The Adventures of Fish Guy 3:
Less than two years ago, I had decided to focus on who I, Caleb Lambert, was, is, and, most importantly am going to be. This isn't atypical, right? Guy in his twenties seeks direction in life is hardly a headline anyone would bother to click on. But in my case, I already had direction before and I wasn't exactly abandoning that part of my life either.
I'm Eel. Sometimes called, to my frequent minor irritation, 'Fish Guy'. I'm superstrong, I'm supertough, I breath water, I swim fast, and I save people; it's what I do.
But with a little soul searching, some good advice, the love of a good woman, and a kick in the pants; I realized that I had things to offer the world, and myself, besides those powers. Late to the game, I decided to try my hand at a college education after all.
Because I want my work to save lives, in and out of costume, I decided to become an engineer, one of those guys who designs buildings that could withstand Earthquakes or hurricanes. What can I say? Maybe I have a savior complex, but it's what gives me purpose, and I figured it would motivate me.
Had to be easier than facing down the Miscreants for a living right?
Only, it turns out Sophomore year for Engineering students goes by the fun name "The Gauntlet". This is where they throw everything, and I mean everything at you, to really hammer home whether you can cut it as a future engineer or not. They give you the tools of knowledge you'll need later to build no matter what specialization you have going. Fall apart in your Sophomore year, and your chances of going any further in an Engineering major were mighty slim.
All in all? I'd rather beat up on the Miscreants. Heck, I'd rather be beat up by the Miscreants.
I was sweating here.
I am not, despite what some might think when they hear my Carolina accent, stupid. I'm not always the smartest person in the room, but when your team leader is a power armor making super-genius; that's to be expected. The Freshmen science courses had been a breeze, the math courses? I handled them. But we'd moved beyond that.
And I had not studied like I had hoped to last night.
In my defense, Shellshock was a tougher opponent than I thought he'd be. And he was the first supervillain we had in over a month so, maybe I kept him to myself when I should have called for backup at the start of it.
Hey, I was responsible. I lured him away from innocents, and kept the property damage to a minimum. I knew his blasts would spread hard. What I didn't expect was that I'd have to use full strength to really take him down. So what I thought was going to be a quick fight turned into a long superbrawl, and after that, some clean up and talk to the press.
The reporters around here know to call me Eel now. I just don't answer to Fish Guy and they growl or grumble as I give interviews to those that use my superhero name while ignoring those that use Fish Guy. Some of the best advice Pinprick ever gave me led to that policy, and while I'll never be free of the Fish Guy moniker completely, at least I can reduce it a little.
Where was I? Oh right.
So I didn't study as much as I should have.
And now this test was threatening to kick my ass as few supervillains could.
I went through what I knew I knew first, backtracked to what I thought I knew, and saved the coin flip answers for last in the hope some spark of a neuron would trigger after all.
"And Time" Proffessor Kendrig said. Professor Kendrig is not an evil man, but he had this perpetual look on his face that seemed to suggest that he was glad, nay, grateful, to be heading towards his twilight years, for surely in the impending apocalypse, this current crop of youth would just have to make way for mutated pigs and cockroaches on New Earth on the intellectual battlefield.
Frankly, as both one of his students AND a superhero who was in the business of fighting impending apocalypses? I was a bit insulted.
My fingers ached to tap in one more answer.
"TIME," he repeated. To my relief, he was not looking at me when he said it. More than one student was thinking the same thing.
Is that Political Science Major still an option?
Escape from the classroom was a mixed blessing. On one hand, win or lose, it was over and done. On the other hand, we didn't know if we had won or lost? It occurred to me that life as a superhero and a sports fan had me thinking in terms of 'win lose' more than grades, but what the heck, Kendrig didn't grade on a curve anyway.
"The man's out to destroy me," I heard Leslie chime.
"Now now, " I tried to reassure, "it's not personal, he's trying to destroy every student, not just you."
She laughed, "Way to cheer me up, Caleb." She was a pretty girl, not yet twenty one, golden haired and blue eyed. I suspected she was kind of into me, despite, or perhaps because, I was a bit older than her. Maybe it was vanity, but she laughed at all my jokes.
And I have heard, from numerous friends I trust ,that I'm not that funny.
"Maybe we should study some this weekend just in case we get a chance at a make up?" Leslie suggested, "You never know."
"Hey, Lover," A familiar and very welcome voice chimed in. Ariana, aka Valerosa, came forward wearing tight jeans, and a scalloped blouse of turquoise blue. In one of her hands was an honest to gosh picnic basket. Her chocolate eyes shined as always, but there was something else there today, a look not meant for me, but Leslie?
It was a brief eye to eye contact between the girls. Whatever was going on, Leslie blinked first and looked away as my girlfriend took my hand with her free one.
"I thought we'd have lunch together," Ariana said.
"That," I looked at the basket, "I had deduced. I'm bright and all."
"That you are," She smiled.
"Ah, see you later, Leslie," I waved with my free hand.
"Right right," And Leslie scampered away struggling to keep her smile up.
"Just keep walking, Blondie," Ariana said low under her breath. She said it in Spanish.
Sometimes she forgets I've actually become more or less fluent. Heck, I even watch some Telenovelas. That's how I learned the Spanish words for twins, amnesia, and 'not the father'.
I grinned, "Are you ...jealous?" An immense mix of emotions. Surprise, and a very petty sort of pleasure, combined inside me. She was jealous. Ariana is a smoking hot babe, and she is not the neurotic type. I've seen her keep her poise when all hell was breaking loose. And yet she was acting a wee bit possessive. It was wrong of me, but it was a bit of an ego boost.
"I think I liked it better when you couldn't speak Spanish," She blushed lightly.
"If you ask your Uncle, I still can't," I reminded her, "He says my accent sounds like I started the evening after two bottles of Jack Daniels. Do I slur that badly?"
"Pffft, you do fine" She waved it off. Technically, Tino was her Uncle, but he was the baby of his generation and she was among the oldest of hers so they really came across more like cousins. As a Southerner, I was used to large families like that- whatever language they used.
Ariana pulled me further along the quad, "And I don't know if Jealous is right word. Just, letting her understand claim jumping is frowned on here in California. I invested a lot of time in arranging this relationship."
I raised a brow, "As I recall, I'm the one who asked you out and did most of the chasing."
"All according to my plan," She assured.
"You really should steeple your fingers when you talk like that," I told her. We'd come to a spot between two trees, nice shade from the sun, bit of privacy. She had opened up the basket, undone a thin towel, and was using it as a blanket for us to dine on. The food smelled heavenly.
"You cooked this," I said a bit surprised.
"Yes I did," Arina says "Aren't you glad my mother insisted I learn how?"
My mouth was watering a bit, "Your mother is wise," Then I added, "Too bad she hates me."
"She does not hate you," Ariana insisted, "The demonic possession embarrassed her, that's all."
"I nearly died, and she holds a grudge," I reminded.
"It was her best china," Arina shrugged, "And by now she's not nearly as touchy. The family wants you over again."
I grabbed some of the food being served before she could put some condition requiring me to agree before I had some. It tasted even better than it smelled.
"The family? Ariana, last time I was invited, you had over a dozen folks there. And each one wanted to look me over. I felt like an exotic new zoo exhibit."
"Wouldn't that be an Aquarium?" She dimpled having a bit of her own food.
I smirked, "You know what I mean. Please tell me it will be a..smaller group?"
"I'll try, but no promises," She said, "I'll at least spare you Aunt Rosa-Maria if I can."
"Okay," I said, "now she really hates me."
"Yes, by my grandmother thinks you're sweet, and trust me, that is a major inroad in my family," She assured me.
"Ha," I grinned, "Well, I like her too."
"So you agree?" She said.
"Well, I may have just flubbed a test" I frowned, "But unless study comes up, lord knows the heroing has been slow in town lately."
"Yes well, someone, not naming names, hogged a the first real supervillain in months to himself last night," She arched a brow.
I blushed a bit, "I read his file. Thought I had his power level down. Besides, you were at that Charity Event. I saw the reports on it. " I threw in, "Those kids lit up for you."
She demurely cast her eyes down but I could see she was pleased, "Just happy to help."
Ariana had always been heroic, but superheroic was, for most of her life, out of her reach-she was what was known as a partial. A simplistic term but essentially it meant while you had powers beyond mortal men, if you'd tried to go up against the fully powered, you'd get crushed.
Thanks to some, shall we say, acquired tech that allowed Partials to achieve greater levels of power, instead of shifting density so she was a light as a soap bubble or as hard as a rock, she could now walk through walls like a ghost or turn diamond hard. In a world where supervillains often break concrete walls without a sweat, it makes all the difference.
Her martial arts training doesn't hurt. She's not as good as her Uncle, but even if she had no powers, she'd be able to defend herself. And she's a short little lady.
Pardon, my girlfriend is not short, she's vertically petite.
"So is the rest of the team also grousing about my 'hogging' the last villain?" I asked.
"Oh, just about everyone at least snarked about it," Ariana assured me, "I think the whole team is itching for action. It's amazing, our reputation has actually become a deterrent so effective that more villains just head elsewhere," She spoke very softly and kept her gaze about to make sure our privacy was maintained. And wisely so, in the hero life- blabbing maskless is rather dangerous.
Then she whispered something else that stunned me.
"Lady Obsidian's been muttering something about the team getting too big, Pinprick is wondering if she's going to ask some of us if we want to retire or leave the team? I mean, he could be joking but..." She let it hang in the air.
I gaped at her, stunned, "No way."
"It's been awhile. And our membership has swelled. Remember? Slime has joined the team, despite how he kind of finds us revolting still."
That was true, Slime may have been a disgusting blob from outer-space that smelled every time he popped, but he was no less heroic for all that and from his point of view were just as gross. In fact, he still tended to skip team meals. Actually, that worked better for everyone.
"Hold on," I did a verbal count, "We've got Lady Obsidian, Pinprick, Tornado, Arctic Fox, you, me, and now Slime. That's seven members, that's hardly too much."
"You're forgetting about two people," She reminded, "Viewpoint's been working with us, and he's matured to say the least. Remember?"
She was right. Viewpoint's near death at the hands of supervillains had sobered him. I had felt responsible for that, after all, Mister Brute was my nemesis. As soon as it was safe, we had used our own medical tech to help him recover faster, but it was still a long painful process. He didn't regenerate after all.
The man who had come out of physical therapy was a more somber and thoughtful guy. Before he had seen his powers as only a way to making it rich. He'd done commercials from everything to fast food to floor wax. Most superheroes found this kind of tawdry but couldn't cast too many stones as even the New Samaritans had T shirts and action figure contracts to support base upkeep and more. However, he also protected homes and businesses that paid him over the city in general. If the choice was the empty manorhouse of one of his sponsors or a city block of poor folks he barely knew? He went to help the manorhouse because he knew which side his bread was buttered on.
At least, the old Viewpoint had been that way. During his recovery, he lost most of his contracts who weren't willing to wait for him to heal up. We figured as soon as he got out he'd go racing back to them ready to go back to making cash like the profit driven gloryhound we knew him to be.
He'd proven us wrong. Not only did he not go running back to being the posterboy for anyone and everyone that would have him, he informed those who paid him for 'security' that even though he was now able to protect their property, he would no longer be giving it priority. He wouldn't take their money.
One well to do family promptly tried to sue him claiming they had him for a three year contract. They were quite willing to take him for hundreds of thousands of dollars if they could. Viewpoint stood his ground and took his plight to the public. Rather than claiming to be a victim of this, he instead apologized for being a sell out, and for putting "green money over red blood". Turning over a new leaf did not diminish what acting skills he had learned, and I have to confess it was a damn good speech of apology he gave even as he explained why he would have to fight this lawsuit rather than just pay them off.
The media backlash against the family was intense. Seriously, it was scary good. Folks who loved Viewpoint before, they still loved him. Folks who thought he was a scam artist? Well, who doesn't love a redemption story?
Said family dropped their lawsuit like a hot coal.
And then he came to us, thanked us for our help in his recovery, and for advice how to be a better hero.
I hadn't really thought about it, but he'd been pretty much an acting team member ever since.
"And then there's Pogo," Ariana continued.
I had gotten lost in thought about Viewpoint and how I had taken for granted that his reform had more than earned a place on the team. At the word 'Pogo' my head whipped around. "What? Pogo's a kid."
"A kid who has been using her super powers to protect this city longer than you have," She pointed out, "Caleb, she's turning eighteen soon. She's in."
"So we have nine members?" Albeit two of them I hadn't really thought of as members.
"Right, in a city that is surprisingly low on even regular crime right now," Ariana explained, "Heck, Pinprick has taken to shrinking cars that are parked illegally in handicap spaces."
"Yeah, lot of hatemail about that," I couldn't help but smile.
"It's hilarious, but the point is, with the big meeting tonight, she could be reducing the team."
"That's nuts, you don't disband a sports team because it's become a dynasty, and if the team broke up it would just encourage a return of supervillains and neerdowells. It would endanger the lives of citizens. Pinprick has to be wrong. I can't believe she'd be irresponsible enough even to consider," That's when I noticed she was staring at me, an almost finished taco in her hand, "What?"
"Did you just say 'neerdowell'?" She ate the last bit of the taco while waiting for my answer.
"Maybe," I said, then coughed lightly in the hand, "You're not going to tell the team I did that did you?"
"It was adorable," She beamed, her chocolate eyes sparkling.
"It's manly hero talk," I corrected her. I too, had matured, but I could already envision the hazing I was going to get if this got out.
"Adorable manly hero talk," Ariana nodded, stressing the first word.
"You're going to tell Mabel, aren't you?" I groaned.
"I'm gonna tell Mabel" She agreed. She and our resident Artificial Intelligence had long been good friends. Of course she'd tell Mabel.
And Mabel? Mabel would tell everyone. I did not look forward to the meeting that night, no matter what it was about.