"You guys put the base in a mall?" Hussar observed after we arrived and got out of the vehicle. Barely two steps and he took wing again, going about twenty feet in the air and looking about the area.
"Pretty ingenious, right?" I smiled. The sheer amount of space provided by the arrangement was fantastic. To this day we still had more room than we needed. In fact, we'd easily set up some new bedrooms for the recruits. There would be no need to have them crash in the pads of the absent veterans.
"Who even goes to a mall anymore?" He asked with a tone of disdain, "I mean, just order things online or whatever."
"A lot of folks would agree with you, which is why we were able to get our hands on a deserted mall," I began to worry Hussar was a bit on the thick side.
"Oh yeah, right," His eyes shot about, "I do like some of what you've done to it."
Well, good, he was actually let it sink in. The base really was something to see. I had once described it as a mix between Byzantium styles and the interior of the Enterprise D that somehow worked. Now that Hussar was looking around and appreciating the revamp, he seemed a bit less disdainful of it's humble origins.
"That's Lady Obsidian's preferences at play mostly," I admitted, "Some of the glass work is absolutely amazing. You see the windows are meant to allow light while still preventing any snooping from-"
Before I could continue, Hussar was flying around the place without so much as a by your leave ,checking out just how big it was. A pang of envy hit me. In the water, I am like a living torpedo for speed with all the grace of a sea lion, but on land I can make some long jumps at best or run like an athlete. In a world where it felt like every other person could fly, teleport, or just run at super speed, my land mobility felt somewhat restrained.
"If a door is locked it's locked for a reason!" I called out after him instead, and then went looking for Ariana.
After all, how much trouble could he get into in here?
As far as I knew, the only ones who would be here would be Valerosa, myself, and the new trainees. Pogo had a family thing, Slime was on Patrol, and, actually I wasn't sure what Viewpoint was up to, only that he had informed us he was taking the day off. I suspected he might be visiting family too, but that was just a hunch.
It turned out, I wasn't the only one who let a rookie go wander. With a literal hot streak flowing behind her, Trailblazer shot past as she ran from one section of the base to the other. I had seen her file, so I was prepared, more or less, for the sight of her. The aura of flames she produced seemed most pronounced at the top of her head making it hard to make out the hair, and as she ran said flames stretched out like a shadow at setting sun. I observed the floor she passed over, and was relieved to see she wasn't leaving burn marks in the floor.
Then again, our base was pretty high tech with plenty of flame retardant materials.
"Hello there," I introduced myself in what I Hoped was a friendly but at least semi-professional tone.
What happened next was spectacular. You see, most speedsters don't just move fast. They have to have the reflexes, protections, and a certain level of awareness to adapt to that last second change in the obstacles in their path or the shift in terrain.
Trailblazer was, it turned out, not used to her enhanced speed. I don't know how quickly she had moved as a partial, but now with her powers fully awakened, I was pretty sure she was going faster than ever before. Even then I'd seen faster folks, but if she were going about sixty miles per hour now, that meant she was probably used to about twenty five miles before getting the gear.
So maybe the awareness and the reaction time hadn't really had time to kick in yet.
Whatever was to blame, she turned to flash me a smile, but as she did, her legs tangled slightly into each other. Now she could have adjusted for this, if it weren't for the coffee table. The mall had areas to sit down, relax in before, and that hadn't changed just because it was now a superbase. The coffee table was low, and between two chairs. Sometimes we used it for drinks, now and then for card games for two. Lady Obsidian sometimes used it for chess.
Trailblazer, already trying to adjust her stance at speeds normally reserved for a highway, didn't see it and struck the thing with the backs of her knees. The poor coffee table broke, even as she flipped mostly over and partly through it, bouncing and making flaming loops that I'm sure from the side probably looked like quite lovely. The accidental artistry ended as the loops broke instead into a bounce bounce and slide until finally she lay flat on her back, still smoldering, and staring up at the ceiling.
I? I was to be congratulated. I neither freaked out in a panic that I had 'broke' a rookie by distracting her, nor, to my credit, did I let loose a guffaw at her flaring and fiery fumble footed-ness.
I did get alliteratively amused at her expense, sure, but I kept it to myself.
I'd like to think this shows I've grown as a person.
"Are you okay?" I finally inquired.
"Did a member of the New Samaritans just see me crash a table, flip several times, bounce twice, and the skid to a stop on my flaming ass?" She asked me.
Okay, at that, a smile slipped out, "One did."
"Then I have had better days. Unless you can un-see that?" Trailblazer asked from her prone position.
"I don't think I can," I answered honestly, "It's the kind of visual that sticks with you."
"Then no, I am not okay," She declared, "I'm just gonna lie here, close my eyes, and pretend this never happened," And then she closed her eyes, just like she said she would.
"Get off your ass, stand up, and help clean up the mess you made," A voice snapped like a whip.
The accent was wrong, but for a moment I felt like I was twelve at my Aunt Lily's house again. I turned my head and realized why the voice was familiar, and why Aunt Lily sounded like she had a Latina accent.
It was Ariana, or more accurately, Valerosa. She strode up to the side of the girl, and looked down, "Or do you need help up?"
"No, no," Trailblazer got to her knees, "Sorry, I just -" Her eyes fell on the coffee table which was now broken and singed, "I'll pay for that." Her tone indicated she wasn't sure how.
"It's okay," I told her, "We have a budget for furniture replacement."
"What isn't okay," Valerosa's tone had gone down from whip crack to more like a lead pipe tapping in a palm, which is to say slightly nicer but not by much, "Is you ignoring me when I tell you that I preferred you let me give you the tour before you race around on your own."
Trailblazer looked aghast, "I thought you said let's get a look around?"
"Let's, as in let us, as in plural," Ariana specified, "What kind of idiot would let a rookie just go zipping around on his or her own without any supervision in a place with as many delicate things and dangerous rooms as this?"
Ever wince so hard you almost gave yourself a headache?
Still, I was a bit stunned at this shift in Valerosa. Even in costume, she was normally so loving, so gentle and sweet.
"I'm really sorry," Trailblazer said as she hastily gathered up the chunks of the broken table "But I don't know where these go?"
"There's a disposal chute right over there," Valerosa said, only now was her tone starting to soften, "We also have some cleaning bots but they're a bit less effective. Now are you physically hurt?"
I gave my girlfriend a look. She was just asking that part NOW?
If Ariana caught that question in my eyes, she ignored it waiting instead for Trailblazer to answer.
"I'm fine, my flames and speed come with a kind of pocket of resistance," Trailblazer answered, and put them in, "Just deeply embarrassed. I'm still not used to going that fast and I forget the difference."
I decided to throw the girl a bone, "We all make mistakes, especially in the first few weeks. That's why we're training you."
Two other figures approached. Aspirant hung back a bit, surveying the situation with quiet curioisity, but Bramble was ahead of him already coated in that wooden battle form or whatever it was.
Then the wood enveloped heroine stopped when she saw all was well, "Someone had an 'and I oop' moment or something?"
"Or something," Valerosa shrugged, suddenly acting as if it was done, "It's handled now and won't happen again."
Now that sounded a lot more like the angel I was used to waking up next to.
Indeed, Trailblazer shot Valerosa a grateful look, then faced the other two "Still getting used to just how much my powers have improved."
"Right there with you," Bramble sympathized, "It's like the safety is off."
"It is," Valerosa says "Your full power is unlocked now. You are a bigger danger to yourselves and innocents- We will teach you how to be dangerous to just the villains. Now, as soon as Hussar gets here we'll take that tour of the area and lay down some ground rules," Then she looked at me, "Where is Hussar anyway?"
There was a crashing sound further back in the base.
"I'm guessing that might be him now," I answered and moved.
Perhaps Eager to redeem herself, Trailblazer announced, "On it," And shot ahead. At least her eyes were on her path now.
Before I could gauge Valerosa's response to this, the blazing racer returned saying "Hussar's fighting some weird blob!"
"Slime!" Valerosa and I said simultaneously.
"Slime, isn't he one of the team?" Aspirant asked, "I remembered reading about him in Super-Team Weekly."
"Yes" I said breaking into a run along side Valerosa, "Yes he is."
They say youth and skill is no match for old age and treachery. While, to my knowledge, Slime is not geriatric for his species, the basic truth of the boast was being proven true. Hussar was super strong, Hussar was bullet proof. Neither of which was helping him fight a foe who could go liquid.
True, Slime seemed to be doing little damage to the winged warrior, but then I don't think he wanted to. Slime's powers are more than just being stretchy goop. He could alter the acidic or base nature of his body to a degree that if he wanted to burn you, you'd feel it. He could also seem to increase his mass and encase you. As we got there, Slime was working on the latter, even as he flashed letters before Hussar's eyes as quickly as he could.
Alas, not quick enough, Hussar punched through the forming text. Perhaps he thought it was an attack, maybe he just hated Comic Sans? Of course, while it displaced Slime, the alien was ready for it, and adjusted then gave up, and began the aforementioned enveloping.
"I should have warned the others," Hussar said aloud, then yelled "We've under attack. I got him but there maybe others!" And then he took a breath and held it as he was now surrounded by a solid foot of Slime on all sides.
He looked a bit like a winged pineapple chunk in a Blueberry gelatin. His muscles weren't helping because he had no traction.
I strode up, "Hi, Slime. Want me to explain things to him?"
PLEASE, the word took form , wobbling as Hussar tried to shake him.
And then a short tunnel opened to Hussar's face so he could breath, speak, and hear.
"Eel?" He said, "I could use a hand here."
"Didn't you read the files on us, at ALL? Slime is a superhero. Heck, he's a team mate," I explained.
"Wait, this thing is a good guy?" The shock was obvious. Slime has complained now and then about humanoids having some deeply ingrained biases. It saddened me to have him proven right.
"Yes, he's a good guy. He's saved this city, surely Lady Obsidian mentioned Slime?" I was startled she'd leave names out. Slime wasn't a founding member but he'd been protecting this city longer than I had.
"She mentioned -a- Slime," Hussar conceded, "But I thought it was just a name, didn't think he was actual slime."
"You thought a human being in a costume was running around calling himself Slime?" My tone might indicate I found this profoundly unlikely, "But when you met a real Liquid being, it didn't occur to you?"
"I was startled by it, yeah," Hussar said, "And" he sputtered "Names don't always match. I mean, you call yourself Eel, and you aren't even like like green skinned. Others call you Fish Guy and you don't even have fins."
At the Fish Guy comment, I nodded, not to him, but to Slime who had him entrapped, as if giving the go ahead "Happy Digestion!" And started to walk away.
"Eel!" Valerosa chided me.
"Come on, he smells terrible," Hussar whined a bit. At least he was calling Slime a he now instead of an it.
"Slime, Let him go, please," Valerosa said taking over this interaction.
Slime, obligingly, spewed forth Hussar, and then in large words wrote, for his benefit, YEAH? WELL, YOU TASTE LIKE CHICKEN.
"Gross," Hussar coughed and wiped at himself, "And I do not taste like chicken."
"Don't be too sure," I told Hussar while giving Slime a nod, "Slime here is the reason our city doesn't have an excess pigeon problem."
Now the other rookies also made faces.
"Okay, shower time, now," Valerosa said directing them, "Boys to the left, girls to the right. Change of costumes provided, you might as well clean up then meet us in the training area. Apirant, let Hussar know the directions. Do not go anywhere else, understand?" A look to Trailblazer even though she said it for all.
Trailblazer squirmed a bit at the look, but Bramble said "Got it" And all four headed off. Truthfully, the only one who needed a shower and a costume change was Hussar, but it was clear Valerosa knew we needed to talk a bit without them there.
Once the rookies were gone, I turned to her, and opened my mouth to ask a very important question.
Unaware that she was doing the same thing.
"Why are you being so hard on the rookie?" We both asked each other at the same time.
"Wait, what?" I said.
"Me? You're the one busting Hussar's chops constantly?" She says.
"Hussar?" I said, "Who's talking about Hussar? You've been riding Trailblazer awful hard don't you think?"
"Trailblazer got reckless and disobeyed, Hussar was trying to save us what he thought was a monster attack and tried to defend us,," She looked over, "No offense, Slime."
NONE TAKEN- I FIND SOLIDS EQUALLY OFF PUTTING, He assured.
"You're very forgiving, Slime, thank you," I said, then looked at my girlfriend who had suddenly gone nuts, "Trailblazer tripped over a coffee table in eagerness, Hussar attacked a team mate, in ignorance, one of these things is not like the other."
"She's been upgraded with the gear for weeks , we shouldn't have to teach her how not to trip over her own two feet," Ariana said putting her hand on her hip in a 'and that's that' pose that was a sign I could see how right she was, only I didn't.
"I distracted her, it's hard to set up your own distractions. Hussar's had his powers all his life, and should know enough of Angel-Man's past to know that attacking something strange on sight is now a sign of embarrassment in the superhero community."
"Not every superhero studies superhistory," She countered.
"Well, they should," I said, "And aren't you leaning a bit heavy on the 'Respect my authoritay' angle?"
Ariana isn't a hot tempered stereotype by any streak, but she did, at the moment, make a rude comment about me sleeping on the couch in Spanish.
In Spanish (Not as smoothly, to be sure) I mentioned that banishing me to a couch did not help her seem any less Authoritarian.
She looked annoyed at me.
"That's right," I reminded her, "I've been studying Conquistador for a while now," then I paused, "You really think I came on too strong with Hussar?"
"Little bit, yes," She said, then "I need to let it drop with Trailblazer , don't I?"
"You need to not rub her nose in it again, yeah," I said, then added, "Or so it seems to me. I'll try to be more understanding of Hussar."
We gave each other weak, sheepish smiles.
A burble to our side pulled our attention.
SLIME'S LOG- EARTH DATE WHATEVER- THE BREEDING RITUALS OF TERRA CONTINUE TO BAFFLE AND CONFUSE ME. SELF REPLICATION IS SO MUCH MORE PRACTICAL. STILL, THEY ARE INTERESTING, THESE MAMMALS IN THE MIST.
"You know," I said, "My Co Captain and I can find you plenty of monitor duty if you like?"
"Plenty," She agreed.
SLIME OUT, Slime said, and slithered away at a suitably respectful speed.
"Let's go get the rookies in the training area," Ariana said.
"Sounds good," I agreed, and off we went.