The first thing she noticed was his size. Of course, it was kind of hard to miss.
"You're here. Good," said Shade's hologram where it sat behind its desk. Ella nodded without looking at him. She couldn't take her eyes off the man who stood to the side of the desk, softly illuminated by the hologram's glow.
The shadows obscured his face, and for a moment Ella thought the gargantuan body must have belonged to an adult, maybe a military man. The idea of a hidden army, ready and equipped to fight the Overlords, flashed into her mind. But it was gone just as quickly when the man leaned forward enough that the light caught his face, and Ella saw that he was just a boy no older than herself. It didn't take her long to put together what he was. She knew about what went on in the Training Grounds.
"New recruit, Shade?" said Ella, back to her businesslike self.
"Yes," said Shade, "I would like you to meet Drum. Drum, this is Ella, the young woman I told you about."
Drum inclined his head almost imperceptibly toward Ella, but never opened his mouth to speak.
"Ella," Shade resumed, "You've been with us for five months, and your work has been consistently excellent. Brat says that you're the best tactician he's ever had on his team, and I've seen your improvement with your swordplay and your Talent firsthand. I think it's time I gave you your own team."
Ella stared for a moment, then narrowed her eyes. "You're taking me off Brat's team?" she demanded.
Shade's expression made it clear that he would brook no arguments. "We need sensible team leaders like you, especially after our string of losses in the last month," he said, "And now that we have a escapee from the Training Grounds…" He gestured to Drum, who remained silent. Ella hoped the boy was just nervous, and not dimwitted. "I can't just put him on anyone's team. He's too much of an asset. But I'm sure you'll be able to use him to his full potential."
Ella wanted to say that she had only just started feeling at home with her friends on Brat's team, that she hadn't been so happy since before the Change, and that she felt like Shade was taking all that away from her and starting her back at square one. But she held her tongue. She was painfully aware of what she owed to Shade. If he hadn't taken her in she would still be on the streets, barely scraping by day to day. He was the reason that they were organized, well-fed, and armed. The children on the Sub owed Shade everything, and though some refused to admit it, Ella knew. She couldn't refuse her savior.
"I'm sure I will," she said.
Minutes later, Ella found herself back in the corridor with the silent giant beside her. Shade had given them a simple mission to start with, to ease them into the transition. They were to raid a grocery store to stock the Sub's galley. Ella had been on similar missions with Brat, and she knew that if they left immediately they could be back before sunset brought the Ferrets out of their holes. "Follow me," she said to Drum, and marched toward the main hatch.
Halfway there, a figure leaped lightly out of a side hall and landed next to Ella, quickly falling into step with her. It was a gangly boy with a mischievous grin. "So, he's taken you away from us," he said, "It was only a matter of time. You were too good for me anyway."
Ella smiled, an expression that would become increasingly rare in the following years. "Don't say that, Brat," she said, "We'll still see each other around the Sub. It's even better this way, since we're both team leaders. I'm your equal now."
Brat put a hand over his heart dramatically and shook his head. "Oh, my sweet Ella," he said, "We were never equals. You're a saint, and I… well, I live up to my name! So where are you going with this big lug? No offense." He directed the last words at Drum, who indeed looked completely unoffended.
"That's Drum," said Ella, "He's my new team. We're going to raid the corner store over Ten West."
Brat gave Drum an appraising, but not unfriendly, stare. "Doesn't talk much, does he?" he observed before responding to Ella, "Oh, sure, I know the one. Been there a few times myself. I thought it was almost tapped out, but you might still find some good stuff. Ah, food runs are the best kind of mission. You get to take whatever you want off the top before handing it over to the galley."
"That's not allowed," said Ella, knowing what Brat's response would be.
"And when has that ever stopped me?" said Brat, grinning, "Well, I'd better be going. I have a mission of my own, and now that you're on the fast track it's down to just me and Corbie. It's a shame to lose you." Ella thought she detected a rare note of gravity in Brat's voice at that last statement.
"Good luck," she said as Brat peeled away from her and Drum, "Don't get killed."
"Never!" shouted Brat over his shoulder.