Blades & Barriers: Chapter 3

                Danny had a knack for understatement. If Brett could have spoken, he’d have told the DVA agent that being teleported by him was akin to riding a shaky, poorly maintained roller coaster, one where the moment your stomach dropped out stretched on for hours instead of seconds. Brett couldn’t say that, however, or anything else. He was too intent on trying his best not to vomit.

                By the time his stomach stopped trying to kick back everything he’d had for the past day, Brett realized the trip was over and they’d arrived. Unlike the fusion restaurant, the walls around them were painted a dull uniform gray, with matching concrete under their feet. It seemed like they’d appeared at a hallway intersection. Down three directions there were just turns Brett couldn’t see past, but as Danny carefully steered him forward Brett noticed a set of double doors. Danny yanked one open and they both continued inside.

                This room, at least, had a little bit of decoration. Besides a large white screen on the far wall, there were framed posters hung of the Wayward Wraiths respective members. Nothing too garish, but a nice touch all the same. Aside from the wall art there was a massive wooden conference table, one that looked big enough to seat twelve people comfortably, or ten and a strongman, surrounded by cushy chairs. Set in the center of the table was a phone connected to a speaker, a projector, and a row of electrical outlets.

                Brett was finally feeling somewhere around normal again when a voice caught his attention. “Try drinking the coffee. It helped settle my guts down after the trip.”

                Slowly, Brett turned his attention to one of the chairs that had been facing away from him. It spun slowly, revealing a young man around Brett’s age, obviously another recent HCP graduate. He was leaner than most of the others Brett had known, though a careful eye could pick out the sculpted muscle underneath his button-down dress shirt and khaki’s. Short curly brown hair and a smattering of freckles were all that stood out about his face, stick the guy in a crowd and Brett would never be able to find him. Others from his class might have seen that as a flaw, but Brett had befriended some of the Subtlety Majors. He understood the value in being able to blend in.

                Taking his advice, Brett slowly gulped a few sips of the still steaming coffee. To his surprise, it actually did seem to settle him, which went against how he thought caffeine was supposed to work.

                “Justin, meet Brett. Brett, Justin,” Danny said, waving his hands back and forth. “We scheduled your starting day on the same as Justin’s, that way we can do all the introductory stuff in one go.”

                “At least the reputation for efficiency holds up, if not punctuality.” Justin hopped off the chair, standing a good few inches shorter than Brett, who had admittedly been among the taller of his class. He strolled over and stuck out his hand. “Justin Greenspan. Graduate of the Korman University HCP and intern to Bayou.”

                “Nice to meet you,” Brett replied, taking the hand and giving it a firm, careful shake. “Brett Rhodes. I graduated from West Private and I’m going to be learning from Bloodfyre.”

                “West Private…” Justin looked him over once again, a glimmer of recognition darting through his eyes. “You wouldn’t happen to be the other undefeated senior from the end of Intramurals?”

                “Oh, you were there?” Brett didn’t recognize him, but there had been a couple of shifters at the last Intramural he’d never gotten a good look at in normal form.

                “Far from it. No, people with powers like mine don’t go to Intramurals. I just heard about it from a friend who made it. You both apparently put up one hell of a fight. I can’t believe the Wraiths scored both of you as interns.”

                Despite himself, Brett winced slightly at the mention of Angela. Justin didn’t show any signs of noticing, though whether that was him being polite or unobservant was impossible to tell so soon after meeting. Either way, Brett decided it was prudent to change the topic as soon as possible.

                “So, Justin, what Hero name are you going to be working under?”

                “Gunk,” Justin replied. “And yes, I know it sounds a bit silly, but trust me when I say it’s an excellent fit.”

                “Hey, I’m not going to give anyone shit about their name. I’m going by Barrier while in costume,” Brett said.

                “It’s not especially creative,” Justin agreed. “But given your reputation, I highly doubt a bland name is going to slow you down.”

                “Well, since you two seem to be getting along, I’m going to check on the rest of the team,” Danny said. “Both of you just wait here, there are snacks in the fridge under the table, though don’t touch anything in glass dishes just in case Bayou left an experiment growing. Your respective mentors should be along to get you as soon as they finish their debrief and maybe grab a shower. One of those would-be bank robbers kicked up an awful lot of dust before going down. If you need anything, just hit ‘one-four’ on the phone there and it will dial me up.”

                With that, Danny walked back through the double doors, his last words coming as the entrance swung shut. The man’s gift for chatter was something else, far and away more polished than his teleportation skills.

                “He’s not what I expected from a DVA agent,” Brett said.

                “You and me both. I only ever met one before, and she was surly as they came,” Justin agreed. “Maybe they stick the ones with people skills on the teams.”

                “Why do they even need a DVA agent around anyway?” Brett took a seat in one of the chairs, finding it more comfortable than expected, and Justin followed suit. “The Wayward Wraiths aren’t some rookie team, they’ve been around for years, and each member had a career of their own before that. I wouldn’t expect them to need a baby-sitter.”

                “He’s not a baby-sitter, he’s the carpool.”

                Brett knew the voice as soon as he heard it. Though they’d only spent a brief time together, Brett had listened to her voice almost nightly since their battle, echoing through the fields of his dreams, nightmares more often than not, as she defeated him over and over. Turning his chair carefully, he found himself staring at her as she leaned against the open door.

                She’d cut her blonde hair shorter, and her trained body was wrapped in a gold costume with black trim instead of an HCP senior uniform, but otherwise she looked no different. Same too-wide grin, same glint of danger in her eyes, same effortless confidence that seemed to radiate from the core of her being.

                “Hey Brett,” greeted Angela DeSoto. “It’s been a while.”