Jamie walked by the sentry without saying anything, being allowed to pass. Following that, the Street Trash pocketed hands and slumped a bit, now suddenly nervous. The frightened girl climbed the stairs down to the basement which was connected to secret tunnels that not even the Street Trash had ever fully explored and met with the first of the Teens. The one she was used to dealing with.
He had long blond hair, so long it brushed against his butt. He looked lean and sickly and with enough unattended facial hair to cover most of his face. That was Andy, a homeless-looking bundle of hair surrounding the kindest blue eyes anyone has ever seen.
She hugged him around his thin layered shirt, wanting him to encourage her.
He, however, knew her too well.
“Well of course,” Jamie looked up, cutesy and nervous, “I heard all your friends are here, that’s not very normal.”
“Well neither is the world being invaded, is it? This is what you’re going with? Frightened little girl?”
“Well you don’t need to say it like that…” she stepped back and fidgeted, “I hear the Schoolboy’s here, for some reason. I know this is what lowers his guard the most so…”
“Everyone skilled enough is here, Jamie. This is a general meeting: marching orders, big decisions, stupid speeches. So on.” He sounded casual, dismissive, almost insulting, but his eyes told her he loved her deeply and wanted her to be happy. He had learned that when he had been a scavenger working the streets and never switched it off.
Still, what he said deeply changed things.
“Oh,” Jamie nodded and stood up straight, removing his hat with one hand and gesturing with the other, “right then, ‘m I the last one yer expecting?”
Andy didn’t show any reaction, he was already too used to how the Street Trash could switch who Jamie was at the drop of a hat.
“Yeah. Come on, and try to be cooperative, alright?”
“I’m always cooperative, man.”
There were six teens in total, one for each great land. Just like the meeting at the Shadow Conclave, everyone was standing up in a misshapen circle, around twenty people in total. It was a great feeling seeing Andy taking his place as everyone waited, for the shortest of seconds, for the Street Trash to close the circle.
“Freakin’ finally,” the Schoolboy, of course. He was in line next to River, the teen from his region of the world, a woman in her young twenties who dressed in a provocative corset to look like a working girl. It made it easy to manipulate all the boys like that.
“Is this gonna be about me, now?”
“You wish,” someone he didn’t know commented, a brown-haired kid younger than Jamie. Jamie didn’t bother replying or even acknowledging him.
“Did you succeed in the competition, Jamie?” Zion, the oldest of the teens, asked. He had grey hair, which still looked thick, and stood the straightest of everyone in there.
“Almost,” the Street Trash said, “I got interrupted by the dark ones.”
Zion nodded. “What has Shadow Conclave asked of you?”
“To make sure the Mayor doesn’t turtle out o’ the fight,” Jamie casually informed, “to make sure Neyerk gets involved.”
“And this benefits us how?”
“Come now, Andy,” one of the teens, Emery, argued, “really?” Emery was a woman and a mother of many, biological and otherwise. She was overweight and unashamed of herself, like the stained apron that she was wearing evidenced.
“We’re not exactly a guild of fighters, Emery,” Andy argued.
“True, fighters are at the bottom of the social chain. We’re manipulators,” Blake put in using his deep near-echoing voice. His skin was darker than his clothes, his stern face framed by grey hair.
“Survivors,” Andy shot back with a dismissive wave of his hand. Everyone knew he was just acting a part, he had been the one to call the meeting in the first place since it was happening in his territory.
The Teens worked in an opposite way than any other leadership group in the world. You weren’t allowed to argue for your position, only the opposite. Whoever spoke for an action was against it, and vice-versa. When no one else had anything to say, a decision was made.
The Scavengers hardly ever made bad decisions, though, for the uninitiated, the whole process made for a discussion that was hard to follow.
“I agree,” River voiced support, “we should prioritize our safety, that’s how we’ve done so well for ourselves so far.”
“I agree also,” Sage mentioned, a man of very light skin, almost yellow. He was the youngest of them but had his hair cut haphazardly, looking like he did it by himself while shivering. “The others have their technology and magic and manpower. Let them save the world, what can we offer?”
“Manipulation,” Blake pointed out, apparently unconvinced.
“Yes,” Emery continued, “we can turn some of these powers to the right purpose.”
“Money,” Blake added with a solemn nod, “we’re the richest, that’s a plain fact. We can afford many things nobody else can.”
“This’s a threat to the world,” Andy offered, “there won’t be any manipulation necessary.”
“And money?” River added. “What can money get done that people aren’t already willing to do themselves?”
“Organization…initiative and encouragement,” Blake sounded out. “Yes, I see. I have nothing else to say.”
“Our advantage is children,” Emery voiced out, “we have mainly children, who are perfect for encouraging others not to fight.”
That wasn’t even a worthwhile argument: Emery was obviously saying they shouldn’t get involved because they’re mostly made up of kids, and it’s a war, the kids will get hurt. Why was she okay with acting completely how she looked? She looked like a mother figure and she was acting like a mother figure, advocating a mother’s position.
Jamie had to do her best not to glare disapprovingly. This was a teen that had grown too much; grown unaccustomed to games and to being detached and self-absorbed.
Emery would likely lose her position soon. Perhaps the Street Trash would be the replacement?
One battle at a time, Jamie, the Street Trash considered, there’s still the whole matter of the battle that’s coming.
“The dark ones don’t care about children,” Sage picked up on the argument, “we risk putting them all in harm’s way. And over what?”
“We wouldn’t involve them…” Emery struggled to say. She sighed, “they wouldn’t involve themselves in a fight…they know better.”
She dropped her head down in defeat.
“Dammit, fine. It’s decided then.”
“Very well,” Zion agreed. The decision had been made in the presence of witnesses. It usually didn’t need so many but since it was such a huge decision, they maybe felt it best to have them all there.
Zion looked around at all of them and gave Street Trash the compliment of stopping on her.
“Now we plan.”
Street Trash already had a plan.
There was a lot of meticulousness to making really smart people, as smart as Jamie was, to do what he wanted. Around twenty near intellectual equals were about to discuss what to do and the Street Trash had to guide the whole thing.
First off, allow the less than unique ideas to come from others.
“I agree with the Conclave’s suggestion,” Sage put forth, “putting Neyerk to purpose on this fight.”
“That’ll even give us more flexibility here,” one of the children said, “less law, right?”
“People aren’t very charitable during a war,” Andy pointed out, “so no, nothing about this lucky or convenient.”
“It isn’t about turning a profit, it’s about there being a next year,” one of the other kids said. Jamie knew some of them, they were high-profile earners. He supposed the ones he didn’t know were from other regions.
“We already decided to fight,” Emery said, a bit sadly, “and yes, the Street Trash will take care of convincing the Chancellor, but what else? Is that all?”
“We have to agree on what amount to contribute to the Conclave,” Zion put forth.
Whatever is necessary…how to achieve that decision?
“We better watch out on that, they might just rob us blind if we offer too much,” the Schoolboy put forth. People would expect the Street Trash to argue with him so it was a good time to nudge the discussion towards the decision he wanted.
“The Shadow Conclave was created with the goal of fighting this war. I don’t think there’s a ‘next’ time, as far as they’re concerned. This is it, they’re going all in, with all their resources.”
“Which might mean they won’t ask for more than they need,” Blake nodded, “we should offer assistance without giving any specifics.”
“But we give what they ask anyway,” Sage finished the thought.
“Heh,” the Street Trash smirked mockingly, “knowing them, they’ll even have us spending it and everything, they so love to delegate.”
“That’s a good point,” River pointed out, “if we know how the money’s being spent then we have nothing to worry about. We should offer to do that for them.”
All the teens nodded, along with some of the kids.
What a great idea, Jamie thought inwardly, as if I had thought of it myself haha.
“We could perhaps spread lies, too,” Bobbie suggested, one of the kids Jamie knew, “most of the newspapers around the world is on us, we can just switch them out with fake news.”
“We can only do that once,” Zion pointed out.
“What better time than a possible last?” Andy asked.
“What news would be beneficial to put out?”
“We could report…differently on the invasion,” Emery said, sounding perturbed, “we could report them being closer than people think, to speed up evacuations.”
“Or we could report them taking hits and defeats,” Schoolboy interjected, “we want people to fight, right? They’ll fight better if they think they can win.”
“But that will only increase the deaths!”
Everyone glanced at Emery, judging her inside their minds. Jamie did the same, it was getting clearer and clearer she was really no longer one of them.
“The final goal is to put up more resistance, is it not, Jamie?”
The Street Trash didn’t like not being called by the title, but alas, it was common to be informal in the Scavengers. Being formal was almost taboo.
“The more time we gain, the better, that’s what the Conclave said.”
“Then it’s decided,” Zion said and Emery shrunk almost as much as the Schoolboy puffed.
He really looked the bully, hair cut almost too short, a school’s uniform too tight on him, like he had grown out of it but could not afford a new one: it accentuated his muscles to make him look like, well, a bully. How he ever expected to gain the title of Street Trash was beyond Jamie’s understanding.
Emery, meanwhile, was very much within Jamie’s understanding. And everyone else’s, that was why she was being regarded as having grown too old. In her heart, of course. She felt the responsibility for others, the true sign of being an adult and, ultimately, a true sign she was not a Scavenger any more. They were self-absorbed and cared about the family that was their guild only because it was, simply, the best place for them. At the end of the day, they didn’t care about others. They helped children all over as a means, not as a goal. They weren’t thieves who wanted to help little children, they helped little children because it benefited their thievery. In the bigger scheme, it made them the most powerful guild in the world.
Or at least, the richest.
But it was inconsequential, how far Emery actually unraveled herself, even perhaps helpful. The worst case she made for holding her position as a Teen, the better case for her replacement. What mattered was the Street Trash’s plan was almost fully in effect.
“We can perhaps put money to some uses the Conclave won’t think of,” another stranger said, and it was exactly in the direction Jamie wanted the meeting to progress in. “We can’t just wait for them to think of everything.”
“Putting mercs to good use’s the obvious thing,” Blake mentioned, “but what else is there?”
“That’s a good point,” the Street Trash offered, “maybe there’re more people needing money than the Conclave. We could always bribe governments to fight.” It wasn’t a winner idea but Jamie assumed it would guide another brain to the good idea.
“Manufacture!” One of the kids yelled out in excitement, realizing it was a good contribution, good enough to get him noticed. “And research. We can bring scientists together, and give them funds to investigate the dark ones.”
“That’s a great idea,” the Street Trash smirked and, for a few seconds, the boy nodded proudly. However, as eyes turned to the Street Trash, knowing eyes, perceiving eyes, even the boy understood. The idea was Jamies’, with the additional point he had manipulated someone else to say it.
Jamie twirled the hat in his hand but otherwise kept quiet, allowing the conversation to pick up again.
“We are agre–”
The door to the big underground room they were in flung open, breaking into their silent tension with the abruptness of a war horn.
“We’re under attack!”
The guy didn’t really need to say that. Opening the door had allowed the screaming to reach them and all of them, clever as they were, could very easily interpret the inflexions and tones of the screaming. Jamie knew in under three seconds and half-way through that first statement that it was serious.
“Augh, who’s the sore-loser going nuts this time?” The Schoolboy asked.
“No, the Scavengers! We, the Scavengers!”
Everyone’s stance and mood finally caught on, assuming the seriousness Jamie was already on to.
“We’re being attacked!”
Now that’s a first… was the first thought to come to the Street Trash’s head. She hadn’t been alive long but she couldn’t recall one single organized violent act directed at them. Not only were they too spread around the world that any physical damage ended up being negligible, but people feared their wrath.
You can have an empire of children, but if you have money…
With the surprise out of the way, that thought spent, a multitude of others followed suit. The first were predictions of Andy’s orders. Being his turf, he would take the initiative to make sure the Teens were kept safe and he would know who was where and best to know the situation.
The Street Trash didn’t, thus, need to hear what he actually said, or to give it further thought. The next courses of actions were obvious.
The thoughts that followed were a reframing. A re-branching of the plots she had concocted, watered with guesses about who was attacking and why.
Her final thought before she began to move was a simple one. A conclusion:
We should’ve seen this coming. With the world ending, there’s no more reason for LBA to hold back.