Reed showed us to our rooms, let us drop off our luggage, and led us to the cafeteria before leaving us to meet the buses.
“Find a table,” he said as he opened the door to walk out, “the buses are here. You’ll be seeing all your friends in minutes.”
I believed him. Except for us, the room was empty of students, but it was full of staff. The tables had been set. The staff were placing food on four different tables that barely seemed to have room for more.
On the stage in front of the room, a man said, “Testing, testing?” into the microphone on the podium until someone called him on the phone. Then he said, “Good,” and left the stage and room.
Our group had already staked out a table near the front, but Haley and I didn’t stay there. We left, standing next to the windows on the left side of the room.
Just like the parking garage, the room appeared to have been carved from the rock around it. The windows looked over the level with the shops (where I’d briefly driven the van), giving a view of the ground and the houses on the level below that.
I hadn’t noticed it from the ground, but now that we were closer I realized that the white-blue sky was slightly blurry. It wasn’t obvious whether it was a shield or some kind of physical barrier.
Either way I saw it as good news. There were some fairly obvious secret identity problems when people with secret identities hung around with heroes without them.
Whatever hung up there might be some kind of privacy screen.
That meant we could actually walk around the compound out of costume.
Haley and I stood there looking out the windows and talking until people started coming in.
We had some warning. Hundreds of people bringing their baggage up to their rooms weren’t exactly quiet.
All the same, we didn’t move until people started flooding the room. They didn’t come in in a rush, but it felt like one.
I had a brief moment where I flashed back to remembering our fight inside the alien mothership last spring. I couldn’t think of any time where the aliens had rushed us in the corridors, but we had spent a lot of time in the corridors of the ship. Somehow, the way people entered through the doors made me think of the dim corridors and the possibility that at any moment we could be walking into a firefight.
My breath caught in my throat, and I felt my heartbeat speed up.
Haley looked up at me, eyes narrowed, asking, “Nick, are you okay?”
Even as she said it, I’d already begun to calm down. I knew these people–some of them anyhow.
“I think so,” I said.
“Your heartbeat spiked,” she said, keeping her voice low. “You were afraid of something.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know, but not now. This isn’t a good time.”
The tightness around her mouth hinted that she wasn’t at all satisfied with that answer, but she said, “OK. For now.”
We weren’t quite back to the table when Daniel touched my mind.
Are you okay?
Probably not entirely, I thought back, but I’m not having nightmares anymore.
That’s something, he replied. You’re going to have to talk to a therapist.
I could feel his concern through our connection.
I guess, I thought back.
No, I mean you will literally have no choice about talking this through with a therapist. Everyone there will have multiple sessions.
My dad would approve, I guess, I thought back. Bearing in mind that my dad was a therapist with some fairly strong concerns about what happened to teenagers who became superheroes, I felt fairly confident about that.
The fact that my grandparents’ superhero team had left him with a mental block that made him unable to realize that I was following in their footsteps made it more than a little ironic.
I’ll see you in a second, Daniel thought at me.
The next few minutes were a blur. Everybody who’d been on the buses seemed to appear–Haley’s older brother, Travis, my sister Rachel, and all the people I hadn’t seen since the last Stapledon program weekend a month ago.
Along with them came all the new people, and there were a lot of new people.
Unless I missed my guess, most of the people were new.
As the noise of students talking began to build, a voice broadcast over the PA system, “Students, please sit down.”
It took a few minutes, but eventually everyone did.
By that time a man had taken the stage. Middle-aged, he had black hair, and light brown skin, and wore a black suit. I recognized him. The man was FBI agent, Isaac Lim, the Feds’ liaison to multiple Midwestern superhero teams including my own.
Over the last month or two, he’d apparently acquired even more responsibilities.
“Hello everyone, I’m Isaac Lim, FBI agent, but also director of the Stapledon program, a joint program of the federal government, and the United States’ superhuman community.”
Flipping from the first notecard to the next, he said, “Welcome to all of you, but particularly the new students. The Stapledon program’s undergone some big changes in the past two years, and even in the two months. Its purpose has always been to train supers who planned to use their powers, but now it’s more than that. With the secrets behind giving humanity powers becoming known all over the world, we’d have enough of a reason to expand the program.
“I’m talking, of course, about protecting the United States. With the publication of the formulas for creating supers available to all–including criminals–we’ll need your help to protect this country against all enemies both foreign and domestic.”
Isaac stopped, and looked out across the room. “That would be enough by itself, but as you know, there’s more to it than that now. As of last spring, we’re reminded more than ever that we can’t just think of ourselves. Aliens attacked us, hoping to destroy the entire planet. They were stopped thanks in part to the actions of people in this room.
“Our technology couldn’t defeat the invaders. People with powers could. Therefore Congress has expanded the Stapledon program. We’re not going to be surprised by this again. We’re going to be ready. It used to be that the Stapledon program had only twenty people at most. Last year, we expanded the program, allowing more than one hundred people in. This year we’ve let more than five hundred more people in, and now that you’re here, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know to keep the world safe.”