We'd set up the meeting about four days ago. Epoch wanted to do it in a derelict warehouse.
I was half-tempted to demand that we meet in a Starbucks instead. How many superhero meetings happened in Starbucks, anyway?
Sumerset preferred the warehouse idea, though, and it wouldn't take me long to see why. The location they picked was fairly remote--along the shoreline of Metro's dock district, in a part of the neighborhood not many people ventured after hours. Sumerset had scoped it out a few days prior to the meeting, using one of the Vault's confiscated 'Dreadbots'.
We hit the parking lot a block or two away at around 8:30 pm; the sun was getting busy on the horizon and I wanted to make this short. It was a school night and I had a ton of polynomials back home just begging for me to solve them for X.
I wore the Dark Suit; there were a few other costumes left, but after the whole Battle Suit fiasco, Sumerset had been convinced of the utility of speed over strength. Especially when it came to running away. Of course, he hadn't let me leave the bunker without a few other tricks up my sleeve--one expensive one in particular. He called it the 'Noot Suit'; it was a wafer-thin layer of circuit-lined material that produced a sort of 'electromagnetic sheathe' around me.
When I slipped in through a broken window, I was surprised to see the team already there, waiting for me. They were sitting around a table they'd set up, playing what looked like a game of poker.
Well, three of them were. The fourth was in the rafters, tapping away at a laptop.
Sumerset had done more research on them in the meanwhile, and had managed to cobble together something close to a respectable portfolio on each.
The one on the left side of the table--dark-eyed, brown-skinned, with dreadlocks--was named 'Paladin'. He looked around 18 or 19; his costume consisted of a white domino mask and a matching bodysuit that covered every inch of him below the neck. The suit seemed to glow--a constant fixed light spread out from it. The dreadlocks, in particular, were interesting--they were the same color of the costume, and seemed to weave through the air like drifting algae.
From what Sumerset had gathered, he was the de facto leader. He could create any simple object he wanted out of that white light of his. Hammers, anvils, whips, armor, shields, chains--so long as it remained in contact with him, it was as solid as rock and capable of delivering stone-shattering force.
To his right was Brick--a tall, olive-skinned southern boy built like his namesake. His costume was the same white color as Paladin, except it didn't glow--and it clutched a bit more tightly along his figure. The guy was ripped--way more than you'd expect for a teenager. Apparently it had something to do with his power, which involved some form of immobility--when he didn't want to move, it was hard as hell to change his mind.
Between them both was Mulligan. Pale-skinned, a little younger than the others, and dressed in an untucked white-collared shirt with a loose, messy tie--he looked like a kid fresh out of high-school applying for his first job. His power was the most perplexing of all. The only thing everyone was sure of was that he never, ever screwed up. He never missed a shot--never got hit by a blow--never got surprised. He always seemed to know precisely what to do and where to be.
I could make out the outline of the figure in the rafters with his laptop--I figured it was Woot. Now he was an easy one to find information about; kid had his own blog, twitter, everything. He was probably the youngest of their crew; 14, maybe 15. Wasn't allowed to do the really dangerous stuff, apparently, but did a lot of support work for the team. He was dressed in a white trench coat with a ridiculously raised collar, and a pair of goggles--and what looked to be some sort of big retro steamengine strapped to his back. He built all sorts of machines, but they were mostly useless--until they were in his hands. I didn't quite understand it when Sumerset explained, but it had something to do with the ability to enforce his imagination on his immediate vicinity--machines and toys he built would function so long as he was the one operating them.
I got three steps into the room before Mulligan's voice cut through the darkness.
"She's here," he said without looking up from his cards. "Also, you're bluffing, Brick."
Paladin glared at Mulligan, but then turned his eyes toward me. He raised his hand; a brilliant white light seared out from his palm, catching me like a spotlight.
"Good evening," he said.
"Yeah," I replied, my own voice mangled by my helmet into something mechanical but still distinctly feminine. "Evening. Nice costume," I said, nodding toward Mulligan.
Honestly, I wasn't being sarcastic. Took some cajones to wear a shirt and tie to work in the cape business.
Paladin snuffed the light. "So. Right then," he said. "Let's get down to business."
I could tell right off that this guy was a real A-personality type. Probably the sort to do extra-credit even after he got a hundred on the math exam. Not that I was terribly different--but it gave me reason for concern.
As if he sensed tension, Sumerset spoke in my ear.
"Easy, starling. They're just kids. Like you."
"Yeah," I said, whispering low enough so that the helmet didn't pick it up and magnify it into the room. "We should all meet up after school and play Pokemon or something."
"You wanted to speak with us," Paladin said. "Something about a threat."
This was so weird. They were kids, just like me. And they were wearing costumes--I couldn't get over just how much it was like roleplaying. Like I'd just blundered into a den of LARPers. The thought nearly made me giggle; but really, who was I to talk? I was wearing a damn skull on my head, wasn't I?
"Yeah," I said, trying to get ahold of myself. "Scourge is back, I'm pretty sure."
Glances were exchanged. I heard Woot somewhere above me shifting to drop down to the floor. Everybody but Mulligan looked pretty surprised.
"Scourge?" Paladin said. "The original one?"
"Oh, wow," I heard Woot say somewhere behind me. "This is--this is just like the movies! He and you were, like, mortal enemies!"
Instantly, I was reminded of Anna. For some reason, the notion didn't endear him to me. "Right," I said. "So. I need help."
"Haven't you dealt with him before?" Brick asked.
"She isn't the original Skull, Brick," Mulligan said. "The Skull wasn't a girl."
Well, at least I knew he wasn't infallible. "I'm kind of new at this whole thing. And I figured I needed help."
"You need more than just our help," Paladin said. "We need to contact the government. Maybe get the Society into this--the Scourge is a serious player. Way out of our league."
"The government isn't really something I entirely trust right now," I said.
"But you trusted us," Mulligan said.
That made me hesitate. I decided to plunge.
"I received a message," I told them. "Someone told me to contact you. Someone from--" Okay, I thought to myself. Try not to sound like some crazy little high-school girl. Try to sound bad-ass. "--the future."
Well, I sure screwed that one up.
They all gave me blank stares. Not for the first time, I was thankful the mask hid my expression.
Mulligan was the first to speak:
"Was it a girl?"
My head tilted back. "What?"
"The person who delivered the message," he said, his voice growing more insistent. He had projected a sense of bored indifference ever since I stepped in--but suddenly, he was interested. His eyes were locked on me like an incoming spear. "Was it a girl?"
"Yeah," I said.
And then the dimly lit interior went entirely black.
"What the heck?" I heard Paladin say, but then Mulligan's voice cut through it all:
"Incoming. Craploads of them."
"Craploads of what?" Brick asked, standing up.
I heard Sumerset's voice crackle in my ear: "Starling, he's right. I don't know how the hell it happened--but the whole warehouse is surrounded."
"Cape-Busters?" I asked, simultaneously addressing Mulligan and Sumerset.
"No," Mulligan said. "Zombies."