Chapter 181

                To say the meeting was going chaotically would have been quite the understatement. Kennedy’s collection of cronies, usually so stuffy and stoic, were on the cusp of a full-blown riot. Shouting, accusations, and angry declarations filled the room. To her credit, the leader of Take Back Lander was holding her composure perfectly as madness swelled around her, calmly sipping from a cup of tea as if nothing amiss was going on. For his part, Will wasn’t acting much more perturbed than her. He’d considered it, after all he was supposed to be just as exposed as the rest of the group, but decided that it didn’t fit the quiet, thoughtful character he’d been portraying amongst them. Living in the moment was important; however consistency in character mattered more.

                Finally, when the shouting was beginning to ebb, Kennedy set her tea cup down and addressed the room. “Everyone, if you’ve gotten that out of your system, lets discuss this rationally. Now then, thirty minutes before this meeting was scheduled we all received e-mails with personal information contained therein. It seems that for the most part the information was embarrassing, but not necessarily damaging. Things that would destroy relationships, friendships, and possibly even the bonds between parents and children in a few cases, yet none of it would have led to us facing actual criminal charges. So let’s all take a deep breath and remember that as vital as the stakes feel, they are in fact not quite so dire as they might seem.”

                “The information wasn’t the problem!” A man in khakis and a pressed polo leapt up. Will knew his name was Tad, and it had taken a lot of willpower not to make any jokes about that during all the meetings. Tad wasn’t done with just one yell either. “The problem is that they promised there was a lot more of it, and that they had stuff on our families. This is extortion, plain and simple!”

                Will wanted to correct him, however he held his tongue. It was unnecessary anyway, as Kennedy was already on the case. “While extortion is certainly implied, for it to be clear cut they would need to have made some sort of demand, or hinted that the information was about to be leaked. All they sent were private emails telling us something embarrassing, something pulled from our private devices, and letting us know there was more where that came from. We might be able to use that as documentation to start an investigation, which is why I’d be surprised if any of us still have the email.”

                Now that part took Will, and everyone else, by surprise. She was spot on, he’d set everything up to trigger while he was in this meeting to solidify his alibi, but Will hadn’t expected Kennedy to figure out what was going to happen before it did. One more reminder never to take his opponent lightly.

                He pulled his phone out with the rest of the group, affecting a shocked expression when he discovered that the e-mail was no longer present. Mutters filled the air this time, darker and angrier than the screams of panic had been. Hacks and messages containing secrets were something they could wrap their head around, but something digital vanishing without a trace was unexpected. They were starting to realize that this was not a caliber of enemy they were used to dealing with.

                “Wait, I took a screen shot,” Tad said, flipping through his phone. “I can’t find it, but it has to be on here.”

                “No, I don’t think it does. I doubt any of us will find any proof of what we received tonight outside our own memories.” Kennedy poured herself a fresh cup of tea while she spoke, still unruffled. “Between the content of the messages and the signature that the sender used, it’s easy enough to see what’s going on. Our plan to hunt for the hidden HCP students on campus has leaked and someone out there is set against us. Someone with exceptional resources of their own.”

                “Hang on, how do you know that’s what’s going on?” This came from one of the other members, a stout fellow with a constantly uncertain expression.

                “The implied threat was right there for us to see. We started chasing the secrets of others, so our enemy reminded us all that we have secrets of our own, as do our families. In one swoop they proved they have the means to uncover our indiscretions and the willingness to use that information.”

                Tad stood up from his seat, face turning red as his eyes swept the crowd. “You’re saying the plan was leaked? That means one of us leaked it then. We’ve got a traitor in our midst.”

                Will braced himself to lie, but before Tad could begin interrogating the rest of the room Kennedy let out a deep, annoyed sigh. “Sometimes I forget how truly idiotic you can be. Yes, a leak could mean that our internal group has been compromised, but it could just as easily mean one of us was thinking about our plans around a curious telepath. Or a Super with enhanced hearing overheard the wrong whispers. Or we tripped some sort of mental alarm set up to detect those even considering our course of action. The point is, we are dealing with people who work outside the known spectrum of possibility. We can’t know for sure how we were discovered, and there’s nothing to be gained by turning on each other now. So sit down and shut up while we think this through.”

                Deep down, Will hadn’t expected this initial gambit to work. There was a chance it might sow seeds of distrust and cause the group to implode, but he was logical enough to see the slender chance of success that plan had. It was an opening move, nothing more, designed to let Kennedy and her crew know that they had a challenger to their plans. All the same, he was still wowed by how quickly she shut down Tad’s beginnings of a self-destructive witch-hunt. The others were just cogs, pieces doing as they were told. Kennedy was the only other real opponent on the board.

                “Ultimately, we have little to go on right now,” she continued. “As it stands, we’re probably dealing with someone who either is, or has access to, a Super with tech-based powers, seeing as the secrets stolen from us seem to the sort that are discoverable on our personal devices. That may be a ruse, however. Our enemy just as easily could be using a telepath and someone who can induce hallucinations to start us searching in the wrong direction; we may never have gotten those e-mails in the first place. With what we have now, nothing is knowable for certain. If we want more information we’ll have to keep pressing the issue. Push until they push back, hopefully over-exposing themselves in the process.”

                “What… what if they expose us? Our secrets, I mean.” While shouting was out of character, being worried and neurotic fit Will’s previous behavior perfectly. Not to mention, raising the point was a good way to remind all of the flunkies that they were playing with stakes in the game now. They had secrets to lose as well.

                “It’s a possibility we have to face,” Kennedy replied. “We’re going up against the HCP, there was always the chance that they were going to try and stop us. They are tyrants, used to doing as they please and ignoring what happens to the humans in their wake. Petty personal secrets are not enough to deter me from seeing this through, and I’d hope the same would hold for the rest of you. I chose this group because you are people of conviction, and conviction means making sacrifices. Perhaps I chose poorly though. If any of you aren’t here at the next meeting, then I’ll understand.”

                A girl in a white dress raised her hand politely, and Kennedy nodded to her. “How do we know we’re the only ones who got emails? There were other members before you boiled it down to just us, maybe we should see if they got anything too? At least that tells us if whoever did this has figured out who the inner circle is.”

                Will said a silent prayer of thanks to her, he’d been wondering how he was going to steer the conversation in that direction. He should have given them more credit; they weren’t all complete idiots.

                “That’s a good point. Everyone reach out to people who showed up at the old meetings who you trust, see if they got anything. If they didn’t then it’s contained to us. If they did, then I guess we’ll see how many received the message and go from there.” Slowly but surely, Kennedy was restoring order to the room, pinning it back under her perfectly manicured thumb.

                “What about the way they signed the e-mail?” Tad asked. “Who the hell are ‘The Ghosts of Lander’ and what does that name mean?”

                Kennedy took her time replying, adding more sugar than was probably proper to her fresh cup of tea. “I can’t speak to the exact meaning just yet, though I have a few theories, but one point of the name is crystal clear. It means that someone out there is challenging us to a war, and we should be ready for them. Which, by the way, we will be.”