Jason tapped his fingers firmly on the table in the control room. It was 4:07. He’d called for a planning meeting for the Vanguard at 4. No one had responded to his message. At one time he’d assume that meant that they would all be there. This time. No.
He tapped the table’s virtual keyboard and summoned a scrolling list of known powers. He started to scroll though pausing occasionally, contemplating one or two for a larger role. He highlighted a couple, but he knew they were no replacements for the Vanguard.
He brought up their images on the screen, and paused at Cassie’s. He held it there for long while. Then he heard the familiar sound of Traveler’s teleport, and he quickly closed the image.
She was late. She knew it, but she had to get a shower before she attended the meeting. But teleporting did give her a bit of an advantage. Unfortunately, it wasn’t time travel. She braced for the sour looks and watched the darkness mold into the meeting room. Only Jason was there, but the look he gave her was enough to substitute for the missing eyes.
Jason was startled by her appearance, but he tried to recover quickly. “Oh Cassie, thanks for coming, at least someone checks their calendar invites. Honestly, you’d think they didn’t see the world almost be destroyed a month ago.”
She slipped into a seat, giving him a warm smile. “They’re kids Jason. But hey, instead of being late, I’m now early.” She pushed a lock of moist hair from her eyes. “So what’s the agenda for today? Might as well get ready.”
Jason felt disarmed by Cassie’s smile, and shook his head. “Kids. Let’s hope we live long enough for them to see adulthood. I’m serious Cassie, I know they are young, but there is no one else. We need them on board, not playing around, chasing after romance instead of focusing on the issues at hand. You and I know that.. we’ve made sacrifices, for… you know… the greater good.”
He turned away. Took a breath.
“There’s just no one else. I mean look them.” He pointed to the screen. “The one’s who could hold their own against the likes of Black Kettle’s crew are at best unreliable, at worst psychopathic. The one’s I could trust, well, they can’t bring the firepower we need.” He looked back her. “They’re the best we’ve got.”
A tiny frown came and went over her forehead. “They are the best. They’ve been through heck and back. They’re strong and they’re resourceful. But they need down time. Romance time. They’ve all got boyfriend, girlfriends. A little romance and love is a good thing Jason.”
The memory of the kiss with Douglas made her blush but then the guilt washed through her and she bit her lip.
Are we really together? Is it cheating when you’ve broken up? she asked herself. Her eyes found his and she shrugged. “When the chips are down, they’ll be here. So they blew off this meeting.”
“Well thanks for coming." He smiled somewhat abashedly. “I was hoping we could all sit down, set aside some time, so that it would be a regular thing.. like a job. Not all the time, not even crazy hours, maybe 40 hours a week, basically a standard job, but with regular breaks too. I think our teammates have been thinking of this as a hobby, or some weird nocturnal pasttime.. And maybe that was the problem.” He leaned back.
“A job?” She could only blink at him. Yes, we’ve made sacrifices Jason. And I’m not happy about them. Least of all us. She shook her head slowly. “I’ll agree it’s not a hobby. But it isn’t a career. You’re a little too focused on this Jason. It’s a bit much to ask them to make the sacrifices that you’re willing to make.”
She could feel her hackles rising, though her face was serene. But her gaze on him was focused, studying. Who was she talking to. . .which persona?
Jason saw the same disbelief on Cassie’s face as the others. Was he the only one who saw this? “Cassie, we don’t have the luxury to say no. We’ve become something powerful, deadly powerful. And if we didn’t take that responsibility seriously, people will die. Die because of what we don’t do, or because of what we do. There is no opt out of this.”
“There is an opt out Jason. Maybe the thing that the others have figured out is that is we all are facing the end, maybe somehow, there needs to be a bit of life and lightness before then. Maybe a chance to experience and remember what we’re fighting so hard for? They’ll be here when they need to be. What is so damned important about a meeting?” She shook her head with incredulity. “Really, we can meet tomorrow too. Heck, the day after and the day after that. We’re all on standby you know. We can’t go find the Swarm. And we know that they’re gonna find us.”
She rose from her seat and came over to him. “C’mon, maybe you need a break too. You’ve not been yourself lately. Let’s go out to eat, have a nice dinner somewhere.” She bit her lip, venturing, “Maybe Paris. We have the jet. With the salary we make from the government and my own funds, we can make a night of it easy. I can spring for a room for each of us.” She paused, “Or just one Jason. If you want.”
Jason felt his temperature rise a little. It was one thing to excuse the kids, they were kids. But to paint this kind of irresponsibility as noble? And then to suggest some kind of roman holiday? Why was she trying to tempt him away from this mission? His blood ran hot. And recognizing the danger he flexed that new muscle (unconsciously?) and the fire hot blood turned icy cold. He rose and stared into Cassie’s eyes. His eyes seemed to be blue ice themselves.
“This is classic rationalization Cassie. You’re afraid, you don’t want to face this. So you explain their actions, your actions, as though they were required. A needed break before the storm. It’s like an alcoholic just having one drink to steady the nerves. You’re better than this. You know you are.”
She was. She could feel herself wilting under his gaze, knew that she had let him down. Really, what was she thinking? The world was ending if they couldn’t stop the Swarm. This was serious.
Her head went down as she nodded. “You’re right Jason. But it’s scary.” She swallowed, a bit of fight still in her and met his gaze. “You’re right. I am afraid.”
Jason felt a charge of electricity run through him. He could help. And with his help, they would be better. They’d be heroes worthy of the name. He walked over and put his hand on her shoulder in a fatherly manner. “It’s alright. We’re in this together. Facing it is better than hiding from it. We just need to convince the others.”
His hand lay on her shoulder, warm and approving and she smiled weaklly. But we aren’t in this together! came the sudden thought. You ass! We’re not really together at all!
Her face stilled as she shrugged off his hand and stepped back. The movement reminded her how exhausted she was, how much she was killing herself training, how much she was sacrificing in her personal life. Heck, even her cat Max barely saw her, knew his autofeed/waterer better than he knew her. Cassie stared daggers at Jason, tired fury finally breaking the serenity of her face.
“I’m not convincing them of a damned thing Jason Duncan,” she stated through gritted teeth. “I don’t know where the hell the sanctimonious, demanding jerk came from but I’m sick to death of him. Let the damned world become an alien parking lot. I’m going to go find someone to enjoy our last days with. Someone who will remind me why I’m working so hard to save humanity. I can’t seem to remember why I’m doing it when I’m with you lately.”
Jason felt like he’d sudden fallen, his stomach leapt into his throat. “So. What are you saying? What am I supposed to do now?”
She blinked at him, stunned by his words. “What do you mean, what are you supposed to do now? Go find another hobby. The Vanguard aren’t yours. We just a group of people, real people with real lives who have amazing gifts. Real people who have real emotions that they want to share with other people.” She closed her eyes and then opened them, shaking her head as she stared at the man she had thought she knew.
“You need to go talk with Reggie. She knows you, knows you better than I do. Maybe she can help you. I can’t reach you this time. I don’t know who you’ve become. But I know that I can’t do this anymore. She wants you. I could see it when we talked. Maybe she can do what I can’t.”
Jason looked stunned, staring at Cassie. Words failed him. He looked down and saw his own reflection sharing her scorn. “I.. I… I’m sorry,” was all he managed. He turned and walked out of the control room.
It was rare, but she felt a flash of anger so strong that she could barely see. “Oh no you don’t!” she whispered sharply and ’ported into the hallway in front of him.
“Sorry don’t do no good!” she snapped, shaking her head. “You stay, Jason Duncan! You stay and fight for me! I. . .I kissed Douglas a day ago. And it was wonderful. Do you even care?”
Jason blinked confusedly. “Who is Douglas?”
She closed her eyes to exhale with exasperation. “Does that even matter, Jason? How does it make you feel?”
Betrayed. Bewildered. Lost. Afraid. Guilty. Angry. Desperate. Sorry. Longing. Sorrowful. ”I… don’t know what I feel," he managed. “If that is what you want. Maybe, that is what you need.”
Her rage burnt away in a wave of despair and bitter sorrow. She opened her eyes to look at him, hoping against hope that he wasn’t the broken, confused man that his voice indicated. If he wasn’t cold, overly moral, demanding and dismissive, he was lost, bewildered and broken. The lost man looked at her as if she had knocked him down and kicked him. But nothing else. Only confusion and struggle. She inhaled hard, fighting back tears as she began to tremble, knowing that she had lost him..
“I want Jason back,” she stated softly with strained desperation to the man who wasn’t him. “If he comes back, tell him to look me up. Until then. . .” A violent tremor shook through her and she bit her lip and ’ported.