Chapter 148

“Are there any more questions?”

The group fidgeted on the mismatched furniture, no one wanting to speak without having something important to say. They still lived in the seemingly abandoned building where they had been for nearly a year now, but it seemed that was soon to change. For some, like the dark-haired man with the sharp features, it was a welcome relief. Others, like the boy who couldn’t possibly be any older than twelve, were clearly dismayed by the sudden change.

The next to speak was a slim blonde woman with elfin features and her blonde hair trimmed in a pixie cut. “I still don’t think it’s smart for you to travel in the open. You can stay holed up here until we’re ready to act, then let me transport you.”

The dark-haired man in the red coat pressed his right ring and index finger to his temple. He rarely did anything with the left hand, the one concealed behind several layers of cloth and gloves, unless it was necessary.

“Then how would we get away? Part of why we’re going now is to lay the ground work for our escape. And before you offer to help with that too, let me remind you that at this stage we don’t want them to even know we have a teleporter, let alone that it’s you.”

“They wouldn’t have to know.”

“Shims, when this is over, we’re going to have a lot of people after us, and while you are effective as hell, you are also very distinctive.”

The delicate-featured woman leaned back in her chair, unhappy but unable to think of another solid objection. Luckily, a different female, one whose hair was styled into short dark spikes, suffered no such obstacle.

“I’d like to call bullshit on not bringing anyone besides yourself, Persephone, and Gerard. Why not let me into the lineup?”

“Because no one knows about you either,” the man said, his tone surprisingly patient given the number of times he’d heard some manifestation of this argument. “Persephone was made in last year’s extraction attempts, George was given instructions to lead his interrogators down the path to Gerard’s involvement, and as for me, well, we’ve already been over this. I refuse to open it for debate once more.”

“I could help.”

“I know you could, Joan, and you will. This is one step in a long journey. Everyone here wants to pitch in or they wouldn’t have signed up. We have limited resources and opportunities, however, so the more we can keep close to the vest, the greater our options are in days that follow. Trust me.”

Joan grumbled something unintelligible but allowed herself to fall silent. She did trust him. All of them did. He’d pulled them together, shown them they weren’t alone. He’d given them a purpose, traded all the bitter disappointment in their guts for a dream that burned brightly through their minds.

“Okay, last chance for questions. Quentin? Gerard? Anything?”

The sharp-faced man and the boy both shook their heads no.

“Then with that I think we can call this meeting adjourned.” He rose from his seat quickly, strong legs lifting him into the air as though they couldn’t bear the idea of restrained for much longer. “I don’t know about you folks, but I’m going to get a head start on packing.”

He headed through the north door, leading into a small area populated only by himself. Gerard got up and followed suit, with Quentin a few steps behind. The women were a bit slower, so everyone else was out of earshot when Joan asked her question.

“Why does he call you Shims?”

Shims took a moment to answer, pulling herself from her chair and smoothing out the linen pants encircling her legs. “It’s short for my codename. He’s always had a penchant for nicknames.”

“No, that part I knew,” Joan said. “I mean why are you the only one he still calls by any form of their Hero name? He doesn’t call Persephone Mood Swing, or George Relentless Steel, or Gerard Raze. You’re the only one he doesn’t address by their real name.”

“It’s because she hasn’t left that life,” Persephone said, fielding the question before the other woman had a chance. “The rest of us aren’t Heroes anymore. She still is.”

“Still seems odd,” Joan remarked. She didn’t press the issue, thankfully, instead heading off to the section of the warehouse that constituted her room.

“Thanks,” Shims said once Joan was gone.

“Don’t worry about it,” Persephone reassured her. “Try not to fault her for asking. For someone who wasn’t in the HCP, it seems like an innocent question.”

“I’m not the one who should be offended. She makes a good point, you know. I’m sure he would call you by your old name if you asked him.”

“I know he would. I just don’t want him to. That’s part of my past life. Besides, despite everything that happened, I still have a lot of respect for the program. It feels wrong to use a name given to me for the sake of maintaining the law while we’re conspiring to break it.”

“I must admit, I didn’t see this coming when I graduated,” Shims said, a memory from a faraway life glimmering in her eyes.

“None of us did. Hell, I don’t think a single one of my expectations panned out,” Persephone said. “Sort of makes you wish you could go back and do it all over, but this time get things right.”

“I don’t know. If I could change the past, I’m not sure I would. It might make things better, but then again, there are worse possible realities than this one.”

“Hard to imagine how things could be much worse.”

“No, it isn’t,” Shims disputed. “Just imagine a world without him in it.” With that she walked out of the makeshift living room, leaving Persephone alone with the mismatched furniture.

“Yeah,” Persephone said to no one. “I guess that would be pretty bad.”