Shakti Haddad stood in the parking garage of the Halo City Protectorate HQ in the west wing of City Hall. Glow panels on the ceiling provided enough light for her to see all the way around the empty room; the garage had a 50 vehicle capacity, and the X-Men had one beat up hover truck, which was currently out on assignment.
A thin smile parted her lips as she produced a datapad from a pouch on her thigh. No rest for the wicked, she thought to herself as she flipped the screen up. She immersed herself in an expense report to the City Council, which required her to submit any and all activities undertaken by the Protectorate. The hassle of it all often made her wonder why the X-Men had agreed to become an officially sanctioned group. They had spent their entire existence doing the same thing they were now without having to worry about what they were spending; actually, they really hadn't had any money to spend. Sighing and shaking her head, she went through the columns on the form in her head: Equipment, transportation, meals, etc.
Her concentration was interrupted by a loud noise on the other end of the room. Looking up from the datapad, she noticed the west door was moaning open. Heaving a relieved sigh, she saved the changes and closed the screen as the doors finished sliding apart, flooding most of the room in sunlight. She breathed in the rush of fresh air that accompanied the warm glow as she replaced the mini-comp back in its pouch. Seconds later, the light was obscured by a large object moving in front of the door; The Experience had returned.
The aged hovertruck chugged into the garage, engine straining and sputtering as it drew into a spot a few feet away from Shakti before coming to a quiet rest as the ignition was turned off. A loud hiss from the hydraulic system in the door signaled that it was about to slide open, and it started to, but gave out and stopped halfway. Shakti smiled as she heard Henri curse on the other side of the door and proceed to jam it open the rest of the way manually. He exited the truck, mumbling something about fixing the thing later. He was followed by Tim, and then Luna, who was propping up what looked like a crude stone statue.
“I take it that this is the guy that sent the distress signal?” Shakti asked, indicating to the rocky figure. All three X-Men looked at Shakti with the same defensive look.
“Unfortunately, yes,” was Henri’s reply. The confused expression on Shakti’s face must have let them know that some elaboration was necessary, but none was given.
“Where can I drop this guy off?” Luna asked in her usual gruff manner. It seemed to Shakti that even though she was trying to hold the figure up, she was trying to do so with as little contact as possible.
“Bring him up to the infirmary, they’ve got a hoverchair they’ll use to bring him over to Immigrations,” Shakti responded as Luna turned around and walked as briskly as she was able to the elevator on the east wall of the garage. Henri and Tim watched Luna carry the figure off with an aura of distrust.
“You guys all right?” Shakti asked, furrowing her brow with concern, “You seem a little… I don’t know, guarded.”
“It’s that guy,” Tim responded seriously, “There’s just something about him that makes me think it was a bad idea to bring him here.”
“Like what?” Shakti asked, curious.
“It’s just that when we met him, he knew so much about us. It’s like he had been studying us or something,” Tim responded.
“He showed me how to tap into a part of my powers that I didn’t even know I had. Then, the entire ride back here, he kept talking to us, saying things that he shouldn't know about. Personal things,” Tim responded, his face betraying just a little pain.
“Henri, did you get the same feeling?” Shakti asked, turning her attention to the team’s speedster.
“Yeah, and Luna too. Ask her later. That guy, Shakti, I just don’t think we can trust him,” Henri responded.
“Hm. We’ll keep an eye on him, then,” Shakti replied, eager to change the subject, “Later, I’ll need one of you to fill out a mission report to submit to the Council. Right now, though, Eddie’s back in town. Let’s get Luna and then we’re going to get the team together to celebrate his surprisingly prompt acceptance into the Protectorate. He starts active duty tomorrow.”
“That’s great!” Henri grinned, “Now all we have to do is get Xi’an to stop moping around in that church. It’s not like it’ll be that hard; Eddie’s been back for less than a day, and he’s already getting a badge!”
Shakti and Tim laughed, glad that the talk of ominous beginnings was over, as all three friends moved towards the elevator to go after Luna.
“Oh, man!” Eddie screamed, looking around his new Protectorate apartment, “This place is sweet!”
Sham smiled to herself; she had grown accustomed to the accommodations provided for the X-Men due to their Protectorate status. They were pretty sweet; two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a main area with a kitchenette. Each apartment had come with a standardized furniture layout, but custom-made steel reinforced furniture had been made to support what the Council had thought to be Eddie’s immense weight. Sham guessed no one had told them that he could just transform his body into a lighter metal when he had to. Her thoughts were interrupted by another outburst from Eddie.
“Hey, why do these apartments have two bedrooms?”
“You know, I haven’t thought about it,” Sham replied, “I just bought a bunch of cabinets and turned my second bedroom into a big walk-in closet.”
“That’s a good idea, actually,” Rosa chimed in. Sham turned around, a little startled. She had forgotten that Rosa was even in the room. She sat smiling on an off-white microfiber couch, rocking her son, Joaquin, in her arms.
“It won’t really work for me, I’m afraid,” Eddie replied, mock sadness on his face, “Nobody makes shirts in my size, it seems. I’m lucky I even found pants that fit me.”
All three of the room’s occupants chuckled as Eddie tugged on the seam of his oversized pants.
“If you’re that broken up about it, there’s a place called Dukes’ Bigger and Taller over on Magnus Street,” Sham offered, “They make clothes specifically tailored to mutants of your… proportions.”
“Really?” Eddie responded eagerly, “I’ve been dying to wear real clothes for a while. I’ll check it out the first chance I get. For now, though, don’t we have to meet the others for my welcome back party?”
The clock agreed with him, and as all three of the room’s occupants left via the extra-wide door (Eddie could change his weight, not his width), Sham noticed an extra spring in Eddie’s step that had not been there when he arrived in Halo City.
“Foolkillers? Here?!” Xi’an Chi Xan screamed at his guest. Victor Ten Eagles met his old friend’s gaze with a stoic face.
“You’re sure it’s after us?”
“Of course. It attacked me in New Mexico. You think I got this for fun?” Victor said, holding up his mechanical right arm, “Trust me, Xi’an. This guy’s out for blood.”
“So what happened to your arm?” Xi’an asked.
“I was programming a very intricate holosuite for one of my bigger clients in the studio. I took a break and went to the fridge; I opened the door, heard a click, then boom. No arm.”
Xi’an stared at his friend seriously, nodding for him to continue.
“When I heard the click, I jumped as far out of the way as I could. The blast radius was pretty small, but it did get my arm. Luckily, it missed the vitals. That’s when the Foolkiller stepped into the kitchen and started giving some speech about sins, but I was too busy almost blacking out to hear it clearly. I guess the automated defenses must have kicked in when the bomb went off, because the autoguns started popping off shots. I managed to escape to the garage under their cover, making it to my hovervan and setting the autopilot for Halo City. Then I blacked out. I woke up on an operating table with this.”
Victor thumped his middle finger against his new metallic arm. The shoulder was one giant silver ball joint, and molded metal bands down the length of the arm acted as the skin ending in the complicated-looking hand unit. Xi’an stared at it as he sank down into a nearby chair, leaning one elbow on the armrest and propping his chin on his fist. He took a look around his chambers in the church. They were plain, for the most part, but that was to be expected. He was living in a church, after all. The sparse iron bed to his left was one of two major pieces of furniture in the room. The other was the table he had turned into a makeshift desk, complete with two wooden chairs. Xi’an occupied one. Victor, lowering his arm, sank into the other.
“Why now?” Xi’an asked.
“I don’t know. Why ever? We thought we had gotten them all the first time, remember? ‘The New Hope Massacre,’ that’s what they called it.”
“Yeah. I remember,” Xi’an responded quietly, closing his eyes, “Five years ago. New Hope, Texas. Not a moment I’m proud of.”
“Nor I, but they attacked us. That may have been the one time the Lawless actually had the right to start a fight.”
“We destroyed the whole town.”
“I know. But what choice did we have? The whole town was full of religious fanatics. Don’t you remember the ‘salvation chamber’?”
Xi’an shuddered to himself. He preferred not to remember the torture chamber the Elders of New Hope had sentenced them to. The only way to salvation was to convert to the faith of the Elders; conversion meant instant execution for the past sins of those such as the Lawless. For that matter, Xi’an preferred no to remember anything about his visit to New Hope. The Lawless rode in, looking for a place to spend the night; they got that and more when the road exploded in front of them. Mongrel was the first to hit the mines. No one had time to avoid them, not that it would have done any good. Within seconds, the group was surrounded by the town’s guardians, the Foolkillers. The disoriented Lawless were easy targets for the organized and efficient zealots. Xi’an remembered a gloved fist colliding with his face, then waking up strapped to a cold metal slab. He seldom let himself recall the agony that followed; today was no exception.
“I remember the chamber.”
“Then you know we had no other way. If we didn’t fight our way out when Haiku hacked into their systems and set us free, we would have died in that town. Those villagers weren’t going to let us leave if it killed them all. Unfortunately, it did.”
“Or so we thought.”
“Yes, so it seems.”
The two friends sat in silence for some minutes, staring at each other from across the room.
“What should we do?” Victor finally asked.
“I don't know. Are you sure the Foolkiller even survived your defenses?”
“They weren’t exactly top of the line. They were probably only enough to distract him, I’d be surprised if he was even actually hit.”
“Have you contacted any of the others?”
“I tried to send a message to Haiku. It didn’t get through. For the first time in three years, Broken Haiku is offline. He’s probably already gotten to her.”
“How do you know he didn’t get to her before coming after you?”
“I had talked with Haiku the day before. I needed her to gather some information for the holosuite project I was working on. She was fine then.”
“Damn… and the others?”
“I haven’t been able to contact any of them. I know the Reverend’s been dead for a few years now; but your guess is as good as mine as to where Junkpile, Auntie Maim, and Mongrel got off to,” Victor responded.
“Junkpile’s with SHIELD. He should be fine, if no one else,” Xi’an replied, looking coolly at his companion, “Hopefully, we won’t have to worry about the other two. If he came here straight after you, he wouldn’t have had time to look for them. We don’t have time to find them, either. We’ll just have to stop the Foolkiller ourselves.”
“Can’t we ask your X-Men for help?”
“This is none of their business,” Xi’an snapped back, “Besides, they were never ‘my’ X-Men, especially now. They have more important things to worry about.”
“Hm. Then how do we go after him?”
“We won’t have to, most likely. Everyone in the city knows where to find me. He will come to us.”
“So you would prefer that we sit around and wait for him to kill us in your room?”
“A fanatic like him would never start a fight in a church. He’ll either get us on the street or call us out.”
“Either way, we’re just going to be waiting here, then?”
“Of course not. Shakti sent me a message earlier; Eddie is in the city, and the X-Men are gathering together to welcome him back. I’m going, of course. I think it will be good to see Eddie again. Doubtless, they will attempt to get me to join them as well.”
“Will you? You led them once.”
“I merely brought them together; I could never lead them. Enough talk, though. I need to clean myself up. I’m leaving soon. You’re welcome to come along, if you want, just… don’t say anything about the Foolkiller.”
“Anything’s better than being cooped up here.”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” Xi’an sighed, looking around the bare apartment, “Sometimes I think I’d like nothing better…”
One thing Krystalin Ogada could do without was the Halo City weather; generally hot, with a chance of really hot. She wiped a bead of sweat from her brow as she walked along the street towards the convent of the Sisters of the Howling Commandments.
Shakti had asked her to make sure that Xi’an made it to Eddie’s welcome-back dinner. She began to regret agreeing to it, though she wasn’t sure why. The sight of churches just had that effect on her; they made her uneasy. Perhaps it was her mother’s distaste for non-Thorite institutions, perhaps it was her own insecurities about her spirituality. Henri had always told her that belief in anything but science was a waste of time, but that had only confused her more. Generally, she tried not to think about it, but now, confronted with the physical representation of a religion, the old questions popped back into her head. Was there a God? Did He care? Should she care? She shook her head, hoping to force the thoughts out with little success.
Her long, curly hair brushed against her face as she looked around the street for something else to think about. Despite the numerous shops, street urchins, and pedestrians she passed, all she could see was an ominous convent two blocks down the road.
She strode towards the intimidating building at a casual pace. She tried to tell herself she wasn’t heading there for spiritual matters, just to collect a friend. After a few minutes of unsuccessfully trying to calm her thoughts, she had reached the steps of the convent. Scaling them slowly, she thrust her hands into the pockets of the black leather jacket she wore when it felt like they were going to start shaking.
“Jeez, it’s just a building,” she muttered to herself, “Get a grip, Krys.”
Krystalin crossed the landing at the top of the stairs once she had climbed them. She waited a few moments outside the door before removing one of her hands from her pockets and grabbing the handle. She turned it and stepped into the foyer of the church, shutting the door quietly behind her. When she turned to face the interior of the church, she noticed that the foyer led directly into the sanctuary. The sanctuary had the typical trappings of a gothic style cathedral; dark stone walls leading to high, vaulted ceilings, sparse wooden pews, and an elaborate altar adorned with red cloth and a crucifix, behind which was set an extravagant stained-glass window depicting some saint or another.
Krys took a few hesitant steps forward, not quite sure where Xi’an’s room was. She was saved the trouble of looking for him when two familiar faces, and one unfamiliar arm, emerged from a door near the back of the sanctuary and made their way to her through the rows of seats. They stopped a few feet in front of her.
“Oh my god! Victor, what happened to your arm?” Krys gasped, taking a hesitant step towards the tall man.
“I’ll… tell you later,” Victor responded, glancing quickly at Xi’an, who nodded slightly in return, “Anyway, we need to get going.”
“Victor’s right,” Xi’an interrupted, stepping swiftly to the door, “We’ve got to get going. Stories can wait for later.”
Krys opened her mouth to protest, but she knew that neither man was given to explaining themselves when they didn’t want to. She shut her mouth slowly before turning around and walking out the door Xi’an held open. She would have to tell Shakti about this later.
Bloodhawk had never known another home; he had dwelled in the desert for as long as he could remember. It had nurtured him, given him shelter, from the time he first stumbled into it. Long ago, whether by accident or by design, he had left behind his memories to serve his home. In return for its services, all that was asked of Bloodhawk was that he protected it from the taint of mankind’s greed and apathy, a task he took most seriously. A task he was called upon to undertake today.
Pillars of smoke stabbed the sky ahead of him, obscuring the golden, sandy horizon. Even a mile away, the stench clung to his nostrils. Bloodhawk was not pleased with the sight speeding into his view; three heavy-class hover transports, arranged in a triangle. The smoke spewing from the middle of the encampment blurred his view, but he could make out the caravan’s occupants in the middle of the transport formation. There were at least thirty of them laying on the ground. He found it odd that they would sleep outside without a watch, but cared little. They were desecrating his desert, his home. Though the humans may have thrived in the presence of smog and filth, Bloodhawk detested it. This trespass would not go unpunished. Bloodhawk flapped his wings, hard, to gain altitude. Catching a gusting air current, he sped ever faster to his target.
As the caravan came closer and closer into view, he could see the migrants more clearly. He noticed that most of them were positioned rather awkwardly; arms were bent behind the backs, legs were folded in… unnatural ways. Sleeping? Hardly. Bloodhawk knew the sight of death rather well. He saw it now. Finally, he reached the cloud of smoke choking his home. Letting his wings slack little by little, he rode the air currents to the ground.
Touching down, he raced over to the nearest traveler and grasped him by the throat; it was cold. Snarling, Bloodhawk dropped the body back on the ground and glanced at the other occupants of the caravan; no movement. He noticed then that the caravan was in complete disarray; the trucks were torn and battered, as though they had exploded from within.
He sniffed the air and concentrated on his ears, trying to detect signs of life; he could detect only the sound and stench of the fires smoldering all around him. He stepped silently around the camp, always alert, checking each body he could find; as he suspected, no survivors.
Growling, he ran to the wreckage of the easternmost hovertruck, ripping into the hull. A jet of smoke and flame shot out at him; he growled deeply as he sidestepped the fire. His nostrils flared as he picked up a familiar scent from inside the battered hull; nitroglycerin. Someone had destroyed them from the inside; the bombs must have set off the fuel cells in the hovertrucks, resulting in the dark cloud covering the landscape. But who placed the bombs?
Growling once more, Bloodhawk pulled a fire retardant bomb off his bandolier. Yanking the pin with his teeth, he tossed it into the hole he had torn in the hovertruck. He heard the hiss of the foam spreading inside the truck, smothering the fires inside. One last gasp of smoke puffed out, defiantly, before whirling apart to nothing.
Ten minutes later, Bloodhawk had smothered the fires in the other two trucks as. The smoke was dispersing, clearing the sting from his nostrils and eyes. He turned his attention back to the passengers of the convoy, or what was left of them, anyway. He returned to the first body he had grabbed and knelt beside it. A hammer-shaped pendant lay on its blood-stained chest. Thorites. He noticed a cut in the forehead that looked like an F, with blood streaked across to the right. Curious, he rubbed off the blood, revealing two O’s and an L. F-O-O-L.
“Fool?” Bloodhawk wondered aloud as he walked from corpse to corpse, finding that they all had hammer pendants and the word “Fool” cut into them. As he stood up near the last corpse, Bloodhawk noticed that the last of the smoke had cleared away. The stench of death still hung in the air, but with time, it too would vanish. Looking to the sky, Bloodhawk noticed vultures starting to circle in the newly cleaned air.
“I’m sorry you met your ends this way, humans, but you can take some small pride in knowing that your deaths have contributed to the precious cycle of life in my desert. For that you have my thanks, and my promise that I will find whoever did this, and send him to join you,” Bloodhawk announced to the corpses littering the ground.
He turned away from them and flapped his wings, propelling himself higher and higher into the air until he found a current to ride. He hadn’t found any trace of the killer at the site: no scent, no tracks. Bloodhawk had never been any good at investigating; he was more the man of action. He needed help if he was going to track this… fool killer. He knew of only one group who would help him. He could only hope they kept their city clean…
“The Halo City Council recognizes Morphine Somers. You have the floor, sir.”
“Thank you, Chairman Tanaka,” the green-haired mutant responded, rising from his seat in the front row of the council’s assembly chamber. He strode to a podium set a few feet in front of the center of the council’s table. All nine council members were present that day to hear Morphine’s proposal, staring across the floor right back at him. He could feel the stares of the observers sitting in the forum that sprawled out behind him. The council room could hold 2,500 people, but rarely held more than a few hundred.
Morphine held back a scowl as he scanned the faces of the council; the council that had been voted in to replace him as chief executive of Halo City. The thought that anyone would choose these aging carpetbaggers over him – the man who had practically built this city, who kept it safe from Herod – was… sickening. Did the city really think these doddering old fools could handle the threats facing Halo City? They needed his help; they needed a Morphine Somers at the helm to keep them safe. Luckily for them, he recognized this fact, and was not afraid to act on it.
“If you’ve read the proposal I submitted, you know that I fear for Halo City’s safety,” Morphine opened, putting on his most sincere face, “Our current level of security is simply pitiful: a handful of guards at the gates and a skeleton crew we call a ‘Protectorate’ inside the city proper. I am here to tell you, the members of the Halo City Council, that we face many dangers that cannot be overcome by a staff of 54 people, even if the ‘legendary’ X-Men number among them.”
“What sort of dangers are you talking about, Mr. Somers?” councilwoman Estevez asked from the third seat from the left.
“An excellent question, Ms. Estevez,” Somers responded with a polite smile, “There are many threats to the safety of our city. Firstly, the council cannot be unaware of the growing interests of the megacorps in our city. Indeed, Halo City would be a rich source of genetic livestock for any ambitious corp. Do you really think that a 7-man protectorate can hold off an entire megacorp invasion force?”
Morphine paused for a moment to gauge the council’s reaction. Four or five of the councilmen scribbled notes on their datapads, the others whispered to their neighbors. He could see that his words even reached one or two councilmen. He stifled a smile; winning them over slowly, just like he planned. He coughed and adopted a more grave expression before continuing.
“Sadly, the megacorps aren’t even the biggest challenge facing our city. The crime rate, as you are no doubt aware, is unbelievably high. A citizen of Halo City is either robbed, assaulted, or worse every seven seconds. 230 citizens are murdered every week. I don’t have to tell you that this is unacceptable.”
“We are well aware of these facts,” Chairman Tanaka interjected from the center chair, “And I see in your proposal that you would suggest a regular police force, an institution that this council has already begun to organize. So tell me, Mr. Somers, what sets your own plans so far ahead of our own?”
“My proposed protectorate,” Morphine replied flatly, doing his best to keep a stiff upper lip, “A team of elite officers who are specially trained to deal with large-scale threats and-”
“We already have one of those, Mr. Somers,” councilman Murdoch interrupted from the seat to the far right, “The X-Men.”
“Ah, yes,” Morphine sneered in return, “The X-Men. They do indeed have an impressive reputation, and I do have to respect their tenacity and skill. However, the X-Men have a professed dedication to the entire mutant race, not Halo City. Can we really trust them to protect our city when they send half their number to Mexico at the drop of a hat?”
“It was hardly at the drop of a hat, Mr. Somers,” Chairman Tanaka replied, “According to Ms. Haddad’s report, the X-Men responded to a distress call placed by an imprisoned mutant. Halo City was founded to house people just such as this… Book, I believe was his name. I feel that the X-Men’s job as protectorate extends beyond the borders of our city, where they act as ambassadors of our message of hope and brotherhood.”
The chairman paused for a second while he accepted a round of light applause from the audience gathered. Tanaka shot a quick smirk in Morphine’s direction before directing his eyes to the photographers’ section. Bulbs flashed over the chairman’s face as Morphine burned on the inside. This is my city, you smug worm, Morphine seethed to himself, I shall take pleasure in dismantling your precious image.
“That’s all very well, chairman,” Morphine responded quickly, hiding his bitterness as well as he was able, “But what good will spreading our message be when we have no city with which to welcome the masses?”
Chairman Tanaka shot Morphine an ugly look. Oh, did I bruise your ego, old man? Too bad, Morphine smiled to himself.
“A valid point, Mr. Somers,” councilman Murdoch responded, “But a few things about your proposal need some… clarification.”
“Such as…?” Morphine responded, revealing his long teeth in a politely threatening smile.
“For one, you suggest yourself as the head of this police force. What qualifications do you have to run a law enforcement agency?”
“As you know, I was the appointed governor of Halo City by former President Doom. I feel that my time as executive of this city has not only acquainted me with the challenges facing our community, but with the ways in which a large organization, like a police force, must be managed.”
“I see,” Murdoch responded thoughtfully, “Just one more question, please.”
“This new protectorate you propose… it seems rather ill-defined. You did not specify a roster or outline a recruitment process, submit a timetable for training and integration into the police force, or provide an estimated budget.”
“Well, you see…,” Morphine stuttered, “It’s, ah, very difficult to say how the process will work. The, ah, diversity of our citizens and their, ah, talents, makes it hard to gauge how long the process will take or how much it will cost. So, you see, it is nearly impossible to predict any of the items you listed.”
“I see,” Murdoch replied slyly, “But then, how is it you were able to submit such a complete proposal for the regular police force? Would not that require as much effort, if not more, due to the proposed size of the force, to coordinate and implement? Surely the diversity of the officers would cause some of the same conflicts found in the protectorate.”
“Yes, you may be right,” Morphine responded weakly. You just jumped to the head of the list, Murdoch. Morphine could feel himself begin to shake with anger; he gripped the sides of the podium and tried to maintain a calm exterior. The urge to age the entire auditorium to dust became overwhelming; how could he have omitted such an important part of his proposal? And to have it pointed out by a toad like Murdoch? Unforgivable.
“Well, Mr. Somers, we thank you for your time and interest,” chairman Tanaka interjected, “We will… consider your proposal. You will be notified if we need anything else.”
“Thank you, sir,” Morphine replied, disgusted. He turned on his heel sharply and headed straight for the door. If they needed anything else? If? His hands were balled into fists at his sides as he approached the door and shoved it open with his shoulder. When he was sure it had closed behind him, he let out an aggravated scream and kicked a garbage can in the hall. Trash scattered across the floor as Morphine stormed down the hall to the main gate of the council building.
“Some party,” Eddie joked into Rosa’s ear.
“Be nice,” Rosa whispered back, “They put this whole thing together because they’re happy to see you.”
“Really? Could have fooled me. I haven’t been around a group of people this depressing since we passed through that Neogoth revivalist colony on the way here.”
“Stop whining. Mingle. They’re your friends, try to have a little fun.”
“Tell that to them… sheesh.”
Eddie was right, unfortunately. Though they had maybe thought themselves to be speaking in private, it had been rather hard for Shakti Haddad not to overhear them; she was standing right behind them. She blushed and bowed her head a little; she had a right to be a little depressed, her party was going down in flames, after all. Everyone just had something else on their minds.
Shakti tried to concentrate on what Henri was saying to her, she really was, but all she could really think about was her workload. Taking all this time out for the party was going to put her so far behind in the bureaucracy she thought she was going to cry. Henri was going on about something to do with the Experience, but he wasn’t any more into this conversation than she was.
His attentions lay across the room, where Krys was trying to talk to Victor and Xi’an. Neither man was in the mood for talking. Save for a fond hello to Eddie upon his arrival, Xi’an hadn’t said a word all night. Victor had been a bit more talkative, which is to say he said hello to everyone else and introduced himself to Sham and Rosa, but that’s about it. Both men looked like they would rather be somewhere else. Tim and Luna were making use of the minibar, a bit more than two officers who would be on-duty in two hours should, anyway. Sham sat on a couch removed from the rest of the team holding Rosa’s baby… oh, what was his name? Joaquim? Yes, that’s right.
“Yoo-hoo, Shakti? You listening?”
“Hmm…? Oh, sorry Henri. I’ve just got a lot on my mind right now. You wouldn’t believe how much red tape we have to go through just to get through the week.”
“I’m guessing it’s kind of a lot, then?”
“Well, hey, don’t be shy about floating some of it my way. Super-speed plus a prodigy-level intellect can come in handy in that kind of work.”
“Haha! Maybe I will, but I’m afraid you might be too logical for this kind of thing.”
“That’s what I like to hear!” Eddie blustered, turning around, “It’s a party! Start acting like it! Hey, I heard this great joke at a rest stop on the way over here…”
Shakti turned to Eddie and met him with a warm smile. She didn’t listen long to enough to hear whether or not the joke was very funny, her mind just went back to business that quickly, but she started laughing when Henri did.
They were all gathered in the atrium atop the Protectorate wing of City Hall, forcing themselves to smile and tell themselves it was a happy time. He watched them on securicam feeds he had tapped into minutes ago; Halo City’s encryption codes were practically prehistoric. Any hacker with half a brain could break them in mintues. It was almost insulting to an intellect like his to have to hack them himself, but not having any resources or allies of his own (yet), he had little choice but to waste the precious seconds required of him to gain access. Looking at them through his screen, Book began to wonder if this was really the team he had been so worried about. The X-Men he had expected were passionate and powerful, but this group looked... indifferent and dull.
“Maybe I expected too much of you, X-Men,” Book smiled, his rocky face lit an eerie green by the screen in front of him, “Then again, I suppose I’m living proof that appearances can be deceiving.”