Blades & Barriers: Chapter 20

                “So I know I said my shield was strong and all, but this feels like it might be a bit riskier than I was expecting.” Brett didn’t go so far as to actively back away from Titan, however he made little effort to hide the worry on his face.

                “Relax, we’re not going to have Titan try to pulp you off the bat,” Hammerspace assured him. “This is going to be just like everything else, a series of gradual increases.”

                “Same thing I did with your father,” Titan added.

                Brett felt like his heart had suddenly forgotten how to do its job, as several beats in a row were unexpectedly skipped. “I’m sorry; did you say you did this to my father?”

                Titan nodded, making his way across the room until he was only a few feet away from Brett. “Sure. This was a long time ago, mind you, but Hank needed to have his shield tested before he could be cleared to help train a particularly powerful Super, so I was brought in to see how much he could withstand. Credit where it’s due, the man took one of my punches at full strength without his shield breaking, although I have gotten considerably stronger since then.”

                Bloodfyre clapped a hand onto Brett’s shoulder just as he was taking a deep breath to steel his nerves. “Don’t worry; he’s not starting at full power. We just want to see how much physical force you can really withstand. As soon as a crack in the shield appears, he’ll dial it back.”

                “And it’s not like I have to punch you in the torso,” Titan pointed out. “Just hold out your arm, that’s how Hank and I did it. Safety first, you know.”

                “Right, safety first.” Now that the initial shock was dying down, Brett had regained some sense of control over himself. Carefully, he extended his left arm, the one he’d miss slightly less if anything went wrong. As he did, Bloodfyre retreated to the edge of the room with Unseelie, Hammerspace, and the DVA agents. Safe or not, it seemed no one wanted to be too nearby in case of collateral damage.

                For his part, Titan moved slowly, putting himself into position and carefully lining up his shot. The blow was aimed for Brett’s forearm, and with a sudden jab that was exactly where Titan connected, slamming his fist into Brett’s shield where it was completely stopped.

                Brett let out a small sigh of relief, while Titan reeled back his sizable arm. “How you feeling, Barrier? Stamina good? Need any healing?”

                “I’m fine,” Brett assured him. It was strange to hear his Hero name come out of someone else’s mouth, especially someone as famous as Titan. He’d almost forgotten that he was even in costume, the simple gray and blue ensemble that allowed for easy movement over durability. After all, he didn’t really need his clothes for protection, that was what his entire power was for.

                The next few minutes played out almost identically to the first punch. Titan would take his time, line up a shot, and then jab Brett’s shield. After that, he’d make sure there was no need for healing, and then continue. The one break in the action was that every five punches, even though Brett didn’t ask for it, they would pause so Dwight could come over and do a quick healing session to keep Brett in peak form. Brett couldn’t even tell most of the strikes apart, they all felt just like everything else that had ever hit his shield. It all sort of blended together until one punch stood very much out.

                Brett had lost count of what number they were on, truthfully he was getting a little bored with just standing in place. All he knew was that Titan’s fist connected, and suddenly sweat was covering his body and it was hard to breathe. He felt like he’d just finished the run with Hammerspace all over again, muscles aching as he hunched slightly over.

                “Looks like we finally got a reaction,” Bloodfyre said. He was already halfway over, followed only a few steps behind by Dwight and Unseelie. “Barrier, you okay?”

                “Fine.” The word came out as more of a gasp than a declaration, but Brett still managed to grab enough air to form it which was a victory in itself. He’d never felt anything like that before. Sure, over time he’d experienced his body growing taxed from the effort of maintaining his shield, however having it all hit him at once was a wholly new, and unenjoyable, experience.

                “Like hell. How much did you increase the power from the last punch?” Unseelie asked Titan. She didn’t seem angry, exactly, but she was using a far sterner voice than most would have with a Super who towered above everyone else in the room.

                “I was aiming for just a little bit stronger, but I may have slightly overshot. This isn’t an exact science, you know.” Titan leaned down to look Brett in the eye as he slowly recovered his air. “I’m really sorry, Barrier. I may have put too much into that last one.”

                Brett waved him off as Dwight arrived. Dropping his shield, he allowed the DVA healer to make contact with his skin, and slowly the exhaustion faded away. By the time Dwight released him, Brett felt great, like he could take another dozen or so punches from Titan. That was hubris, however. He’d seen just how quickly Titan’s real power could drain him.

                “It is worth noting that the shield never gave an inch or wavered, it just demanded a lot of energy from Barrier to maintain,” Bloodfyre said. “I’m guessing Titan was slinging some serious power around, so that’s pretty impressive.”

                “No question about it. Barrier was withstanding real hits there. Especially that last one,” Titan agreed. “I think short of a Manhattan Class Super or someone with a huge capacity for small-scale damage, there won’t be much out there that can make a dent in him.”

                “Alright, with that we’ll mark the physical evaluation complete,” Unseelie declared. “Barrier, head to the locker room and change into the outfit we’ve prepared for you, next up we’re going to see how well you keep out non-physical attacks, and that means you’re dealing with Panic. Titan, thank you for your time. Tell Deadlift I appreciate the loan.”

                “It’s no problem. Always glad to help out when I can.”

                Brett said nothing as he hurried to the locker rooms, anxious to get on to the next part of the exam. Feeling his power’s limits was tough, although this time hadn’t been nearly as bad as the instance with Angela. He was getting accustomed to it, at least. This next part probably would end the same way, and that was okay. Finding his limits was how he got stronger. No one made it out of the HCP without learning that lesson. Granted, back then it was usually Brett’s tactics or planning that failed rather than his abilities, but he was still used to working past shortcomings.

                All the same, he did wish he’d been able to take one of Titan’s punches at full power. Especially knowing that his father had already pulled off such a feat.