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Toe

“This is Dylan we’re talking about,” says Daniel. “Dylan. The girl Dylan. You know? Our friend Dylan?”

“I saw what I saw,” says Philip. “She was hurting them after they gave up. Not for practice, or to test herself. For fun.”

“I’m with Daniel,” says Tyler. “It’s not like she’s suddenly turned evil.”

“Did I mention she started smoking?”

“Oh shit she’s turned evil,” says Tyler.

“I used to smoke,” Toe scowls.

Everybody takes the tiniest hint of a step back from him.

“Jesus–”

“What are you guys talking about?” says Dylan, ambling up.

The silence hums, taut as a violin.

Toe

“I liked it!” says Alex, as they push out the back exit.

“Everyone liked it, nobody’s saying they didn’t like it,” says Tyler.

“IT WAS A 112-MINUTE STROBE-LIT CINEMATIC ORGASM,” Daniel announces to the parking lot. Behind them, someone whoops.

“Are you getting orgasms confused with epilepsy?” says Phillip.

“Are you not?

“It was really, really a lot of fun,” says Tyler. “Particularly considering that nothing was at stake and the girls didn’t get enough screen time.”

“I just can’t believe they gave Toe’s part to Michael Cera,” says Dylan.

“I’m not Michael Cera!” says Toe. “I’m Michael Cera?”

Faust

“A nameless kill is without glory,” hisses the tattooed man, “and rest assured that today you die. So this I tell you: I am Amadeus Faust.”

“Really?” says Alex.

“That’s kinda semiotically loaded, man,” says Tyler.

“Tyler,” says Toe. “Gross.”

“You don’t even know what semiotics is.”

“I know I don’t want to see you two load each other with it.”

“Is your surname really Faust?” asks Daniel curiously. “I thought the preferred transliteration–”

“I chose it myself,” snaps Faust.

Alex smirks. “If we’re picking our own names, I want Einstein Tyrannosaur.”

“Dude!” says Toe. “You know that one was mine!”

Tyler

The guards hover an inch from the surface of the lake, but as soon as they touch it they’re doggy-paddling, hapless. Tyler doesn’t even body-check them. He just skates around, tripping.

On the shore, Daniel’s eating popcorn. Toe kicks an irritated rock.

“I don’t get it,” he mutters. “I bet we could do that too if we could–I mean, where’s his weight distributed? What’s holding him up?”

“Tension,” says Dylan, too close to his ear.

Tyler leans down to brush wave-tips with one finger, and his sandals slice a glittering wave from the arc of his turn.

Phillip

“But when I’m fighting,” says Alex quietly, “it’s like–”

“Don’t say a dance,” groans Phillip.

Alex laughs. “No. It’s like walking on one of those things at the museum, where it lights up and plays a tone where you tread, except each move subtly changes the chord.”

“Seriously?” says Tyler. “I get wireframes and countdown timers, pick a path, hit the targets…”

“What about you, Daniel?” says Phillip.

Daniel smiles. “Pachinko,” he says. “Pachinko forever, and I always win.”

“Toe?”

“Huh?”

“What do you see when you fight?”

Toe blinks. “A bunch of people,” he says, “trying to–like–hit me?”

Phillip

“Do I have to keep pointing out that they are not ninja?” grates Phillip. “Ninja were populist, silent, invisible assassins from Japan. These hapless fucks are from China and they work for a megalomaniac sorcerer.”

“Let me explain the Tobias M. Dagobert Ninja Discrimination Test.” Toe grabs one of the charging mooks and thrusts him toward Phillip. “Did this man attack me with a single-edged sword?”

“…Yes.”

“Is he wearing black?”

“Yes!”

“Most importantly, does the Inverse Ninja Law apply?”

“The what?”

“This test has too many questions,” complains Daniel, and uses a ninja to knock down six other ninjas.

Tyler

“Wasabi,” says Daniel.

“On a peppermint,” says Alex.

“With ketchup,” says Daniel.

“And a thing from the freezer,” says Alex, “that I don’t know what it is.”

Toe squints at it. “I’ve eaten worse.”

“Wait wait,” says Daniel, “the piece de gras–” and lets fall one drop from the old man’s vial.

Toe nods, satisfied. “Forty bucks.”

Daniel and Alex whoop. Tyler leans over, hesitant as a man prodding a burning cat. “Look, whatever that stuff is, it’s not kung fu,” he mutters. “It could be dangerous. Don’t you think we–”

“Shh,” says Alex, and throws another five on the pile.

Tyler

“Secret dealer room,” calls the old guy over his shoulder, grinning. “Special chance, just for you! Very close now!”

“Remind me why we’re following him?” mutters Alex.

“All the good stuff, you have to buy gray-market,” Tyler says. “Underground. Trust me, I’ve got a good feeling about this guy.”

“And if he’s just some psycho?”

Tyler grins. “Four on one? We could take him.”

“You don’t know,” says Toe, “he could be a karate master, maybe that mop is like his bo staff–”

“Just because he’s Asian doesn’t mean he knows karate,” snaps Daniel. Toe turns from gray to pink.

Toe

“Relax, T,” grins Alex as they squeeze shoulders crowdwise. “We’re among your people.”

“Toe wasn’t short enough?” asks Daniel. “It’s T now?”

“I reject all nicknames that do not reduce aggregate syllable count,” says Tyler.

“These are not my people,” says Toe, a little gray.

“Remind me when we got our WonderCon badges, Daniel?” Alex grins wider.

“Why, just after last year’s WonderCon, Alex.”

“Attending a con with nerds doesn’t nerdify me,” grunts Toe. “I enjoy Star Wars. Star Wars is mass American pop culture.”

“Granted,” says Alex, “but the lightsaber on your belt, T, that puts you over the line.”

Daniel

They crash through the door at the top of the stairs into the stock room of a department store, wherein the background music is, for some reason, Rage. Daniel grabs a PA phone from a startled clerk and shouts “run away” before Hugo’s axe bites through its cord. Tyler kicks Hugo’s knee and his next swing goes wild, and the four of them are scrambling away from the giant and his gang, straight up the escalator bannister. “Weapons,” pants Alex, “need weapons–”

When Hugo and the mooks arrive a few seconds later they’re poised in stance, calm and ready, umbrellas high.

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