Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Monday, May 31, 2004

At breakfast on Saturday morning I was trying to figure out who everybody was. There were a couple of trays of food and coffee out on the porch, and people sitting around eating and talking. I recognized Greyghost, of course, and Bob, and Liz from the driveway last night, and Ms. Moxie after a minute. I had no idea who Mr. Scarab was (never heard of him in my life before Friday) but it was pretty easy to pick out his family.

After that I had to rely on all the research I had done recently on the superhero world. The tall blond guy must be Daylighter (most powerful superhero anywhere), but the girl in the glasses next to him stumped me. The guy in the white cap was probably (wait for it) Whitecap, from Seattle, and the tall blonde in the stars-and-stripes outfit was definitely Glory B, the android. Okay, so there were two men left I hadn't figured out--Mr. Scarab probably wasn't the short black guy in the electric-blue rollerblading gear, so he must be the brown-haired gent in the robe.

That left just a couple of women I couldn't put a name to--the brunette with the freaky wristwatch, and the specimen with the rainbow-colored fright wig and rainbow-striped bodysuit scarfing down bacon. So that's not bad. I identified eight of eleven. Before getting this job I would have been lucky to get two.

The SPIA meeting, when it eventually got started, took place around a few picnic tables out on the lawn. Mr. Scarab's kids were throwing a frisbee nearby. I've worked in a lot of offices and attended a lot of meetings, and this was easily the nicest meeting I'd ever even heard of.

First item. Daylighter, addressing the group, says, "There may be some trouble about our funding. The Justice Department--"

At which point some idiot interrupted, saying, "Jesus! You guys get paid by the government?"

Everybody turned around to stare at the idiot, who was, of course, me, and the singular-looking young lady in the rainbow ensemble snarled, leaped twelve feet to land on the table in front of me, and brandished a couple of three-inch talons in my face. "dO yOu HaVe SoMeThInG tO sAy, LiTtLe BoY?" she growled at me.

It freaked me out, but I was kind of mad at the time. "Yeah!" I snapped. "I want to know how much of my money is going in taxes to pay you for trying to scare me here. Probably have to round it up to make it come to a penny, right? If you had any decency you'd refund me that penny before you said another word. I don't believe I'm getting value for my money."


"Put it back in your pants, Wildthing," Bob cut in. "And, Dennis, why'nt you button your lip for a change?"

Most of them looked kind of embarrassed, but Greyghost was taking it in stride. Daylighter continued. "The Justice Department is pushing to have us reveal our identities to them before they'll renew our annual funding."

"Can't really blame them," the brunette with the wristwatch said. "But it's not gonna happen."

"Yeah," the blue rollerblader said. "We can do without the money if we really have to, but once a secret's out, it's out."

"There's a simple solution," Bob said. "I don't give a crap if they know my real name or not. I give them all my details, they release the money to me, I turn around and allocate it however we decide, everybody's happy."

Greyghost shook his head. "It sets a bad precedent. You may not mind the government knowing your identity, but you won't be part of SPIA forever. We can't assume that there'll always be a SPIA representative who thinks like you do."

"It's not going anywhere," Whitecap said. "If we hold our ground, they'll cave. They need us. I just got word yesterday from one of my Canadian contacts that Nefario's coming back from Russia. The JD wants us happy and effective."

That was the sort of thing they talked about all morning. When we broke for lunch, I drifted towards Greyghost and said, "I imagine you're kind of pissed at me."

"For your funding comment? No, actually, I'm quite pleased. I'm the only member of SPIA who employs an assistant; some of my fellows don't get to hear dissenting opinions often enough."

I cocked my head. "And that's the real reason I'm here with you."

"One of them."

"Great. For my next act I'll tell Daylighter his haircut makes him look like teacher's pet at lifeguard school."

But the really interesting development didn't happen until the afternoon.
"Traditionally it's customary to give people advance notice before telling them to pack a bag for a trip," I told Greyghost Friday evening. "How long have you known about this meeting? Months?"

"It wasn't final until yesterday," he said. "You knew as soon as I knew for sure."

"I'd still like to know ahead of time. Just because I have no life doesn't mean it's polite to assume that I have no life."

"Next time," he said.

"Thank you. Instead of requesting an apology, I will put myself in charge of the music for the drive."

I was expecting him to wince or snipe or something, but Greyghost is cool. He just nodded absently. I got my new Lila Cheney CD out of my gym bag and chucked the bag in the back of the car.

I still didn't know exactly where we were headed. Apparently the place wasn't on any map and Greyghost was going to have to give me directions. Wherever it was, though, the terrain probably wasn't that great as we had pulled an old Land-Rover out of one of our garages to make the trip. I had driven it once before and it was in pretty good shape. Greyghost was riding up front with me, which felt kind of weird. He wasn't in costume, which was even weirder. I had to stop myself from staring at him. I couldn't get over that voice coming out of an actual face.

We pulled out.

"How far is it?"

"Unless traffic is unusual, we should get there at about two o'clock in the morning." He had some papers with him and was leafing through them.

"How many of these meetings does SPIA have? One a year?"


"What's usually on the agenda?"

He looked up from his papers. "Membership. Certainly that'll be an issue this year, after Manxcat's death. New laws that may affect us. Technology. Criminal organizations, especially supercriminal organizations, and other threats that are best addressed by a group like SPIA instead of someone working on his own."

"How does that work with new members? Do you all just recommend people?"

"Mm. I won't be recommending anyone this year, though."

"How come?"

"They already know my opinion, and disagree. My recommendation would go to One-Eyed Jack, but many of the others won't hear of it."

"Huh? Why not?"

"Partly it's geography. Empire City is already represented by me, Bob, Ms. Moxie, and, until this year, Manxcat. That's four of twelve. Jack would make four again, which I agree is more than enough for one city. Mostly, though, it's because Jack has no superpowers."

"Really? He's just a guy?"

"He's a man of tremendous resource, and his perspective would be invaluable. But. . ." he shrugged. "Don't say anything about it this weekend. There's no need to have the argument again."

"About that . . . why exactly am I coming along? What do you need me to do?"

"I have some files with me; I may need you to find information during the meeting. Mostly, though, I want you to use your judgment and pay attention."

We didn't talk for a while. Traffic was fine, and we continued south and east, still on major roads. The drive did in fact take until two in the morning, and by the end of it I was damn glad to be in the Land-Rover. See, our host, Mr. Scarab, lives in a ghost town. This place used to have some kind of factory, but it closed down because of the economy and everyone moved out. This was back in the '70s. Then the bridge, which was the only good way into town, collapsed. So now there's a crumbling town in the middle of the woods, and you can only reach it by a dirt road from the back of some guy's farm.

I'd like to point out at this time that I've never heard of Mr. Scarab. I wonder what his first name is. Gary? Hi, I'm Phil Scarab. This is Bert Scarab, reporting from London. When Jim Scarab speaks, everyone listens.

The Old Scarab Place is a big quaint farmhouse outside the ex-town. A few cars had beaten us to it, as well as an eight-foot black-pink-and-gold robot that seemed to be rearranging itself. "What the hell is that?" I said.

"Pull up beside it," Greyghost told me. I did.

We got out of the car just as the robot's head popped off and a short woman with a dark ponytail climbed out. "Hi, Victor," she said. "How was the drive?"

"Mm. Liz, this is my new assistant Dennis. Dennis, this is Tinliz."

She shook my hand. "I'm just Liz, once I'm out of the tin," she said. "Nice to meet you. Victor, can I have a minute? Apparently Dayl's springing something on us."

"Of course. Dennis, you can go on in; I'll be a moment."

I took my stuff and all Greyghost's stuff and went in. Met Mr. Scarab's son, who's about ten and was watching TV. Nice kid. Showed me where our rooms were. I dropped Greyghost's crap on his bed, went into my room and fell asleep. And that's how the first day ended.

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