"Just think about it," I said.
"No chance in hell," Bonesaw replied.
"Come on. This is like, the most awesome idea in the whole history of awesome ideas."
"No. It's fucking stupid."
"Skull and Bones," I said. "How can you refuse to see the awesomeness of that?"
"I'm not changing my name," Bonesaw said.
We were in the back of the Tank; Sumerset was driving. Red was up front, with Anna, me, and Bonesaw in the back. It'd been rough convincing Red to come with us--even rougher convincing Bonesaw.
They'd spent several months as mortal enemies. Then, after one night, they suddenly weren't. To say things were awkward was a bit of an understatement.
I was doing what I could to cut the tension, but it was an uphill battle.
"Anna, back me up on this," I said. "Skull and Bones--great superhero duo nickname? Or greatest?"
"Uh," Anna said, giving a look toward Bonesaw--who proceeded to glare. "Actually, I think it's already been used."
"Yeah," Sumerset said up front. "One of the previous Skulls. Had a teenage sidekick named Bones back in the seventies."
"Wait--we get sidekicks?" I said. "Why didn't anyone tell me we get sidekicks? And who was this Bones person, anyway? Anyone I know?"
"No. It was actually--uh, himself, as a kid," Sumerset said.
All three of us stared at the back of Sumerset's head. I think even Red was peering at him critically from the side.
"He was his own kid sidekick?" I asked.
"Uh, yeah. Some sort of time-travel bullshit. Look, it was complicated--the seventies were really weird," Sumerset said.
"Anyway, it's taken, so forget it," Bonesaw said. "Fuck. I don't even know why I'm here."
"Because it is important," Red said.
"It's. It's," Bonesaw replied. "Use a fucking conjugation for fuck's sake."
"I have--" Red shifted, and cleared her throat. "I've been trying to adopt a more natural speech pattern."
"Relax, Bones," I said. "The ceremony won't take more than thirty minutes, anyway."
"You can heal really fast, right?" Bonesaw said. "I'm just asking, on account of how I'm gonna stab you in the face if you call me 'Bones' again."
"It's important that we do what we can to remember the ones that Voodoo Jones claimed," Red said. "The ones we could not save--"
"Fucking waste of time," Bonesaw said.
Red turned to face Bonesaw; her eyes briefly burned with lightning.
"What?" Bonesaw said. "Did I offend your delicate sensibilities, princess?"
"Bonesaw," he said, his voice low and quiet. "Apologize. Now."
I don't know if it was Sumerset's tone or the climate of the car, but rather than shooting back with something 'smart', Bonesaw folded her arms, slumped into her seat, and grunted. "...yeah, fine. Sorry."
Red's eyes were still burning, but she no longer looked like she was about to fling a lightning bolt into the back seat. Her jaw stiffened and she turned back to the front. "...apology accepted."
We drove in silence for a while after that. It occurred to me only then that this might not work. Anna was clearly terrified--Red was barely keeping her composure--and Bonesaw was an absolute dick.
Then Sumerset started talking. "You want to know why you're doing this, Bonesaw? Because you helped him. You fought his battles for him. You fought Red for him. You got a fucking obligation, here, so pay some respect. The only reason we haven't thrown your ass to the Feds is because we assume you didn't know. About the runaways. About the sacrifices. About the spell."
Bonesaw didn't say anything for a good long while; instead, she just stared down at her feet. She looked miserable--like she wanted to claw her way through the floor.
When she finally did say something, her voice was tinier than I expected. "I--I didn't know. I swear to God. I didn't, okay?"
"Okay," Sumerset said. "I believe you."
"I believe you too," I said.
"Me too," Red said.
"That don't mean you ain't got shit to answer for," Sumerset said. "But you don't have to answer for it alone."
We arrived in the Stix shortly thereafter. The ceremony was brief. I was surprised to see how many people attended--how many people were willing to come to the Stix to pay tribute. Of course, the fact that several high-ranking members of the Society were standing on the podium probably went a long way to making everyone here feel safe.
Sovereign was there, along with the American version of Blink--a pale dark-eyed woman in a sleek yellow suit and domino mask. There were a few others I didn't recognize--but Anna quickly pointed them out and told me who they were and what their powers were.
Red and I were out of costume, of course. As far as Metro City was concerned, the Stix had been saved by the Society--somehow, that didn't bother me. Bonesaw didn't have a costume, of course, and she got more than a few stares--but people were smart enough to keep their distance. If anyone remembered her association with Voodoo Jones, they weren't speaking up.
The speakers gave a few pretty speeches. Sovereign stood up and surprised me--talked about the Society's miserable response time and how they could have saved so many more. Then he apologized and flew off, mentioning a rockslide in California.
Shortly after that, they unveiled the monument. It'd sit in the middle of a small park in the space where Voodoo Jones' hideout had once been--a stone plinth that bared the names of his victims. It had taken several weeks of work for Wytch to drag the names out of the Gray--according to Red, she had to call in quite a number of favors, and she hadn't been able to get them all back. But Gina McKennith's name was on it--along with William Richardson. I knew that'd make Red feel a little better, at least.
One name in particular was missing, of course. Jones' hadn't left so much as a scrap of meat behind--and from what Red had told me, Wytch thought it was poetic justice to leave his name devoured by the Gray. In time, he would be forgotten--and no one would even remember that he existed.
When it was all done, Sumerset took us back home to eat. Bonesaw complained, but he just gave her a look and told her that we had things to talk about.
Once we were back into the car, I passed out the cell phones to Red and Bonesaw.
"Nothing really special about them," I said. "Sumerset modified them. We can track wherever they are, and they've got a few special numbers programmed into them. Secure communication lines."
"Special numbers?" Bonesaw asked.
"I was thinking, and talking to Sumerset and Red," I said. "Bonesaw, you're going back to the Stix, right?"
"Yeah," Bonesaw said. "I mean, I guess. It's gonna be rough for the next few months, now that he's gone. New players'll move in and try to take over. But if I'm around there... they might not be so quick to get violent."
"First off," Sumerset said, "if you need a place to stay--a place to eat--our door is always open."
Bonesaw didn't reply. She just looked down at the car floor and nodded.
"Second off, if you need help, that's what the cell phone is for," he said.
She lifted her head and looked between us. "What--huh?"
"Like you said," I replied, "it could be rough. You might need backup. Red and I--we can help you. As long as what you have in mind is saving people--saving lives--stopping crime--we'll give you a hand."
"Why?" Bonesaw said.
"The Stix is important to me, too," Red said. "I was not there for as long as you, but the people there--many of them are my friends. But I can't stay there, Bonesaw. At least this way... I can do something to help."
"As for me, I'm just in it because I like busting heads," I said, and then I grinned.
"This is like--you guys realize this is like a super-team," Anna interrupted. "That's what you're talking about, here. A three-girl super-team!"
"Oh fuck," Sumerset said, groaning. "I'm not Bosley."
"Who?" Red asked.
"So, does this go both ways?" Bonesaw asked. "If you need my help--"
"Only if you want it to," I said. "But--yeah. I mean, Sumerset told me that you did totally head-butt a demon. I could use that sort of crazy, sometimes."
"...I need to think about this idea," Bonesaw said, toying with the phone. "But--I think I like it."
Several days later, Anna descended down the elevator and into the bunker. Sumerset was working on soldering a circuit-board together, with several components laid out on the table in front of him.
"Okay," Anna said, grinding her fist into her eyes. "Exactly why did you page me and ask me to come down here alone?"
Sumerset continued working without looking up. "Been thinking."
"Ain't gonna be doing this handler thing forever," he said. "Eventually, I'm gonna have to retire."
Anna became very, very quiet, very, very fast.
"Now, I ain't talking about tomorrow, or next week, or even next year," Sumerset said. "But eventually? Someone else is gonna have to take over. So, I figured. You're her friend. You know gadgets. You even managed to do the job once in a pinch, when I wasn't around."
"Oh my god," Anna said. "Ohmygod. You are--are you seriously--ohmygod." She clapped her hands together and squealed. "Are you serious? Please tell me that you are serious."
Sumerset gave her a cold stare. "Okay," he said. "The creepiness factor, right now? It's about up to here." He held his hand horizontally at his neck. "I need you to bring it down to around here." He dropped his hand to his stomach.
"I swear to God that I will be the least creepy handler you have ever trained," Anna said, stifling another squeal.
"Yeah, okay, see, you're still pretty high on the creepy--okay, look, we'll work on that," Sumerset said as he set the circuit board aside and started to rub his temples. "Anyway, I thought it'd be a good opportunity for you to learn some stuff. How to build what I build, repair what I repair--that sort of thing. Maybe you could even help out with some of my projects. Learn some engineering. You like engineering, right?"
"I love engineering. If engineering was a guy, I would marry him, Mr. Sumerset."
"Jesus Christ, kid!"
"I'm sorry. Right. Don't be creepy," she said, quickly nodding. "I can do this. Um. But--why isn't Sue here?"
"I want to keep this under the table for a little while," he said. "I'm working on a project--thought it would be a good introduction for you. And I want it to be a surprise," he added with a grin. "C'mon, I'll show you."
He lead her deeper into the bunker, toward one of the workshops. There, beneath a wool blanket, was the bare bones of a freshly welded exoskeleton. It was small--very tight looking. And by the size and shape of it, it had been designed for someone of Sue's approximate height and width.
"Is that--what is this?" Anna asked.
"Battle Suit 2.0," Sumerset replied. "Thought we'd sink our talons into the gear in the Vault and build Sue a little birthday present. I call it the 'Skull-Buster'. You in?"
"In the least creepy way possible," Anna replied.