1.03

“Uh, excuse me,” announced somebody in the hallway who had not been there a minute ago. “Sorry. Excuse me.” 

We all turned to stare at him from the kitchen table. He was quiet and polite, but not enough to stop the several thoughts that raced through my mind – who was he, how he’d gotten in here, had somebody not locked the door, was he a murderer, before I settled on the realisation the others had quickly jumped to: he worked for the show. 

“We had to wait for a lull for any cut to look natural,” he shrugged at our looks of surprise at his intrusion.

He was dressed in full nondescript black clothes, his hair in a large coif and a row of stainless steel piercings ran down his right ear. He gave off that arty-media type vibe. 

“If all of you could sort of head to bed, make it look natural, and then just meet me back in the hallway. We’ll use editing to fudge the details.”

“For what?” I asked after a few moments, since everyone else just nodded along with these instructions.

“The real tour, the real briefing, the… stuff?” He shook his head like it should have been obvious. It was, I just didn’t think that they’d be so cloak and dagger about it. 

So that was what we did. All of us threw in a few yawns and complaints about how late it was, most of which weren’t particularly subtle, and we headed back to our bedrooms. However they edited that together was their problem.  

It was so hard to sit around and wait a few minutes to ensure they had any shots they needed of all of us and it was killing me just waiting. I was the first one back downstairs, although I think the others followed the moment they heard me leave my room.

There was a lady waiting for us when we got back to the hallway. I’d seen glimpses of her this morning as the cars had approached to drop us off here. 

She had long black curly hair, and was dressed in a blouse and high waisted pants. She looked incredibly formal and she was clearly one of the people running the show here. She jerked up from casually leaning against the wall the moment she saw us approaching.

“Hello!” 

“Hi…” we all murmured back in some fashion. 

“I hope you all had a good first day? No issues?” Nobody answered and I think she could see the look of impatience on my face. “We’re going to jump straight to the good things but first we have to run through some housekeeping stuff.” 

The way she said it made me think of the first few days of induction at my job. If nothing else, at least I’d learn how people kept appearing inside the house. It wasn’t a very comforting feeling to be living somewhere people could just show up.

“First things first, I’m Lucija Patrk. I know I met you two this morning,” she looked at Grace and Jean, “but I didn’t really meet both of you.” 

I’m glad she didn’t count that as us meeting. She’d poked her head in through the car window, had a brief exchange with the driver and left without telling me about a single thing that was happening even when I’d asked. 

“My involvement is meant to be more operational, but I’m also appointed as the person to manage you four, so please speak to me for anything. I’m expecting the next few weeks will be a blur so don’t worry if you need to hassle me about things we’ve run through. It’s a lot easier to re-explain something than it will be to clean up the mess if you’ve decided to just do something for no reason.”

She snatched her phone out of her pockets, and flicked the screen a few times.

“There we go, this should have airdropped you all my details. Now, follow me.”

She spun around and marched down the hallway to our laundry room. It was the first room when you walked through the door to the house. 

“The door you’ll need to take whenever it comes to operational matters is here.” 

Lucija stepped into the the walk-in storage closet and pushed against the shelf on the right wall. It swung easily backwards into a sterile, dimly lit hallway. 

“Voila,” Lucija didn’t quite bow.

“Is that how you came in?” I asked straight away.

“Yep, and Jan earlier. There’s also an emergency entrance located under the washing machine but you’d only ever need that if there was a power failure where this door wouldn’t work. 

“Isn’t it just a fake wall?” Jean asked, curiously looking around to see how it worked. 

“No, it’s a magnetic lock. It recognises all of us here so it will open but without that recognition or power, it would be impossible to move. Before you ask, it’s not really my field for how any of that works so I can’t tell you.” 

“And this is what, our superhero lair?” Saint asked hopefully.

“…not quite,” Lucija smiled but it quickly turned into a frown. “It’s not quite that simple. How much did the lawyers or the network tell you?”

“Not much,” Saint shrugged. 

“They refused to tell us any details. I was told that this would be explained on set.” Grace stated very matter-of-factly. 

“Then we may as well start with the basics,” Lucija was visibly unhappy as she started to run over the details. It was obvious to me that she hadn’t been told this would be part of her job, and that she’d thought we’d be a lot more prepared than we were. “Uh, take a seat?”

Lucija sat on top of the washing machine she’d pointed to before. We all glanced around, but the only one who tried to turn something into an actual seat was Saint who sat himself on a stepladder. 

I stood at attention, dying to know what answers we’d be getting about the show.

“Let’s start with the basics. We’ll be using it to source any work we agree to, so you’re all familiar with Just Us?” 

It was the app that had started the superhero dream. It was the sort of thing your parents could never describe properly – mine always called it “Uber for people pretending to be heroes” because I don’t think they know what Airtasker is.  

You posted a job you needed done, and somebody offered to do the job and you either accepted their terms – price, powers, and priors – or you rejected their offer until you found something that worked or you delisted the job. 

Despite their tagline being “there is no justice, there’s Just Us,” the terms and conditions made it clear that it had nothing to do with superheroes, drug use, superpowers or any illegal and prohibited activity, nobody ever used it to look for anything other than someone willing to pop up and give you a helping hand. 

“You all are, otherwise you wouldn’t be here,” Lucija broke up the nervous glances between us. “You don’t need to worry about saying something stupid here, because I need to know more of what you know than I care what you’ve done.” 

It’s not that I thought I’d get in trouble, I just didn’t want to be the first to admit it. In high school, everyone was desperate to try out the drugs that let you have superpowers.

Now that we were finishing university and getting jobs, most people including my friends, thought it was just a dumb teenage phase that you grew out of. I hadn’t admitted it to any of them that I had a schedule where I spent every Tuesday night taking jobs on Just Us. 

“Yeah, I use it a lot,” Jean was the first to admit it and said it proudly. The others joined in, and I murmured about my use of it. 

“Putting aside any of the rhetoric that you’ve seen the Ministers, the talking heads, or the newspapers carry on with, what do you think people actually think about it?” Lucija asked, eyes darting to each of us while she waited for an answer. 

“They’re supportive of it,” Grace responded. “It’s part of the reason why no calls to outlaw the app are ever responded to.” 

“Spot on,” Lucija nodded. “And the government? I mean, they’re one of the main partners in this production.” 

“Oh they have to hate it,” Jean jumped in straight away. “It’s the sort of thing that just shows how useless they are.” 

“Wouldn’t that be why they like it?” Saint asked, and I saw Lucija look approvingly at him. “They get to talk about how bad society has gotten, without anything so awful happening that they need to do something.” 

“Well, yes and no,” Lucija interjected. “They are doing something. We’re here. We’re using it for this show which has a greenlight from the government. It is definitely worth keeping in mind though as we go forward that this is a complicated arrangement that is probably more political than you were ever led to believe.” 

“Because nobody else has said this, it’s just going to have to be something I say. I want to get it out of the way before we start the training, and before you meet everyone.”

“In this house,” Lucija gestured out towards the rest of the house, “it’s a reality show that’s a partnership between Netflix, the Australian government and forty-one key sponsors to give a snapshot into the lives of ordinary people who have access to superpowers. That part should sound familiar since it’s more or less the pitch, without some of the enticing buzzwords everyone seems to love.”

“Outside of this house, you are four young people being given legal access to super powers, a potential blind eye to consequence and then being asked to go out and help the public with the hopes that it makes good watching. They won’t be selecting the “I’m hungover and need someone to fly me a burger for $20” tasks.” 

“I’m not saying any of this to scare you, but because I want you to know this isn’t something that is just a bit of fun, not for us. If we do our job well, this is more like a glorified Border Security or RBT than any teenage dream of a superhero movie.”

”The reason I’m saying this is because opportunities like this tend to bring out the desperate, the crazies, and the mean. There’s a reason why everything we put out says we begin filming next year. The best case scenario is that all the drama comes from you guys. I, for one, want this to be ordinary, not something people out there are trying to get their fifteen minutes on.” Lucija paused there, but it was easy to see there was more to the speech stored in her mind.

The mood in the laundry changed pretty quickly and the excitement I’d had at knowing that we’d finally get to learn about the superpower side of this had sunk heavily in my stomach.

There was a long silence, and the four of us glanced around at each other nervously. Nobody held eye contact for too long. 

Lucija sighed to break the excruciating long silence.

“Well, I’ll probably get told off for scaring you, especially when any of them rabbit on about the tech. I’ve just been in those meetings where they all talk about how great this is, how fun it will be for people, and they just skate over the details and concerns. This will be an extremely rewarding experience, but we can’t overlook that people will make this job hard at times.” 

She added so much emphasis when she said the job would rewarding that it was clear she wanted us to forget what she’d said before. It wasn’t going to be that easy, and the feeling in my stomach wouldn’t just go away so quickly. 

“Er, now, maybe we should just get going to the others? They’re waiting for us, and I think I’ve spoiled the mood so I don’t want to say much more…” 

I think she hoped someone would correct her, but none of us did.

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