Chapter 203

                “So far it looks like ten or so people in total, all of them from around the end of when we were still having the public meetings. None of them were entirely sure what to make of it, some thought it was their friends playing a weird prank, and a few figured it was a kind of glitch after the message vanished.” Tad finished his report, sitting back down at his place in the circle.

                There were fewer faces at this gathering of Take Back Lander, their already diminished numbers shrinking further. Despite Kennedy’s impressive speech at the last meeting, it seemed some members had decided this extra-curricular activity was no longer worth the risk. While that was the ultimate effect Will was shooting for, he hoped the numbers wouldn’t fall too much more before the whole organization collapsed in on itself. The fewer the bodies, the harder it was for him to hide in plain sight among them.

                “Then whoever did this is either working off old information, or just wants us to think they’re working off old information.” Kennedy, unsurprisingly, didn’t miss a beat as Tad unpacked his findings for the group. She was a truly dangerous opponent, although Will found that part of him was actually enjoying the challenge. As good as the Blonk was at simulating these sorts of high-stakes ventures, there was something about playing the game for real that virtual versions could never capture. “Either way, this means we have to decide whether the ones we cut loose are now potential allies, or liabilities.”

                “Why would our friends be liabilities?” A demure woman wearing earrings that cost more than Will’s first car asked the question, showing impressive composure despite the circumstances.

                “Because one of them may not be a friend at all,” Kennedy explained. “While it is possible, and likely, that the Supers are the cause of this headache, there is another possibility. When I chose the best, most dedicated members to form this smaller circle, it’s possible I alienated one of our old members. We could be seeing a personal retribution that has nothing to do with our actual goals. Now that is the less likely of our options mind you, but it does need to be made clear before we discuss whether to bring the old members into the new fold. There is a chance, albeit a small one, that we will be inviting our own enemy into the flock.”

                Will found himself quite glad he hadn’t come to this meeting with a concrete agenda. If he’d been set on getting Camille back in, he might have needed to push the group in one direction over the other, and that would be extremely dangerous. Kennedy was the one in control, and if things didn’t go whatever way she wanted then he had no doubt she’d take note of the cause. The way she commanded the room, it was obvious everything had been going her way since the start. If one of her followers suddenly started making trouble, steering the group to different ends, it would be a huge flashing sign about where the threats were coming from.

                “Wait, why would one of our former members send all that stuff to get back at us, then send it to themselves as well?” Tad asked, proving yet again that money couldn’t buy intelligence.

                “Have you never heard of the Trojan Horse? The best tool an enemy possesses is the guise of friendship. Frankly, if whoever is doing this didn’t send themselves some threats, or at least lie about it, I’d be sorely disappointed in them. They could walk right in here, claiming to be in the same boat as us, and use the insider knowledge they gained to do more damage.” Kennedy took a slight pause to scan the room briefly, making everyone keenly aware of how little they really knew about each other. “However, if we forgo bringing in the old members then we lose out on potential allies, cutting ourselves off from reinforcements. That too could be playing into the hands of whoever sent those messages.”

                Confused looks filled the room, with Will tossing out a few of his own so as to blend in. For him, this level of uncertainty was part of daily life, but to the others it had to be bewildering. Life had right choices and wrong choices; it wasn’t supposed to give options that were so complex and risky. These poor souls, if not for their leader it really would have been child’s play to sweep their whole movement off the game board.

                “So… what should we do?” The question came from one of the men seated along the edges of the circle, a nervous fellow who seemed one bit of bad news from bolting out the door.

                “That is up to the group to decide. I’ve pointed out the potential pitfalls and gains from asking our old members to join us. What we do from here impacts us all, so we should each have a say in the choice that gets made. I say we hold a ten minute discussion on the matter, followed by a vote. We’ll raise our hands for or against letting the old members back in, and whatever the group decides is what we shall do. It’s the fairest method possible since we all share in the risk equally, don’t you think?” Even though she’d phrased the last bit as a question, it was clear that Kennedy didn’t actually expect anyone to disagree.

                Will had come in with a hunch that this wouldn’t be too easy, and it had turned out to be right. Kennedy was forcing everyone to pick a side, to publicly commit to whichever option they thought would serve the group best. Whatever they picked, Kennedy was going to remember who had been on each side. If they chose an option that helped the group, then she’d likely consider those who voted for it as loyal, whereas if they picked a choice that hurt them then she would lean toward those who’d voted against it. All in all, it was a solid way to narrow down her list of suspects for the traitor, but it had one fatal flaw. No matter what the group chose, their troubles were going to get worse. There was no right option in the first place.

                For the most part, Will kept his silence during the ten minute talk, only chiming in with small, inconsequential details that painted him as needing to be right more than concerned with the group’s well-being. He took careful stock of everyone’s positions, and when the time for voting came Will made sure to put himself on the losing side. Ideally, when more trouble came it would make Kennedy think he was trustworthy, but at the very least it should make him seem less suspicious than other members. That was all he had to do, just fly under the radar long enough until the job was done. For a guy who’d always seemed aggressively mundane in a world of extraordinary individuals, it was the best job he could have asked for.

                “And it looks like…” Kennedy ticked off a few more numbers as she finished counting the last of the raised hands. “It looks like we have a consensus. Tad, tell the others you talked to the message was some sort of mix-up, or come up with a more believable lie. Whatever you do, don’t give them the full story. By group decision, it seems we’re going to press on without them. From here on, the only people we can trust are the other members of this circle.”

                Will didn’t grin, or even so much as smirk, although it took a touch more effort that he would have admitted.