Blades & Barriers: Chapter 67

                In the end, Brett opted to use his time before checking on Angela to do something he rarely had time for in the Hero world: standing still. Finding a nice perch along the deck, Brett leaned against the railing and stared out at the open ocean stretched before him. He got plenty of ocean views living in Port Valins, the “port” part of the name rather gave away their proximity to water, but it felt like he’d yet to take a moment to truly appreciate them. Actually, he’d rarely had any time to pause long before joining the Wayward Wraiths. Getting through the HCP had been one ordeal after another, challenge after challenge as he fought to not only graduate, but to make it out as the best in the class.

                And yet, for all of that work, for all of that struggling and self-denial, Brett had taken his first loss to a woman who was probably double-fisting margaritas at that very moment, seemingly unconcerned with the dangerous, barely legal, mission before them. Sometimes, it was hard not to wonder: was Angela just that much better than him, or was there an unseen wisdom in how she lived? Did that crazy attitude give her an advantage? It was a silly notion, and Brett tried to dismiss it as such every time it popped up, yet her record made it hard to ignore entirely. Maybe he should be making more time for these quiet moments, or getting mixed up in unexpected situations. Then again, if someone told him right then that there was a place he could sneak off to secretly train more, Brett would have jumped on it in a heartbeat. Perhaps he was simply wired differently from Angela, and he needed to find his own version of double-fisting margaritas.

                “Hey.”

                The voice seemed to come from nowhere, but when Brett snapped out of his fugue he noticed a small group, slightly more women than men, making their way along the deck. One of the ladies in the pack was staring at him, making it very clear she was the person who’d spoken.

                “Sorry, did you mean me?”

                “No, the other hot slab of muscle leaning against the railing.” She was grinning, and it was an expression that suited her face quite nicely. “My friends and I have gotten this day started right, and we’re heading to a pool to keep the party going. You want to tag along?”

                Brett wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Nothing felt dangerous about the situation, yet his nerves tensed all the same. He was suddenly very aware of how alone he was, and how easy it would be to end up overboard. “I’m sorry, have we met?”

                “Huh, I guess we did skip that part.” She hopped forward and stuck out a hand. “Name is Chelsea, and I get a little forward when I’m buzzed, if you can’t tell.”

                “Oddly, I’m kind of used to it. I’m Brett. Nice to meet you.”

                “Meeting is good, but hanging out would be more fun.” She didn’t back up after the handshake, instead moving in closer. “What do you say, Brett? Could staring at the ocean wait for a while so you can keep a lonely lady company?”

                Brett nodded to her group of friends. “Seems like you’ve got plenty of company.”

                “All couples. Every last one of them. And I was going to be part of one too, until three days ago when my boyfriend up and decided to get back with his ex.” Chelsea’s arm wound around Brett’s, a clumsy maneuver that actually made the gesture slightly endearing. “So I could spend my non-refundable vacation watching them all be lovey-dovey, or I could get to know someone new, someone with kind eyes and who clearly spends a lot of time in the gym. How about you, Brett? How do you want to spend your day?”

                This had to be a trick. Some kind of tactic to get his guard down so that Brett would let slip the real reason he was on the boat. It was a good approach; the backstory sure explained why someone would be so eager to spend time with him. Once Brett reached that conclusion, the obvious question became a simple one: was he better served by playing along or brushing Chelsea off? Since he was on-guard, it felt unlikely he’d make a mistake, but then again there could be other Supers in play. Still, this was a chance to try and see if she would mistakenly offer up useful information, and Brett was loathe to let such an opportunity pass him by.

                Ultimately, Brett decided that it would be easier to play along for a while, then sneak off and consult with DV for advice, rather than blow her off now and try to reconnect later. They had two days. With guidance from the Subtlety members of the team, Brett might just be able to turn this whole thing around to their advantage.

                “I’d be interested in coming, but it sort of depends which pool you’re going to. I promised a friend I would check in on her soon, and she’s already at one.”

                Chelsea’s face pinched slightly at the news, she was really committed to playing this part, apparently. “A female ‘friend’ huh? You wouldn’t be trying to shrug off your girlfriend for the trip, would you? Because I’m not looking to get someone else hurt.”

                The laugh surprised everyone, even Brett, the one who had let it out. “No, I can say with certainty that there is nothing remotely romantic between Angela and me. She’s really not my type, and even if that weren’t the case she already has a boyfriend. We’re just friends from work.” At least they’d worked out the cover story in advance. So far as anyone on the boat would know, this was a trip they’d won for strong performances over the last quarter at the company where they all interned. It had been crafted to be as boring as possible; apparently that kept people’s questions to a minimum.

                “Well then, as long as she’s at one of the big pools with a bar, I bet we can make that our destination.” Chelsea leaned in closer, more than was needed really, whispering in Brett’s ear. “As the recent victim of a dumping, I’ve got a lot of sympathy cards I can play with that group.”

                Pulling him over toward her cluster of friends, Chelsea brought Brett to the front of the group. “Lead us to the pool of your friend, good sir. And perhaps along the way, you can tell me a little more about what is your type.”

                Not entirely sure he wasn’t making a rookie mistake, Brett started heading toward the pool where Angela would be waiting. He really hoped she hadn’t gotten too far into the drinks just yet; this whole situation was feeling more and more out of his depth.