The Argus Special Enforcement Team was probably closer to a black ops division with superpowers than your run-of-the-mill hero team. They were kept out of most news sources, and their identities were hidden more than was normal procedure.
I wasn’t sure who was who in the fray, but an explosion made me jump in surprise. I looked through the twelve or so individuals trying to spot what exploded. Another blast released a puff of thick, black smoke that momentarily obscured what looked like a person in mechanical armor.
When the smoke cleared, the man charged towards… a small blonde girl? Suddenly, the robot man leapt out of the way of another explosion. He didn’t get a moment’s rest before having to jump again, always getting closer to the girl. It looked like the she was throwing something that was causing the detonations. Whatever they were, they were smaller than grenades. The robotic man was about to reach the girl, but she suddenly crouched down to the floor. An explosion erupted around the girl. The robotic man was thrown back and landed hard, but he was back on his feet in the time it took me to blink. Just in time too; more of the small objects came flying out of the smoke that hid the girl, putting the robot man on the defensive yet again.
Near them, a massive tower of thorns was exchanging blows with someone in body armor and shoulder-length red hair. I couldn’t decide if the eight-foot-tall mountain of spines and blades looked incredibly cool or mildly horrifying. The shorter person it was fighting didn’t seem to care. It was clear that both had enhanced strength, but the red-haired one must have had slightly more durability than the brute. Every time they threw a punch, part of the scale-like material that made up the giant was knocked off. That didn’t seem to bother the behemoth much. Any damage they took regrew in a few seconds.
It reminded me a bit of Cerf Tueur’s power. That was an uncomfortable thought; brought back painful memories. I rubbed my right hand absent mindedly as I tried to take in more of the fight.
One thing that was odd was a pair scuffling off to the side. For one thing, neither was wearing what I would think of as combat gear. The older one was wearing slacks and a dress shirt with suspenders; the younger one a similar outfit with the addition of a vest. They almost appeared to be boxing, but every few seconds the younger one looked confused before realizing he was in a fight again.
Then I saw something swoop down towards the ground. I realized it was a guy with wings wider than he was tall. His target was a woman on the ground armed with a sword. When the guy was close to the ground, he flared his wings like a drag chute before bending them almost like arms. He aimed them at the woman who raised her sword. The blade didn’t cut through the wings like I expected. Instead, it was like the wings were made of metal themselves. The guy with the wings seemed to use them both as offense and defense. He rotated so he could bring one of his wings down in a slicing blow while keeping his back protected with the other.
His opponent wasn’t hampered by the seemingly excellent defense. She was almost as mobile as he was, her sword a blur of motion. Repeatedly, she managed to tag the guy with the wings by slipping past or around his attacks and parries. It looked like she was saying something to him as they fought, but I couldn’t make anything out.
The last duo seemed the least evenly matched. One wore advanced looking armor and seemed to be moving his hands and fingers like he was marionetting something with hidden strings. His opponent wore a mask with a design on the face I couldn’t make out. He didn’t appear to have any powers from what I could tell. Then I saw what the first man was controlling: small spheres. As he moved his fingers, they flew through the air and slammed into joints and other weak areas on the masked man.
James watched everything with an amazed look on his face. It seemed like he was trying to take everything in and preserve it to memory. Mr. Hollands looked at the scene like a solved crossword puzzle. The stoic Brit reached over and pressed a button on a small panel built into the wall. A buzzer sounded and go the attention of the metas.
“Everyone, I would like to introduce the newest member of the Argonauts,” Mr. Hollands began as the group walked over and took a break from their sparring. “This is Nathaniel Peterson, aka Prophet.”
“Hey, everyone,” I said. Should I wave? I thought to myself. No, that’s stupid.
“And this is James Owens, your team’s Liaison.”
“Nice to meet you everyone,” James said, grinning.
“Nate needs to become accustomed to working along side the rest of you. Erin, why don’t you start the actual training now that your team is all present and accounted for?
The red-haired girl in the armor that had been fighting the large brute covered in thorns sighed, still breathing heavy. “Come on, Grey. We’re all exhausted, and you haven’t even let the new guy put his stuff away. Let us take a breather, then we’ll do your exercise.”
“Fine. Take a break and get to know each other. Shogun, your team needs to be in briefing in ten minutes. I’ll take James and get him acquainted with his new working space. And don’t call me ‘Grey’,” Hollands ordered as he, the woman with the sword, the robot man, the thorn covered giant, the well-dressed guy, and the one with the spheres left with James. That left me alone with my new team.
“So, I think introductions are in order,” The blonde girl said, stepping forward. “I’m Whitney,” she said, extending her hand.
“Nice to meet-” I started to say before jerking my hand out of her grip. The second I touched her hand it felt like firecrackers were going off. Small wisps of black smoke drifted up from both of our hands as I tried to recover from the sudden pain. “Jesus! What the hell was that?” I asked. Parts of my hand had small red marks where the explosion went off, but there wasn’t any real damage; it shocked me more than it hurt.
Whitney was cracking up, “I’m sorry, Nate, I couldn’t help it.”
“Was that your power?” I asked, my hand still stinging slightly. It was like a loud and annoying joy buzzer had gone off.
“Yeah, I make things explode with contact,” she said. To prove her point, she flexed her right hand and let off a series of small sparks.
“Cool,” I said, not putting much effort into the word. “What about the rest of you?” I asked, looking around at the others.
“I’m Erin,” The red-haired girl said with a small wave. I noticed for the first time just how tall she was. On top of being well over six feet tall easily, she was the buffest one in the room. “You’re our team leader?” I asked, judging from how Hollands had addressed her.
“Yep,” She said with a smile that hinted at a little pride. “I go by Norn; Whitney who you’ve already had the pleasure of meeting is called Cinder. Corey, the one with the wings, goes by Serath. Adam, the one in the mask, is called Riot. And Ian is the one who looks like he robbed a men’s warehouse.”
“I go by Clyffe,” Ian said speaking up, seemingly hurt that his alias wasn’t revealed.
“What about you, what do you do?” Corey asked, pulling his wings against his back. It almost looked like they disappeared, quite a feat for something so large.
“Precog, right?” Clyffe asked, seemingly fascinated.
“Yeah, sort of-”
“Oooh! You can see the future?” Whitney asked excitedly.
“Well, it kind of comes and goes,” I admitted, lifting up my hand. “But I can do this too…” The cold sting of the energy welled up in my palm before spreading up my arm to cover the rest of me before letting it fade away.
“Neat,” The guy in the mask, Adam I think, said. He sounded exhausted and not really interested. “Nice to meet you, I’m going to take a nap. Wake me up when you start the exercise,” he mumbled to Erin as he walked past me. I finally noticed what the symbol on the mask was a hand with a raised middle finger.
“Don’t mind him,” Erin said once Adam was out of earshot. “It’s a side effect of his power; he needs to sleep a lot.”
“What is his power?” I asked, trying to figure out everything I could about my team.
“He can cause release pheromones that induce rage and aggressiveness in people around him. Hence the name.”
“And that makes him have to sleep?” I asked. Erin shrugged. “There’s other things to it, I guess.”
Erin had a slight accent. Scandinavian maybe? It was definitely northern European, whatever it was.
“Well, why don’t we show Nate around?” Corey suggested, starting for the door. “Just standing around is getting awkward.”
“Yeah, lets go!” Whitney said, grabbing my arm and steering me after Corey. Erin and Ian followed behind as we all headed back towards the elevator. “How long have you guys been here?” I asked as the doors to the elevator slid shut.
“I got here about a week ago,” Erin said, “These three got here a day or two ago.”
“It’s been so boring. All we’ve done is train and sat in on briefings,” Whitney interjected.
“Don’t forget being coached by the ‘PR’ people,” Corey muttered. “They tried to talk me into doing a brand deal with a soda company.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I asked.
Corey shrugged, “I mean, it might have been cool, but I didn’t set out to be a poster boy. Not to mention it they were basically doing it because of the wings: the company’s logo or catchphrase was something about wings and flying.”
“At least they offered you a deal,” Ian said as the elevator slowed to a stop.
“Cory has a point, we shouldn’t be here to get rich or famous,” Erin said as she stepped out to lead us down a walkway above the main lobby. “Speaking of- Nate!” She spun around and started walking backwards so she could face me. “Why are you here?”
Because a group of villains are threatening the lives of my family if I don’t.
“What made you want to be a hero?” She clarified.
“Well,” I began, trying to think of what to say. “My visions show me things. Bad things, usually. I tried to tell people, but they didn’t believe me. Or if they did, they didn’t do anything to stop it. I tried to step in, and I got caught. James and helped me get sanctioned, and I wanted to join with a team that could make a difference.”
“So, you were a vigilante, and became sanctioned so you wouldn’t go to prison?” Ian asked as we turned down a hallway.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” I said defensively. “I had to do something, and I didn’t exactly have time to get sanctioned beforehand.”
“Same with me,” Whitney said. “My powers tend to draw a lot of attention. Long story short, I blew some stuff up, and Argus wasn’t too happy. But now, I get to be a hero!”
I couldn’t help but grin. Whitney’s attitude was a nice change from the likes of Hollands and Cypher.
“Here are our dorms,” Erin announced as she pushed open a set of doors to a small common room area. “You can have your pick of any of the three on the left.”
She was referring to the series of doors that lined the room. Five already had names on a small screen next to them while the three on the left were still blank.
Corey hopped over the back of a couch and sprawled out, not that he took up much room. He had a small frame, probably part of his powers to make him more suited for flight. Ian sat down in an armchair and picked up a laptop that he probably left there before the training exercise. Erin sat down on an empty couch and flipped on the television. Whitney pushed Corey’s legs to the side and joined him on the couch while I walked over to the first available room.
I tried the handle, but the door was locked. “Uh, hey, is there something I have to do to get the door to open?”
“You have to swipe your ID card the first time,” Ian said without taking his eyes off the computer on his lap.
I pulled out my wallet and grabbed the orange card with all my information on it. After I swiped my ID, the screen blinked green and displayed my name along the top. This time, the handle turned.
The room looked similar to the one the Regents let me stay in: a twin sized bed, a nightstand, desk, and a dresser. Another door at the rear of the room led to small bathroom with all the standard stuff. I pushed the door shut and tossed my duffle bag in front of the dresser.
Well, I was here. No going back. From now on, I was going to have to be a hero unless I could find a way to deal with the Gold Diggers. Maybe the Argonauts could help, but I couldn’t tell them, not without putting my family in danger. What would they make me do? What if they asked me to kill people?
Better start unpacking, I thought to myself, but before I could start, my phone buzzed in my pocket. Checking the caller ID, it said “Janet”. I didn’t know if I could talk to them yet, I still felt terrible for leaving like I did. Still, I owed her this.
My blood ran cold. It wasn’t Janet’s voice.
“Oh, come on, Nate,” The Anarchist groaned. “You don’t have to pretend not to like me just because you’re pretending to be a hero.”
“How are you calling from Janet’s phone?” I hissed back, trying to stay quiet. I wanted to yell-
“-Yeah, you better stay quiet,” Anarchist whispered. “Don’t want that new team finding out about your little secret. Hellequin and I are very proud that you found a way into the juicy innards. O the types of mischief you could get up to in there.”
“I didn’t do this for you,” I said, trying to stay calm. “How did you call from Janet’s phone?” I asked again, fearing the worse.
“Don’t be so morbid, Soot. We just swiped the phone from her. Really, you’re such a downer.”
Why wouldn’t I be? you’re forcing me to be a hero, I thought.
“Well, I guess that’s true,” The Anarchist said.
“Get out of my head!” I said, louder than I meant to.
“Shhh. Don’t want your team catching on, do we? If they do, we might have to end up killing them too. Then, you’ll end up all lone with all your family dead again.”
“Shut up!” I said, getting ready to end the call.
“Oop, don’t do that, I’m not done!” The Anarchist giggled. Obediently, I put the phone back to my ear.
“Good boy,” She praised. “Now, in a few minutes, your Argus friend is going to come back with Mr. Personality, wait, no, what was his name?”
Hollands? I thought to myself.
“Oh right, with Hollands, and is going to send you and your new friends to check out something that we’re sort of wrapped up in and let’s just say that a person we’ve done business with doesn’t want his plan getting found out just yet. You are going to throw your team off the trail, understand? Consider this your first little test. Get an ‘A’ on it, and your parents stay in danger a little longer. Get an F, and well… You don’t have to worry about us killing them anymore.”
I could hear the mirth and malice dripping from her voice. She was enjoying this, enjoying torturing me.
“Oh, you better believe it, Soot. You have so many issues for me to play with. Now, are you going to behave yourself?”
“I don’t have a choice,” I said, blue energy erupting from my clenched fist.
“Good. And who knows? You might even join the Gold Diggers one day!”
Before I could protest, the line went dead. I felt stuck. I couldn’t disobey, I couldn’t complain, I couldn’t ask for help… I couldn’t even scream or vent without tipping my team off. The phone buzzed again: a text. It was from Janet, well, The Anarchist using Janet’s phone. There weren’t any words, just a smiley face emoticon.
My hand was still glowing. First thing I had to do was calm down. I could do this. I had to. Taking a breath, I focused on my power, and tried to dispel it. Slowly, the glow faded as the icy energy retreated into my palm before vanishing all together. Now I just had to pretend nothing was wrong.
Hurriedly, I threw my clothes from my duffle bag into the dresser and walked back out into the common room just as James and Mr. Hollands were coming in.