The Replacements, Part One: Finalists

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“Oh, man.” Amber sagged against the door as she closed it. Her suit was scratched and torn, and her hair was hanging limply around her. “This is getting brutal. Remind me why we let Jim leave?”

“Uh, because his dad died?” Beside her, Lucky grinned ruefully – he was in better shape than her, but not significantly. “But I agree. It seems less than fair that we lose two heroes, and Ecchs loses nothing.”

“He's lost a few million dollars in the last few weeks. Starting with that stupid blowcust thing.” Sighing, Amber headed towards the kitchen. “Wonder if there's anything to…” She broke off, sniffing suddenly. “Something smells pretty good.”

“Chicken and rice. Nothing fancy, but I did my best. It's simmering at the moment.” Leaning through the doorway, Nadia gave her friends a cheerful wave, and then hefted seven beefy brown folders. “And I think I've got your potential replacements narrowed down.”

“Re-ally.” Amber moved into the kitchen, quickly gathering food, and then joined Lucky and Nadia in the dining room – now mostly empty of files due to the long interviewing process. “Down from the twenty you had earlier, then?”

“Yep.” Nadia spread the folders out on the table. “Removing everyone with unrealistic salary expectations helped a lot – of course, calling them and making sure they weren't willing to go down to the… competititive rates that the mayor gives us took up most of the last two weeks. Also, anyone who's caused more than two disasters in the last year went. I learned my lesson from Overkill.”

“Poor guy.” Lucky picked up one of the folders at random, and whistled low. “Blindsight? I've heard of that guy. Surprised he was willing to work cheap – I thought he was working in Chicago.”

“Apparantly he's looking to relocate. Money isn't everything – if it was, they'd be villains.” Amber picked up a second folder, looking over its contents. “Stormfront, Stormfront… don't know her name.”

“Recent graduate. So's Bloodline.” Nadia pushed forwards the folder in question, waiting as the others looked it over. “They've got top marks, and since they're newcomers, they're willing to work at our salaries. They're from Tampa and San Francisco – not much chance of getting a job in their hometowns.”

“A bit of a trip for them, though. And we'd probably have to replace them in a year or two when they get more experience. Still, worth a try.” Amber picked up the next folder. A moment later, her jaw dropped. “No. Freaking Way.”

“What? Who is it?” Lucky craned his neck to look over her shoulder, standing on his toes. “Weltgeist? Seriously? She's big news, why would she want to deal with us?”

Nadia shrugged. “Apparantly she doesn't eat or sleep, and she doesn't care about the salary. She just thinks that the city's role in history isn't done.”

“Wow. That's big.” Lucky sat in the chair. “After that, these are all going to be letdowns.”

“Oh, I don't know.” Amber was smiling faintly. “This MacGuffin fellow could be a good choice. Nice set of powers. Little worried about his availability, but it could work out. And then there's this guy.” She pushed the sixth folder across to Lucky, who took it curiously.
“Powerblock?” He furrowed his brow. “I worked with him in Milwaukee. Hell, I've been keeping in touch. He didn't mention wanting to leave their team. Wonder what's up with that?”

“You'll have to ask him. Who's our last possibility?” Amber glanced over at Nadia, who grinned and opened the folder for the others to see.

Amber blinked. Then she leaned in to look at the folder more closely. “Wait, wait. Wait wait wait. Wait.”

Lucky looked at the folder, and then up to Nadia. “Is this a joke? I mean, he's not even a registered hero.”

She shrugged. “He is now. I checked. Standard accelerated entry.”

“But that's impossible! He hasn't even been around long enough! Even an accelerated program is two years long! He's barely been alive that long!”

“Two years for normal people. You can do it in eight months if you work a triple load.” Nadia shrugged again. “And he does know the city.”

“Yeah, he does that.” Lucky sat back in the chair, considering the folder. “But seriously. Ash. The tree zombie wants to be a superhero.”

“The tree zombie is a superhero. He wants to be our superhero.” Amber nodded slowly. “It makes sense, and it gives him a major edge. I'm leaning towards him and Weltgeist for a trial period, what do you think?”

“Might not be a bad plan. We can keep the others in mind in case something doesn't work out, but those two would certainly give us some extra oomph against Doctor Ecchs, not to mention whatever else comes our way.” Lucky grinned, and then nodded. “Should we do an interview, for the sake of it?”

“Not if I can avoid it.” Amber grinned back.

“Fair enough.” Nadia sat back victoriously. “I'll call them up and tell them we're interested. Congratulations, guys – you've got a full team again.”

“We couldn't have done it without you, Nadia.” Amber paused, and then amended, “Well, we probably could have. But it would have been unimaginably aggravating.”

Nadia laughed. “I'll take that.”


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