We won’t be seeing Ellen again; she won’t be seeing her family. It was hard to let sink in. I was standing outside the room where we just had our final meeting before being assigned as Juniors and having to deal with PR. I wasn’t looking forwards to it. Sure, I might see Ricky – or Plural, as he calls himself – but my thoughts were firmly with Ellen. Maxine couldn’t have gotten anything higher than 3. That was the criteria. Seven. What the fuck did she do?
Micheal was the last to leave the conference room, his lawyer covering his eyes behind him. He walked up to me and the dim yet persistent glow faded away to nothingness.
“You ok Ryan?” he asked, taking a seat on the bench next to me.
“I guess so,” I lied.
We didn’t say a single thing for what felt like an eternity. I eventually got up and walked off to the toilets. Maxine and Derek were already called down to PR over the intercom, and Micheal really didn’t have anything to say. I still remembered Agent Williams hesitating when Maxine asked him about Ellen, his reaction when I asked him to tell us something.
His fear when he mentioned that she was classified Risk Level 7.
“Ryan Anderson, Report to Room 207.” the intercom buzzed. I got up to leave, not even saying goodbye to Micheal. He was too deep in thought like I was.
The hallways in the NHN HQ were surprisingly homely, albeit still fulled with office-like buzz. Armed guards filled every hallway along with clerks, researchers and other people hired for everything under the sun from secretarial duties to cleaning toilets, as the halls were filled with idle chatter from videogames to who is going out with whom. I was rather surprised at how easily they’d let us walk through the building.
Room 207 was evidently on the second floor, after a little guesswork and a quick moment to pause and ask for directions. I was about to knock when the man at the other end when the balding skinny man at the other end opened the door and I nearly tapped him on the head.
“Ah, come in!” he said with surprise. I entered the room. Costumes and newspaper snippets lined the walls, with three desks in the middle of the room. Two were absolutely a total mess and the last was unspeakably neat. There was a swivel chair at both ends of the neat desk, one of which I sat on.
“I’m Donald Darling. Call me Donald,” he said as he sat behind his desk. He wore a coat, stained with inks and paints. He didn’t look like a person who was hired to deal with people at all.
“Sure thing, Donald,” I said casually.
“Well, like I said to your buddies, you’ll be a doozy. It’s not every day four Incontinents are given probationary contracts with the Junior Group. Hell, it’s not every day the Hunting Party doesn’t cause a massacre with their formula!”
I clenched my teeth. The Hunting Party. Hate was to weak a word to convey my feelings.
“You’ll probably be under stress from the media, so I was thinking of breaking you up.”
“Buuut…” he interrupted me. “You are the only thing that can reverse Derek and Maxine’s powers on the fly. Or, as they are called now, Latency and Unperson.”
Wait, what? I shot a confused stare.
“Here,” he said, handing a bracelet from under his drawer. “put this bad boy on.”
I snapped it around my right wrist. If glowed and shrunk, squeezing tightly for a moment. I almost panicked and it stopped.
“That’s a Hudlet, according to Interface.” said Donald, pointing at the shiny silver bracelet. A small bunch of screens appeared all over it, similar to a touchscreen phone.
“Some Genius type guy in the East coast. He’s good with designing CLI’s, GUI’s and whatever else. Made this little ditty. It’s powered by body heat and gives us a reading to your teammates and the main server back here. All nifty in my opinion,” he explained.
It dawned on me that my ignorance of the world of capes is going to become a real problem for me. I looked at the screen shown and noticed a prompt.
Enter your callsign: _
I sighed deeply and harshly with disappointment. I’m not a kid. I don’t want to do this.
“Can I put my own name in this thing?” I asked Donald.
“Why’d you ask?”
“Because everyone will know my name anyway. I’m on youtube for fuck’s sake,” I responded. Donald smiled coyly at me in response.
“And? Many capes have been outed and still go by callsigns, it’ll happen eventually,” he said, waving his right hand like a magic wand. “It’s better to choose a callsign you like or get one labeled by the people. They are pretty awful. Hell, most of the ones people choose are still awful, but that’s my opinion.”
“I don’t want my armband calling me anything other than my name,” I replied, punching my name into the prompter on my Hudlet.
“So I’m going to assign you, Derek and Maxine to Oklahoma City,” said Donald once I finished.
I shot a look up from my Hudlet. It was a nifty little thing with all the features of a phone, and a few small status indicators measuring stuff like my blood pressure and heart rate. “Oklahoma? Why?”
“King of Texas. He’s started acting up after an attack by Conquest and we can’t fight him normally without his powers going off on our regular armies, so we need some capes around the border. Also, we need beefing up on our junior unit in the south after a few gangs popped up. There are a few other reasons but those are the main ones,” he explained casually.
I nodded at every point he made. He eventually waved me off after giving me a card for a tailor. I initially refused but he told me that it’s more for utility than cape culture. I took it before he finished the story about Hammerhead’s bikini and the shotgun. It sounded painful, and I saw the images.