Dept 17


I stood by the blackboard. “Okay,” I said, “I’ve been thinking.”

“Did it hurt?” asked Firelighter and Tan laughed and rocked forward with his hand balled into a fist in front of his mouth. Sub looked at Tan and then at Firelighter with a confused smile which vanished when he did that eye thing he does, when he’s trying to refocus. It’s like he gulps with his eyes.

“I fucked up, mea cupable,” I said using Latin. I’d known I’d fucked up after a day or so. It sounds great having super heroes who are actually a bit lame. It’s a good idea. They can’t actually do anything and that’s a funny idea. Sitting around in an office. The problem is trying to put them into situations which aren’t just long-winded trips to the garage. Or roasting chestnuts. Because they can’t do anything. It had to change and it had to change now. Tan was the worst. Tanned Surfer. He could glide across water. Like a pond or something. There’s literally no situation where that would be helpful. “Tan, keep your name but you’re a hacker.”

“A hacker?”

“Surfer, it still works. Computer whizzkid. You can hack anything. I mean anything. Traffic lights, CCTV, anything.

“I’ll need an armoured laptop and gadgets.”

“You got ’em, they’re there on the table in front of you. And I’m glad you’ve lost your slight accent. That was verging on casual racism.”

“I thought that,” said Firelighter, nodding.

“In fact, Tan, you’re not Portuguese. You’re Asian. Tan, it still works.”

“Japanese? Chinese? Vietnamese?”

“It doesn’t fucking matter. Nice hoodie, by the way.”


“Keep your hood up all of the time.”

“I will,” said Tan, looking at his gadgets.

“Now, Sub, I like you,” I said. He beamed. “You’re like Homelander crossed with Dougal from Father Ted.”


“That wasn’t a complement. What would… what do you think you’re lacking?”

He thought for a long time. Too long. Firelighter helped him out. “You could have a girlfriend?”

“Oh, yeah, I could have a girlfriend!” he said, his lower half shifting around in his chair, his upper half still with his elbows planted on the desk. “I’d like that.”

“You’re not having a girlfriend. Firelighter, you could have a girlfriend, though. I was thinking about you and a girlfriend.”


“Nah! Not like that, you’re only 23. It’s… Lesbians are in right now. Especially lesbian super heroes.”

“Transgender,” said Tan from beneath his hood.


“She could be transgender.” He started typing away at his laptop which didn’t look like it was running Windows 10. The screen was black and all his typing was green. “Positive transgender engagement is up 755% just in 2020.”

I thought about it. “I don’t know. I don’t know much about… it’s not a good idea.”

“Erm, excuse me, I don’t want to be transgender!” said Firelighter.

“Calm down, JK Rowling,” I said. “It’s normal!”

“I know it is! I just… you don’t shoehorn it in.”

“Okay, okay, how about you may or may not be transgender. It’s never mentioned. How about that? You’re a woman now, and that’s all that matters?”

“I am a woman!”

“That’s the spirit. Yeah, a woman who can catch fire. You may once have been a man but that’s neither here nor there.”

“I wasn’t.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re enigmatic. A bit dangerous. And you’re still sardonic.”

“I couldn’t just be a woman.”

“You are!”

“A normal woman. I have to be… what? Be angry and have issues? Do I wear tight clothes?”

“Do you want to wear tight clothes?”

“What’s it got to do with you what I wear?”

“Nothing! Why are you starting an argument? Jeez, I don’t care what you wear. Wear what you want!” I said. “Make sure it’s Fireproof.” Sub was looking at her and to me with a smile even less convincing than the one he had earlier.

“I’m argumentative, nice, it’s really original,” said Firelighter, she started to clap.

“You just do you, Laura, it’s Sub we need to improve.” Sub gulped with his eyes. His head goes back as he blinks. It’s weird. “What do you want, Sub? Not a girlfriend.”

We watched him think for a painfully long time. “I guess… I wish I had more…”

“More what?” I asked. Firelighter placed a motherly hand on is back. Ha! Not really, just said that to wind her up. “Sub, more what?”

“Confidence?” he said, meekly.

“Fucking hell, did it just get Wizard of Oz in here?”

“Sorry,” he said with his head down.

“No, it’s okay. I’ve got a surprise for you!” I said and watched him twist around panicked in his chair. “A good surprise.” He calmed and turned towards me. “Tan,” I said and Tan handed Sub and belt with loads of things attached.

“Guns and shit,” I said.

“I don’t want a… I couldn’t…” he said, warily taking the belt. He put it on and removed the futuristic gun.

“Careful!” I said as I studied him as he pointed it around the room, a grin spreading across his face. Was it a grin or was it a sneer? Not sure. He holstered it and sat back down. “Tan made all of that stuff with his 3D printer.” I clapped this time. Tan held a hand up. “So, we’re all happy?”

“It’d be good if we actually had something to do for once,” said Sub, confidently punching one of his fists into his opposite palm. I stared at him. “Yeah,” I said. Not sure I liked confident Sub. “Yeah, well, you leave that with me. Shit’s going to get crazy around here, and that’s a promise. But that’s it for today. So, yeah, it’s going to be good.” I nodded.

Firelighter stood up. “Well, I’m going home on my powerful motorbike now, that’s why I’m wearing this leather suit.” She tossed back her head and shook it. Then she put her helmet on. Tan stood up with his laptop under his arm. Sub stood and gave me a thumbs up.

“See you tomorrow, guys,” I said and poured myself a whisky.