Fire & Ice

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Chapter 3

I meet with Max at the team tower in the afternoon for our first training session together. I’m not exactly sure what to expect but I’m not really nervous as I make my way to the gym floor of the tall building. Max is the member of the team that I know the most. He was the one who decided that it’d be a good idea to take me on as a probationary member in the first place. He taught me the basics so that I could keep up with the team on the few outings I joined them on, but that was it. Now that I’m an active agent, training is bound to be more intense. That’s fine with me, though. I prefer not dying over dying most days.

Max would string me up if he heard me referring to him as “famous,” but that’s what he is. He’s known publicly as Tremor, and he’s been causing a stir since he joined the League. He’s been an agent longer than anyone else on our team. The mystery that surrounds him is also quite intriguing. He was on a different team before this one, but none of us are sure which one or why he even left. He doesn’t wear a counterpart necklace. Since he lives in the tower, it’s not like his counterpart is waiting for him at home everyday. It suggests something tragic which is both horrifying and interesting at the same time. I would never ask out of respect, but I can’t help but wonder about it.

He’s in the gym tying his shoes when I step off the elevator. He glances up when I walk in and gestures towards the indoor track a room over with his head.

“Take a couple laps, Ford,” he orders.

He doesn’t have to tell me twice. Running is a good way to warm up before this whole mess of a training session begins. By the time I meet back up with him, the blood in my veins is practically vibrating with excitement. I feel a bit more ready for whatever he’ll be throwing at me.

Actually, I take that back. Max can throw literal earthquakes at people and I definitely wouldn’t be able to handle that. What am I going to do in response? Splash water in his face?

He looks at me and nods to the floor, crossing his arms with an amused glimmer in his green eyes.

“How many push-ups can you do?” he asks.

Embarrassingly enough, the answer is a measly thirty-eight. My arms give out on the way down for the thirty-ninth, loose like cooked spaghetti. Truly pathetic, if you ask me.

“I see,” I can hear him trying to keep the chuckle out of his voice even from down on the floor. “I’ll add some stuff to your solo work to see what we can do about that. We’re gonna start today with some non-power work.”

He offers me a hand and yanks me up from the floor. The world tilts for a second from the quick movement but I regain my bearings just in time for him to demand I take a punch him.

“Go on, take a swing,” Max demands, dropping into a defensive stance, “let’s see what you’ve got, popsicle.”

I eye him warily. This is totally a trap. We circle each other for a few more moments until I finally go for it, right hand curled into a tight fist and aimed straight for his face. Max ducks with practiced ease and instead turns it back on me, grabbing my arm and twisting it right behind my back. Before I can even react, he kicks the back of my knee which sends me whooshing to the floor. I hit the floor hard, knees smashing into the hardwood flooring, and internally cringe at the thought of what kind of bruises I’m going to leave with tonight.

He yanks me up to my feet and I stumble back a step, taking in a few quick breaths as I try to catch up. Everything happened so quickly.

“A lot of what I tell you is going to sound surprisingly cliche,” he says. “It’s all important, though, so I suggest that you take it to heart.”

“Message received,” I reply, pretending to brush dust off of my clothes.

“For starters, you gotta anticipate everything. Assume that whoever it is, they’re always a step or two ahead of you,” he continues, dropping back into a defensive stance, “try again, but this time, surprise me.”

I square up with him, narrowing my eyes and breathing harshly through my nose as I mentally assess. He wouldn’t expect another attempt at a direct punch to the face after just telling me not to, would he?

I swing with my left fist and slam my right hand into the side of Max’s face when the man tries to step aside. His face snaps to the side and I use that momentary second of disorientation to kick his legs out from under him and wrap my arms around his neck in a choke hold. It’s not much, but it’s enough for him to tap out and nod approvingly at me.

“It’s a start,” is all he says after dragging himself back upright.

He teaches me a few moves, the roughest of which is when he repeatedly tosses me over his shoulder. We stop for a brief drink of water after an hour or so and he points across the room to where there are paper targets tacked to the wall.

“You throw knives at all?” he asks. I turn to him with an incredulous look.

“No?” I say.

“We’ll see about that.”

He hands me a set of three throwing knives, all of which are dangerously silver and sharp. I slide one into my hand and get a feel for the cool metal of the handle, sizing up the target. Max starts me reasonably close and tells me to aim for the smallest red circle. I roll my eyes at that last instruction. What other circle would I be aiming for?

I basically just fling the thing and hope for the best. I have to start somewhere. Apparently my “somewhere” is only an inch from the dead center. Max’s head swings from the target to me and back a couple times before he actually speaks.

“You said you’ve never done this before,” he says suspiciously.

“I haven’t,” I reply, shrugging as the traces of a smug smile make their way onto my face, “guess I’ve just got a thing for it.”

He has me throw a few more. The first five find their way to the second to innermost circle of the target. The sixth and seventh hit the outskirts of the middle circle. The eighth one lands dead center, a full on bullseye. There’s a proud glint in Max’s eyes when he turns to look at me after that.

“That’s enough for the night, Ford. I’ll see you back here next Wednesday,” he says, ending the session soon after. “You can stay for a bit, if you want. The team’s getting pizza.”

I haven’t seen much of the team since my birthday party. Nick sent me a text apologizing once again, but I didn’t answer it. I wasn’t even that bothered at that point and answering it felt like it’d be redundant.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” I agree before wiping my sweaty face with a towel from my gym bag.

I take the elevator up to the common floor with Max. JD and Flint are playing video games and shouting obscenities at each other which is offset by the grins on both of their faces. Nick is talking on the phone, pacing back and forth while she chews on a fingernail. Ceceila is basically on Tony’s lap, poking at his nose and smiling down at the him.

Tony and Cecelia were the newest additions to the team before me. They Bonded a year prior after they met at an office job and decided they’d try their luck in joining a League team together. The League is basically the best option for people with powers no matter how useless they are. Cecelia has special vision that lets her see heat signatures and other things the average human eye can’t interpret. That power isn’t particularly useful for missions and undercover work so Cecelia is only considered a consultant, but consultants get the same benefits as every other League agent. The League takes very good care of their agents.

As far as I know, there are no other couples within the team. Flint is Bonded to a League agent on another League team named Alicia. She’s known by the public as Comet. JD has been dating an FBI agent named Garrett for the better part of a year. Cally has a boyfriend she met working at NASA, which is her job when she’s not with the team since she’s also only a consultant. Wendy’s girlfriend, Lily, works for the CIA.

Nick and I have yet to meet our counterparts. It’s probably why I forgave her so easily for the incident at the party. People who are Bonded tend to forget what it felt like to not know who the love of their life was. Nick knows how it is just as much as I do. I believed her when she told me she just got excited because I used to do the same thing when I was younger.

Max, however, is a total mystery. I’ve never heard anything about his counter come out of his mouth before. When the topic of counterparts comes up, nobody on the team directs questions or statements his way. It’s clearly something they don’t talk about for a reason, and I’ve respected that the way I wish they all would for me. I guess they don’t really have a procedure for how to figure out who is okay with talking about the topic and who’s not. I can’t exactly hold that against them.

Nick’s eyes widen when they land on me and she just barely manages to stutter her way through the rest of the pizza order. JD’s face explodes into a grin at the sight of me and he nudges Flint who looks over and smiles as well before pausing the game. I’ve gotten along very well with the two of them, even since the beginning. Wendy’s the youngest aside from me at 23, but they’re the two guys on the younger side.

“Would’ja look that that, it’s the human popsicle!” JD exclaims, tossing the game controller onto the couch to get up and give me one of those man-hugs. When he pulls away I throw an annoyed look back at Max.

“Have you been calling me popsicle around them, too?” I say, narrowing my eyes.

He shrugs innocently as he turns and heads into the kitchen.

“He has,” Flint says grimly, confirming my suspicions.

Wendy fades into vision on the opposite end of the couch and smiles sweetly at me. I wave back, not even phased by the fact that she was there the whole time but I just couldn’t see her. When I first started hanging around the team, I struggled to remember that there were other people with powers beside myself. None of them hide their powers. I was conditioned by my parents to treat my own abilities as some shameful secret and even now using my powers in front of people is really hard for me to do. It’s like I keep expecting the other shoe to drop and that someone will come and break my arm for freezing a glass of water just for fun. I’m still getting used to using my powers simply because I can which is basically the first thing people with powers get to enjoy doing.

Cecelia slides off of Tony’s lap to sit beside him on the couch. Her thick red hair is down today instead of drawn up in a ponytail like it typically is. The red mess is unruly so she says that it’s just easier to keep it up and controlled most of the time. Her counterpart pendant is also out in the open, a pink quartz ring hung on a turquoise strand to match Tony’s, an obsidian ring with a single space large enough to lock their rings together, two halves of a whole.

“So, how was the birthday celebration back home?” Ceceila drawls. I roll my eyes.

“It was fine,” I reply with a shrug before sitting down in an armchair near the couch, “not much of a celebration, actually, my brother canceled so it was just my friends Atlas and...Danny.” The way I pause between the two names does not go unnoticed by the team. I should have gotten my story straight before I decided to hang out today.

“Danny?” JD says with an tentatively interested look on his face. It’s clear that after my whole disagreement at the party that they’ve all decided to err on the side of caution.

“He’s not—not my counter or anything,” I sputter out quickly. “Just a...friend I occasionally hook up with.” I decide to just be real with them. The truth is easier in some scenarios. Danny’s never been a secret and I shouldn’t change the rules just for the team.

“I see.” JD says with a delighted smiles. I roll my eyes and throw my legs over one of the arms of the chair, letting my feet hang off the side. I’m still not exactly comfortable around the team yet but I can fake just about anything.

Nick joins us, sitting on the edge of the couch next to Tony. She smiles sheepishly at me which I return easily. I’m not mad at her anymore.

“Pizza’s on its way,” she announces. “I even got a half pineapple for Tony.”

I screw up my face in disgust.

“Really, T?” I shudder.

“Hey, don’t judge me for my taste in pizza toppings,” he defends himself, holding up a dark hand in a placating manner.

I silently shake my head. He untangles himself from Cecelia so he can lean more in my direction on the edge of the couch.

“So listen, we need to talk about your suit,” he says. “Color, preferred style, necessary features, stuff like that.”

“Oh, well,” I swallow, mind suddenly moving a mile a minute. “Obviously a domino mask, maybe, like, navy blue? And the suit would be the same color, I guess.”


“Ew, no,” I laugh, “I guess it should be waterproof. Temperature resistant, definitely. I don’t know, I’m good with something simple.”

“An easy project. I knew I’d like you, kid,” he says, smiling as he gestures over to his girlfriend. “My girl Cecelia over there? A laundry list, let me tell you.” Cecelia lets out a fake gasp in retaliation.

“You and Flint are gonna be the only ones with masks, so expect it to put a target on your back in terms of the media,” JD pipes up from his spot on the couch. “It did for him, as well. Civilians eat mysteries like that up.”

A heavy sigh whooshes out of my lungs. I’ll be piling attention onto myself while simultaneously trying to push it away. I guess there’s really no way to win in this situation.

“It’ll be fine, kid,” Max’s reassuring voice comes from behind me and I whip around to see him standing there with a glass of iced tea in his hand. “They’ll never find out who you are unless you want them to. There’s a law and everything.”

“I know, I know,” I say and shrug, settling back into the chair, “I just don’t like the limelight very much.” When I was a kid, extra attention meant consequences from my parents. Positive stuff tended to somehow be interpreted as negative no matter the circumstances. The only thing that kept my grades as high as they always were was the goal to graduate and move the fuck out as soon as physically possible. Their passing was bittersweet, because it’s horrible to say that you’re happy your parents are dead but also to say you’re sad that they are even after they abused you. There’s no right way to feel about it, so I just never talk about them and try my damnedest to not even think about them. It’s easier that way.

“Don’t sweat it,” he reassures me. “The first few missions are always the worst, but they settle down after that.” He sounds like he’s telling the truth, but all I can do at this point is hope that he’s right.

Nick gets on the elevator to pick up the pizza from the lobby a little while later. She appears a few moments later with four boxes balanced precariously in her arms. All of them mysteriously float out of her grasp and land safely on the kitchen counter. Flint smiles and opens the paper plate drawer from the couch with the flick of a wrist. A plate lands in each of our hands and I shake my head, getting to my feet so I can take a slice like a normal person.

I choose a slice of pepperoni and reclaim my spot on the recliner, curling my legs onto the soft cushion and starting right in. Flint does the same without even getting up from where he’s sitting as the rest of the team follow my lead.

“So,” Wendy says after swallowing the final bite of her second slice. “You can’t do anything until you have an official codename. Paperwork with HR and PR and all that.”

“You’re right,” JD nods before stuffing another bite into his mouth, “how ’bout Snowball, hm? Popsicle?”

“Nah, come on, that’s so lame,” I say and shake my head as I wipe my greasy fingers on my gym shorts, “that’s so…babyish.”

“Well, you are the baby of the team,” Tony pipes up with a smug look on his face as he shamelessly enjoys his third slice of pineapple pizza, “the baby of the entire League, really.”

I roll my eyes. Yeah, don’t remind me.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Tony, we have a strict rule against cringey names on this team,” Max exclaims. “You know how team Astro is. Absolute train wreck over there, nobody takes them seriously. Most team leaders choose for their agents which I took the liberty of doing. As long as you like it, of course.”

“What is it?” I ask, trying not to feel nervous. I trust Max’s judgment.

“Arctic Hurricane,” Max announces to the group. “Hurricane for short.”

I nod, getting a feel for the name that will be used to refer to me in the field. I’m okay with it and it’s not like I’ll be able to think of anything better anytime soon.

“That’s good,” Tony says mostly to himself. “I’ll add silver trim and accents and a nice outlining on the domino mask.”

Tony turns to Max for official confirmation. He smiles.

“Sound good?” Max directs at me. I nod dumbly before actually speaking.

“Uh, yeah, yes, I like it.”

He claps his hands together for dramatic effect.

“Well then, it’s settled. I’ll file the paperwork and get you the stuff you need to fill out as well.”

Arctic Hurricane. Huh. I suppose it could be way worse. I could be Sparkle on team Radon or something equally as hideous.

I finish my pizza and then stand, carrying my empty plate to the kitchen to throw it away. The rest of the team stays seated in the living room and I check the time on my phone. 10:49. I have an early class tomorrow that I really can’t afford to miss again.

“I’m gonna head out,” I announce, coming to a stop before the large group.

“Aw, c’mon, man, you always gotta leave,” JD moans in complaint. I laugh and shake my head.

“Sorry, I have class at seven tomorrow morning. I gotta get a run in before that.”

“You have to? I thought Max’s plan is only four days a week?”

“It is, but I always try to get in a run before class. Helps me keep my head together.”

JD snorts and shakes his head.

“He’s got it so easy, Max! He likes running!” he whines.

I meet Max’s eyes as I grab my gym bag off of the floor by the recliner. He just smirks and winks as I swing back upright with my bag in my hand.

“I can give you a fly back to school, if you want,” Nick offers. I shake my head and smile gratefully.

“Nah, I’m okay. I wanna catch the train back tonight,” I reply. “I’ll see you guys later.”

I take the elevator down to the lobby and a nice stroll to the train station. I make it just in time to catch the last one of the night. Lucky for me, a train runs right onto campus so once I get there about ten minutes later, I don’t have to walk much farther.

Atlas is already asleep when I get into our room. He doesn’t even roll over when I come in which I’m actually kind of grateful for. Tonight consisted of more social interaction than I normally get in an entire week, let alone a couple hours. If another person tries to talk to me right now, my head just might explode.

I settle into bed and it takes me a little while until I actually feel tired. Once I do, though, it’s all over.

I didn’t expect to see the team for another week, but somehow I’m already on my way to the tower. At least when I was going to meet with Max I had some kind of idea of what to expect, but this time I really have no clue. This trip began with a slightly ominous text from Max requesting I come by in person as soon as I can to discuss something “important.” I’m not sure if his goal was to set me on edge, but that’s what he’s achieved.

I hate when people drop something concerning into my lap and expect me not to freak out and worry. The subway ride feels way longer than it normally does and my leg shakes restlessly as I avoid strangers’ eyes the entire trip. I’m not really in love with the fact that the trip to the tower requires a subway ride to begin with and today’s circumstances have only tripled that displeasure.

When the doors open at my stop, I practically sprint off of the damn train. The walk to the tower is only a couple blocks away and it’s impossible to miss in the New York skyline. It’s disguised as a boring, bland building on the outside. The bronze plaque with the address labels the building as a law firm to everyone who doesn’t know any better. The height of it is a bit suspicious, but nobody has thought anything of it so far. I’m sure if the general public were to find out that this plain old law firm is actually a League team’s base of operations, they’d be shocked. I sure as hell was.

I greet to the guy who mans the front desk during the day shift, Julien Moon. He’s in his early-thirties and we call him Mr. Moon. He basically acts as a secretary at an actual law firm would but without any of the actual work. Instead of doing secretary stuff, he acts as a security guard. He retired early from the League and is part of an inactive program within the organization specifically for retired members. Just because he has the “retired” title in front of his name doesn’t mean he’s not lethal, but our tower has never been attacked before so he hasn’t had to the need to defend the building like he’s here for.

He nods at me as I stride past him and board the elevator. My League ID is all the way in my backpack but the sensor can read it all the way through. Nobody non-League is allowed on the elevator unless they’re pre-authorized. Security around here is very serious.

I press the button for the seventh floor that Max told me to meet him on. It’s full of nothing but conference rooms with large tables so the team doesn’t really use the floor much. I’ve only been up here a couple times total. It’s just another reason why I’m worried about what I’m even here for.

Max is sitting on a couch near the elevator when I step off. There’s a manila folder in his lap which he closes when he sees me standing there. A smile breaks across his face as he stands and places the folder where he had been sitting on the couch.

“So, what’s up?” I ask. “Kinda freaked me out with the whole ‘important’ thing.”

“It’s nothing bad,” he says, trying to reassure me even as his smile noticeably falters. “I got some official forms you need to fill out.”

“Oh,” I say, laughing lightly in relief, “that’s it?”

“Well,” he says, dragging the word out. The smile wobbles again. “Director Scofield wants a word with you.”

“What?” I say flatly. “About what?”

“It’s actually about a mission he wants you on,” Max confesses, sighing lightly, “I’m not exactly thrilled since you’re still so pretty new, but there’s definitely nothing bad going on, so don’t freak out.”

Director Scofield wants me for a mission? Is the guy crazy? I’m literally four days into being an agent. Sure, I spent nearly half a year practically shadowing the team before I even took the exam. That definitely doesn’t mean I’m prepared to jump straight into the thick of things.

“Why me?” I say a little harsher than necessary.

“Beats me,” he replies before gesturing down the hall, “he’s gonna video chat in about half an hour which gives you just enough time to get your paperwork done.”

I follow his lead down the hall and to one of the conference rooms I’ve never been in before. This one has a large cherry table with enough seats for around two dozen people. A large flat screen is mounted to the wall and I sit in a seat right across from it. Max sits down beside me with the manila folder. Now I can see that the tab has my my legal name written on it. There’s a decent stack of papers inside that he thumbs through before pulling most of them out of the folder. He places them all on the desk before me along with a black pen. I look at him incredulously. He just shrugs his shoulders and tells me that it’s protocol and totally out of his hands.

I start in so I can finish filling everything out as soon as I can. Each form has lots of fancy call numbers printed across the tops which definitely means it’s all very important and official.

I complete the first one on the stack, titled AI-A, relatively quickly. It’s just current address and residence information. It’s a bit tricky since the semester is ending very soon so I have to fill in the address at my dorm hall as well as the apartment Derek and I share.

The next form is about family members and next of kin. That one’s pretty quick considering both of my parents are dead. It doesn’t take me very long to fill out Derek’s information.

The third form is an emergency contact sheet and I only put Derek’s name since I really don’t want to drag any of my friends into my League business. I feel kind of weird pinning Derek’s name to mine to begin with. Being a League agent is high risk occupation for the agent and anyone involved with them. I’m also pretty sure that Derek will bring me back from the dead to murder me himself if he found out I got hurt and he wasn’t notified, so listing him is really for the best.

There’s a sheet about my power specifics that also makes me a bit uncomfortable. Flaunting my powers still isn’t something I do. Talking or even writing about them continues to set me on edge and laying it all out on a official document definitely doesn’t feel too great. I fill it out, though, even if I have to grit my teeth through the whole thing.

“Is that it?” I say once I’m finally done, sliding the papers back over to Max.

“There’s just one more,” he replies. He flicks through them and then fishes through the manila folder for a second before handing me another one. “The counterpart one, almost forgot.”

The form he hands me has the call number CPI-1 printed across the top in unforgiving black ink. Great.

“Oh,” I say, swallowing as take it. My fingers wrap tightly around the black pen that’s still in my hand as a I poise it above the paper.

This form is more in depth than the others. There are options to withhold certain information for privacy reasons, but I have no need for any of them. I immediately check the box indicating that I have no information on counterpart and continue on down the form. I check another box indicating that I’ll be declining to disclose any information on them in the future. It initially looks like a complicated form but it’s just another strangely disappointing instance in my life where I feel bad for not knowing my counter.

I hand the form back to Max and don’t look at his face as he scans over it. He shoves all the forms back into the manila folder and checks the clock.

“Scofield should be calling anytime now,” he informs me, gaze flicking from me to the TV and back again.

A video chat appears on the screen a few moments later just as Max figured it would. I’ve only ever seen the director of the League once before in a photo. It was in passing so the image in my head is very vague but the man who appears on the screen is not who expected. He still looks quite young considering his job entails oversight of around three dozen teams of highly enhanced League agents all day. His hair still has yet to gray although his hairline is slowly receding and he barely looks older than around his mid-thirties. I might even stray as far as to call him hot, but more in a “my best friend’s recently divorced dad” kind of way.

“Director,” Max nods to the man as if the action speaks for itself. The director nods back and Max stands suddenly, pushing in his chair and grabbing the folder off of the table. He pats me on the shoulder before leaving the room without a word. I’m left sitting before a man I’ve never seen in person, let alone spoken to, without an explanation as to why. This whole thing is incredibly strange.

“Lukas,” the man says. It seems like we’re already off to a bad start.

“It’s actually Lake,” I reply, voice far less sure of myself than usual. He’s the director of the whole damn League which is also the organization that writes my paychecks. I’m not going to sass the man without any thought beforehand. “Still haven’t gotten around to legally changing it.”

“Alright,” he agrees with an accepting smile. “Lake, I first want to congratulate you on becoming the youngest agent in League history.”

“Thanks,” I say, and even manage a soft laugh. “Um, Max told me about wanting me to speak to me about a mission?”

“Right,” he agrees. His face hardens up as he adjusts the top button of his suit jacket. “You’ve heard of Valiant, right?”

“The fear inhibiting drug?”

“Yes, that’s the one. It’s obviously not something you want on the streets, highly addictive and all that. Normally the police handle the gangs that are circulating it, but there’s one that’s been on our radar for a while,” he begins but then pauses, shuffling around for something on the desk before him, “there’s a main component to the drug that can only be obtained by medical professionals and there’s one integral supplier on the east coast that we’ve been trying to nail for a year and a half or so. There’s a cell in your area that has the strongest ties to this person.”

“So you want me to find out who the supplier is?” I say, easily drawing conclusions. When he nods, my eyebrows shoot up. “All due respect, sir, but the only field work I’ve ever done was before I was even an agent.”

“You’re right, of course. I considered a lot of other agents with similar power profiles to yours, but you are the only one who fits the description we need. Most of Rivera’s dealers are kids around your age. All the other agents I considered are too old to even fake being the right age.” He pauses and fixes me with a serious expression. “You’re our best option, Agent Ford. I think that the time you have already spent with your team will help, as well. I’m also confident that you’ll be able to remove yourself from any life threatening situation you may find yourself in.”

“From the sound of this, I have the feeling I can’t exactly go into this being a good ’ol boy League agent, right?”

“That’s correct. You’d be doing undercover work. It’s another reason I’m wary of placing you on this assignment since we typically wait around half a year before even considering handing something like this down to new agents. With the circumstances, however, the risks far outweigh the benefits.”

“I see,” I say, nodding my head even though my heart has started to race. I’m a great liar which definitely makes me cut out for undercover work, but lying also makes me sick. “Undercover.”

“Yes. You would infiltrate their cell under the guise of being a college student looking to make some extra cash. Earn some trust, make some connections, and you’ll weasel the name of the doctor who’s supplying them in no time.”

“I have a feel that you’re thinking far too highly of me,” I confess, clasping my hands together under the dark wood table to keep from fidgeting in plain sight.

“I beg to differ,” he counters, eyeing me with an incredulous face. “Your performance was on par with our senior agents and even exceeds some of our best. Let’s just say that if all goes well with this mission, I’ll be quite inclined to up your clearance level.”

My current clearance level is incredibly basic which only really means that I can’t access any of the information involved in top secret operations. It’s on a scale of one to five and to put things a bit more into perspective, I’m a one and Max is a five.

“You can decline if you wish, of course, but I’m asking you to seriously consider this assignment. You’d play a large part in something very big. It would be a very good way to get your name out their in the League circuit.”

I take a few moments to consider his offer. There were only two reasons why I really joined the League. It’s a very well paying job with benefits and I put the “poor college student” stereotype to shame. I also knew that whatever I chose to do with my life, I wanted to help people. I’m going to college as a creative writing major in the hopes of someday writing a book that will strike some imaginary cord in a reader. Being a League agent is far more direct than publishing a book and will only help me achieve that long term goal.

This assignment sounds like a true opportunity to do some serious good. I’ve seen what Valiant does to people. When they were still alive, my parents would make a weekend of riding a Valiant high into early Monday morning when they had to drag themselves to work. The aftermath of these weekends never really hit them aside for what is essentially the equivalent of a hangover, but it nearly succeeded in killing Derek or I more than once. There was also a girl in high school who had been depressed for so long but confessed she was too afraid to kill herself on the suicide note she wrote right before taking a Valiant and throwing herself off the Brooklyn Bridge.

If the director of the whole organization thinks that I have the skill set required for this operation, then it must be true. He wouldn’t be trying to send me into something that’s out of my ability to deal with. I’d be getting Valiant off the streets and that will save more lives than most people realize.

“I guess I have to start somewhere,” I say finally, splaying my hands out on top of the table, “tell me what I need to do.”

The smile on Scofield’s face grows.

“I’ll be sending a liaison from D.C. down to your tower tomorrow,” he says, gaze moving down to his desk as a pen moves quickly in the lower corner of the TV screen, “she’s going to brief you on everything you need to know and give you a crash course in undercover work.”

“Is there anything I need to do today?”

“Just have Max submit all that paperwork and my associate will see you tomorrow.”

I agree and we sign off a few moments later. Max is sitting on the same couch as before and scrolling through his cell phone when I meet him back in the hallway. He looks up when I appear and then practically jumps to his feet in excitement.

“How’d it go?”

“It was fine,” I reply, honestly still a little stunned at what I just agreed to. “I took his offer. A liaison is coming down tomorrow to speak with us about everything.”

Max heaves a sigh as he sits back down and sets his phone to the side.

“I’m still not happy that we’re throwing you into the field like this, but from what I know about the situation, he’s making the right call.” His mouth stretches into a fond smile and I’m struck with the sudden realization that he must be feel some degree of pride for me. It’s strange.

“I’ll be alright,” I say, trying my best to reassure him.

“I’m sure you will be.”

Max sees me out to the lobby on the ground floor where we see goodbye until tomorrow’s meeting with the liaison from D.C. Once I’m back on campus, my brain switches back into school mode. “School mode” is also currently known as “hardcore stress” mode since finals have finally begun. My first exam is tomorrow and I have been seriously neglecting any kind of studying for it.

Atlas has three textbooks and two notebooks open on his bed along with multiple packets and papers strewn about the place. He barely looks up when I come into the room but that’s completely reasonable considering he has three exams tomorrow.

He takes the yellow highlighter out of his mouth before he speaks. “You’re crazy for waiting til so last minute.” Then he shoves the marker back into his mouth and turns an intent gaze back down onto one of the textbooks.

“You’re not wrong.” I agree. I settle onto my bed with my backpack and pull out my history textbook. It’s going to be a painfully long night.

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