"Man, who was that drunk !@#$?' Fred asks, helping his companion -- a brown, somewhat-dopey cartoon dog in a tuxedo -- put his face back together after the fracas on the dance floor.
"I think her name's Yanabah," an upright, blue dog in a porkpie hat drawls, watching her as some of her friends try to get her to sit down, well away from the Toons: "Never met her before now, though."
"Yeah, well, she needs to get her act together," Fred sighs, still trying to get his friend's eye in the right location: "Talk about bumming the party."
"Are rhey rhowing her out?" the stricken brown dog asks.
"No," the blue dog replies: "Why the !@#$ would they? We're just Toons."
"I don't think that's what they're thinking, Huck," Fred sighs.
"I do," the blue dog insists, having another drink from the cocktail glass he's almost always got with him: "I bet they don't even send anyone over to apologize for her bad behavior."
"Ruck 'em," the brown dog curses, patting Fred's hands away and tending to the last stages of his first aid himself. Fred puts his hands up and lets him, shoving his hands in his jean pockets and just staring at the drunk !@#$ as she tries to get up, only to have a fairly large and powerful woman put her right back down in her chair.
(Curious looking woman. Buzzed, pink hair and tattoos running up her neck into her hairline. Uniform of some kind, but not a costume.)
"Hey," someone says, walking up to the Toons. She's a squirrelly little thing, dressed in early 80's nerd, complete with a bad sweater and thick, black glasses: "Is he, um... okay?"
"Rhe's fine, thank you," the brown dog says, scowling.
"Sorry," she says, clearly embarrassed at the faux pas: "I don't talk to you. I mean, you folks. I don't talk to you folks that much. At all, really."
"Maybe you should start some other time?" the blue dog snorts.
"Sorry," Fred says, extending a hand to shake: "Do we know each other? I'm still getting used to what people look like out of costume."
"Yeah, and I'm still learning to talk to people," she says, shaking his hand" "I mean, outside of my costume. I'm still nervous. Really totally. Nervous."
"I know the feeling. I'm Fred."
"I'm Antonia Crisp," she says, not letting go of his hand: "I'm Gold Standard. Well, the new Gold Standard. I don't even think we've met in costume, yet, actually."
"Oh, okay!" he says, shaking her hand a little more enthusiastically: "Yeah, I guess the Reclamation War was kind of your debut, right?"
"Right, yeah," she says, glad she's being understood: "So I guess we haven't met, period?"
"No. I knew your father, though. Edward was quite the genius."
"That he was," she smiles, a little sadly: "Well, look, the others sent me over... well, no, I wanted to come over. And say sorry. I mean, that was totally... well, stupid. On her part."
"I can't tell you how warm and fuzzy that makes me feel," the blue dog says, turning his back, collecting the brown dog, and walking away.
"Sorry," Fred sighs, shaking his head: "He's gruff at the best of times, these days. This was not the best way to start the party."
"No," she agrees, releasing his hand and activating an e-cig: "I mean, what she did? No excuse. She's been !@#$ed up since what happened to her grandfather. So, this really should be no surprise."
"I see no one's escorting her out, though," Fred replies: "I think that's why my friend's really so angry."
"Oh!" she nods, getting it: "Well, something you have to understand? And this isn't an excuse or anything, but trying to push her out would just wind up with a lot of people busted up. Badly."
"Oh yeah. I mean, her and I are about the same age, but my dad always told me to stay away from her. He said her grandfather, Wayfinder? He told him some things about her that'd just make your blood run cold. She's not nice. At all."
"She looks like she's broken," Fred observes, watching as she withers under whatever the large woman is saying to her.
"She is, yeah." Antonia says: "I mean, you heard what happened to her grandfather, right?"
"I know he was killed during the Reclamation War, but no one wants to say how."
"Oh," she says, turning visibly pale: "Well, he didn't die well. That's what people don't want to talk about. Someone murdered him. Badly. I mean they chopped him up and.... well."
She shakes her head, not relishing the memory. Fred nods and holds up a hand: "Say no more. I got you."
"So yeah," Antonia continues, taking another drag off her silver stick: "She wasn't firing on all cylinders before? She's trashing her engine, now. Big time. All out of oil, rods thrown, doing five hundred in a school zone full of potholes. I think they're going to sober her up and get her out as soon as they can, but..."
"I got it," Fred says, extending his hand again: "Thank you for coming over and talking to us. I, for one, appreciate it. And I understand the delicate situation. We've got some interesting folks in our camp, too."
"I know!" she says, gushing as she takes it and shakes it: "Listen, I know you all don't like being treated like lab animals. And I wouldn't! I mean, not like that. But I would love to come and visit, sometime. I do mechanical engineering, you know. Just like dad, but obviously not like dad. He was a genius."
"But you'd like to come and see how we do things out in the Toon Nation?" Fred asks, smiling.
"Yes! Oh gosh, yes. I would. If that's okay? I mean, I know you all don't like it when people like me come poking around, but-"
Fred holds up a hand: "Antonia, it would be my honor to escort you around. Anytime."
She smiles like a child, and yet not. He smiles a little wider to see it happen, wondering what it might mean.
"Not quite the kind of party you're used to, Faraj?" the Major asks, wondering if his superior's going to nurse the same drink all night long.
"Not quite, no," the man says, looking over the dance floor and smiling a little.
"Too much dancing?"
"Too many clothes," Faraj answers, dropping his subordinate a wink. Harvey coughs at that, and Brightstarsurfergirl giggles.
Hanami just stands there, smiling -- her eyes distant, as if fixed on something in the distance only she can see.
The Space Service folks up on the platform look extra sharp, tonight. This is the first time any of them have had a chance to roll out their star-white dress uniform, and the gold brocade is still fresh, the black piping still distinct. And while they've got hats, they're mostly for funerals and other, solemn occasions -- which this is mostly definitely not.
Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir turns suddenly, his long, silver, braided hair whipping around as he does. The object of his concern turns out to be a beefy Japanese man in dark sunglasses with buzzed salt-and-pepper hair. He's wrapped in a loud, Hawaiian shirt and dress slacks, and while he doesn't have a drink, he has clearly had a few.
"Ju-San," Faraj says, bowing respectfully: "I am pleased to see you again, my friend."
The man snorts and waves him aside, stumbling up the platform. He's only got eyes for Hanami, clearly.
"Friend, please," Faraj says, trying to put himself between them: "I know that Straffer promised you we would do what we could, but you know-"
"Shi ne!" Ju San hisses, waving him away. Before Faraj can say anything, the Major's taking him aside -- "I think we should be elsewhere, now" -- and Faraj is too stunned to say anything else.
And then it's just the wide-eyed girl, the drunk man, and Brightstarsurfergirl, who's either escaped the man's notice or is simply invisible to him -- ruby hair and all.
"(Hanami)," the man says in Japanese, reaching out to take her arm: "(Hanami, do you remember me?)"
"(I do, yes,)" the android says, turning to look at him and smiling: "(You are Mister Ten, leader of the Organization. You were my superior. I worked very closely with you for many years.)"
Her smile, her tone, and her eyes do not flicker as she says these things. She seems friendly and engaging, but anyone who knew her from before would know that something was missing. Something vital and warm.
"(Was that all I was to you?)" he asks, almost on the verge of tears: "(Was I... not a friend? Someone you cared for?)"
"(Of course. I held you in very high regard. I still do, though I am now with the Space Service.)"
"(Would you ever want to see me?)" he asks: "(As something more than my former employee? As a friend?)"
"(I do not understand,)" she says, her eyes going a little vacant.
"(I love you, !@#$ it!)" he says, trying not to shout, but failing: "(I've always loved you! Always!)"
"(I know,)" the android says, her smile not wavering, her tone not changing.
"(You know? Is that... is that all you can say? Do you love me, too?)"
The android looks at him, cocks her head to the side and smiles: "(Of course I do, Mister Ten. I love you very much. You are a good friend. I have always valued your friendship.)"
"(But do you love me?)"
She looks at him, cocks her head to the other side, and smiles: "(Of course I do, Mister Ten. I love you very much. You are a good friend. I have always valued your friendship)"
"(Hanami... please... show me some emotion. Show me you care! Show me you're still in there, somewhere!)"
She looks at him, cocks her head to the other side again, and smiles -- shallow and automatic: "(Question not understood. Please rephrase?)"
The man looks at her eyes, and then closes his own. He drops to his knees and howls, holding her hand as though it's the only thing keeping him on the world, right now.
Hanami stands there, looking down at him, not realizing what's just happened. Brightstarsurfergirl walks up and puts a sympathetic hand on the man's shoulders, knowing that this couldn't have happened any other way.
And the party goes on around them, uncaring and loud.
"So how you been, Underman?" Blastman asks, grinning like a bastard to finally find someone to talk to.
"Myron," the poorly-dressed, unshaven man says, wishing to !@#$ he'd stuck it out at the now-crowded bar and gotten a !@#$ drink: "It's just Myron, now."
"Ah, that's nonsense," the older fellow says, clapping the younger man on the shoulder: "Once you're a Superhero, you're always a Superhero. You can't quit the life once you've gotten a taste for it."
"Really?" Myron says, looking at the man: "Because I thought I did."
The old guy's about to make some snappy rejoinder, but the intense look in the young man's eyes turn it to dust in his mouth before he can get another word in. So he purses his lips, nods, and goes back to drinking his own. And Myron, for his part, scans the crowd.
"Sorry," Myron says, eventually: "Just... I've been dealing with a few things, lately."
"Say no more," Blastman says, patting him on the arm: "Last couple months haven't been all that great, really. Maybe I'm just trying to convince myself?"
"Ah, what do I know?" Blastman sighs: "Here I am, working with one of my old enemies and a bunch of new kids, and half the darn time the French jump in and tell us to go soak our heads somewhere else."
"Sounds like you need a career change," Myron says, looking over the man's shoulder, and then elsewhere.
"Maybe. You know anyone hiring fliers with a talent for smashing things with their head?"
"Some used car sales lot, somewhere," Myron replies, looking elsewhere: "All the other gimmicks are played out."
"Yeah. Who you looking for?"
"Oh, someone," Myron says, smiling a little: "I was hoping she'd be here, but..."
"But I keep forgetting, she's underage," Myron sighs: "Might not mean anything in this crowd."
"Probably not. Of course, there's some people who are old enough to drink that shouldn't be let near the darn bottle?"
"Yeah, you remember Wayfinder's daughter, right?"
Myron's ears prick up at that: "Yanabah? She's here?"
"Oh is she ever! Poor gal got sloshed way early, got in a fight on the dance floor. I think Josie managed to calm her the heck down, but I bet she's up and at it again by now."
"Okay then," Myron says, looking for her in the crowd: "Sorry to dash, but I think I need to talk to her."
"Oh, okay," Blastman says, watching at Myron dashes off: "I'll just... stand here, then. Yeah."
He finishes his drink and wonders who else he can talk to, here. Across the room, he sees Brainman (now Rakim) over with some of the others, having what appears to be a lively and fun conversation.
And the old hero stays right where he is, grousing at the indignity of it all.
Right at the stroke of the hour, the music abruptly stops.
Everyone dancing boogies one or more steps further, and then stops, looking around in curiosity. Someone starts laughing and it carries. The lights come on a bit, and everyone starts to boo and laugh, and then they go down a little darker than before.
Over by the far wall, a shimmering light appears. It resolves itself with a blue glow that takes the form of a young man in a dark blue, form-fitting uniform that gives off no shadows or reflection.
The Nthernaut smiles and waves, and the room applauds -- somewhat warily, though. It's as if, after what happened on Christmas, they don't quite trust what he'll do next.
As the applause dies down, he smiles again, and seems to step in two directions at once. When he does, there are suddenly two of him, which garners some more applause. Then one of the two does the same, forming a total of three figures, all moving in time with one another.
And then, after the applause from that "trick" dies down a bit, a further bit of legerdemain occurs: two of the figures blur and change, and suddenly SPYGOD and Straffer are standing there - dressed in identical white suits.
The crowd gasps, applauds, and goes wild. The two men step closer, hug, kiss, and wave to the crowd.
"And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you show up to your party when you're under !@#$ing house arrest!" SPYGOD announces. More applause and laughter, and suddenly there's a rush to get up and meet the hosts in their stolen, digital flesh.
"A nice trick," a suit-and-tie wearing Disparaître says to the shrouded person standing next to him as they observe from the back of the hall.
"Are you going to report it?" she asks, sipping at her cocktail.
"Of course not," he says, smiling a little.
"You are too soft on them," she snorts: "You could gain some major favors by being selfish, just this once."
"I do not care," he says: "Why would I risk promotion to anger a friend? I like where I am, now."
She smiles a little and goes back to her drink, wondering how to turn this to her advantage.
And the party goes on around them, unaware.
(SPYGOD is listening to Fascination Street (The Cure) and having a big bottle of Up Yours)