Peregrine mentally rehearsed his greeting for Libby’s sister as they made their way down the long hallway to the room where breakfast was served. She was a normie – but one of the few that knew his real name and used it even when he was out of costume. He liked Kelda, and any time he ran into her he tried his best to show it.
Their pace was dictated by Liberty’s gait, which while quite smooth for robotic movement, was still on the slow side. He still felt the urge, as he always had, to scoop her up and fly the two of them along, but he knew better than to even suggest it. Liberty felt the same pride in her equipment that he did in his powers, and it would be wrong to take her self-sufficiency away for something like walking.
It had taken him a long time to get comfortable seeing her out of her suit. He had known the strong, confident form of Lady Liberty before she ever introduced him to her normie cover, and he never would think of her as “Harmony” anymore than he thought of himself as “Robert.” They knew who they really were.
As they entered the dining room, hand-in-hand, Peregrine caught sight of a tall woman in an apron just leaving, having apparently placed the steaming breakfast plates at two fresh settings of the ornate oak table. Kelda sat alone, her phone propped against a bread plate as she took a mouthful of some sort of oats and listened.
“… certainly within her authority,” the male voice sounded through the phone. “But David says the tax liability would be prohibitive if we don’t –”
“Miguel,” Keldra interrupted, “she just came in. I’ll call you back.”
“Yes ma’am,” was the extent of the response before Kelda tapped to end the call, looking up at them with a smile.
Kelda Norberg shared her sister’s honey-blonde hair and clear blue eyes, but her angular features and no-nonsense bob made her seem far older. According to Libby, Kelda had been concerned for many years of being overlooked or discounted because of her youth, and so had adopted a more mature appearance.
“Peregrine,” she said, and as always, the softness in her voice and genuine smile offset the severity from her initial appearance. “So glad you decided to join us for breakfast, finally. I was starting to wonder if your intentions were honorable.”
His lips turned up at her obvious attempt at banter – nothing that would work in a confrontation with supers, but a passable normie attempt. “I can assure you that they are not,” he replied – which got widened eyes from both sisters. “What? Was that not -”
“It was fine, Perry,” Liberty said as she slid into her own spot at the table, her walker reclining at a button-push into a seated position. “Good morning, my dear sister.” She crossed herself reflexively, closing her eyes for moment before picking up a piece of buttered toast. “What did Miguel want?”
“Company business,” Kelda said while glancing pointedly at Peregrine. He took his own seat, content to let their family dynamic play out as he’d seen before.
“If it’s about the R&D expenditures, Perry’s read in,” Liberty said around a mouthful.
“Read in,” Keldra repeated. “Harmony, we’re not the government. We’re not even a contractor; we’re a financial services company.”
“It’s the twenty-first century,” the younger sister shot back. “Successful enterprises branch out. And we’ve made profits every quarter since we partnered with FAM.”
Kelda’s smile vanished. “Profits that you’ve rolled back in to your ‘silver bullet’ projects -”
“Which, as I’ve told you, will more than pay themselves off when collecting rewards for defeating the most notorious and dangerous supers.” Liberty nodded to Peregrine as she said it, and he froze, uncertain how she was planning for him to respond.
Kelda frowned. “I still don’t know how you managed to keep our involvement in Iron Lantern out of the newspaper coverage and the lawsuit. But if something like that happens again -”
“It won’t,” the younger sister growled. In the brief silence that followed, Peregrine felt the tension mounting between the two. He ate quietly.
“Miguel says you’ve moved another three million from the operating account into private accounts,” Kelda chided. “That money belongs to Norberg Capital, Harm. We have shareholders.”
“Minority shareholders. And we both know what my public visibility does for our share price.” She took another bite, her eyes gleaming with defiance.
“Plenty of our close business associates have made the connection, and that’s certainly benefitted the company’s profile,” Kelda admitted. “But you can’t move assets around like that without serious tax consequences. There are reporting requirements. We have to clear these things with our people first.”
“There’s no time for that.”
“Then use our personal accounts, not the corporate accounts.”
Liberty shook her head. “I’ve explained before why that won’t work. A check from me would draw all of the wrong sorts of attention. I can’t -”
“You can’t be bothered to do what’s best for us,” Kelda dovetailed, “when it’s not what’s best for Lady Liberty.”
Libby met her sister’s icy stare with a conflagration. “You know that’s not so. How much time do I spend in a given week attending social events, giving talks, negotiating deals? For ‘us,’ as you so starkly describe it?”
“Time that would be better spent fighting crime?” Kelda clarified.
“Of course it would,” Peregrine finally decided to speak up. “Other than being objectively the strongest super in the city, Liberty just understands the New York Team better than anyone else. Her being in charge saves lives.” He jerked his head upward. “Money’s just money, Kelda.”
He kept his gaze on the older sister, managing not to glance as his girlfriend even as he felt her attention on him in turn. Kelda’s own icy look melted a bit as she replied. “I know that. Truly I do.” She looked from one to the other, and Peregrine thought he heard a pleading note creep into her voice. “But a lot of businesses – a lot of people – depend on Norberg Holdings, too.”
“And I know that.” Libby was trying to soften her own tone as Kelda did, but it didn’t sound nearly as genuine. “I promise that the next time we need a line item for the black budget, I’ll talk to either Miguel or you.”
“First,” Kelda emphasized. “You’ll… ‘read’ one of us in before you move the money.” She looked expectedly at her sister.
Libby nodded. “Yes. Of course.” Her eyes met Kelda the whole time she said it, and her intonation was clear and neutral.
That’s how Peregrine knew that Liberty was lying. She had no intention of changing her M.O., and if another project needed the resources and she couldn’t risk a leak, she’d do the same thing again.
But at least the rest of breakfast was pleasant.