Blades & Barriers: Chapter 25

                Patrol work was a strange experience. Long sections of time where it was tempting to allow boredom to creep in, followed by swiftly arriving instants where things seemed like they were teetering on a knife’s edge, ready to fall into trouble at the slightest wrong word. Bloodfyre led Barrier through their area bit by bit, often sticking to a methodical route, other times skipping past whole blocks. Steadfast, but unpredictable, so even those tracking them on social media wouldn’t be exactly sure where they were going or when they might arrive.

                Most of their walk went just like the start had, with people taking pictures and Bloodfyre waving cheerfully. Barrier even started to get the hang of it, although he wasn’t as good at spotting the covert photographers yet. There were two occasions, however, where the light-heartedness evaporated. The first was when they’d skipped around a few blocks into a neighborhood with less foot traffic. Two men, probably no older than Barrier, were standing in front of a storefront arguing. The words alone weren’t that bad, but at a glance Barrier could see that things were moments away from escalation. After all the fighting he’d done in the HCP, it was impossible to miss the telltale signs of two people readying themselves to get physical. The moment Bloodfyre saw them, he started whistling. Not at them, or being excessively loud. Just a soft melody that he let float forth freely. Oddly, it caught their attention in no time, faster than more shouting would have.

                As they turned toward them, Barrier felt his whole body tense slightly. This wasn’t the nerves of earlier in the day though; this was adrenaline and alertness kicking in to high gear. Barrier studied them, waiting for the slightest move or hint at what powers they might possess. Both had unnaturally colored hair, but that could as easily be dye as Super genes. Barrier followed his mentor as he drew closer to the two men, his pace and whistling steady with every step. Saying nothing, Bloodfyre led Barrier past them, into the store, where he picked up two bottles of water, paying in cash and handing one to Barrier as they stepped outside. Whatever argument had been going on, it had either passed or migrated, because the two men were nowhere in sight.

                 “Where’d they go?” Barrier craned his neck, trying to catch any sight of the potential assailants.

                “Probably got spooked and ran off, maybe just went somewhere else to sort things out. As long as they got out of public, that’s good enough. Lots of families live on this block, we don’t need anyone else getting drawn into their squabble.” Bloodfyre had dimmed the flickering energy in his hand and around his mouth so he could take a swig from his bottle. “Stay hydrated, Barrier. This is a hot town and we’re out in the sun.”

                “Shouldn’t we have done something?”

                “Like what? They were disturbing the peace, true, but no one complained about the yelling as far as I know. And while they were probably going to fight, we can’t prove that until it happens. If one of them had been showing off abilities, that might have been a different story, but it’s prudent not to intervene in the matters of humans unless expressly necessary.”

                That felt like an odd sentiment, although Barrier wasn’t entirely sure why. He’d just never really thought of there being that big of a line between humans and Supers. Sure, he could do something special, but otherwise he was just like everyone else. Rather than speculate needlessly, he decided to take advantage of having an experienced mentor on hand and do the smartest thing he could: learn. “Why not? Crime is crime, right?”

                “On a fundamental level, yes,” Bloodfyre agreed. “That said, we don’t really have the infrastructure to handle low-level stuff like this. Think of us like a SWAT team: we’re trained for and used in very specific high stakes situations. But the regular beat cops are the ones who keep the streets safe day to day, they have the manpower, training, and experience to know when to use a light touch versus a heavy one. Using us on low-level crime would be like dropping a bomb on a building to destroy a couch. It would work, but the level of overkill would create a lot more problems than it fixed.”

                “I actually meant the other part. About not meddling in the affairs of humans.” Barrier dropped his shield for a split-second, reforming it more widely spaced around himself so that the bottle of water was inside. He’d never found a way to drink or eat through the thing, but being able to control the size meant he was able to bring his food inside it.

                Bloodfyre didn’t reply immediately this time. Instead, he finished his water, eroded it with his energy, and started walking down the street once more. “I don’t want to talk about personal history too deeply out here in the open, but did you manifest your powers early in life?”

                Barrier nodded. While some Supers didn’t get their abilities until they were nearing puberty, he’d been an early bloomer, manifesting his shield at age five.

                “I didn’t. I was eleven before the first time I called out my abilities. First and only one in my family to do so,” Bloodfyre said. “And let me tell you something: the world looks very differently through the eyes of human than through those of a Super. What we are, what we can do, it’s terrifying when you’re just a regular person watching. It’s very easy to feel small, helpless, and, above all else, scared. Scared for your family, your friends, yourself. Scared knowing there are people who can do things that go beyond the human spectrum, who have risen above nature’s laws. Supers create fear by their very existence, but having Heroes ameliorates that. It lets people know that there are still rules in place that those with abilities have to play by, and people around to enforce them. But because of that, Heroes themselves are also terrifying in their own right. If we go after a human, we represent someone with the blessings of nature and society on our side. That makes people feel backed into a corner, and those are the sort of situations where the really bad ideas start seeming like people’s only recourse.”

                “You’re talking about groups like the Humanity First movement.” Barrier had seen them on the news for nearly all his life, though he’d never actually dealt with someone who openly hated Supers. Those kinds of folks tended not to go to HCP colleges in the first place.

                “Among many others,” Bloodfyre confirmed. “I’m not saying we don’t step in if the law is being broken, mind you. Our job is to protect this world and keep its people safe, which means we do that no matter what. But whenever possible, we let human police deal with human crimes. We’re guardians, not oppressors, and if we seem overly aggressive it’s very easy for that line to get blurred in people’s heads. It’s rarely needed in the first place anyway. Most of the time, anyone with crime on the mind gets extremely cold feet once a Hero steps into view. Which is great. A crime prevented is a crime stopped, and all the better if no one gets hurt in the process.”

                “So what would you have done if one of them was showing signs of abilities?”

                Bloodfyre paused again, giving the question careful consideration. “It would have depended on exactly the ability and what they were doing with it. Probably would have stopped and talked, called it in to Dispatch to see if we were hunting anyone matching that type of power, and ideally diffused the situation peacefully. Or, things could have gone badly. Can’t really say on a hypothetical, too many variables unaccounted for.”

                It was an honest, if not altogether satisfying answer, but Barrier could see his point. That was too broad of a situation to give a specific answer to. If he wanted to see how Bloodfyre handled someone with powers, he’d have to wait until they encountered another Super.

                That took less than an hour, when they encountered the second, far more memorable, break in the boredom of their patrol.