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Hermit

The Adventures of "Fish Guy" (Superhero fiction)

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(Continued)

The others were staring at us, six-inch-tall Pinprick's tiny face had a huge smirk on it, Tornado just had a cheese eating grin he wasn't even trying to hide either. Arctic Fox had a look more like the one you give to that weird kid who keeps making strange stuff out of glue when he takes a seat at class.

 

I sighed, "All right, the rest of you get it out of your system."

 

"What the hell went through your mind," Tornado broke into laughter, "When you first saw that thing?"

"Mostly why does this weird B.S. keep happening to me? " I answered honestly.

 

"Why does this weird B.S. keep happening to you?" Arctic Fox inquired, "Seriously, we talk to aliens, but oh no, that's too mundane for Eel. You have to get tangling with a chickenasaur"

 

"I was going to call it Megachicken, actually, and I don't know," I shrugged, "Clean living? God loves me extra special? I was born lucky but I'm not sure what kind of luck?"

"Are you going to want to eat chicken more than before, or is it ruined for you forever?" Pinprick had to ask.

 

"Actually," I paused and had to think about it, and then answered, "I think I'll be chowing down on chickens a lot more for at least a week? I guess it's kind of petty and vengeful, but that nasty bird gave me quite the scratch and I didn't like it," I nodded, "He wounded my leg. Blood for blood, drumstick for drumstick, by Krom."

"What do you see in him again?" Arctic Fox looked at Ariana, "It can't be his promising career in standup."

"Speaking of careers, I did have to quit," I said, "No Meaty Minstrel for me after the way I bailed."

 

"Isn't that like your third job in a month?" Ariana asked, suddenly looking serious, "Meaty Minstrel, that delivery job, and the that job at the scrap yard?"

 

"Technically that was a month and a week? Why?" I asked confused.

 

"No, no reason" Ariana said but she looked a bit more distant now, "it's fine. Just fine." I was going to follow that up but then she asked the others "So what's the news on the alien side? Trouble?"

"You might say that," Lady Obsidian said, "The Hyadesians say Earth is coming under the attention of less enlightened but still powerful beings. Some tend to be more traditional in their conquest."

 

"Not that traditional is good when it means whole cities could be vaporized," Pinprick muttered.

 

"True," Lady Obsidian agreed before going on, "The ones they really warned us about are the Fumians. They're more subtle than some," She sighs.

"Shapeshifters that take over our government?" I guessed. I know it's lame of me, but I was curious.

"What, and improve the city's efficiency?" Pinprick smiled, "No, these guys are a real threat. Their Method of operation is far more insidious."

 

"Well, don’t' keep us hanging," Ariana threw her hands up, "What do these Fumians do that makes them such a dire threat to the whole planet?"

 

"They sell people what they want," Tornado explained

 

Okay, I'm not sure that explained anything, at least not to me; not at first mention, "So?" I shrugged, "They're operating a business without a permit? This is a threat?"

 

Arctic Fox rolled her eyes, "Rookie, come on. I don't expect you to know the story of Faust, but maybe you've read Needful things? At least heard of the proverbial deal with the devil?"

 

"They're centuries ahead over most Earth," Dr. Vernon explained, "Even in the superhero community what they can do might appear like magic."

 

"And since all of us have seen magic," Pinprick went on, "That's saying something."

 

"Oh," it began to sink in. I began to think of what aliens with technology could offer earthlings. What if you wanted something to finally shut up that obnoxious neighbor's entertainment system that he played way too loud every night?  Maybe you wanted a shorter commute time? Everyone wants flying cars, but how many people would know how to handle them? "So, it's a buyer beware kind of situation?"

 

"Precisely," Lady Obsidian elaborated, "And human money is only one form of payment. They take goods and or services that can have you ending up being a slave on some far away planet in the name of debt repayment. The Fumians are a menace, and they're all the more dangerous because they appeal to what's worst in any population."

 

"How do we even stop that?" Ariana asked the very question I was thinking  myself, "I mean, if they lay low and give folks what they want for whatever price…"

 

"The same way we track down drug dealers and the like if we have to," Tornado explained, "We look for the symptoms, and then track the cause. When they cause trouble, we find the humans that dealt with them and see how they got in contact. This is going to take some detective work, some patience, and, " He gritted his teeth, "It may end up with some people hurt that we wish we could have protected."

 

"It bites, but it's how it is," Pinprick nodded, "Buuuuutt," He stretched it out to get our attention, "We might uncover something in our patrols. Maybe one of us will get a chance to find a deal in progress before it can be concluded? It's a long shot, but we're superheroes. Beating the odds is what we do."

 

There were some smiles. I know we superheroes are prone to a lot of 'lets go  get em' and 'the power of team work' 'arroo' kind of stuff, but you need that. You need to believe you can do the impossible because in this life, being asked to do the impossible will happen. And you're probably going to  be one of the few that can actually try to pull it off.

 

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, saving the living, bring justice for the dead and shed tears into your beer mugs when you get a chance to breathe. Then start it all over again. That's how you get by in this business, at least, in theory. Some guys never do. I've heard stories of superheroes who saved hundreds, lost a dozen and could never get over the dozen lost. I'm not sure I could either. I've been lucky.

 

My dad used to say that how you dealt with your victories that proved if you could be a gentleman. It was how you dealt your losses that proved you could be a man.

 

Dad cheers for a lot of losing sports teams.

"So, what do these Fumians look like?" I asked.

"Anything they want, technically" Lady Obsidian answered, "Thanks to holographic technology they can look like your standard run of the mill native born Earthman or Earthwoman, they can blend in, make a deal, shift appearances again and lose you."

 

"So, they are shapeshifters" I said, "Kind of. Well, that difficulty level just got trickier."

 

"Actually," Our team leader continued, "that's where the Hyadesians did us a solid. They gave us the frequency range of the holo-emitters. I can work with that," she steepled her fingers, "I can do a lot with that."

 

"Now, Vivian, tilt your head and laugh manically, mwhahaha, embrace your inner mad scientist!" Tornado exulted.

 

We all stared at him.

 

"Fine, let the evil scientists have all the fun," Tornado sulked.

 

"So embarrassing," Ariana sighed. While they were close in age, Valentino was her uncle, and no one can make you sigh like family. To many in the city, Tornado is a swashbuckling super fast flying marital artist who men wanted to be, and women wanted to be with. To Ariana, besides her own father, he was the second greatest source of 'dad jokes'.

 

And, of course, either one would die for the other. Which was a potential problem. Ariana was Valorosa now. She would be fighting by our sides, endangering her life right in front of us. Superheroes protect their team mates, but priority is innocents first, and team mates after. Would Tornado be able to remember that rule for his own niece? I had to wonder.

Finally, Lady Obsidian did chuckle, "Well, I do have one or two plans that might allow me to get my mad scientist on, but I'll hold it in reserve. The good news is I should be able to at least hook the team up with scanners of a sort that will let us see through their illusions so identify them. Odds are better than they're expecting. Now, their actual appearance is rather fishlike-"

 

"Oh, come on!" I blurted before I thought about it, then looked sheepish "Sorry, but we didn't we just do the underwater races attack bit?"

"Relax, hos," Pinprick smirked, "They're air breathers, just their scales are more like fish scales than reptile scales."

"I was going to say 'in some ways'" Lady Obsidian nodded, "if I may continue?"

 

"Sorry," I said sheepishly.

 

"Fishlike in some ways, but they are airbreathers, and have some reptilian aspects as well such as a literal forked tongue but very human eyes. They're also shorter than the average Earthlings-"

 

"Nothing wrong with that," Pinprick shot a challenging look to the rest of us just to try to say something.

"-and not really that strong, though they have gear that can more than compensate," Lady Obsidian finished, "They tend to place profit above all else and yes, they boast about their culture all the time."

 

"Like Americans on Steroids, man" Valentino shook his head.

"Valentino," I pointed out, "You're an American too."

"And I got an ego the size of Texas so, at least half right," he countered.

 

None of us could argue with that.

 

"Mabel," Dr. Vernon inquired, "Any reports from the authorities about the giant Chicken? Megachicken? Whatever we're calling it?"

 

"They found where the rampage began, at a property used for illegal cock fighting" Mabel answered promptly.

 

"No wonder that thing was so mean," I realized, almost feeling sorry for the dumb bird, "It was bred and raised to be. Was anyone hurt?"

"Yes, one of the men at the property was killed, another is in intensive care," Mabel said adding, "Sorry, sweet things."

I winced. I knew, logically, that I couldn't save lives where I wasn't there to save them. I knew that there was a certain dark irony, maybe even a twisted form of karma, in a man who did such a thing to animals becoming prey to one. But, a guy died. Another might yet. And I wished that wasn't the case.

Ariana was also wincing.

"Well, our condolences to the loved ones of the lost and wounded," Lady Obsidian just summed it up quickly then said, "Anything else regarding how it got so large, or the authorities, local and federal, are dealing with it?"

 

"Federal wants to cart it off in a few weeks to study, Local , well," Mabel says, "They have a request for Pinprick to come by and-"

 

"Shrink it down to regular chicken size or smaller again," Pinprick laughed, "Yeah, should have seen that coming. Frankly, I'm with them. I can reduce its size and power both. Besides, not sure sedation will work forever. Can you imagine the size of the pills they're got to be shoving into that thing's gizzard just to keep it out?"

 

"I think they'll use a liquid form," I told him pragmatically.

"It's always liquid with your Fish Guys, isn't it?" Pinprick said.

I sighed. Yeah, they had my back, but my team still thought of me as the new guy, and I'd take a little hazing yet. Who am I kidding? Ribbing each other was part of how some of us coped with the stress. I'd always get poked at a little, still, I could give as good as I got.

"Well, agreed it wouldn't be a small dose," I answered, "Whatever form of medication they're using, they could come up short. They could probably use a little help"

 

"Ha ha," Pinprick grinned, "Nice to see they finally descended," A look to Lady Obsidian, "Can I shoot him now?"

"You started it, Pinprick," Our team leader reminded, "Now if you two boys are done playing? I would like us to act like professional superheroes here? Or is that too much to ask from two supposedly grown men?"

"Sorry, Viv," Pinpricks said, and meant it. Pinprick gave lip to almost everyone, and could be a mean-spirited son of a beach, but he'd walk through hellfire for Lady Obsidian. She'd given him a chance when no one else would. As far as Pinprick was concerned, the good doctor could do no wrong, and I could see why.

 

Ironic that Lady O herself had told me that could be a problem. She'd hinted she wanted me to keep her on even keel and let her know when she crossed a line. I still wasn't sure what to make of that. Jokes and macho displays aside, being the voice of conscience to one of the most respected superheroines on the planet was a heady concept.  And I was sure that there were dozens of folks in the superhero world who could do better. Maybe hundreds.

 

"Eel?" An ahem from her.

I came back to the here and now which was a lot less spooky than the what might have to come into play. I knew my line.

"Sorry, Doctor. Sorry, Pinprick," I said with a head bob, "Back on the matters at hand? I," then it hit me, "Wait, what if the Fumians are behind the giant chicken?"

 

"Pardon?" She asked.

"Where did that come from?" Arctic Fox raised a brow.

"Just now," I admitted, "Think about it, what would someone who runs cock fights want? A bigger stronger co… err Rooster."

 

"Nice save," Tornado muttered low.

"Thanks," I replied.

 

"That actually fits," Lady Obsidian said after a moment, "I think when the survivor is healthy enough to talk to, one of us needs to talk to him. Who wants to check out the location where it first grew to that size and dig around? I'd do it myself, but I need to start work on that frequency."

 

"I've got to go try to shrink that chicken," Pinprick said, "or I'd volunteer to look around."

 

"I'll put some of my detective skills to work," Tornado offered, "Anyone want to work with me?"

 

Ariana didn't miss a beat, "Take me, I could use some pointers in investigating a crime scene. I want to be well rounded now that I'm fully in the game."

 

My jaw opened, "I was hoping we could –"

 

"You're with me, Rookie," Arctic Fox cut in, "With Lady Obsidian working the tech, Pinprick unsupersizing the chicken meal, and those two on detective work, it's up to us to patrol the city and make a show that superheroes are still active in Costa Sagrado."

 

"Sounds like a plan then, everyone gear up and do what they need to do," Lady Obsidian nodded rising, "And make sure you take time for food and sleep in whatever order you need it. It won't do us any good to do this on half energy."

 

And the group began to break up, to my surprise, Ariana wasn't waiting for me. Hell, she wasn't even slowing down.

"Ariana?" I asked, preparing to ask if we could talk.

She flashed me a smile, but there was something forced about it, "I had a meal, thanks. I'll catch you later, I need to get a fresh costume on." And just like that, she waved, gave me another forced smile, and started to pull away.

 

I started to follow anyway. Something was going on, I think? And I didn't like it. We needed to straighten this thing out.

 

Then I slipped on the ice and flopped on my ass while she was turning the corner.

On the ice?

"The hell, Arctic Fox?" I glared at the cold weave brunette and artificially white streaked hair. 

 

"You were about to make a mistake," She informed me, "You were about to force an issue and she's not even ready to tell you what the issue is."

 

"I kind of need to know, don't I?" I said getting up with a scowl. I wasn't sure this was any of her damn business, whatever 'it' was. All I knew is that something happened that had Ariana seeking some distance from me right now and I couldn't fix what she wouldn't talk about. So, we needed to talk.

 

Right?

 

Then Arctic Fox, as if telepathy were one of her powers, said those words that stopped me in my pursuit and guaranteed I'd go along with her on any patrol she wanted.

"I'll tell you what is bothering her," Fox said with an exasperated tone as if she were trying to gather up water into Helen Keller's hands in hope she's notice what should be obvious.

"Yeah?" I said intelligently.

 

"Yeah, only when we're on patrol. Go get changed into a fresh costume yourself, and let's hit the streets. Then, and only then, will I fill you in on why you're a dumb ass."

 

I straightened my back and said with as much dignity as I could manage "It's pronounced Dumas."

 

"Whatever, Alexandre, get your ass in your tights and meet me in the car in five minutes," Arctic Fox strode off with a shake of her head. The very picture of a prom queen stuck with the undignified task of riding herd on the nerds and weirdos.

 

Which is completely unfair of her by the way, because I've always fancied myself the brainy jock type.

 

Five minutes, more or less, later I was in the team's flying car ready to go, "Well?" I looked at Arctic Fox as she slid into the passenger side.

 

"You and Tornado are always quick to grab the driver seat," She sighed, "Boys with toys."

 

"About Ariana and I," I narrowed my eyes.

 

"Once we're up and out and on our way," She pointed upwards, "Not one second before."

 

Sighing, I hit the button, and the roof opened up and the vehicle rose up, up and out, the base closing behind us. In another minute we were over the city streets and on patrol. Patrols were a lot more crapshoot in the old days, but now with algorithms based on crime data and psychological studies and so on, they're more effective than ever.

 

Okay, they're still something a dartboard toss, but at least we're allowed to see the bullseye even if we miss it. Besides, nothing wrong with a quiet night.

 

It would buy me time to get the information I wanted.

 

"So, what the heck did I do to suddenly get the cold shoulder with my girlfriend?" I inquired.

"Relax with the cold shoulder talk. She's not trying to give you that, she's just giving distance. You two have been serious of late, right? I mean, I'm not blind. You're two consenting adults, but it goes beyond that," Arctic Fox said.

"I think so?" I said cautiously, "I mean, I know I'm thinking it's serious, why did she say something about it being serious?"

"She doesn't have to say," Arctic Fox sighed, "Toothbrush in your bathroom?"

"What has that to…" I stopped, "Yes, actually. Both of them, the apartment and the room in the base. Which is weird because she totally has her own room at the base and has longer than I've been here."

"Clueless," She sighed and continued, "Any of your favorite shirts gone missing?"

"She was cold and wanted another layer," I countered. Then again, my STYX T-shirt had been gone for, geeze, had she taken it two weeks ago?  And come to think of it, that baby blue button up was gone too. Looked better on her than it did on me, but that wasn't, "Oh my god, she's got at least three of my tops."

There was something disturbingly insidious about this whole thing, "She even copied my play list for my work out music," I muttered.

"Uh huh, yeah, see, there is a boyfriend, and then there is the boyfriend, and geography is not the point. Ariana has been sneak moving in, testing the waters in ways that should be obvious, but, of course, you're too clueless to catch on. She's committing to you in small ways, but that means she's going beyond the romantic, she's thinking beyond her future, and now thinking about your plural your future. And then you blew off a major factor in your own future right in front of her, and she's got to sort it out before she's sure your future and hers are that tight."

 

"I did what now?" I blinked at her.

"Oh my god you are so clueless," Arctic Fox said with a sigh, "You just lost your job. No, you quit your job, and acted like it was nothing. Now, some money is coming in from your Fish Guy, Eel stuff, but that's an iffy thing and not what you wanted to make a career on anyway, and you put a lot of it to charity. The point is, you just basically drove home that your secret identity's career chances mean nothing to you."

 

"I quit Meaty Minstrel! It's a fast food place. The turnover is huge because the pay is bunk for the sucky hours, poor treatment, and yes hard work. There are almost no benefits, zero. And you're telling me she's mad I quit it? That's crazy," I said.

 

"No, you jackass," Arctic Fox sighed, "It's not that job that's important, it's the principle of the thing. You act like Eel is important, and Caleb is just some guy. You don't show any ambition or even eye on any prize as Caleb."

"Ariana likes superheroes, that part of me turns her on," I said a bit bluntly, "heck, it used to worry me that was all she saw in me. Eel is the guy who gets her toes curling."

 

"But Caleb," Arctic Fox slapped my shoulder with annoyance, "is the guy she is falling in love with. Moron! And you don't give a crap about Caleb. He's an afterthought. So, she's scared. Eel gets her toes curled? Who cares?  She can watch shirtless scenes with some Hollywood studs or read really good romantic fiction for that. Caleb is the guy who, whether he deserves it or not, is getting a grip on her heart. And that is terrifying."

 

I grinned, "You think she's falling in love with me?"

 

Arctic Fox looked at me like she was ready to strangle me right then and there, "Again, you miss the point. Out of the two of you, she is the only one who seems to give a damn about Caleb Lambert."

"I am Caleb Lambert," I informed the crazy lady glaring at me, adding, for emphasis "Duh"

"Caleb Lambert is just a mask to you," She sniffed, "he's someone Eel puts on to blend in with the common folk."

 

"You? You, of all people are accusing me of elitism?" I said with a touch of an edge in my tone, "I have a non-powered room-mate and pay for an apartment"

 

"Only because the superheroine you most admire told you it would be a good  idea, and it would make you a better supehero," She replied, "Caleb has an apartment only because it helps Fish Guy. Caleb has a roommate because Fish Guy needs contact with the normals and that will help him relate better with the 'average citizens'. Caleb is a tool," A pause "In more ways than one.  Leaving the super side totally out of it; When's the last time you felt any pride in anything Caleb Lambert has done?"

I gaped at her.  I stared at her open mouthed.

I searched for words, and none were coming.

"I can save more lives as Eel," I told her finally.

"That wasn't the question," Arctic Fox pointed a finger in my face challenging.

"Caleb is, is, that is, he's- that is I am a damned nice guy" I protested.

"No argument, and yet still not what I asked you," why was she rubbing my nose into this?

"I don't know, I, I try to do the right thing…"

"As Eel"

"I try to set a good example…"

"is Caleb a good example?"

 

Why was she pushing this I didn't have to answer? I didn't owe her an answer. I – I did not want to answer.

 

"Not for a long time," I admitted finally. "I haven't been proud of just Caleb in a long time."

 

"And you wonder why she should be scared of being in love of a guy who doesn't even respect himself? Not fully, not really? You don't look out for yourself, Caleb. And in the battlefield, you look out for Eel, and that means that if it gets serious for Ariana and Caleb, she's going to have to be the one who keeps it real and keeps looking out for you as a couple in the real world because you're sure as hell not going to be. So yeah, you're giving her a lot to think about so either throw her a life saver, or give her some freaking space."

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And this is why I like your writings on Fish Guy.  It's not just shallow, superficial superhero stuff.  As Shrek would say, it's layered, like an onion.

 

Not that I particularly want to read solely about Caleb Lambert - Meaty Minstrel Midnights Manager.  But rounding him out just makes him a more compelling protagonist, while also rounding out the others around him. 

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Thanks.  As I mentioned earlier, that last bit is something I wasn't expecting to come up, but it just sort of built up behind my back, then I turned around  and it seemed obvious. 

 

The fact it might have come around because, understandably, the story was so much about Eel/Fish Guy and not Caleb probably set it up in the meta way, but it did explain it in universe.  

 

"Why don't we see more of Caleb talking to his roomie?" "Why don't we see Caleb going to the movies more?" "Why the heck is he always at the base in his free time?"

And boom.

 

Then I thought about how Ariana might feel about that if it was getting serious fast with Caleb/Eel for her, and she got a bit worried, concerned and thoughtful. Eel remained clueless.

And Arctic Fox threw her hands up, couldn't take the clueless anymore and told me she'd tell him.

 

A real volunteer, our mean girl for justice. 

 

 

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And guys, any input on whether you are liking things about the story is welcome too. Editing is going to be a mess because, well, NANOWrIMO suggests you just write it down cold and worry about editing later. Get the 50,000 then go back.

 

That said,I had to go back and remind myself Fox isn't a blonde. :o

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I'm sad for Madison. Being a night manager is tough, and when your staff quit in the middle of their shift to go fight giant chickens, they end up doing all the work. You try working a few of those and see how much nice you can muster.

 

Not that I'm saying Caleb should have gone back and finished his shift or anything, but Caleb should have gone back and finished his shift. And now you can see why you're not being allowed into the Comity of Planets. 

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18 hours ago, Hermit said:

And guys, any input on whether you are liking things about the story is welcome too. Editing is going to be a mess because, well, NANOWrIMO suggests you just write it down cold and worry about editing later. Get the 50,000 then go back.

 

That said,I had to go back and remind myself Fox isn't a blonde. :o

The story is fine. It's a lot better than what I manage. I say bring back Dr. Frost.

CES 

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I really like the superhero theme of 'Is there a man under the mask - and if so, which is the man, which is the mask?' - it's one I commonly use in my characters - and I'm glad to see you take it on, whether you expected to or not.

 

(A disproportionate number of aforementioned characters are basically super powered bums due to how they've answered the question. It's a trap, Eel!)

 

If I had one reservation about its implementation here it's that I would have preferred that the 'mean girl of justice' mainly started the conversation 'She's falling for you and she's worried because - unless you sell out like that Hollywood tool - being the Eel isn't a career, idiot.' and got him really thinking about it on his own from there with most of her points afterwards being self-awareness.  

 

I'm sure that he will be thinking about it  ... but I feel that he dug in his heels against the very notion and was preached to a touch too heavily in this update.  He's defiant, often to the point of stubbornness  - it's one of his dominant traits in my opinion  - but he hasn't often been truly boneheaded.  

 

 

Edited by DasBroot
clarity!

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On 11/10/2017 at 9:44 AM, DasBroot said:

I really like the superhero theme of 'Is there a man under the mask - and if so, which is the man, which is the mask?' - it's one I commonly use in my characters - and I'm glad to see you take it on, whether you expected to or not.

 

(A disproportionate number of aforementioned characters are basically super powered bums due to how they've answered the question. It's a trap, Eel!)

 

If I had one reservation about its implementation here it's that I would have preferred that the 'mean girl of justice' mainly started the conversation 'She's falling for you and she's worried because - unless you sell out like that Hollywood tool - being the Eel isn't a career, idiot.' and got him really thinking about it on his own from there with most of her points afterwards being self-awareness.  

 

I'm sure that he will be thinking about it  ... but I feel that he dug in his heels against the very notion and was preached to a touch too heavily in this update.  He's defiant, often to the point of stubbornness  - it's one of his dominant traits in my opinion  - but he hasn't often been truly boneheaded.  

 

 

 

I appreciate this kind of input. Right now, I am going 'forward forward forward' (Goal being 50000 FAST words instead of GOOD 50000 words at a pace good would require) but after that goal, i hope to go back, and I'm going to need to decide if I need to rewrite a few sections. This tells me where I may need to tamp things down, and how characters are coming across to others.Etc. 

 

I may need to dial down the preaching, though I must confess, the subject comes up again with others directly or otherwise. The first book had Eel show , often in brief flash backs, what motivates him. This book brings some of that home to roost.

 

Romance is more of a side thing, but it's an important side thing for him, not because every hero deserves a girl, but because I like to think romance for heroes reminds us they're human. Maybe they are some of the lucky ones who have found 'the one' maybe they're hapless sadsacks, but it's a factor. Arctic Fox is wounded from the First  Book, and I think she is worried that Caleb is going to blow it and she wants at least her team mates to be happy. I THINK that might be why she came on so strongly. But I need to find away to show that better. I may wimp out and just have her admit to others later on. ;)

 

 

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(Guess who is in town? Eel might hold a grudge)

 

 

 

I blinked at her for a bit, "Look, all I just want to have- I mean, I'm a good guy. It's just, yeah, being Eel is my calling. Everything else seems superfluous."

 

"Well, you may want to reconsider that stance," Arctic Fox told me, "Because Ariana is part of that 'everything else' now."

"yeah, I-" Then I noticed something in the dim.

There in the night sky, there was a trail of lame, it started at an almost bluish point, then trailed backwards until it finally 'cooled' to yellow and red. One hardly needed night vision to see it, but against my senses that distant light looked even brighter.

 

And I felt a cold sweat coming on, "Firebug," I said with a grim certainty, "it's her. It's Firebug."

 

"What?" Arctic Fox said baffled, "What are you talking about, the dot in the distance? Yes, it could be a super, but how could you possibly be sure it's Firebug?  You have the ability to see in the dark but it's not telescopic" She said, "And from this distance."

 

"I know it's her," I said, "I'm sure of it."

 

She wasn't swayed, "Rookie, speaking as a lady who deals in the other extreme, firepowers are some of the most common form of 'pew pew' powers there are among heroes and villains alike. It may not be her."

 

"Then let's find out," I set my jaw and directed the flying car to give pursuit. In a nutshell? I put the pedal to the metal and gave chase, with Arctic Fox along for the ride complaining in my ear.

"Look, even if, if this is the same group that hurt you so badly before you came here, yes I read the reports, that's all the more reason not to leap into this! Apocalyptic is consistently ranked in the top five most dangerous supervillain teams in North America, some would say the world. This not 'go time' this is 'go tell the team' time."

"So go tell the team, we can do both," I said, "But we need to find out it's her, that they're in town. Otherwise we can't really be prepared, and when one of them is alone, it's the best way to go. See, I'm not just being a hothead about this, I'm thinking logically and gathering intel," I pointed out, then added, "This thing has a missile in in it right?"

 

"Yeah just one for emergency meteor busting and-" Arctic Fox started to explain and then caught herself "HEY! Duke Boy, reign it in!"

"Spoilsport" I said with a sigh but kept gaining.

 

And yes, Arctic Fox was calling in on the com, "Mabel, you might want to let folks know Fish Guy thinks he's spotted Firebug of Apocalyptic and, of course, he's closing in on her trying to get us both killed. Get what data you can on the team, inform the others in case we don't respond back in five… make that three minutes."

"You're kidding, right?" Mabel said, then paused, "You're not kidding. I'll let the others know and remember, firefighting foam has been installed, but I doubt it could handle someone of Firebug's intensity."

"We have foam?" I grinned, "Hey, thanks, Mabel. You're the best!"

 

"Yeah," Arctic Fox said through gritted teeth, "You're the best."

Whatever Fox might be thinking of this plan, I wasn't being completely brainless. We'd informed the team, I had even engaged the cloaking device, though that could be a power drain if kept up for too long.

 

And we were gaining on Firebug.

 

It was her. There was no mistaking. One does not get tortured by a group of people for what felt like hours without remembering a few things about them. Her costume hadn't changed, still on the skimpy side. It wasn't like most men could touch her without experiencing third degree burns. The flickers of blue flame along mostly bare skin made me wince at the recollection of burn marks that had long since healed.

The hovercar started to heat up just from getting too close.  We were miles up, and it should have been as cool as a cucumber, instead the temperature was like an Arizona sidewalk run, and we hadn't even closed the final twenty feet.

 

"It's her," I said to Arctic Fox, "We can take her. We've got the element of surprise, and she's a mass murderer wanted for more crimes than I can list," She looked uncertain, so I added, "We're talking about a woman who once burned down a hospital to get a target. The whole hospital, just to get at one guy. Can we afford to let her get away?"

 

"Fine, let's take her in," Arctic Fox nodded.

 

I nodded black, and flicked the switch for the meteor buster missile.

"Wait, that's not what I meant-" but before Arctic Fox could even reach for it, the switch turned back.

"The hell?" I said, "She's tough, her fire fields are up, she'll probably handle it okay" I clicked it on again.

And again, it flicked off.

 

"What the," I groaned as realization sunk in, "Mabel? Check the statistics, she would probably handle better than you think."

"Honey I don't care if the only thing it does to her is give her gas, you are not launching a missile meant to break apart meteors in the stratosphere or higher over down town with crowded skyscrapers and more about that will surely get hit if she somehow avoids it," Mabel said in a very firm no nonsense tone.

"How about the foam? Can I count on the foam?" I wheedled.

"Fine, though at the temperatures she hits, I doubt it will help much," Mabel would have rolled her eyes if she had biological ones that could be rolled. But the good news I had the two ladies along for the ride in more ways than one.

 

"Fox, can you catch her attention? She's going to notice us soon anyway," I said sure of that much. Indeed, Firebug was already looking around. Maybe she could sense the thermals shift somehow, maybe her heat was distorting the cloaking attempts.

 

Maybe I'd been talking too damn much.

 

She looked up, and that's when Arctic Fox let loose a stream of cold and ice square in the face. It would have killed anyone else, but Arctic Fox did her homework, and had more experience than most folks give her credit for. As much as we had reason to distrust certain government agencies, the data they collected on villains often gave us the edge in knowing when and where to cut loose.

 

Much to my vindictive delight in this case.

 

It was roughly thirty-five feet from where Firebug had been flying, to the dense concrete below.  She smashed into the latter like the sputtering remnant of a roman candle. Her flames dimmed, from the combination of the icy assault and impact. They'd flare up soon if Firebug got the chance.

 

I sure as hell didn't intend to give her the time.

 

"Mabel, a little coating please," I requested, and sure enough, flame retardant foam sprayed over me like an overloaded can of shaving cream. I probably looked ridiculous, but it should let me get at least one good punch in.

 

If I got lucky, one punch might be all I needed.

I dropped down ready to demonstrate a three-point landing all over that psycho's face. Her flames were yellow and red instead of the deadlier blue, and while I could feel the heat, I could take it.

"Whoo hoo!" I yelled, convinced this was going to hurt her a lot more than it hurt me. Let her blast, I'd hurt badly, but I regenerated, she didn't. I bet I could take even flame more than she could.

Firebug's eyes widened and that's when she decided to cheat.

She rolled to the side even as my fist planted itself seven inches deep into the spot where her head had been. The shrapnel resulting from that bounced and burned against that fiery aura that surrounded her always.

 

"Hi, remember me?" I narrowed my eyes as I pulled my hand out of the ground. I wanted her focus on me, not Arctic Fox or even the car.

 

I got my wish.

 

"Yeah, I remember you. North Carolina, right?  You screamed like a #####" Firebug raised her hands and sent a hastily wave of flame crashing into my right side. Well, that would normally be enough to send me screaming.

I'm superhumanly tough, which makes sense as I am a superhuman, and I am tough. But while I don’t faint at the sight of green rocks, I don't take flame nearly as well as I do punches, electrical surges, gravity bolts, acid sprays, and, you know? In retrospect I've been hit with a lot of stuff in a very short time. 

Maybe I should work on my social skills?

 

But that quick shower with the fire-resistant foam took what would send me into a world of pain and reduced it to a rather nasty sting. The layer on my right side bubbled, swelled and dried but it took half of the heat damage for me, or at least muted it.

I could take it this time.

 

Also, I had help.

 

Arctic Fox had created a ramp of ice to disembark the vehicle and was bringing more winter fury onto the scene blasting from an overhead angle. I realized what she was doing, she was trying to prevent little miss Firebug from taking flight again.

 

I had to approve. It was also keeping those normally blue flames down to a level I might be able to manage. I closed with Firebug, not particularly worried about getting hit with the cold myself. That was one temperature extreme I could handle easily. I could swim in the North Sea in December and call it a vacation. I was not exactly phased here.

"You're overmatched, Fox!" Firebug warned, "Ask the redneck here. I got enough fire to burn you both to ash!" a ring of heat and fire exploded outward knocking Arctic Fox on her ass and making me gasp as the right side of me cooked more now that that first layer was dissolved. I still had some protection on my left though and I didn't knock over easily for anyone.

 

And Fox wasn't the kind of woman to be out meaned by anyone, she sneered, "Oh save it, split ends, I've heard about how you operate. Hospitals? What, are you scared of needles? A whole team on one guy? Do you need Mr. Brute to hold your hand when you go tinkle too? Or do you get to use the women's room all on your own?"

A burst of cold and ice flew past Firebug, wide spray, but what got the flame-spewer was pretty minor comparatively.

I grinned as I took the brunt of the ice packing. In someone else, this could lead to frostbite. Not me.

 

"Your aim sucks," Firebug gloated and started to rise up, her normal rocketing speed slowed down by the wet and cold all about her.

"But my team work is aces," Arctic Fox grinned, "Oh, and I wasn't aiming for you."

 

I leaped up and snagged an ice coated hand around Firebug's right leg and squeezed until I heard something under the skin break.

Firebug screamed, and I responded by redirecting her towards the ground where she hit the hard ground all over again.

Was I burned? Yes. But I'd been burned worse, and Fox kept a continuing stream of cold and ice pouring on me to minimize the damage. Heck, she kept tracking me even as I plummeted down elbow out to slam against the flaming buffer that Firebug relied upon for defense.

The normally blue flames weren't looking so hot; comparatively speaking.

 

I could have killed her, I could have crushed a skull, shattered ribs, and had the fracturing bones lance her internal organs.

But heroes don't kill unless it's the only way to save an innocent and even then, we try to find a way. God help me, I was tempted. How many lives would be saved with a psycho with this level of power taken out of the picture.

 

Then I thought about another psycho, Bloodwatch. Bloodwatch was a vigilante in the most vicious and unrestrained sense of the word. Teenagers in streetgangs, car thieves, heck, purse snatches; he would gun any one of them down. One I set a bar, no matter how high, making it acceptable to kill a villain in the name of what they might do, or in her case do again, it would open the gates for a slippery slope I did not trust myself to navigate.

NO way was I becoming like Bloodwatch.

 

So instead my elbow got badly burned, but rather than severing her in half, I just took the wind right out of Firebug's gut. Oh, she'd sport a nasty bruise as well. Foam burst from the flying car again, Mabel turning it outward rather than in the vehicle.

 

And still the snow and ice from Arctic Fox kept a coming. Firebug's flames were no longer white or blue, indeed, the yellow bled out, and only red flickers remained at all.

"Give up!" I shouted at the pyromaniac.

 

"They're here," She said in a punch drunk sing song sort of wheeze.

 

Realization hit me like a bomb. I put Firebug under into the realm of unconsciousness with a quick strike, and told Arctic Fox "We need to get her and go, the others are coming, and," My back ripped open as blades carved into it, spraying blood all over the newly moistened ground that the mix of ice and dueling heat had created.

Slice was here!

 

And the rest of Apocalyptic wouldn't be far behind.

 

"I'll be wanting my associate returned," came a voice popping with authority. It was a voice that had haunted my nightmares for weeks after I'd first heard it. Mr. Brute was stronger than me, tougher than me, and yes, he was a better fighter. One on one I couldn't take him.

 

"You can look up visiting hours in the tank," I seethed, "talk through a plane of glass. Ask her if she's made new friends."

His mask was phantom of the opera like, allowing his expression to show through. It wasn't an amused expression, "you really should watch your back more," A warning.

"That’s why I have friends," I commented as Slice found herself slipping on the patch of ice that Arctic Fox had created, it was the first time I'd gotten a good look at the normal blurring individual, "I watch their back, they watch mine."

 

"Do they? I see two of you, three if you count the car. And even with one down," Mr. Brute smiles, "I have numbers, I have the edge. And, most importantly, I have a probability manipulator who is very angry about you knocking his sister on her ass."

 

"She's had worse, but you know, family pride and all," Dice said. The probability manipulator's eyes glowed. I braced,  only to find neither I nor Arctic Fox was the target.

"Tiger? Foxy?" I had heard Mabel's voice in playful flirtatious banter when there wasn't a job to do quite often. When a job was going, she was often easy going still but professional. This was the first time in a while I could recall her sounding scared, "The missile is active. I can't turn it off. It's going to launch, and I think after that it's going to blow."

 

During this, the villains were not motionless by any stretch of the imagination. Slice got to her feet, cursed, and turned into a blur again once more this time trying to shred Arctic Fox to prevent another frictionless encounter no doubt.

 

"Fox, Weasel!" I hoped I had gotten the combat code right. Still holding the out cold Firebug in my grip, I slammed my foot down hard creating a shockwave that threw both Arctic Fox and Slice into the air. Arctic Fox was ready for it thanks to the rushed combat code that I had, it seemed, gotten right after all.

"Drop Firebug, and help me get this car out of here before it launches the missile!" Arctic Fox said as she took to the ramp she had just created to get altitude.

"But we can still capture at least one of them, if you just freeze-" I started to argue. We had one of them! One of the most murderous villains in modern times and I had her right in my hands. We could reduce their numbers. We could-

Mister Brute shattered the ramp sending Fox falling down into what would surely be a bone shattering grip.

I jumped and caught her before he could, which meant, of course, I had to drop Firebug. Our landing was onto the vehicle, "Mabel, fly it up!" I said through gritting my teeth with fury. I had one of Apocalyptic in my hands, and had let her go.

"Thanks for the save," Arctic Fox said, "Let me return it. No peeking."

 

I covered my eyes. What I wasn’t' seeing would be her snowblind effect. Just like it sounded, photokeratitus can damage the retinas. Unlike the usual type, Arctic Fox could make it happen near instantly. Lady Obsidian tried to explain the science of how just once, but I'll be honest, after the first minute I think my eyes started to glaze and for a completely different reason. I mean, I fancy myself a bright boy, but sometimes Lady Obsidian forgets not all of us have multiple science PHDs.

 

"Safe now, don't think it worked on Mr. Brute, is that going to be a problem?" Arctic Fox called out.

 

"Mister Brute is always a problem," I cursed, "Damn it damn it damn it, I had her! They were one member down. Now they'll be at full strength again."

 

"Hey, Tiger, got an idea how to keep the missile from launching? Because I can't!" Mabel sounded in a panic. Of course, she was supposed to be in control of everything in the vehicle. Instead, she was helpless to prevent a meteor busting missile from launching in the very area.

"How much time left before it launches?" I asked keeping my gaze on the villains below. It was a good thing I did. Mister Brute had grabbed a man hole cover from the road, and hurled it like a frisbee from hell. Well, that stirred a memory.

I gauged, bent down, and caught it before it could smash into the vehicle where it was no doubt meant to bring us down. With a grunt I hurled it back at his face as quickly as I could.

Mister Brute's hand came up, but gravity was with me and caused it to pick up speed and altered the arc to boot. It skipped between the crevice of his fingers and flattened against his face molding to his head.

"Twenty-Six seconds," Mabel was saying, but my eyes were on Mister Brute.

Mister Brute looked impressed, inclined his head slightly, and tipped his hat in a salute of sorts.

The Salute I gave back to my once torturer wasn't nearly as gentlemanly. I know I'm supposed to be a role model kids, but I'll confess said salute involved one finger.

"If you're done with the measuring, I've sealed the missile up so it won't launch and Mabel has this on heading straight up so it explodes harmlessly over the ocean! Jump!" Fox commanded and jumped.

"Damn, I loved this car," and I jumped too.

Ahead of me, the most beautiful intricate glider I'd ever seen, one crafted from delicate crystalline ice that was constantly replenished, soared through the very warm winds that both uplifting and devouring them drip by drip.

I took the old-fashioned way down, I slowed my fall as much one could by spreading my arms and legs. Behind me there was an explosion as meteor buster missile went off inside of the hovercar.

 

"Mabel, are you okay? Mabel?" it was a silly thing to say. Mabel wasn't part of the car, it was something she operated remotely.  She had to be okay, but still, "Mabel?"

 

"What?" Mabel said waspishly.

 

"I was just asking if you were okay?" I said startled at her ire.

 

"I am not okay. I lost control of a system and was helpless to take it back. And you? You just cost me my going out of town clothes. Dammit, Eel, if the team isn't in the base I can't help them anymore, not directly," Sometimes it was easy to forget that Mabel wasn't just intelligent, artificially or otherwise, she was also emotionally aware. She knew laughter, sadness, fondness, and frustration. And my actions had been partially responsible for her loss. Then she added, "And we couldn't even hold onto the one member we did have. They used me to-"

 

"They used a missile, maybe you couldn't stop it, but neither could we," I reminded, "And, I'm sorry. I thought we had her too." The water came rushing up on me, and I arced into a diving position and plunged where the radio waves could not reach.

 

I was pretty sure Mabel wasn't the only one who was going to angry at how things turned out, and as this was all on me, I was pretty sure the others were going to be mad at me too. Lord knows, I was angry with myself.

 It was on me.

 

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(Continued)

 

It turned out, others didn't agree. I'd gotten word to soak in the tub and heal up before coming to give my part of the report. I took a pretty quick one to be honest, my earlier plunge had already set the healing in motion.

 

"But I was the one who pushed to engage Firebug," I tried to explain for the third time. Somehow blame was not sticking, not just to me anyway and frankly, not much at all, "This is my fault."

 

I felt oddly possessive about that.

 

"Permission to slap this chauvinistic rookie silly?" Arctic Fox inquired of the team leader.

 

"I'll consider it," Lady Obsidian said. She was wearing her armor. Maybe she had put it on to come to our rescue but too late, or maybe she just thought it was smart to keep it handy with a team like Apocalyptic in town. She shot me a look, "I doubt very much, Eel, that you held a gun to Fox's head. She had seniority, and while aren't that rigid overall, Mabel would not have gone along with you if Fox hadn't agreed."

 

"Yeah, well, I-" I sighed "Okay, I just don't want to anyone else to suffer for my screw up." I shrugged.

 

"Our screw up," Fox said.

"All of our screw up," Mabel chimed in on a nearby speaker.

Lady Obsidian looked us over, then said "Well, it's very nice that you're all willing to share the plank as you bravely march off, but I do think I need to ask one more thing."

"Shoot," I said.

"Okay," Arctic Fox shrugged

"All ears, well, audio receptors," Mabel threw in.

 

"What screw up are you three talking about?" Lady Obsidian said, "Your inability to neutralize one of the toughest pyros around instantly? Or maybe it was a lack of omniscience, so you didn't know how far exactly any other members of Firebug's team would be? Or was it blowing up a vehicle safely over and away from the city rather than let a missile launch randomly due to the not quite fully understood power of a fellow who can jinx anything? Because really, I don't remember being the hard-ass you three seem to assume I should be that I would rip you a new one for any of that."

 

"Team is down a vehicle?" I said and shot a guilty look to Mabel then added, "And we had Firebug and lost her."

 

"He lost her trying to cover me from getting crushed," Fox countered, "So if anyone should be-"

 

"Oh, good lord," Lady Obsidian sighed, "What you are describing sounds like a combination of prioritization and team work. These are good things. Do you know how many villains I've defeated only to have them slip through my fingers and escape to plague the city another day over the decades?"

 

"Twenty-three different villains, forty-three different times," I spoke up, "if you count the Gray Ghost Gang anyway."

Lady Obsidian stared at me.

 

"I read your books," I reminded her, "Figured there might be some you wouldn't mention in them but overall, close?"

The stare continued.

 

"What?" I finally said.

 

"Oh, don't mind me, just ruminating on gifts brought out for show when they'd be better off put to work," The team matron sighed, "Yes, you're pretty close. But it was meant to be mostly rhetorical. The answer 'a lot' would suffice. The point, dear ones, is that the sometimes you can do everything right, and still lose.  You can do your best, and still lose. It's annoying, but it's part of life. Mistakes made? That's par for the course. The worry in our business is making sure no one died for our mistakes, our slips, or our best just not being good enough. No one did. The loss of a vehicle isn't cheap, but it isn't something we can't replace. The loss of one of you? I would have a problem with that. We don't have Firebug in custody, but surprise, surprise, we didn't have her in custody beforehand either."

 

I felt supremely sheepish when she put it that way. I suspected Arctic Fox and Mabel did too.

 

"Okay then," Arctic Fox said, "I have another question then," She tilted her head, "We called for backup. I actually expected someone on the way to us by the time Brute was lobbing a manhole cover at us, or even sooner."

 

I smiled at the memory of that part. Few would understand why. Though I was also curious as to the same.

 

"Tornado and Valorosa found a lead, and ended up in the tunnels under the city, which blocked their radio waves for a bit. Pinprick found an old sparring partner to fight, Dark Lord Charming," She admitted, "So he was a bit tied up. I was the one who left you high and dry, and I'm sorry about that. I'd hooked the frequency tests through my suit and by the time I got everything disengaged, it too late. So, you see, mistakes happened here too."

 

"Caleb," A voice said, and Valorosa rushed forward. Not to kiss me, but give a quick tactile appraisal along my face, and then shoulders, and then chest to check for wounds. When she noticed the blood on my back she gave it a glare as if I had been incredibly rude to have the nerve to bleed all over back there.

 

"Slice's work," I explained, "I healed most of it, and the burns from Firebug," I explained, feeling oddly pleased at all her fussing, unnecessary or not. She was slipping my gloves off to look at the burn marks along my hands and wrists. The soaking had already reduced them to first degree or just light welts. I was okay, but again that pleased feeling at her noticing me again.

 

And then I remembered what Fox had said and realized she hadn't been not noticing me. Far from it, she was thinking about me plenty, thinking about us. Maybe I owed her some thinking about us in return.

 

"I heard, why is Apocalyptic in Costa Sagrado you think?" She asked.

 

"I don't know, but we'll find out," I told her, "We are going to be on their asses twenty-four/seven from now on, at least I am and-"

 

"Ahem," Lady Obsidian was shaking her head, "I'll be happy to say they are priority number two, but our primary focus needs to be the Fumians. Bad as this villain team is, they don't have a reputation for destroying eco-systems or setting whole continents into a war zone of giant robots or the like. Fumians have been known to do that if left alone too long."

 

"Apocalyptic doesn't have that name because they're warm and fuzzy," I said stunned at her choice, "They're stone cold killers. Murder is their goal. The Fumians seem to have profit as their goal." I countered, "It seems to me we should stop the sure to murder over the 'might mess things up'. They've got to be in town for a reason. We need to find that reason and stop them."

 

The others had grown quiet. Ariana/Valorosa stayed by my side and looked tempted to say something, but didn't. Arctic Fox raised a brow. Tornado, for his part, had something of a wince on his face. Lady Obsidian herself? She took off her helm and stared at me for a moment, thinking it over.

 

"No," she finally said, "Eel, nothing is written in stone, but I need every one of us focused on the primary mission, and I need you on board as to what the primary mission is. If circumstances say we need to shift gears, then we switch, but right now, that's my call." There was a tone in that I recognized, it's the tone older women get sometimes get, at least those who have had a lifetime wielding authority they'd earned deftly and efficiently.

 

The only thing that was going to move her was her own choice to move.

But it was the wrong call.

 

I felt sure of that. I could only hope she would come to see that on her own. For now?

"Okay," I said, not bothering to hide my dislike of her call but not challenging it twice, "so what did we learn about the Fumians?" I glanced over at Ariana and Valentino, "you found a lead?"

 

Tornado smiled at that, "Oh yes, we lucked out a bit. Ugly murder scene," He continued more somberly, "But it was my niece here who noticed the treads on one set of foot prints which had stepped in the dirt and mud and… chicken poop, was different, and preceded the blood and such that came after."

 

Ariana was blushing, "I feel a bit silly but uhm, I know some things about shoes, even men's shoes, and the pattern was really off. I thought maybe they could be alien so, I suggested we track those and, well, they lead to an alley which lead to a tunnel. We soon lost them, but found another clue. But that was Valentino who noticed that."

 

"I love a good shoe story as much as the next gal," Arctic Fox said impatiently, "But can we cut to the chase and speed it up a bit? I promise to read the full report right before bedtime."

"The Fumians are in the tunnels, not just using them, but they're in there somewhere," Tornado explained, "Hinges and gates have been un-rusted, corrosion is reversed. And the parts hooked up to the sewers and sewage? It doesn't stink."

"I beg your pardon?" I blinked, "You're literally saying the city's number two smells like-" I searched for a word.

"Odorless," Tornado grinned, "The spoiled guys are using the tunnels to travel and trade from because it's handy, but they're not willing to suck up the scent of poo gas like we savages have to."

 

I broke out laughing at that and others joined in chortling.

"Is the water just odorless, or clean?" Lady Obsidian asked, "Truly clean, and is it safe?"

"Kind of what we're hoping on you to determine," Ariana says, "You see, we brought back a sample vial or three, each from different parts.  We didn't find them again, but figured if we could find the boundaries of where they 'cleaned up' that would give us the ability to, well, triangulate probably isn't the right word but-" she shrugged blushing

"But we can use it to figure out where the hell their main base operations might lay," Lady Obsidian nodded, "Between this and the frequency work, I have my hands full but if it turns out that water is clean and safe, we have an edge to use."

 

"What edge?" I asked curiously.

 

"You," She beamed.

"You want me swimming through sewers?" I wrinkled my nose, probably sounding snootier than I intended.

"Well, I can't do it. You see in pitch black darkness, you breathe water, and swim gracefully and with incredible rapidity – If not you, who better suited, Eel?" Lady Obsidian presented it all in an annoyingly logical fashion.

 

"Why couldn't I have been one of those flying types?" I sighed.

 

"Clearly, God just doesn't love you as much as he does certain others," Tornado, the only 'natural flier' in the group looked up in mock piousness even as his feet lifted from the floor by six inches.

"I think I hate this plan," I said with a sour look.

"Cheer up," Lady Obsidian informed me, "maybe we'll learn is that it's nice smelling, but incredibly toxic just to you, and you'll get off duty."

"Now I feel petty," I grumbled.

"Trust your gut there," She rose "Here is what we're going to do. I –" she looked about "Pinprick isn't back yet? I kind of would like the whole team here rather than repeating everything twice over."

 

As if on cue, Pinprick walked in. He had lost his hat, and smelled of pepper spray. The little guy looked like he had been besieged a mob.

It turned out that wasn't far off, "Dark Lord Charming. Thought I had him. Stinking bastard managed to stumble into a convention center for a meeting of teachers. What to guess what gender dominates the pre-college teaching jobs?"

I raised a brow.

 

"Women," Tornado said with a shrug.

"Women," Pinprick said as if no one had guessed, "A convention with maybe twenty-five guys, and almost two hundred and fifty women of all ages. Guess who Dark Lord Charming 'charms', so they fall almost instantly in love with him upon first sight?"

"Women!" Tornado chimed not bothering to hide some amusement.

"Women!" Pinprick snorted, "Big women, little women, blondes, brunettes, and redheads all charging me, screaming 'leave him alone, you monster!' or 'No! He can change!'. You ever get swarmed by five love struck gingers determined to save their 'one true love' all at the same time? I swear to God, the color Auburn is going to haunt my dreams for weeks."

 

"You're making me want to dye my hair again," Arctic Fox said mercilessly.

"He, he does that?" Valorosa looked more chilled than amused.

"Yeah, he used to be a regular Prince Charming, but then he became evil. Stayed Charming, the jerk, and yeah, he heart-whammies women, wish that was all he did," Pinprick scowled fiercely at the thought, "Anyway, he got away."

"A lot on our plate all at once," Lady Obsidian frowned, "Obviously ladies, we should let the fellows handle Dark Lord Charming. I don't much care for that, but there you have it. Now, let's fill Pinprick in again."

 

Pinprick responded to my story grimly, no jokes, no pokes, no jibes at my expense: That worried me. When the jerk, albeit the lovable type of jerk, of the team refuses to bust your chops, things have gotten serious indeed. The news of the plan of sending me to the sewers didn't even get the snicker I expected.

 

"Sounds like you'll be patrolling alone there, but if anyone can handle it, it's you, Fish Guy. You're good under pressure," He said as he mused it over.

"I'm sorry, did you just compli-" I was not sure I heard that right.

 

"I said don't screw this up and don't come crying to me because I'll have my own job to do, jackwagon," Pinprick declared.

I smiled, "Sure thing, jerkwad."

"Good," He snorted, "I don't have time to train another meat headed strong man on how we operate."

"And I'm supposed to protect the innocent, so I'll try to spare him your 'world's tiniest drill sergeant' act, by staying alive and keeping him from getting recruited," I actually felt my mood lightening.

"Ugh," Arctic Fox sniffed, "Male bonding attempts give me hives."

"I think it's cute," Ariana beamed.

 

"It is not cute," Pinprick, Tornado, and I all insisted at the same time.

 

And laughter broke out from Lady Obsidian at that, and with the matriarch of the team doing that, well, the other two women broke out openly as well.

 

The fairer sex can be very cruel to fragile male egos.

 

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I'm not sure what "gifts brought out for show when they'd be better off put to work" means, even in the context of Eel's enumerating Lady Obsidian's failures.  Is that some obscure phrase? 

 

Also, the very specific numbers seems less likely to come from Eel, even if he has read her books, unless she specifically stated those numbers.  Otherwise, it seems like he went out of his way to count them before, which doesn't seem like the sort of thing he would do as it almost implies some sort of negative intent.  I could easily see Mabel stating exact numbers, maybe even correcting Eel after he makes an off-the-cuff approximation, but I'd expect Eel would give rounder numbers (e.g. "About twenty different villains, forty-some-odd different times...") based purely upon recollection.  (Yeah, I know I'm making a big thing out of something minor, but for some reason that bit didn't resonate well with me.)

 

That said, I like the character interplay in the after-action debriefing.  The Sammies continue to be a nice group of people you feel good rooting for.

 

Also, I like how you presented the teamwork between Fox and Eel during the fight.  Well done IMO.

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4 hours ago, BoloOfEarth said:

I'm not sure what "gifts brought out for show when they'd be better off put to work" means, even in the context of Eel's enumerating Lady Obsidian's failures.  Is that some obscure phrase? 

 

Also, the very specific numbers seems less likely to come from Eel, even if he has read her books, unless she specifically stated those numbers.  Otherwise, it seems like he went out of his way to count them before, which doesn't seem like the sort of thing he would do as it almost implies some sort of negative intent.  I could easily see Mabel stating exact numbers, maybe even correcting Eel after he makes an off-the-cuff approximation, but I'd expect Eel would give rounder numbers (e.g. "About twenty different villains, forty-some-odd different times...") based purely upon recollection.  (Yeah, I know I'm making a big thing out of something minor, but for some reason that bit didn't resonate well with me.)

 

That said, I like the character interplay in the after-action debriefing.  The Sammies continue to be a nice group of people you feel good rooting for.

 

Also, I like how you presented the teamwork between Fox and Eel during the fight.  Well done IMO.

For me, it came off as "Eel being a "fanboy""...so it was less jarring. I mean the shocker is that anybody still reads books ...right? :)

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9 hours ago, BoloOfEarth said:

I'm not sure what "gifts brought out for show when they'd be better off put to work" means, even in the context of Eel's enumerating Lady Obsidian's failures.  Is that some obscure phrase? 

 

Also, the very specific numbers seems less likely to come from Eel, even if he has read her books, unless she specifically stated those numbers.  Otherwise, it seems like he went out of his way to count them before, which doesn't seem like the sort of thing he would do as it almost implies some sort of negative intent.  I could easily see Mabel stating exact numbers, maybe even correcting Eel after he makes an off-the-cuff approximation, but I'd expect Eel would give rounder numbers (e.g. "About twenty different villains, forty-some-odd different times...") based purely upon recollection.  (Yeah, I know I'm making a big thing out of something minor, but for some reason that bit didn't resonate well with me.)

 

That said, I like the character interplay in the after-action debriefing.  The Sammies continue to be a nice group of people you feel good rooting for.

 

Also, I like how you presented the teamwork between Fox and Eel during the fight.  Well done IMO.

 

The phrase was  Lady Obsidian lamenting that here, Fish Guy has this perfectly bright mind, and he's not going to college with it. She was trying not to say it out right, but I may have to reconfigure that to make it clearer to the reader without making it another nag to Eel so openly.

 

And Pinecone's got it right. the specific numbers were meant in a fanboy way. If there are superhero cards (Like baseball cards) in this world, Eel would have the stats. it wasn't meant insultingly, but more holding up the hand excitedly because, he's a fan :) However, I might have him round up.

 

 

 

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(More about Eel's relationship, he gets advice, I'm not sure its good advice, but it's what came out at the time)

 

 

 

The meeting broke up. Lady Obsidian had to hit the lab and continue her work. Pinprick, having shrunk Megahicken and then tussled with Dark Lord Charming was going to call his son and keep touch. I wasn't sure what Tornado and Valorosa were up to, but I was seriously considering asking the latter out for dinner.

I was starving. I hadn't realized how long it had been since I ate something.

 

I seriously considered having the chicken. Revenge would be had Extra Crispy this evening.

 

Maybe Ariana and I needed to talk, maybe I needed to let her talk, and listen for a bit. If Fox was right, I had been missing a lot, and she had a lot on her shoulders. I had thought I was the one thinking where this relationship would go. Turns out, Ariana was three steps ahead of me after all.

 

A part of me felt irritated that she hadn't talked to me about this. Telepathy is not one of my powers, and how I'm supposed to know without knowing, barring clairvoyance, was beyond me. On the flipside, mostly I felt- bad. There had been clues, and I had missed them. Fox had to point them out to me. Now that she had, a few of them felt obvious.

Maybe I really was a clueless dumbass?

 

Yeah, I decided dinner and me using my mouth only for eating while Ariana talked might be best. I went looking for her before I decided on drumsticks or wings. Ah, who was I kidding? I always went drumsticks.

 

I heard two voices, a rich confident masculine one, and the other, a delicate feminine voice I had grown to adore hearing in my ear in the morning, both with that touch of Mexican flavoring that made them almost musical, at least to these North Carolina ears.

 

Fortunately for me, it was in English.

 

"I just worry he's not going to change, never going to want more," Ariana said, "he doesn't seem to care for anything but-" words failed her.

"Except for saving the lives of strangers, and stopping bad people from doing bad things," Valentino returned, "And he's got a thing for protecting post offices."

"It's not fair putting it that way," She said in a tone of irritation that she was as annoyed with him having a point as she was with him taking up my side, "We already knew he was brave, selfless, and noble-"

 

And good looking, I wanted to add as I found myself pressing against a wall to avoid being seen if they came this way. Was I eavesdropping? Yes, yes, I was.

She continued, "-It's what drew me to him, it's why I feel the way I feel about him, but now? I want more, more  for him than he himself does, and," her voice caught in a way that made my heart ache, "maybe more for us. That's only reasonable, isn't it?"

 

"Let me understand this, he was everything you thought you wanted," Valentino said gently, "Now, you have decided that may not be enough. And somehow, he's not only supposed to realize this all on his own, he's supposed to change his priorities, his very life, like that? I'm not sure reasonable is the word I'd use. A man, even a good man, is a man, Ariana- not a set of clothing that can be touched or tailored. In your head, you know this. It's your heart that's confused. The only person who can change a person is that person. I'm sorry. Be honest with him, and hope, that's all you can do but don't get so excited about what might be you lose track of what good you've got."

 

"Lose track of it, Tino? Don't you see, if I weren't so happy with what I had, it wouldn't hurt so much to think on how I may end up having to walk away from it, from him. I'm scared and-" And then, the voices stopped.

 

I thought I heard a soft sob, and soft mutterings of reassurance.

 

And, I found I didn't have the courage to see what exactly what was going in that hallway, even if I had a very good idea.

I couldn't face that.

 

I wouldn't know what to say, and if she spurned my attempt to make it right, my putting a hand on her shoulder; her pushing both away?  I don't think I could have taken that.

I never felt more like a wuss than I did that moment as I walked away to hunt down a meal that I realized would now be a lot less satisfying.

For the first time in a long while, I felt a powerful need to take this damn mask off.

 

Aaron opened the door to our apartment with a buxom black clad chick on his arm. The busty woman with him had short hair with a ripple of colors not to be found in nature. Not that Aaron Mitzhim is typical himself. A Punk Rocker looking for the chance to sell out, so he could support family, Aaron has the mohawk, nose ring, and vulgar t shirt. Yet, he never fails to visit his grandmother at least once a week and make sure she's okay. He seemed to thrive on riling even his own fans, but I'd gotten to know him, and as alien as he was to this Southern Boy, I'd come to realize one thing about him.

 

Aaron Mitzhim is good people.

 

He was also a surprised person as his eyes fell on me on the couch. I was a classy sight in my sweat pants, Panthers tee shirt, and bare feet with my mouth tearing into an extra-crispy drumstick. Con-Air was playing on the TV, and quite deliberately so, as I'd put it in the DVD player. I really did use the apartment for sleep chiefly. If you discounted slumber, I was here infrequently at best.

 

"Oh, Sorry, Aaron, ma'am," I realized I sounded more country than usual. I guess my mind was so preoccupied that my accent was on maximum, "I can ah, go somewhere."

"Uhm, hey," The woman said, giving me an uncertain look, then Aaron an eager one. Yeah, he was gonna score tonight.

I started to rise, then Aaron surprised me. He turned to the girl and said, "Hey, ZJ, I'll catch you another night. We'll get it jumpin then." He said it with such confidence that I was a bit amazed. He really thought she'd just go along with that and score with her later at his convenience?

"Cool," she shrugged, kissed him, and slipped out.

 

My jaw nearly fell open at that, "How do musicians do it?"

 

"With style, my talentless friend," He flumped next to me, rather rudely snatched a wing from my bucket, and then said, "Who died?"

"You're lucky you didn't take a drumstick, buddy," I grumbled, then said, "How did you know I was down?"

 

"Oh please, just because you're rarely here doesn't mean I'm blind, man. You told me you were a private kind of guy, and that if I asked you no questions you'd tell me no lies. Cool by me. But I do notice things, and you only put Con Air in the player when you're depressed or really feeling down," He said.

 

"Hey, heroic southern boy undeservedly goes to jail, serves his time, saves the day, and gets a few good one liners out all so he can get back to family with honor. I'm telling you the film is an underappreciated masterpiece," I insisted, and perhaps not for the first time.

 

"Uh huh," Aaron tore into the meat and looked at me, "Now, back to the core subject. Who the hell rained on your parade? Did your favorite football team lose again?"

"Please, if you knew my father you'd know I've been used to cheering on bad teams and rolling with it," I grinned, but I could see he would keep pressing, "you know Ariana, right?"

"Hot sexy short spicy?" He answered, "yeah, you two are serious. She dump you, man?"

 

"No, but I'm worried she might," I confessed to him, "It, it's gotten more serious for her than I thought, and I feel the same way, but, I –"

"Whoa, wait, you two feel the same way about your relationship? I mean, both of you are getting thoughtful about where this might go, so it's scary because it could be so good?"

"Yeah," I said a bit annoyed he'd cut in. If he was going to have me confess he could at least let me explain, " I mean it could. It really could."

"Congratulations man," He grinned.

 

"Dude, I just told you she might dump me, because I'm not, well," How to explain this without talking about Eel? "I've got no direction, no ambition, nothing practical anyway, and she's worried if she lets it get any more serious she's going to watch me get hurt and get hurt herself. And hurting her is the last thing I want to do, but I- none of the regular stuff, the nine to five, the making big bucks, none of that appeals to me. I'm not called to that. I mean, I'm willing to do it, to make the rent-"

"Good news for me," He munched.

 

"-But," I continued confused at his chipper attitude, "They say you can only change because you want to change, because of what you want. You can't do it for other people."

"True, too true," He threw the wing bone away and started to reach for another one, "You have to have your own reason to want to change. You've got to have something a bit selfish involved or it's just a sham unfair to others as well as yourself."

 

Annoyed, I nevertheless tilted the bucket his way towards him, "So you see my problem, why are you looking so hunky dory about it?"

"Hunky Dory? God, people still say that in this century?" He shook his head and I couldn't help but noticed this time he'd snagged a drumstick. Oh, he was pushing his luck and didn't even know it, "I'm happy for you, man, because most people don’t' that far. The fact you're afraid of losing what you got is proof that it's a blessing to have. And you even have something you want, just for yourself, selfish as get out."

 

"What's that?" I was almost sure we were speaking different languages right now.

 

"Ariana," He said, "You want Ariana. Not just to practice the infinite combination of the numbers six and nine in all their many sacred geometrical sets, but you want her maybe the big L-O-V-E. All this time, I pretty much guessed you were shacking up at her place instead of staying here. It's all in how you look at it. You can't change for her, but maybe for yourself to get her? That you might manage."

 

"That almost makes sense," I confessed after a moment, "But how do I know it's for me too and not just for her?"

"Don't tell her, try the change, and see how it goes. If it works for you, hey, you let her in on it, if not, then you learned something wasn't for you, that it didn't work for you, and no more chance of her leaving you than before," He bit down, "It's like the movie Grease. A lot of people whine about how Sandra Dee had to change herself to get Danny forget that Danny changed too. He went from Rebel to Jock. Now I'm sure a lot of folks will go "But ..she tramped it up", never mind that she was still, as far as we know,  a one man woman. Hell, she made up her mind it was him. I know a lot of girls who dress more conservatively but act a lot more trampishly than that in real life. So why did she change? Just to get his attention? Or maybe she was tired of being scared of her own sexual power. Maybe she liked the look and didn't care if she got judged as a 'bad girl' anymore. I'm sure I'm reading some wrong things into it. But the way I see it? The two of them both seem a lot happier with the changes. Even on their own, Sandra would have had guys lining up and had good friends to pal around with. Danny bragged about lettering. Maybe they did it to win each other, or even a meeting in the middle, but they also learned more about themselves. What you have here is a chance for self-discovery of who you, Caleb Lambert are. Why automatically assume it's a loss that this chance has opened up?"

The metaphorical dawning happened, and I admitted, "Aaron, you're a genius."

 

"Nah, I'm a musician. I've got like the power of hundreds of love songs, and just as many 'finding myself musical moments' to draw on," He waved it off, "So what now?"

"I am watching the rest of this movie," I told him, "Then, I have things to look into. A few of them actually for myself, and if I end up wowing my girl so much she squees, that's just gravy."

"Fine, we'll watch the redneck hero save the day," He leaned back and enjoyed the food, "But whoever you change into?"

"Yeah?" I looked at him curiously.

"Make sure he pays his rent at least until I can find a new roomie?" Aaron asked.

"Deal," I smiled "And, thanks." When the movie ended, with the folksy hero triumphant (as it always should be) I got up. There were things to look into.

Maybe I was going to do somethings for the wrong reasons before this was said and done, maybe I'd do it for the right and get it right, but since when was I the sort to quit before I began?

 

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(Continued, comments still welcome)

 

The next day I woke up in the apartment, poured myself a nice bowl of Captain O cereal, and caught up on the news. I had a lot to do today, but I promised mother I would try to look after myself when I got into Costa Sagrado, and I'd need the energy. I had the horrible feeling I was going to be sewer diving later today, and the thought did not fill me with glee.

 

I clicked on the TV since I was multitasking with my lap top between bites. Besides, Local news shaped opinions, God help us all, more than the internet did- at least, it shaped the opinions I'd have to deal with day to day.  The world is connected, but I live where I live.

 

"Some are even claiming the New Samaritans crafted this giant chicken incident in order to stay relevant and keep the city government from asking the question: In this day and age, should we really be relying on superheroes to fight our crime for us? What does it say about us as a community when police are under more scrutiny than ever, but superheroes can have the most outlandish incident, and everyone takes their word for it?" The TV morning host put in just the right mix of worry for the danger to the public, and the disdain for folks who fought crime in their long johns.

 

I switched to another station; I should know better than to watch Channel 3 at anytime by myself. The gang at the base and I would mock the evening news reports, and deservedly so. News 3 was so biased against superhumans that if Jesus himself appeared wearing a cape, they would start collecting wood and nails all over again.

I flipped it to News 6.  News 6 was as dry as toast. It didn't break out the pitchforks like channel 3 did, nor did it have the frivolous 'which male superhero has the nicest ass?' call in contests of Channel 13. Frivolous.

 

Ahem, yours truly is currently ahead of Tornado and Viewpoint by a narrow percentage. Swimming, it's great exercise for body form, that's all I'll say.

Channel 6, however, or at least it's news, was always a straight shooter, neither gilding the lily nor tarring and feathering unless we really screwed up or wowed them. The guy on the evening news had my respect even if I wanted to nod off sometimes at his rather old school delivery.  The morning show wasn't much more interesting, and tended towards lifestyle news and traffic reports.

 

Though nobody can mess up traffic like superhumans.

 

"While details on how the chicken was unnaturally enlarged are still just the subject of speculation, it is known that local hero Pinprick has shrunk it down to manageable levels. Animal rights activists are already rushing to rescue the chicken, calling it a pawn and a gentle giant. Despite the deaths that the chicken caused to its one-time handlers. The Superhero Eel managed to stop its rampage, but rumors are that a new superheroine in town aided him. Currently its just conjecture," A middle aged woman said professionally, but again her delivery wasn't exactly lively. Oh well, better dull facts than sensationalism, right?

Looked like Valorosa would need to make her public debut to the media, name and all, soon. It's a dangerous thing to leave stuff up to the media. I still had some reporters that slipped and called me Fish Guy when reporting to this day.

 

The anchor woman continued, "After shrinking the formerly gargantuan chicken, Pinprick had an encounter with a supervillain who goes by the name 'Dark Lord Charming', a suspected Psionic using a Fairytale prince motif, women of the city are warned that they seem particularly vulnerable to the influence of this villain still on the loose."

Nothing new about the Fumians, or at least that could be connected to them? Yeah, I worried I'd be sucking sewer water for nothing. Okay, clean sewer water if Lady Obsidian's tests came back positive, but still frustrating to dwell on.

 

I finished my cereal and put the bowl and spoon away, the milk went back the fridge and then behind me, the TV continued to chatter: "Incoming news, the Harold J. Powers Middle School is under attack by three individuals in powered armor. We switch now to Brianna Freemont our reporter on the scene."

An attractive woman with a determined set to jaw, as if daring herself to show fear in front of the camera was speaking before the entrance of the school, the doors had been blown open by some kind of blast, maybe an explosive, "It's only been ten minutes since the text for help came through from one of the students. The camera was too blurry to make out the figures, but the description and audio is clear, three powered armored figures terrorizing the children in the school-"

I was already running for the door, and hitting my communicator for the team, "Mabel, I just saw the news. I assume you're already ahead of me, so any details would be welcome. Am I right in that I live closest to Powers Middle School?"

 

"Yes, and yes, you're only two and a half miles away, but you'll have to hoof it the whole trip," She chimed, "Others are on their way."

"Young teenagers in danger? I be surprised if the whole team isn't in on this," Clothes gone on the roof in a bag I kept there for such an occasion, costume on and I was leaping off said roof and hitting the street running, "I'm so sorry about the hovercar."

 

"No point in crying over spilled transport," She said, "Unfortunately, I've got no data on these three figures, even after trying to get a lock on the smart-phone footage, the images don't really fit any supervillains that are on file. They're a bit on the garish side."

 

"I guess I'll see. Whose closest to back up? I would guess Tornado," I sure hoped it was Tornado. His speed would mean we could get more kids out fast as soon as something opened. While the fact I was the 'strong guy' of the team didn't automatically mean I was a klutz, I wouldn't be nearly as good at it as, well, almost anyone else on the team. They might not even see Pinprick. But I'd make do. Maybe I could delay the villains until the others got there.

 

The scene had really picked up in the time it took me to run and bound there. Police had already pulled up and were circling the building. A chopper was overhead. The Reporter who was there first on site now had lots of competition, but she, her crew, and the other media types had been pulled further back with the other reporters and cameramen, and the police were not letting them that close to the door again.

 

Fine by me, less babysitting.

 

The only problem was-

 

"It's one of the New Samaritans!" someone, I think a reporter from channel 13, yelled way too loudly for my tastes. There was no time. In this day an age if they were watching the news the villains would know right away a superhero was on the case. I took a deep breath and leaped through a window hoping I wasn't about to get one of the kids killed.

The hallway I had entered was empty, and so I went into stealth mode again. Okay, it's not like I have a cloaking device, and a grown man in almost any costume is going to stand out in a hallway full of lockers. Still, I moved at a brisk pace and listened for sounds of voices, hoping at the same time I wasn't about to hear screams or shots.

Thank goodness, it wasn't. Instead, I heard crying, sobbing, and other signs of fear.

 

Not that's great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than screams of pain or blasting sounds.

The voices became clearer, more distinct.

 

"You didn't have to hurt her," One girl said simpering.

 

"I tasered her ass, or the equivalent," a distorted static riddled voice came out, "And given how she's ruined lives, she deserves worse, " There was a beat, "She is okay, right?"

Another voice, less static ridden but just as artificial, spoke up, "Slow it down, Laydee Lit, we're here to teach a lesson, that's right, we are serious AF about this. I could cut anyone of you. And you deserve it!"

 

Someone in there broke into a sob, "My parents are rich, they're only making me go to this lameass school because they think it'll keep me from being a brat-"

A third distorted voice spoke up, "Well, that didn't work. Sit down, Bethany. I swear to god I'd punch through your face but your rich parents would probably just buy you a newer prettier one, and you don't deserve it. None of you deserve it!"

 

By this point, I had figured out a few things.

 

One, Ladyee Lit or whatever she called herself, had doubts about what they were doing. All three of the powered armored people had chosen this school as their target for personal reasons. The one who said she could cut them sounded the most likely to go off. And the third one? Oh, lots of anger there too. The first one was the one I might be able to reason with.  Despite having tasered someone. Just the choice to taser showed restraint in a weird way.

 

I considered sliding in baseball style but startling these guys could be dangerous. I needed to get them away from the hostages. Then I realized I had a way to steal a peek. There was someone's glitzy notebook dropped in the hallway, almost mirror like, and that reflective surface might be useful. Waiting for the voices to rise again, I gave it a light shove with my foot and managed to pin it at a useful angle to get a rough look inside the room without showing my face.

 

The middle figure had powered armor with claws, a whole cat motif, rather anime looking in my opinion, her eyes were huge. Somehow the pink touches to the armor did nothing to make those claws look any less dangerous. I didn't recognize the metal, but given the touches I'm not sure anyone short of a metallurgist could.

Another figure the one who I suspect had snarled 'They all deserved it' was wearing something with Greek inspired motifs. It was set up to look like Athena, I'd visited the replica in Nashville's Parthenon, and this was similar, the suit even had the Aegis symbol on the chest plate.

 

But it was the one with the static voiced one that really caught my attention. Laydee Lit's outfit was a dead ringer for Lady Obsidian's armor, but smaller, and with lightning designs over it. It was too different to be part of a frame up attempt.

 

This was a homage.

 

"My god," I said stepping out slow with my hands up, "she would weep to see this." I kept my eyes on Laydee Lit, "To see you, wearing that, scaring these people."

Laydee Lit stepped back as if I had slapped her. No electric field, no battle prep. She might have been ready for someone to come to the rescue, but she wasn't ready for this approach.

 

"It's the Fish Guy!" The woman in the cat armor blurted, her claws did extend, and she took on a hunched stance, ready to spring. I glanced at her feet spacing. They were too close together, western style. She might be a scrapper, but she wasn't a trained fighter. I was hardly a martial artist, but I could tell that much.

The Athena look alike worried me. She had stepped not towards me, but closer to the crowd of kids. I countered by walking slow to join them.

 

"I…" Laydee Lit said, "You don't know what they did, what they all did!"

 

"No, I don't," I admitted, "But I know Lady Obsidian wouldn’t handle it this way. I work with her. I respect her a lot."

 

"She captures villains and brings them to justice," Athena gave a distorted hiss closing on me, "We're teaching villains a lesson. It's the same."

"She takes villains to a trial and jail, and," I said adding a glance to the large crowd, "she doesn't threaten many for the deeds of just a few." I sure hoped I was right about some of these captured kids not being involved, "Are you taking them to the police? To jail? Going to let due process run its course?"

 

"Mabel," I hit the subharmonic in my com, "I need back up, and I need some data about incidents in the last year or so here at this high school. Sooner would be better than later. I hope you're hearing all this."

 

"On the ball, Tiger, and you've got back up on its way. Heck, the whole squad though some are slowed down."

 

Great, all I had to do was delay these girls, and I was sure it was girls in those sets of armor, from killing someone or hurting them so badly that they ruined a lot of lives, including their own.

 

"The police won't do anything, not for a group of rich b**ches whose daddies pay lawyers to hide their involvement. They killed her, they might as well put a knife to her throat!" Athena snapped.

 

"Her name was Florence," Laydee Lit said, "Florence Portly, and her life was hard enough with that last name and a weight condition! Then they started spreading other lies, making photo manipulation, and putting them up where others could see it. They said she had herpes, they said she was a freak! They left things in her locker, on her email, on her phone! We tried to tell her to shake it off, but she couldn't. And then, when she complained-"

"But her grandfather's a judge," the Cat girl pointed a claw at one girl in the crowd, "And her dad is a cop, " She pointed  at another "Everyone blew it off, said Flo was just 'troubled', sure, she was, and those three were the ones troubling her."

 

"I count a lot more than three in this class room," I reminded, "This the new math I've heard tell about?"

"They all stood by! They did nothing! They knew about it! And when we tried to warn them!" Athena slammed forward, and I blocked her looking her in the eyes, she stopped moving, but continued talking, "They did nothing. The cowards! They're guilty too!"

 

"If we'd said anything they would have screwed us over too!" A boy in the pile finally let slip, "After they planted drugs on Jeremy? Are you crazy!  We didn't know Flo was going to, none of us knew! And then she was dead, and what did it matter?"

 

"You can't threaten people for being weak," I told the three armored girls, "That's not going to make any of them stronger, it's just going to make you their new bullies. Don't you think they've had enough of that? Do you really think that's going to teach them anything they didn't know about themselves? They're ashamed, they're scared, and they failed to do the right thing. That doesn't mean they deserve to go from bully to bully each bully thinking they've got the better-"

Athena, who had been nearly nose to nose to me anyway, struck me hard, "Shut up!"  I don't know how old the girl in the suit was, but the tech of that suit hit me forced me to stagger to the side, and I don't stagger easily. I felt that!

 

"He's trying to trick us, he's trying to confuse us! And he's trying to spare Flow's murderers too! Admit it," She yelled at me in that distorted voice, "You're not going to let us take justice for Flo on the three who drove her to hang herself either, are you?"

 

"I'm not going to let you kill them, whatever you call it," I said, "Or even hurt them. I wish I knew more about talking to talk you out of this, but I'm trying to understand. Now you understand me, I will not let you turn yourselves into killers to avenge someone who cannot possibly be any less dead just because you avenged her. You'll have to kill me first."

"You can't stop us all, Queen Kat, kill Ashley! I'll handle fish guy!" And she charged me.

 

Queen Kat said, "On it, Inner Goddess!" Drew her claws and turned on the unconscious tasered girl.

 

Maybe that armor gave her strength and stamina comparable to mine, it sure felt like it, but I certainly had one edge. I knew how to fight. I grabbed  Inner Goddess or whatever her name is by the arm and threw her at Queen Kat before anyone could get gutted.

 

"Fine, if we both have to go through you," Inner Goddess (If that wasn't a sign all the good names are taken I don't know what is) declared, "We will! All together, we can take him."

"We're fighting a superhero" Laydee Lit! protested "That's crazy. It's- we were just supposed to scare them, not kill them!"

 

"In or out," Queen Kat told her as she slashed at me, "There's no middle ground anymore." Blood flowed from my side, and she came close to lancing a kidney. What was this metal made of? This didn't feel like the magic of the spear, it hurt, but I didn't feel that sense of violation I did from the spears empowered by the Eldest.

 

"Your call, Lit," I said, sweeping the legs out from under Queen Kat. She tumbled, I heard some servos whirl and click, the suit was adjusting for its user's lack of expertise and balancing. Internal gyros? Nice, "I'm siding with Lady Obsidian."

 

Inner Goddess hammered me down to one knee, I looked not at her but Laydee Lit, "Who are you siding with? Who do you feel is the hero now?" I wiped my lip.

There was a stream of lightning and Queen Kat's armor was now dancing with sparks as she went down from the electrical onslaught.

Inner Goddess' head whipped around, "Marcy? You back stabbing sell out" Before she could lunge, I put her in a full nelson.

"She's not a sellout, she's being very, very brave, and she's keeping you from becoming a monster. Trust me, sometime in your life, you're going to realize what she's done for you."

 

Inner Goddess shook back, and forth, she struggled, but she wasn't getting out of this. She didn't know how to apply the strength the suit gave her.

"This fight," I said, finally pressing my fingers at the base of the helmet and applying force, until I severed the link between the controlling apparatus in the helmet and the rest of the suit "is over."

 

Inner Goddess collapsed, the weight of her armor too much for her to lift.

 

Laydee Lit just stood there, and for a moment, I thought she would change her mind and fire at me anyway, but no, she was just staring at Queen Kat, still dealing with the fact that she had struck a friend, and more importantly, that it had been the right thing to do.

 

"We did everything wrong," She looked at her still flickering hands, "I did everything wrong. I'm sorry," She turned to face the students she had terrorized, the bad and weak alike.

Only to find they were all gone.  In their place was Lady Obsidian.

 

"Fish Guy we weren't beating you, you, you distracted us so she could save them all," Lit said, "Like a hero should."

"It's Eel, actually, but yes, and you? You did the hard thing, the right thing, and for just one moment, you were a hero too," I told her, "We bought Lady Obsidian time to get them all to safety."

 

"It's Marcy, it's just-" the girl took off her helmet revealing an African American girl who looked thirteen, fourteen tops, "My name is Marcy and I didn't know they were going to kill I-" her eyes welled up with tears as she moved closer to Lady Obsidian who tilted her head.

Then Marcy just sat down, she just sat right down there on the floor and began to cry. Lady Obsidian took her own helmet off, and sat down with the girl putting her arms about her.

"Sshhh shhh, it's okay, Marcy. I'm going to talk to the authorities, I can't promise you justice, but I can promise you will not face injustice alone," Dr. Vivian Vernon, veteran of a decades of superhero battles, took the girl who had been a villain for I suspected less than a half a day, and let her cry herself out.

"Mabel," I asked, "Please tell me you recorded all that? At least the audio I mean? And," I paused, "Did you scan the cellphones in the room?"

"Yes, and some of it is very interesting, I think these three 'villains' may have been onto something , I'm also scanning the tech on the suits by using Lady Obsidian's armor and, wait, the scans just flexed. Are any of you playing with the wiring or –"

Right before my eyes, the suits began to dissolve, going from solid, to metal that looked like mercury, and then straight to gas which smelled a bit like blood and ozone. I sure hoped none of this was toxic. "Mabel, looks like someone is protecting their patents," I glanced at Lady Obsidian for conformation.

Dr. Vernon was still holding Marcy close. The girl's armor was gone, leaving only the blue jeans and "COEXIST" shirt she had worn before.

My team leader answered with a nod and a soft, "Sure seems like Fumian work but let me focus on the more important thing here," And then went right back to whatever she saying to Marcy before I had interrupted.

 

I overheard some of it.

 

"Now the police will be coming here, we can't change that. Your family will be called, and you are going to have to answer a lot of questions and face some consequences for what your part in this. So, will your friends. Now, you are minors, so I'm thinking no names will be released officially, but it may get out unofficially. We'll do what we can to prevent that. I can also tell you that we will investigate what happened to Flo and try to get justice for her, real justice like it should have been the first time. I will get you a top notch defense attorney who is a friend of mine on your case. That won't mean you'll be off the hook but it does mean you'll have a better chance for leniency," Dr. Vernon's voice was soothing, calm, and had that element of dignity that I always wished I could master.

 

Marcy nodded a lot, muttered something about her father, and dried her eyes. At this stage, I got the feeling that as a 'guy' I was about as useful as a third wheel on a motorcycle, "You got it from here, Lady Obsidian?" I asked.

 

"Sure do, you go outside and join the others, Eel," my team leader nodded, "Good job."

 

"Good job yourself," I said with a smile, "I barely saw you slipping the others out of here in force bubbles. Sound muffling ones at that." And I started to leave.

 

"Wait," Marcy called out as I made my way towards the exit.

 

"Yes, Marcy?" I stopped after giving Dr. Vernon a curious glance. She gave me a reassuring nod, so I went on, "What is it?"

 

"I just wanted to say, 'Thank you' for stopping me from," A deep breath, "from becoming a murderer."

 

"You stopped yourself," I said, "I just reminded you of who you are," A glance to my team leader and then back to the teenager, "and maybe who you wanted to be. But, you're welcome."

 

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I liked this installment a lot.  I especially liked Eel talking Laydee Lit out of a life of crime, instead of just busting in and bashing heads.  A nice mix of tactical acumen and heroic personality displayed.  More and more, I could see Eel becoming a hero team leader in his own right.

 

Favorite comment:  "(If that wasn't a sign all the good names are taken I don't know what is)"

 

I have to admit, I was getting a little worried we were going to mainly be getting the Caleb Lambert Show, but this satisfied my need for a little more superhero action.  All in all, I think you're maintaining a fairly good balance.

 

Since these kids were presumably *not* of the "rich brat" type, I have to wonder what payment they made to the Fumians to get the tech.  I hope you put a little thought into that (though I suspect you have, given your past writings).  Also, since Marcy will most likely be forthcoming to Lady Obsidian, how three early teen girls got in contact with the aliens in the first place.

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1 hour ago, BoloOfEarth said:

I liked this installment a lot.  I especially liked Eel talking Laydee Lit out of a life of crime, instead of just busting in and bashing heads.  A nice mix of tactical acumen and heroic personality displayed.  More and more, I could see Eel becoming a hero team leader in his own right.

 

Favorite comment:  "(If that wasn't a sign all the good names are taken I don't know what is)"

 

I have to admit, I was getting a little worried we were going to mainly be getting the Caleb Lambert Show, but this satisfied my need for a little more superhero action.  All in all, I think you're maintaining a fairly good balance.

 

Since these kids were presumably *not* of the "rich brat" type, I have to wonder what payment they made to the Fumians to get the tech.  I hope you put a little thought into that (though I suspect you have, given your past writings).  Also, since Marcy will most likely be forthcoming to Lady Obsidian, how three early teen girls got in contact with the aliens in the first place.

 

Thank you. And yeah I actually had the same concern regarding too much Caleb and not enough Fish Guy. :) The Story has gotten out from under me more than once, and once I hit my 50000 there maybe some rewrites to a chapter or two  to bring a bit more super back into it and see if I can help the plot (I use the term loosely) flow a bit easier.

 

And the cost comes into play later, but again I worry about the rhythm of the reveal. But we're in ultra rough draft mode.

 

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