The six of us met up at a coffee shop downtown. Directly across from us sat a woman with pink and purple hair furiously dictating an email to her assistant. The mousey brunette tried and mostly succeeded in keeping up with the vitrolic screed to the printer of the pink/purple haired woman’s zine, berating the scumbag for fucking with her fonts. Once we all had our coffees I began a subtle and surprisingly difficult push that would make everyone in the shop more or less apathetic toward us, hopefully earning us a little privacy.
Zashir began. “First of all Exeter, I want you to know how much we appreciate you meeting with us. I know you’re in a delicate position here.”
“Delicate? Well, yes, that’s one way to put it,” Exeter said, and added, “I respect you all and despite what you might think of the director, she respects you as well. It’s unfortunate that things are the way they are, but if you knew — well, let’s just say that she truly believes that her actions are justified.”
Akma didn’t mince words. “Is she going to release the quartet as promised?”
Exeter took a breath, but remained otherwise composed. “No. Perhaps at a later date, but for the moment they’ll remain in SLA custody and under the organization’s protection. Their combat readiness will be assessed and if they can be of service, they will be utilized.”
“So she lied to our faces. What a fucking —”
“Akma,” Zashir cut in. “Enough.”
Then he addressed Exeter, his face conflicted. “This puts us in an awkward situation, Exeter. Especially considering the other information that’s come to light recently.”
Zashir slid over the file that I had received from Owen. Exeter opened the folder and flipped through a few pages then shut it decisively. “No one was supposed to have access to these.”
Zashir shrugged. “Shit happens. I’m guessing it’s authentic?”
“Yes.” Exeter turned to me. “But it’s just an assessment, a speculation about what you’re capable of. Nothing more. It doesn’t betray any intention on the SLA’s part to use you in any of the ways detailed here. We have a similiar file on every one of our agents.”
For some reason the word ‘agents’ chilled me in that context. Not heroes. Agents.
“Is this how she sees us all? As potential weapons to dispatch at will?” I asked, already knowing the answer in my gut.
I looked away from Exeter at my teammates gathered around the table. Devon sat with his arms crossed, taking everything in. Akma’s hands were both on the table and she ground her teeth, practically seething. Shugo sat between them frowning in his little boy guise. Thankfully he’d left his pig elsewhere. Zashir had a hand to his temple and he rubbed it insistently as if the pressure could shake something loose in his mind. An answer maybe for this ridiculous puzzle.
“Is the threat that Owen talked about real?” I asked, overriding my previous question.
Exeter nodded. “There are elements in this country and abroad with a very serious interest in suppressing anyone with abilities. There’s money and power to be had in fear-mongering so they tell people they need to be armed against these ‘superhumans’ and then make a tidy profit selling them weapons and services. Before long we have bands of mercenaries and vigilantes to contend with. Beyond that it seems that some of these groups are starting to band together, someone is directing them, pointing them at us.”
“Sanctuary?” asked Zashir.
Exeter shook his head. “We have intelligence that suggests Sanctuary’s strings are being pulled by someone else. That piece of intel alone cost us the lives of two of our own. Sacrifices have been made, yes, but the worst thing that can happen here is that we are left unprepared for whatever’s coming.”
Zashir put a hand on Exeter’s shoulder and nodded.
“Thank you, Exeter. I’m sure we’ll all have more questions, but for the moment I think my team and I need to talk. To work some of this out amongst ourselves.”
“I understand. I hope you’ll come to a favorable conclusion, and I do want you all to know that I’m sorry for any deception on the part of the SLA. But please know that it was for the continued safety and defense of all people with abilities.”
With that Exeter gave us all an apologetic smile and stood. He downed the rest of his coffee and left shortly afterward. Once we were alone, Devon spoke first.
“Personally I don’t see a conflict here. Who among us was under the impression that we were anything more than glorified shock troops? We’re just doing what we’re told,” he offered.
“And there’s no problem with the fact that we were lied to? The language and intent of that so-called ‘aassessment made me sound like a weapon…something subhuman,” I asked.
“We are weapons. More than that as well, of course, but when it comes down to it that’s what our abilities are: weapons and tools. We’re not at camp, Nick, we’re soldiers.”
“Heroes,” I corrected. “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be? Heroes, exemplars, not fucking puppets for some heartless mastermind to move around.”
Zashir tried to get a word in, but Akma cut him off. “I’m with Nick. I left Sanctuary because I was sick of getting half the story for double the loyalty. This whole business has stunk from the moment we started it. I can’t imagine that it’s going to get any better either. Is Europa going to have some unexpected change of heart and suddenly decide to bring us into her circle of confidence, or is she just going to keep yanking us around? Which one do you think is more fucking likely?”
“The second,” Shugo said without a trace of sarcasm.
Akma shot him a glare and then made a dismissive sound before slinking back into her chair. She tucked a long lock of hair behind her ear in an angry gesture.
“What do you want to do then?” Zashir asked.
He hadn’t mentioned my name, but all eyes fell on me regardless. For a moment there was nothing in the coffee shop but Zashir’s face, his dark eyes and features boring into me.
“If I can’t trust the SLA, then I want out,” I said.
Once the words had left my lips I could hardly believe that I’d said them. I could fell the weight of those words on the rest of the team. Zashir, for his part, just nodded in acknowledgment.
Then I added, “however, this team isn’t just about me and what I want. I’ll make my decision to leave or to stay based on what we decide as a group. I think that’s fair.”
Zashir was silent for a long time.
“Alright…” he said eventually, letting the word out like the hiss of a tire deflating. “A vote then. Can we all agree with that? We vote on whether to stay together as a team, or to disband and see what happens. This should go without saying but whether or not we are no longer a team doesn’t mean leaving the SLA. That’s a different process altogether.”
We all agreed eventually to the vote.
“And before we do this, I just want to say that no matter what comes of this I hope that you know that I consider you all to be friends. I don’t think that will ever change.”
And then, one by one we placed our votes for the future of the team.