Hedron and the older guy, whom I learned was called Molecular left together, talking about patrol while the rest of us headed the same way, Mackenzie guided me to the next building, taking another tunnel to reach it.
We took the elevator up to the second floor, while the others went for the stairs and we arrived in a living room with a huge modular couch, on one side there was an entrance to what looked like a kitchen and the other side held a half dozen doors. Another door on the far side wall of the entrance was marked as ‘showers’ where Buzzkill disappeared to next to two single bathrooms. The room also held a few computer desks lacking computers and another bit held a pair of lazy boys and filled bookshelves.
“This is our lounge.” She declared. “This is where we relax between assignment, do homeworks and stuff.”
“Wow.” I said, too tired to really give any meaningful thought.
“Why don’t you sit down? I’ll get something for you to drink and eat.”
“Thanks.” I was mumbling more than speaking.
She went to the kitchen area and I dragged myself to the couch, sitting or rather crashing down. I closed my eyes for a moment, an arm hanging off the side of the couch. After a moment, I heard a door open and a few seconds later, my hand touched long, silky fur. I absently started petting, the slow repeated movement helped me cool down.
“Oh my god… Paige!” It was Mackenzie.
“Uh?” I said, feeling half awake.
“What are you doing?” She seemed a mix between annoyed and embarrassed, half whispering her words. She nodded toward the end of the couch and I looked. Turns out what I’d been petting for the past minute or two was something that looked like a polar bear that stole a leopard’s pelt and then bleached it white, keeping black rings onto it, who also wore black shorts and nothing else. I pulled my hand back.
“I’m sorry B.” Mackenzie said, covering her face. “I should have told Paige about you.”
“It’s okay.” B answered in a slow, neutral voice. “I’m used to petting.”
“So sorry...” I mumbled a few times. In my chest, my heart was about to explode and my breathing was getting stronger. I wanted to cry, to scream, to do something but instead I clammed up, with everything going on sort of becoming a blur in my mind.
The next thing I knew was that Mackenzie was giving me a hug and B was looking at me looking worried. I wasn’t sure how long had passed, but Volley was now here with a tray of food and a pair of cups in his hand.
“Is something going on?” Volley asked.
“I’m pretty sure Paige is having a panic attack.” Mackenzie said.
“That happens often?” He asked, looking at me, putting the tray on a table
“Sometimes?” I answered, still dealing with the after effect.
“Do you see a psychiatrist for it?”
“My mom doesn’t really believe in that stuff… Plus we couldn’t afford it.”
As we talked, Kenzie put a warm cup of tea in my hands. I didn’t really like tea, but it was warm and nice to hold.
“That’s a shame.” He noted, shoving a canapé down his mouth. He chewed on it for a moment. “You know, I’ve been thinking and we really could use someone like you on the team, you have potential. We’re missing a good brawler-brick. No offense meant, B.”
“None taken.” B answered.
“I don’t even know what that means, you were shouting those things earlier.”
“They’re power designation, Brick means you’re tougher than normal and brawler means your power makes you dangerous in close combat. We also pegged you as a Schemer; you have some extra sense, enhanced senses or some other cognitive ability. By the look of it, a danger sense, you reacted to Amarok’s wolf without being aware of it consciously.”
I tried to process all that information. As I did, Buzzkill came out of the shower, his hair still wet and wearing a tee and joggings. I couldn’t help but notice that he had somehow gained breasts…
Volley handed him a cup of tea from his tray and Buzzkill seemed happy about it.
“Did you consider joining the guardians program? We have some pull in the system, we could fast track you through the pre-induction training process. It also come with a great medical plan which include in house shrinks.”
“My parents probably won’t let me.” I mumbled. “I asked my mom ages and go and she didn’t want to hear any of it.”
“That’s the one place we can’t help, minors under sixteen need parental approval to join the program.” Volley said.
“That didn’t stop Hedron.” Buzzkill answered, taking a long sip of tea.
“You’re not supposed to talk about that.” Amarok said. I hadn’t even noticed her, she was now in one of the lazy boy, sitting indian style on it, a book on her lap. she'd removed her mask, revealing that like Kenzie she was a native Alaskan.
“What happened?” I asked.
“He used his power to blow up a building where mobsters were hiding.” Buzzkill said despite his teammate’s disapproval. “He got drafted because of it. It’s amazing how breaking the law with superpowers throw things like personal and parental rights out the window.”
“Do we have to remind you what a gag order means?” Volley asked.
An awkward silence settled in the room for a moment, Volley didn’t look too pleased at Buzzkill for spilling information about sensitive topics to me.
“Are you okay?” Mackenzie asked me.
“I think so, just tired. Sorry for making you worry Mackenzie.”
“You can call me Kenzie, you know. Everyone does. Are you hungry?” She pointed to a platter with sandwiches she'd brought over earlier.
“Not really, I don’t feel like I’d keep any food down.” I hadn't eaten since breakfast but I still didn’t feel like it.
With the conversation over, everyone sort of dispersed, B was back to being next to the couch laying down in front of an over sized laptop. Amarok was quietly reading a novel, face almost glued to the pages.
Volley and Buzzkill were talking. I took a better look at the latter, if I was to guess, he was from somewhere in southeast asia. I also confirmed that he had in fact had grown breasts.
“You’re not wearing a binder.” Volley noted, having noticed the same thing I had.
“Who cares? I often don’t in the lounge, everyone here knows.”
“What about Paige?”
“Touché.” Buzzkill said, turning toward me. “Hey Paige?”
“Yeah?” I answered timidly.
“I’m transgender, deal with it.” He shouted. “See, that was easy.” He then said to Volley, who was covering his face with his palm. Buzzkill seemed like one odd guy...
“Okay…” I mumbled to myself, I didn’t really know what someone was supposed to answer to that, it wasn't like I cared. “Your friends are interesting…” I told Kenzie.
“It comes with being superheroes.” She said with a grin. “I’m sure you’d fit right in with us.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that; she wanted me on her team, but she said I was weird, kind of.
I sat for a moment in silence to recuperate, from both the panic attack and getting my ass kicked by Volley and Amarok.
“Want to go take a walk and get some fresh air?” Kenzie asked me.
It took me a few second to respond. “Sure.”
She put her coat on and I followed her down. Rather than take the tunnels, we went into the courtyard, from there I had a better view of the compound. Three buildings stood in a triangular pattern, connected by shallow underground tunnels.
Kenzie probably saw me looking around as she started explaining.
“The front building, the one we came through is the administration, that’s where paperwork is handled and stuff, it also has the cafeteria in the basement, Docs on the top floor. The building we just left is the team HQ, the first floor has the armory and the ready room. The second floor is living quarters, Amarok, Bandersnatch, Volley and I stay here, Hedron typically goes home and Buzzkill sometimes stay, sometimes he goes home. Third floor is the briefing room. Finally, the last building is the training room, pool and gymnasium. Oh and there's a lot of classified stuff underground I'm not supposed to talk about.”
“This place is pretty cool.” I said. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Why did you bring me here, like, it could have gotten you in trouble?”
She stopped walking and turned toward me with a smile. “I just wanted to show you a good time.” Her expression turned a little more serious. “Last night you told me how lonely you are… I know how that feels. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, most people didn’t see past my disability and the things I couldn’t do. Joining the young guardians was the best thing that happened to me, I got to be with people who cared and who like me had always been outsiders. I want you to have that too, even if you can’t officially join us.”
I wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad to listen to her, if I wanted to smile or to cry. I did a little of both and she hugged me so tightly I thought my armor would come out.
“You know, you’re the only young guardian I haven’t seen in costume. You do have a costume and an ability, right? or are you the token typical friend?”
“My Ingot costume is such a pain to put on, it’s really heavy.” She said with a smirk. “But it’s a small price to maximize my ability. Want to see what I can do? I could tell you, but it's so much less fun.”
I nodded and she took out a set of keys from her pocket. She opened her hand they they began floating and spinning.
“I can control metal.” She said, her eyes focused on the keys. “Sort of, it’s complicated and has a lot of asterix attached. It’s a telekinesis based ability, it does not involve magnetism. If it’s within my range, that’s about eight and a half meters, give or take a few centimeters I can move it as I want. With my suit, I can fly, again sort of. There are other limits, like I can’t affect mercury or uranium even if they are metals and I don’t know why.”
“That’s still really cool. Better than what I can do.”
“Hey, with a little training you’d be just as amazing.”
We hugged again.
“Thanks Kenzie, I mean for everything, I real--” I didn’t finish my sentence when my phone rang. I checked who the caller was. “It’s my mom, I should probably go home…”
“Alright, let’s get you a lift home, we can work on tour divergent history project tomorrow if you want.”
“Oh crap, I forgot about that.”
“Don’t worry, we have plenty of time for it tomorrow.”
She fiddled with her before she escorted me to the entrance where the secretary hollered us.
“Molecular asked me to make her sign this.” She said, handing me a pad and paper with a pen attached to it.
“Confidentiality agreement, by signing this you agree not to reveal anything you’ve learned her including but not limited to; identities or personal information about DDA employees or members of the guardians program, the location, layout or capacity of these facilities and et cetera. You are however allowed to say that you’ve met the guardians and give opinions but not to share concrete information. Breaking the terms of the agreement will result in criminal sanctions being levied against you.” The secretary summed.
I took the pen and signed it.
“What would have happened if I hadn’t signed it?” I asked once we walked away.
“If I was to guess; they would have arrested you for trespassing.” Kenzie said opening the door to a car that was waiting for me.
They were pretty serious about security.
“See you at school.”