Blades & Barriers: Chapter 23

                The upside of continual healing was that it made sleep impossible to resist, no matter how bad a case of nerves one might have. Despite all the anxiety and excitement Brett felt about the idea of his first day in the field as a Hero, he still passed clean out the moment his head hit the pillow. The downside was that those emotions were waiting for him when he woke up, agitated and increased by being temporarily put off.

                Morning exercise, showering, and breakfast all happened on auto-pilot. It took nearly everything Brett had to put one foot in front of another. He’d been working toward this for so long, training so hard, and now that the moment was nearly at hand all he could think about was what if he messed up? What if he’d gotten through on luck and circumstance more than skill, and he cost someone their life the first time he stepped foot outside in costume? Silly as it was, and he knew that on a rational level, the fear wouldn’t dissipate. His only consolation was that Justin, despite being more practiced at hiding his emotions, also looked a bit worried over breakfast. Everyone probably got the first day jitters, and that was fine. All that mattered was that he didn’t let them affect him in the field.

                “Listen up team, time for today’s assignments,” Unseelie announced. She’d waited until everyone around the kitchen was nearly done with breakfast before standing up, her own plate picked clean. Brett didn’t know how people could eat full meals before going out to fight crime; his own stomach was dancing so hard it was easy to suspect Panic was messing with him. But he already knew the real answer to the question: to them, this was just another day on the job.

                “Bayou is going to be digging in to local gang activity, seeing if any of them have grudges against United Avalon or allegiances to the deposed former government. A lot of money and Supers came over here before the revolution, and if there’s someone who might not want UA diplomats poking around town we need to be prepared for them. Gunk, you’re with Bayou. Take your orders and keep your ears open, this is a chance to learn about the city while making some street-level contacts. Bayou, do you need any backup?”

                “I’d like to keep Panic nearby, just in case,” Bayou replied. “Some of the places I’m going to have to hit are a little risky, and with a trainee in the mix it’s prudent to have a rapid exit strategy ready to go if we need it.”

                “Any conflicts with that, Panic?” Unseelie turned to Panic, who was wearing a tasteful outfit that seemed out of place amidst everyone else’s workout clothes.

                She finished eating a bite of eggs, chewing them slowly as she mulled the question over. “Can you do those in the afternoon? As you can guess from the ensemble, I’m doing a DVA meeting first thing and then I have to change into costume for a local charity appearance. Both of those can be pushed, but I’d rather not if we don’t have to.”

                “Afternoon is perfect,” Bayou said. “Gives me the morning to do the less-dangerous work and get Gunk settled in.”

                Unseelie nodded. “That’s settled then. Everyone else, we’re going to do patrol. Charon and I will take the south-eastern part of town, Bloodfyre and Barrier, I want both of you walking the western area. Hammerspace, stay in the same general area in case they need backup, but stroll down a different beat than them. We’ve been out of sight for a few days; I’d like to maximize overall exposure without putting the interns in too much danger. On that note, Barrier, shields up at all times. You’re going to be in public view and aren’t used to watching for warning signs of an impending attack. Plus, that blue glow is eye-catching, and we want to be noticed. That’s half of why we do these patrols. Understood?”

                Brett dearly wished he hadn’t chosen that moment to take a bite of bacon, as it felt stuck in his throat the moment she said his Hero name. He tried to respond, but it refused to move, and for a second he genuinely feared he might choke. Instead, he gave up on verbal responses and flopped his head up and down to signal that he’d heard. There were a few muted chuckles from around the table, but Brett was too focused on getting the food down to pinpoint their sources.

                “One more thing before we head out,” Unseelie continued, mercifully not calling attention to Brett’s sudden silence. “If we get any summons from Dispatch, I’m going to try and not bring in Bayou and Gunk unless strictly necessary. They need the time and freedom to work with, plus Barrier will make up the difference in manpower. I will take Panic off of them, though. We need to get used to fighting alongside Barrier and letting him learn the team dynamics firsthand. Gunk, we’ll be bringing you along when not pre-occupied with Bayou, but since you’re not combat-focused it’s a secondary priority in your training. Some leaders would still force you onto the battlefield, and if that’s what you want we can shift things around, however I assumed you’d prefer more time spent working with your Subtlety skills.”

                “You hit the nail right on the head.” Justin seemed unafflicted by the bout of dry mouth that had struck Brett. “I’ll always be glad to do my part, but I think I’m generally more useful gathering information than fighting.”

                “It will depend on the threat in question, if one even pops up. Planning for the unknown is impossible, so it’s usually best to make loose, easily changeable plans until we actually know what we’re up against. Anyway, that concludes the day’s assignments.” Unseelie paused, her eyes glancing at Brett and Justin. “As always, Dispatch’s orders trump my own, so be ready to throw it all out the window if something serious comes up.”

                That last part had clearly been added for the new interns’ benefit, since everyone else would be keenly aware of their chain of command. It was strange to think that a whole day’s plans could be tossed away at a moment’s notice, in the HCP everything had been scheduled and coordinated carefully. Even when Brett was about the plunge headfirst into unknown chaos, he at least knew when it would begin and end. There were other classes to consider, so schedules were firmly adhered to. Out here, in the real world, there would be no week’s warning he could use to prepare. They might be needed at any time. Hell, it was possible the team wouldn’t even be able to finish breakfast before being called out to stop a Super trying to level half the city.

                Surprisingly, the thought made Brett feel a little less nervous. He’d been stressing out badly about what was waiting for him out in the field, but the truth was nothing was actually going to wait on him to appear. The chaos could come at any time, which meant he’d either have to spend every moment in dread or just accept the unpredictability of his chosen job and find peace with it. Granted, this didn’t ameliorate his worries completely, not by a long shot. However, it did settle his stomach enough to get a few more bites of breakfast down.

                Whatever was waiting for them in the field, there was no sense facing it on an empty stomach.