Scene 13 – October 30th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Afternoon
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” I said as I stepped into the conference room, nodding to Henry and Canaveral, who were already sitting at the table and chatting. Anima, who I had met in the elevator, greeted them as well.
“Good afternoon, ladies.” Henry said with a smile. “What brings me in so early?”
“I’ll explain when Loki gets here,” I told him, taking my own seat at the head of the table and beginning to connect my laptop to the room’s projector system. “No point in going over it twice.”
“I’m not sure if she’ll be in costume or not,” Canaveral told me, “but either way, it shouldn’t be long before she arrives. I know she’s around today. She and Simone were brainstorming a costume for this party that she and Quinn are going to.” He himself was in costume with his cowl down, as he often was around the base. He wore casual clothes on days that he wasn’t actually on shift, but as the leader of the New Champions he was on duty most days. Not that he didn’t hang around even when he wasn’t.
I couldn’t help but be a little amused at his choice of topic, but instead simply commented, “It sounds like Holly is already rather attached to Mx. Kaufman.” The meeting wasn’t scheduled to start for another two minutes – she had time.
“If by ‘attached to’ you mean ‘crushing hard on’, then yes, Holly is quite attached to them,” Canaveral agreed with a chuckle. “It’s kind of cute, in fact. She’s somehow both very completely lacking in subtlety and too shy to actually make a move.”
“Very cute,” Anima agreed.
“And what does Kaufman think of it?” Henry asked.
“I think they’re open to the idea, but they don’t really believe that she’s interested. They’re second-guessing themself too much to do anything either. They… seem to do that a lot, I think.”
Henry smirked. “What’s the betting pool on how long it’ll take them to get together?”
“You know that betting isn’t allowed,” I warned. It wasn’t my policy, of course – I felt that communal bonding of that type would be a benefit, in fact – but the director of the MLED as a whole, August Redding, disagreed.
“Hypothetically, of course,” he clarified, and I let it pass. I had made my views on the topic clear when Redding had set forth the policy, but still. A little plausible deniability is all I asked for.
“Hypothetically, it might be split pretty evenly,” Anima told Henry, “between them getting together within a week of Quinn joining up, and it taking more than a year.”
“And what do you think?”
“I think – ah, Loki!” One of the topics of discussion had suddenly appeared in an unoccupied chair – in costume, as it turned out. “Ah… how long have you been there?” Canaveral asked, sounding a little nervous.
The younger hero raised a perfectly-sculpted brow. “Long enough,” he replied. “I thought you were against gossip in the workplace, boss?”
“That was in a crisis situation,” Canaveral protested. “This isn’t an emergency – is it, Director?”
“No,” I agreed. “But we should turn to the real topic. Let’s set Loki’s possible romance with Mx. Kaufman aside and turn to the reason I asked you four here…” I couldn’t help be relish the moment as I turned on the projector, placing Quinn Kaufman’s face on the wall behind me. “…Mx. Kaufman.”
Scene 14 – October 30th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Canaveral leaned back in his chair, seeming unsurprised – he, of course, had probably known the purpose of the meeting from the moment I called it. Henry snorted, seeing the same humor in our pre-meeting banter as I had. Loki stayed completely silent and still, and it ended up being Anima who spoke first.
“What about them?” she asked. “I thought the decision to offer them a place was pretty set.”
“It is, regardless of the outcome of this meeting,” I agreed. “But… one moment…” I turned on the conference room’s recording system so that my secretary could take the minutes of the meeting later.
“This meeting is not about whether or not Mx. Kaufman has a place in the MLED – that much has already been decided. Rather,” I clarified, “it is to dissect the possible red flags that have been noticed around them, and determine if we will be offering a place under the so-called ‘Enemies Closer’ policy or simply as a prospective hero. In attendance are myself, Director Susan Shepard; my deputy, Henry Blackmire; Canaveral, as the team leader of the MLED Heroic Agent team designated ‘New Champions’; his deputy, Anima; and Loki, as the leader of the MLED Junior Heroic Agent team designated ‘the Journeymen’.
“You are here for several reasons,” I told them. “Henry, you haven’t met Kaufman personally yet. Any possible telepathic abilities that may be influencing the rest of us will be unlikely to have affected you, and your opinion will be relatively unbiased, only being shaped by written reports.
“Canaveral, you were the MLED’s first contact with Kaufman – Anima, you were on console with him at the time, and can provide a perspective on that night untouched by hypothetical telepathic abilities. Additionally, Canaveral, your team leader status qualifies you to be present in any meeting relating to Heroic Agent recruitment.
“Finally, Loki,” I said, turning to him, “you’ve had the most contact with them. Additionally, this type of meeting is important for you to be aware of as part of your leadership training – that’s why I’m going into more detail than I otherwise might.”
Loki moved for the first time since I had begun the meeting proper, asking, “Are these meetings held every time a new metahuman is being considered for recruitment?”
Henry shook his head. “No, only when there are possible red flags. Usually it’s pretty clear one way or another – either there are flags or there aren’t, and either they are or aren’t enough to deny recruitment. Edge cases are rare – that’s why we didn’t need one when Journey joined, even though that was after you were placed on the leader track.”
I nodded. “The process is to begin by having each person dissect their knowledge of the potential recruit, in order of least to most familiar. Deputy Director, if you would?”
He wheeled his chair back slightly and pushed a button on the side, raising himself up slightly. When he had been director, he had always stood to address a conference room – he once told me that as a man, being five foot four made it hard to command attention in a room, and standing while others sat was one of the best tricks he had found. Since his injury, he obviously couldn’t do that anymore, but he had found a way.
“As Director Shepard said, I haven’t met Mx. Kaufman personally,” he told us. “I have, however, read through Canaveral and Anima’s reports of the night of first contact, as well as heard the rumors about them. My secondhand impression is of a confident young person who is perhaps a little unsure of what to do with their life. They received their powers recently and had no life plans that involved being a metahuman – with the addition of powers, they have more options than they had before, and aren’t sure what to do now.” He smirked. “Gossip also pegs them as Canaveral’s illegitimate child based on how they moved in bodycam footage of the drug bust, and that he personally escorted them home after Legion showed up. A lot of people overestimating Canaveral’s age, apparently.”
“Any other gossip?” Canaveral asked mildly. I couldn’t tell if he was amused or annoyed by the rumor Henry had shared – Abe was a surprisingly good actor when he wanted to be.
“I’m not sure I would call it gossip, exactly, but…” Henry shrugged. “There’s a bit of an argument among the troops over whether they’re male or female. I actually meant to mention it to you at tonight’s shift change, Susan – we should schedule a gender seminar for the common agents. Especially as it’s reignited the debate around Loki.”
Loki sighed. “You know I don’t really care. As long as people leave me alone, it doesn’t matter what they think they know. The people who matter understand.”
“I know, but it’s not just you,” he said. “A trans agent brought it up to me last night – she and a nonbinary friend of hers are feeling uncomfortable about it, and I doubt Kaufman would be pleased if they knew either.”
“We’ll get it scheduled later, but for now let’s stay on topic,” I promised, trying to get us back on track. “Anything else?”
He shook his head. “Not really. Legion’s apparent connection to their mother is concerning, but the mother vanished more than a decade ago – it has nothing to do with Kaufman themself. I personally see no reason for alarm. Anima?” He began lowering himself once more.
“I’ve only met them in person once,” she said, “and only very briefly. My interaction is primarily second-hand as well, through the console. My impression was of an intelligent person without much regard for themself and their value as a person.”
“Really?” I asked. “That doesn’t seem to fit with Henry’s observation.”
“Oh, they hide it,” Anima noted, “pretty well, too – I didn’t notice myself until Canaveral pointed it out to me. But when you know, it’s clear. They handled their life being put in danger – a gun pointed at them, Legion showing up at their door – far too well for them to have as much care for their life as they should.” She shook her head. “The kid has some serious self-confidence issues.”
She shrugged. “I don’t think I noticed anything that Canaveral couldn’t explain better. I do agree with Henry that there’s no real cause for alarm, though.”
“Let’s move on to you then,” I said, turning to him. “What are your thoughts on them? You were the one who flagged their file to have this meeting, after all.” Loki turned to stare at him.
Canaveral sighed. “Anima nailed it. They have a low opinion of themself – I’m not sure why – which they mask with humor and false confidence.” He drummed his fingers on the table briefly, then added, “My best guess is that they have chronic anxiety issues, although it’s possible that they have problems at home which contributed to their low self-confidence. I don’t think so, though – if that was the problem, I’d expect them to jump into the MLED as an escape, rather than agonize over the choice as they have been.”
“And the flags you noticed?”
“Nothing to do with them as a person,” he said, “But a great deal to do with their suit and their family. I know,” he held a hand up to forestall any objections, “their mother vanished a long time ago, and nothing suggests that they’ve been in contact. But.
“Well… have any of you seen their supersuit?”
“Not in person,” I said, “only through your helmet’s camera. Not the best quality video.” Everyone else nodded.
“Quinn told me that they found their suit in their parents’ attic, and that it had been made by their mother. Frankly…” he sighed, shaking his head. “Well, I submitted that flag before they had their chat with Legion last week. My initial assumption was that they were lying, and had stolen the suit.”
“But you don’t think that anymore?” I asked.
“Not anymore, no. That was before I knew that their mother had some connection to Legion, and before I looked into Laura Kaufman.”
“What did you find?”
“Not a lot,” Canaveral admitted. “I think a lot of information about her has been scrubbed from the internet. What’s there is the bare minimum – her college, her work history, missing person report filed by her husband… and that’s about it.”
“Maybe she just had a small online footprint?” Henry tried.
“Maybe, but I have a hunch otherwise. I’m not completely sure what’s going on there, but I have a bad feeling about it. If she really did create that suit, and it really did activate superpowers as Quinn told me…”
“Then her disappearance is the best lead we have for Legion,” I finished, and he nodded.
“What does that have to do with Quinn that counts as a red flag, though?” Loki said, and I blinked in surprise. He had been so quiet that I had nearly forgotten the young man was there.
“Nothing for certain. But, well… it’s suspicious that a working supersuit that grants powers could have been just lying in an attic for almost fifteen years and still work. I think it’s more likely that Legion planted it. And if Legion delivered the suit, which would have had to be done well before we knew she was in town, she could easily have contacted the Kaufmans in the past as well.”
“Do you have any other reason to suspect this?” I asked.
“None of you have seen the suit in person, so you’ll just have to trust me on this – it looks a hell of a lot like Starling’s,” he said. “The fabric is similar, they have about the same kind of boots and gauntlets, even their belts are the same style. The biggest difference is a full-face mask vs no mask included. And sure, my suit isn’t much different either, but…” he glanced at Loki. “You know that pattern on Starling’s suit? The really subtle one that most people can’t see?”
“Sure,” he confirmed. I myself had never been able to make out the pattern that they both insisted was there, but I was told that Anima could see it as well. “Sort of like neurons, right?”
“Quinn’s suit has the same pattern,” Canaveral said grimly. “Not to mention that it seems to have a similar purpose to Starling’s, enhancing their powers and making them tougher, and the powers it grants – enhanced senses and a sort of self-targeting telekinesis – are very close as well.
“Starling invented his suit himself,” Anima said. “What are we suggesting here – that Quinn stole the suit from him? That Legion stole it on Quinn’s behalf? That Starling got his suit from the same source that Legion got Quinn’s from?”
“I have some theories, but nothing I’m ready to share. There are still too many unknowns, too many possibilities,” Canaveral said. “For now, I’ve said my piece.”
“Fine.” This… was definitely concerning. As Canaveral had said, there was nothing definitive here – a tenuous connection between Kaufman’s suit and Starling’s, and another between their mother and Legion. There were no doubt countless explanations that could fit what we knew, both innocent and less so. “We’ll keep an eye on it for now.”
“For the record,” Canaveral added, “I don’t think any of this speculation has any bearing on Quinn. If they’re admitted under Enemies Closer, the surveillance should be focused on these possible connections with Legion, rather than on Quinn themself.”
“Noted, thank you,” I said. “Loki?”
“I have nothing to add,” said Loki in a rather flat voice, and the other two heroes frowned at him, concerned. He perked up a little and continued, “honestly, I don’t – and probably shouldn’t really. You guys are right, I’m crushing on Quinn – and please don’t tell them that before I work up the courage to tell them – so I’m very far from unbiased.”
“That’s why you’re going last,” I reminded them. “The least biased first, because those who know the person already are less likely to change their views after hearing others speak. And we want to hear your possible biases, because if what you think is notably different from what others observed, that’s a potential reason – potential,” I stressed, “for concern.”
Loki nodded. “Okay, that… that makes sense, I guess.” He leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair before starting. “When I first met Quinn a week or two ago, I thought they seemed… well, like a decent person. Nothing particularly stood out, other than that it would be nice to have someone else outside the gender binary on the team. And…” he blushed a little bit, “that they had very nice hair.
“It wasn’t until we bumped into each other while shopping the next day that I realized how cool they were,” he continued. “We started talking about art and magic and the conversation flowed easily, so we ended up spending… most of the day together, I guess. It was nice, you know? I don’t have a ton of people who can keep up with me and Quinn… I mean, they don’t know much about magic, not yet anyway, but they’re smart enough to learn quickly and ask good questions. They could probably become a mage themself, if they tried.”
That sounded like the optimism of a crush, but I didn’t argue. I had asked for his biased opinion, after all.
“They, uh… they might have asked me out while we were having dinner that day,” Loki admitted, a blush briefly appearing on his cheeks before vanishing. I was certain the blush was still there, just hidden by an illusion.
“Nice!” Anima cheered. “So do you have a date set up already?”
“Asking during dinner together sounds like it would be a second date,” Canaveral commented. “Do you have a chaperone for the party tonight, young man?”
Loki looked down. “No, I… I gave them a soft no, I said maybe when I was less busy. It came as a surprise, I hadn’t really thought about them like that yet, and… well, I was too surprised to say yes or no yet. And besides,” he said, defending himself, “it might not have actually been asking out like that, they just asked if we could talk more about magic sometime!”
“Stop it,” I ordered. “It’s not the time for teasing, this is an official meeting.”
“Sorry, boss,” Canaveral said, not sounding very sorry. “The teasing will have to wait until after the meeting.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Please continue, Loki.”
He bit his lip thoughtfully, then said, “I don’t think anything super important between us has happened since then, other than me realizing that yeah, I have a crush – I know, I’m gonna tell them at the party!” he hissed at Anima and Canaveral.
“If that’s all, then your final impressions are?”
“Quinn is a nice, clever person who’s pleasant to spend time with,” he said. “I didn’t notice any self-confidence issues myself – although they are a good actor, like Anima said. They’re good at impressions too. It’s not impossible that I’d have missed it.” I waited for a moment, and then Loki flushed and added, “I don’t think they have any big red flags.”
“Alright.” I glanced at my watch. “We’re all busy people, and the consensus seems to be that there isn’t much to worry about with Mx. Kaufman. Let’s take a five minute recess to get water, use the restroom, and let everyone’s observations sink in – if no one has any objections after that, we’ll conclude the meeting.”
Canaveral exchanged a wicked look with Anima. “You know what that means…”
“Oh no,” Loki denied. “No teasing! Nope nope nope!” He vanished with a faint pop, and the sound of running feet swiftly excited the room. Those of us who remained couldn’t help but laugh.