“Don’t worry. Be happy now.”
“Do, do-do-dodaloo, do-da-do-da-dodaloo,” Matt whistled. He rounded the corner of the third-floor hallway towards his meditation class, enjoying the morning sunlight as the upbeat sounds of Bob Marley played in his ear.
“Selwyn!” he called out as he reached the closed door, “Stop spacewalking you big, beautiful bastard. I’ve brought donuts.” He balanced the box precariously on one hand while he fumbled with the doorknob. “Some new place the chef passed when he was shopping. He’s got boxes of them.”
The knob turned. Matt pushed open the door and stepped through. “Apparently it’s a franchise, you gotta taste this, they’re completely coated in-”
Matt looked up and the words died on his lips. He stopped moving.
Selwyn was not in the room. But the room was not empty. The pillows, the candles, all the trappings of their meditations had been pushed haphazardly against the walls. And there, in the emptiness, standing side‑by‑side in quiet, serious conversation stood three solemn, menacing figures.
And Natalia Baroque.
Matt’s heart leapt to his throat. “Um, hi,” he managed, trying not to stutter, “What, um, what’re you guys doing here? Do I-” he looked weakly back at the door, “-um, have the wrong room?”
“Come inside, Mr Callaghan,” Cross said with a weary sigh. Daniel Winters’ face was blank. Natalia looked at the ground. “And shut the door.”
Matt gulped. Slowly, as if his limbs were draped with lead, he turned and closed the door behind him. The sound of the outside world faded into a distant, inaudible hum.
“What’s… ah, what’s going on?” he asked, taking a single, nervous step forward. Without thinking, he clutched the donuts closer to his chest. “I… is everything alright?”
“A fact has come to our attention,” said Cross, and her eyes flicked first to Winters then Natalia. The former turned his back to them with a slow, resigned sigh, and gazed through the full-length windows out into the grounds. “A fact which involves you.”
Matt stopped breathing. Without thinking, his eyes raced to Natalia. The psychic didn’t look up. Matt’s knees weakened. His back slumped.
“No,” he whispered.
“Yes,” Cross said simply; then she sighed and beckoned with a short, stubby hand. “Come. The other two are almost here.”
“Other two?” Matt asked, but the words had barely left his mouth before there was a knocking on the door, causing him to start, his hands clutching creases in the donut box. “Come in,” called Cross, and Matt watched in horror as the door opened and James and Giselle entered. The former’s face was a mask of displeasure, as if he’d been asked to put down a puppy, and the latter was bereft of her usual bubbliness. Matt’s hand instinctively raised to greet them but stopped halfway. Neither were meeting his eyes.
Oh God. Matt’s head whipped back around to look at Natalia, who was still staring at the floorboards. James and Giselle’s footsteps drew closer and suddenly Matt felt the pieces clicking into place. Cross, his assessor, and Winters, the authority. A strongman to restrain him. A speedster to catch him if he runs. And the psychic who had been in his head.
“No,” he whispered again.
Silently, James and Giselle trudged to stand with Cross and Natalia, while Winters remained staring out the window. As they passed the speedster threw Matt a small, sad smile, and the giant clapped him gently on the shoulder.
Matt gulped, feeling sweat beginning to bead across his forehead. “Hey,” he managed, weakly, “Hi. Why’s… why’s everyone looking so down? Is this an intervention? Did someone die?”
“The door, Ms Pixus,” Cross sighed. Giselle nodded, there was a rush of wind, and suddenly Matt’s only avenue of escape was cut off.
“Thank you for coming,” Cross said heavily. She looked from James to Giselle and finally Natalia. “And I apologise for the disruption Mr Callaghan, and for the ambush. But it was necessary, I think, to do this discretely. To not cause undue confusion or alarm.”
She paused and looked at Matt. For what felt like an eternity the six of them just stood there, beneath the high paisley ceiling, light streaming onto the sea-blue shelves from the beautiful world outside. Matt’s heart hammered in his chest, and he fought desperately to keep his mind focused even as his breathing quickened, his fingernails digging into his palms.
Finally, Cross’s voice broke the silence.
“We’ve got another one,” she said, in a final, revelatory tone. All around the room, the Legion members deflated with various muttered curses or sighs. James shook his head. Giselle massaged her temples and closed her eyes. Natalia let out a tiny groan.
Matt stood stock still. “What?” he asked, the words crawling from his mouth, bone dry, “Another what?”
At first, no one answered. Then, after a few moments, Daniel Winters sighed and turned from starting out the window to look directly at Matt.
“Matt,” he said, “I’m sorry to have to do this. Believe me, if there was any other way, I’d take it. But our hands are tied.”
There was a ringing in Matt’s ears. The room around him seemed to swim, and all he could see was Winters' smooth, inscrutable face, his clear grey eyes.
Winters looked away. “We’ve found another one,” he said, turning to James and Giselle, “In Albania. A rural area, up in the mountains. An area called Buzahishtë.”
Oh God, they – wait, what? Albania?
Suddenly, the world came screeching back into focus. The surreal sensation surrounding Matt shattered, and the panic that been coursing through his veins a second earlier pivoted to monumental trepidatious confusion.
“Excuse me,” he asked, his eyebrows furrowing, “Sorry. What? What’s a Buz-shisha? What about Albania?”
None of the other Acolytes answered. Giselle kept rubbing her temples, and James merely shuffled in place, avoiding his gaze. Winters and Cross exchanged glances.
“Mr Callaghan,” said Cross, and she straightened as she said it, obviously trying to keep some appearance of self-assurance and authority, “An issue has arisen. An issue in which the Legion-” she said the last part with only a trace of bitterness, “-requires your help.”
“Why?” said Matt, suddenly wary for a whole different set of reasons than he was ten seconds ago, “What? What do you want me to do?” Unconsciously, he took a step back. “What’s in Albania?”
“Not what,” Cross replied, folding her arms tightly across her chest, “Who.” She glanced at Winters, whose face remained inscrutable.
“We’ve found another clairvoyant.”
“The target’s name is unknown.”
They stood there in the concrete bunker, James, Giselle, Natalia, Cross, Winters and Will – the four Acolytes standing at attention, Cross and Winters standing opposite. The blonde woman watched on silently as the director addressed the assembled line.
“She is approximately five-eight,” he declared, “A hundred and fifty pounds. Hair, brown, though that may be dyed. Complexion, Mediterranean, though that may be tanned. You will each be given a briefing-” and as he said this he nodded to Cross, who approached and began handing them each a thin manilla folder, “‑containing a photograph, taken eight days ago from a security camera. This is the target’s last known image. She may or may not look like this. She may be wearing prosthetics.”
If any of the other Acolytes found this surreal, none of them showed it. James, standing at his full height, responded only with a wordless grunt as Cross handed him the folder. Giselle gave a small, polite nod. Natalia, her eyes unfocused, barely seemed to register Cross passing her field of vision and Will the teleporter, who’d arrived last, simply kept staring straight ahead. Only Matt, slumped like some sort of lumpy growth at the end of this lean, regimented line, showed any sort of emotion, his clammy face alternating between shock, nausea and despair.
They were in the Armoury; a grey little nugget of a bunker Matt hadn’t even noticed was built into the backside of the Academy until they’d lead him straight down its concrete steps. Looking like nothing so much as a fallout shelter from the outside, inside, the walls of the Armoury were lined with rows upon rows of crimson and gold body armour, not to mention guns, riot shields and dozens of other bizarre and deadly looking implements that Matt could only assume were used for bringing peace and security violently to someone’s face. It was between these walls which they all now stood, and this mostly‑maroon armour which the other Acolytes had donned. Each set seemed slightly different. James’s armour consisted of plates an inch thick and was cut vest-shaped to leave his enormous arms free, while Giselle’s seemed to be made of a different material to the others’, a thin frictionless weave. Natalia’s suit had black highlights and a silhouette of a crow painted on it, while Will’s armour lacked gloves. Standing strong and tall, their shoulders straight and their hands clasped behind their backs, the four Acolytes of the Legion looked every bit the lethal superhuman vanguard they were supposed to be. Matt, on the other hand, who was stuck wearing colourless junior’s armour, looked like an amateur cosplayer who compensated for being fat and ugly by overspending wildly on materials.
“Eight days ago,” continued Winters as Cross handed Matt his folder, her eyes meeting his with only the briefest flash of displeasure, “A bank in Switzerland was robbed. The thief used no powers or weapons of any kind. They simply walked in at the exact moment a change of guard coincided with a teller going into early labour, strolled through second-wide gaps in complex, multilayered security and walked out unchallenged with half a million dollars.”
Winters held up a photo. “This robbery,” he stated, showing a black and white still of the woman casually carrying a duffel bag, “Is the latest in a string of thefts across central and southern Europe. All of them involved one person and no clear use of powers. All of them were executed so flawlessly that it took weeks for the theft to be discovered. And none of them returned any clear photographs or surveillance footage of the perpetrator, as if the person responsible knew exactly where the cameras would be pointed and when.”
Winters paused and bore his gaze down on each of them in turn. “Until now.”
The director began to pace, slowly. “Local sources and our own investigations have tracked this woman to a small property in rural Albania. Mr Herd will teleport you in half a mile from the site. From there, you will approach on foot. Your mission is to make contact, nothing more. I want a conversation, not hostilities.”
Winters paused. “The modus operandi of these robberies makes it almost certain that this woman is a clairvoyant. This means that she knows the camera saw her. This means she knows that we’re coming.” He stopped pacing, and turned to fix his gaze directly on Matt. “But what she might not know is that for once, she won’t be the only one who can see the future.”
It was all Matt could do to not throw up. Winters appeared not to notice.
“Mr Callaghan,” he said, “Matt. I cannot overstate how vital you are to this mission. For the past ten years, it has been one of Captain Dawn’s highest priority to locate a clairvoyant.” Winters’ mouth twitched. “You can imagine why. For years, we were unable to engage one clairvoyant – now, maybe, we can recruit two.”
“I…” stammered Matt, “I don’t…” The words wouldn’t come out. It felt like he was boiling alive in this stupid armour.
Winters took a step forward and placed a firm hand on Matt’s shoulder, fixing him with that kind, movie‑star smile. It was probably meant to be supportive, but the gesture reminded Matt of nothing so much as the look the Star Trek captain gives the nameless red-shirt crewmen before they’re sent off to an alien planet to die. “It’s ok to be nervous,” Winters reassured him, “I know this might be earlier than you expected. But I need you to search inside yourself and see what this clairvoyant’s doing before she does it. What we need to do to speak to her. That’s all we want. Just to talk.”
His voice grew softer. “Think Matt,” he said, almost whispering, so focused it was practically intimate, “Think. What do we need to do? What is our pathway? What do you need?”
“Jane,” Matt blurted out, immediately and without thinking, “Jane. Help.”
“Miss Walker?” The director’s face frowned and he and Cross exchanged looks. “I don’t know if she’s…” He glanced at the other Acolytes; Natalia and Will scowled, but Giselle gave a small nod. Winters’ eyes turned to James, standing at the other end of the line. The strongman just shrugged.
“His call,” said James, “If there’s trust there’s trust.”
“She’s useful,” Giselle quickly added beside him. Winters looked at her, though Giselle kept her eyes focused forward. “Wouldn’t hurt to have three extra powers in the toolbox.”
The director considered for a moment. “Fine,” he relented, “The whole point of this is to listen to our clairvoyant. Miss Pixus, retrieve Miss Walker. Brief her on the way over. Discretely.” He turned back to those assembled as Giselle disappeared in a blur. “Everyone else, you know the drill. Check your gear. You move out in five.”
Help, Matt whimpered internally.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).