Chapter 194

                Despite the fact that spring was around the corner, winter refused to release its grip without a fight. Two days ago it had been warm enough to wear shorts, not that Sherman ever would, and now he was shivering through a thick jacket as the wind whipped against his exposed face. The top of the parking garage they’d chosen as a meeting place had a nice location and loads of escape routes, but protection from the elements was a feature it lacked. Glancing down at his watch, Sherman noted that there were only a few minutes left until the meeting time. He had no idea what he was supposed to be looking for, not even a name. All he’d been told is that they’d find him. Given how deserted the area was, that wouldn’t really be a hard task to accomplish.

                Another blast of wind tore at Sherman, this one stronger than the last few breezes. It took him a moment to realize that the increase in force was because nature hadn’t summoned this wind, what he was feeling was the blast of air from a super-speeder suddenly coming to a stop. Turning his head ever-so-slightly, Sherman found himself looking at a tall woman who hadn’t been there a few moments ago. She must have circled and run in from another direction. There was little he could make out on her face, the thick hat and scarf obscured most of her features, although it was hard to fault her for bundling up, especially at the speeds she must have been moving.

                “Sherman, I take it.”

                “If I say I’m not him, what possible excuse could I give for being out here at this time of night?” The cold had made Sherman a little snippier than he meant to be, and this wasn’t the time for sass. “Sorry, I mean yes, I’m he. What do I call you?”

                Her eyes darted around a few times, before glancing to the lower half of her face. “Scarf is fine.”

                “Scarf? If you didn’t want to give me your real name you could have at least thought of one before arriving,” Sherman pointed out.

                “Maybe I just haven’t decided if you get my real name or not yet. And I thought you’d appreciate someone who doesn’t go around with a favorite code name locked and loaded. That’s the sort of thing Heroes do.”

                She wasn’t wrong about that, and even if she had been they were spending far too much time on something that didn’t matter. Better to get down to business so that he could be free from this relentless chill. “I suppose you have a point. Very well then, Scarf, I followed your protocol to the letter and arrived without any backup. Let’s cut to the heart of this meeting: what is your boss looking for from the Sons of Progress?”

                “From the Sons? Nothing, because you’ve got nothing to offer. We both know your organization still stands in name only. I doubt you even had backup to bring with you if I’d allowed it. No, my boss doesn’t want anything from the Sons of Progress. Crispin, however, is another matter. A Super with his power is always valuable, and we’re willing to compensate him for a few services.”

                Although it was galling to hear some stranger pronounce the death of a movement Sherman had poured years of his life into, there was little he could say as defense. The Sons of Progress were functionally dead, the only question remaining was whether to move on to a new incarnation or try to raise this one from the dead. Either was possible with Crispin at the helm, it would simply depend on what sort of compensation Globe had in mind.

                “We anticipated such a possibility, and my employer is amicable to the idea. Assuming the compensation is appropriate for what he offers, of course.”

                “That’s for the bosses to figure out, I’m just the messenger. Since you say yours is open to the deal, then the next step is to set up a meeting so they can hash out the specifics,” Scarf told him.

                Sherman bristled, and it had nothing to do with the weather. “I’m afraid that’s out of the question. Crispin doesn’t meet for such dealings, he trusts me to represent his interests. While he will obviously show up to do any work he’s hired for, even that will only be under tight, carefully controlled circumstances. There are many people out for his head these days, I’m sure you can appreciate his cautious nature.”

                “Oh I appreciate it just fine, you act like I’m not also working for someone in hiding. Thing is, I don’t really care how your boss feels about it. My guy is old school, doesn’t believe in working with someone until he’s looked them in the eye and shaken their hand. And he always handles his negotiations face to face.”

                “So he doesn’t trust you?” Sherman knew it was a long-shot to try and wheedle her into agreement, but he had little else in the way of diplomatic options.

                “He trusts me just fine,” Scarf shot back, unfazed by the verbal jab. “He just believes that a real leader does more than their share of the work, not less. Which means he’s not going to send any of us in to deal with a dangerous criminal, not when he can put himself at risk instead. So are we going to break over this, or do you want to run it by your boss and see what he has to say on the matter? Because we can find other amplifiers. Not easily, I’ll grant you, but it’s doable. I doubt it will be as simple for you to find another group willing to lend him aid. At least, not under such friendly terms.”

                It took all of Sherman’s effort not to glare at Scarf; thankfully his face being half-frozen made the task easier. “You call strong-arming us friendly?”

                “I call wanting to handle things in person friendly. And offering to pay for the services is pretty friendly. There are lots of unscrupulous people who wouldn’t care what you wanted; they’d let you choose between doing the work and losing a few limbs.”

                “Which is precisely why my employer makes a point of not needlessly endangering his safety by meeting with strangers,” Sherman said.

                Scarf shrugged, or at least she seemed to, it was hard to tell under the dense coat. “This is a deal-breaker, Sherman. Take it back to your boss and see what he has to say. I’ll come back through here in one week. Same time, same conditions. If you’re here then be ready to discuss a meeting. If you’re gone then I’ll assume you don’t want to deal. It will be a shame, and will slow us down, but we’ll manage to press on eventually.”

                She began to walk back toward one of the exit ramps, not quite turning on the speed yet but clearly done with the meeting. Sherman called after her on instinct, words leaving his mouth before they could be properly vetted by his brain. “Is he a trustworthy man? Assistant to assistant, do you trust him?”

                Scarf stopped, turning around to look back at Sherman. “Do I trust him? Of course I trust him. I’ve thrown everything away to follow him, and he’s proven worthy of it at every turn. If Globe told me he was ascending to the heavens to slay God himself, I’d start burning bibles for warmth because that’s all they’d be good for.”

                “A little over-dramatic, but I take the point. I’ll speak to my employer and see if some arrangement can’t be reached.” Sherman watched as Scarf turned back around, began to jog, and then vanished in a blur. She was exceptionally fast, he had to say. Fast, and good at her job. She’d summarized the situation perfectly: Crispin needed them more than they needed Crispin, and that put them in the stronger negotiating position.

                For now, anyway. Sherman had seen the hunger in those who tasted what Crispin could offer. Once they saw their true potential unlocked they would become addicted to the power, and after that happened Crispin and Sherman would be the ones in control. They just needed to play ball long enough to reach that point. Then the Sons of Progress would be born anew.