“I think…I think they have a good chance. I don’t think they’ll be prosecuted too harshly—you made them fix most of the damage and all of the money was recovered. Plus they both seem to be rather genuine about their circumstances. They…they won’t be free to go, but there is something in the works, for young super powered individuals. The higher ups should be easily convinced that these two can be the first ones admitted into the program. They will be taken care of.”
The way she spoke sounded sincere. It gave Atalanta hope that the two of them would be all right. “I think you and your partner can go, we have the little boy’s confession on tape, so we can have it transcribed later.” She pursed her lips again. “Thank you, Atalanta. I had my doubts about you, but you have laid many of them to rest with what you just did.”
“Only many?” Atalanta asked, with a smile.
“Well, time will tell, but now I know you aren’t just in this to replace Alcaeus or get a little bit of fame for yourself.” The agent held out her hand. “I’m Margaret Whitaker. I have a feeling we will be seeing more of each other in the future.” Atalanta took her hand and shook it firmly. When she went to pull away, Agent Whitaker held her firm. “I have a feeling you might be wondering about the Collective. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, though; they didn’t choose to go away.”
“I know,” Atalanta whispered softly. “We’re looking for them, don’t worry.” Whitaker’s face turned down away from the light.
“I don’t think it’s going to be simple,” she confessed.
“Living isn’t simple when you can crush someone with a handshake,” Atalanta retorted. “We are well aware that it won’t be simple, or easy for that matter.” Whitaker gave the smallest ghost of a smile.
“I think he would have liked you,” she said. “And I know that he’ll be pleased that you were the one to step up and look for him.” Atalanta felt she did not need to ask who Whitaker was talking about.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Whitaker released her, just in time for Strike to exit Joshua’s room. Whitaker returned to her team, and Strike fell in step next to Atalanta as they walked out.
“Are the kids going to be all right?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think they’re going to be fine,” she replied.
When they made it back to Fortress both of them were ready to crash.
“Remind me to invent some kind of teleportation system,” Strike said as they climbed the stairs.
“How do you think Wormhole will feel about that?” Atalanta asked.
“Extremely grateful if he’s ever this tired,” Strike said. “He seemed a little exhausted after the mission. It makes me wonder how much teleporting large groups of people takes out of him.” They entered the main room, where they found Natalie and Havard, both sitting up, asleep in their chairs. Atalanta reached for Havard’s shoulder to shake him awake, only to have her wrist grabbed and turned at such an angle, she almost hissed with pain. When Havard recognized her a moment later though, he released her.
“Apologies,” he said. Natalie started at his voice. “How are the children? They did not cause any more trouble, did they?”
“No, and they didn’t mean to cause trouble to begin with,” Atalanta said. “They’ll be all right. Where’s everyone else?’
“They took off for some of the beds Greer has stashed away in here,” Natalie replied, leaning on her hand. “Havard and I volunteered to stay up. Mizuki is healing up in the med bay though, so I think I’m going to go and keep an eye on her for a little while.” She stood and began walking toward the med bay
“Then you need to find a bed too,” Strike said. Natalie waved at him as her only acknowledgement “You should probably go as well, Havard, you took some pretty hard hits and Medicine told you to rest up.”
“But—” Havard began to protest.
“We can debrief in the morning, Havard,” Atalanta interrupted him. “We need everyone here for that anyway. Go get some sleep.” Havard looked between the two of them.
“You both as well, yes?” he asked.
“Just as soon as I can get into some sweats,” Atalanta replied.
“Very well,” he replied, standing and stumbling off to the sleeping quarters Greer had put into Fortress.
“Good idea, by the way, giving us all a place to sleep here,” she said.
“Yeah, well, I figured that there might be nights like this, where we didn’t realize just how exhausted we all were until we got here,” he said, picking at his mask. “I’m going to catch some sleep.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” she replied.
“I don’t think you’ve ever been to your room, but it is down that hall,” he said pointing toward the opposite hall that Havard had gone down. “It should have a name plate on the door, and Natalie said she brought you some clothes, when she went for something for Samurai to change in to.”
“Thank you,” she replied around a yawn. “Good night.” She waved at him, and felt her feet grow a little lead like as she walked toward the hall.
“Night,” he called after her.
Charlotte found a duffle of clothes waiting on a chest of drawers and stripped off her uniform immediately, thanking Natalie in her head, and making note after note to thank her tomorrow for being such a good friend. She was so tired, that she almost fell asleep with her mask on, but she remembered to take it off, and found a spray bottle in place of the usual gel she used to get it off. Avoided getting it into her eyes as she sprayed it on, and her mask slipped right off, before she slipped right into bed and could not even remember falling asleep.
Charlotte woke when the clock by her bedside told her that it was just half past nine. It would figure she would go to sleep late in the early morning, exhausted and battle weary only to wake up a few hours later. She shrugged, and moved toward the bathroom to turn on the shower. The brands of soap were different from the ones she used, though she thought it might have actually been creepy if Strike knew what kind shampoo she used.
When she had showered and dried off, Charlotte rummaged through the bag Natalie had made up for her, and dressed in a simple pair of jeans and a tee-shirt advertising for a university event she had helped out at in her freshman year. She ran the towel over her hair and brushed it out one last time, before she made to walk out into the main conference room.
Greer sat at the table, a cup of coffee in his hand. His hair was a little damp as well, so he had probably not been up much earlier than she.
“Morning,” he said, looking up from the documents fanned out on the screen embedded in the table before him. “Can I get you some coffee?”
“Tea, if you have it please,” Charlotte replied, leaning on one of the chairs. Strike took a gulp of his coffee and stood, leading her down one of his endless honey comb hall ways. “How do you keep all of this straight?” she asked.
“Well, I designed the place, and then built quite a bit of it myself,” he replied, leading her into a full kitchen.
“You built all of this?” she asked.
“Well, I hired some people to do the main construction of the place,” he corrected, pulling down a box of breakfast tea from a cabinet. “But furnishing everything, and then putting in the intercom and the locks and all of the computers, I figured I should do that myself, least they ask some questions. So I know the place pretty well.” He held the packet of tea in his hand, as if he were not quite sure what to do with it. Charlotte laughed a little, and took the bag from him.
“Let me, do you have a kettle in this place of yours?” Strike reached under the counter and pulled out a kettle, and handed it to her. Charlotte filled it with water and put it onto the stove. She jumped a little in surprise, as she turned the dial to high and fire sprang out from underneath the pot.
“Not used to a gas stove are you?” Strike asked.
“I don’t think I’ve used a gas stove since I was a kid, but we moved out of that house, and then got a glass top,” she said, stepping back from it.
“Yeah, well, I figured if the world ends, the gas won’t run out so quickly,” he replied. “But the electricity kind of goes right away.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said, leaning against the counter. “Are any of the others up yet?” she asked.
“I think they’re all enjoying their sleep.” He rubbed at his eyes, looking like he might want is coffee cup. “Is it sad that I’m a grown man and now a superhero and I really want to go back to bed?”
“Well, that would depend on how the raid went last night,” she reported. “I’m sure you deserve a couple more hours though, if you want to take them. I’m debating going back to bed myself. It just seems like a good idea.” She brushed some hair behind her ear, and then looked up to see Strike staring at her. “What?”
“Your hair’s just kind of curly today,” he observed.
“It gets like that when I don’t use thicker conditioners on it,” she said. “It’s not all that fascinating to have curly hair, you know.”
“It’s just something different,” he observed, taking a new mug from one of the cabinets and pouring himself a fresh mug of coffee, forgetting about the one he had left on the conference table. “So, how’s your thesis going?” Greer asked as he mixed some sugar into his coffee.
“Are you seriously making small talk with me?” Charlotte inquired, eying the tea kettle as it started to whistle.
“There’s nothing else to do,” he observed. “We might as well talk about the small things. Though, from Natalie’s been talking about your thesis is already pretty damn huge.”
“It’s not that big,” Charlotte said. “It’s just sometimes when I come back from patrol and I can’t sleep right away, I write. I haven’t been looking for scholarly sources to back up my theories though, which could be a major problem in the long run, but never mind—”
“What?” he asked. “You think I don’t know about the bitchy scholarly articles? I did go to college, you know. Just because I majored in business management does not mean that I did not have to write a few essays about Homer and Faulkner and everyone in between.”
“There’s quite a lot of people to that everyone,” Charlotte retorted.
“I know, I just respect your plight, okay? I don’t know what I would have done if I had to write a hundred pages on…anything really.”
“But you can write songs about the Illiad,” she pointed out.
“That’s a different creative outlet,” Greer replied. “Essay writing is so much more controlled, and…boring.”
“And business management isn’t?” she asked. “I would rather write two theses for every year of college than major in business management.”
“Well to each their own, okay? I needed it otherwise my family would have pitched a fit, well a bigger fit, about my record deal. And it’s nice to know the ends and outs and if you’re getting screwed over or not.”