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Hermit

The Adventures of "Fish Guy" (Superhero fiction)

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Apology not accepted. I want my free Pogo-themed entertainment now, and am even willing to put up with talking to fish to get it. 

 

Okay, I notice a reaction, but no new installment. Hermit, Hermit. You seem like one of those guys who hasn't heard that you can sleep when you're dead. And the less you sleep whilst producing free Pogo-related entertainment, the sooner you'll die. So it all works out! 

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(resuming)


The rest of the meeting had been talks of scheduling, what base they'd be using in Port Cascade, and talk about budget management that threatened to make more than one set of eyes glaze over.


To my minor annoyance, the focus was definitely on the new city, and not nearly enough detail (for my liking) on what things would be like here once Ariana and I were left riding herd on this crew.  Ariana nodded a lot, but sometimes we exchanged worried looks as the others were talking away. She had said this could be exciting, but now she was thinking of the downside.


The phrase "two days" came up, and I felt a clock in my head switch on. Forty Eight hours of team and then suddenly half of the New Samaritans would be out of reach- just like that. It was a bit overwhelming to think of. When I first came here, I wasn't exactly a rookie, but I was definitely the newbie.  I'd gotten a crash course in teamwork, tactics, and crime fighting that started when I got off that bus and hadn't really stopped. 


I'd been lectured to, chewed out, and supported in ways I couldn't possibly grasp. If I was honest with myself, I probably deserved the chewing out and lectures, and I was very grateful for the support. But through all of this, I did not recall learning how to teach.

Even when I got teamed up with Pogo, my advice was more in the vein of the tactical and practical. Choose your target carefully, don't taunt the mind controller unless you wanted to be singing 'I'm a little tea pot' for the next ten minutes, that sort of thing. I hadn't really said 'this is how you can use those powers more efficiently'. At least, I didn't think I had. 

And my own power-set was not complex. I breathed water, swam fast,  I was able to withstand a lot of pressure of all sorts, and I hit things really, really, hard. Honestly the water breathing was the rarest thing about my powers. Without that, I wouldn't be the fish guy, I'd be the guy guy. Okay, maybe mighty guy, but every team out there with more than four people has one of those.

 

What if someone had some super weird power I could totally not relate to? I mean, Valerosa was right there by my side, but if someone walked up and said "Hi, I'm Captain Quantum" we both would be sunk. I'm getting a degree in engineering, I don't do that advanced physics on a cosmic level stuff.

As the meeting went on about what they'd be doing in Port Cascade, I guess my concern must have shown on my face increasingly because even as I tuned out some stuff that I probably should at least have listened to despite not going myself. I only really refocused when I heard my name.

"And increasingly in the online polls we've sent out, most believe Eel should take on the new superhero name Floaty McFloatpants," Lady Obsidian said to the others who were nodding in apparent agreement.

 

"I'm sorry what?" I choked! They didn't really ask for advice on the internet did they? In my experience, that was often like putting a l sign that says 'here's at least 15 minutes entertainment you can have at a fellow human being's expense' on your forehead and hoping for likes.

There were chuckles. Not from me, of course.

 

"Now you refocus," Lady Obsidian looked at the others, "I think that's enough for now, folks. Go rest up or get your luggage ready or whatever."

 

The others nodded and got to it, but she wasn't done as she looked at me and said "You two," A nod to my density shifting girlfriend and myself, "Walk with me."

 

We moved away from the meeting area, Ariana on Lady Obsidian's left side, I took the right. 

"Ask your questions, voice your concerns, because you both kept acting like when I said 'co-captains' you had stepped into something very warm, soft, and with a distinctive scent."

I could have made a joke about Slime there, but that would be species-ist so, I let my better angels win. Besides, he's not that warm.

 

It was  Valorasa who spoke up first actually, and in a bit of a rush that made me realize she was right there with me in concerns, "Look, I've been learning how to fight, and how to do the legwork of a superhero since I was a kid-"

"Last Wednesday right?" Lady Obsidian said dryly. My, but she was in a quippy mood.

 

My favorite snuggler in spandex ignore that and went on, "But teaching isn't something I'm used to?"


"Nonsense, you've given plenty of advice to team mates, and even shown a few ropes to Pogo," Lady Obsidian reminded, "Your uncle maybe a bit older than you, but there are times I'm pretty sure you're the more mature one" she pondered "Barring a few areas anyway."
"Thanks, I-," Ariana let that process, "Wait, in what way is he more mature than-"


This was clearly not the hour for completed sentences if the boss didn't think they were germane to the subject, "Not the point. The point is that I'm sure you both have the stuff needed to teach the trainees together."

 

"Maybe she is, but barring a few tactics, I don't know if I've got the knack, let alone the patience, for teaching folks how to be a superhero, how to use powers, some of which are totally different from mine," I voiced my concern, "I mean, if I run into some 'Captain Quantum'-"

"Ooo, good name," Lady O said, "Kind of old school, new science."

 

"Glad you like," I said and resumed, "With reality alteration powers or something, I am not going to be able to relate."

 

"You mean like an older Africian- American woman with more PHDs than a can of Alphabet soup and a young white guy from from the Carolina country side can't relate?"

 

"North Carolina," I clarified.

 

"What's it matter?" Dr. Vivian asked.

 

"Oh, it matters," I said, "It matters," then a I realized, "You're baiting me. I don't know if you're taking our concerns seriously."

 

"I agree with Caleb," Ariana said, then she qualified, "About the teaching concerns, not as much about the differences between one Carolina and the other."

 

I shot my girlfriend a hurt look. Where was the support?

 

"If you two had no concerns, THAT I would take seriously," Lady Obsidian said, "But you do, so I don't."

 

"uh," I said intelligently, then rallying went "But what about patience?"

 

"You know how you build up patience?" Our mentor and team leader asked.

 

"How?" Ariana questioned.

 

"The same way you lose it," Lady Obsidian answered, "By having it tested."

 

Valerosa and I exchanged frustrated looks behind Lady Obsidian's back for a moment.

 

"Are two sulking where you think I can't see?" Lady Obsidian said.

 

"No," I said.
"Definitely not," Ariana said, then added, "We're honored by the trust you're placing in us."

 

"That's the ticket," She said, "Come on, I'll show you their files and give you my two cents on each trainee, but you're going to be fine as Co-Captains."

"You've taught college courses and superhero teams alike," I said, "Sure you have some sort of code or system or words to live by?"

"Fine," She said, "Words to live by if you want to teach supers:  Be Patient, Be Understanding but firm, and moderate your wine intake near the tub."

"I don't drink wine," I said, perhaps missing a point.

"You will," Lady Obsidian said, "Being a teacher means you're finally going to have a reason to."

"This is so very not reassuring," Ariana muttered.
Yet again, my girlfriend and I were in agreement, but at least we were about to get a look at at the trainee files.
I hoped none of them were mystics. I had a friend who was a mystic, but over all? They gave me the creeps.
 

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Hmmm, Caleb doesn't strike me as the wine sort.

 

Maybe he should experiment with beer.  It's probably closer to his budget -- but herding supers, he might be better off going straight to Scotch...

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16 minutes ago, Tom said:

Hmmm, Caleb doesn't strike me as the wine sort.

 

Maybe he should experiment with beer.  It's probably closer to his budget -- but herding supers, he might be better off going straight to Scotch...

 

Given the various team leader types you've played in game, I trust to your discretion :)

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(A bit more)


We went to that section of the base that definitely did not seem so high tech, there was a plain oak desk that no one was supposed to look through 'upon penalty of pain'. As far as I knew, no one had ever called Lady Obsidian's bluff on that one, not even Tornado who could be a bit nosy by nature. She reached into one drawer, opened it, and drew out a manila folder, then handed it to Ariana with a nod to me to join in share it with her.

 

"Wow, the technology you super-geniuses use never cease to amaze me," Ariana said as she ran her hands over the folder and spread it open.

 

"Just think of it as a zip file full of PDFs that's hack-proof from cyber attacks," Doctor Vernon said, "And spare me the sauce, young lady. I thought you, at least, would be excited by this."

 

"I am," She said, "Was, am," She blushed in response, "I just well, I think I'll feel better when I know who we're working with."

 

"This will tell you facts about them, it won't tell you who they are. No file can really do that," Lady Obsidian said, "You should see the files I have on you two. Surprisingly unhelpful at times."

 

"Wait, you have a file on us?" I asked, "In this desk, just, hard copy ready for anyone to steal?"

 

"This place doesn't get raided by outside forces," She started to say.


Both Ariana and I gave her a look.

 

"Often," Lady Obsidian finished, "And they always go for the hard drive. Besides, it's chemically treated with some fail safes that will make stealing it tricky."

 

"Chemically treated? Should I be glad I'm wearing gloves?" Valerosa asked.

 

"Relax, the ink just starts to fade without the proper elements in the air, i mix a chemical compound into our ventilation that's not quite the same composition as the air outside," Lady Obsidian explained, "The ink is set to break apart in it's absence. Nice little security option, mmm?"

 

"Wait, you're messing with our air supply?" I looked at her alarmed.


"Yeah, about that?" Valerosa added.

 

"Relax," the super scientist said again, "You two are hardly in danger of being all out of love or so lost." A chuckle.
I didn't get it.


I shot a confused look at Ariana.


She looked confused right back and shrugged.

 

Our leader noticed this, "'I'm All Out of Love, Air Supply? Very White Australian band, 1980? Sweet little ballad?"

 

"Oh," I said, "1980," And nodded slowly, "A 'classic' then, ah... never heard of it."

 

"I'm not really up on golden oldies," Ariana explained.

 

Lady Obsidian huffed, "Young people annoy me so much some days. Fine, Let's get back to the files." Then she muttered a bit more about our generation.

 

Ariana's chocolate eyes met mine and hers were dancing. I had to admit, that was fun. Wrong, but fun.

 

But our attention turned to the files and we flipped the folder. Each file had a picture of the individual in their costume, then the list of Codename, summary of powers, notations on their background and history, and then a sort of layman psychological profile. I couldn't help but wonder for a moment what my file looked like?

 

I put the vanity and insecurity into a tight little ball and buried it where it would surely arise as a full blown psychological condition later, like any guy does and focused on reading the list.

 

The first image was a guy a bit on the scrawny side, by superhero standards. To be fair, there are some athletes that are on the scrawny side by superhero standards. He had cape and cowl combo which worked nicely, but as for masks, instead of covering his eyes, he had a sort of lower mask covering his mouth and jawline. His colors were dark purple and stark white, more of the former than the latter though. 

 

I read the notes over my girlfriend's shoulder, "Aspirant, interesting name, oh no," I groaned, "his power is telepathy? That's almost as creepy as a mystic."

 

"One of your best friends is a mystic," Ariana reminded me.

 

"Yeah but I knew Mayo before he got into the heebie jeebie stuff," I countered, "And telepathy? I don't know, this kid doesn't have defenses, he'll be killed. Really, Doctor,  you decided he needed a enhancement device so he could read more minds?"

 

Lady Obsidian said "Actually I gave him the enhancer so he could turn it off. You see, while it was short range, for a time he couldn't stop picking up thoughts. The enhancer has given him the ability to wall it off, to coordinate. This poor guy has had a hard life, he couldn't be near people without drowning in their thoughts, at first folks thought he was going crazy and tried to have him committed, and he stumbled onto a murder plot which he foiled and nearly died for. Now? With the ability to wall it off, he still wants to help. That's hero material."

 

"Well," I said, "I feel petty," I admitted. Actually, now I was feeling a great deal of sympathy, "Poor guy. Anything else crappy in his life?"

 

"Well, he's from Nova Scotia, Canada," Lady Obsidian said, "So you know some folk are going to tease him there."

 

Ariana winced, "Yeah, could be worse though. Could be from one of those interchangeable Carolinas"

 

I looked at my girlfriend, letting some of the hurt show, "Did I forget an important date or something?"


 
Ariana chuckled, "I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. Now who is next," She flipped to the next file. As it was in her hands, I was going to be moving at her speed of read.


"Hussar," I read the next, now this guy was broad shouldered, and out of those shoulders was a pair of wings of white and gold that matched the blond hair on his head. His costume had a kind of cosplay armor look, that is the sort of gear that looks impressive but isn't really chain mail? "Were his wings tinier before the enhancer?" I dared.

"Oh no, Hussar came into this world full powered more or less, he's the clone of Angel Man," she said.

 

I might have been merely an eager layman in history, but the hero stuff I had down pretty well, "Angel Man has been dead for fifty years."

"Brave new world," Lady Obsidian said, "Like Angel Man, he's superstrong, tough and flies... the flying could be useful and the rest well, both of you can teach that. He wasn't prematurely aged or anything, he's had the powers all his life, but was raised in a farm in the midwest but he's got something to prove."

"At least we're not talking about a three year old in an adult body or anything," Ariana said with relief, then "We can work with this." Her confidence was returning, and I resolved to try not to rain on her parade.

 

Me? I was glad to have someone with innate abilities he'd been used to for while.

 

The next one was a woman, who had skin that appeared to be made of bark, or maybe bark over her skin? Some of it prickly here and there, not quite even.  The overall effect made her look like a fantasy cover. From this it was hard to tell her age. There were a few petals bursting out over her left ear and I think some blackberries.


"She's human right?" I asked as I looked at the figure, "Not that we have a human only policy."


"Bramble's human, that's her battle form I guess," Lady Obsidian said, "Her powers are hard to define, Botanokinesis? She can sense plant life, and alter it in some amazing ways. Underneath that bark is a teenage girl with amazing potential. Before the enhancer, her powers were pretty weak, so this is really new to her."
"Noted," Ariana says, "Any of them have any hand to hand training?"


"Not that I know of," Lady Obsidian confessed.


"What?" Ariana scowled, "They've had powers all their lives, wanted to be superheroes for years, and they did no prep?"


"Well, I don't know about no prep," The professor said, "Some of them never thought they'd be big, they helped in small ways. Now they have a chance for the majors."
Valerosa rolled her eyes, "Wishing never got anyone anywhere. I'm going to have to build them up from the ground up."


"We still have one other," I reminded her, a bit startled at her heat.  Arianna was a sweet sympathetic person, it was one of the things I loved about her. Yet here, she was showing an almost disdain for those who just waited for the enhancers.


Lady Obsidian said, "I remind you, I picked these people. I'm not saying their perfect, but inside them, they have the stuff. How you get them to bring it out, that's between you two. Also, might as well take a look at the last one, and no she never studied karate."


The last girl was on fire. I don't mean she was attractive, though she was; sometimes in the superhero business, metaphors get lost fast. I mean her hair either was fire, or was burning enough you couldn't really see it and there were flickers of flame all over her body and costume. I wondered if she appreciated a good pun making 'hot pants' part of her costume.


Ariana glanced over this last file, "Super-speed and fire powers? That's an interesting combination."


"Probably why she's going by the handle Trailblazer," Lady Obsidian chuckled, "I agree some basic hand to hand is good, but in her case I want you to work on her accuracy. Flame throwing is the power that makes your average citizen shudder, and for good reason."


"Not just the citizens," I muttered. Fire is not my friend.  I mean, I'm not a neanderthal, I don't consider it an angry god. But it dries me out fast and my super durably becomes 'pretty nice' durability bordering on meh. If not for my regeneration abilities in a good soak later, I'd probably look like a burn ward victim.
Lady Obsidian looked at us,"Look over the files, but remember patience, and get to know them. Superheroes aren't just a listing of powers, skills, and abilities, and we each come with our own hang ups and psychological..."


    "Disadvantages?" Ariana finished glancing at the profiles.


    "I was going to say complications," I looked over the sheets.


    "Baggage, I was going to say baggage," Lady Obsidian said, "At the end of the day,  every person who is a superhero has their own insecurities and their own character flaws. It's what keeps us human."
    I looked at her and smiled, "Even you?"


    Our team leader shook her head, "Young sir, I have a bag full of cats in my brain too, they aren't that much more well behaved than yours. They're just tired and need a nap more often."


    Ariana smiled lightly at that, "Thanks for the files, Caleb and I will go study," then to emphasis her point, she kissed my cheek, "Ready to do homework and talk on this?"


    "Sure am," I smiled at her. I recognized the gesture. She was reminding me duty came before pleasure, but letting me know she also wished it weren't so, "I have to say, I actually like the code names."


    "You sound almost disappointed," Ariana raised a brow as she walked with me.


    "Well, with all the flack I catch for Eel,"  I said, "A little."


    "You can still change that superhero name, you know?" She reminded.


    "No," I said then added, "Besides, do you know what a nightmare it is to change the merch?"


    Ariana chuckled and we went to study. Sadly, JUST study.
 

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By the next day, the departing Samaritans had loaded up and prepped to go to Port Cascade, but I have to say it was nice that some of them took time to take to hang out with me. In fact, they all had something to say.

 

"Relax, you got this," Arctic Fox said, "Much as I had to admit it, your instincts are usually good. You saw through my ex," She made a face.

"Well, that might have been because he was hoping to get ride of me personally to create a spot on the team," I admitted.

 

"So was I," Fox said, "Look, you're a good guy. Annoying, but good. But the fact you and Lady Obsidian have caught the same things at the same time more than once is probably how she knows you've got the stuff. You have similarities where it counts, and enough difference that you're not some mini-she."

 

"Thanks," I said with a smile.

 

"Besides, Ariana will probably do the bulk of the work," She said.

 

"Hey? Lady Obsidian said 'co captains'," I reminded. "I'll do my share."

 

"Yes, but you and I weren't partials, we weren't always stuck at 'good enough to be a side show but not a superhero'," Arctic Fox said casually, almost callously.

 

"Ariana is a hero," I said, "She was taking risks even before-"

 

"Peace, Lover-boy," She held up a hand, "She was a friend of mine before she was your girlfriend. Of course she was a hero, but it's the super part I'm talking about. She was minor league, not because of a character flaw, but because she just didn't have the power level. But watch out, for once a government super soldier program kind of sort of didn't lead to doom, our leader improved it, and suddenly there's a way over that wall. Partials can hang with us. The one percent is now the five percent, and while none of us really think much of it, Ariana is leading that wave. She's the one who has been there in the minors, made it to the majors. She earned her spot, but she still had to work for it. You mark my words, she's going to be the hard ass, not you. "

 

"Right," I chuckled. My girlfriend was one of the most understanding, sweetest woman I'd ever met, playful sure, and brave and bad-ass, but R.Lee Emery she was not.

 

"Fine, don't believe me," Arctic Fox said with a shrug.

 

"This old foes of yours?" I said changing the subject, or trying to, "The three you said old dance partners, one of them you gave a pretty hard look at. Personal business?"

 

"Meaning you're hoping it's not so you can nose in?" She arched a brow.

 

"Yeah," I confessed.

 

"Ice Queen, not only is her name too on the nose for my liking, we're so evenly matched it can lead to some long frustrating drawn out battles. She's like evil opposite with the same shtick."

 

"She's evil but modest, open, and  non-judgmental?" I said in a surprised tone.

 

"Why Ariana likes you I am still not sure, but perhaps she just decided to bite a bullet to save the rest of womankind," Her eyes narrowed.

At least three responses came to mind, on a bit dirty, one a bit smug, and another probably not as clever as I thought it was. However, as I had already thrown myself into a hole here, socially speaking, I took the fourth option and gave a 'who knows?' shrug.

Now, Valentino giving me advice was a sure thing. He'd been the first of the team to actually befriend me, and while my dating his niece had cause some protective hackles on his part to rise, they'd smoothed over pretty quickly. To my surprise, the nature of his counsel had very little to do with Ariana. 

 

****

"You've got to get them to know the city, man," he said as we walked plains clothes through a food market of sorts, a bazaar might be a better word. With Mabel detatched, he'd volunteered for some shopping, "you need to give them an appreciation for the cultures, have them spread their patrols through the neighborhoods, meet and greet folks, get to know our fellow citizens."

 

There was a pause as he motioned to a bag of oranges and spoke in Spanish too rapid for me to follow with an older man regarding price. The haggling that followed  seemed to have the older man accusing Tino of being some kind of highwayman robbing from him, and Tino rattling off that if he wanted to be ripped off he could go to a grocery store. It was all very dramatic sounding. 

 

I wanted to cut in and tell Tino to just pay the asked for price so we could move on, but I admit I was too tickled. I'd seen Tornado bantering with supervillains with less intensity back and forth than this. Valentino gestured and make some comment about one of the oranges being oddly shaped, the gent selling it countered something about flavor and I think texture? 

 

I really do know Spanish now, but as fast as they were flying (Figuratively, not literally) I wouldn't just need subtitles, I'd need to slow down the speed of play on this particular bit.

 

Finally, it seemed Tino found a price he could abide. The transaction was made and with bag of fruit in hand, we went on.

Once I was sure no one could overhear I had to say it, "Is the world safe for reasonable rates on food produce once more, or will the dark shadow of its threat rise again should we neglect vigilance?"

 

"Macho talk from a guy who once needed help fighting poultry," He shot back good-naturedly, neglecting the part where said chicken was fifty foot tall and superpowered! Before I could think of a clever rejoinder (Hey, a minute or two and I could have come up with something) he said, "But seriously, Caleb, you need to get them in touch with the people."

 

"Tino," I said, "They're not staying in  Costa Sagrado beyond maybe a month. It's train em, then then wish them well."

 

"Don't be so sure, besides, this is an important lesson period, it's not about the city, it's about appreciating where you are and who you're fighting for. You know how it is for some supers, they live in some secret base on the moon, or at the South Pole, and have enough resources to avoid the Nine to Five rat race that swallows most folks up.  For some of those lucky bastards, it becomes all about the next fight, the next villain.  Some superheroes get so caught up in 'the struggle of good versus evil', 'us against them', 'white cape dukes it out with black mask' and so on, that they neglect being a part of who they're fighting for," Tino said, "You need to drive home to these rookies that it's not a villain hero only world."

 

"I'm pretty sure any superhero wants to protect the innocents," I raised a brow, "I mean, it's one of the reasons I'm a superhero and not an act at Sea World."

 

He smiled at that, but then shook his head, "It's not enough, man. Look, Lady Obsidian likes us to have places to live outside the base. She told you why, right?"

 

A light dawned, "Right, so we could remember we're part of the population, not above them."

 

"Exactly," He said, "Same thing. You need to get the rookies to appreciate the breadth of humanity, and hold onto it. Too many folks with power, even outside of superheroes, assume that their position as guardian excuses them acting like jackasses, or bullies. There is a danger in being so focused on protecting your fellow humans that you forget you are one."

 

As if to empahasise his last point, he spread out his free hand to the crowds in the distance, "They need to be able to relate to all this, wherever they go, not to be better crime fighters, but so they'll be better people."


It was not entirely new advice, but it was damn good advice, and timely, "Thanks, TIno," Then I thought of something, "You ever see some hero forget this lesson personally?"

 

A frown crossed his features, and he seemed ,troubled, "Angels fall, Sheep Dogs can turn on the flock, and the path from zealous do-gooder to delusional villain is not a hard one to find if your'e not looking where you're going." 

 

That was a bit more poetic an answer than I was used to, and I was tempted to ask for details if details there were, but by that time? He was already haggling for avocados..

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Of course ,superheroing being what it is, at least one bit of advice was sprinkled liberally during a fight. Superheroes, and heck, supervillains, can be a talkative bunch. Banter is part and parcel of the exchange. There were strong silent types to be sure, but try as I might, I never ascended to those stoic ranks.

 

My grandpappy had once advised that it was better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt. Good advice.

Wish I could bring myself to follow it.

 

"Can you believe this guy?" I asked on the com as I traded blows with XTC. The villain hadn't taken his name based on some drug craze, the initials actually stood for 'Extreme Terror and Carnage', "And when we met, you thought Eel was a bad name."

 

Viewpoint and I were not friends actually, though I liked who he had become, I just hadn't put in the time to really befriend him like I did the original team. That said, it had occurred to me that if I was going to be a co-captain for him and the others, I might want to start being a bit more social with him; so when a standard patrol came up for Viewpoint, I went with him.

 

As big a dry spell we'd had recently, neither of us was expecting an actual supervillain, not even one with dubious taste in code names.

"Still not crazy about it, Eel," Viewpoint lowered his shades needlessly to blast the villain with beams of pure energy, "But yeah, XTC does smack of trying way too hard. Though I give the guy credit for one thing. He does not want to stay down."

 

XTC was strong, not as strong as me, but strong, fairly tough. His real power seemed to be hyper-recuperation. No sooner did you think you had him on the ropes, when the guy would spring up ready to go again. I had punched him a distance of at least twenty feet three times now and each time he got up like some weird Scrappy-Doo with the body of a Pro Wrestler throw away to come up again.

Viewpoint's powers were proving about as effective as my muscle. Which is to say, quite handy to knocking him down, frustrating for keeping him down. 

 

"Yeah, this is getting farcical," I said, "Mind Shearing this George?" George was not Viewpoint's name, and in fact, had I said that loud enough to be heard, it wouldn't have betrayed much of anything. A lot of Lady Obsidian's battle commands were based on famous Jazz Musicians. Okay, famous in jazz circles. I had to look some of these guys up, but in a nutshell George Shears was a blind jazz pianist of English birth. The code ward was a clue to neutralize your foe's senses, if you could.

Viewpoint? Viewpoint could!

 

"On it," And he motioned XTC towards him in the universal gesture of 'come get some'. XTC needed no prompting!

"You think I'm a joke? You will respect me!" And he charged towards Viewpoint. 

 

If it seemed like we were taking XTC lightly and that he might have a right to protest, well, not really. I learned long ago that even rookie villains could get lucky, pulling stunts not in their best interest where a pro would  show a bit more savvy.  Viewpoint was taking a chance here, and unlike myself, he was not blessed with enhanced durability against physical trauma. This didn't go right, XTC could get a lucky slam into him and cave in a rib at the very least.

 

Once again, Viewpoint's eyes flared, this time with an immense brightness I knew better than to look into myself. XTC didn't realize he should take similar precautions, and he clutched at his face!

 

"Mother @#$#er, I'm blind!" He snarled.

 

See, this is how I knew XTC wasn't a professional villain. Not the cursing, that varies a lot. It was the announcing his new vulnerability for both of us to hear. I mean, I knew that was the case anyway, that was the plan after all, but calling your weaknesses out is a very rookie move.

The blinding only caused XTC to veer a little off course, but with his arms out stretched like that he still might clip Viewpoint with all the power of a runaway pickcup truck. Fortunately, I wasn't slacking on my side of the job.

 

I had already started moving towards him even as the blast went off, and interposing myself between XTC and Viewpoint, I tackled the former to the ground. Not only am I stronger, XTC had no proper balance when I collided into him. He went down like a sack of wet cement from a hard drop! 

 

"Cheating son of a -" He grunted as I put him in a full nelson and pinned his unseeing face into the street. 


"Careful now," I warned as I held him, "You really want to insult the mother of the man who's got you in this kind of grip?" 

 

Not really caring what his answer was, I said to Viewpoint "We got an ETA on when the Authorities with the suppressors will be here?"

Viewpoint looked at me startled, "You didn't call it in?"


"No," I said surprised, "I figured it would be a given with-" And I realized my mistake. Mabel wasn't on the Com. She was not the omnipresent, ever reliant and always on the clock A.I. anymore. She was now sporting a new body and plugged into our coms when she wanted to be. In short, she had a life.


"Damn," I muttered, "Sorry, Viewpoint."

 

"Don't apologize to me, feel sorry for yourself. It can take up to an hour for folks to get here with the right gear and ah, I ain't holding him, you are," Viewpoint pointed out.

 

I made a face, "Well, sloppy of me. Talk about rookie moves." Even as I made the call.

 

"It's not a rookie move at all," Viewpoint corrected me, "It's habit, and that's a sign of established patterns. It's your experience actually working against you."

 

"Yeah," I said pondering exactly how long I could hold onto XTC. I was stronger, but given this guy's near inexhaustible stamina, I could be feeling a bit tired before the authorities showed. Then again, I once held up a building long enough to evacuate, so I'd probably be okay, "I suppose you have a point." I grunted.

 

Mind you, despite being so close to XTC, at most he was hearing a mumble. Our com systems had a sub harmonic thing going for security reasons.

 

Viewpoint re-positioned himself, getting a clear shot to blast the contained villain without hitting me if he need to, and continued, "You mind if I give you my viewpoint?" A weak smile. His play on his own hero name had been used in numerous commercials. He'd cut down on it when he became a legit hero, but the fact he used it now was kind of guy code for guiding me into something more serious. A little self depreciation as a way to soften what might be hard words.

 

I spocked a brow at him, "Go ahead."

 

"You're gonna have to change things up," He advised me, "You've got a new team forming under you, not just Slime, Pogo and me either."

"I know that," I started to say, when abruptly XTC tried to flip me off! No, not a rude gesture, he bucked trying to break my grip on him hoping I got distracted.

 

I made some cracks in the granite by whamming his head against it delicately, "Stop that," I told him out loud, "or I'm going to get annoyed."

XTC groaned, then cursed, but he held still.

 

"I know that," I repeated to Viewpoint wondering where he was going with this, "I hope to guide the rookies in easy."

"Different people, different team," Viewpoint continued, "You're not Lady Obsidian."

"Gee, thanks," I said feeling oddly challenged by the obvious statement.

 

"You try to be her, you're going to flop. More importantly, these rookies aren't the crew you're used to. It's not just the whole social dynamic that's different, it's the components that make up the whole."

 

Pretty fancy talk from a guy who used to sell burgers on TV, I thought, but I told him, "I've already gotten the every hero has their own baggage talk from Lady O."

 

He nodded, then shook his head, the later catching me off guard, "Good, but not exactly what I mean. I'm talking about your baggage and their baggage all having to share the same cargo space. You've got your character flaws, and you need to own up to yourself about them so you can compensate for their flaws that will hit those buttons. This is going make the team different, make requirements different, and I dont' mean powerwise."

 

"You know, Viewpoint, given your own past history, I'm not sure you get to judge people," I said a bit testy. I had felt unsure about teaching as it was, and this wasn't helping my concerns.


Without lifting his arms, he held up hands in a no harm no foul intended motion, "Trust me, I get the hypocrisy involved here. You got the mote, I got the beam," he said using biblical terminology which surprised me. I guess I never thought of him as religious, and maybe he wasn't, but clearly he knew enough to borrow the metaphors, "But right now, I'm responsible for me, and whatever team mate I'm with at the time, you're going to be leading and teaching 24/7 more or less, or at least on call for the same. Higher stakes, higher standards. And also, you got to consider the ego conflict of being an echo."

 

I blinked, that last part had totally thrown me, "The ego conflict of being an echo?"

 

"Sorry, went through a period of a lot of self help books," He chuckled, "You know celebrities, we go through fad enlightenment like most people go through diet plans. What I'm trying to say is-" His eyes darted to the once again squirming XTC "Pardon, mind if I chip in?"

 

"Gonna tear you apart!" XTC tried to lunge.

 

"Oh go ahead," I said, "I'm feeling a bit conflicted about slamming this moron while he's 'technically' helpless. It sends a wrong message to any kids watching."

 

Viewpoint's energy gaze hit with amazing accuracy avoiding my arms and catching XTC with a strike that dazed him. 

"Thanks," I took the brief moment to reposition, hoping that the guys would get here soon, "You were saying?"

 

"What I'm trying to say," He resumed, "is that you do well to take what you learned and observed from Lady O about being a teacher and a leader, but if you try to be her, you'll just be an echo at best, and that's gonna eat away at your ego. And like wise, if you  exepct these kids to be Pinprick, Tornado, and Arctic Fox next gen? They won't compare even when they don't screw up. They'll just be echos."

"Don't you think they should be so lucky to be half as good as some of the others that we know?" I said, kind of sticking up for my friends, but trying to keep an open mind
.
"Young bloods don't settle for that, and when they do, it can turn into a lot of self loathing fast. That's a lot of maturity to ask of anyone. When I was a kid? You think I didn't want to be the good guy? Like Mr. Mega or Tour D. Force? You don't want what happened to me happen to these rookies."

 

"You" I said cautiously, "You're a good man now, and a good superhero."

 

"yeah, but before that I deliberately confused selfishness with wisdom and cynicism with insight, largely because I grew to resent trying and failing to emulate the greats so I just told myself they were fools and I was a fresh and happening new type of hero being a rebel."

I was curious, it's hard to feel attacked when you realize someone is at least as hard on themselves as you, "Why do you think that was?"

"Because, after a time of trying to climb on the top of the pedestal to join the idol you put up there, time and time again, slipping, falling, then trying and failing again to reach it," Viewpoint looked thoughtful, "After a time you just want to knock it over instead. It's small, it's petty, but it's human."

 

It was good advice, and I get why he was saying it. Not to but in on my or Ariana's soon to be authority, but because he wanted to spare those kids the same mistakes he had fallen into. And maybe spare me as well. But the reminder I would have my own baggage, while not his emphasis, was also valued.

 

"What do you think my flaws are?" And I slipped, asking out loud feeling oddly introspective for a moment.


"You're a candy ass suck up to the authority of the status quo!" XTC managed to arch a leg up to kick me in the back, dislodging me enough to turn my full nelson into a half nelson. Half was enough for me to hang on as he tried to rise.

 

Rather than settling for reestablishing a full grip, I took my free left hand and hammered the soon to be uglier side of XTC's profile with several rapid fire punches, "SHUT THE THE HELL UP!" I said , a punch with each syllable "AND STAY THE HELL DOWN OR I WILL BEAT THE LIVING #$#$# OUT OF YOU AND SEE IF YOU REGENERATE TEETH!"

 

Finally, XTC went limp with a groan.

 

"Well, for one thing," Viewpoint observed, staring at the bruised villain in my grip, "When pushed too far for too long you have an angry mean streak."

 

I had to raise a brow, "What makes you think that?"

 

But the authorities finally arrived, and  I guess Viewpoint didn't think he had time to answer.

 

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It was all planned and arranged; we had a big farewell party raring to go for those of the New Samaritans that were going to depart to Port Cascade. A huge ass cake shaped like that city's skyline had been made, big enough that everyone would get at least one piece, and the various beverages were chilled. Decorations were slapped up.

 

In less than an hour, it was going to be quite a party. 

 

"Looks good, Mabel," I said, for Mabel had done most of the work. Her database might have been put in a shapely single unit instead of the base itself, but she still had plenty of recipes in her head.It was taking her time to adjust to doing things with her new hands, rather than waldos and other extensions of the headquarters. Every once in a while I caught her cheating, remotely using a waldo as a third (or fourth, or fifth arm) but she gave a warning look daring me to say anything about it, so I didn't.

First of all, because I'm a Southern Gentleman and I show respect to women in my life. Secondly? She was one of the few people in the city who had a chance of putting me through a wall, literally! And she might even feel guilty about it, after all, an hour in the tub and I'd recover from it fine, right?

For all the admiration her form inspired, upon reflection I had to give serious respect to the work done on Mabel's face, and it's capacity for expressions. Her lips, eyes, and even nose gave those tell tale expressions that were as much a part of human communication as words. And never having had a face before, she was betraying her mood more than she knew.

 

She was nervous, possibly scared. But about what?

 

Well, I couldn't claim to relate to having a brand new body, but I could relate to some other things. Maybe it would help.

 

"It's okay to be nervous about a big move, you know," I said, " I was, when I came here. Well, I was also excited, but, you know, despite the fact North Carolina actually does have cities and I get snippy about the 'hayseed' jokes,  Costa Sagrado was still a whole new world for me. I had hopes and dreams about this city and showing folks here what I could contribute, but that made the worries about falling on my face all the more tense. When you're a hero, people rely on you. But you've got what I did, support from a great team, and they are going to help you out and cheer you on, Mabel. You'll be great."

She looked startled, as if wondering where I got telepathic powers from, then gave as close to a blush as possible given her surface tone didn't change color, "I swear I will get the hang of having a face instead of just a display image and a voice. Gave myself away, huh?"

"Enough clues that I felt comfortable guessing," I admitted, "Nothing to be ashamed of. You've always been a part of the team, you know? You even saved my ass more than once by remote piloting."

 

"But there's nothing remote about it now," Brazen nodded, miming taking a breath, "I'm putting this beautiful body into the thick of it, and it's all me, baby. That is a bit intimidating. I would be lying to say I wasn't scared, both of screwing up, and by experiencing real pain. Maybe I'm a wimp and don't know it?"

 

"Ffftt," I scoffed, "You've faced dangers before, intruders that would have tried to dismantle you, threats to the city that you were in, and more. I've got faith in you. Besides, you want this. Like I did. I think that drive is stronger than your fear."

"You know," She said with a fond look, "You're not bad at pep talks. Might serve you well in this co-Captain thing."

"Thanks," I said, flattered, "I hope so."

"And I really think it was nice how you shared your own feelings about coming here. I can just imagine you, coming to  Costa Sagrado for the first time, full of excitement, and hope, wishing you could be... part of our world."

I grinned at the memory, "Yeah, it was something and I-" I caught on and groaned, "Really?  Little Mermaid jokes after I opened up to you?"

Mabel gave a giggle, "Well, you were trying to make me feel better, think of this as helping because I do feel better?" 

I rolled my eyes, "Sure, sure, I'll take it as a win," then I looked her over, "Glad it does."

"Thanks. This new body is already like a big move, now another one is coming up, there are so many things I want to do, I barely know where to start. Not just heroing, though that's a part of it," She said handing me a cold beer, "Things having a feeling body can offer."

"Sun on your face, wind in your hair," I raised the beer in a toast to that, "A nice soak in a hot tub, oh yeah, it's very nice," I started to drink.

"And Sex," Brazen said, "I'm really curious about sex. I've been studying."

I can breathe water, not beer. So I choked as the local brewer's best went down the wrong pipe.

 

"What?" She said, "You're surprised?" 

"No, I guess, it's just-" I coughed again then said, "I had a slightly conservative upbringing."

"You're a prude when it comes to women talking about it?" She raised a brow. Again, amazing expressive capability.

"Yes," I said with a nod, "I am old fashioned and prudish in some very hypocritical areas. Please forgive me, I'm just a man."

"Oh, Caleb," She fussed, "I am so let down. I thought we could talk as peers. You're dating one of my best friends and thus are totally off limits, so I figured we could talk. Maybe you could answer some questions about your own biological experiences?"

I wondered if I could hit our own little version of the trouble alert without Brazen picking up on it. Where the hell were the other women of the team? 
I answered honestly, I was a grown, emotionally mature, adult man, I could do this, "Speaking just for myself, it's great but ultimately, without emotional empathy? It's only half of banquet and you'll never know what you're missing until you find a special someone to-"
Then the Alert did come on. 
There was an emergency.
"Oh thank God," I blurted without thinking.
 

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On 2/11/2020 at 8:57 PM, Tom said:

Thanks for the laugh -- but you're making me miss HC and some of the games we were in even more...

 

I Hear you, man. My Table top days are dead, some online enjoyment, but not superhero related

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What had been meant to be a farewell party turned into a sortie, with Lady Obsidian and the crew set to go in a few hours instead grabbing their gear and starting up their transport right away. 


The full details would come later, but to nutshell the situation? A police officer had mouthed off to a supervillain and insulted his mother while trying to demand compliance. I don't know if the cop was nuts, just fed up, a rookie, or an idiot. Not only did the villain break both his legs, he then proceeded to the police station that officer was assigned to, and brought it crumbling down. Someone there was on the ball and told everyone to get the hell out before the ceiling began to fall on them, but there were still casualties and several injured. The exact tally I'd get later.

 

This is the nightmare for so much of the populace. Mouth off to one guy, and he doesn't just hurt you (Or kill you) but destroys your work place of raging spite and you can't do anything about it? The fear that generates is both understandable, and dangerous in its own right. I've seen extremists on all sides say things like "Put superheroes in charge" and, on the other end, "Genetic testing for all, and draft/sterilize the freaks". It comes to the same thing, fear of the loss of control and looking for quick fixes. You do not want supers to be God-Kings of your cities, trust me. I know superheroes, brave and moral ones, who forget to pay their water bills. You do not want those noble yahoos to handle a city's budget.  And do I really need to go into the immorality of enslaving any minority or just plain wiping them out?

 

Historically, and satirically, that latter tends to lend you the not so proud mantle of 'the baddies', but the world wants simple solutions. Hell, I want simple solutions. I am in a calling where I literally can make the world a better place by punching people. If I thought about it too much, I might have to concede why some folks envy superheroes. I mean, it does inspire a very petty part of the imagination.

 

Looks like the stockholders want to deny us our Christmas bonuses this year but upper management isn't getting any cuts at all.


No problem, I'll go beat their asses with their own golf clubs!

 

Great! Good luck at the negotiations then! Have fun!

 

You know I will!

 

But the world doesn't work that way, it can't really. We wouldn't want it to if we thought about it.  The world has nuance, and complexities, and points of view. Facts are facts, but truths are trickier to pin down. Mayo, a good friend of mine, once told me I should thank people for letting me rescue them.

I've had a lot of time to think about that, on and off, and it has slowly sunk in.

 

A chance to do the right thing, without equivocation, without complication, is, in some ways a gift. One too many of us spurn even when we do have the  means.

 

There is something about staring at an untouched cake and a cooler with a plethora of coke and beer cans ignored within that makes one feel a touch philosophical. I was not alone, of course, others had shown up to send them off. Viewpoint, Pogo, Valerosa and even Slime.

But with one announcement, we were half of what we were, who we were, and I wasn't the only one staring at untouched cake.

 

"Well," Pogo finally said, in a tone that indicated she needed someone to say something, "This isn't a fun party at all."

 

That actually got a few chuckles from the lot of us.

 

"So," Viewpoint said, looking at Valerosa and myself curiously, "What's the plan?"

 

"Huh?" Ariana turned, "Why are you asking me?"

 

Because, Slime scrolled, answering for Viewpoint, You are the team leaders now.

 

I gave my girlfriend a look. Not the one that said I got your back, or whoops brain fart. Nope, the look was simply to let her know that, until Viewpoint had said something: I had forgotten that too.

 

She nodded, and seemed to gain strength from it. Nothing like a slip shared to make you feel a wee bit less embarrassed, then she answered, "Trainees are coming in tomorrow and both Eel and I need to meet them, which means we need you guys to take up our slack, such as it is." She sounded a little apologetic.

 

"Good news is," I said in what i hoped was firm but supportive, "Our own city remains relatively villain free, with a few exceptions. And the dark forces that be probably won't realize we've split the team until tonight's news, and even they won't know it's now the new status quo. I think we can afford to stagger our shifts, Pogo and Viewpoint, you guys try to get seen just a bit more often, reassure the populace. Slime? I hate to say it but, well, biases."

 

It's okay, the words rolled along his surface, I understand you humans are intimidated by my natural good looks. Envy, it's a helluva drug.

 

Another spat of chuckles escaped us, it looked like the tension that had built up from having half our number reduced was on the ease. 

 

"Fine, Viewpoint and Pogo get seen by the public, Slime sees whose going where they aren't, and the two Co-Captains are on standby as we talk to the trainees. We'll sort out schedules or shifts more formally later, " I nodded at Ariana to see if she was cool with that.

 

She was, and added, "Do not hesitate to call us if you need us or even think something weird we need to know has arisen. Much as we want to help the rookies learn, our priority is still helping our fellow citizens. Don't worry," Valerosa said, glancing especially at Pogo "We got your back when you need it."

 

Pogo beamed, "We won't let you down, Cap," eyes bright and energy raring even at this late hour, "I know Viewpoint and Slime might have better senses at night, but I can really get around the city during the day and little will escape the pouncing prowess of Pogo!"

 

I felt my own pang of envy. Cap was a great nickname for superheroes, attributed to some real winners. I wanted to be a Cap, but at last, I figured now that Pogo had affixed it to Ariana, I was out of luck getting to share the unofficial title.

Ah well, vanity is ultimately an arrow one aims at one's own ego.


Or some other faux Zen  thing.

 

"Then, let's clean this food up, and Slime can take monitor duty if he's okay with it," I asked and Slime immediately bobbed in the approximation of a nod, "While the rest of us rest."

 

"Our first mission, Cake clean up," Viewpoint said, "Works for me. Keeps me humble."

 

"Humble? We're the new New Samaritans," Pogo exclaimed, "We're superheroes! We can handle any-"

 

"Don't jinx us!" Valerosa, Viewpoint, and I blurted simultaneously before she could finish that phrase. Even Slime burbled in alarm.

 

"Geeze," She said a bit sullenly, "You guys are even more superstitious than my grandmother."

 

"The grandmother who is old as dirt and still alive?" I countered.

 

"Yeah," She said cautiously.

 

"Well," I stated, "Ever wonder how she managed that?"

 

Pogo, the possessor of pouncing prowess, pouted.


 

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