"Hey guys,"I said as I entered the main area of the mall turned base that had become a second home to me. There was enough room, I thought, for a team twice our size, right? I mean, she wouldn't really close us up or send some of us out? This team was almost a family, or at the very least a tight knit group of friends by now. You don't 'rightsize' stuff like that.
What can I say? An idea gets in my head, sometimes I gnaw on it for a bit.
Like all day.
Tornado looked up, "Hey Pinprick, it is Eel, basher of Neerdowells." Valentino is a good friend, not my best friend, but a good friend. He was getting less good the more he smiled though.
"At last we are saved, for I have lived in fear of Neerdowells, but now am secure," Pinprick nodded. Well, the permanently shrunk archer? He'd always been a jerk, but yes, he was a friend too.
Which meant I had to suck it up and roll with it, "Mabel, you're a narc."
To my surprise, there was no response. At first I thought Mabel might be trying to dodge the accusation, but that would be pretty out of character for her. The fun loving and sultry voiced Artificial Intelligence that was plugged into our base wasn't exactly afraid of any of us. She had too much dirt. This was where she was supposed to express a complete lack of repentance, flatter me, tease me, and then move on.
"Mabel?" I tried again.
"She's offline," Arctic Fox said, "Duh."
The queen of cold, the mean girl for justice; Arctic Fox and I had not started off on the best foot. Mostly because she had hoped her then boyfriend would be taking the 'strong guy' spot for the team. Of course, he had turned out to be a government agent involved in an illegal black operation who was using her affections as an in. So, I couldn't really be mad at her. Besides, push come to shove, she and I were actually very complimentary in a fight. I couldn't count the number of times her cold and ice powers had saved my bacon from fire or heat, and she knew that if some bruiser came for her that she couldn't handle that I would have her back.
Not that there wasn't she couldn't handle.
Each of my team mates was a powerhouse. None more than Lady Obsidian herself.
"Relax, people, it's my doing and she's good with it. I'll explain later," Lady Obsidian came out wearing her full armor, which surprised me a bit. Lately she had been saving that for the field. Yet the power armor she wore did seem to send a message that tonight's meeting would not just be a casual check in.
"Still feels weird not hearing her," Viewpoint spoke my very thoughts from the corner. I turned, remembering what Ariana and I had discussed. Viewpoint had changed his costume, some of the glitz was still there, as were the 'shades for show' but he looked less like a male runway model and more like a superhero in design.
It occurred to me I might suffer from some snobby tendencies.
The point, however, was that Viewpoint was here. A team meeting and he had shown.
He wasn't the only "newcomer".
Stuck to the wall, Slime really did look like some azure booger a giant smeared there.
Greetings all! scrolled along his surface. Slime used his body to 'text us' more or less, as he didn't quite have the right body for regular speech. Then again, his form of communication worked fine on others of his species. No doubt we seemed rather odd in our own limitations to them. But Earth was Slime's home now, and he had become rather expert at chatting folks up as long as they focused on reading him.
"Hey, Slime" I waved and smiled as a sort of pseudopod waved back.
Lady Obsidian nodded, "Is everyone here? Where is Pogo?"
"I'm here, I'm here," Pogo bounced in, but then she always did. She was a kinetic reactive, any impact could set her bouncing. It was more useful and powerful than most folks realize.
She had changed her costume again. Over the last few months, Pogo had gone through numerous costume changes. A few weeks ago, she had decided to sex it up, only to report later to the other ladies on the team that they were right and maybe when your powers include bipping and bopping around at immense speeds maybe you'd want a costume that was a bit more 'secure' up top. The men of the team pretended, for our own good and for her dignity, not to have heard a word.
Pogo was back to green and yellow, but no shades were present allowing her lovely eyes to peek through the stylish half mask along with a costume that resembled something like an Olympic gymnast might wear. It occurred to me that she didn't look like a kid anymore. Nature, Time, and plenty of exercise ala crimefighting had been kind. She was turning into a rather pretty young woman.
How had I missed that?
Then again, she wasn't eighteen yet, and to top it off, my girlfriend was in costume nearby too. Maybe I should just keep missing that.
"Sorry, I'm late," Pogo rattled on, "I wanted to decide slippers or no slippers because I totally could have gone barefoot for my new costume but then I thought wait, barefoot like in all women should be barefoot and pregnant? And me a role model for young Asian American girls everywhere? well, not everywhere, but at least two folks online think I am and they're watching so nope nope, I went with the slippers even though my powers make it redundant mostly. Let me tell you it is no easy feet finding the right foot wear for maximum crime fighting efficiency. I mean, sneakers are great as sneakers, but it just looks so unheroic right?" She took a breath.
That was our chance. See, Pogo's greatest power is verbosity. If you don't dive in quick in the few gaps she gives you (because even she has to breathe) then you lose any chance of getting a word in edge wise. That much had not changed.
Lady Obsidian knew this, and she had things to do so she spoke up then, "That's fine, Pogo. It looks very nice. Folks, I need the floor if you please. I have some big announcements explaining the new loss to the city's superhero population..."
It wasn't just Pogo who cut in on that, it was all of us.
"Wait, the rumors are true?" Arctic Fox said in the same tone of disbelief I felt.
"Oh my god I'm never going to be a member, but I've worked so hard," Pogo began to protest.
"Come on, Viv," Pinprick wasn't supposed to use our non-super names and frankly was the only one who could get away with using that nickname for our team leader, but no one was going to call him on it as he was speaking for all of us, "I know things have been dull lately, but ending the team, or even kicking some of them to the curb? You don't want to do that."
"Seriously," Tornado agreed, "I mean, I like this team better than I do my family," There was that silent beat of a moment and he added, "Sorry, Valerosa."
Ariana shook her head, "Don't apologize. I feel the same way, not that I'd tell them."
Viewpoint frowned but said nothing.
I took a breath and made up my mind about something, "Lady Obsidian, Costa Sagrado is doing well, but the New Samaritans are the reason why it's doing well. If you take away this team and leave the place undefended, or even just disorganized; it'll be chaos. Word will get out. It always does. Without a deterrent, the criminal element will flood back into the area with a vengeance. And without a support net work, without coordination, we might have lives lost. We can't risk that. I'm begging you, please, don't break us up. Don't kick a lot of us out. But if you do, then...well, Maybe we'll have to pick a new name or something, find a new place, but we'll have to keep the team going in one form or another. And I bet the others would be with me on that."
Some of the others were already nodding. Tornado even threw in a "damn straight" for which I was grateful.
Well, there it was. I had just put my foot down against the team leader; not quite an act of rebellion, but certainly conviction. She was a woman I had admired since I was a boy. Heck, I did a report on her in MIddle school for Black History Month. I could only hope that, even if she was now going to eject me first, that I had earned her respect in so doing.
"What in God's name are you all talking about?" Lady Obsidian said, "Do I look like an idiot? I know the city would get swarmed if we left it undefended. My mother, rest her soul, did not raise an idiot. I've only been doing this for longer than any of you were born. You think I haven't seen what happens when cities lose their super teams?"
"Ahhhh," I said intelligently.
Valerosa looked at her feet.
"Sorry, Boss," Pinprick winced.
"We got it all wrong?" Pogo said in a way that made it sound like she still wasn't sure but would agree to anything that would get her out of trouble.
"Damn straight," Tornado said throwing an arm around Lady Obsidian's armored shoulders and waving a finger at us, "The rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves. Where's the trust?"
"Tornado," Lady O said in a flat tone, "Remove the arm, you are not fooling anyone."
"Roger that," He put his arms to his sides.
"Okay, what is going on then?" Arctic Fox said, "I'm sorry, we all are, but you were heard saying earlier that the base would feel the absence and..."
"If you folks would let me finish?" Lady Obsidian said putting one hand on her hip, "First, let's get some things settled. Viewpoint, welcome to the team, if you want to make it official."
Viewpoint's eyebrows shot up, then he smiled "Thanks. Was a time I'd ask about royalties and insist on Tuesdays off, but you know, I had my eyes opened a bit since then," Then he added, "No pun intended."
A few chuckles.
"Well, you'll get a stipend and some royalties from a few merchandise sales just like the rest of us, but you've been busting your ass by our side and it has not gone unnoticed," Lady Obsidian said.
Then she turned, "Pogo. Might as well make it official even though you're not quite eighteen yet. Welcome to the team. You are, at long last, a New Samaritan."
Pogo's jaw dropped open and nothing.
"I think she's broken," Pinprick observed.
"She's speechless," Artic Fox commented.
"Like I said," Pinprick nodded.
"Pogo, honey? You have to say yes for it to count, I don't draft people against their," Unlike Tornado, Pogo threw BOTH arms around our team leader, "oof, will." Lady O finished.
"YES, Affirmative, Absolutely, Positive, Surely, eagerly, Yes yes yes!" Pogo said!
"So that's a maybe then," Tornado commented dryly.
"I know how she feels," Viewpoint said, "Go easy on her."
Congratulations to you both! Slime declared in his way.
"What the blob said," Arctic Fox said.
"We have one more person to let into the field," Lady Obsidian said, "Though I hesitate to call her a new member."
A thought occurred to me as I remembered the only person I had expected to be here who wasn't.
"Despite my suggestions not to, she has, as her supername, chosen to call herself Brazen," The good scientist finished.
The door opened, and there was the most gorgeous brass colored robot I'd ever seen. Okay, that would arguably be a category with little competition. What I mean is, a brass hued robot who looked like she had stepped out of the cover of a 1980s Sci Fi magazine was in front of us. Her hair was copper, and , of course, not hair at all but rather wires meant to simulate it. The phrase "a body built for sin" gains new legitimacy when it really was built.
There was nothing blatantly pornographic about her, I mean, the skin had a sort of faux costume pattern, really more like a one piece; but despite that I could tell that a lot of young men who saw her would be developing a new appreciation for technology their mothers would not approve of.
"Ta-daaa!" Brazen struck a pose while still in the door frame.
Her voice confirmed my suspicions.
"Looking good, Mabel" I said. It was an understatement but I said it in what I hoped was a supportive drooling free tone.
"Wait, that's Mabel?" Viewpoint said.
"Oh my god," Arctic Fox said.
"His wonders to behold," Tornado said reverently as he oggled the she-bot.
"Well, that's not going to lead to impossible body image expectations for my peers at all" Pogo muttered as she surveyed the bust to waist to hip ratio of the robotic body.
Valerosa simply hugged the mechanical form for a moment, then parted (Just in time too, a fantasy was forming, one that would get me killed if a telepath ever squealed) to say "Congratulations, Mabel. I mean Brazen. You finally got a body that.. I mean, you can feel it right? It's not a remote thing?"
"My hardware is now in this body, and this body is functional," Brazen winked in the general direction of the men of the team "Fully functional."
"Stop that," Arctic Fox told Mabel/Brazen, "Or we won't get anything productive done."
"She's got a point" Lady Obsidian agreed with Fox.
"Where's the trust?" Pinprick said looking hurt.
None of the women on the team dignified that with a response.
"Seriously, congratulations, Bonita," Tornado said.
"This been a dream of yours long?" Viewpoint asked.
"Sure feels like it, " Mabel said, "and it's not just for looks. Superstrong, super durable and a few other goodies besides."
Valerosa and I exchanged looks. Super strength with accompanying durability and resilience was amg the cornerstone power set. I'd been invited to join the New Samaritans in large part because I filled that crucial niche, that and because they thought I was Atlantean and talked to fish, but that's neither here nor there. When Velrosa went super dense, she came close to matching me. Now there were three of us?
I don't know about Ariana but a part of me wondered if I was now more than a little redundant. Another part of me couldn't wait to figure out if Brazen or I was stronger. Yes, it's a bit of a jock thing, but there's a competitive streak among superheroes of similar abilities. Mostly good natured. Mostly.
Brazen's sultry tones took on an apologetic twinge, "I'm afraid there is a downside to this body walking around as my new home base."
"An increase in traffic accidents?" Tornado opined.
Mabel gave a dazzling smile, "That too, but no. I mean while I can still run things remotely for the vehicles and the base if I concentrate; and hooking up the coms is little trouble- From now on a lot of things are going to be on a default standard programming level. That is, just as artificial, but not as intelligent."
"That'll slow response time of some protocols," I said aloud, earning a look from Valerosa. She was right, I realized, now was not the time to induce guilt in someone for living a dream, even if I didn't mean to. I threw in "But it's nothing we can't adapt for."
The robotic woman cheered at that, "Thanks for understanding, everyone. Maybe eventually I'll be able to handle this body and all that with greater ease but there's an integration period. And the other thing." She gave a look to Lady Obsidian.
"The other thing?" Pinprick said it first, I swear.
"Some of you may have noticed we have had a bit of a slow down in Costa Sagrado's crime rate, from super-crime to purse snatching, is down a tick," She stated.
We all stared at her.
"Fine, from that weird mix of loyalty and near mutiny I got just a few minutes ago, it's obvious you are all aware this city's crime rate is lower, but there is a price to our success," She gestured to the monitor screens. I wasn't sure but I swore they lit up just half second slower than they did when Mabel's hard drive was in the base, an unfamiliar city skyline came up then zoomed in focus, "This is Port Cascade. Hundreds of miles away from us, you probably heard of it more than seen it but it does have a pretty nice alternative music scene. It doesn't get as much sunlight as Costa Sagrado, and likes to boast it's greener, probably because of all that rain. Despite that, it's got many of the same things to offer, fusion foods, hipsters aging inelegantly, and a thriving tech industry. Guess where all the supervillains have been going in the last year?"
The question was rhetorical, but Pinprick the bait enough to say "Des Moines?"
"No, man, that's election time, and the villains aren't super, just political," Tornado corrected.
"Laugh it up," Lady Obsidian said and gestured to the monitors again. The display was not just one screen after all, and images flashed all over. Images of supervillains we'd fought before and some we'd never seen danced on those screens. Looting openly, pillaging like modern day vikings, and having a grand time doing it.
Tornado's eyes locked on one figure, in an orange and black costume, the style of which reminded me of certain martial arts movies, "That's Devil Tiger. He's not there just for fun or easy money."
The name rung a bell, "Isn't he one of your oldest foes?" I asked, "You two used to spar all the time?"
"Yeah, with mixed results each time," Tornado scowled, "And he's not your typical payroll raider or even jewelry store bandit. He's a member of a group of assassins who call themselves the Children of the Dread Star. They seek to release him so he may rule all the world with them as his beloved and favored generals. Frankly, I despised the guy long before I knew what a lunatic he was. If he's in Port Cascade, something big is going on."
"And I recognize at least three monsters on my usual dance card," Arctic Fox said, "When can I go?"
And there it was, out in the open.
"Wait," I said staring at Lady Obsidian, "You're branching us out? Aren't you? Some stay here, others go there, and we're big enough to roll."
I couldn't go. Could not go. Sure, a break was coming up, but even that break was going to require study, and I had commitments. I hated to bring her the bad news but I readied myself to make my case.
"You can't go, Eel," Lady Obsidian said as she saw me preparing to say something.
"Why the hell not?" came out of my mouth, a testament to the contrariness of the Lambert line.
"Because I worked too hard to get you to go to college and I don't trust a two week break not to stretch out into something else," She said.
"Great, a month or whatever taking orders from Pinprick" I sighed.
"Pinprick's not staying here," Lady Obsidian said.
"Why not?" my girlfriend's warning pinch did not get to me in time, "How come he gets to be not bored?" I demanded.
"Because I'm her indispensable ace-in-the-hole, you're her highly dispensable acehole," Pinprick smirked.
I flashed the diminutive archer the gesture of the high hand, never let it be said I won't abandon silver age sensibilities under pressure.
"Pretty much that, I've grown to rely on him and he backs my plays very well, most of the time," She eyed Pinprick as she gave the qualifier.
Viewpoint cut through this to ask his own question, "Just who is being left behind? Me? I don't much care. But we got to leave some folks behind. Even if there's just a one in hundred chance some seriously bad threat arises this city needs some heroes."
"Very true, Viewpoint," Lady Obsidian nodded, "And as Eel surmised, I am splitting the team. Pinprick, Arctic Fox, Tornado, Mabel and myself will be going with me. Mabel because I'll need muscle and her body is new and I want to make sure the transition to her new robotic form sticks. Viewpoint, Pogo, Slime, this is an excellent time for you to coordinate a little bit more with each other as a team. Eel and Valorasa will be team co captains while I'm gone."
I must have looked surprised.
"Eel, you've shown leadership moments before, and Valorasa knows this city almost as well as Tornado does, plus, as a Partial she can help empathize with the new trainees who are partials themselves when you teach them," Lady Obsidian said, "You two will be great co-captains."
Valorasa beamed at me, "This could be exciting."
Pogo clearly agreed, "Guys, guys, you know what this means? I mean wow while the old pros are out, the young talent is getting room to show off and folks won't see us and say hey there's those tagalongs, no they're goinna see us and go 'Look, it's the NEW New Samaritans!' Yay!"
Me? I felt Ariana's smile getting contagious, and looked to the old school crew, "Thanks guys. I..We're proud you trust us with the city and we won't let you down."
"I knew you won't," Lady Obsidian said.
"Wait, trainees?" I blinked.
"Well, of course. " Lady Obsidian said, "Look, crime is low and you've got a two week break where you can teach some basics to the partials who I gave the gear too. I said I would do it, did you think I was lying to the government official? There are laws against that sort of thing." She said with a bit of satisfaction.
"Mozel Tov, Fish Guy," Pinprick said hoisting a thimble sized mug and taking a drink, "To the youngbloods, may they not screw this up!"
"Hey!" Pogo said offended on our behalves.
Slime bubbled with what I guessed to be amusement.
And I felt a strong need for a hard drink. Leading the team I could do? But teaching?
I Looked at Tornado, one of my best friends and whispered, "She expects me to teach a group of young partials how to use their full powers?"
"If it helps," He said kindly, "We'll get your head shaved before we go."
Ah, team mates, always there when you need them; usually with a punch line.