The table was rimmed with glasses of tea. I was pleased. Not pleasantly so, as that would mean there was a clear leader among them, but the people who had joined me were more than the few capes that had showed up to help with the rubble yesterday.
A few older men and woman has sidled in. Not wearing capes, or anything of the sort, but small insignias on their shoulder.
A number of younger heroes had showed up. D ranks, mostly. The occasional C rank that hadn’t been picked by any of the hero teams. Mobile was a bit of a dead end for heroes, with the Dauphin island base not too far away, it’s powered crime was at an all time low.
One of the few major cities where police officers were entirely effectual.
The hostess kept the tea coming as they filed in, nimbly counting them off one by one.
“Greetings,” I said, hesitating just slightly.
“I recognized the signal,” An older woman, streaks of grey in her hair. Old enough to be my mother. “Where’s Excelsior?”
“He’s recuperating. He appointed me in the meantime.”
Her gravel grey eyes met mine. I wasn’t sure entirely what she thought she might find there, as I felt as shallow as the glasses of tea sitting on the table. Would I be that transparent, too? We kept and held eye contact for a long moment, then she nodded her head.
“I know Excelsior. He doesn’t make stupid decisions on who to trust, I’m Mary. B rank. Retired. Used to be able to make my bones like steel.” She tilted her head slightly and sat down. The other retired heroes gently sat down, one by one. Used to be able to? What would…
I looked at her age, and wondered how brittle bones became, even steel bones, once the impact of heroing caught up to you over the course of a life.
I licked my lips nervously and sipped at my tea.
“But this one?” a man said. “looks like a gust of wind could lay this slip flat.”
“Actually…” Mary said, shooting the rest of the table a sly look. “This is the hero that took out Negalli.”
I flushed slightly as every elder eye tilted towards me. Examining me like a slide in a microscope.
“Truth. Does that make a leader?” The same man asked. Mary and him shared a long look, then he held out a hand. “Earnest. I can tell when people are lying. Made me technically a C hero, back in the day. For interrogations, mostly. Works on most anyone.”
I recognized him from some of the photos my dad had hanging around the house. Did he recognize me, the brat whelped from the great Hurricane?
But I couldn’t think like that. Not now. The city needed every inch of confidence I could dwell up. Everything in my body. To keep things straight.
Excelsior had trusted me. I questioned his judgement, but he had trusted me. Given me a promotion.
“Gale,” I said, flatly. “B-Class hero. I’m taking control of the city, making sure everything’s alright. I need your help.”
Earnest looked around at the table, then at the younger heroes whose attention had drifted. “Gale’s telling the truth. You better straighten up and listen. I SAID LISTEN!” he shouted.
Every eye in the store was on him instead of me. I enjoyed the brief lapse in attention before Earnest pointed them back.
“Alright. Here’s the situation. The state is on lockdown. That means we have no back up apart from who showed up here.” I said, grimly. “We need to keep this city in one piece until the Association is out of crisis, and we need to keep it safe.” My eyes slid across each and everyone of them. Mary bobbed her head approvingly.
“It is tantamount that we do not let anyone get access to either Faraday or Negalli. Faraday’s body could remain a force for perpetual energy, and we do not have a way to keeping him permanently safe. We’ll need a graveyard shift around the clock. Negalli’s body will fetch a high price on any market, and he might be too tempting for whatever crooks are in the area.”
“Crooks in Mobile?” a girl said from the back. I didn’t recognize her, but who could keep track of all of the d-listers? “We don’t have crooks here.”
“We’re about to. We have no law enforcement. We have no government,” I steepled my fingers together grimly. “All we have is each other.” I took a breath and tried to think on what Faraday would’ve said, their thin lips pressed together. On what Excelsior would’ve said. “So we all need to rise up to the occasion. All of you.” My eyes settled on the unknowns in the room. People who I didn’t know. People who were only united by the pins on the shoulders marking them as heroes.
People without costumes, or finery. The people who had answered my radio signal. Who had heard the emergency.
“Mary, Earnest. Can you gathered the retired capes and keep the Graveyard on watch? I assume you still have your coms somewhere, keep them on, and tell me if anything happens I trust you guys deeply.”
I wasn’t sure if separating myself from the retired would help, but I had a feeling Earnest and Mary could keep order, even if it was under the iron boned woman’s fist.
“Everyone else,” I said, biting my lip to sink the nervousness out of my voice. “We’re going to start up nightly patrols. Keep the peace. Keep the calm. No need to let scum crawl into our city while the guard is down. C ranks, take your pick of D-ranks. Let’s start forming squads.”
The D listers were nervous. I could read it in their gaze, the way they twitched at the idea of patrol. Classes most of them hadn’t taken. Would never take.
But we didn’t become heroes for a paycheck. We, the D-lists, made barely better than minimum wage, plus whatever benefits were assigned to us from whatever group we joined. It wasn’t for the money.
We did it because someone had to help. And if our miniscule power could be used to help others… well, we’d do it. In a heart beat.
“I know you’re nervous,” I said. Earnest smiled at me.
“I know you’re scared.”
“Truth,” Earnest said.
“But this is what we were meant to do. I have in front of me some of the bravest people in the entirety of Mobile. People willing to come out of their daily lives, who are willing to face the shadows in the streets!” I said.
This is what Faraday would’ve wanted.
“Who are willing to help this city, still.”
I saw it in the crook of their collarbones. Saw it in how their eyes tightened and stared at my lips. Saw that I wasn’t losing them, just yet.
My eyes slid over to Earnest, and I raised an eyebrow.
“Together, we can get this to work out. Together.”
I swallowed, and took another drink of tea. The caffeine whirred through my body like a blast from a day ago. The burns on my body still ached with every movement.
I was scared, standing there in front of them, looking at me for some kind of guidance. But how long would it go on before they realized that I was paper thin. All style.
Nothing to back it up?
How could I keep Faraday and Negalli safe from others?
How could I possibly keep control?