I’d had a little time to take a nap, sleeping on the floor as I usually did. My durability meant that a bed didn’t really make things any more comfortable. I could snooze on hard, cold concrete as easily as a warm, soft mattress. Moreover, I definitely felt a lot more safe being in contact with the ground as much as possible. It was a simple, but very necessary precaution. Even the few times I’d made love, I insisted on doing it on the floor. You never knew when danger may strike, I wanted to both sense it coming if possible and be able to terraport away immediately.
The basement wasn’t finished, and there was junk everywhere. The rough concrete floor had been filthy and cracked, with a puddle in the corner, but the Earth Mage had cleaned the place so thoroughly, I couldn’t even smell a trace of the mildew. I had spent a few minutes teleporting everything around, old furniture, some broken bicycles, washing machines, boxes and shelves full of old junk, until I’d made a decent space for me to lay on, with easy access to the stairs and the toilet.
I lay on my stomach, head propped on an arm, and let myself drift into a half-doze. Enough to rest, not enough to fully conk out. I didn’t get a bad vibe from the Earth Mage or from Max-Out, but the other two I wasn’t so certain of. Shoggoth was cagey, but I had the sense that he just needed to be left alone. If I didn’t push his buttons, he wouldn’t give me much thought.
Hitchhiker was another matter. On the one hand, I could relate to her, given we both had been responsible for terrible things, on a scale the others hadn’t even scratched. On the other hand, she struck me as a snake in the grass. I expected the others to be wary of me; I was an unknown to them, even the Earth Mage who knew my secret. But I, at least, knew that I wasn’t out to cause trouble, I just had to prove it by not being a troublemaker. Hitch, I could practically feel her looking for just the right moment to throw a spanner in the works. I really hoped the Earth Mage’s faith was not misplaced. Or at least, that he was going to be a lot more careful than he might let on.
As I mulled this over, I hear the floorboards creek a bit, steps heading for the door. I sensed the vibrations through the floor, coming down from the walls, telling me that it was Hitch. I opened my eyes, but didn’t move yet. The doorknob twisted, and I let out a slight sigh.
Great. I hoped she was just checking out the house. I was planning to socialize once we’d settled in a bit, but she was not the person I wanted to start with. I stayed lying down and closed my eyes again, pretending to sleep. I could track her easily through my powers, and would be able to see her once she touched the floor.
The light was already on, so she stepped right on down. The basement was laid out with the stairs coming down in the middle of the empty space. She got halfway down and paused. I assumed she noticed me. I heard her make a soft exhalation through her nose, probably debating if she wanted to talk. I didn’t prompt her.
Finally, she gave into her curiosity. “Little tip: if you’re going to pretend to sleep, you should keep your breathing slow and steady, not hold it.”
I hadn’t realized I had been. I let out a breath, opened my eyes, and gave her a smile. “I shall bare that in mind.”
She came the rest of the way down the stairs, then leaned against one of the support beams framing the bottom. She stared at me for a few moments, until it started feeling awkward. Finally, I said, “What?”
“Rookie bounty hunter, huh?”
I did a little toe tap on the floor and stepped into a standing position a foot to her right. Disappointingly, she didn’t flinch. “You tell me,” I said.
Still leaning against the post, she turned her head to me and said, “Second tip: don’t telegraph your teleport so obviously.”
I resisted the urge to smirk. Well, I got her with something. “Okay. Fine. Good advice.”
She smiled. “Third tip: learn to poker face better.”
I didn’t resist the urge to frown. I tilted my head and crossed my arms. “How do you mean?”
“You almost smirked. That tells me you think you got one over on me when I mentioned your teleport. So, let me guess, you don’t have to actually do a step motion to do it, do you?”
My lips pursed. I always made a habit to do a little foot tap or a short stepping motion anytime I terraported myself. It was my attempt at a subtle mislead. As a Queen, you learned to hide elements of your power as much as possible. It wasn’t much, but if an opponent thought you had to do a motion to activate an ability, then they would be looking out for that. It would be an obvious telegraph that you were about to make a move. You make sure it was just obvious enough for them to notice and start strategizing, and then at a critical moment, you do your power without it to take them by surprise.
It was hardly my best trick, only giving me a quarter-to-half-second advantage, but I had faked out a few enemies that way. This woman, though, saw right through it immediately.
Well, I’d heard she was a spy. I guess she had to be that good, huh?
Seeing that I wasn’t responding to that, she continued, “It’s a good trick, mind. But that’s all it is.”
“I am aware.” I kept my tone cool and uncrossed my arms, slipping them into the pockets of my longcoat. “So, did you just come down here to give me pointers?”
“No, not at all, I just wanted to check the place out.” She stood up from the post and stretched. We were the two shortest members of the group, but she still had a few inches on me, and at this close proximity, I had to noticeably looked up. I also noticed she had a few inches on me around the chest and hips, too. If she was a spy, she must have been what they called a “honey pot.”
I wondered if the Earth Mage would fall for her charms. Or Max. I could tell the former Stiletto had nothing but suspicion and probably contempt for the former Fantasmas, but both of these women struck me as real perverts.
“Alright, well, you’re in my room, so, I’d like my privacy back,” I said.
“It’s the basement,” she said. “You can’t claim a whole basement. That’s like trying to claim a living room.” Her sultry smile returned. “Or do they not have basements in New Gondwana?”
This time, I’m pretty sure I kept my poker face secure. This was one lie I had trained myself in very well. I shrugged. “I wouldn’t know.”
“Oh, come off it, please,” she said, waving me off. “You’re South African. I can tell by the accent. You try to make it sound more British, but I can tell with how you pronounce your T’s.”
I smiled thinly. “Alright. You found me out. Yes, I was born and raised in
And I happened to be in South Africa Europe when the
“So why come to the States and Provinces? Why not join the European Islands?”
I shrugged. “Seemed like better opportunities.”
“Is that all?”
She turned and looked around the basement, noting that there wasn’t really any place to go into aside from the bathroom. “I suppose,” she said. “Unless you have any questions for me?”
I thought it over. Perhaps it would be smart to learn more about this woman I didn’t trust, but, in all honestly, I felt like I knew as much as I needed to about the former spy and terrorist. I wasn’t particularly interested in her personal affairs.
“Nah,” I said.
“Your loss,” she said, and headed up the stairs. “Oh, by the way, the Earth Mage wants us topside soon.”
“I am aware, thanks.”
“No problem,” she said. “Always here to help a teammate.”