The knocking on the door woke him up.
“Ben!” a voice called. “Get up right now and let me in or I swear I’m gonna rip this door off!”
Groggily, Ben rose from his workbench. He had fallen asleep while working. Again. It was becoming a bad habit, especially with all the work he still had to get done.
“Ben!” the voice called again.
“I’m coming!” He replied gruffly, his throat still dry from his impromptu nap. In a few easy strides he crossed to the door and eased it open. On the other side, he found his best friend, Katherine Kelley.
“Hey Kate,” Ben muttered, “what’s up?”
“You seriously forgot?” she asked, looking annoyed but not altogether surprised. Ben didn’t respond for a minute, then:
“Hypothetically speaking, what was there for me to forget?”
“The party!” she prompted.
“Er, which – ”
“The party!” she insisted. “The one they hold every year on the last day of summer for the year-rounders?”
“Oh!” Ben said, realization dawning on him. “Today’s the last day of summer?” he asked, confused.
“You’re an idiot,” Kate said dismissively.
“Pfft. Well, then I must be the smartest idiot in the world,” Ben retorted.
“Whatever,” she conceded. “What are you working on in here, anyway?”
“Just some new tech for my suit. I want to keep it more stable in flight.” Then he smiled, “and in fight.”
Kate threw her hands up in an exasperated gesture. “You’re too worried about that suit, Ben. It’ll be fine!”
“I know. I’m just . . . nervous,” Ben answered, his smile fading. “This is my first year in the field. And it’s an all-new team. Everyone else graduated last year.”
“I’m sure that they’ll all be fine!” Kate reassured him again. “Who did you get anyway?”
“Bunch a’ new kids,” he said, looking thoroughly unreassured. He turned to the massive terminal that sat in the middle of the room, a few feet behind him.
“Vesta,” he commanded, “show us Forum Team.”
“Alright, Mr. Ward,” the computer replied.
“Vesta, seriously, call me Ben,” he said, somewhat annoyed. They’d been having this interaction for five years. He was beginning to suspect his A.I. companion enjoyed annoying him.
Four portrait-sized holographs hung in the air over the terminal. Each had a picture showing a member of the team and a small amount of text. The first one depicted an African-American boy about his age, with a nearly shaved head and intensely bright blue eyes. He was smiling, though it looked forced, like he really did not want to be photographed.
“Terrence Fletcher,” Vesta began, “Codename: Jupiter. Past Aliases: None. Abilities: Electrokinesis, Electroresistance, Electrogeneration.”
“Cool,” Kate murmured.
The second picture showed an Asian girl, again around his age, with long black hair and practically black irises. She wore a bright smile that covered her whole face. Unlike Mr. Fletcher, she looked like she enjoyed being photographed.
“Kimberly Fong,” Vesta stated. “Codename: Mercury. Past Aliases: The Blur of Little Rock. Abilities: Hypervelocity.”
The next picture was of a rather pale girl with short, jet-black hair. Her eyes were a vivid, dangerous shade of green. Just like the other two, she was around Ben’s age. However, unlike the other two, she had evidently refused to smile, as her lips were pulled into a tight line in the picture.
The computer spoke again: “Gwendolyn Prescott. Codename: Bellona. Past Aliases: Bluejay. Abilities: Martial artist, world-class acrobat.”
The final picture was of Ben himself, with his short-but-unkempt brown hair, hazel eyes, and boyish grin.
“Ben Ward,” Vesta started.
“No,” Ben interrupted. “You don’t have to do me, Vesta.”
“Ben Ward,” Vesta started again.
“Vesta – ”
“Ben Ward,” Vesta started for a third time.
“All right, knock yourself out,” Ben surrendered.
“Ben Ward,” Vesta started. If Ben didn’t know Vesta didn’t have emotion, he would have said she sounded happy. “ Current leader of Forum Team. Codename: Vulcan. Past Aliases: None. Abilities: Advanced intelligence, proficiency in many engineering disciplines, master strategist.”
“Thank you, Vesta,” Ben finished, turning back to Kate.
“That’s quite the group you have there,” Kate said. “Mr. Team Leader.”
“Yeah,” Ben said, already walking to the door, Kate right behind him. “Now let’s go or we’ll be late.”
“Dude, we were late when I came to get you,” Kate answered as she walked out the door.
“Figures. We’re always late,” Ben said as he followed her, closing the door behind him.