Mindstryke nodded. “She’s right, but it’s not going to be all bad. It’ll be hard to deal with at first, but it could be worse.”
He glanced to the right, toward something off camera. When his eyes were on us again, he said, “You’ve just experienced what would be a life changing event for some capes. You stopped St. Louis from being destroyed and did it with minimal loss of life. If you want, you’ll be interviewed every day of the week. People will want to pay you thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars for product endorsements. You’ll be celebrities.”
He stopped, gave a sigh, and continued. “I’ve known a lot of people who used events like this to change careers. They stayed in just far enough that they were visible vigilantes, but they spent the rest of their time being ‘the man who saved St. Louis.’”
“No shit,” Vaughn said, “who?”
Mindstryke shook his head. “I’m not naming names, but there are lot of complications that come along with doing something on this scale. We’ve got to decide a few things immediately. That’s why the League’s board will be meeting you back at HQ. Don’t expect us any later than ten.”
He opened his mouth to say more, but didn’t get the chance.
“Hey,” Cassie said, “why now? We’ve been visible for almost a year and half now. A lot of what we’ve done made national news. Fighting Rook last fall? That was all over.”
He nodded. “It was, but none of it made any sense, and no one explained it. All the public saw was a few fights in Grand Lake and then a big explosion in Canada. With this, you’ve got a clear story. The new Rocket discovers that True Humanity’s got enough bombs to destroy St. Louis. Against all odds, you succeed in preventing the bombs from doing major damage while more experienced heroes fail. End of story. It’s easy to explain. There are clear heroes and villains. It gets messier once you look closely, but what doesn’t? Most people won’t look.”
From behind me, a low, female voice—Izzy—said, “I don’t like it. It’s a distraction from what really matters in all this—people. People are alive because we acted. I don’t care about being a celebrity or endorsements. If I end up doing this full time, all I want is a living wage. Besides, I can’t believe we’re talking about this before Ronin’s even been buried.”
Daniel’s dad replied calmly. “As wrong as it seems, it’s going to come up before Ronin’s buried. We need to get everyone on board with a plan now. Personally, I’ve never endorsed anything, but I’ve found that letting the Defenders make money off my likeness pays for new and better uniforms, our base’s upkeep, our publicist, and lawyers. All that keeps us out of trouble with the law, and lets us help more people.
“That’s why I’m expecting to see everyone who was on this trip back in HQ, even if you’re not an official League member. We’re even calling in the members who weren’t on it.”
With a little bit of a tremor in her voice, Sydney said, “Just people from this trip? Not all former members of Justice Fist?”
Mindstryke lifted his eyes, probably searching for her on his own monitor. When he found her, he said, “The two of you will be enough for now.”
He looked over all of us. “I think that I should let you go. Captain Commando, you should know that we’ve notified your mother, and she’s not expecting to see you soon. Rocket and Ghost, your mother called the Midwest Defenders private line as soon as this hit the news.”
I glanced back to see Rachel’s response. Her mask hid the top half of her face. The bottom half was unreadable.
“She wasn’t very happy,” he continued. “The good news is that the talk you’re about to have with the board might help with that. Or,” and here his tone turned apologetic, “it might make it worse, but it shouldn’t.”
Vaughn said, “What about my mom?”
For a second Mindstryke froze. I might have missed it if I hadn’t known that he’d dated Vaughn’s mom as a teen. She’d figured out that he was a super at least twice that I remembered hearing about, and erasing it from her mind had only been temporary. She’d recognized Daniel, Cassie and I the first time we’d gone out in costume, and warned us to keep Vaughn out of it.
Calmly Mindstryke said, “Nothing. No calls at all.”
Vaughn shook his head. “That doesn’t make me less worried.”
Mindstryke nodded. “I’ll have people watch for calls from her. Come as soon as you can.”
Then his image faded from the screen, the letter Ψ disappearing last. I wondered if that was intentional, but guessed that it had to be.
No sooner had he finished than the St. Louis Defenders told us we could go. I mentally filed that under “no coincidence at all.” Daniel’s dad had always struck me as the kind of person who paid attention to detail.
Turning around in my chair, I looked the group over. No one looked happy, and I understood why. We’d been in terror for our lives for what felt like hours, and people had died. Now we were in the middle of what? Meetings about League membership, and selling action figures with our faces on them? Izzy was right. It felt hugely screwed up, but maybe I could raise the mood a little.
“I guess we’re headed back to HQ. So, um… we’ve got a few hours before the meeting. I’m thinking we could have breakfast at IHOP on the uh… League’s credit card.”
Haley glanced over at me. Even through her mask, I guessed that she was raising an eyebrow.
“Look,” I said. “I’m trying.”