“Wait just a second,” he began, but then lapsed into silence.
From the way Major Justice’s gauntleted right hand clenched, I guessed he wanted to say something, probably something loud and angry. Did he want to say that on a recording though? Did he want to say it when he knew that the board governing Defenders units would be watching it later?
His career might be crumbling around him, but did he want to add gas and a lit match?
I couldn’t say it was fair, given that Hunter had a choice and Coffeeshop Illuminati wouldn’t be disciplining him much at all. The Defenders were a national organization with standards and a system to enforce them. By contrast, the Coffeeshop Illuminati were a largely self-funded autonomous collective.
Hunter’s mom could handle a percentage of that budget.
Major Justice stood there on the shattered remains of the road Strongman had torn up. The upper half of his face, the part uncovered by his helmet gave no hint to his emotions except that his eyes made me think of the phrase, “thousand yard stare,” and wonder if I was seeing an example.
One of his people stepped forward from the rest to stand next to Major Justice. Much like the rest of Major Justice’s team, the man’s costume used camouflage colors, but on this guy the costume was skin tight. It wasn’t a mixture of green and brown either. Despite the camouflage pattern, it was off-white and beige. Maybe it was supposed to be desert colors since his team was from the southwest, but it might have been intended to be reminiscent of light colored marble.
Why? The man’s codename was Arete. According to what I’d read in the Double V database, it was supposed to stand for the classical Greek ideal of physical, mental, and moral perfection. It listed his powers as being better than human physically and mentally, noting his inventions as evidence.
Reading over a list of his inventions hadn’t left me too impressed. I could imagine how to do all of them. Physically though, I could see it. He had an acrobatic fighting style that made effective use of his gadgets. Plus, I could easily imagine women and some men finding him attractive. He was muscular, but slim and a little over six feet tall with a face that had already gotten him modeling work.
He was Major Justice’s second-in-command despite being our age, younger than the rest of Major Justice’s team, and not having attended Stapledon.
His every step seemed to be sure despite the loose gravel and chunks of tarmac left in the mix. He nodded to everyone and putting a hand on Major Justice’s shoulder said, “Let me try.”
Major Justice let out a breath I hadn’t known he was holding, “Go ahead,” and slumped.
I might have been able to work myself up to feeling sorry for him, but Arete started talking.
With a smile, he looked all of us in the eye or at least the helmet, “I’m sorry we had to meet under these conditions. I can’t say how much I’ve always admired the Heroes’ League, starting with the originals, of course, but all of you are better than anyone could have expected. From exposing the Cabal to defending the world from invasion, you’re every bit the equal of the originals.”
Through my implant, I heard Cassie think at Jaclyn and me, Is sucking up to people a superpower? Because if it is, add it to Double V’s wiki. Too bad that he’s hot. The universe could have given his face to someone who was less of a weasel.
Glad that my helmet hid my expression, I gave no hint of what I’d heard to Arete who was continuing to talk.
He didn’t seem to notice, but Amy did glance over at me.
“It was out of concern,” Arete continued, “Major Justice didn’t want to hurt you. He wants to help you. I think we can all agree though, that given the circumstances we’ll be happy to withdraw the team without causing you any more trouble.”
Jaclyn smiled, “I think that’s exactly what we’d like, but not yet. We’d like you to stick around until we know that we won’t be seeing any more shroomoids.”
South Beach Surfer nodded and looked over at Major Justice who didn’t say anything.
Arete smiled back, “I completely understand. We want to give you every assistance. I do have one small question though. I understand that you are going to give the footage of this event to the Defenders’ board. Is there any chance that you’d be willing to skip that? Think of it as an act of professional courtesy. We’d owe you a favor—a big favor. What do you say?”
He looked around to all of us and I couldn’t help but wonder how he thought we’d be able to keep the details secret with so many people here? The Coffeeshop Illuminati? Shifter? South Beach Surfer? Mime and his troop of circus weirdos? Sean and Justice Fist?
I had an idea, but I didn’t like it much.
Jaclyn used her implant to send a message through the comms to the League’s group chat, knowing that everybody would be watching the footage, “I’m going to tell him that he can take his professional courtesy and shove it up his butt. Does anyone have a good reason I shouldn’t?”