Blades & Barriers: Chapter 2

                Despite having technically arrived at his destination, Brett had a bit more walking to do. The texts he’d been sent, no doubt hurriedly typed while Bloodfyre was dashing out the door, were very specific that he not walk right in the front entrance of the Wayward Wraiths’ base. The area was almost certainly swept to make sure there were no cameras or recording devices to track the team’s comings and goings, but no defense was ever perfect. And while the bottom floor of the base was a small museum that did tours, it would hardly do for Brett to waltz in and never emerge.

                Security was important for Heroes, especially new members who didn’t have the good habits down yet. Brett hadn’t actually needed to be told that, any more than he’d needed to be cautioned that he couldn’t carry luggage more attention-grabbing than a backpack. Others, however, he could see requiring such instructions. So he’d said nothing, following protocols and shipping the few belongings he could ahead.

                Another mile and Brett reached a mostly abandoned strip mall. The few things still open were a nail salon, a dentist’s office, and a restaurant that advertised itself as “modern experimental fusion” whatever that meant. Double checking his texts and saying a small prayer that Bloodfyre had gotten the instructions right, Brett headed into the restaurant. It was dark, despite the bright afternoon sun, and a lone man stood at the counter. He eyed Brett carefully as he walked in, though if he was at all concerned by the wide-shouldered young man he kept it to himself.

                Doing a quick sweep, Brett realized the place was deserted. He mumbled a curse under his breath, obviously Bloodfyre had been typing too fast and sent him the wrong address. Just as Brett turned around, however, another man strolled through the front door. This one wore a navy suit, although he lacked any tie and in fact left the front of his white dress shirt unfastened to the third button. As soon as he laid eyes on Brett, a wide smile broke out across his tan, handsome face.

                “Ah, there you are! So sorry I’m running late, we got word you’d arrived just as I had to handle getting the team back in. You’ve got terrible timing, anyone ever told you that? The other guy was the opposite, made it just before the call went out. Oh well, better good than lucky right? Wait, shit, that goes the other way. Woo, sorry, been a bit of a day. Javier, would you mind getting me a coffee? One for the rookie too.”

                As Brett stood there, trying to withstand the tidal wave of information that had just been flung at him, the man dug through his suit pockets until he produced a badge bound in leather. “It’s nice to meet you Brett, heard great things. My name is Daniel Calderon, but everyone just calls me Danny. I’m your DVA-assigned transportation asset, and I do a little liaison work for the agency as well.”

                Brett’s eyes went so wide that it felt like he’d sprained a muscle, and he whirled around to look at the man behind the counter who was currently pouring coffee into two paper cups. Who just announced that they were DVA like that? Especially when picking up a new Hero. If they were lucky, genuinely truly blessed by whatever divine power watched over Heroes and idiots, then the man at the counter hadn’t heard them.

                A soft chuckle came from behind him, and Brett whipped his head back around to find Danny still grinning cheerfully. “I assume the theatrics are because you’re worried about Javier, which you shouldn’t be. He’s a retired DVA agent, and is kind enough to let us use his restaurant for these sorts of meetings.”

                “Long as you buy something.” It was the first words Javier had spoken, and he set the coffees down on the counter as he did.

                “Put it on the DVA’s tab, if they’re going to make me work these hours then the least they can do is pay for my caffeine.” Danny walked over and scooped up both cups before heading to a small table where various sugars, fake and real, were set out. “Brett, how do you take yours? I know it’s blasphemy but I like three pinks and one blue, plus cream. Can’t help myself, just born with a sweet tooth I guess.”

                “I… one scoop of sugar, a little cream.” This was not what Brett had been expecting. True, he hadn’t known exactly what he was walking into, even being on the fringe of the Hero world didn’t give one a true picture, but he’d been braced for something a little more… clandestine. Not a chatty agent in a weird fusion restaurant.

                “A man more disciplined than I. Good for you, that’s a solid trait to have.” Danny finished dumping what had to be an unhealthy amount of fake sugar into his coffee, then put a much smaller amount of the real stuff in Brett’s. Pouring in some cream from a small silver jug, he stirred them and popped on two lids before walking over and presenting Brett with his.

                “Even though it’s the afternoon, you’ll want to go ahead and drink this. The first day isn’t supposed to be hectic, but it almost always is. Just seems to be one of those Hero things, you know?”

                Brett tried to wince at Danny chucking out the word “Hero” so casually. All that safety protocol, and then he just came breezing in acting like it was no big deal. This had to be someone new on the job; it was the only explanation that made sense.

                “Anyway, now that you’ve got your coffee, just let me know when you’re ready and we’ll head out.” Danny took a short sip of his own drink, pulling back almost immediately from the hot liquid.

                “Is there a secret passageway or something?” Brett perhaps allowed a bit more hope into his voice than he might have wished, admitting he was excited about things like secret passageways went against the cool, experienced demeanor he’d worked so hard to try and cultivate. Which made it all the more disappointing when Danny shook his head.

                “Sorry, some of the older bases have those, but the construction costs for running secret tunnels more than a block or so get ridiculous. Plus, we’re under sea-level, so you can’t even have basements out here. Not without a Super constantly reinforcing them, anyway. And you think the DVA will foot that bill? Sometimes they try to give me hell about reimbursement for my meals here.”

                “You do almost always get the shrimp and roe sorbet,” Javier called out.

                “It’s a lean protein and it tastes delicious, I won’t apologize for caring about my body,” Danny shot back. “Anyway, no tunnels, just me. So, like I said, let me know when you’re ready to go. And don’t use your power by accident or anything. From what I’ve read, I’m not sure how that would react to mine.”

                Although it had taken Brett longer than he was proud of to catch on, it was at least forgivable given how much Danny had hurled at him in a short span. At least, that’s what he would tell himself later. Finally, understanding dawned, though.

                “Wait, you’re a Super?”

                “Teleporter, to be precise. Not the best of the lot, there are plenty out there much faster than me, but I’ve got a great range. I can make it across the country in only four hops. With people in tow, no less.” Danny all but beamed as he reached out and set his free hand gently on Brett’s shoulder. “I do have to have contact, though. Now, you want to hang around here and get lunch, or you ready to see your new home?”

                It struck Brett in that moment that all the anxiety he’d felt walking up to the base had vanished into the mist of confusion that was Danny Calderon. That might have been a happy accident, or the work of someone who had a lot of experience in keeping people at ease. Brett mentally adjusted his opinion of the DVA agent, allowing for the possibility that there was more than he was seeing, before giving a small nod.

                “Fantastic,” Danny said. “Just try not to spill. The ride can be a little bumpy, and Javier makes his coffee hot.”