Welcome to the New Normal

Jason sent out the dinner invites.

He traveled the several miles to the greet harvest grocery and began going through his list. He was used to shopping for one, then two including Tyler, but he hadn’t ever shopped for six. Luckily the store had a wide array of packaged meals, he was able to get a variety of foods both vegan and for the meat eaters, in three styles, Mediterranean, Southwestern, and classical American. He figured everyone would be happy. He bought some fancy sparkling waters, teas and wines for those interested. It was pleasant enough weather this of year to eat outside, so he had pulled the big table down to the open warehouse under a sky light. He noted that he’d need to purchase silverware, china, glassware and the like as well. It would appear his bachelor life of eating from a can over the sink was over. He completed his purchases and headed off to the next store to complete his work before the team arrived.

Later,

He and Tyler arranged the outdoor lighting, and brought out some coolers to store drinks and salads in until everyone arrived. Tyler had proudly brought what looked like candy bar sized blocks of dry ice and placed them in the coolers, instantly producing a cool mist. They weren’t dry ice, but what they were, he wouldn’t say. Jason shrugged it off.

The sun had set before the first of the team arrived.

As the monorail comes nowhere near this area, travel was something that most of the team was going to have to consider. For the evening’s dinner, though, the three women of the team arrived together. Deirdre commented via her tablet that she was probably going to have to break down and actually purchase a vehicle. Haven’t needed one before now, but getting out here or running off to a scene of Power usage is going to be challenging.

As they walked into Jason’s place, Deirdre looked around thoughtfully. She waved a bit to Jason and signed, It’s coming along.

“Thanks, Cassie,” said Denny as she bailed out of the backseat. “I really appreciate the ride.” Then she caught sight of the tables and the preparations and the mist pouring out of the coolers and her eyes got wide. “Whoa. And I thought we’d be sitting on the floor noshing on Pizza Slut. Awesome.”

The dark-haired banker laughed and waved a hand. “It’s simple to rent a car. Besides, it’s a foundation expense. I’ll be asking Jason for the receipts for all this.” She looked around with a gentle smile. “Much nicer than before.”

Jason greets the women and offers them beverages. He excuses himself to get the smart projector and comes back to position it on a tall ladder to shine on a bedsheet he had tacked to one of the walls. The rough uneven textures of the wall show through the sheet at first, but when he turns on the projector they disappear revealing a palette of tools accessible using the motion detection features of the projector.

Pinching his fingers as though holding a pen, he “taps” the inkwell, and writes “The Plan” in a loose scrawl that quickly is recognized by the projector and converted to a crisp clear font.

Turning to the others he stops.

“Oh, I wasn’t starting yet, not until Alexander shows up…” He feels a little like when he teaches. “Just getting things set up. You know a work space.”

Jason smiled a bit as Tyler and his long hours had paid off. The “garden” area was beginning to look like something planned. The mix of industrial basis with the walled garden motive was cooling and calming. It definitely assisted and the transition from the desolation outside to the notion of an entirely different space, an oasis in more ways than one.

“We’ve done a pretty good job clearing out the buildings too. It is mostly bare walls and support structures, but we are beginning to work our way through them. The center area houses a fairly professional looking lobby, office and utility area (supplies, kitchenette). That serves as the front end of Power Analysis. Upstairs is where Tyler and I are living right now. We’ve got a pretty well stocked kitchen, and actual furniture in the bedrooms. Over there…” He points to a new door in the wall across from the main entrance (Cassie would note that that is where the Brute punched a hole in the wall). “Is office and consultation rooms, well room for now, oh …and the first floor restrooms. Eventually I hope to have a couple other offices there, for different styles of consults.” He leaves that remark unexplained.

“The biggest amount of work is through those buildings. The old furnace room where the boilers were kept, and the fabrication buildings. They were in worse shape. But they are clean at least.” He and Tyler exchange knowing glances having mucked through the fetid liquid in one. We’re looking into that main room as a sort of lounge, meeting area with a variety of distractions, and eventually the elevator down to the basement, once we figure out how to make that work. The other area will be a gymnasium with pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, exercise and dance areas. All of these above ground areas can serve us as a team, and any people who needs our services without arousing too much suspicion if they are under surveillance. Since everyone has some reason to be here, other than our Powers," he looks over at Deirdre as though there were more to be said, but moves on."our presence in the facilities should not be proof of anything. At least that my hope, that those of us who wish to maintain our privacy and identities as secrets, can, while providing a plausibly reason why we might be seen together…. Any way, come help me grab some food, something to drink and we can eat and talk. "

Denny followed the tour of the facilities with an avid eye. When Jason was done, she looked over at him and asked, “So, where did all the stuff go? I’m not sure how you feel about found art, but I betcha if you’ve got some metal machinery lying around, I could turn it into some modern steampunky sculptures. Well,” she added, realizing how crazy it sounded, “that’s if that’s the look you’re going for, I mean.”

Smooth, Den. Real smooth. You dork. Denny turned around to hide her embarrassment and started in on the food. Maybe if you fill your mouth with dinner, stupid stuff like that won’t come falling out of it.

“Most of it is out back, some of it, Tyler appropriated for his work. Mostly to melt down I think. As far as I am concerned you are free to play with it. Might be good to have another set of hands practiced with a blow torch and such. I am pretty much useless in that regard. “Bruteforce” is about the only contribution I bring to bear. Maybe in the lounge area.. I was hoping to keep the fronts of the big coal burners for decoration purposes, maybe a steam punk sort of theme would help carry the motif. First receptionist and now interior decorator. Who said you wouldn’t move up the corporate ladder?"

Denny had her mouth full of—whatever it was, it was good—and could only offer him a grateful nod and a duck of her head. Okay, so maybe not so much a failbot tonight. She swallowed in a hurry and asked, “I noticed those. I think they’d be awesome as is. This whole place is, really. We could have a real cutting edge industrial-chic look happening here. The garden is genius, by the way. It totally gives the place the sort of class you’d never expect from the outside. Um … are we gonna do something with the outside or leave it as-is? Like camouflage or something?”

Having said that and trying not to overstep any boundaries, Denny decided that now was not the right time to ask about any toxic waste that might have been lying around for ages and ages. If there were, I’m dead anyway. I’ve already been exposed to it. Think positive.

Deirdre catches the look shot her way and shoots a querying brow toward Jason. She isn’t entirely sure what it was that he avoided saying, though she caught the definite sense that he’d bit back something. Her response, however, is easy enough. I think hiding in plain sight is a good idea. In theory no one should jump to the conclusion that a super-powered team lives in a place or works out of a place called “Powers Analysis Inc.” It seems like the last place to find a hero team, right? Hence why it makes sense to actually be here. At least to her mind.

She walks through the rooms and smiles slightly — he keeps getting her over here to stick a paintbrush in her hand, and Dee has to admit it’s not looking bad at all. The man has a decent eye for color. She helps herself to a drink as everyone settles in.

Alexander comes in wearing a light yellow polo shirt and a pair of blue jeans. His hair is still slightly damp from his shower. He drops his bag in an out pf the way corner, then joins everyone else. “Hey guys. Anything exciting going on?”

He gathers an apple and then plops down in a chair.

Jason sees that Alexander has arrived, and gives everyone a chance to relax. Then he gets the ball rolling.

“Since it looks like everyone is here, why don’t we get started? We’ve talked about all this before, but not really all together since the incident at the warehouse, and barely then. We know that word of our existence, if not our identities is out, and the people are hungry for more. I’ve mentioned my thoughts about this to you individually, but I’ll say it again. I think we should make it official, be a team. Then next time we use our powers publicly we can introduce ourselves, as the team, whatever we decide to call it. I think that will do a little bit to feed the people’s thirst for information. That and maybe if we come up with code names, super hero identities for what it is worth, costumes the whole nine yards. I think the more we play that part, the less likely they will push to try to know who we are? I don’t know. It might not work. Anyway. Alexander and Tyler have both donated substantially to a Foundation which in turn is paying for these renovations, in part by paying Power Analysis Inc. That is a company I started for three purposes, the first is to keep us in the look of any official investigations of Powers like us, the second is to attract other Powers, and to help them however we can with testing, counseling, just a person like them to talk to even, and lastly as a sort front for our team. With Power Analysis running its operations from here, we can all be seen here, with each in or out of our super hero identities and there is a plausible reason why we might be here. Any questions? Comments?”

Jason took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“That’s a lot to take in all at once. I think my head just exploded,” Denny quipped, putting her plate down. “But in a good way. So … we’ll get code names and costumes and a base of operations. Will we have communications, too? How will we know when we need to come together as a team? Will we have a bat signal or something? A phone tree? Beepers? Special ring tone? And if we’re in the middle of a scrimmage, how will we be able to talk to each other and coordinate our moves? Bluetooth? Bable Fish? And all of that kinda leaves Dee out unless we can do text-to-speech and back again without having to type anything. Um .. well, yeah. Those are my main thoughts and questions for now, anyway.”

Denny subsided, a bit surprised at how much came tumbling out of her. Your mouth is working. You should look to that. She picked up her fork and started eating again.

Jason nodded. “Yes communicators sound like a good idea. Once we get installed here, we ought to be able to a global system for communicating, but independently of that, small comm links should connect us within relatively short range, a kilometer or two?” He looks to Tyler for back up. “If we can commit to having those on us, or at least, forwarding the signal to our phones, I think that ought to do for contact. And I am pretty sure we can get a functional text to speech gauntlet for Deirdre, she can type in, and it will send sound to us. All this assumes you want to be contacted, and or be able to contact the rest of us.” He added, looking at Cassie uncertainly.

Deirdre looked intrigued at the notion that a text-to-speech gauntlet might be something that could be used. Although she had a couple of ideas for things, they seemed rather science fiction-y to her mind. She merely nods to Jason at his query about wanting to be contacted. She did want to be in that loop, yes.

Cassie glanced up at Jason with a slight and pre-practiced smile and gave him a slight nod. Her face was blandly pleasant but her eyes were wary. She still hadn’t committed 100% to this endeavor, but she was willing to try. Mark’s whole hearted endorsement of it went a long way to making her inclined to try, but the concept still made her twitch. At least the foundation would give her a reason to be here and with luck, she’d be able to make it grow enough to be a substantial, but discreet account in her portfolio. She looked around the transforming plant, noting the bits and pieces of hominess that Jason and Tyler were putting in place with a little guilt. They were truly trying to make something. Something that could change the world.

Jason’s uncertain glance made her feel bad; she looked up and caught his eyes with a full and unguarded smile, letting her eyes twinkle into his. Dark and Bratty may have made a hole, but the doorway was a nice touch and added to the flow of the rooms. She made herself comfortable in one of the chairs and tried to let herself feel more a part of the team.

“It sounds good so far Jason. I’m not sure I can add anything to what we have already talked about. I do have a question though,” Alexander sits up straighter. “What’s going to be the relationship between Power Analytics and Vanguard? if any? And is Power Analytics going to investigate, or wait for people to come to it? Either way I think we need a way to weed the crazies out from the people that genuinely need help. Can you do that? Or should we get Tyler to invent something? Or involve Miriam?”

“Lot of stuff to think about,” Alexander says, “And loads of repercussions.”

Jason felt his mood lighten with Cassie’s smile, and he took a sip of his wine and munched on an empanada while Alexander spoke.

“Well, when it comes to detecting the “crazies” as you put it, I guess that would be my job, as it has been for the last fifteen years. I wouldn’t say my goal is to weed out troubled people so much as make sure they get the right kind of attention. I think it is entirely understandable that anyone might be stressed, confused and troubled by these powers. So in that regard, I do want to help them. In many respects I think that will be my main contribution to the cause. Now if you mean people claiming to have abilities who don’t really, well I would say the proof is in the pudding. If they can’t manifest powers, then I am not sure they need our help. If they can, well presumably that should be pretty obvious, right? I should mention, depending on the demand, I am interested in offering help to people affected by powers whether they have them or not, so a person who was attacked by a Power, or whose child has powers might also come. I don’t know how many people will be interested in such services, but if there is more demand that we can manage, well… let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

In terms of the third tine of the business, investigating. One of the things I do for Law Enforcement in my regular life is profile and diagnose people with possible mental disorders, serial killers, etc. I see Power Analysis as a natural offshoot of that work, I already do. I study unusual people, and crimes where the police believe an unusual person is involved, pretty much anyone with powers fits that description. So my hope is to parley my existing service with the AFPD into helping them on a consulting basis with cases related to powers. For example, they might bring someone in who lost control of her powers, but who they think has no criminal intent. I could help them ascertain that, and maybe offer the services of Power Analysis to respond. Or they might find evidence of something definitely criminal, a bank robbery where a Power was involved. In this case, they might bring Power Analysis in to help determine what powers were used, and how best to pursue the culprits. At least that is the sort of case I am imagining. Those sorts of investigations might overlap with our own investigations into the origins of our powers, and how they work, but we wouldn’t necessarily share all that information with the police or other law enforcement."

He looks around the room at the assembled group.

“As to the relationship between Power Analysis and the group, I think officially, there should be none, other than say a vague implication that we know each other. Power Analysis will consistently maintain a policy of confidentiality. So if asked, we will say that our policy is not to disclose our clients. Unofficially, I would say each person… who wants to maintain a secret identity, ought to establish some business connection to Power Analysis. I’ve offered Denny part time work as an Admin. Cassie has agreed to manage the finances of the foundation. I was thinking Deirdre could be brought in as a consultant. There is a Power in the city with sonic powers, we might have hired Deirdre with vocal and auditory training to help her. Personally, with her skills as a talent search, she might have more use than that. Alexander, you said you were going public, right? Telling the world? If that is the case, the only relationship you can have with Power Analysis that won’t give up the ghost, is as a client, either for training and counseling or perhaps to help you seek out other powers. Remember, our policy is to not divulge anything, but if you want to speak publicly about it, you are free to. Just make it clear that you are not part of the company. Now if people trace your money to the foundation, and to us, you can admit that you think we are doing a good thing, and wanted to contribute. I don’t see anything odd about that. Does that answer your questions? I didn’t really see Power Analysis as the purpose of this meeting, it was about the group of us Powers.”

Deirdre listened thoughtfully, sipping from her drink while Jason talked. As he listed out his thoughts on the company versus the team, she pursed her lips and nodded slowly. Then she set her drink down to sign. The way you’re laying out the company itself seems entirely plausible. In terms of my involvement, I am certainly willing to be listed as a consultant to the company for purposes of identifying and/or approaching ‘talented’ individuals who might be in need of the company’s help. As time goes on, I may be in a position to step into a more active or visible role… Although the thought terrifies the hell out of her.

But I agree that the more urgent conversation is both how to set this group up as a team and how to establish the separation. Her dark eyes slide to Alexander and she offers slowly, Alexander wishes to go entirely public with his identity, and I find that admirable, but I do not want that. For a great many reasons. So that puts Alexander square in the spotlight as the team’s spokesperson, to my mind. She nods to Jason. And you need to be sure to keep a very low profile because you are the face of Powers Analysis. We cannot have someone doing voice analysis and realizing you and your hero alter-ego are the same person because you sound alike, but … I think I can actually help with that as necessary. I’ve been working with my ability in the practice rooms at the university and it turns out that I don’t just manipulate sound, apparently I create it. But it means that controlling a wavelength to alter the sound of a voice should be well within my skills with some additional practice, perhaps.

The petite redhead suddenly seems to realize that she’s offered a huge slew of words, and she blushes a deep crimson and drops her eyes. Picking up her glass she sort of shrinks back into her chair and tries to ignore that the group may be looking at her.

Denny waited until Deirdre’s signing was finally translated and she nodded. Everything so far made a lot of sense. Team HQ? Check. Team front man? Check. Cover operation? Check. Identity backstops? Check. “So … what’s next on the list?” she asked aloud.

“I guess a few details,” Jason said. “A name for the team. Code names. Costumes?”

The conversation drifted into the realms of comic book history — there were cool suggestions, there were silly suggestions. Cassie suggested Jason call himself “Dark Brat” because of his alter-ego’s tendency to act something like a toddler on a tantrum. It was met with a sour look from Jason and silent giggles from Deirdre, at least.

Alexander offered “Artisan” as a name for Denny, since none of the more mechanically inclined suggestions seemed to fit at all. And he wanted the lofty “Paragon” for himself, which garnered a little debate but was ultimately agreed upon as a good one by the others because if he was going to be the face of the team, well… he sort of needed to draw that kind of attention. Jason finally settled on “Brute Force,” which again made Deirdre smother silent giggles behind her hand because Cassie’s glance at her was rather telling.

Denny’s suggestion for Cassie met with widespread support — “Traveler” was very appropriate. And the moniker of “Siren” was settled on for Deirdre, which made Cassie laugh out loud and tell the others about the fire alarm siren Dee had created to warn her of the rock slide last weekend.

Discussion of group names came next, and several were bandied around. Throughout most of the conversation Deirdre remained silent, but when “The Vanguard” was suggested, she seconded that one immediately. Uniforms were a whole different matter, however. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of what they wanted to wear, and through the course of the evening as everyone ate and drank and grew more comfortable with one another a theme finally emerged. The jackets that would go over the individual uniforms would be the unifying marker.

Tyler was more prone to suggest interesting equipment that could be obtained or made for the group, including a really tricked-out van. The last matter of business seemed to be a question that no one really had the answer to: Would Miriam want to take a personal role in all of this? It was something that would need to be discussed with the woman who was the catalyst for their team.

And thus, The Vanguard was born.

Comments

Everyone, we didn’t actually nail the time of day for this one, though Steve suggested Saturday, 22 May. Which would work, cuz 2 days later, Issue 5 starts. If we need to change the time stamp, let me know or just go ahead and change it. _

Meeting of Minds
 

Oh, and please check the tags on this one. I don’t think I missed any, but add any that I did miss, okay?

Meeting of Minds
Malificent taimdala

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