Catherine Becker froze in surprise as she stepped through the doorway behind her escort, almost letting the heavy fire door hit her before she stepped to one side. “This is an unusual sort of headquarters for a superhuman team,” she observed vaguely.
Just ahead of her, Meredith Black paused and looked over her shoulder at the field leader. “Pretty weird, isn't it?” she said with a shiver. “I've been here two weeks, and I'm still not used to it.”
Catherine had driven to a small S.E.A. station on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, surprised to learn that her new headquarters would be located so close to her hometown. She was much more surprised, after driving into the underground parking lot, to be directed to the fourth level down and met by a young woman in a suit and with an earpiece. Ms. Black had shown Catherine to a small door in the side of the lot, pressing her bracelet against the lock and tapping a short sequence into its keypad, and down the small staircase.
Now, the two stood in an expansive Victorian foyer, a room easily twenty yards across with two open, gently curving stairways leading up to a balcony, oaken double-doors sitting underneath, and tapestries hanging from the walls. The ceiling above was a skylight, through which the sunlight beamed down. Catherine turned slowly, looking around, noting the small bronze statues that seemed to offset the red-and-brown tapestries perfectly. She leaned in closer. “Is this a bust of Alaistar Midnight?” she asked.
“Yes, I think so. Don't know where they got it.” Meredith gestured. “The rest of the team is in the lounge, I believe.”
Catherine started forwards, and then stopped again, looking up. “How did they get a skylight all the way down here? I didn't think there was a gap that size in the building…”
“We're not in Pittsburgh anymore.” Meredith said with the faintest of grimaces. When Catherine looked up sharply, she shrugged. “I don't understand it, either. But the doors from the foyer open to different cities. With a few weeks' prep, we can shift around where they go, within limits.”
“Wow.” Catherine blinked. “How does that work?”
“You'll have to ask Yousef. If you'll follow me, I'll introduce you to the others.”
As Meredith opened the double-doors beneath the balcony, Catherine heard voices faintly drifting outwards. A young woman's voice, bright and cheerful, was the first that she could make out the words of. “Alright, so what if you go underwater? Can you drown?”
“That's actually sort of a funny one.” A man's voice drawled. “See, I need to breathe, but bad air can't hurt me. So I can pretty much hold my breath forever, but if I breathe out and can't breathe in again, I could suffocate. Happened once, when I was fourteen. It was goddamn scary.”
“Okay. What about space?” the woman persisted. “Would the pressure push air out of your lungs, or would your powers protect you?”
“You are one seriously morbid girl, you know that?”
Catherine came around the corner, eyebrows raised as she took in the four people in the elegant sitting room. Sprawled across a couch, a young, athletic man glanced over at her. “Hello, miss. You our fearless leader?”
Catherine frowned at him. “Catherine Becker.” She looked around at the others. A young woman was perched on the edge of a chair, her green dress swirling around her feet and stretched to the thin white gloves she wore. A hood and wooden mask completed her coverings. Next to her, a middle-aged man with dark hair sat back quietly, studying Catherine as frankly as she was studying him. In another chair, a young man with red hair sat, vaguely glancing between Catherine and the larger man. “And you?”
“Roland. Over there's Blossom, Jack, and Jason.”
“Jack Beauregard.” Jack clarified, standing and offering his hand. Catherine shook it with a smile. “Roland, Blossom and I would be your field team. Jason's just finished giving us the tour.”
Jason glanced over and nodded. “Jason Silas, ma'am. Data Analysis and support. Meredith's our HR liason, and Yousef is…” He gestured roughly in the direction of the doors. “Our magitech boy is around somewhere. Director Henry should be by soon.”
“Pleasure to meet you all.” Catherine chose a chair and sat, trying not to look as worried as she felt. She could already sense discipline issues with Roland, Blossom seemed… flightly… and Jack, while polite, didn't look like he would last long in a fight. She supposed his powers might balance that out, but it wasn't an encouraging start.
Lost in thought, she stiffened with a gasp as a small, cold object wrapped around her leg. “Someone-needs-a-hug.” A cold, mechanized voice managed to say before Catherine, acting on instinct, kicked her leg up, pulled it off her, and threw it as hard as she could over the couches. Only once it was in midair did she register that it seemed to be a foot-and-a-half tall silhouette of a person, with only the vaguest cartoon features of eyes and a large, smiling mouth.
“Excuse me, has anyone seen a small, grey, oh there it is.” The door flung open as the young man charged through, skidding to a halt and ducking as the robot flew over his head. He was a thin arabic man, his hair tousled and his hands covered in heavy work gloves, wearing a simply button-down shirt and jeans. “Uh, I'm Yousef.”
“What was that?” Catherine said, as the thing bounced off the ground and promptly took off at a dash.
Faintly, the group heard, “Helping-others-helps-yourself.”
“Uh…. the carebot.” Yousef scratched the back of his head, not meeting Catherine's eyes. “I thought it might help with stress levels.” He looked up. “It sort of… activated on its own. It's not dangerous, it just sort of horns in on unhappiness and tries to hug it better.” When the others stared at him with varying degrees of shock or confusion, he wilted and took a step back. “I should… I should probably go after it.”
“Whatever it is you're going after, it will have to wait.” The double-doors swung open, and Oliver Henry stood framed in the doorway, leaning on his walking-stick. “We have proper introductions to make, now that everyone's here.” His gaze swept the team, and he paused. “Well, almost everyone. Director Lee is still deciding on who to add to the support group as our official pilot, but we'll have time to meet him later. For now, I would like to welcome you all to the country's newest branch of the Superhuman Enforcement Agency.”
He took a deep breath, looking over each of the team members in turn. “Ladies and gentlemen, for centuries it has been a tradition for magical guardians to defend their chosen people from harm, a tradition that ended here in 1990 when the last magical defender of this country was killed during the Antihero uprising. Now, when the world is at its most vunerable, the tradition is restored. I've spoken with Director Lee, and she has agreed with my proposal for our team's official title. Our badges will be arriving in the next few weeks, but for the moment, I would simply like to thank you all, and welcome you to the Magisters.”
Roland chuckled. “The Magisters, huh? Getting a bit presumptuous, aren't we?”
“Not at all, Roland. Most people may only remember the final, and most famous, inheritor of the name, but there has been a Magister in the United States for over two hundred years. It is high time the tradition was restored.” Oliver smiled broadly, and nodded to the team. “And I can think of no one I would rather have defending me than you.”
He waved a hand towards the doors. “But enough speechifying. Come on, I'll give you the full tour. I know Jason started it, but there's a lot to see.”
The others followed him out of the room, chatting and looking around. Jack hung back, nodding to Catherine. “What do you think about that?”
“Mr. Henry is very determined,” she laughed. “And you?”
“I'm impressed. This is quite the setup. As for the rest…” Jack nodded thoughtfully. “Well, we'll just have to see, won't we?”
“I guess we will.” Catherine followed the others, smiling despite herself. Director Henry's enthusiasm was infectious, and she couldn't help but feel encouraged. Maybe this would work out for the best after all.