Action Safety. What a stupid name. It sounded more like we helped five-year-olds cross the street or were the new “fire safety preparedness” mascots than the new superheroes. But that was what we were, Crystal, Scythe, Peregrine, and I, and even if our name was lame we would defend the world at all costs!
Okay, that was even lamer, if possible. And it sounded scripted.
I was hiding in the top corner of our meeting room so that I could drop in from nowhere and freak the others out. It was part of my act, my mysterious-dude-in-black act, as I called it, and if I didn’t do it the others would probably jump to the conclusion that I wasn’t myself. But I was getting cramps in my legs and my hands were starting to hurt from holding myself in the corner. I hoped someone came in soon.
Most of the others were unnerved by me because I worked hard at being mysterious and scary. I never spoke much in meetings, just nodding when I could get away with it, and when we were off-duty, they never saw me around. That was because I was spending more and more time as a bird to just escape from it all. You see, unlike Peregrine and Crystal, I didn’t want to be here. And unlike Scythe, I couldn’t just ignore the facts. There was something else going on beneath the surface of the compound, and I intended to find out what, if I could ever figure out how to find it.
I was not in this group voluntarily, like the others, although the people who ran it claimed I was. They had found me a year to the day before the One Day War and offered me the chance to learn to control my abilities in order to be part of the next generation of superheroes. When I declined, my father, who had worked for the government pretty much his whole life, lost his job. After that, it was just little things. Friends had to stop seeing me for unknown reasons, my grades were all bad, I wasn’t allowed to try out for track… it was experiencing segregation firsthand, and it was awful. Except that I knew it wasn’t because of the color of my skin but the secret I held inside me, and that just made it worse. My parents tried to comfort me, but I knew this was my fault, and that what I wasn’t telling them was the worst thing I could tell them. You see, my father hated post-humans. He thought they were trash, worst than the lowest, dirtiest murderer. So I gave up, in the end, and joined the team. I’m not sure if my parents knew the truth about me before they were blown apart, and wasn’t sure if it would make it better or worse for me.
I gave up hanging in the corner, dropping silently to the floor as was my trademark. Flexing my aching fingers, I whispered “Nevermore,” and seemed to fall right down to bird size. I had no clue why “nevermore” set off my change, but it seemed to help and I wasn’t going to argue with myself over something that worked.
I climbed up a wooden plank I’d leaned against the windowsill for just that purpose and sunned myself on the window’s edge. Contrary to the others’ beliefs, I loved the sunlight as much as the next person (or bird). It was just to my advantage to stay in the shadows, as turning into a bird was not the best power in the world and I still needed to work on the ice manipulation/creation power I had only discovered recently.
Outside, Crystal (or Kristin, as she called herself outside our missions) was waving goodbye to whichever friend had driven her here. Her padded, fur-rimmed-hood, golden-zipper white jacket looked out of place against the formal, business-like grey buildings and the guards placed across the lawn. But any of us would. These were not the kind of buildings you would expect kids to feel at home in. But were we truly children anymore? If we wanted to, we could blow up a whole city block and get away with it. And on our last mission, we very nearly had.
I didn’t know why we needed those three posts so badly. One had run away from another government-sponsored project, but that was only a minor danger to our security as she had been on her own for several years now without exposing the ISA or revealing any secrets. The other two…well, running wasn’t even that unusual of a power, and the girl had yet to exhibit any unusual skills, except for a possibility of premonition, which was unlikely, at best. I mean, midday wasn’t an unusual time to go for a stroll, and it made sense for them to keep moving anyways. Besides, (as I had pointed out last meeting) she hadn’t made the third member of their group (the laboratory escapee) to come with her when she left. Why would she leave her friend behind her if she knew we were coming to blow up their hideout?
I cocked my head at the sound of footsteps in the hallway. They were slightly awkward, as if their owner’s shoes pinched badly. That would be Peregrine. His feet were changing and becoming more birdlike. He hadn’t told anyone yet, but I’d seen him rub at his twisting, mutated toes in the changing room before he’d gotten his shoes back on. He hadn’t noticed me. People only notice me when I want them to. Which isn’t often. It’s much better to know about something without people knowing how you know than to not know at all. I knew a great deal more about the others than they’d ever learn about me because of this.
Peregrine opened the door and edged in sideways, half-bending-over, obviously trying not to fold his wings. They were probably sore from whatever exercises he’d been doing for the past three hours. Sometimes, I thought he was just going to fly away and leave us behind, but he always came back from his “exercises.”
Why did they need two bird-boys? I don’t know. I guess it was more of a, “oh, look, let’s recruit them, too!” than a “Hmm, we need a flying person and a telepath…”
“Oh, hi, Nevermore,” said Peregrine. “We might be getting a new member.”
I hopped off the windowsill, turning back into a human as I did. “Why?”
He shrugged. “It’s the government, so who knows? It sounds like we’re getting a reserve team, too. They like our effectiveness, so they’ve started to expand, I guess.”
“All we’ve done is blow up a derelict building, attack a nice estate, and fail to capture five of the six we were supposed to, although that’s probably six out of the seven now, with the escapee,” I pointed out.
“Well, yeah, but just our presence made the crime rate go down,” he said.
“Only because they have to develop the weapons to take us out with before they can rob a bank again. You remember the X-wave Crisis from way back in our grandparent’s time, right? And the reason we’re the only post-humans left?”
He shrugged as Scythe entered the room. Without her weapon, she wasn’t half as impressive-looking, but according to the tests they’d conducted on her so far, she could easily lift a car. She didn’t look anything like a bodybuilder, but wasn’t overly skinny, either. If I’d have seen her at school, I’d have said that she was a bully-magnet-type, quiet, moderately overweight gothic person. Her dyed-black hair swung in front of one side of her face, hiding one of her eyes. Many rings hung from her ears, lips, and even eyebrows. Her outfit was pointlessly complex, in neon green and black today. I think she wants to start her own boutique one day, but that’s one of the details even I can only speculate on.
“Nice outfit, Scythe,” said Peregrine.
“I made it myself,” she replied, somehow managing to say it without very much pride, although I was willing to bet that she’d been waiting all day for someone to notice it. She never liked to appear to care more than she absolutely had to, but sometimes she came out of her shell when nobody was looking and cried in the garden. I’d only caught her once, which meant she was really good at hiding.
Crystal sauntered in, fluttering her eyelashes at Peregrine and glaring at me. As usual, neither of us noticed. She took the seat right next to Peregrine and leaned towards him, trying to get a glimpse at the notes he pulled from his back pocket and giving him a good view down her shirt. He leaned back in his chair, away from her, and swiveled it so she was staring at the back of the chair. He rotated it gently from side to side with his foot as he read over the notes quickly, refolded them, and stuck them back in his pocket.
“Well,” he finally said, “You should be aware of how spectacularly we failed at our last mission by now. So they’ve decided that we’re going to stop chasing…Mark X1 for a while, and do the typical hero-type things- you know, stop robberies, catch runaway trains, put out fires, et cetera. The average person has no clue who we are, except for the propaganda they read in the newspapers, and management wants us to change that.”
“Who’s going to chase them, though?” asked Crystal, smiling at him. “They’re important, aren’t they?”
“The—management will keep tabs on them and we’ll be called back after them when they’ve dropped their guard or if they violate national security or something. They’re not level one, you know, they were just the only other active post-humans.”
“What about their leaders? The infamous My/ine and his wife?” Scythe asked.
“No one knows where they are,” Peregrine told her. “Nobody knows why they were leading those kids, or how they managed to convince them to work for them. We’re not even a hundred percent sure who the mark is composed of.”
“So, is that all?” asked Crystal. “See, my boyfriend’s taking me to the movies, and I don’t want to be late again.”
“Well, our budget’s getting low, but we won’t be getting any more uniforms after the ones we ordered last meeting, so it’ll soon balance itself out.”
“What about the jet?” asked Crystal. “I thought we were getting a jet.”
“Not with our kind of budget, the way it’s looking currently. We might get one at the end of the year, though, if we end up with some excess money.”
Someone knocked at the door, and Crystal and I jumped. “Come in!” called Peregrine.
A smallish girl, probably not over 5’5’’, walked in. Her hair, dyed the deep, purplish-red that was so popular these days, was tousled, as if she had just walked in from a windstorm, as were her clothes, although she looked like the kind of girl who had pin-straight hair and immaculate clothes every day. She pushed her glasses up her nose a little and glanced nervously at the room, her eyes darting around so that she was never quite staring at anyone.
“Oh, right. I forgot to mention: This is Tornado Girl, our new member. Please welcome her with, uh…just welcome her, okay?”
Crystal gave her a calculated glare of hatred, Scythe ignored her completely, and I sank deeper into the shadows that I’d placed my chair in. She glanced around the table, saw the empty seat by me, and moved awkwardly toward it. As Peregrine took his notes back out of his back pocket, she whispered to me, “Can I sit here?” I nodded, and she sat down on the very edge of the chair. “Thanks,” she said, and began straightening her clothes and hair.
“What can you do?” Crystal asked quietly, a little too politely.
“Oh, I, um, create winds,” she mumbled.
Crystal smiled nastily to herself for a second or two, then gestured at the girl. “Well, then, let’s see.”
Tornado Girl narrowed her eyes at an unsuspecting Peregrine…and nothing happened. Crystal was just starting to smirk when his chair flew backwards so quickly that it was pulled right out from under him. Crystal laughed, and Scythe smiled as he pulled himself back up.
“Oh! I’m sorry,” said Tornado Girl. “I’ll get your chair for you—”
The chair zipped forward again like a thing possessed and hit the backs of his knees, forcing him to sit down a lot more quickly than he had planned.
“Work on that control a little, T,” he said, wincing, but smiled at her to let her know he was joking.
“I will! It won’t happen again,” she promised, blushing a little while Crystal chuckled into her sleeve.
I fell asleep as the meeting dragged on, what with Peregrine dragging on and on about expenses and new mission parameters and the possibility of fundraising. When I woke up, the others, including Tornado Girl, had left me in my chair in the shadows. I yawned, stretched, and walked to the door. I was just about to leave when the knob turned. Acting on some kind of instinct, I leaped under the table, turning bird as two men, one with extra-shiny shoes, walked past. Given that I was a bird, and under a table, I couldn’t see much more, but I got the feeling that the one with the shinier shoes was higher up than the one with less shiny ones.
One pair of shoes, the less shiny ones, walked to the window and shut it tightly while the other locked the door. Great! Now I was stuck, and guessing from the way they were acting, I would get in real trouble if I was caught.
A tiny part of me said to just go talk to them, tell them the truth, and they’ll let you go. They haven’t even said anything yet, after all. But a much larger part of me said, no, they’re being secret for a reason and you want to know why. You know you’ll be disappointed with yourself forever if you don’t stay.
The bird perched on one of the table’s supports, out of the reach of the feet, and listened intently.