Chapter 105

                The hardest part had been choosing what to bring. In the Blonk’s simulations his options were always defined; limited by what he could select from the inventory or buy with his meager budget. With over a day to prepare, Will was nearly bowled over by the possibilities. However, his pragmatic side was with him every step of the way, reminding him that each piece of custom tech he brought along raised his chances of discovery. It was blessing enough that he had no physical abilities or characteristics to mark him as a Super, to make a blunder like revealing himself through his own tech would be such a disgrace that Will would withdraw from the HCP out of principle.

                Ultimately, Will decided on a watch that transmitted audio and rudimentary video to a secure server and could be used to call for help in a pinch, and a Taser. Since the watch was already a digital model, he felt confident no one would realize the alterations he’d made even if it was cracked open, and the Taser could easily be explained away as self-protection, hardly a strange accessory for someone who’d lived through the attack on Lander. Of course, his had a few more functions than the off-the-shelf models, but again no one would know that at a glance.

                Will was grateful he’d gotten this opportunity before graduation, it made him realize that when designing tech, he’d need to focus as much on camouflage as functionality. The spy movies always made it look so easy. He was still mulling the idea over as he pulled his car into the driveway of a house several miles from campus. This was a ways off from the party-filled streets of the cheap rentals surrounding Lander, here resided people with real families and well-kept homes. The one in front of Will’s car as he killed the engine was especially nice, not that he was terribly surprised. Digging up information about Kennedy Dawson had been one of the first things Will did when this investigation began; he’d known from the beginning that she came from money.

                There were several other cars already present, some nicer than his, some more beat-up. Will took note of each and every one, memorizing their license plates for further research. This was a meeting he wanted to make sure he had a complete record of attendance for.

                As he walked up the driveway, Will texted Camille nonsense about meeting up for a movie later. It was a code to let her know he’d arrived at the meeting, one that wouldn’t arouse any suspicion if someone went through his phone. It also had the added benefit of making sure anyone snooping became aware that other people knew where he was and would be expecting his departure. The whole thing was a touch paranoid; Will could admit that readily, however he considered paranoia to be an asset as much as a danger.

                By the third knock on the door, it flew open to reveal Kennedy Dawson. She looked much the same as she did during the meetings: perfectly styled hair and expertly done make-up, however she’d exchanged her heels for sneakers, and the dress she’d donned was slightly more casual than usual. It was an appearance designed to make her still appear powerful, yet slightly humanize her at the same time. The woman knew what she was doing, even as she flashed that wide smile and gave Will a side-armed hug. Familiar enough to show friendship, but detached enough not to kindle ideas of romance, a perfectly executed gesture.

                “Will, I’m so glad you could make it,” Kennedy told him. “The others are already in the living room. Can I get you anything?”

                “Thank you, but I’m fine.” Will watched carefully as she shut the door behind him, eyes alert for any movement that might be activating extra security. So far as he could tell, she did nothing more than turn the deadbolt. Hopefully, that was all there was. He felt confident he could get through any defenses her home might have, but probably not without blowing his cover. “If you don’t mind my asking, Kennedy, why exactly did you slip me that note? Wouldn’t an e-mail or announcement at the end of the meeting have been easier?”

                “Easier, yes, but less personal,” Kennedy replied. “And, to be frank with you, not many of the meeting attendees seem to still have the fire for change burning in them. I wanted this to be a strategy session with only the most passionate of our group.”

                “I’m flattered to make the cut, but I’m a little confused. We both know I’ve had to miss a fair share of meetings lately.” It was the elephant in the room, and there was little to be gained by avoiding it. Hearing Kennedy’s explanation, on the other hand, might offer some insight into her thought process, with the bonus of painting Will as a man keenly aware of his own failings.

                Kennedy nodded and began to lead him down the hall. “You have, and I noticed, but almost no one has been to all of them in the past few months. I get it, there’s other stuff in everyone’s lives, they can’t devote all of themselves to just this movement, especially when we keep hitting brick walls at every turn. I really thought people would be more receptive after what happened in May, but the Heroes have PR on their side like we can’t match, and every day that event becomes more like a nightmare and less like a memory.”

                An accurate summary not unlike the one Will himself had reached days earlier. Truthfully, he’d have preferred if her assessment were a touch more off the mark. Dealing with someone so aware came with greater danger than the blindly determined.

                “But to answer your question, I asked you to join us tonight for one simple reason, Will: when you do show up, you’re always present. Other people’s eyes glaze over or they start sneaking their phones out to play games during the boring parts of meetings, but you, you’re always right there in the moment, listening to every word. I can tell from your face. That’s why I wanted you to join us tonight.”

                Kennedy paused outside a large door, her hand resting on the silver knob that would open the way ahead. “I don’t want to lie to you, I think you deserve to know what you’re about to step into. No one is going to propose anything illegal in this room, and I certainly wouldn’t let the idea progress if they did. However, what we’re going to discuss does cross certain ethical lines, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to be a part of it. Heck, you wouldn’t even be the first one to leave tonight. I gave everyone else the same spiel before we walked in.”

                “I don’t suppose you could give me some idea of what’s being talked about?” Will asked. “Ethics vary from person to person, and while I won’t say I don’t have them, my line might not be at the same place where others drew theirs.”

                “Of course, that’s what I was leading up to anyway.” Kennedy’s hand never wavered from the doorknob even as she turned her head to get a better view of Will. “Normally, the HCP people exist behind a total veil of anonymity. Their pasts are covered up and they all take great pains not to draw attention. They could be anyone, anywhere, in any place on campus. But during May, they poked their heads out from the shadows. We don’t have much to go on, they were smart enough to wear masks, however, there are a few details. Heights, voices, genders, some idea of their powers. A patchwork quilt of seemingly inconsequential details; one that we might just be able to stitch together into finding out some of their identities.”

                “And if you do find out who they are, what then? Try and get them kicked out?” Will’s mind was already darting back to that night in May. How much had everyone spoken, had any of the ones he was around let important details slip? Surely, some of them had, it had been a hellish evening of chaos and destruction, no one could stay perfectly on their game. It was a question of how much had slipped, and how grateful those who might have caught such indiscretions were to their saviors.

                “No,” Kennedy said. “Turn in one, and that’s all we’d get. I want to put their identity out there publicly. So that everyone on campus knows who they are, what they are, and has the chance to decide for themselves if they want to get tangled up with the sort of people who cause gun-toting criminals to invade our school. Plus, there’s a good chance that if we can find one, they’ll have friends who are also in the HCP. I’ve come to realize that getting them kicked off campus might be a pipe dream; however I can still achieve some level of transparency. We’ve seen what happens around these people. We deserve to know if we’re letting them into our lives.”

                Will forced down the desire to reach for his Taser and instead put on his best uncertain-but-accommodating smile. “Well, how can I say no to that? By all means, let’s get the meeting started.”