Blades & Barriers: Chapter 13

                It was an earpiece, that much was obvious, but one unlike anything Brett had ever seen before. Smooth, sleek, and silver, it seemed perfectly made for him as he followed Danny’s directions and slipped it into his right ear. To Brett’s surprise, there was no noticeable difference in the sound around him, unlike when he normally blocked up an ear. It was still transmitting all the normal nearby noise, including Danny’s voice, as though there was nothing there at all.

                “And don’t worry, Gunk. Yours has been customized with a vibrational frequency for when you’re in goo mode. It should function like a bone-conduction headset, only for viscous liquid, and you’ll be able to speak back through it. We may need to do a little tweaking to make sure it’s perfect, but have no fear, we’ll get it right eventually.”

                Justin finished putting the earpiece in place, giving his head a few test shakes and failing to dislodge it. Brett mimicked him, impressed at how little movement there was in the piece. He could probably run around a battlefield and never worry about it slipping out, which was, of course, what it had been designed for.

                “Those earpieces are going to be your direct link to Dispatch. You’re expected to have them on at all times while in costume or in the base. The only exception is when you’re asleep, and even then if it isn’t too uncomfortable we’d like you to try and keep them in. Have no fear about damaging them either, the things are waterproof, dustproof, and can take a heck of a lot of impact before anything inside breaks. The only time you’re permitted to be without that earpiece is when you’re out and about in your civilian identity and your status is officially set to non-active. They shift coloration to match your skin tone so they blend in well, I bet you never even noticed Angela’s; however, it’s a little too risky to ask you to wear them without a mask covering your ear. It might give away your secret, and we don’t want to take that from any Hero.”

                “Hello?” Justin was tapping his earpiece, trying to get some sort of response. “I’m sorry, I can’t seem to find the button that activates this.”

                “There is no button,” Danny explained. “That device is always running. It tracks your location, some basic vitals, and can hear pretty much everything you can. You’ll need both hands during a big fight, so it was decided to leave the earpieces constantly running.”

                That was… a little alarming, honestly. Brett wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about everything he did and said being listened to. Then again, Danny had made it clear that the requirement only really applied to Barrier, when he was Brett he could take it out and do as he pleased. Given the level of oversight on Heroes, perhaps it wasn’t the worst thing to have a record of what he’d done. It would make proving innocence, or guilt, all the easier in the event the DVA felt he’d over-stepped.

                “Wait, if we always have them in, then how do they charge?” Justin asked.

                “Good question. Not many people think about that,” Danny replied. “It works like wireless cell phone chargers, only on a grander scale. While you’re in your base, it’s constantly being fed power, the battery doesn’t engage until you’re in the field. We also have a few chargers around major cities, just in case a Hero needs to juice up but can’t make it to base for whatever reason. In dire situations, Dispatch will send out a replacement. Since the things last for upwards of a week on a full charge though, it rarely comes up.”

                Danny clicked a button on his laptop and brought up a new slide showing a rudimentary flowchart. “As you can see, the DVA processes and analyzes crimes in real time as they are reported, keeping watch for anything that might involve Supers or Powereds. Then, they determine which Hero is the best to deal with any given situation, using a combination of proximity, current status, past history, powers, you get the idea. That information is fed to Dispatch, who coordinates the Heroes to the job and feeds them all relevant information. She also collects whatever intel they gather through the fight and sends it back up to the DVA. Essentially Dispatch is the link between the DVA and the Heroes, making sure things are perfectly coordinated and no resources are wasted.”

                “Excuse me… she? You talk like this is one person, when the work you’ve described would demand the resources of an entire team. A massive one, at that,” Justin pointed out.

                “And no one should be able to turn into a puddle of ooze and survive,” Danny countered. “You’re not the only Supers in government employ, you know.”

                “So how do we do it? Check in, I mean. If she’s always listening, does she automatically know our status?” Brett asked.

                “She’ll have an idea, but it’s important that you set your own status,” Danny said. “And I think it’s time for you to do just that. You’re both going to be on call for now, like the rest of the team. Say your code name out loud and that you’re setting your status. Dispatch won’t respond to anyone’s civilian names, so make sure you stick to Hero titles when dealing with her.”

                Brett and Justin exchanged an uneasy glance, and, with nothing else they could really do, went about the task Danny had given them. Licking his lips, Brett chose a tone that wasn’t quite a whisper, but was still diminished from what he used in normal conversation. “Um, hello? Dispatch? This is Bre- er, Barrier. I’m supposed to let you know that I am now on call.”

                “Status acknowledged, Barrier.” The voice was crisp and clear, like she was standing inches away. There was also an accent on it, something that smacked of European but was either too diluted or unique for Brett to be able to place. Weirdest of all, however, was that it was also familiar.

                “I’ve heard you before. When my class did mock-city battles last year, you were the DVA rep feeding us information.”

                “Yes, while my role in the Hero system is generally downplayed, it has been deemed useful to see how well potential HCP graduates can interact with and utilize my resources. Sometimes I am even asked to provide feedback. As I recall, you put on a standout performance in that exam.”

                Much as he appreciated the comment, Brett was having a hard time not feeling a bit weirded out by all of this. There was a lot he’d known he was signing up for when he became a Hero, but having a constant passenger riding along in his ear definitely hadn’t been sold as part of the package. It was going to take some getting used to. Not that he’d have much time to do so, as Danny was already moving on, loading up a new set of slides onto the computer.

                “Now that you’re both set up with Dispatch, let’s move on to exemplary resource requisition forms. And hey, after this, we get to take a fifteen minute break before we move into the final few hours.”

                It was only the knowledge that Dispatch was perched in his ear that kept Brett from swearing under his breath, and even then he barely managed it.