Blades & Barriers: Chapter 27

                It wasn’t until the police statements were taken and both drivers had left the scene, one heading to work and the other off to a hospital, that Barrier felt his nerves slacken a touch. He’d been braced for something to go wrong through all of the follow-up, the discussion with police, the EMTs checking over the big man’s broken hand, and the crowd gathering to watch. With every new element, he’d shifted himself slightly, making sure he could protect the greatest number of people at a moment’s notice if things spiraled out of control. Although, he’d never moved himself to a place where he wouldn’t be able to shield the children. There was minimizing overall damage, and then there was basic human decency.

                Bloodfyre finished speaking with the last of the police officers, shaking hands and posing for a picture with one of the younger cops before jogging over to Barrier. “Okay, the situation is recorded and diffused, so we’re free to get back on patrol.” He paused, looking up at a nearby lamppost with a hanging clock. “Or maybe we should go ahead and grab lunch, then head back out. No sense in starting a new route only to break halfway through.”

                Now that his nerves were finally beginning to settle, Barrier could feel the emptiness in his stomach that his meager offering of breakfast had failed to quell. Lunch sounded like a good idea, and there were a few spots he’d been dying to try out. Before he could toss out suggestions, Bloodfyre had pulled out his phone and opened an app that looked like a gameshow wheel with the names of local restaurants on it.

                “Cross your fingers for a good one,” Bloodfyre advised. He pressed a button on the side and the wheel began to spin, turning and turning until it slowed, and then halted with the arrow at the top resting on a name Barrier couldn’t quite make out. Bloodfyre, however, could see it clearly, and his mouth turned downward in an unmistakable frown. “Well crap. Looks like we’re doing hot dogs. And not even nice ones, either.”

                Barrier watched as Bloodfyre put the phone away, putting together what had just happened. “You pick your lunch spots at random?”

                “Sadly, yes.” Bloodfyre checked the nearby street signs, then began to lead Barrier south. “If even we don’t know where we’re going to be eating, it makes it impossible for someone else to predict. That minimizes the chances of someone ambushing or poisoning us when we stop in to grab food.”

                “Poison?” Barrier’s eyes went a bit wide in his mask. He’d always known such a thing was possible, but Bloodfyre made it sound like he dodged cyanide in his dishes daily.

                They reached a crossroads, and Bloodfyre turned left. “Oh yeah, that was popular for a while. Doesn’t work on every Hero, but you can kill a lot of us by attacking the stomach. The DVA and the Heroes cracked down on establishments that enabled it though, so now we generally only have to worry about a crook or Hero hater sneaking into the kitchen to poison our dishes. Hence the randomizing food choice app. And we don’t tend to eat out a whole lot.”

                Bloodfyre paused their trip, looking Barrier over carefully. “How are you holding up so far? It’s been a peaceful morning for the most part, but that last situation had the potential to get hairy. You made the right call setting yourself up to be a shield, by the way. I’m fairly confident I could have brought that Super down, but knowing you were there to stop collateral damage would have made the whole process a lot easier.”

                “Thank you,” Barrier said. “And I feel like I’m doing okay. Way less nervous than this morning, at any rate. But the car wreck was… odd. I’ve been thinking over it, and I’m still not sure who was really in the wrong. I mean technically, the Super didn’t break any laws, but somehow the whole thing felt unsettling.”

                “Hang on now, we don’t know that.” Bloodfyre halted, checking the nearby addresses before continuing. “The Super said that the big fellow caused the wreck. Neither you or I have seen the tape. For all we know, it was the Super’s fault and he was baiting the other guy into taking a swing. Once you assault someone, people tend to take your word a little less credibly. At the end of the day, all we can do is trust the cops to gather the evidence and the judges to dole out appropriate sentences. Always remember, we’re one cog in a large machine with lots of checks and balances. When Heroes forget that, when they start thinking of themselves as the whole machine, things rarely end well.”

                “But don’t we…” Barrier’s words puttered off, as he swung his head around to make sure there were no civilians nearby to overhear this part. It wasn’t a secret by any means, just as it also wasn’t the sort of thing he wanted to be overheard discussing. “Don’t we kill people, when we have too?”

                Bloodfyre’s steps came to a slow halt as he nodded, doing an area sweep of his own. “Yes, we do. Not easily or freely, however that is part of the job. Even then, though, we are not the judge and jury. The DVA assesses the threat, feeds us the information through Dispatch, and makes the call on whether permanent neutralization is necessary. There are exceptions, sometimes in battle saving your own life or the lives of others means making a snap call with lethal consequences, but you’d better believe we’re held accountable for that kind of thing. Heroes have lost their titles and their freedom over playing the ‘self-defense’ card a little too loosely. The Hero system is just that: a system. While it’s not a perfect one, it does try and balance the sanctity of life with the good of the many. Heroes are at our best when we’re doing our part within that system.”

                In a way, the concept was reassuring. HCP training, aside from the team events, was a lonely endeavor. Everyone he knew and cared about was his competition, leaving a division between even the closest of friendships. The idea of all Heroes being part of one big team, which served as part of a greater crime-fighting community at large, made the whole career feel a little bit less solitary.

                “I think I get it,” Barrier said. “It’ll probably take a while before I really grasp all of this, but I’m starting to wrap my head around it.”

                “Don’t rush it. There are people who’ve been doing this job for a decade and are still trying to figure out their role or make peace with what it demands of you. Today, for example, the job is demanding that we eat some genuinely subpar hot dogs from that street vendor over there.” Bloodfyre pointed to an old, beaten-up cart with a faded sign atop it’s tattered umbrella.

                Hungry as he was, Barrier began the seriously consider skipping lunch.