Blades & Barriers: Chapter 7

                Brett walked slowly to the center of the room, all-too-aware of the eyes on him. Six months ago, he’d have relished the attention, bathing in it, kept buoyant by the knowledge that his power wouldn’t fail to impress. Now, however, their gazes felt heavy, choking, almost like Gunk was trying to climb down Brett’s throat. Still, he hadn’t made it through four years of the HCP without ever having to push past a tough situation. Brett forced his mind away from whatever expectations were currently being leveled at him, and instead focused on using his power.

                The shield appeared with a thought, light blue and wrapped snuggly around his entire body. He flexed his hands once, a habit from when he’d been getting used to moving the shield with his body that had become ingrained as a part of his shield-manifestation ritual.

                “As you can see, I generate an energy barrier around my entire body,” Brett said. “This acts as a shield against nearly all physical attacks, as well as other forms of energy, both natural and crafted.”

                “Fascinating.” Bayou whispered something into Bloodfyre’s ear. The tattooed Hero met the question with a shrug, so Bayou turned back to Brett. “I’m sure this is always the first question you get, so I didn’t want to bother you, but we’re still playing a little catch-up and it seems Bloodfyre can’t provide an answer. Does your shield permit air to pass, and if so does that leave you vulnerable to poisons?”

                “Yes and no.” Bayou wasn’t entirely off, that was a common question, but only from certain types of thinkers. The more curious and scientifically minded, to be precise. Far more often Brett encountered the other category, those who thought in terms of pragmatism, and they always wanted to know how much damage it could take. “The shield allows air through, but nothing toxic, almost like a filter. Same goes for things like light, it would stop a laser, however I still get enough through to see. It doesn’t generate anything or pull from alternative sources, though. Put me underwater or in a vacuum and I’ll suffocate like anyone else.”

                Unseelie, silent since the shield had flickered into existence, gave a small nod. “So we can use you heavily for infiltrating dangerous areas, we just have to be certain it’s survivable. How about extreme temperature? Does it save you from that?”

                “I’m fine with heat, the filtering function kicks in well, but I’ve got no protection from cold. The shield is one-directional, it’s built to keep things out, not in, so while a blast of cold energy won’t hit me, if I’m stuck in a fridge I’m eventually going to be in trouble,” Brett explained.

                “Just like your father then,” Unseelie said. “I assume you’re also able to withstand tremendous amounts of damage?”

                Brett paused for a moment. He’d almost committed the unforgivable sin among Heroes, especially new ones, and used the word ‘indestructible’. That was not an acceptable term in these places, nor was invincible or invulnerable. Every Hero, at least the ones his father had respected, held the same opinion on such concepts: they didn’t exist. No matter how great a power might be, there was someone out there with the ability to best it. Those who forgot that, or believed themselves the exception, may as well pick out their headstones and call it a day.

                “Technically speaking, neither mine nor my father’s shields have been broken as of yet,” Brett replied at last. This seemed a far more diplomatic way to get the information across. “We’ve both tested ourselves against a vast amount of abilities, and so far we’ve withstood them all. However, the shield is powered by our bodies. A really powerful attack can wear us down. Pile enough of them together, and we could theoretically run out of stamina. That’s why my father’s been training me on endurance since my ability first manifested.”

                “Damn, so it wasn’t infinite after all,” Angela muttered, voice only barely audible.

                “It’s an impressive defense,” Bloodfyre said. “But defense alone doesn’t get someone through the HCP. We have to be able to take down criminal Supers, not just endure them. Tell us about your offense.”

                “Fundamentally, it’s not much different than my defenses. As you can all see, the shield keeps pace with my movements.” Brett took a few steps around the room, easily strolling about within his barrier. “However, the barrier moves with me, not because of me. It exists like a second skin, one I can manipulate, not unlike Gunk’s tentacles. In fact, Justin, would you come over here?”

                Without a moment’s hesitation, Justin jogged back to the center of the room and stood a few feet from Brett.

                “How much do you weigh? Ballpark is fine,” Brett asked.

                “Last I checked, around a hundred and ninety pounds,” Justin replied.

                Heavier than he looked, especially with the short frame. Evidently there was more muscle than Brett had realized tucked away on that body. “Almost two hundred, which is way too much for someone without super strength to easily lift one handed.” Brett walked over, carefully reached down and put his right hand under Justin’s foot and began to raise it up. “I assume you’ve got well-trained balance?”

                “Good enough for this.” Justin wobbled only slightly as he rose higher in the air.

                “Glad to hear it.” Brett turned back to the others, still keeping Justin aloft. “Now as you can see, I’m easily holding Justin up. To be clear, my muscles aren’t’ strong enough to do that, not like this. But my shield is extremely tough to break, and I can move it freely, allowing me to functionally replicate super-strength. It isn’t quite as fluid, though, and my punches aren’t nearly as powerful since I don’t generate the same kinetic energy and enhanced muscles. Truth be told, I think that limitation is why my father didn’t go down the Hero path. His ability was more suited for personal safety than stopping someone else, just like Bloodfyre pointed out. But my power isn’t exactly the same as his.”

                Moving carefully, Brett lowered Justin to the ground, releasing his foot only a few inches in the air. “Okay, I’m going to lift you again. This time you don’t have to balance, though. And don’t worry, I’ve practiced a lot at not squeezing too hard.”

                Justin’s mouth opened, no doubt to ask the very reasonable question of what the hell that meant, but before he formed any words Brett was already acting. The blue shield around Brett’s right arm was swelling, expanding, until in seconds the barrier’s hand had become gigantic. Enormous energy fingers wrapped around Justin, engulfing his whole body and easily plucking him from the ground once more.

                “Unlike my father’s, my shield is malleable. I can make it grow bigger,” Brett explained. The rest of his barrier was still skintight to his body, even as the massive arm delicately moved Justin around in the air. “I’ve never gone more than twenty feet tall, as the bigger it becomes the more stamina it takes to sustain, but I’m always at the relative center of it, which means once the legs get big I start floating. No one has entirely figured out how that part works, by the way, so if anyone has a theory I’d love to hear it.”

                “Interesting.” Unseelie’s eyes didn’t waver as she watched Justin float about, held firmly yet gently in Brett’s grip. “The functional endurance of a strongman, with some perks, and incredible strength, but only for grabbing and gripping, with a lower end option for throwing and punching. I can see why you’d be hard to defeat, especially with the way the HCP does matches. So then, Brett, let’s cut to the quick of what remains: tell me how Angela defeated you. Obviously this power has a weakness, and while I’ve got a firm suspicion, I’d like to hear it from your perspective.”

                Brett swallowed hard and lowered Justin back to the ground. If he had to tell this story, he didn’t want to be grabbing someone while he did it. Keeping the gentle grip took concentration, after all.