2 - The Storm Gathers

Helena Christine Lennards shifted nervously in her seat, wondering what in the world she was doing here. Only a few hours ago she had been on her way home from the library. She'd arrived back from an hour and a half of studying chemistry to find a gleaming black car parked in her driveway, and some woman from the government talking to her parents. How the woman had found out about her she had no idea, she'd certainly never told anyone her secret. The woman hadn't mentioned her secret, but what else could it be? So here she was, in an itchy green chair in the lobby of this Agent Munroe's government office, waiting and wondering: Why her?

The doors swung open and a boy who seemed around the same age as her strolled in and sat down in another chair across from her, looking around the lobby curiously. Helena studied him surreptitiously from over the top of the novel she'd been pretending to read for the last twenty minutes. He looked pretty crazy, with blonde hair that spiked up wildly from his head. Had he stuck his fingers in a socket or something? How did people get their hair like that? It wasn't only the hair that looked odd, though. He had an actual pair of goggles on his head, goggles like a pilot or someone wore. Was he a pilot? How would he get his helmet on with hair like that?

He swung his feet aimlessly for several seconds, and then turned his attention on Helen.

"So," he said, a wide grin on his face, "What's your power?"

She swallowed and tried to look confused rather than guilty.

"Excuse me?"

"What's your power?" he repeated. "Dude! I mean, think about it! Why else do you think we're here?"

"I...I don't know what you're talking about." Helen said firmly.

"Oh. Well, hi! My name's Zachary Archer, but everyone just calls me Zach."

She shook his hand.

"Helena Lennards, but please just call me Helen - I hate my full name."

"Cool. It's totally nice to meet you, Helen."

"Yeah, nice to meet you too."

There was a thump as the door swung open again, rather more violently. A tall boy with broad shoulders and red hair strode into the room. He had a square jaw and a strong face, though his eyes were shaded over somewhat by his hair. He was wearing a battered brown leather jacket.

"Okay, what the hell am I doing here?" he demanded.

Helen jumped, but Zach just shrugged calmly.

"Don't ask us, dude, we're as clueless as you."

The youth narrowed his eyes at them, then threw himself down onto one of the horrible chairs and plonked his feet on a nearby coffee table. There was a few seconds silence.

"So," said Zach turning to smile at him, "Who are you and what's your secret power you won't admit to?" He grinned at Helen, who stubbornly picked up her novel again and continued to pretend to read it.

"I'm Rik. And my power is squashing dweebs who piss me off by asking stupid questions."

"Cool. I'm Zach, and this is Helen. Helen won't tell me what her power is yet, but mine is shooting electrical sparks from my hands. It's pretty cool. Cause you see, a year or so ago I was spending the summer with my uncle, right, and I had to help his fix his TV aerial, right? So I was up on the roof and then this totally giant storm came and I got struck by lightning and since then I can -"

"Wait - you got struck by lightning? And you survived?" Helen frowned. Was he making this up?

"Yeah, it was like a totally crazy phenomenon. Anyway, since then, I've been able to do this! Watch!"

He got up and ran over to a water dispenser round the corner from the main desk. Pulling off the big black gloves he was wearing, he gestured enthusiastically towards it with both hands. A large bolt of electricity sparked from his fingertips, making both Helen and Rik start, and zapped into the dispenser. The bottom of it immediately exploded, spilling water everywhere and flooding the floor. Helen screamed, jumping backwards, and Rik let out a low, gleeful, whistle.

"Well done, porcupine head!"

Zach blinked and put the gloves back on.

"Oops. Okay, so that was a liiiiittle more powerful than I meant it to be. I'm still kinda trying to learn to control my power properly, you know?"

Helen just stared at him incredulously. Rik laughed nervously after a few seconds. The secretary didn't even look up from her desk.

Just then a tall, stern looking woman walked into the room, and Helena recognised her as Munroe, the agent who had come to her house.

"Ah. You three have arrived. Good. Follow me."

She walked past them, barely glancing at the mutilated water dispenser as her shoes splished quietly through the large puddle seeping out from it. Helen and Zach shared puzzled glances and stood up uncertainly. Rik, however, jumped to his feet and reached out as if to grab Munroe.

"Look, lady! I wanna know why we're here and I wanna know it - "

Without hesitation or even glancing round at him, Munroe grabbed his wrist, twisted his arm round behind him and forced him up onto the balls of his feet where he teetered uncertainly, his face screwed up in pain as she continued to twist his arm.

"Richard Valentine. Seventeen years old. Has a problem with his temper. To be more precise - when he loses it he gains super-human strength, temporary invulnerability, heightened senses and an arsenal of toxins at his disposal."

Zach's eyes widened.

"Wow. All I'm good for is jump-starting cars."

"If I'm not mistaken, Zachary, the last time you tried that your father's jeep mysteriously stopped working."

"You know about that?"

"Oh yes, Zachary. I know a lot of things about you. About all of you. That is why you are here." Munroe released Rik from his arm lock, then turned and opened the door leading to her inner office.

"Please enter."

Inside was a long oval table with six chairs round it. In one of them sat a boy with tanned skin and curly black hair. He looked at them suspiciously, and then at Munroe.

"Helena, Zachary, Richard, this is William Blake. William, this is Helena Lennards, Zachary Archer and Richard Valentine."

William cautiously inclined his head towards them.

"Hello." he said evenly.

"Um, hi." replied Helen nervously. Rik ignored him. Zach, unsuprisingly, pulled up a seat, leaned forward and asked excitedly:

"So, what's your super power?!"

William blinked and seemed genuinely unsure of what to do, leaning back uneasily from Zach's intense gaze and wide smile.

"I...um...do not have one?" he ventured slowly.

"Aw, man. Why will no-one else admit it?!"

"No, Zachary, Mr Blake genuinely has no super-human abilities, but, he is very experienced in combat which is why he is here." Munroe shuffled some papers and looked at her watch.

"Aha! So we are here because we all have super-powers! Dude! I was so right!"

Helen shifted uncomfortably in her seat and didn't look up. Why her? Why?

Munroe cleared her throat and the teenagers fell silent.

"Before we go any further, I must have a signature from each of you stating that, no matter what the outcome of this meeting, none of what is said here will leave this room. It is vital that what we are about to discuss is kept completely private."

She handed several documents round, and Helen, Rik and Zach looked at each other curiously.

"Why?" asked Rik.

"Because of many reasons, but the only one you need to know is the classic: because I say so. If you don't agree to these conditions, you can get up and leave right now."

"Don't worry! We totally agree." Said Zach hastily. "Where do I sign?"

This was so surreal. Helen signed the sheet, then glanced up at the others. Zach and Rik were both busy signing, but William hadn't touched his document. He was looking at the ball point pen in front of him with puzzlement. Studying the way Zach and Rik were holding their pens; he cautiously picked his up and began to painstakingly write his name on the agreement notice. She squinted, trying to look at his writing. It was strange; spidery and curly, like the old fashioned text used at the start of historical movies. He saw her looking at him and narrowed his eyes. She glanced away again, embarrassed at being caught staring.

Munroe gathered up the sheets and placed them on the desk in front of her. She took a deep breath, and began to speak.

"I suppose you're all wondering why you're here. Well, you all have special talents. Unique abilities that set you apart from everyone else. It is important that you use those powers responsibly and constructively. I have been seeking permission from the upper government for a long time to form a team, made up of individuals such as yourselves. An elite group of...well...I suppose the correct term is superheroes. They would work for the government, carry out sensitive, confidential missions, and also help to lower crime rates. They would not be vigilantes, but government agents, putting their powers to good use and using them responsibly.

Recently I was given the go-ahead to form such a team, and that, Mr Valentine, is the reason I have gathered you here. To make you an offer. An offer to be the first members of the Tempest Team project.

"Us?" squeaked Helen, "Superheroes?"

Rik laughed "You have got to be joking!"

Zach nodded, looking satisfied.

"I knew it would be something like this! I am so totally in!"

He looked at William, "How 'bout you, dude?"

William gazed back at him seriously. "I have already agreed to offer my services to the project. That is what you are referring to?"

Zach blinked. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, dude. Totally. Um… What about you, Rik?"

The youth shrugged "I guess it could be fun. But on one condition - I ain't wearing some dorky yellow spandex super-suit."

"Helen?" The girl bit her lip nervously and brushed one of her blonde bangs behind her ear, where it immediately fell forward again, framing her face.

"I...suppose..." she shrugged "Okay. I guess I could…give it a shot…I don't know if I'll be any good, though." She added nervously on at the end.

"Well, on behalf of the government," said Munroe smiling for the first time during the entire meeting, "I would like to extend my congratulations to all of you on joining Opidan's first super-hero fighting-force, The Tempest Team."

"Awesome!" Zach spun round on his chair, "Okay, now we're team mates, you have to show us you powers, Helen! You're not allowed to hide anymore!"

She bit her lip.

"But I-"

"Show us!"

"But-"

"Show us!"

"I-"

"Show us!"

"Okay, okay, I'll show you." She stood up "Now you see me...now you don't!" she suddenly vanished. There was a few seconds pause.

"Okay, where the hell did she go?" asked Rik looking around.

"I'm still here," her voice came from the spot where she'd been standing, "I'm just invisible."

She re-appeared.

"I can also, sort of, jump or port from one place to another. Watch."

Helen looked over to the opposite side of the room, vanished with a soft whoosh and re-appeared next to Munroe, who didn't bat an eyelid. Then, turning slightly pink from all the eyes upon her, she ported back and swiftly sat down again.

Rik shrugged. "Cool."

"See, that wasn't so bad!" declared Zach.

She shrugged "I… guess not."

"Before we go any further," Munroe's voice was resigned, as if she was about to do something she knew she'd regret, "There is one more member to join us."

"Who?" William asked immediately, and the others looked round at him, a little taken aback by the suspicion and intensity of his voice.

Then the door burst open.

"Hey there, team-mates!"

Munroe looked up.

"Alicia Morgan. Please, take a seat."

The tall girl with short hair coloured a vivid shade of purple leaned in through the doorway, one hand on the frame, and looked round quizzically at the others.

"Is this all I've got to work with?"

"Alicia."

"Okay, okay."

Alicia gave a dazzling smile, walked with a bounce in her step over to the chair next to Helen and sat down. Her eyes were tilted upwards like a cat, and her features were placed close together on her square head.

"Hi." The other girl said timidly.

"Hi, yourself. Don't look so worried, honey. Munroe's bark is worse than her bite." She grinned at the agent, whose expression didn't change.

"Wow." said Rik, "was your hairdresser, like, colour-blind or something?"

"Actually, Rik, no, they weren't." she looked up at him curiously, "But did you really sleep with a stuffed animal until you were thirteen?"

"What?! What the?! How did you?!..." Rik trailed off, his mouth opening and shutting silently like a very surprised fish.

Alicia smirked and tapped her nose with her finger. Then she produced an emery board from her pocket and started filing her nails.

"Alicia possesses the power of telepathy," sighed Munroe, giving the girl an exasperated look, "And also the power of telekinesis - that is, moving objects by her mind alone."

Alicia grinned, and suddenly William's chair tipped up, depositing him on the floor with a yelp.

"Alicia." said Munroe sternly, as William hastily got back on his feet and glared at the chair suspiciously.

"What? That wasn't me!" the girl protested, widening her eyes innocently. Zach laughed, then his chair likewise dumped him onto the polished wooden floor.

"Ow! Hey!"

"Okay. That was me." announced Alicia, giggling.

"Alicia!" snapped Munroe, "Stop disrupting your peers."

The girl rolled her eyes and sighed theatrically.

"Fine!"

"So..." Zach broke the small silence and looked at Munroe excitedly, "When's our first super secret government mission?"

"Not for a while." She replied dryly. "You'll all need to undergo initial training and practice sessions before you'll be let anywhere near a real mission."

"Oh. So… when's our first training session?"

"Well, if you're all really that keen then I suppose you could begin today."

"Yeah!" exclaimed Alicia, and the others voiced their agreement.

"Your training will take place at the government's high-security area located beneath the city's Southern Sector."

"The parklands?" asked Helen in disbelief.

"Yes. A government van will provide transport to the facility entrance. I will meet you there, but I must first contact your guardians, and let them know you have accepted our proposition."

"Um. I don't think my mum will like the idea of me being a superhero. She spends most of her time pretending my powers don't exist." Said Zach glumly.

"Mine don't know." Whispered Helen, her eyes downcast.

"You misunderstand my meaning. No-one save you and a minority of government departments will know the true purpose of this group. Your parents have all simply been told that you have all been chosen at random to partake in an educational government project."

"And they believed you?"

"Of course. I'm very skilled at these types of things."

"Government cover-ups." Said Rik bluntly.

"Yes. Sometimes, however, such methods are necessary. Now, if you could all move back through to the lobby, you will be taken to our facility."

As the rest of the group filed out, William stood uncertainly beside the table.

"They are so different from me. I do not know if I can do this…" he whispered nervously.

Munroe briefly put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly.

"I do."