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Every twig that snapped had Finbar whipping around, gun at the ready. Once a leaf fell on his shoulder and he misfired, causing Mark to panic and run. (If you could call it that.) Now Fin was completely and utterly alone. A year had passed since the misfit band of high schoolers had defeated Sir Butts and his league of evil Smilies. Since that time, everything had changed. Everyone had graduated, for one. Their parents had been able to convince the school that they weren’t all just skipping class, but had, in fact, all contracted an extremely contagious disease that, even if spoken about, could become airborne. The kids were able to scrape by the rest of the year with just-‐passing marks. All except Eugene, who managed a middle A. Regardless, he locked himself in his room and wouldn’t come out until Opal convinced him people were being shipped off of Earth to live on Mars. A branch shook above Fin and he dove behind a giant sycamore to his left. He looked up, but couldn’t see, as it was growing darker by the moment. He took out his flashlight and shone it into the face of one Connor Blady. “Jesus, Connor. Don’t do that!” Fin hissed angrily. Connor climbed down the tree agilely – one ability he had discovered during the past year. “Sorry,” Connor said. “I was scouting.” “Don’t you speak those words,” Fin whispered maliciously. Any word having to do with boy scouts or scouting or Sherlock in general had become taboo since his disappearance. “He hasn’t disappeared,” Dare had explained after Fin’s first psychotic breakdown. “He’s at college!” Eugene had also recognized that his education needed further cultivating, so he was off at Brown University. “They’ll be back at the end of the semester for Christmas break,” Dare reminded Fin. But Christmas break felt like forever away, and none of that mattered anymore, anyway. “None of this would be happening if Sherlock were here,” Fin said, looking down at Connor solemnly. “He’d know what to do.” Connor didn’t say anything. “Have you seen Mark?” Fin asked. “I accidentally shot and he ran off.” Connor shook his head. “Have you seen Opal?”
“Connor, you have to give up on her,” Fin replied. “She’s not with us anymore. She decided to go over to them.” Connor bit his lip. “I was thinking I might…” Fin lashed out, the back of his hand connecting with Connor’s face. “How dare you!” he cried out. “This team is not so much a team, but a family! A family united by love and trust and an uncanny desire to sleep with Stephen Colbert!” Connor sat down at this point, rubbing his tomato-‐red cheek. “Our family is one built on those same principles that our founding fathers used to create our glorious nation! A community will only stay strong if it works together for the betterment of its whole society. If it loses even a single member, it will surely fall apart. We must build a new government that will keep us bound to one another. For if we don’t live together, Connor. We will surely die alone.” Clapping echoed through the seemingly empty forest until Dare stepped out from between the trees. “Dare!” Fin exclaimed, running to her and throwing his arms around her neck. “I thought we’d lost you! How did you find us?” “How could I not? I could hear your speech from the lake. I liked the last bit, by the way. Did you make that up?” she asked. Fin hesitated. “Yup,” he said. “Have you seen Mark?” “Mark? Can’t you use your powers to find him?” Dare asked. “I tried. He must be too far away.” They heard gunshots in the distance. “I hope that’s not Gabriel,” Dare muttered. “Gabriel?” Fin repeated. “Why do you care about Gabriel? He’s one of them. He always has been. He’s practically the founder.” “Stop being so melodramatic,” Dare chastised. “Did you hear that?” Sure enough, leafy footsteps were coming their way. Dare signaled to a fallen tree ten feet ahead of them. They ran for it and made it just in time as shots were fired over their heads. Once the gunfire had ceased, Dare chanced a look. She couldn’t see anyone. “Fin, use your powers – check to see who’s there. I’ll calm them down. Connor, can you climb that big sycamore?” Connor nodded. “Good. Don’t be seen. Don’t make noise.”
“I never do,” Connor replied, throwing his gun over his shoulder. True to his word, Connor’s general smallness allowed him to traverse any terrain without making so much as a leaf crinkle. He was up the tree in a matter of seconds. “I’m almost out of ammo,” Dare said. “I’ve got plenty if those freaks ever decide to – ” Fin was cut off mid sentence as two shots were fired. Dare felt something hard hit her back. Fin was now lying on the leafy ground with his blank, lifeless eyes staring into the dark tree canopy. Connor cried out and another shot was fired. Dare watched as he slumped over on a tree branch. “I shot her,” Dare heard a voice coming from behind her. She turned and saw Gabriel talking to… nothing. But then Jasper moved and became visible again, just for a moment. “You got her arm,” Jasper pointed out. “I’ll do it!” Opal exclaimed happily. She skipped over from behind the same sycamore tree Connor now lay still in, cocked her gun and took aim at Dare’s heart. “Not in this lifetime, shorty!” Fin sprang to life, grabbed his discarded gun and started shooting wildly in every direction. “I will not die without a fight!” he shouted. “You will not kill my family!” Gabriel threw his gun down in frustration. “This is the third time you’ve done this, Fin! Just stop!” A bell rang out from somewhere and light flooded through the treetops once more. The trees started making way, creating a path that ended some 100 yards ahead of the group. A metal door at the end of the new path opened and the boss stepped out. She was holding a clipboard and she scribbled something down hastily before yelling, “Come on! It’s lunch!” Dare looked down at her jacket and smeared the red paint on her arm. “I really hope this didn’t sink in. I don’t know why I insist on wearing new clothes to these stupid things.” “I know why,” Fin said with a smirk. Dare stepped on his foot as she stood up and he yelped in pain.
“Hey, Connor, you can come down now,” Opal said, grinning from ear to ear. Connor came to life and leaped down, landing cat-‐like in front Opal. “That was a good shot,” he said. “I didn’t even see you!” “Yeah, we discovered something new about Jasper’s power! Turns out if you hide behind him while he’s doing his disappearing thing, you can’t be seen!” “That’s handy,” Dare commented. “Mark, there you are!” Fin exclaimed as he spotted the green, scaly head poking out from behind a tree. Mark lumbered his way over to Fin, who promptly picked him up and put him in his messenger bag. Connor slid his hand into Opal’s and they started down the path first. Fin sighed. Pretty much any sign of affection now elicited some sort of noise of anguish or a comment about him being in everlasting pain. He followed Connor and Opal reluctantly. Dare caught up with Gabriel and Jasper brought up the rear as the group filed through the metal door. “Good shot,” Dare told Gabriel. “Thanks, but you did some damage, too,” he said. He showed her his side where a paintball had just barely hit him. “Sweet!” she yelled, throwing her fist in the air. “That brings my count to ten this week!” They were now walking down a long hallway in the headquarters of The Company. They reached a pair of oak doors and, once inside, they took their customary seats around the oval table. Fin propped his feet up on the table, but one angry glance from the boss and he was sitting normal again. “You all did very well,” the boss said. She looked at them through glasses that made her eyes seem bigger than normal. The better to glare at them, she always said. “But Fin, your behavior can’t be overlooked.” “Oh come on,” Fin complained, leaning forward. “If we were ever in a real battle, everyone knows I’d be like Sean Connery in The Untouchables! That guy took, like, 300 bullets to the chest and then dragged himself through his house until he reached his room where he waited hours until the main character showed up to give him a note and then he died. If Sean Connery can do it, so can I.” He folded his arms across his chest and gave the boss an indignant look.
“Either you die when you get shot, or I’m pulling you out of the games,” the boss replied evenly. “Regardless, the point of these sessions is to discover new ways to utilize your powers in case of a threat.” “Or in case I feel like spying in the girl’s bathroom,” Jasper muttered from the farthest chair. “Has there been any new information on The Business?” Dare asked, ignoring Jasper’s comment. “Unfortunately, no. Since they relocated from Italy, it’s been nearly impossible to track them. I’ve tried every power I can find to try and locate them, but either they’ve found a way to prevent being spotted, or else we just haven’t found the person with the right power.” The boss sighed. “I’m afraid there’s not much else to do right now until we discover where their headquarters are.” “Shouldn’t we relocate, too?” Gabriel asked. “The Business surely knows where we are!” “I have been looking into a way of hiding this place and may have come up with a solution, but it’s pending,” the boss replied. “That being said, I’d like to announce that I will be taking a week off, starting tomorrow, to find some people that will be vital to keeping this company safe. I’m putting Gabriel in charge-‐” A series of groans and nods of approval followed. “-‐and you will respect whatever he says. He’s been here the longest and he deserves your obedience for that.” She was staring pointedly at Fin who seemed the most disgruntled. The boss excused herself and left the room. Once she was gone, Fin let out an obnoxious groan. “I don’t understand,” he said dramatically. “Why do you always get to be the leader?” “It’s not like I asked for it,” Gabriel pointed out. Never the less, he leaned back in his chair, looking quite important. “I would just like to point out that I’ve been here just as long as you have,” Jasper said. “And I’ve never been put in charge.” “Oh, come on, guys. It’s not so bad,” Dare said. “It’s only for a week!” “You would say that,” Fin muttered. Dare elbowed him hard in the side. “Who’s hungry?” she asked loudly. They all agreed it was time to eat and made their way into the great dining hall. It was roughly the size of a football field – it could sit hundreds of people. But there were only six of them and it felt deserted and a little bit creepy. The boss had
explained that there used to be many people who worked for The Company – people who all had powers and wanted to fight to keep others like themselves safe. But something happened – something the boss referred to as only “The Incident” – that caused all of those people to disappear, maybe even die. The kids didn’t know. And right then, they didn’t care. It was lunch, after all. No one thinks about death and destruction and the demise of hundreds of heroic people with food in front of them. “Here you go, Mark. I got your favorite.” Fin brought the little box turtle out of his messenger bag and sat him at the banquet-‐style table. He pushed a piece of crisp lettuce in front of Mark’s face. Mark sniffed it cautiously, but didn’t take a bite. Dare sat across from Fin. Connor and Opal were on Dare’s right and Gabriel and Jasper sat to Fin’s left. “Lettuce was always your favorite!” Fin yelled suddenly, snatching the leaf from Mark. “How can you say that? Broccoli isn’t even real food!” He took his fork and stabbed a carrot. “Sometimes I think we’re growing apart, Mark. Like you’re changing.” Dare picked a piece of broccoli out of her own salad and handed it to Mark who took is gratefully. (She assumed it was gratitude – it was hard to tell without facial expressions.) Fin looked severely offended. “Fine. Choose her. No one wants to be friends with me anymore, anyway!” Fin snatched up his plate and left the dining hall in a hurry.
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