Special Agent Rickerson escorts me down through the corridors of the compound. I’ve never been this far underground before. It’s so sterile. Stark. A clear sign of my demotion. I catch faint bits of whispers from the few agents we pass along the way. I don’t need to hear their full conversations to know what they’re saying. What they’re thinking. There goes the dumbass kid that got Magna Angel killed. I mean, they’re not wrong; I am that dumbass.
The D’Vile Sisters’ schemes never worked. Never. We fought them for over and over again and defeated them every time. So what went wrong? One minute, I’m holding my own like always, firing bomb after bomb at Sister Calamity; Magna Angel is fighting off Sister Gloom and Sister Ruin with her usual array of hellfire. The next thing I know, I hear Magna Angel playfully call for an assist because there were some new combo moves that we were wanting to try. I start to teleport, and then nothing. Nada. Straight blackout. I wake up days later in a holding cell covered in sparkly metal bits.
“We’ve decided to rebrand you, Brian. A total image overhaul to celebrate your return. Complete with a new outfit and codename.” Rickerson finally breaks the awkward amount of silence just as we near the end of the hallway.
“Cool. So I’m no longer Glitter Bomb?” I know it’s a no.
MOM wouldn’t send me back out into the world without some of their adjustments. They really take the Management and Observations of Metabeings seriously.
“Look,” Rickerson stops and exhales deeply. “We appreciate the barriers you broke down when you first came onto the scene. The first openly gay junior superhero to defeat the Army of Agony. And the first junior superhero to receive the most bids for sidekick in a drafting season ever. An impressive twenty-three. Still a record. Not to mention the only sidekick to be selected by the late Magna Angel.”
He let the mention of Magna Angel hang there as if I needed to apologize or something. “I understand if they’re all afraid I’m going to-“
“No one’s afraid of anything.” He puts a hand on my shoulder, but I can tell there’s no real emotion behind the gesture. It’s just limp and dead weight. “We just feel that it’s in everyone’s best interest if you reemerge on the scene…anew.”
My heart picks up a bit with excitement hearing that I’m not just going to a desk job. After almost two years of forced rehab and therapy, I am ready to get back to life. Don’t even care if I’m going to be incredibly rusty. “That means I’m really going back out into the field?”
“Yes. And well no.” He removes his hand and wipes it across his pants as he takes the last few steps to the dead end wall.
I can’t say I’ve missed all the vagueness of MOM and their inability to answer anything directly. “I don’t understand.”
“Your reemergence will be more of a quiet intro from the shadows,” Rickerson says as he gives a nod to the security camera in the corner. “Forget Glitter Bomb. Forget your secret double-life as flamboyant-flight-attendant Brian. You don’t have to worry about balancing alter-egos anymore. You have been chosen to be part of a highly motivated and highly monitored team of other junior superheroes that are very much like yourself.”
“I’m sorry. I’m getting put onto a junior team? What kind of bullsh-“
An exaggerated sigh of exhaust cuts me off as the wall before us opens slowly to reveal a dusty closet-like space. It’s almost purposely trying to drown me out and add dramatic effect to my dim situation. Rickerson ignores my unfinished comment and gestures me forward. It’s not worth repeating or for me to start arguing with him. He’s just my escort to some shitty punishment planned by some overpaid cubicle bitch. Reluctantly, I take a step into the small room.
“Welcome back,” Rickerson shouts as the faux wall closes up behind me.
The room brightens with a soft amber that pulses through the walls. A series of lasers sporadically shoot across and scan various parts of me. These people really love their lasers. I wonder if Highbeam and Kid Phaser use lasers for their secret lair too.
“Number 3305.” A polite A.I. chimes. “Codename: Shrapnel.”
“Shrapnel?” I’m assuming thats me. Doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Which I guess is okay, since I’m really not at the same energy level of my time as Glitter Bomb.
The floor drops out from under me, because of course they’d send me to actual rock bottom, and I’m siphoned through an old-school travel tube. A fucking travel tube. No more A-List hero budget either apparently. I slide out onto the dingy linoleum floor of what looks like an old storage hanger.
A wonderfully large man claps as he approaches me. He’s wearing plain joggers and a tee, so his extremely muscular body is extra accentuated. Like a giant walking billboard of pure muscle mass. He offers me a hand to help me get settled. I take it, although I’m slightly afraid he’ll crush mine by accident.
“The name’s Mike.” Good-looking, chiseled face, perfect toothy smile. All the makings of a superhero. There’s some gray hairs sprinkled throughout his stylish black hair, so he can’t be new to the game. I’m guessing early retirement. “We’ve been expecting you, Brian. Or I guess I should say, Shrapnel, since we’re not on a first name basis here.”
He leans in on that last part as if it is some sort of dad joke, and I cringe. D-list junior team equals D-list MOM agents too. I don’t think I can crawl back up a travel tube, and I unfortunately can’t teleport out that far.
“Where exactly is here?” Besides hell. I’m obviously in hell, but I can’t tell at what level.
“Welcome to the Secondary Covert Unit of Metabeings.” He gestures out to the emptiness of the hanger. “Your new home.”
“SCUM?” You got to be shitting me. “It’s called SCUM?”
“Yeah. Just be happy they decided to add Secondary.”
I take it back; I think I should at least try to crawl back up the travel tube.
“I get it, boss.” Mike slaps my back and practically knocks me down. “Not your first choice, but I think this will be a good one for you. And you know MOM’s saying: Make good choices. ”
Ugh. I hate that phrase; it always sounds condescending. Even when they explain it. We might not all have the same meta-abilities, but we all have the ability to make good choices. What they don’t tell you is that all the choices are pretty much already made for you.
“Is it too late to call out for today?” Give myself another day or week to process all of this.
Mike laughs and continues on, ignoring the fact there were some serious undertones in my comment. “We better get started with your orientation then. You’re already familiar with the travel tube for inter-agency travel.”
“It goes other places?”
“Well, um…” Mike visibly thinks about it for a minute as if this was the first time anyone asked. “No. But you only really ever have to report to here. This is the main hanger for the team where we workout and train.”
Now that I know where I’m standing, it’s even sadder. Like some CrossFit gym that went out of business and sold off everything but some boxes and ropes. Magna Angel and I had a fully equipped gym and fight simulator in our base. MOM kept Magna Angel stocked with the latest and greatest stuff. Unfortunately, I thought I would have a whole future ahead of me to enjoy those things. I was too young, naïve, and humble to really take advantage of all the perks back then. Maybe it’s good that I didn’t? The tour won’t be that depressing if I don’t fully recognize the blatant differences.
“On that side is our briefing room,” Mike says as he leads me to the other side of the hanger. He walks down the wall and opens the doors to give me some quick references. “The med unit, the tech space, my office, and those other ones are some extra storage spaces.”
“Like trophy rooms?” Everyone knows you need a good trophy room that no one else will see but somehow makes sense to have. I had all the badges from the members of the Army of Agony in the corner Magna Angel gave. Fuck…I wonder where they are now.
“MOM hasn’t fully funded SCUM yet, so no trophy rooms for now.” Mike keeps walking, and I have to jog a bit to keep up with him. He stops at the double doors a few feet down from the travel tube. “These doors lead to the team’s common space and living quarters. You ready?”
“Ready?” To revisit the idea of becoming a villain and blowing this place up as my first act of villainy? Yes.
“To meet the rest of the team!” Mike pushes the doors open with a little too much enthusiasm, and they almost fly of their hinges. Without giving me the chance to run, he swings his arm behind me and shoves me into the room.
I’m greeted immediately by an onslaught of confetti, balloons, and the unsettling toots of noisemakers. It looks like I stepped into a poorly decorated community center rec room. A handmade, poorly spaced banner hangs above the room: WELCOME TO THE TEAM SHRAPNEL. There’s a lingering stuffy smell that makes me crave fresh air. I start to feel light-headed. My legs start to wobble. I know I’m not nervous or anxious, but I can’t seem to make out the figures in front of me or stand straight. Am I hungry? I go to take a step into the room, but my legs go fully numb. And timber...full face-plant onto the floor.
“Bloody Mary,” Mike shouts as he lifts me up off the floor.
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!” One of the hazy figures rushes over to me. I can make out her shoulder length reddish brown hair, so I assume she’s the one called Bloody Mary. She cups my face with her fingers, or so I think; my face is numb too. “I was so excited to meet you and focused on making you feel welcomed that I accidentally restricted your blood flow. I didn’t drain it though, so that’s good and a personal win. And you should regain feeling here in a second as soon as I make sure the trajectories are going in the right direction.”
She’s correct. My legs regain control, and I’m able to stand on my own. Once she sees me more stable, she let’s go of my face and steps back to the join the others who must have gathered closer when I fell.
“Alrighty then.” Mike keeps his arm around my shoulders as he speaks. “Seems like a good time for some introductions.”
Bloody Mary, whom I had the pleasure of meeting first. A cheerful, seventeen year old who, despite the name and my interaction, does not look like an forlorn vampire. She is in fact the daughter of some well-known superhero couple who are no longer part of the agency. Apparently they weren’t thrilled with her budding empathic abilities, so they joined the occult and tried to use blood magic to make her more powerful. Short explanation is that she can control blood.
“Again, so sorry.” She gives me a bashful smile and awkward wave. “A Negatives are always more sensitive to my powers.”
The Twins are, well, interesting. Or maybe complex is a better word. Either way, I don’t think I fully understand their dynamic. Tether, the main twin, is the density manipulator with an athletic build that’s covered in tattoos. Her graphic tee and distressed denim vest are giving me old-school punk rock vibes, which I love. I’m secretly living for her whole badass eighteen year old vibe. And I’m jealous on how much her shaved sides and textured blue-black quaff hairstyle are putting my messy travel tube curls to shame. Freaking humidity.
“Hey man.” She pulls me in with her handshake for a semi-hug back pat, so she can whisper the next part. “All I’m going to say is that we know who you are. We’re huge fans.”
Her knowing of me is kind of cool. I’m glad my short time with Magna Angel garnered some public recognition. It’s the we that is throwing me, since she’s the only twin physically here. Her brother, codenamed Ball, got his powers of astral projection when they were young. And neither of them really understood what he could do or what it meant. One day while they were playing, he left his body to go find pirate treasure and instead of listening to her, their parents thought he had died. By the time he returned home, his body had been buried for months. So his astral form latched onto Tether and was able to survive thanks to their similar DNA. Now he lives in some abstract astral plane or dimension or something that he created inside her.
I can see why MOM felt they were too convoluted for mainstream. Ball is his own entity and does what he wants and appears when he wants. So it doesn’t help that he primarily stays “indoors” and speaks solely with/through Tether. You can see her mumbling to herself constantly, like Tourette’s.
The last member is Muzzle. An ageless alien-human hybrid who doesn’t speak because of his sound augmentation. According to Tether, who heard it from Ball, Muzzle’s true form is hidden under his lanky, geeky exterior. MOM put him under their protection program because his alien race side is trying to kill him for being what they deem as an abomination. I’m sure there’s more to it because the other aliens I’ve met with MOM image mods look like models. I dated Terraswarm for weeks before I found out he was actually an insectoid. Then I continued to date him because his human mod was a straight up Latin heartthrob. Ultimately, I just couldn’t be with a vegan.
And that’s the team: a hodgepodge of rejected metabeings kept in a basement. Not recommended for public consumption. My new team. Called SCUM. We’re freaking called SCUM.