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Realistic or Modern I'd Rather See Your Star Explode


Junko Natsumizaka

Just a demonic overlord studying Earth firsthand.
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A Farm in Iowa - Sunrise

"Hey, John, put that book away! We need to finish stacking these hay bales before sunrise!" Tom called.

John, absorbed in his book atop a stack of haybales, gave no reply.

"John!" Tom tossed a shoe John's way. "Oh come on!" He exclaimed when John dodged without any effort.

"Let me finish this chapter, pa!"

"You've read the book nearly a dozen times, son!"

"But this is my favorite part! This is the part where the aliens show up, pa! I can read it aloud to you if you want, and then I'll help you out!" John promised.

"Alright, son. Climb down." Tom shrugged, cracking his knuckles.

"ANN SAT BOLT UPRIGHT IN BED!" John hollered, hopping down without lifting his eyes from the book.

"Still can't hear ya, John!" Tom called as he walked over.

"Ann sat bolt upright in bed," John repeated when Tom came closer. "eyes drawn to the neon light outside her bedroom window. She crept over, eyes widening at the sight of a humongous, amazing, awesome flying saucer!"

Tom grinned, noticing John's enthusiastic additions to the story.

"It was so cool, with slick metal curves, glowing windows, and an almost blinding beam of light coming from the bottom! Cows were being sucked up from the air, haybales flew about, and grandma's apple pie was lost to the aliens, who thought it was just the most delicious pie in the world!" John added, hearing his grandmother's footsteps behind him.

"Now why are you letting this boy wander off into his fantasies again?" Grandma nagged. "If he doesn't get his head outta the books he'll never be able to run this farm!"

"He's only twelve, ma. He'll grow into the farm soon enough." Tom shrugged.

"With all this eatin' he's doin' he should be sprouting outta the roof by now!" Grandma argued. "Little rascal still gets lost in the corn mazes! Oh sweet Jesus, he'd lose his head if it wasn't screwed on straight!"

"Might screw it the wrong way a few times, doesn't mean he won't get it right eventually." Tom reasoned. "Right, John?"

Grandma and Tom turned to John when a silence followed.

Tom picked up John's fallen book, growing worried as he dusted dirt off the pages. "Now where'd you go, John? Don't let your grandma get to you, she only wants the best for you." He peered around the haybale stack, finding nothing. I woulda heard him scamper off...He tilted his chin up, scratching the back of his head. His eyes widened in shock as he peered straight into the open bottom of a gigantic flying saucer, soundlessly hovering twenty feet in the air. Shocking winds silenced his screams as he gained distance from the ground, spinning around as if he were being dragged in by an invisible vortex. The last sensation he felt before he lost consciousness were his ears popping from the pressure.

The comedian stood on the stage before red velvet curtains, entertaining a large audience of well-dressed bureaucrats. This was his first time performing in anything that wasn't a rundown bar on the east side of town, and he couldn't measure his gratitude at the fundraiser host's generosity in giving him a shot.

"...So I walk in, sit down, and start playing. I'd practiced for months, but the moment I started playing in the exam hall, my fingers fumbled all over the place, and I...blew the shot - messed up the entire piece..." The comedian clenched his hands into fists, looking down for a solemn moment.

This drew a small 'aaaaw' from the crowd.

"So the instructor goes, 'Try again. It seems like you're nervous, and that makes it hard to focus for anyone! If you're having trouble concentrating, pretend you're in a concert hall, and twenty-thousand people have paid to see you.'" The comedian gave the crowd a deadpan stare in reply.

Soft laughter rippled through the crowd.

"So I turn around-" The comedian turned around, then twisted his upper body to the crowd, bending his knees to simulate turning around on a piano bench. "-and say, 'If twenty-thousand people paid to see me, someone ripped 'em off.'

A round of laughter from the audience.

"So I start the piece again," The comedian stood, and mimed playing the keys with his free hand. "and I make eh...about three mistakes somewhere in there. Not bad for a six-page assignment, but still." He shrugged. "The instructor goes," He used his mouth to make a 'crowd roar' sound, "and I realize he was trying to be supportive - nicest instructor ever, by the way, bless him. But if I'm going to pass an exam, I need to feel like I earnt it. If I really was playing in a concert hall, I would want to give the audience my best, and mistakes like that just wouldn't cut it! So the only thing I could think to say back in that moment was, 'That's the sound of the audience burning their tickets. They're super p!ssed, and asking for refunds'." The comedian smiled as he was met with roaring applause and laughter. He continued warmly once it softened. "Seriously, not one laugh outta that guy.'"

A light ripple of laughter from the audience.

"Now I'm more focused on making him laugh - a nice distraction, if I'm being really honest with myself." The comedian put his hand to his heart.

A stagehand handed him a guitar and walked off the stage without a word.

"So I walk over to this...guitar he's got in another section, and I walk back, slinging it over my shoulder-" The comedian slung the guitar strap over his shoulder "-and I say, 'Let me play a song for you I heard in prison.' The teacher goes, 'Sure.' So I start playin'..." He ran his fingernails across one of the strings, moving it back and forth to imitate a 'sawing noise'.

A soft ripple of laughter from the audience.

"Still not a laugh out of that guy." The comedian shrugged.

The audience's laughter grew louder.

The comedian smiled.

The audience's laughter nearly doubled in volume, and a few people gripped their stomachs in response.

The comedian felt confused, wondering why they had such a strong reaction - with such odd timing - to one of his lighter jokes. He looked down in horror to see a moist, warm spot on his crotch - he'd wet himself. "Aaah-" He stammered, "that's not part of the show!" His cheeks flushed in embarrassment, and he was rushed off the stage, replaced by the fundraiser host.

"You know..." The host shook her head softly, smiling at the comedian's retreating form. "I never know what he'll come up with." She continued on, trying her best to play it off as one of his jokes. If I can save him from embarrassment and shift the story a bit, I can hire him again at half price for a different event.

From the back of the audience, Nova had laughed the loudest. Before he was noticed, he slipped away, past the exits and into the cold night air. He sighed contentedly, looking up to the night sky with a warm smile as he replayed the moment in his head a few times. A vibration in his pocket snapped him out of his daydreaming. He pulled his burger phone out, flipping it open to answer a call. "Sears Department Store, how may I help you?" He grinned.

"Yeah, I need a set of towels - preferably in cerulean, and I-" The male voice on the other end transitioned to a singing voice, "-🎵I need a hero! I'm holding out for a hero 'till the mornin' liiiiiiight!🎵"

"I'll be right over! Where're you at, Jules?" Nova nodded, hailing a cab.

"Six blocks away from North's fundraiser event - near the McDonalds." Jules replied.

"Which McDonalds, they've got three around here." Nova laughed, waving away the taxi that pulled over with an apologetic glance. "An infestation of crappy food all in one area - waste of space where they should have a go-cart place instea-"

"-Errr..." Jules looked around, before his eyes settled on the spectacle before him. Oh my gosh why didn't I think of this before?! "...the one across from the bank!"

Nova laughed heartily, "I'll see you in a minute." He flipped the phone shut, where it automatically hung up, and replaced it in his pocket. He drew a deep breath, closing his eyes as he concentrated to draw every moisture particle in the air to his attention. He stretched his fingers out with his consciousness, stretching as far as he could. His current capacity for doing so stretched to about the size of a stadium. He held the breath in for a moment as he felt nearby particles rushing over, visualizing what he wanted to create. As released the air through his mouth, he opened his eyes to watch the droplets amalgamate. He took in another deep breath as he moved his hands, shaping the creation. The final breath followed as he changed the shape's temperature, freezing the structure into ice: a gigantic ladder, connected to a slide. He admired the structure with a nod, then began his climb. Solid ice. Nicely done. He took a seat at the top, and let go of the ladder, laughing as he picked up speed. "Hell yes!" He cheered as it curved around buildings and over busy streets, waving to a crowd of people waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk. "Hey guys!" Most waved back, or whipped out their phones to grab pictures. A few were slow to notice, and by the time they looked, they only saw the quickly-melting slide in Nova's wake.

"Two minutes and fifty-eight, two minutes and fifty nine seconds." Jules counted as Nova dropped beside him in a kneeling potion, his left hand on the ground and his right hand on his knee.

"Faster than any cab!" Nova held out his hand for a high-five. The remains of his slide - now a huge floating ball of water - floated ten feet above them. "Just finished embarrassing Gabriel at his standup gig." He added proudly.

"You wanna talk about an embarrassment? Check out that police squad over there!" Jules gestured.

Nova just realized Jules they'd been crouching behind a police car. Beyond, an officer was attempting to negotiate with a band of robbers holding hostages in the bank.

"They've been 'negotiating' for over half an hour! Peak comedy hour over here. I wanted to step in with a friend." Jules smiled.

"Alright, time to go." Nova stood. "I brought the water with me." He pointed a thumb at the sphere.

"Oooh, saved on summoning time! Awesome!" Jules patted Nova's back, standing with him.

"How many robbers we got?" Nova raised an eyebrow.

"I counted six!" Jules nodded.

"Aaaaaaalrighty, then!" Nova grinned.

"Showtime!" Jules sucked in all the air he could, then held his breath, giving Nova the thumbs up.

The moment Jules held his nose, everything froze: the flickering police lights, the feedback from the megaphone the negotiator used, the traffic at the street's end, the steam from the McDonalds customers' takeout across the street...

Jules held up his free hand with the three centermost fingers, counting down the time Nova had left.

Nova formed his hands as if he were shaping a snowball, splitting the water sphere in two. He ascended the bank steps, levitating the halved water sphere along with him.

At the landing, he saw one robber holding a gun to a hostage's head. A quick glance inside confirmed Jules's criminal count: six. He hummed the Shrek version of I Need a Hero as he pulled the hostage away from the robber, splitting his water sphere into six smaller spheres. Meanwhile, the halved sphere he'd left floating ten feet in the air evaporated.

Jules lowered one finger. Two minutes left, Nova!

Nova levitated one water sphere onto the first robber, freezing his torso in a thin, rectangular block of ice. "Good luck walking that way." He chuckled, gently turning his gun upwards before prying his fingers off it. He set it down on the floor by the robber's feet, before heading inside.

"Freeze, police!" Nova laughed. One by one, they were secured in thin blocks of ice. "Heh heh, ice to see you! Ohoho, lookin' pretty cool over there, Robber Number Three! Heyyy, Number Four - have an ice day! Number five - icy come, icy go. There'll be no 'Get Out of Ice Free' card for you Number Six!"

"Pah!" Jules released his breath as he walked inside, finally letting out his laughter. "Icy what you did there!"

"It'll be smooth hailing for the cops now." Nova chuckled.

"Supernova! Hamilton! Stand Down!" The 'negotiator' ordered.

"Eeeeeeeeh, quiet, you. We just saved the day." Nova waved the negotiator's words off as he descended the steps.

"If we hadn't come by, all hail would've broken loose." Jules chuckled, following Nova out. "Have an ice day, guys!" He waved to the officers as he held his breath again.

"I already used 'have an ice day' inside." Nova grinned. "You've gotta pick another one, now, or all hail will break loose! Heheh, an ice pun for an ice pun."

"Pah!" Jules released his breath, and the cops looked around in confusion.

They heard one of them curse, "Damn it, not again!"

"Oh, gimme a minute, lemme get this!" Jules flipped open his phone - a golden pocket watch flip phone - with an apologetic expression. "Ayo?"

Nova gestured that he'd be right back, making for the McDonalds.

Nova held up two soft serves in one hand, and two medium-sized fries in another. "Best of McDonalds, brought to you by Supernova."

Jules met Nova's gaze with another apologetic expression. "Sooooo, I just got a call from Miranda - I forgot I already made plans over a week ago to spend the day with my little nephew for his birthday! We're gonna have to raincheck these soft serves!"

"It's all cool, Jules." Nova smiled at the ice pun. He knew better not to insist Jules take the other soft serve, since he'd probably drop it in the taxi over. "Have a great time with your nephew.

"Thanks, Nova! Hopefully I can be available tomorrow so we can pick up right where we left off!" Jules put his hands together. "Anyways, have a good night!"

"You, too, Jules!" Nova lifted the hand holding the soft serves, since he couldn't wave. He felt a vibration in his pocket as he watched Jules jog to the next street to catch a cab. Chuckling softly, he looked down at his hands, full of food. He turned to the outdoor diners at McDonalds, and held up his food. "Anyone want free ice cream?"

"Supernova! Supernova!" A kid stood from his seat, ignoring his mother's words to stay seated. The kid ran around his table, down the ramp, and up to Nova. "Is it really you?"

"Yup yup! Just saved the day at that bank over there." Nova pointed a thumb to the bank behind him. "My friend Hamilton stopped time while I used my water to freeze the robbers! You'll be able to watch it on the news tomorrow." He smiled warmly. "Right now, I've got to take a call from another superhero! Could you help me tackle these?" He nodded to the food in his hands.

"That'd be awesome!" The kid reached out and took everything.

Nova laughed as he watched the kid run off. "Shoulda been more specific, but who cares?" He licked the melted ice cream that'd trickled down off his hand before he answered his phone. "Best Buy, how may I help you?"

"Finally someone answered, mannnn...I need some help over here!" Athena replied, barely coherent through the shaky connection. "I'm in New York, Sector 7, I need a ton of help with some civilians in a snowstorm. They're all over the place like ants, under a blanket of snow - and I don't have any sugar. One of them is freakin' missing and we can't find her anywhere! I'd be able to help if I could see through this sh!t!"

"Athena, I can't get there in time! Even if I hijacked a plane-" Nova began.

"Get North out of her fundraiser bullsh!t! She f!cking blocked my number." Athena insisted.

"On it." Nova nodded, hanging up. He dialed North's number, and waited for her to pick up.

"Nova you better have a damn good reason for calling me in the middle of a speech!" North nagged.

"Athena needs help, and if you help me help her, I'll owe you one!" Nova offered.

"I'm there!" North smiled, changing her tone immediately. Nova heard her muffle the phone as she yelled, "Alastair, take over for me!"

Two Seconds Later

"You called?" North grinned, standing behind Nova with her hands behind her back. It almost made her look innocent.

Nova turned around. "New York, Sector 7. Let's go."

"I'll forgive you bossing me around for that favor." North smiled, grabbing Nova's hands. "Aaaaaaaand one, two, three!"

During the next ten minutes, they zoomed through thousands of city buildings, residential districts, and a few street performances, until they stopped in the center of Central Park.

"Athena," North hollered into her popcorn box flip phone, "Where can I find you?"

"I'm north-west of Sector 7's border, search for a ski resort." Athena replied.

"You were bordering Sector 6 on the north-east. It would've been easier to find you if you'd just given us the name of-" North nagged.

"Hey hey, I'm not one of your employees. Cool it." Athena waved her off. "What'd it take you, an extra two seconds?"

North glared, opening her mouth to argue before Nova interjected.

"-Can you fly around and find that girl, now?" Nova gave Athena a look that said, 'Don't press North'.

"Sure." Athena huffed, crouching to fly off with extra force.

Snow splattered on North's black dress, and she clenched her fists, but stayed silent. All for the favor. All for the favor. An unlimited favor from Nova. Rule free! I can do this. Stay chill, stay chill. Heheh, chill. The edges of her lips turned upwards just a bit. Gabriel would've gotten the credit for calming the blizzard down if they hadn't stepped in. I'd much rather deal with Athena's inflated ego than Gabriel's. Speaking of which... "That was you, earlier, wasn't it?" She shot Nova an accusatory glance.

"I have no idea what you mean!" Nova's whistled like a cartoon character avoiding a confrontation.

North's glance turned into a glare, and for a moment, the two had a staredown.

Nova's excitement betrayed him as he burst out laughing. "Gabriel wet himself on stage! It was hilarious! He stole my stories, you know, I can't just let that happen!" He smirked.

"True. I'd feel the same way if someone tried to steal one of my recipes by changing a few ingredients to try and circumvent the patent." North nodded, folding her arms. "I finally got my attorney to get his thumb out of his @$$ on that one. Almost had him fired, but I found my zen and finished the court case, first." She smiled proudly.

"Congrats, North-" Nova began.

"-Guys!" Athena flew back over. "You've gotta some see this!"

"You know, you really should avoid saying that." Nova joked. "It's such a cliché line."

North grabbed Nova's hands, eager to finish up here. "Which way?"
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A photoshoot in the snow wasn’t what Sophie really thought of as ‘fun’, but she knew that people would like the look of her white wings against the snow, and she hadn’t posed for any new brands or magazines in months, so she went regardless of the fact that she was dreading it. She spent hours getting ready that morning, making sure her hair was perfectly curled, her makeup perfectly blended, and her clothes picked out with close scrutiny. She had no interest in freezing, but fur, of course, was out of the question given how animal rights activists would be all over her for it no matter how ethically sourced one might claim the material was. On top of picking animal-free sources, she also had to find something that didn’t make her look fat, or a collar that made her neck look too short. Her boots had to have heels despite needing to trudge through snow or someone, somewhere would say she looked frumpy, or short. It was a delicate balancing act, and one she’d been working at for years already.

At least she could make a trip out of it. Once her agent had told her about the gig, she had asked if she could bring a few friends and turn it into a mini vacation. The Windham Mountain ski resort was only a few hour’s drive away from where they would be meeting the photographers, and it would be easy enough to take off for half the day while her friends entertained themselves. Even if they didn’t go skiing without her, the resort itself was big enough that they could find something to do while she was gone.

“Your lipstick already looks perfect, Soph,” her friend Rooney urged with a comical whine, tugging insistently on the edge of her jacket. “Come on, we’ve been in here for like ten minutes and the others are waiting.”

Sophie only laughed and finished packing her makeup back into its bag so she could be dragged out of the restroom. “I’m coming, I’m coming. They already know how I am.”

“The beauty queen emerges!” Peter called as they came out, waving an arm in the air to show them where he and the others were waiting, sitting lightly atop his suitcase. “Mona’s gonna throw a fit if we don’t catch up soon!”

Sophie only grinned and made a show of jogging over with Rooney at her side to prove they were hurrying, lest her agent have a stroke in her absence. “It wouldn’t be the first time. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s started budgeting time for me to be late in advance.”

It felt good to share a laugh with the schoolmates she was closest to, despite the vague background worry that they had only come with her because she’d offered to pay for their flights, and they were vlogging the whole trip. She did her best to push that aside and just hurried with them to pile into the rental car and make their way to the ski resort, finally. It would be fun to have a video record of their trip together, so she could look back at it and smile some day. At least she wasn’t the one editing it.

After an afternoon skiing, snowboarding, and goofing off, she went with her agent Mona to meet the crew and the couple of other young, aspiring heroes and ‘influencers’ that were going to be taking part in the shoot, then headed off to the site. It was colder than she’d thought it would be at the state park they were going to be posing in, and windier than the weather forecast had predicted, but she was used to just going with the flow and trying not to complain about being cold or tired. It would all be fine once she transformed anyway, she thought. Then the energy she produced would warm her up so she wouldn’t be rubbing her hands together or snuggling into her scarf.

Only a few sets of pictures were taken of her as Sophie, with and without the other models, which was honestly more than she had expected. Most everyone was only interested in Star Shine, though she had a feeling they’d only done it as a lead up to the pictures they wanted of her mid-transformation. For those she had to change back and forth three separate times, her body shimmering with a rainbow of pinks, blues, and yellows as she changed shapes. It didn’t hurt, the transformation, but she wouldn’t say that it felt good. It was tiring, and strenuous, and she had practiced the way she moved and posed both as it happened and as it ended so many times no one could tell anymore. For the cameras, she gave them a little wink and a tiny, shimmering star as it finished, like she was her own animation team adding in some flair.

Last time, she reminded herself as she once more framed her hands around the star she formed over her chest, spreading them out to her sides and turning her head just so as she was consumed by glowing colors once more. Only one more, then you can relax and stop freezing your ass off. The end result will look great.

The pictures she got a preview of, as they wrapped up the snowy, woodland adventure did look amazing, Star Shine’s pink hair a contrast against the natural backgrounds, her white wings not quite blending in with the powder on the ground when the last set of pictures had her lying out in the cold with the cameras above her. She’d made sure to make the ‘snow angel’ jokes before anyone else could, so she didn’t have to pretend they weren’t lame.

The last set of photos were to be taken in the city itself, somewhere that would likely draw in tourists once they were published, and Sophie found herself with renewed energy at knowing she would get to be done working soon despite the beginnings of falling snow kicking up as they made the trip there. She smiled a bit less carefully, posed a bit more cheekily, even joked around with the other models despite not having met them before. They were assured the snow and wind wouldn’t get much worse, and that they were almost done and would get something hot to drink immediately afterwards. They were beginning to lose light to the cloud cover so it wouldn’t be long. It was going great - until it wasn’t.

“That’s great, that’s great,” the photographer urged, crouching down to get a different angle for some of the shots. “Now just lean together, hold up those bags like you just finished shopping - perfect.”

Sophie tilted her head towards her current co-star Miranda, smiling like they were the best of friends and curling a wing slightly around her, only to shift away with a little jolt at the sound of shattering glass. “What was that?” She asked with a little frown, and jumped when she heard a loud thump, crumbling stone, and someone scream. “Uh- hang on, I’ll be right back!”

“Wait!” Mona called, making as if to stop her with a hand despite knowing she wouldn’t be fast enough. “Not without . . . backup.” She trailed off and heaved a sigh as Sophie took to the air to hurry away from the courtyard after the noise, shortly followed by another of the cast. “Why do I even try?”

Sophie was in a rush, worried about the sounds of trouble, but did notice Miranda running after her from street level despite wearing boots with large heels. She went by Blink as a fellow aspiring hero, and while Sophie had never seen her in action she was happy to have help, as teleportation would probably be useful. When they rounded the corner the scene came together quickly - there were two men running from a store with bags Sophie could only think were full of money or something else valuable, the front window and part of the storefront collapsed out into the courtyard. Petty thefts were, at least, something she wouldn’t get yelled at for handling.

“Hey!” She shouted as she saw them beginning to flee, as if it would make a difference. “Stop right there!”

Blink was on them in a second with a little poof, slamming her weight down on top of one hard enough to stun him before he could get away, but he wasn’t the real problem. The second man shot bursts of concussive energy from his hands and feet - likely what had broken the storefront in the first place - and with a startled shout used them to take off into the air with a crack of the brickwork under his feet.

“You handle the groundwork,” Sophia said quickly, only pausing for a second to flash Blink a little smile. “I’ve got the skies.”

She’d thought so, anyway. As she took off after him she realized he was faster than she’d thought, and as they darted over the city and past it into less tamed wilderness she had to struggle not to lose sight of him. Determined, she kept speeding after him despite the way his powers had him drifting back and forth between ground and skies, dodging the energy bursts he shot back at her to slow her down and throwing back a few of her own low-powered stars to try and knock him down so she could drag him back to the city. The speed they were flying at, she didn’t notice how much worse the snow and wind were becoming until she was miles away from any sort of civilization. The cold didn’t usually hurt her skin, but she had never been out in such low temperatures for so long before, and the way the ice slowed down her wings caught her off guard.

The weakness in her extra limbs grew more and more noticeable, but she had already lost sight of the robber and couldn’t stand the thought of him getting away. Nearly colliding with a tree forced her to land, clumsy and stumbling, and she realized as her knees hit the dirt that she couldn’t even hear the whomp of the man’s blasting flight anymore. Shaking her head to clear the snow from her hair, she pushed back to her feet and took a few running steps to get going, but hit the ground again with a little cry of pain before she’d even gotten three feet up. In the moment she hadn’t noticed it, but being forced to stop and start again made her aware of just how her wings were painfully exhausted.

“Great, this is just great,” she muttered with gritted teeth. “He’s gone and I have to walk back.”

As she tucked her aching wings in close, she turned to go back the way she had come, a hand held up to try and block some of the snow so she could see. She had been flying at top speed and had no idea how far she’d gone, and she realized with a sinking feeling that in her focus to just chase the man as fast as possible, she really didn’t know which way they’d gone.

“Just walk, Sophie,” she told herself with a shake of her head, wrapping her arms around herself despite not feeling the cold. “You just gotta walk and you’ll get there.”

But the storm she’d flown into was howling more intensely than she’d thought from the air, and visibility was getting worse and worse. An hour after she’d started walking, she was starting to panic, and another hour after that was beginning to wonder why she wasn’t panicking anymore. She’d transformed back and forth more times than she usually did, and been transformed for hours longer than was normal for her, in temperatures she didn’t often find herself in. Keeping herself warm had been burning more energy than she’d expected, and as she focused on just moving forward she almost didn’t notice the way her feet began to drag, and her path became less straight.

She couldn’t stop and rest, knowing she couldn’t stay transformed forever, but didn’t know just how much energy she had used up. Dizzy off and on, touching every tree she passed for balance, she hardly realized what was happening before she hit the snow and couldn’t muster the strength to get herself back up.

That’s not good. . . She thought blearily, and it was the last thing she remembered before her eyes grew too heavy to keep open.
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Nova crouched to examine the snow-covered wings, eyes tracing up to the lady asleep in the snow. "We need to get her out of here, someplace warm - I don't want to take the chance of damaging her wings."

"Where to?" North asked, hands on her hips.

"Let's try...Hideout Three." Nova carefully touched Sophie's shoulder. "Safe to touch. Alright." He gently picked her up, carrying her securely with one arm supporting her back, and another looped under her knees. "You'll be free to go after that." He assured.

"Wonderful." North sighed in relief, gripping Nova's shoulders.

"Alrighty. Anything you need from me?" Athena asked, hovering near the ground.

"I'll need you to pick up Raven and Claire, and head over to Hideout One." Nova nodded.

"Got it." Athena floated a few feet higher before zipping off, so as to not splatter any snow.

"Off we go." North accelerated.

Hideout One was one of many underground bunkers, used for interviewing new recruits, power testing, and training. This one was out in the countryside of Texas, down a sturdy tungsten hatch and spiral helical staircase to a high-ceilinged, circular room. Three hallways led north, northeast, and northwest. A collage of maps, arts and crafts projects, and motivational posters comprised the back wall.

The northeast hallway led to a large metal-walled training area: an obstacle course with different settings for different powers, corners for target practice and reflex training, advanced weight training, and a high-tech chamber for simulating battles.

The northwest hallway led to a relaxation area with medical chambers, and a spa equipped with high-tech massage and acupuncture robots, a pool, sauna, steam room, a laser tag arena, and a playground with trampolines and climbing structures.

The northern hallway branched off in two directions further down; left for the dorms, and right for the kitchens.

Nova watched as Raven summoned her vines, attaching them to Sophie's wrists and ankles like a marionet. She fitted Sophie into a white medical suit, and a mouthpiece that would allow her to breath while submerged. A robot unsealed one of the medical chambers in preparation.

10 minutes, 8 seconds later

"She's stabilizing." Claire breathed a sigh of relief as Sophie g
radually came to. She pressed her hand against the glass, smiling encouragingly.

"Icy does it." Nova offered a kind smile as her eyes opened. He leaned against a nearby wall as he waited.

"We're here to help. We brought you here to heal you up, and offer any help we can give." Claire smiled gently. A canary sitting on her shoulder repeated the message in sing-songy chirps.

The robot unsealed the tank again, so Sophie could poke her head through the surface.

"Swim up when you're ready." Nova pointed to the surface with his thumb.

Raven stood by a far wall, ensuring nothing got out of hand. If Sophie freaked out and tried to attack, she'd simply use her vines. Subconsciously, she met Sophie's eyes with an unblinking stare that showed she expected her to attack at any moment.

"You're Sophie Mcane, right?" Claire asked when Sophie resurfaced. "I've read about you in a magazine, a few times. I've got to envy your good hair days." She laughed softly.

"Alright, PR, give her a rest." Nova used his shoulders to push off the wall, shooing Claire away with his arms as he drew nearer. "How're you feelin'?" He addressed Sophie.
Floating was a strange sensation. It gave her vivid flashbacks to being little, floating on her back in the pool with the water just high enough it covered her ears. It left everything muffled, just the faint, pleasant burbling of moving water with voices in the distance, calling her in for dinner.

The vague, pleasant memories helped her not to panic completely as she drifted back towards consciousness and her senses began to filter gradually back into her conscious perceptions. She really was floating, but in a space that wasn’t big enough for her wings, leaving them bent towards her like she’d wrapped them around herself for warmth, and there was light everywhere. It hit her more quickly than the fact that she was seeing through liquid, somehow, the quiet burbling every time she breathed doing more to clue her in to the fact that she was underwater. For a moment, that thought sent a little jolt of panic through her, a hand pressing into the glass in front of her even as her wings made two muffled thunks against it to either side, their impact jarring enough to finally make her realize where she was.

Ah. The Tank.

It wasn’t that they were painful, or that she’d had a bad experience in them before - she'd only been injured badly enough to need one twice, so far, and it had been just as shocking both times - she just hated them. They were claustrophobic and the mouth piece always tasted funny, and being in a glass tube just made her feel even more like a butterfly pinned up on display than usual. Still, she was used to people staring and, oddly enough, it was the sight of a few sets of eyes looking in at her that convinced her she wasn’t in any immediate danger. It was difficult to hear, through the liquid that surrounded her, and her eyes were slow to adjust, but she could read a spattering of words on their lips. 'We', 'you', 'help'. It was enough that when she heard the tank opening above her she only looked up, and carefully used her wings to get her foot to the bottom first so she could kick herself up to the top rather than try to swim.

When she was high enough for it she got her arms over the edge of the tank to keep herself from slipping back under, pulling the mask down around her neck with a little cough and looking blearily around as she tried to get herself together. The staring from the woman hovering a ways away was unnerving, but at least the other voices were soft and sympathetic. Sophie was still a little shell-shocked when she turned at the sound of her name to see the other woman much nearer, and couldn’t decide whether she'd woken up amongst helpful friendlies, or strange and overbearing fans.

"Thanks. . ." She managed somewhat automatically, suspicions leading towards the former but feeling lost still. "Where. . . am I? What happened?"

Had she gotten herself beaten up before the snowstorm and been too numb to feel it? How had she gotten out of the snow in the first place? She wasn't in pain, but she was so tired still. Getting her sopping wet wings out of the tank they barely fit in in the first place was going to be impossible, and if she tried to transform back now she would just get all of her winter gear immediately soaked through in their place. She wasn't burning energy to keep herself from freezing anymore, at least, which was probably the only reason she had managed to wake up so quickly without changing shapes. If these people had helped put her in the tank, maybe asking nicely would convince them to help her haul herself out of it, too.
"You're in a secret base - can't tell you where, for obvious reasons." Nova replied. "We found you passed out in the snow, and brought you here - we're not sure what happened before that." He took a glance at the way her wings were cramping up in the chamber before turning to Raven. "Drain the tank, and open it up."

Raven didn't move, rolling her eyes as she extended her vines. They snaked around the edges of the room to press the necessary buttons on the dashboard.

A hold opened up in the bottom center of the tank, protected by three layers of increasingly fine nets so nothing valuable was sucked through. A weak vortex was created as the liquid drained out, making a soft suction noise at the end.

"You'll be out of there in just a minute." Nova assured.

Raven pressed another button, and the tank's walls slowly retracted into the ground. Raven pressed another button as soon as Sophie's feet could touch the floor, and one vine gestured for her to step out over the walls.

"Best to leave now," Nova advised, "so your wings don't get trapped in the ground."

Claire immediately tried to reach a hand out to touch one of Sophie's wings, her eyes nearly sparkling in admiration.

One of Raven's vines smacked her hand away, and pulled her back to stand beside her. Raven shook her head. "Give her space, Claire."

"Are you hungry?" Nova offered. "I bet you worked up an appetite almost dying, huh?" He smiled softly.
Sophie was frowning, despite thinking it was in her best interest to be friendly. Secret base was interesting, though not entirely a foreign concept to her - she’d never had one unless her own home address that was very carefully kept out of public knowledge counted, but she'd heard of others using them before. The vines moving around everywhere were a little more concerning, especially given that they were attached to the person watching her with a barn owl-creepy stare. The fact that she knew she looked like a drowned pigeon, just then, really wasn’t helping her feel any more comfortable.

As the tank began to sink downwards she looked down at it a bit nervously and let herself drop carefully back to her feet when she could, wings tucked in tight to avoid knocking herself over with the walls. The quick step over the short wall was surprisingly easy, though she still felt as if her body were shaking. However long she had spent in the tank, it had done a decent job of letting her rest, even if she wasn’t back to top fighting form.

Her eyes drifted back to the man she was sure was the one in charge as she steadied herself again, and as distracted as she was attempting to find something coherent to say about what had happened she almost missed the young woman reaching for her. She knew she'd been getting the Crazy Fangirl stare in her peripheral the whole time, but she’d gotten so used to it over the years that it hardly phased her. She wondered, even as she flinched a little at the sound of the vine slapping Claire's hand away and watched her get dragged off, if it said something important about her life that random people making grabby hands at her wasn't even weird anymore.

"There was . . . a snowstorm," she managed a bit dazedly, reaching up to push wet hair back away from her face and absentmindedly giving it a little tousle so that it didn’t lay completely flat on her head. It had been so long since she'd gotten so throughly drenched in this form she hardly even knew what it looked like and even though there were more important things going on, it was bothering her at the back of her mind.

Finally, she shook her head and decided to try being coherent about it all later. Immediate problems now. "Yeah, I, uh. . . Thanks. I'm starving." As she wrung the tank's liquid out of her hair she finally managed a little smile. "Could I maybe get a towel?"

She needed to call Mona, so the woman could let her friends and family know she was okay and not just missing in the woods, and she needed to figure out where on earth she was, exactly, and where her normal clothes were, but for now she could let a bit of the PR training kick in. Smile, be nice, and take what was offered to her, until the moment she could fully decide if she was safe or if she should be attempting to blast her way through the ceiling. The man in front of her, at least, seemed nice so far, but one could never be too careful.
"Yeah, I, uh. . . Thanks. I'm starving. Could I maybe get a towel?"

"Raven will take you to the spa area," Nova assured, gently taking ahold of Sophie's wrist to lead her outside of the medical room. "Just let us know if you have any allergies first. You'll be able to eat after you get cleaned up."

"Did you get that?" Nova asked when Sophie replied, turning to Claire.

Claire nodded happily. "I'll make sure a lovely meal's prepared by the time she gets out." As she walked out, she sang, calling forth all the animals spread about the base:

"Come my little friends, we've got a hearty meal to make!
We've got the kitchen to ourselves since it's not time for a lunch break


Glass panes shaped the cafeteria's walls, ending in a high, pointed ceiling. Two long dining tables stretched through the room, surrounded by chairs, with smaller tables suited for 2-6 people bordering the east and west. Large pendant lights were sprinkled across the room, reflected in the polished white oak floors.
Just outside the glass panes, a variety of plant life bloomed, combining with warm lighting to give the cafeteria a greenhouse effect.

"Well, you look like you're feeling better." Nova observed. "If you need to give anyone a call, you can use this," he spoke as Raven handed Sophie an old Nokia with her vines. "since we don't allow 'smart phones' in here." He made bunny quotes with his fingers. "What've you been up to, Claire?" He called.

A chimpanzee opened the kitchen door at the far end of the cafeteria by swinging off the handle.

"I've made three different meals, but Sophie gets the first pick!" Claire sang, leading a procession of rabbits who hopped along behind her. Together, they set the near end of a long table with silver cloche-covered trays of steaming hot food, bowls, plates, and silverware. "We have curry," she sang, announcing each meal as the chimpanzee lifted the cloches off. "lasagna, and burgers!"

"Thanks, Claire." Nova gestured to the front doors.

Claire looked a bit disappointed as she headed for the exit, understanding she was probably being a bit much for a girl that needed to relax a bit.
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Sophie frowned a little when Nova tugged on her, but despite being unwelcome his grip wasn’t bruising or demanding, just guiding her along until he eventually let go so she could walk on her own. It was strange, being inside someone else's headquarters. She was just a teenager, and wasn’t even apprenticing yet, let alone affiliated firmly with any one hero, so she didn’t often find herself in such secretive, high security places. It was all a strange whirlwind, after just waking up from what felt like the equivalent of a brief coma.

"No, no, I don’t have any food allergies," she managed when questioned, shaking her head a bit and following after Raven when indicated, though she did glance back over her shoulder at Claire's singing with thoughts of cartoon princesses in mind. What a strange, diverse cast she found herself hosted by.

As weird as it was having no idea where she was or who the people around her were, a warm shower was still a relief, and she was grateful to have her own clothes back afterwards. Her wings were still a bit damp, but it would have taken a lot more than just a towel or two to dry them completely, and she was still too weak and hungry to bother with the effort just yet. Maybe after she’d gotten something in her stomach.

The dining area was stunning, and Sophie couldn’t help looking up and around as she was led into the room, marveling at everything around her. It was the most elaborate, ornate building she’d been in for a while now, and even though she wasn’t supposed to 'gawk' at things she couldn't help thinking the people here had already seen her passed out in the snow and floating in a Tank, so how much worse could she look?

On that subject, she resolutely did not think of just who had changed her clothes for her before they'd dumped her into it.

"A bit better, yes," she answered, focusing finally when Nova spoke to her, and blinked at the vines coming her way before realizing they were holding something and held out her hand. When she saw what it was, she raised a disbelieving eyebrow at Nova. "These things still exist? I think this phone is older than me."

It was a good thing her agent and her parents phone numbers were basically the only ones she knew by heart, since a call to any of them would be enough to spread the word to everyone else that she was okay. She wasn’t sure what she would have done if she didn’t remember at least that much - if she wasn't allowed internet access it wasn’t like she could google the contact for her own agent.

"Oo, bunnies!" It was so easy to get distracted, with so many animals around, and Sophie did a slow turn as she watched them all moving around, cooing at how cute they were but in the back of her mind thinking it probably wasn’t sanitary to have them helping prepare meals. She comforted herself with the fact that she probably ate cat hair at her own house anyway, so this couldn’t be much worse.

Trying to focus herself again on what was important for her continued ability to stay standing up, Sophie picked the curry dish out of the three - lasagna wasn’t her favorite and burgers were messy enough she rarely at them with other people around, plus the rice with the curry would help fill her up, she reasoned - and frowned a little when Claire was dismissed. On the one hand, she really didn’t appreciate being ogled or touched, but on the other she was very used to doing her best to make sure any of her fans were happy, and Claire seemed sad to get kicked out.

"It’s all right," she said finally, giving Nova a sort of hesitant, questioning look to make sure it actually was even as she spoke. "This is your place, after all, and you worked hard on this delicious smelling food for me. As long as we obey the age old rules," She gave Claire a smile, putting a fingertip against her cheek and giving it a small flick away so that when she gave Claire a wink a little star floated off her eye like an old cartoon, only to disappear a few inches away. "'Look, but don’t touch'."

As long as Claire didn't make grabby hands at her again, she was used to ignoring the staring. Once that was dealt with, Sophie took a seat so she could rest, settling her wings carefully so they didn’t smack the back of the chair, and looked at Nova again with the ancient phone in hand. "I should call my mom before people worry too much. Am I . . . allowed to tell them what city I’m in? Or near?"

Privacy she could understand, but she knew both her mother and her agent would want to know where she was and when she was coming home, and she needed to tell them. It was her mom, for Christ’s sake.
"A bit better, yes,"

"That's good to hear." Nova nodded. "Most people pass out after being in the tank, but you're pretty tough." He smiled softly.

"These things still exist? I think this phone is older than me." <<<her character being handed an old Nokia to make an emergency call

"Well don't talk that way about it, you'll hurt its feelings." Nova pouted, petting the phone's screen before handing it over.

"Oo, bunnies!"

"Aren't they just adorable?" Claire beamed. "You should see them all taking a bath together! They take one every evening, and you're invited to watch if you'd like!"

"It’s all right,"

Nova raised his eyebrows in surprise. She's more forgiving than I...I wouldn't want anyone close to me in this strange place, most of all someone like Claire.

"This is your place, after all, and you worked hard on this delicious smelling food for me."

Claire spun to face Sophie, skirt swirling from the speed as her frown grew into a smile.

"As long as we obey the age old rules,"

Claire's eyes lit up as they followed the floating star, hand pressed to her heart to contain her excitement.

"'Look, but don’t touch'."

"Okay!" Claire squeaked quietly, trying not to scream in excitement. "I apologize," she breathed, forcing herself to speak softly, "for acting without thinking, earlier." She took a seat across from Sophie before Nova scooted over pointedly, bumping into her side to get her to move over. Claire swallowed, reluctantly scooting aside and nearly snatching a glass of water off the table to calm herself.

"What's up?" Nova asked gently, noticing Sophie looked as though she was uncertain about something.

"I should call my mom before people worry too much. Am I . . . allowed to tell them what city I’m in? Or near?"

"Here you go," Nova reached into his pocket, pulling out a handful of confetti. "Not that, hang on."

Raven suppressed a laugh, taking her seat on Nova's other side after serving herself a plate of lasagna and a bowl of curry.

Claire tried to focus on her burger, only permitting herself one tiny stare a minute with the intention of timing them so Sophie wouldn't notice. She had a way of eating a burger without making much of a mess, taking small, delicate bites and dabbing at her mouth in between.

"Finally." Nova sighed, slid a piece of paper across the table for Sophie to read. The address of a hospital in New York was written in nearly illegible handwriting. Beneath it, someone with nearly calligraphic handwriting had created captions to translate. "We'll return you there after you've had your meal, and we've gone over a few details. Unfortunately, we can't share anything about the hideout's location with anyone outside our team."
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Nova's quip about the phone being upset was amusing, and enough to help Sophie feel a bit less on guard, but she had also simply been dealing with people like Claire for a few years now, and even before she'd started to be able to use her abilities effectively hadn’t been completely out of the spotlight. Her mother had been a beloved hero, in her day, idolized for her looks and her skill, and as the child of Crystal Quartz Sophie had been in the public eye before she’d really even knew what it meant. She was old enough now to understand that how uncomfortable she felt didn't matter, so long as her fans were kept happy, and she was physically safe.

Claire wasn’t so bad, really. She kept her distance, and showed more self control than a great many of the people Sophie had dealt with before, so she gave the woman a friendly enough smile in way of forgiving her as they all settled at the table across from her.

The confetti Nova produced startled a surprised little laugh out of her, for a moment wondering if he would continue to pull strange things from his pockets like a comedic magician, but she had more to focus on when he handed her the piece of paper. New York. She knew she wasn’t allowed to know exactly where she was, but maybe they weren’t so terribly far from where she’d been vacationing with her friends. Someone had to carry her while she was unconscious, after all, so how far could they have gotten?

Suddenly, with the prospect of somehow having to figure out how to explain just what was going on without saying something Nova wouldn’t approve of or scaring her mother even further, she realized again just how bone-deep tired she felt. Her hands were trembling still, and the idea of having to think so hard so fast was overwhelming. On top of the excuses, she wasn’t looking forward to letting people know how horribly she’d failed. It had only been one man, and she'd not only lost him but gotten so lost herself that she'd almost frozen to death.

"That’s okay," She said softly, guilty at the thought of making her family worry longer but not feeling up to the task, and very gently set the phone down on top of the paper a bit away from her bowl where it was safe. "I understand. I'll . . . call after I have something in my stomach."

She understood some level of secrecy was important for heroes, given neither of them knew each other. At least, she was relatively certain they were heroes. She could admit, with some small amount of guilt, that she wasn’t really up on every big hero around, and knew even less about any smaller ones. Too self-centered, her detractors would say.

Quietly and carefully, she ate a few spoonfuls before she attempted to say anything else, and did her best not to make direct eye contact with Claire, lest she set off new bouts of squealing and fawning. A bit starstruck she might be, but Claire was a good enough cook.

"Do I at least get to know who you are?" Sophie asked after a few bites, doing her best to keep her posture straight and her hand steady despite feeling like she wanted to sleep for a week, and managed a little smile for them. "Surely your hero names are public domain?"
"I understand. I'll . . . call after I have something in my stomach."

"Let us know if you need any help at all." Claire smiled softly.

"Do I at least get to know who you are? Surely your hero names are public domain?"

"Of course! And don't call me Shirley." Nova broke out into laughter for a moment. "I was so focused I-" He shook his head with a smile, "-I'm SuperNova - Lord of Water Manipulation. We've got hot, we've got cold, we've got solid and gas-" He made a fart noise with his mouth "-nevermind."

Claire laughed softly.

"This is Claire, who basically has Snow White powers," Nova continued.

"White b!tch powers, more like iiiit." Raven said under her breath.

"Aaaaaaand Raven, Ms.-Poison-Ivy-Without-The-Poisonnnn-unless you count her personality." Nova winked.

Raven picked up her water glass to hide her smile.

"We're a team of independent superheroes who team up all the time to chew bubblegum and k!ck @$$, and we're aaaaaaaall out of @$$e$." Nova pulled a packet of cotton-candy flavored gum out of his pocket with a grin, offering one to everyone. He started with Sophie, jesting with a Clint-Eastwood-esque voice, "It's cotton candy flavor...and @$$." After he'd passed some gum to everyone else - who pocketed it for later - he asked, "So, are there any other questions you've got for us?"
Sophie wasn’t sure what kind of help anyone could give her with something so personal, but Claire's offer at least felt honest and she gave a small, grateful smile in response. She knew appearances could be deceiving, and people could act like someone they weren’t, but she was already beginning to relax, to feel safe. She would almost have been tempted to transform back from Star Shine into more vulnerable, plain Sophie, if not for just how she knew her mother would scold her for it later. No matter what happened, she would be told, it was better to be safe than sorry, and while she could reach a small fraction of her powers in her mundane form, it wouldn’t be seen as enough. Even as tired as she was, if it came to it Sophie could still defend herself if she kept her wings around.

Nova's jokes seemed older than him, she thought, giving a customary groan at 'don't call me Shirley', which she was sure she’d heard from her own father and grandfather more than once. The trio's mutual descriptions of each other’s powers made her smile, at least, until Nova was making dumb jokes again and she had to try not to on pure principle. She made a show of gagging a little at the idea of taking the gum.

"That’s a hard pass on the @$$, thanks," she said with a little roll of her eyes, amused but also just unwilling to take anything that was described as tasting like that, even if she knew it was just gum. And here she thought high school boys were the ones fond of fart jokes. Maybe Nova was just trying to make her feel less uncomfortable by joking around.

"Is it hard to figure out how all your different powers fit together?" She asked, curious despite still being out of her element and tired. "Or does it help that they’re all sort of nature-themed? I haven’t done much hero work, to be honest, but I’m usually by myself, or make quick team-ups with anyone who happens to be nearby, so I've always wondered what it's like to have a team."

Really it was just whatever small crimes she happened to be within sight of. Most of her 'work' was modeling, social media posts, and brand deals. While all of that was fine, and she didn’t hate the money it helped her earn for herself and her family, it wasn’t exactly heroic.
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"That’s a hard pass on the @$$, thanks,"

Nova smiled at her eyeroll, "Nice rhyme." She's finally relaxing a bit.

"Is it hard to figure out how all your different powers fit together? Or does it help that they’re all sort of nature-themed? I haven’t done much hero work, to be honest, but I’m usually by myself, or make quick team-ups with anyone who happens to be nearby, so I've always wondered what it's like to have a team."

Nova raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Woah, a detailed question!" He grinned. "You're really curious, huh? I guess it's not every day you get to visit a super-awesome-secret-base. I didn't wanna overload ya, so I'll tell you what," he reached into his pocket and pulled out a heart-shaped recorder, "I'll record everything so you can review the info later! It won't be anything that isn't on super obscure news, so..." He shrugged, pressing the 'record' button on the back of the heart.

"Not everyone on our team has nature powers. Hamilton can freeze time, Dante can reverse time, Thunderbolt can fly." Nova shrugged. "When we work together, we mostly make up plans on the spot using these," The trio pulled out their themed phones: Nova's was shaped like a burger, Raven's a frog, and Claire a rainbow lollipop, "since no one's got telepathy. Whenever we need to team up, we make a few calls, and throw a plan together." Claire set her phone on the table to admire it, while Nova and Raven put theirs away. "A few of us were more stubborn when it came to accepting help."

"We were all so used to relying on ourselves before we formed the team." Claire added. "Thunderbolt and Casanova had the hardest time."

Nova laughed. "It took Thunderbolt years to finally admit she wasn't bullet proof.
She used to charge in without a care in the world, have a blast, then be out of commission for days."

"I do miss reading her stories in the medical chambers." Claire smiled.

Nova leaned in, whispering loudly with his hand blocking Claire's view. "I think she helped speed up the decision process."

Claire lightly elbowed him, stifling a laugh.

"And 'Casanova'-" Nova rolled his eyes at the superhero name, "-is still giving us trouble. So, I mess with him a ton. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him, but we need to stick together."

"The pranks are fun." Raven added.

"You might've heard about the flooded stadium in July?" Nova grinned proudly. "Hell yes I'd rain on his parade - he had bets riding on that game, and you should've seen his face when they had to call it off." He laughed heartily.

Raven joined in on the laughter. I'll never forget it!

Claire looked off to the side. I still don't think it was very nice...

"I changed his ringtone to 'Don't Rain on My Parade'-" Nova laughed harder, "-and he hates changing settings, so he pretended it didn't bother him until Claire insisted on fixing it for him! Earlier today, the clown was up on stage at a charity event, telling a story he'd stolen from me. Can you guess what I did?" He took the moment to take a sip of water.
Sophie refused to react to the gentle ribbing at her 'detailed' question. It was too small a bait to rise to for someone used to people questioning everything they did, and she didn’t want to make too many faces, lest she seem ungrateful. Her questions were getting answered, anyway, and that was what mattered. She was here already, and not really fit for traveling on her own yet, so while she was stuck she might as well seek out insight that heroes usually never had the time to give her.

Still, she blinked at the heart shaped recorder, and tried to hide her incredulity at the strange, food-themed phones. Who makes these things? I thought big league heroes used earpieces, not toys.

"That’s such a huge range of abilities," she mused as Nova listed off their team members, thinking that any two of them could take on just about anything. It put a little burst of inadequacy in her chest even as it amazed her. With such strong powers around, what use could the hero world have for her who just looked fancy and made stars?

She smiled still, at Claire's reading stories to her friend in the hospital, even as she finally remembered she needed to keep eating. As much of a joke as it seemed to be to Nova, it was very sweet of the woman. Sophie wasn’t really on board with playing pranks on people that were any sort of destructive so she was on Claire's side about the flooding, but the ringtone thing wasn’t so bad, and it was nice to see a team relaxing and joking around together. Like a strange little family.

"Dumped water on his head like an unfortunate football coach?" She guessed when Nova asked what she thought he’d done, unable to fathom what it might be. "What’s the use of having someone on the team if you don’t trust them?" Even when she briefly teamed up with random strangers there had to be at least a little trust for them to collaborate.

Sophie couldn’t help wondering if she would be part of a team like theirs, some day. That was her plan, once she was out of school and had more time, to apprentice somewhere where she could find a place for herself. She wanted to be a hero, like her mom, even if she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to live up to the legacy. Even if it wasn’t what she wanted, she knew it was what her mom wanted for her.
"That’s such a huge range of abilities,"

"Sure is, and that's not even half of 'em!" Nova smiled. "Problem is that there's so much crime in even just the US, sometimes a few of us go over seas and can't come back in time to help. Our team's spread out no matter how huge it gets, so we're always looking for new members."

"Dumped water on his head like an unfortunate football coach?"

"Close," Nova chuckled. "I'll leave the ending of that one up to your imagination. Or, you can think of guesses on the side, and ask me when we see each other again. It'll either be a great mystery, or a game that goes on forever."

"What’s the use of having someone on the team if you don’t trust them?"

"Well, think about it this way," Nova shrugged, "Can you ever fully trust someone?"

"Well, that is a gift I'm definitely jealous of." Nova praised. Unfortunately, I've been crossed too many times to be so optimistic. "In my experience, there are two kinds of people: people that are fun to work with, and people that're on my kill list." He paused for a moment. "So although I'd trust Claire over Casanova, I'd work with either if it meant getting the job done, because in the end, neither has ever sought to betray the team."

Nova smiled, surprised they saw eye-to-eye. Aaaaw, a realist already? I didn't expect that! "Temporary help is better than no help at all. And when the day comes, we do damage control, recover, and continue on heroing. There is no screening process that can get past good acting, expert planning, or a bunch of other cr@p. All we can do is do our best until sh!t hits the fan."
I guess that makes sense, Sophie thought, trying to focus and listen as best she could while remembering to finish her meal and keeping her posture from slumping. Even heroes can’t be everywhere. The fact that their team was spread across the U.S. was interesting. It wasn’t that she’d never heard of heroes with such a broad range before, but it was strange thinking of traveling so much, or trying to reach a disaster or crime before it was over. How did someone even choose which events were 'worth' going so far for?

People always told her it would make her wrinkle early, but she had to frown at the way he asked the question, as if trusting someone was something for children, or delusional people. "You've got to be able to trust someone."

She trusted her parents, and her agent, and at least a couple of her friends that had been around for longer than they had collectively known what 'famous' really meant. At least, she thought she did. Wasn’t she supposed to? Was she supposed to be distrusting him right now?

Sophie couldn't argue that sometimes you had to work with someone without trusting them, but something that could be as dangerous as hero work didn't seem like the activity for it. It struck her as almost sad, thinking about not trusting people that were her own teammates.

Eventually, she only gave Nova a little eye roll and shook her head at him. "I think you need to broaden your horizons. What about random citizens? I can't imagine they’re 'fun to work with', so are they on your kill list? What about me? Where do I rank in this black and white world of yours?"

Maybe trust wasn’t something everyone could have fully, but there had to be some sort of scale, not just Yes or No. Even random people had to be given some degree of trust. Trust to follow at least some rules, to be able to take on small tasks when asked - even just to smile at babies even when they were having a bad day. Maybe she was misjudging him and his team, and their mutual experiences, but they didn’t seem old enough to be that cynical.
"You've got to be able to trust someone."

Their first fight already. Raven laughed softly, looking off to the side. She doesn't get it...

"I think you need to broaden your horizons."

Claire smiled softly. If Sophie looked her way, she'd see an encouraging look in her eyes. I've been trying to tell him that for years...

"What about random citizens? I can't imagine they’re 'fun to work with', so are they on your kill list?"

"Eh, I'll get to 'em sometime." Nova jested, taking a sip of water.

Claire softly elbowed him.

"They are pretty fun to work with, though." Nova added reluctantly.

"What about me? Where do I rank in this black and white world of yours?"

"Well you are pretty fun so far." Nova grinned.

Claire gave Nova a look.

"Whaaaat? Who knows what she's capable of?" Nova shrugged, his grin growing wider as he stood. "She could leave a bug here and invite the Mongolian Tokyo-Drifting Invaders in! Or, she could call bigfoot and GODZIRRAAAAAA-" he yelled in a Japanese accent, "-to stomp this place into a pancake! And I don't mean granny's, I mean the kinda pancakes I make at three a.m. when I've been tossing back mini daiquiris! And what if she turns that pancake into a brick, and then turns that brick into a HOUSE OF DESTRUCTION!" He said in a wrestling announcer's voice, making a few air siren noises. "Pwaaa pwaa pwaaaaaaaaaaaaah! And you know how I dislike houses of destruction!"

Claire laughed. "I'm still on her side."

"So I see." Nova raised an eyebrow, fake pouting. "Raven, add her name to the kill list."

Raven laughed.
It was difficult to determine what sort of dynamic, exactly, was sitting in front of her, but Sophie was relatively certain that it was one that meant safety. Claire was a little much, but she had calmed down, and the trio in front of her seemed to get along well enough despite having extremely different personalities. Was that what if was like, having a team?

When Nova went on with his dramatics she only gave him an unimpressed look, an eyebrow slightly raised. "Little racist, but okay," she said dryly, and gestured vaguely at Claire with one hand. "Why even wonder? I’m pretty sure Claire knows what I do. I've got fluffy wings and I make pretty stars."

As if to prove the point, she held up one finger with a tiny little star on it, gave it a little huff of air like she was blowing a kiss, and sent it in a slowly spiraling float over to Nova to plop delicately against his forehead, far enough from his eyes to not be any sort of threatening. It wouldn’t feel like much, not being very dense and only about the thickness of the average piece of paper, and if he brushed at it it would come off in his hand.

She did, at least, chuckle at the group's theatrics, and poor Claire's change in list placement, shaking her head at them all and picking up her spoon again to finish the last few bites of curry. "I think I'd rather go back to the snow than see anything you make at 3 am after mini daiquiris. Nice drink of choice, by the way. I thought you'd be more of a margarita guy."

They really were a strange little group, the people that had rescued her. She was trying to be cautious like her agent always told her, but she was sort of starting to like them already.
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"Little racist, but okay,"

"Racist would be discriminating against them. If someone has a funny accent, I'm making fun of it. Have you seen that meme where a Chinese guy's making fun of a white guy's accent? Hilarious." Nova chuckled.

"Why even wonder? I’m pretty sure Claire knows what I do. I've got fluffy wings and I make pretty stars."

"Lovely stars." Claire nodded serenely.

"Shinyyyy." Nova's eyes widened as the star drew nearer, trying to catch it in his hands. "Can you make one that lasts forever?"

"I think I'd rather go back to the snow than see anything you make at 3 am after mini daiquiris."

"Hahaaaaah, a wise decision." Nova laughed. "I f!ck sh!t up so bad, but I hate wasting food, so down the hatch it goes!"

"Nice drink of choice, by the way. I thought you'd be more of a margarita guy."

"You dig the daiquiri game, huh?" Nova grinned. "Care to share a drink sometime-"

"-Nova she's sixteen!" Claire intervened.

Nova chuckled. "I never said it would be an alcoholic drink. What can I get you," He turned back to Sophie, "a Shirley Temple? Arnold Palmer? Or," He broke out into song, "Do you like pina coladas, and gettin' caught in the rain?"

Raven lifted her empty plate, aiming to take it to the kitchen. Before she left, she glanced at the table to see if she could take anyone else's plates.
"Uh huh," Sophie replied with a little roll of her eyes, unconvinced. "Do the accent in a Japantown somewhere and see how fast you get punched."

She had to laugh, though, when he seemed just as mesmerized by her powers as Claire was. "Let's be real here, if I could make them last forever you'd've seen them on Ebay already." The little one she’d given him would probably only last for a few minutes after she stopped concentrating on it, and that was a generous guess. Sooner, if she poofed it away on purpose.

If her stars lasted forever, Claire would have one already, she was sure of it.

"Maybe sign up for cooking lessons?" She teased almost incredulously, thinking of a grown man consistently ruining food and eating it anyway, and handed her plate over when Raven held her hand out for it. "Oh, thank you. Just water, please."

Begrudgingly, she picked up the phone and the note about their fake location again, knowing she couldn’t put it off much longer. "Nova, if you get that ancient song stuck in my head I swear I’m gonna riot." She shook her head at him, shifting back in her seat and putting a hand on the table to make sure she didn’t feel dizzy as she got up. "I should call. . . I'm just gonna-" She waved a hand vaguely at the other side of the room and started dialing as she walked over. It wasn’t like she thought it was actually private, but she didn’t like having other people in front of her while she was talking on the phone.
"Do the accent in a Japantown somewhere and see how fast you get punched."

"And years past, we'll tell tales of how our friendship started with a punch." Nova grinned. "Each time, the story will get crazier and crazier, until we were the ones fighting godzirra himself."

"Let's be real here, if I could make them last forever you'd've seen them on Ebay already."

"Enterprising." Nova complimented, running his fingers over the star's details.

"You won him over, he loves shiny things." Claire smiled.

"Maybe sign up for cooking lessons?"

"Eh, I'd cancel a few lessons in, kid. I don't wanna sit in a class room and learn it, I wanna mess around until I get it right on my own! I do make a killer beef stew - you'll have to try it someday. All from messing around and figuring out no, beet root and cinnamon do not go in a beef stew."

"He wouldn't listen until he tried it himself." Claire giggled.

"Oh, thank you. Just water, please."

"One Moses for the little lady." Nova turned to Raven.

Raven nodded as she turned away. At least she's polite...

"Nova, if you get that ancient song stuck in my head I swear I’m gonna riot."

Nova chuckled. "Don't make me curious."

"I should call. . . I'm just gonna-"

Nova reclined in his seat, taking in the details of Sophie's wings as she walked away. "What did you say her name was, again?" He asked in a low voice so as to not disturb Sophie.

"Sophie." Claire smiled warmly.

"What's her favorite color?" Nova asked.

"Well, Supers Weekly guessed speculated that it was pink," Claire replied, "but in an interview years ago her mother said it was baby blue. It's probably changed since, because children are always changing their favorites. Sometimes, even as adults we can have differing preferences."

"I'll have to ask when she gets back." Nova resolved.

"Why?" Raven asked, taking her seat again.

Nova gave her a look.

Raven sighed. "Good luck. She wanted to finish school before she joined a team."

"F!ck school." Nova chuckled, shaking his head. "Waste of time."


Grandma had put up missing posters for John all over town in the hopes that a hero might see them and respond. So far, no one else had been able to help. The police wouldn’t believe her story, and the neighbors thought she was crazy. The supers were all she had left, but they didn’t have phone numbers. Unfortunately, not many crimes occurred in their peaceful countryside, so it was hard to find one in action. They lived far away from any hero agency buildings, and their customer service had put her on hold for nearly an hour.

Tom had taken a different approach, opting to drive into town with his truck to crash a peaceful weather report or talk of current events - anything to save his son. Each hour, he’d call his mother to see how things had gone, growing angrier by the pointlessness of it all. How could everyone doubt us when we’ve been nothing but upstanding neighbors and good citizens? And it’s not like the earth hasn’t had a few alien invasions before, it was all over the news! Why doesn’t anyone believe us? And where the hell is a super when you need one? I don't care what happens to me, as long as I get John back! As long a I don't hurt anybody, I shouldn't have to spend too much time in jail...

Presently, Tom was sidestepping the lady at the front desk of the CNN building, hoping his story would catch a super's eye.

"Sir, sir you can't be here without-" A security guard intervened.

Tom pushed past him, eyes locked on the platform where all the cameras were focused.

"The cause of the fire was undetermined." The female news anchor read off the teleprompter.

The male news anchor continued, "Investigators said there were several sources of ignition, including propane heaters, electrical fan hot plates, small cooking grills, smoking materials, and drug paraphernalia. Here now is the chief of police, answering the question of: is any place safe?"

The chief of police stood on the opposite end of the stage before a green screen.

Tom stepped in front of the news anchors' desk, looking straight into the largest camera with a determined expression. "My name is Tom-"

"-Sir, you can't be up here." The female news anchor cut in.

"The cameras aren't even on, they're on the chief." The male news anchor said, standing to usher Tom off the stage.

"Turn them on. I've got a message about my son I need to spread, you can push me off this stage later." Tom stood his ground.

The male news anchor stopped in his tracks, looking from the chief of police to Tom and back again. F!ck, I'm not losing my job over this. "Who let this guy in? Securit-"

Tom punched the male news anchor. "Some people are so damn rude these days. What about you, blondie?" Tom looked towards the female anchor. "Got any heart left for an old man in a pickle?"

"Fred, Jacob, turn the cameras on him!" The female anchor blurted.

"Sure thing." Fred replied in sync.
"You've got it!" Jacob replied in sync.

Tom faced the cameras, and took a deep breath.
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For being such a hardass about trust, Nova's idea of making friends was entirely too optimistic. Sophie rolled her eyes a little but otherwise tried to just let it go, smiling a little for Claire when she said the man liked shiny things. Maybe she would let him keep the tiny star for a bit before it faded out of existence. She was a little fatigued still, but she could manage to maintain something that small for a decent amount of time.

"Claire," she said dryly as she pushed back her chair, "with every word he speaks, I'm more and more grateful to you for doing the cooking." She had no interest in vomiting, or getting food poisoning.

She wandered to the other side of the room for privacy as she did her best to remember the right phone number, and did her best not to pace as she waited for it to ring and ring, eventually settling on quietly tapping one of her heels on the ground to dispel some of the nervous energy. When the line clicked over and she heard her agent's voice, she almost jumped.

"Mona?" She said softly, trying not to be too loud. "It’s me, Sophie. Thanks for picking up."

"Sophie?" She could practically hear the mingled relief and panic in the older woman's voice, and winced at the initial volume. "Oh thank god - where are you? Are you all right?"

"I'm okay, I’m okay," Sophie assured, a bit sheepishly, "don’t worry. Someone was kind enough to give me a ride to the hospital when I got myself lost in the snow, but I couldn’t call until now. I’ll tell you all about it later, I promise."

There was a big, relieved sigh on the other end of the line, mingled with annoyance. "You had us so worried! I was about to call in search and rescue teams. Tell me where you are. I’ll come and get you."

"Ah - I’m okay, really, I promise, but the hospital's not ready to release me yet. I’ll give you an address, and I’ll let you know the second I can leave, okay? I promise I'm fine, they just wanted to look me over to be sure. Can you just, make sure everyone knows I’m okay?"

There was a long pause, and Sophie winced a little at the heavy, stressed breath that followed, hoping she wasn’t about to get chewed out. ". . . Fine. I’ll hold down the fort for now. But you had better be safe - and you owe me for this! You’re going to drive me to an early grave."

"I promise, I promise!" Sophie managed just barely not to laugh, knowing it wouldn’t help her case, because Mona was beginning to sound like her mother. At least she was mostly certain they would both agree she could keep herself safe, and would say if she couldn’t. "Thanks, Mona. You’re the best."

After she'd shared the address and promised to call again as soon as she was ready, she said goodbye and took a moment to breathe and shake off the nerves before turning around to walk back. She was feeling more steady after eating, and taking a short rest by sitting at the table. She was sure she wasn’t quite in fighting form, not unless she was desperate, but it felt reasonably safe where she was, and she would hang on to her transformation as long as her wings didn’t get in the way of anything. If she are walking around as Mundane Sophie in an unfamiliar place with unknown people, she was sure both Mona and her parents would throw a fit about it later.

"Thanks," she said as she sat back down, sliding the ancient phone back over to Nova. "I wasn’t sure when we'd get to the hospital, so I told her I'd call when they were ready to release me, and she can get me back to the ski lodge from there." She just needed a ride to the meetup point, since flying probably wasn’t an option. Even if the weather had cleared up, she was too tired for anything more than a few minutes of flight.
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"Nova, listen to this!" Athena flew in, pointing to the hologram her watch projected. A man in a cowboy hat, a plaid shirt, and light blue jeans spoke in a grave tone. "This guy crashed the news building and doubled the viewers in just a few minutes! He's talking about his son or someth-"

"-Athena, why don't you let Clint Eastwood explain?" Nova joked.

Athena laughed, realizing she was trying to talk over the victim himself. She immediately sat across from Nova, rested her arm flat on the table, and turned up the volume on her watch.

"...I don't ever ask for any help, but when I turned to the police for, they turned me away and called me crazy." Tom spoke, eyebrows furrowed.

Claire beckoned to Sophie the moment she saw her nearing the table, pointing from her ears to the watch. Sophie...Nova needs more people like you around.

"...Now my son was abducted by aliens earlier," Tom continued, "and I don't know where to turn. If there's anyone out there who specializes in this kinda thing, that boy means the world to me, and I'm willing to do anything to get him back..."

In the background, the female news anchor and her manager were arguing.

"Well who the hell let him on?!" The manager bellowed.

"I don't know, I..." The female anchor sputtered.

"This is John Maverick, reporting an alien abduction from Iowa," Tom sighed before stating his farm's exact location. "Cedar Street, Columbus Junction."

"HOW did he get through? That doesn't just 'happen', does it?" The manager continued, "Did you just show up to work one day and just 'decide to become our top news anchor'?"

"I'm sorry, sir..." The female manager stuttered.

"Look at it this way," The male news anchor got up off his feet, wiping blood off his face. "our ratings are through the roof right now. We should be thanking this guy."

Tom sighed and walked off the platform, making for the exit before more help arrived.

"They are?" The manager aimed his red, splotchy face at the analytics team. "Just how much have our ratings improved?"


The hologram projected the error message, and Raven used a vine to smack the volume button before the high-pitched beeeeeeeeeep stung everyone's ears.

"Aliens again!" Athena exclaimed, rubbing her wrist from the vine tip's sting. She aimed a glare at Raven before turning to Nova and Claire. "Come on guys, let's go! We've got this! We can't let Superman get them again." She rolled her eyes. "This'll be our big break! We've gotta round everyone up, we've gotta find out where these little green guys guys are and pre-emptively turn them into some vegan's next juice cleanse!"

Claire sighed, speaking softly. "But what if the aliens are here on a peaceful mission? What if they're trying to help us?"

"They kidnapped a kid, Claire! They're clearly not peaceful!" Athena folded her arms in a pout.

"Did they find a body?" Claire pointed out. "What if they're just trying to conduct peaceful studies-"

"Eeeey ey ey, both of you, there's no point arguing over it if neither of you have proof." Nova put his hands up, rising from his seat. "Let's head over there, and find out what these aliens are about ourselves. Then we can have our moment." He grinned at Athena.

"So you think they're malicious too, huh?" Raven said under her breath.

"You bet your thorns I do." Nova shook his head. "Good aliens? When hell freezes over." He turned to Sophie, speeding up to speak a mile-a-minute. "Kid, wanna join? We've got some investigating to do at the farm, and you've got friends and family to assure - you might even catch a few winks before we meet up for the finale! We'd get a real action-movie-moment together, and I've got some awesome buddies I'd love to introduce - Athena, by the way - " He gestured to Athena, who smiled proudly at the compliment "-We'd make a whole bunch of memories and a barrel of laughs-oh I'm going on and you're about to drop." He shook his head. "At least think about it on the way? We still need to fly you over there. The aircraft's amazing - looks just like a spaceship." He grinned excitedly. "And think about it this way, hunkering down and focusing on school until you get a team is taking away from the time you could be making memories, and strengthening bonds with an amazing team - like ours." He winked. "And we're not asking for full time, just an action movie now and then, and maybe even some family comedies here and there." He clapped once, rubbing his hands together in excitement. "To the aircrafts!" He exclaimed, humming 'It's Now or Never' by Elvis as he made for the cafeteria exit.

"She might need a TLDR." Raven guessed, noticing Sophie's weariness before she turned to follow Nova.

"Did you catch all that, dear?" Claire offered, rising as well. "He's too hyper to make much sense right now." She laughed softly.

"So, what'd you get up to since I've been gone?" Athena asked, zooming after Nova. "I just saved a cat from a burning building! 'Oooh, I'm so grateful! Thank you for saving Mr. Toodles! What can I ever do to repay you?'. And I told the lady, 'Just lemme pose with the little sh!tter in the photos.' They better put me on the front cover.'" She laughed as the automatic doors slid shut.

"I can see your face as Mr. Toodles' new litter box." Nova laughed.
Sophie was frowning a little when she came back to the table, coming over to sit next to Claire and not quite straining to see the tiny little screen everyone was staring at because standing up was too much effort. She could hear it well enough, at least, and kept frowning as the voices went on and on. Someone was on the air that wasn’t supposed to be, she gathered, and she couldn't help feeling a pang of sympathy at the thought that his son was gone. What wouldn’t a parent do, really, if their kid was in danger? And missing almost made it worse, with all the things uncertainty could make a person imagine.

"Aliens?" She parroted quietly, confused and finding it hard to focus as Raven and Nova went back and forth. Good or bad. Kidnapped kids. Aliens visiting earth again. It was all too much for her tired brain to handle.

"Join?" She only blinked at Nova as he went on and on, doing her best to listen but knowing she was not actually catching every single word that he said. What she got out of it, at least, was that he seemed to be asking her to come with him and the team, for what purpose she wasn’t sure. She was a minor celebrity, she supposed, but unless he wanted her to stand in front of the cameras and hold people's attention for him she wasn't sure what use she could be to a professional hero.

And then he was gone. The man was like a living whirlwind.

"Gotta be honest," she managed when Nova had left and Claire was left sitting at the table with her. "I maybe heard half of that."

But everyone was getting up, so after a moment to silently bemoan the loss of her chair Sophie got up to follow. "Time to go home now?" She asked, following Claire since she was the only rational one left - which felt odd, given how they’d first met - and glancing at her own wings as they went. "I guess I should get rid of these, if we're going in a plane."

She was stuck wondering why it was going to take them a plane to get back instead of just a car, but she'd been with them long enough that it was probably safe to change back, right? If she didn’t keep burning energy by maintaining her hero form she was going to pass out again for sure.
"Gotta be honest," she managed when Nova had left and Claire was left sitting at the table with her. "I maybe heard half of that."

"Called it." Raven nodded quietly to herself as the door slid shut behind her.

"We're taking you home to rest." Claire smiled, offering her arm to lean on.

"Time to go home now?"

"Yes." Claire nodded.

"I guess I should get rid of these, if we're going in a plane."

"It would make doorways much easier." Claire agreed.

A Few Minutes Later

The launchpad had the same greenhouse effect with its glass walls, but the pointy ceiling was replaced with a set of tungsten hatches. Athena stood by the sliding metal doors, pressing buttons on a dashboard. Nova waited by a platform in the room's center, behind a white chalk line.

"Make sure to stay behind the line." Claire informed, pointing to the platform's white chalk border as they came to stand beside Nova.

The platform split in two, neatly sliding into the ground below. Another platform made its slow ascent through the opening, bringing a futuristic aircraft with it.

"It used to have a salt border around it, but now the poltergeists are gone." Nova jested.

A low beeeeeeep sounded as the platform stopped.

"Now boarding the Millennium Falcon!" Nova said in a train conductor's voice, snapping his fingers just as Athena pressed another button.

The aircraft's doors slid open, inviting them inside with a warm puff of air and the smell of new upholstery.

"Ahh," Nova sighed, eyes relaxing at the warmth as he started up the stairs, "thank Ghost Zombie Jesus for HVAC."

"There's a hammock you can use in the back." Raven informed, following Nova up the steps.

"Right over here." Claire led Sophie up the steps and into the back, where a cozy hammock was set up near the windows. "You'll be able to rest a bit, or watch the scenery."

"Aaaas soon as we un-tint the windows to keep this rabbit hole hidden." Nova grinned, turning for the front. "I call shotgun! Raven, be our captain."

"Raven's the best driver here-" Claire assured, "-she'll make sure you have a smooth ride."
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