Blades & Barriers: Chapter 18

                As it turned out, Brett wouldn’t be challenging Unseelie or Panic in a footrace anytime soon. He gasped for air as Hammerspace finally slowed to a brisk walk, also panting but not quite as worn out. She waited for him to catch up before they began heading toward base, the early morning air drying the sweat from their skin. The race hadn’t been a total slaughter; however, there was a very clear winner between the two.

                “You’re quick,” Brett managed to choke out between gasps.

                “I have to stay mobile on the battlefield, so I spend more time on cardio and agility than Cecil or Elmer. You’ll probably be a little more stationary, but it’s never bad to get the heart pumping.” Hammerspace reached into her small backpack and Brett caught the barest of brief glows from within. Then she was handing him a bottle of water, which stole away all of Brett’s attention until he’d sated the worst of his thirst.

                By the time he stopped taking sips, he noticed that she was drinking a bottle as well, despite the backpack being visibly empty. What was more surprising, though, was that he realized the bottle was ice cold, like it had just been pulled from a refrigerator.

                “Is it…” Brett stopped, turning his head around to make sure they were alone. The streets were still thin with people, and none were remotely close, but he lowered his voice to a whisper all the same. “Is it cold? You know, in there.”

                “In there? Oh!” Hammerspace took a sip from her own bottle and shook her head. “No, nothing like that. But the bottles were cold when I put them away, so they remained cold until they came back out. Didn’t Unseelie give you the run down on our abilities?”

                “Just Blo-… Cecil and Elmer’s. And hers,” Brett said.

                “She probably meant to and ran out of time. Still, this could be a good learning opportunity. Alright, rookie, tell me what you know about Panic and Hammerspace’s abilities. Let’s see how well you researched.” Hammerspace began moving a touch faster, keeping Brett’s pulse up even as he racked his brain for every pertinent detail.

                “Panic induces a terrified state in almost anyone she looks at, when she wants to. Some are more bothered by it than others, but historically almost no one has been able to shrug it off entirely. She wipes out the lesser criminals in a fight while weakening the more dangerous ones. While it’s been speculated that she’d be subpar on her own, in a team dynamic she’s an invaluable resource.”

                Hammerspace flashed Brett a brief smile. “Very good. The only thing you got wrong was how her power works, but you can hardly be blamed for that. Almost no one outside the team knows that secret. One down, now let’s hear what you know about me.”

                Much as Brett would have liked an explanation for the secret about Panic, he’d been trained well enough to understand that questions came after a task was completed, not mid-way through.

                “Hammerspace, as the name implies, has the ability to store objects in an extra-dimensional space via circular portals. She’s been known to use veritable storms of bullets, or drop heavy objects like cars from great heights. Her power also lends itself well to defense, intercepting attacks from other Supers when they target her team. Generally, she works as a ranged combatant, which means she can manifest her ability from a respectable distance.”

                “Not bad,” Hammerspace told him. “Not as thorough as Panic, though. A few things you left out: I can’t store anything living, or without substantial mass. Basically if I can’t press my hand against it, I can’t store it, which takes out pure energy attacks. However, when I store something, I store it exactly as it is. Temperature, velocity, everything is exactly the same when it comes out. That’s why I can fire a few hundred bullets into a portal and have them come out three weeks later with just as much kick.”

                “I didn’t know that part,” Brett admitted.

                “Nor should you have, that’s why I told you.” Hammerspace finished off her water and placed the empty bottle into the backpack, not bothering with a glow this time. “Panic and I work predominantly as the controllers on the battlefield. She weakens the enemy physically, often driving them into running through one of my portals where they get stripped of everything from their guns to their pants.”

                Brett stopped in place without meaning to, and Hammerspace paused a few steps later to wait for him. “I’m sorry, did you just say pants?”

                “The media never shows that part on TV, obviously, and we don’t bother using that method if someone is clearly a physically-based Super, but it’s a great way to neutralize any cronies they might have with them. While I may not be able to store living creatures, their belongings are fair game. Plus, it’s hard to fight naked. Between Panic and I, we take a lot of the will to fight out of people before the first punches are even thrown. And for those who remain, that’s where I shift to offense so I can support the others.”

                His feet began working again, although his mind was still grappling with the idea of having to fight a bunch of unintentional streakers, and Brett caught up with Hammerspace. “The way the news writes up the battles, they really undersell you two.”

                “Support roles aren’t as flashy as the Heroes who punch through rock, but we are key parts of the team. You’ll learn pretty early on that being valued by people who trust you with their lives is a lot more important than people wearing pictures of your mask on a t-shirt. Although I was working on a deal with a cooler company last ye-”

                Hammerspace’s words died instantly and her whole body stiffened. She grabbed Brett by the shoulder and roughly shoved him back a few steps, placing herself between him and whatever threat had appeared. He was about to object when she relaxed, staring into a nearby set of trees.

                “Jesus Fucking Christ, Danny we’ve told you about that. Send a message through Dispatch or something.”

                From the foliage stepped their DVA rep, bright eyed and visibly chipper despite the early hour. “Sorry, I got word to bring you both back to base right away. Looks like Brett and Justin are getting their full run-through.”

                “Right now? We just did a few miles and I pushed him pretty well, can’t he at least rest?”

                Danny gave them both an enthusiastic thumbs-up. “Don’t sweat it; we already have a healer on hand for exactly that purpose. This day might run long, so we needed to make sure everyone could stay in top shape. He’ll bring Brett back to peak form before we get started. And yes, I know we’re working early, but there were some assets Unseelie could only borrow now.”

                Although the curiosity that flashed across Hammerspace’s face was brief, it still lasted long enough for Brett to notice. The flicker of uncertainty was gone as she turned toward him, however. In its place was gentle reassurance.

                “Well Brett, looks like the boss is calling us home. Take it from me, that’s not a summons you want to ignore. Let’s get you back and suited up; time for the real workout to begin.”