Student Council/The Usual Suspects
From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Chapter 1: Fuses
He built the bomb because he hated school.
This wasn't entirely true, for many of the same reasons that 16 year-olds have, through the ages, used half-truths to justify their motivations on the surface. Or even, to themselves.
More precisely, it wasn't just that he hated school; he certainly did. He hated all aspects of it. He hated the subliterate mouth breathers that masqueraded as his so-called peer group. He hated the bored apathy of the underpaid life failures that worked there, who called themselves teachers without a trace of irony or, at the very least, embarrassed shame. He hated the poorly maintained, crowded hallways of Paragon Central, the Pavlovian ringing of the bell which heralded the requisite shuffling from one class room to the next, or announce the time to eat, or pardoned him to leave at the end of the day. He hated the cliques of judgmental hypocrites who viewed everything through a narrow lens of self-created filters, who arrogantly deemed anyone who was even slightly different as vastly inferior. He even hated the posters of Statesman and the Liberty League that dotted the walls, entreating him to stay in school or stay off drugs, as if they could really empathize with people who didn't have superpowers.
Most of all, however, Jeremy Marshall hated what the school was intended to prepare him for: more of the same.
That's where they're wrong, Jeremy thought to himself smugly every day as he looked at the bomb in his locker, That's where they're dead wrong.
But, of course, that wasn't the only reason he built the bomb.
He had also built it just to prove that he could. The principles behind it were, literally and figuratively, ground breaking. It was, after all, a phased plasma weapon which packed enough punch to level the entire school yet was small enough to fit inside a briefcase. Or, in this instance, the plastic carcass of an old GameStation. It was a weapon that nobody else had made yet, and when it was finally used, the world would know that Jeremy Marshall had been a special boy. One that it had carelessly shoved aside only to discover too late what dark thoughts sometimes lurked in the minds of special boys. I'll show them, he often thought as he pictured punching the detonation code on the plastic controller, I'll show them all.
They would, eventually trace it to him, he imagined. He had made it easy enough for them to discover, after the fact, anyhow. The plans he used to build it were under his bed, the left over parts were still in the basement. The blast radius would be huge, but the epicenter would be easily traceable to his bank of lockers. He had little doubt that with even a modicum of investigation, he'd be discovered shortly after the event. Then it would be too late, of course, but maybe in the future it would give the popular kinds in other schools reason to pause before picking on the school geek again. Probably not, he thought, and the anger burned familiarly within him again.
Most importantly, however, Jeremy had built the bomb to give him the luxury of not using it. It had sat in his locker for months, waiting patiently for the code that would end it all. In much the same way, Jeremy, too, waited for the one event, the one slight, the one beating that would steel his reserve enough to punch in the code and end everything. Keep pushing me, he used to think at first, keep pushing me and I'll do it. I swear I will.
But somehow, no matter how bad things got at school, they never got bad enough to warrant that one, final, terrible step. The knowledge that he could but he didn't took on an odd importance-- whether his schoolmates knew it or not, he held their lives in his hands, and every day he chose not to end everything was a small victory, for both them and him, and neither party was aware of it. Instead, Jeremy had relegated himself to magnanimously granting their survival on a day by day basis, a terrible god of vengeance cloaked in the mantle of a high school sophomore.
At 16, Jeremy was not impressive, physically speaking. He was thin, a condition which had haunted him all of his life. It was only made worse from a growth spurt last year which granted him long slender limbs seemingly devoid of grace which he often seemed unable to decide what to do with. It wasn't all a lost cause, though His pale skin was thankfully finally getting the upper hand in a battle against acne that had ostracized him from any chance of popularity for his first two and a half years at Paragon Central, and the braces, too, had been removed, having achieved some success on his once uneven teeth. His eyes were brilliant blue and hinted at a vast, keen intellect behind them, but too often the thick glasses he wore obscured what was arguably his best feature to the rest of the world.
Jeremy's mind, on the other hand, certainly was impressive. Where Jeremy was physically a gangly, clumsy child, his mind was a swift and agile predator, one that hunted information mercilessly and retained even the most minute scrap of knowledge with a iron grip. When he was six when he had written down a notebook full of numbers and explained patiently to a teacher that they were special because they could not be 'broken apart' into other numbers. It took days before the confused teacher finally realized that Jeremy had taught himself the basic premise of prime numbers without even knowing what they were called.
By the time he entered Middle School, he realized that not only were those around him unable to do the things he could do naturally, they often resented him for it. Bullies plagued him for the first year, and pegged him with a moniker that followed him to this day: Marshall the Martian. He finally formulated a plan: rather than call attention to himself, he hid his gifts behind a carefully fashioned facade of mediocrity. As much as he hated public school, it at least offered the hope of normalcy; skipping ahead grades or, worse, moving to a gifted school, would all but destroy what meager chance he had. Thus, he intentionally missed questions on tests and made deliberately crafted errors on homework assignments, insuring himself a steady 'B' average interspersed with the occasional victorious 'A' or disastrous 'C'. For a while, it had worked. He garnered a few friends here or there, but always grew exasperated by their relative ignorance. He spent most of his time instead alone, reading voraciously.
In High School, it had become worse. He was no longer persecuted because he was smart; he was abused because he looked smart. His bad skin, think glasses and braces formed the geek Trifecta that made him an obvious target for bullies. Even now that his physical appearance had come nominally under control, the damage had already been done. He was the school geek, and there was nothing he could do that would change that designator in anyone's mind.
His prospects for the future seemed even more grim. He realized he could, if he wanted to, apply himself and get into a decent school, but he had long assumed that his mother had drank away any college fund he might have had long ago. Even if he secured a scholarship, what then? Get a degree in something then a job where he would just be exploited to make someone else rich?
And it was at those times when his thoughts of his future stalked his mind that the prospect for activating the GameStation seemed almost a worthy alternative. So, he would find himself at his locker, staring at the GameStation between classes. Occasionally, he'd plug the controller in, feeling the giddy rush of just being a few keystrokes away from his own, personal Armageddon. Then, it would pass. Not today, he'd think to himself with an odd sense of satisfaction. Not just yet.
Today had been such a day. He had missed the bus by mere seconds, and had run after it for blocks as the other kids laughed at his predicament through the windows. His lunch had been casually taken from him by Lance Garret, the star quarterback, who, after determining it contained nothing of interest to him, threw it on the roof and administered a quick punch to Jeremy's gut for his troubles. The bell rang again, warning students that they only had one more minute to get to classes. Something smacked him on the side of his head, momentarily disorienting him. When he managed to track the source to Lance Garret, the football player was already halfway down the hall, laughing with his entourage.
"Better get to class, Martian!" He called out over his shoulder. His cohorts laughed with him.
Yes, today would be one of the days the controller got plugged in, and he would be just six button presses away from ending it all. Circle, Square, Down, Triangle, Circle, Start. If they're lucky, he thought as he dialed in his combination, if they're VERY, VERY lucky, I won't do it.
However, when he opened his locker, it was empty. The GameStation that had squatted there patiently for months, serving as a touchstone of sanity as well as a promise of assured destruction, was gone. In its place was a neatly penned handwritten note:
Report for detention after school. Room 311.
He stood there, dumbfounded, for several moments. A million miles away, the bell rang, and now, on top of everything else, Jeremy was late for class, as well.
Chapter 2: Room 311
The rest of the day plodded by as Jeremy tried to make sense of what had happened. Twice more he visited his locker between periods and twice more the bomb refused to be waiting there when he unlocked the door. The note seemed to indicate that it had been confiscated by a teacher. He tried to calm himself with the knowledge Maybe another student had taken it, thinking it was a working game? If so, why leave the note? To throw him off the trail until after school? No, that was too clever a tactic for his schoolmates to employ; the ones inclined to steal did so artlessly, often without bothering to take even rudimentary steps to cover their crimes.
He forced himself to settle on the least unlikely scenario: that a teacher had, for some reason, thought the GameStation was not allowed on school property. He, on the other hand, knew it was provided that it was not used during school hours or plugged into school equipment-- in fact, it was one of the reasons he settled on the GameStation for the bomb's camouflage. He would simply have to go to detention, explain that (perhaps point out the section in the student handbook that covered on campus electronics), and whoever had taken it would simply return the bomb to him, none the wiser. In the meantime, he tried to comfort himself with the knowledge that there was only a one in 7,529,536 chance that someone would key in the destruct code accidentally.
When the final bell rang to end the school day, Jeremy had to force himself not to run to Room 311. Better, he thought, to appear casual. Be cool, he rehearsed, I'm just a student who had his GameStation confiscated (and wrongly, at that!), not someone who had lost an explosive device with a 3 kiloton yield. He forced himself to slow down and took as long and as roundabout a way as he could to get to Room 311.
Along the way, he found himself wondering about the choice of the room. Given his long history of altercations between both students and faculty at the school, he was no stranger to detention, and it had always steadfastly conformed to three consistent elements: it was always two hours long, always stupendously boring, and always took place in the largest classroom on campus- Room 134 on the other side of the school. By contrast, Room 311 was, as far as he knew, too small to house a proper class and had been more or less relegated to storage space. I guess I'll find out soon enough, he thought as he reached the door. He indulged in one ridiculous fantasy where he imagined scores of FBI agents crouched on the other side of the door, waiting breathlessly to catch the criminal mastermind who had built such a cunning weapon of mass destruction, then discarded it.
They don't give you detention for bringing a bomb to school, he reasoned as he opened the door, they give you 50 to Life.
Still, he couldn't help but be slightly disappointed by what he found; instead of a crack antiterrorist team, he was instead met with the apathetic gazes of of the usual suspects who were generally considered to be behind whatever trouble was currently brewing at school.
Mindy McCorkendale was, naturally, the first person he noticed. She was smart and beautiful and, until last year, the most popular girl in school. Blue eyed and blonde haired, with a beauty queen smile and porcelain skin, she was so perfect that she may well have been bred in a vat somewhere. She had been head cheerleader, queen of the junior prom, and star of the drama department. She had been every bit as rich as she was beautiful, and easily twice as self centered. When her father had been busted for insider trading at the beginning of the school year, her world had fallen apart. The treasury department had jailed him and frozen all of their assets, and suddenly Mindy McCorkendale had become persona non grata among her former peer group. The cliques and clubs that had once considered themselves blessed to count her among them now distanced themselves from her, as if poverty and bad luck were contagious.
In a way, that sentiment was proven in the lantern jawed young man sitting stoically next to her. Randal Harrington was Mindy's boyfriend, the Ken to Mindy's Barbie. He had been the star player on every sports team that he joined, and had been long considered the single most gifted athlete Paragon Central had ever seen. Colleges had scouted him since his Freshman year, and it seemed that he was destined for greatness. A random drug test early in the year had turned up traces of 'Dine in his bloodstream, and immediately shattered all of his hopes. He was banned from participating in school sports, and no college sports program wanted anything to do with him. Academically, his teachers were not as lenient on him as they had once been when he was the apple of every coach's eye, and his grades had taken a huge hit. Now, he and Mindy clung together, survivors clutching at the flotsam of their former lives.
Near the back wall was Jeff Parsons, listening through earphones to an improbably loud MP3 player and radiating general contempt from the folds of his perennial black leather jacket. Jeremy suspected that the MP3 player, like everything else Parsons owned, had once belonged to somebody else. He had been at Paragon Central for six years now despite the best efforts of the school board, and the Criminal Justice System was anxiously awaiting his next birthday, when his criminal actions would get him tried as an adult. For a moment, Jeremy thought that perhaps Parsons had stolen the GameStation, and then left the note so Jeremy could buy it back from him at an outrageously inflated price, but he quickly abandoned the idea. Parsons simply was not the sort to leave a note when he stole something.
Gwendolyn Bradley sat a few chairs over from him, her black clothing, pale skin, and dark makeup all but screaming for people to notice how apathetic she was to people's attention. Jeremy had, like the rest of the school, learned that she often claimed to be a witch or a vampire depending upon her mood, and he had, like the rest of the school, long since given up caring which she was this week. Her painted black fingernails drummed across the desktop in boredom, the staccato rhythm punctuated by the occasional put-upon sigh.
Finally, sitting deathly still and staring straight ahead in his perfectly pressed shirt and slacks, was James Blake. Wealthy, handsome, and intelligent, James looked to have all the ingredients necessary to make himself one of the most popular kids in school. However, James possessed a certain, undefinable quality to his personality that caused people to shy away from him. Part of it was, of course, his tragic past. Rumor had it that when James was a child, he had witnessed his parents brutally murdered during a botched robbery attempt. He had been raised by his legal guardian, the family butler, on the expansive Blake Estate, and was only attending Paragon Central in an effort to inject some normalcy into his life. As far as Jeremy was concerned, that experiment had been a dismal failure. He had only spoken to James a few times in their scholastic careers, and each time he had come away feeling as if he had been face to face with a particularly venomous species of snake, separated only by a thin, transparent barrier. Worse still was the sense that the snake had the button that lowered it.
Despite his endeavors to take his time in getting to the room, Jeremy was surprised to find that he had apparently arrived before the teacher that was supposed to be supervising their detention. He ignored the looks of disdain from the other students with practiced ease and entered the room. As dictated by his own custom, he attempted to find a seat farthest away from the other students, but was eventually forced to sit in the center of the room as they occupied the fringes of the desks. Together, they waited in silence, having nothing whatsoever to say to one another.
They didn't wait long.
Chapter 3: The Pitch
The man who entered the room-- Jeremy only assumed he was a teacher because he was expecting one-- was tall and thin, practically gaunt. He wore his dark hair high and neat and it was graying at the temples. Similar flecks of gray lurked within his neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard. His eyes were dark, sunken, and alert; they methodically scanned the students in the classroom behind a pair of spindly reading glasses. Jeremy idly thought that the teacher resembled someone a studio would hire to play a Vincent Price price role now that Vincent Price was dead.
Seeming to find everything in order, the suspected teacher strode confidently to the front of the class and commandeered the wide teacher's desk there. Then, he set his briefcase on the desk, pausing only momentarily to neatly align it with the edges, and steepled his fingers, contemplating the class.
Jeremy, like the other students, studied him as well, and he began to doubt his initial assumption that the man sitting in front of the class was a teacher. For starters, the man did not look like a teacher. His suit was-- well, a suit, which was a rare occurrence among the business casual attire favored by the school's faculty. His briefcase was leather and new. His shoes recently shined, hair neatly clipped, tie perfectly straight. Few, if any, of those features were apparent with any of the teachers Jeremy delt with on a daily basis. Secondly, Jeremy had never seen his face before, and even among the vast seas of faces he had to navigate in the hallways every day at the school, his relentless mind, ever hungry for new information, catalogued every new face he saw. Finally, his mannerisms were too precise, too confident. The term almost military rose unbidden to Jeremy's thoughts, and once surfaced, refused to be ignored.
The man sitting patiently at the desk, calmly considering Jeremy and his classmates, was not a man who lead classes full of students, but armies full of soldiers. Jeremy was certain of it.
Several uneasy seconds passed as they waited for the new arrival to say something. He, however, seemed quite content to wait for them to say something to him. They exchanged puzzled glances, then waited longer. Finally, Gwendolyn mustered up the courage.
"Do you have any idea why you all are here?" The teacher asked, cutting her off before she could complete her first syllable. His voice was quiet, restrained, and held the hint of an indeterminate accent of foreign origin.
The students again exchanged confused glances. Jeremy decided he needed to stick to his initial plan of playing the wronged innocent and retrieving his bomb.
"I'm here because you seem to have accidentally taken my GameStation from my locker." He said.
The teacher's eyes narrowed, "I've never taken anything accidentally in my life, Mr. Marshall. And you've never had a GameStation in your locker."
Jeremy's eyes widened in controlled panic. He knows. He knows what it is, what I was planning.
"See me after this is over and we can discuss the return of your item." The teacher added absently. Jeremy's panic turned to bewilderment. If he really knew what it was, I'd be in jail right now, he repeated like a mantra in the hopes it would soothe him, Furthermore, he certainly wouldn't talk about giving it back to me. Still, his concerns loomed large.
"Anyone else care to hazard a guess? Anyone?" He asked, eyebrows raised.
Gwendolyn raised her hand sheepishly, as if uncertain that the protocol was necessary. The teacher nodded at her.
"Yes, Ms. Bradley?" He asked.
"I'm here because they said I cheated on my midterms." She said sullenly, "But it's a lie."
"I know, Ms. Bradley," he nodded sympathetically.
She seemed to brighten a bit; a rare event for anyone who knew Gwendolyn, "You believe me?"
"Well, of course it's a lie, Ms. Bradley," he grinned wolfishly, "I'm the one who fabricated it in the first place."
She stammered momentarily, dumbstruck, "Wh-- why would you--"
He silenced her with a wave of his hand, then stood and walked to the front of the desk, "You all know the pretenses for why you're here today; that isn't what I'm interested in. I already know what those are; I created them. What I want to know is if you know why you're here today?"
"Wait, I don't get it..." Jeff said, shaking his head, "You're saying that you're the one who stole those tools from Shop?"
"Guilty as charged, I'm afraid," the Teacher shrugged.
"Are you nuts?" He yelled, "I'm on parole, man! I could go--"
"Mr. Parsons, I assure you, those tools are being discovered in the spot were there were 'misplaced' even as we speak. You'll be-- ", he paused, then made a more encompassing gesture with his hands, "You'll all be completely exonerated of whatever dastardly deed that sent you here today by the time you leave this room. On that, you have my word.
"Now that you don't have to worry about that problem anymore, please give some thought as to why you're really here."
The teacher-who-wasn't-a-teacher paused again, and Jeremy had a sudden insight. It wasn't random coincidence that had brought them here, no sheer chance was involved.
"We're here," Jeremy heard himself say quietly, "because you wanted us here."
The teacher smiled, "Bravo, Mr. Marshall. Bravo."
"Why?" Mindy asked.
"Simple, Ms. McCorkendale. I wanted to meet you all and discuss your future."
"Our future?" Randal's eyebrow raised incredulously, "What for? Are you some kind of guidance Counselor or something?"
The teacher considered this, then grinned, as if Randal had just inadvertanly stumbled across an inside joke. "In a way, Mr. Harrington, I suppose I am a Guidance Councillor," he said enigmatically, "In more ways than one, in fact."
"So what? You're going to tell us all about out potential? About how special we are?" Parsons snorted.
"Something like that, yes," the Guidance Councillor nodded.
"Save it. I've heard it all before. Hell, all of us probably have."
"No, I don't think you've heard what I'm going to tell you, Mr. Parsons. Yes, I do believe all of you are special, and yes, you all have great potential ahead of you," the Guidance Councillor was walking down the row of desks, finally stopping by Jeff's desk, "I suspect you, of all people, realize that, Mr. Parsons."
"What the hell do you mean by that?"
He leaned down, inches from Jeff's face, eyebrow raised quizzically. "I've seen you, Mr. Parsons. I've seen what you can do."
Jeff paled for the first time in anyone's memory. "Wh-- How?"
"You need to be more careful when you practice, Mr. Parsons. I can help you with that."
"What the hell is he talking about?" Mindy asked.
"Shut the hell up." Parsons growled in warning.
"Fair enough," The Guidance Councillor shrugged, "To move on, we've already covered why you thought you were here, and why you are here. Now, on to why I'm here."
"Right. To help us reach our 'potential'," Gwen mocked, encapsulating the word potential with finger-quotes.
"Eventually," The Guidance Councillor admitted, "But first, I want to offer you all a job."
"A job?" Randal said dismissively, "Are you sure you got the right group? Look at us! Are you hiring us to be professional losers?"
A few giggles signified agreement. The Guidance Councillor paused until they died down.
"As a matter of fact, Mr. Harrington, I'm offering you all jobs as professional supervillains." He said.
Chapter 4: The Response
The room once again sank into startled silence, but only momentarily. Then, it erupted into laughter. Even James' normally emotionless face hinted at a amused grin.
"Supervillains?" Mindy spat between guffaws, "Us?"
"Yes," the Guidance Councillor nodded, "Supervillains. You."
"And you're probably going to want us to wear stupid looking uniforms, too?" Randal laughed.
"Mr. Harrington, I very seriously doubt that there's a job you're qualified for at this juncture in your life that doesn't require you to wear a stupid looking uniform. At least my offer doesn't require you to ask if you'd like fries with that."
"Dude, don't take this the wrong way," Randal said, "But you've got to be the worst guidance councillor the school's ever hired."
The Councillor nodded and opened his briefcase. From in it he withdrew a nasty looking pistol.
All laughter in the room abruptly died.
"I never said the school hired me, Mr. Harrington," he said as he fired the gun at Randal's chest.
The gunshot was thunderous within the confined space of the room. Randal was knocked from his desk, Mindy screamed, and Jeff looked ready to launch out of his desk to stop the gunman. He thought better of it when the gun's barrel sighted on him. Jeremy weighed his options and decided to stay put and hope he didn't draw the older man's attention, a strategy that Gwen also adopted.
It was James, however, who actually made a move.
With blinding speed, the orphaned young man erupted from his chair, counting on the fact that he was in his target's peripheral vision to protect him for the microseconds it took for him to strike at the guidance Councillor's throat.
He instead found the older man's palm darting out, hitting him just above the bridge of the nose and sending him to the floor, dazed.
"You telegraph your moves in advance, Mr. Blake," The Guidance Councillor said matter-of-factly, "But I'm glad you chose to participate in the discussion none the less. I was beginning to fear I might have been boring you."
"You sick son of a bitch!" Mindy screamed at him as she fled to Randal's side, "You killed him!"
"Please, Ms. McCorkendale, save the histrionics for the Drama Club," The Guidance Councillor said casually, "If I had really wanted to kill Mr. Harrington, I would have brought a bigger gun." He bent down, "You are alright, I trust, Mr. Harrington?"
"That hurt like a sonofabitch!" Harrington protested, then looked at his shirt. A still smoking hole within it revealed bruised but unbroken skin beneath it. "Goddamn it! That was a new shirt!"
The Guidance Councillor walked back to his desk and sat down. He placed the still smoking gun on the desk. "I trust I have your attention now?" He asked.
Everyone nodded as James, Mindy, and Randal shakily resumed their seats.
"As I was saying, my employers are interested in hiring all of you. The salary is lucrative and tax-free, the benefits are top notch, and the hours are actually very reasonable."
"As Supervillains?" Jeremy reconfirmed.
"Well, yes, but more importantly, you'll be insuring some of their long term goals are cared for in the years to come. They intend to conquer the world, but they want to make sure there will be someone they can trust to run it when they're gone."
"Why us?" Randal asked.
"You've been profiled as the students in this school who would most likely accept the offer."
"Profiled? You mean that you've been spying on us?" Mindy asked, hand fluttering to her throat.
"No, Ms. McCorkendale, we haven't been spying on you, beyond what was necessary to confirm that you were all suitable candidates and to set up this meeting. The project is still in its infancy, and I could hardly muster the resources to spy on everyone in this school to just to find you six."
"Then how? I mean, how did you pick us?"
"Simple. We spied on the people who DO spy on you. The school itself maintains a wealth of information about your all: Aptitude tests. Myers-Briggs tests. Disciplinary history. Then, we widened the scope a bit to things like bank statements, criminal records, and FBI reports."
"FBI? Who here is dealing with the FBI?" Jeff asked, suddenly self conscious.
"The FBI maintains an extensive profiling system under the auspices of the Homeland Security Act. In the wake of Columbine, they are trying to find out which kids are most likely to bring a gun to school," he shot a knowing glance at Jeremy, "Or worse."
"This is crazy," Gwen muttered.
"No, this is long term planning, Ms. Bradley. The project is officially termed the Council Youth Leadership Initiative Program. I, however, prefer to call it the Student Council."
"You mean Council as in the Council Council?" Jeremy asked.
"The same," the older man nodded in confirmation.
"The Council? Weren't they like Nazis or something?" Mindy asked.
"No, although that is a popular misconception, Ms. McCorkendale. While it is true that the Council did enjoy a partnership with the Nazis at one point, we shared only resources and goals, not philosophies. The Council has since severed its ties with them; in fact, we've subverted a great deal of their largest existent organization, the Fifth Column, to our cause about a year ago."
"What cause is that?" Gwen asked.
"Why, world domination, Ms. Bradley," he said simply.
"Yeah, good luck with that," Jeff muttered dismissively.
"We don't believe in luck, Mr. Parsons, just planning and hard work. We already control one nation, Striga Isle, outright, and we are pulling the strings behind the governments of dozens more. Many of our goals will take decades to accomplish, but we're patient, and we plan for the future. In fact, your being here right now is part of that plan for the future."
"And they're going to pay us to be part of this future?" Randal asked.
"Handsomely. I dare say that should you accept the offer, you'll be the only students in this school making six figure salaries for what is essentially an after-school job. There are also other benefits, as well."
"Full scholarship to Paragon University, for starters. We have several people loyal to our cause on the board there. And yes, attending college will be mandatory; the next generation of the Council's Inner Circle needs to be capable of critical thinking. Also, you'll have access to Council equipment and technology. I'm certain that will hold some appeal to our Mr. Marshall. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, those of you who don't already possess some sort of... gift, I suppose, would be the term, will be given one. Those of you like our friend Mr. Parsons who already have them will be trained in how to use them effectively."
"Will we have to break the law?" Mindy asked.
"Eventually," he nodded, "Almost certainly."
"Will we have to kill anyone?" James asked. Jeremy noted that it was the first thing he had said since he came into the room.
The Councillor paused, and with a slow smile, asked, "Would you like to, Mr. Blake?"
James didn't answer.
"What if we don't want to join?" Gwen ventured.
"If you don't join, you don't join. But I must stipulate that this is an all or nothing offer. You're either all in or all out."
"And that's it?" Mindy shrugged, "If we all decide we don't want to be a part of this, you're just going to let us walk away?"
"Yes. I disappear forever. You go about your daily lives and probably get jobs working in the food court at the mall. However, I'm going to have to ask that you keep today's meeting to yourselves no matter what you decide. Don't tell your friends, your family, and obviously, don't tell the authorities. Believe me, we'll know if you do."
"So what? Say I go to the cops. What are you going to do? Kill me?"
"No, Mr. Parsons. If someone tells the authorities, I'll kill you all. And your families, too."
The room went silent.
"Why?" Mindy finally managed, "Why kill all of us?"
"I'm a very busy man, Ms. McCorkendale. I have neither the time nor the energy to watch over all of you. This way, you all have a vested interest in making certain that your fellow... Conspirators, I suppose, for lack of a better word, maintain their silence.
"But enough of that unpleasantness. Are there any other questions?"
There were none.
"Excellent. You'll have a week to consider the offer; provided that you all accept, we'll begin your training immediately. We'll reconvene here in 7 days, at the same time. In the meantime, please prepare any further questions and consider the offer carefully. More importantly, however, is that you decide what you want that we can offer you. I assure you, our resources are quite extensive. You're being offered a tremendous opportunity here. I do hope you recognize it for what it is."
"That's it? We're free to go?" Mindy asked cautiously.
"Of course you are," he gestured to the door, "There. Go. Only remember what I said: today's meeting must remain our secret, no matter what you decide. You are free to discuss it among yourselves, but nobody else."
The students got to their feet and shuffled towards the door. Jeremy waited for them to leave, then turned to the Guidance Councillor once they were gone.
"Where is it?" He asked immediately.
"Your... device... is quite safe, Mr. Marshall."
"You said you'd give it back to me."
"Actually, Mr. Marshall, I believe what I said was that we'd discuss its return. Which is, in fact, what we're doing right now."
"Look, don't play games with me. I need it back. You don't know what you have."
"What I have is a first generation phased plasma bomb with a projected yield of 2 to 4 kilotons," the Guidance Councillor snapped, "A very, very dangerous weapon indeed. Quite an ingenious design, too, Mr. Marshall. I expect we'll see some great things from you in the future."
"How could you--"
"Mr. Marshall, you don't become a vast criminal conspiracy without learning a thing or two about weapons of mass destruction. I'll make you a proposition. If you convince your friends to sign up, I'll return the device to you. Think of it as a signing bonus."
"What if they don't join?"
"Then I'll detonate it somewhere with a lot of innocent people. And I'll see that the plans you had so carelessly strewn about your bedroom go to the authorities."
"Mr. Marshall, I-- rather, We expect great things from you. We see qualities in you that you probably don't recognize, reservoirs of character and conviction of which I suspect you are completely unaware. This isn't a threat, Jeremy, it's an assignment. Your first one of hopefully many. Convince the others to join, or a lot of people will suffer for it."
"Perhaps," he conceded with a nod, "But then again, I'm not the one building bombs, Mr. Marshall, am I?"