Chapter 5

“This is stupid,” Hexcellent complained loudly, hands incessantly tugging on her sweatshirt as she tried to get comfortable in the unfamiliar garb. “You’re not our fucking leader, you’re just here as a token Hero so we can do our job. We don’t need to prove shit to you.”

“Hexcellent, that’s enough,” said Galvanize, his tone gentle but firm.

“No, it’s okay, I don’t blame her for calling bullshit,” Owen replied, his own chest bare as he found none of the sweatshirts in the gym were large enough to fit him. As it was, the sweatpants he’d found only came halfway down his calves, looking as though they’d been meant as capris.

The first thing that morning, Owen had met with Galvanize to request a full team meeting. Galvanize had complied and gathered everyone in the gym, in appropriate attire, less than an hour later. Unfortunately, since it was an official meeting, the rules demanded they wear their official team sweats, rather than whatever was comfortable and fit them best. Currently they were all standing around in the part of the gym designed for rescue simulations, eyes set on the now unmasked newcomer in their midst.

Walking in maskless had been a tough decision for Owen, one he’d ultimately realized was inevitable. Teamwork hinged on trust. They had it with each other, he could see that in their body language. As the new guy, he would have to earn it. Showing them his face was a small, but necessary step in that process.

“I took the time to read up on all of you last night before bed. You have good response rates, excellent percentages of civilians saved, and zero unauthorized encounters with criminal Supers. The first two are good, but the last one struck me as odd. Given that nearly half of the incidents you respond to are caused by a criminal Super, it seems like you’d at least have needed to retreat or work around one at some point.”

“We don’t take unnecessary risks,” Zone contributed. Even in dumpy grey sweats, the man still looked as though he’d walked into a fashion shoot. “If Mirror Fog suspected any criminal Super involvement, we kept our distance.”

“That’s because Mirror Fog’s ability allowed him to discover if one was at the scene of the emergencies,” Owen pointed out. Mirror Fog had been their last Hero on staff, now retired to somewhere tropical and pretty. “I don’t have that power, which means when we go on calls there will be a very real chance of running into a criminal Super.”

“So, that’s your problem,” Hexcellent reminded him.

“It is my problem. But getting civilians out of the danger zone is yours. That’s why I need to see what you each can do. It will tell me whether to call for a full retreat or have you keep helping people while I handle the situation,” Owen explained.

“Technically, that would be my call,” Galvanize said.

“With all due respect, no it wouldn’t,” Owen said carefully. He liked Galvanize, the kid seemed earnest in his efforts to help, but it was important to make things clear from the get go. “Most of the time, yes, you’re the leader and I respect that. But the minute we have to deal with some Super causing trouble, I’m in command. I’ve got the training and experience to make those kinds of calls.”

“Mirror Fog never tried to pull rank on us like that,” Zone shot back.

“Mirror Fog kept you away from other Supers, so it never came up,” Owen countered. “Our goal here is the same, we don’t want anyone to get hurt. The difference is that when things go wrong you have to worry about civilians and I have to worry about you.”

The debate might have gone on longer, however at that moment Bubble Bubble stepped forward and made a gesture at one of the dummies. A blue-tingled sphere appeared around the false person and began slowly moving upward.

“My speed is slow, and it gets slower the more bubbles I try to move at once,” she said, her tone as even as it had been when reading her magazine. “At best, I could move one across a football field in two minutes. At worse, it would be around ten. The largest sphere I can create is big enough to hold around five people or one sedan sized car. I can partially engulf large objects without destroying them, however that bubble’s integrity is very compromised. ”

“How many can you conjure at once?” Owen asked.

“Up to five, but any more than three and the durability begins to degrade,” Bubble Bubble answered calmly.

“I see, and how durable are they?”

“They’ve stopped bullets, repelled flames, and taken large chunks of debris falling on them without giving way. However, if you would like to test for yourself, feel free.” Another gesture and a sphere roughly five feet wide materialized in front of Owen.

“You read my mind,” Owen said, looking the bubble up and down. The thing about energy barriers people often failed to realized was that in order to stop something physical, it meant force had to be exerted on it. Force flowing one way meant it could flow back the other, so while energy barriers were resistant to physical attacks, enough strength behind a blow could still shatter them.

Owen went slow, first doing nothing more than giving it a one-fingered thump. The sphere rippled, but held firm. Next he made a loose fist with his hand and struck it with a knocking motion, as though he were rapping on someone’s door. The rippling was far more evident this time, yet still the bubble held. The fingers in his hand grew closer as his fist tightened. When he struck this time it was like he was pounding on a door, a hammer of flesh trying to pierce the obstacle before it.

The bubble shattered in a bright burst of energy, whooshing sounds and a surge of heat accompanying the event.

“What the hell, B.B.? I thought your bubbles were supposed to be tough. Gramps there barely even touched it,” Zone chided.

“No, it was surprisingly strong,” Owen corrected. “The force I used on that last blow was roughly equivalent to it being hit by a speeding car.”

“Sounds about right for the reaction it generated,” Bubble Bubble replied, making a quick motion with her hands to drop the still suspended dummy everyone had forgotten about.

“Horseshit it does, that wasn’t even a punch, even for an old man,” Hexcellent said.

“Then I say it’s time we tested your power next,” Owen replied. “I think this old man may just surprise you. Unless you’re afraid to put your power where your mouth is.”

“Bring it on, Gramps,” Hexcellent replied, stealing the nickname Zone had used. “I’ve always wanted to show up one of you fancy-ass Heroes.”