.”


***


The group’s next campsite was an apartment complex that must have had a chunk ripped out of the back of the building when the fighting first started and had since been abandoned. Oriana and company still managed, however, to find a unit which had all its amenities intact. It was going to be a tight squeeze, between eight people, but maybe the close quarters would offer a tactical advantage: easier to defend your teammates when they were well within your line of sight.


Upon arrival, Oriana got to work taking inventory in the kitchen. Most of what was in the fridge had spoiled, but the non-perishables in the cupboards would last at least a few days, and she was sure the party would be able to scrounge up more from the surrounding units.


This was fine. (Nothing might ever be fine again. She understood the importance of putting down a legion of brainwashed super-soldiers who wanted her dead in specific, but that didn’t mean she relished the thought of their mass execution.)


“I found the liquor cabinet!” Scarlet Flame announced before too long.


“I can charge anyone’s phone who needs it!” called Ben from the living room.


Catalyst staggered into the kitchen, clutching her shoulder. “Is there ice? I think I pulled something helping Evergreen put up a barricade around the perimeter.”


“Did somebody say ‘codeine pills’?” asked Malcolm, following her in to offer her a translucent orange bottle. She snatched them out of his hand.


“Where did you get these?”


“Hospital. Duh. And there’s plenty more candy where that came from, too. I’m kind of an expert when it comes to the acquisition of a good time. Speaking of which, Bombshell…if I could ask a favor?”


“Depends.” Oriana had gotten off on a weird foot with Ben’s boyfriend at her housewarming party when he came onto her, hard, thinking that would be okay. It seemed to go straight over his head that just because he and his polycule were for embracing free love, didn’t make it a standard.


“If and when we make it back to Blackwater, remind me I need to get a new Zyprexa dealer? My old one decided she was gonna choose recovery, or whatever.”


“Wait, you’re popping what, now?”


“Zyprexa. It’s this appetite stimulant they prescribe to anorexia patients–”


“I know what it is,” said Oriana. “I just didn’t think there were folks in our little kink club who actually took it that far.”


“Didn’t your boyfriend take someone hostage?”


“Aren’t we all a bunch of war criminals now, anyway?” Ben pointed out guiltily from the other side of the wall.


Sauntering into the kitchen, Chloe offered Oriana a bottle of scotch. “Don’t know if you’ve heard, but Scarlet Flame found the liquor.”


Wordlessly, Oriana took it and drank without a cup.


Chloe shrugged in response to a question Oriana hadn’t asked out loud. “I mean, I can totally, like, see the appeal. For a lot of us, though, that’s just not a possibility that was ever on the table.”


Outside, the ground shook, and a minute later, Big Tech let himself in. “I just confirmed there were no survivors of the hospital explosion,” he said, sounding hollow as he approached Oriana and took her hand with an intermittent tremor in his own.


“No survivors of the hospital explosion.” She gave a shuddering exhale. “Hooray.”


***


The cigarettes Chloe found in a drawer were stale, but they were better than nothing to relieve her stress. Thank God she’d been able to get herself something to drink. With the stakes as high as they’d gotten, and everyone’s panic reaching new heights while their misery dragged them to new lows, the thought had never been more appealing to her of clawing her own brains out.


Alcohol dulled the sharp edge of everyone’s thoughts, but she was still able to sense Eddie coming up behind her on the balcony, stealthy though he could be for a guy his size. “If you’re, like, trying to sneak up on me, you’re gonna have to do a lot better.”


“The last thing I wanted to do is startle you.”


“I think we’re all gonna end up coming out of this more or less immune to shock.”


“How’s the foot?”

"Better than it's been." She didn’t have to probe deeply to figure out why he was asking. “So this is it, huh? Time to move the first pawn?”

“I don’t like separating the group any more than you,” said Eddie, “but they found our camp. We need to show them we can return the favor. Your intel could help us make a precise enough strike to rattle them into surrendering. Take Flame with you for backup. I’ll see if Catalyst and I can scrounge up some more supplies.”

“You shouldn’t run into any hostiles within a radius of at least a couple miles,” said Chloe. “And if I don’t come back in a reasonable timeframe–”

He handed her a thin, metallic object about the size of a pocketknife. “Then I’ll come get you. The Commune aren’t the only ones who know how to use tracking devices. Plus, it also–”

Before he could finish his sentence, she pressed a small switch built into the handle of the instrument, smirking as a powerful laserbeam a few inches long shot out of its business end.

“Yeah. That,” he said.

“Cool.”
 

stevita

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After scouring their current camp for rations and stockpiling their haul in the unit they were using as a base, Big Tech and Catalyst moved out to canvas the surrounding area for anything their party might be able to eat, drink, or use. They managed to stumble upon an entire warehouse full of canned goods, fertilizer, and tools that might make a better stronghold than the one they currently had.


They also found trouble, having ventured accidentally outside of Craniotomy’s designated safe radius.


Between his photon cannons and her knockout gas, they scattered a horde of enemies with a mutual and uncanny intuition when it came to anticipating one another's moves…but just in case the Commune sent a wave of reinforcements, they decided to take cover in the warehouse until they were sure it was safe to return to camp.


Standing in the midday semidarkness under thin strips of sunlight streaming in through the cracks between the ceiling boards, they made smalltalk in hushed murmurs to pass the time. "So, I've been meaning to ask you, since I don't think you've been asked this question by anyone working for the shame-stream media–" Tegan began. Big Tech laughed, and her stomach did a backflip as she had a total fangirl moment.


"Shame-stream media, write that one down!"


"Thanks," she said, grinning hard beneath her gas mask. "But what was it like? Pretending to be a villain for Bombshell's attention…robbing banks, taking a hostage…?"


"Okay, can I just say how nice it is to be grilled about something other than how fat I am?"


"Well, I can plainly see that you're a…a large man," said Tegan.


"To put it lightly."


"I could put it heavily, but the fine folks at the Channel 5 News have already beaten me to that punch."


"Look at us and our witty banter."


"Right? After the whole war thing is over, we'd make a killing as an improv comedy duo."


"Funny you should say that, I was a theatre kid."


"No way? Hard same!"


"What were we talking about?"


"Your supervillain days."


"Oh. Yeah. That." He heaved a long sigh. "I can't say it was fun. The stealing from the rich to give to the poor was rewarding at first, but then it all got boring, waking up every morning and remembering what a fraud I was, doing all that just to get a feeder to notice me. And becoming a hostage-taker was just a huge weight on my conscience, even though I never intended to actually hurt the guy. But in retrospect, the whole thing gives me a greater appreciation for Seymour's internal struggle in Little Shop of Horrors."


Tegan grinned. "You don't say? I love Little Shop!"


"Yeah, me too. It's always been my favorite musical. I was even cast as the lead in my teenage drama camp's production. I was terrible, mind you. Totally off-key every step of the way. Audrey was good enough to save the show, though. The girl, not the plant. Though, thinking about it, the plant upstaged me, too."


An icy fist seemed to close around Tegan's windpipe as she recalled the day she faced the scant audience of parents and siblings under the spotlight, with Eddie Salvidar's bony hands on her upper arms while she belted her heart out in what at the time seemed like a fruitless attempt at a comeback after his embarrassing performance in what should have been their showstopping duet.


Could it be?


"You know…" Big Tech pulled off his helmet and confirmed Tegan's nagging suspicion.


A few hundred extra pounds had rounded and softened the once-harsh angles of Eddie's face, but his brown eyes, sparkling with intelligence and holding a fire that used to scare her, were the same. He had the same tousled mess of black hair, and the same moral quandary with timely haircuts.


And if she were honest with herself, the soft, pudgy arms, the doughy moobs that hung over the top of a bowing belly, and the wide hips giving way to round, crowded thighs suited him. He’d always been someone with big dreams–larger than life, in fact. It was right, poetic even, that his once-bony frame swell and expand to contain them all.


"Bombshell did say that I had a free pass to kiss anyone I wanted, since she made out with Crucifix. I wasn't gonna use it, but there's something about you, Catalyst…"


He reached for the edge of her gas mask, but she turned away in a panic. "Look, Big Tech, I applaud what you've done when it comes to vigilante justice," she said, "but all I have for you in the way of feelings is the same level of respect and basic human decency you should be demanding from everybody. You should really work on your self esteem."


She was selfish, and she knew it. Selfish, and motivated by the vanity of a wannabe actress: he admired her, and she…well, even if she wasn't in love with him, she was in love with the feeling of being desired by a figure so impossibly, mythically huge. She didn't want that to stop.


And she knew if he ever saw the face behind the mask…


If he ever looked into the eyes of the girl who, not so very long ago, had broken his heart…


He'd see that the captivating Catalyst was nothing more than another flawed human being out for self-serving ends, and she didn't know if she would ever be ready for that.


“****,” he murmured softly.


“What?”


“Craniotomy’s phone just lost its signal. She could be in trouble. Time to reconvene at base.”


***


Natalie liked Craniotomy. She really did. The girl was a human groundswell of effervescence and fun, the life of any party even as the world crumbled.


But she could also be infuriating when handled in extended doses.


“So, do you think you’ll ever do it?” asked the telepath as the two of them trudged through the broken-down sprawl of the Commune in search of enemies. “Quit your government job and just let yourself go?”


“Go where?” asked Natalie, feigning oblivion.


“Come on, Flame. You and I both know that I didn’t mean ‘go’ as in, in a plane.”


“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, cheri.” She tugged at one sweater sleeve–she’d opted to ditch her costume in favor of a more ‘practical’ ensemble she’d found in the drawers at base. Truthfully, her motivations included concealing the couple of pounds she’d already put on in the absence of her gym membership. She was relieved no one had yet brought it up, and why would they? Aside from Catalyst, everyone she’d teamed up with was in public support of fuller figures.


Really, the sweater was for her own benefit. She didn’t like thinking of looking in mirrors, noticing the extra inch of softness settling around her hips and forcing herself to plan for its immediate removal upon her return to the Division.


“Look, all I’m saying is, it’s exhausting enough for me to witness secondhand this denial thing you’re doing to yourself. I can only imagine how, like, totally excruciating it must be for you…living your life like you’re looking through a periscope, sitting at the bottom of a ditch while other people live out your fantasies. Hanging around Bombshell and watching her do what she does with bated breath, always wondering what it would be like…”


“Enough.”


“If you say so,” said Craniotomy. “But when you eventually snap and start doing a bunch of criminal mischief trying to goad her into action, don’t say I didn’t tell you so. Which is what’s happening right now, in case it wasn’t–”


“Ostie de Caliss de Tabarnak! Mais oui, it was clear!”


“Just, like, making sure.”


For about another thirty minutes, they wandered alongside one another in silence. Then, Craniotomy suddenly jumped to attention, having picked up on something Natalie could not yet see.


She took Natalie around the wrist and gave her arm a tug. “Do you trust me?”


That was the last thing Natalie remembered before she woke up, lying on the floor, in some sort of glass containment cell in an unfamiliar room. About five feet from her, a broad-shouldered, grizzled man in army fatigues sat hunched in a chair, watching her intently. As she stirred, he said, “Whatever you’re about to try, it won’t work, even if your powers have come back by now. Everyone knows you can’t zap through glass. Isn’t that right, Bombshell?”
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Texas
Elisa Bieler–codename: Knockout–had been having as rough a time in the Commune as anyone with whom Chloe had spent the duration of the war so far. Worse, even, for Chloe’s face was the first friendly one she had seen in weeks.


Like so many other victims of the Heroics Division’s inhumane experimentation, Elisa had been lured into Crucifix’s tutelage without being given all the information there was to know about her benevolent mentor. She’d been told the Commune was merely meant as a safe hideout for Deviants, away from the treachery of the Division and the bigotry of Genetic Typicals alike, but once Crucifix revealed her true colors as a proponent of genocide, Elisa realized it was time for her to revoke her allegiance.


Since Bombshell’s first clash with Crucifix, Elisa had been secretly sabotaging her former comrades, and now, by a stroke of luck, she’d run into friends of Spark, her old next-cell neighbor from the illegal lab of the dastardly Dr. Duplicate. The party of twenty-four other Deviants with whom she was currently bunking had wanted to kill Chloe and Natalie on sight, before they could strike first, but Elisa, recognizing Chloe, had convinced them to bring them in for interrogation instead, by lying about her own power set: she had them believing that in addition to the biomanipulatve ability to knock people unconscious, she could also temporarily strip them of their abilities.


She’d also misidentified Scarlet Flame as Bombshell to keep the others from harming her–apparently, someone named Laser Prick, who was currently out on a supply run, had first dibs on dealing with the fattening femme fatale.


Chloe gleaned all this information from her thoughts as she came to, before her eyes were even open. In spite of being a generally reserved person, Elisa had one of the loudest minds Chloe had ever encountered.


“Why do they call him Laser–?” she grumbled. The answer came before Elisa had even stood or opened her mouth. “Oh. Eww!”


“Tell me about it,” said Elisa.


Chloe blinked and took a look around. She was tied to a chair in some sort of storage closet, but Elisa was loosening the ropes around her wrists so she could comfortably slip them off, now that they were alone and both conscious.


“It’s totally great to see you again,” said Chloe. “I hoped when we ran into each other, it’d be under better circumstances. I like the new hairdo, though.” In the months since they’d seen each other, Elisa had chopped her dark hair into a bob that fell just above her chin.


“Thanks. It was tactical.” She sighed. “And I’m sure things have been snowballing into this war for longer than either of us have realized. By the way, how’s Spark?”


“Happier than when you last saw him, for sure,” said Chloe. “And likely on his way here with Big Tech and company to rescue me.”


“Perfect.”


“Oh, by the way…” She freed one of her hands to unpocket the laser cutter and handed it to Elisa. “Mind doing me a small favor?”


Elisa took it in hand and whipped out the glowing blue blade of pure photon energy, slack-jawed in awe for a moment before she said, “Go on…?”


“The lady you’ve got in the glass box upstairs is Scarlet Flame. She can’t compel through glass, but if you cut her an air hole or two, I’m sure she can do some damage until help arrives.” Especially on this dumb group of mooks–why did it never seem to occur to any bad guys that even if Bombshell couldn’t biomanipulate through glass, she could still punch through it?


Elisa nodded. “Pretend to be unconscious. I’ll tell the others I beat you into submission.”


***


“Shift change already?” asked the guard as a dark-haired girl appeared in the doorway. Natalie quirked an eyebrow. She couldn’t have been old enough for hero college yet. Then again, recruiting child soldiers would be a smart move on Crucifix’s part: radicalize them before the Division could get their claws into them.


“The one downstairs wasn’t talking, so I had to knock her back out,” said the girl. “Keep an eye on her for me? Lemme know when she wakes up?”


The man nodded. Once Natalie was alone with the girl, her visitor pulled out a laser cutter that looked like it might’ve come out of Big Tech’s toolbox.


“Hey, Flame,” she said. “Your friend downstairs says help’s on the way, but until then, wanna help me neutralize some of these genocidal goons?”


Ah…a defector.


“What did you have in mind?”


“You’ve been doing this for decades. Get creative,” said the girl, and stepped forward to cut a hole in the glass.


She left swiftly after that, and soon, another guard came to replace her.


“Hey,” said Natalie. “Hey, you!”


“What do you want, you traitor?” he sneered, marching up to her cage. All too late, he noticed the hole, and realized his mistake.


“Here’s what you’re going to do, mon petit chou. You’re going to go down to the kitchen and eat, and eat, and eat, and eat, and EAT, until you’re one way or another unresponsive. Capice?” She made a clicking sound in the back of her mouth and winked.


The guard’s eyes glazed over, and, mindlessly, he shambled out the door.


It was a shame she was stuck in a glass box, unable to follow him down to the kitchen to watch the show.


Craniotomy was savvier than Natalie was ready to admit about her most secret desires. Of course, it was foolish to dream of a possible future where acting on them wouldn’t turn her into another laughingstock in the press, not to mention assure her swift termination from her job. But if the day ever came when watching streaming footage of Big Tech and Bombshell’s epic battles like a voyeur was no longer enough for her, perhaps she could compromise by using her compulsion to fatten up bad guys on a more regular basis–away from the public eye, of course, and the surveillance of the Division.


She was already well-versed in keeping secrets from her supervisors.


It was something to consider.


In what she estimated to be an hour’s time, another mook from the fortress barged in on her and pounded on the glass. “What the **** did you do to Simmons, you *****?”


“Oh, mon bebe…” She smirked wickedly. “Come here. Let me tell you what you’re about to do…”


She’d given twelve men, by her count, the same treatment, and was getting ready to go another round when power to the whole house cut.
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
499
Location
Texas
The search-and-rescue party consisted of Bombshell, Spark, and a thoroughly disgruntled Big Tech. “Just because I promised her I’d save her if she got kidnapped doesn’t mean I was suggesting she try it,” he grumbled as they closed in on the location of the tracker he’d given her.


“I’m sure she didn’t do it on purpose,” said Oriana. “Besides, maybe they’re just camping out for the night. Ben?”


Ben scrutinized the innocuous suburban house to which he’d just delivered a power outage. “Chloe and Flame are both there…they’re safe,” he said. “Hell…Flame’s actually enjoying herself. And…there’s a lot of unconscious dudes in there.”


“Great! So they already won the fight; all we need to do is go get ‘em.” Oriana pulled a trusty hairpin out of a side pocket of her costume, bounded up to the door, picked the lock, and led the way in, followed by Ben, while Eddie kept watch outside, being equipped with the most firepower in case of an ambush–and being too wide across to make the squeeze through the doorway.


Chloe was in the foyer, clutching a length of rope that she presumably had been bound with sometime prior, alongside a girl who couldn’t have been old enough to vote…Ben was apparently acquainted with her, though.


“Spark!” the small brunette launched herself at him and hugged him tightly. “You came!”


“It’s nice to see you too, Elisa.”


“You wanna introduce me to your friend, Cuz?” asked Oriana, but the girl beat Ben to the punch. Breaking out of the embrace, she marched up to Oriana and extended a handshake.


“I’m Knockout! Erm–Elisa. I’m an offensive biomanipulator too! I can knock people out. That’s why they call me–well, you get it. Spark and I trained under Crucifix together, but I guess it turns out she’s just a bunch of bigotries stacked up on top of one another in a trench coat. Oh, come see what me and your pal Flame did to her cronies!” As Oriana grasped her hand, she dragged her into the kitchen.


There, scattered about the floor, lay the unconscious enemies Ben had spoken of outside. A few of them groaned in their sleep, surrounded by empty cans, piles of snack packaging, and dropped utensils, their tightly-packed, distended bellies poking out of stolen military fatigues.


Oriana snickered. She doubted anybody had actually read it, but she’d once written a fanfiction where Flame used her powers like this.


A few had been given a different treatment entirely; the ones who hadn’t stuffed themselves senseless appeared to have simply fallen in place in the middle of whatever they’d been doing, before someone sliced open their throats. “Those were mine,” said Elisa, pointing them out, before plucking a bloodied knife off the island countertop with pride in her smile. “So, now that we’ve all linked up, I can’t wait to help you, and Spark, and the whole gang kick the rest of the Commune in their criminal CUNTS–”


“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Oriana. “Let me get one thing straight–just because Crucifix is willing to resort to recruiting child soldiers–”


“I’m sixteen, and I can hold my own just fine! Ben, back me up!”


But Ben didn’t say anything. Instead, he and Chloe shared a startled look, just as a message from Eddie hit the inside of Oriana’s visor. That was all the forewarning she got that someone was coming in through a back entrance, before an unbelievable force heaved her up and threw her clean through layers of drywall, plywood, and brick, onto her back in the front yard, the force of her impact with the ground driving each of her shoulders into its own crater in the dirt.


“YOU. RUINED. EVERYTHING!!!”


Coughing on debris, she struggled up to her elbows to see who’d attacked her.


Great. Of course she would run into this guy.


Max Wentworth, unlike his brothers in arms, was dressed sloppily in pajama bottoms and a white wifebeater–ugly name, uglier shirt. He glared at her, fists balled at the ends of skinny arms that failed to reflect his destructive strength. “We could have all been happily on the same team–”


“And then you infiltrated my jailhouse to try and diddle fat chicks, I remember, I was there!” she shouted. Stepping over chunks of the shattered wall, he began to close in on her. As he entered her range, she prepared to make quick work of him. “Hope you’re ready to be on the other side of the bars, you sick–”


A blinding blast of red light surged directly towards her faster than she could determine its source. She rolled over just in time to dodge her own certain end.


Staggering to her feet, she blinked the spots out of her eyes and searched for her attacker, hoping to assess the efficacy of whatever fancy, techy toy Crucifix had put in his malicious hands, only to realize, much to her disgust, that his instrument of terror was none other than his own erect organ, grasped in one hand through the slot in his pants.


“Oh, Hell no!”


A shudder ran down her spine as he–as history would no doubt recall it–cocked his weapon in preparation to fire on her again, but this time, Big Tech came rocketing to the rescue, flying at the enemy at full speed to lift him off the ground and throw him into the wall of the next-door dwelling, where he let out a cry of anguish on impact as his body embedded into the bricks. Hefting up his belly in both arms, Eddie fired a bright blue beam of pure energy from the reactor core overlaying his navel that cleaved the laser-endowed lawbreaker clean in two across the waist.


Scarlet Flame, having sprung whatever trap had held her in the enemy base, now rushed out just in time to catch the end of the fight. “Magnifique!” she squealed. “The stakes! The lightshow! The lingering perfume of burning organs!! Oh! I believe this is yours, mon petit chou.” She dropped Eddie’s laser-cutter into his open hand as he landed and bounded over to investigate the cadaver.


Eddie glanced uneasily at Oriana. “I know it’s not really a possibility at this point,” he said, “but to just throw it out there: I want to go home.”


“Yeah,” agreed Oriana, “and I’d like to get Flame away from that dead body before she, I dunno, eats it or something.” She loved Flame, truly. But sometimes she wasn't sure about that broad.
 

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