I tossed my backpack on the bed in the corner and flopped onto it, face up. On the small table beside the bed, I noticed there was a dirty old baseball resting against the lamp. I picked it up and started tossing it lightly in the air, seeing how close I could get it to the ceiling without actually hitting it.
This room was clearly meant for a smaller individual, as halfway in the ceiling slanted sharply downward along the outer wall. The bed was tucked within this slant, meaning that if I sat up too fast on the inner side when my strength was activated, I might very well pop my head right out through the roof.
I thought about asking if Strider wanted to switch, but I figured she wanted contact with the ground at all times, especially when asleep. She had been reluctant to reveal that weakness, but James’ accounting of the battle against Knock-Off had been detailed enough to make it obvious, despite his not stating it directly.
It was important to know, though. If we were going to be an effective team, we had to know one another’s strengths and weaknesses. With my gang, I had been the only superhuman, and so, I had to rely on my image of being more powerful than I actually had been, to make sure the other gangs bent the knee. As a Stiletto, there was likewise some attempts at obfuscation when engaging the enemy. Luckily, I was not so high-profile, even after the Stilleto’s public unveiling, that most enemies knew quite how limited my abilities were.
But being on the Stilleto team had taught me the importance of being a cohesive unit. I had no idea what the hell James was thinking, bringing such train wrecks into one group.
James. Fuckin’ Earth Mage asshole. The chode had ditched his country to go play vigilante in Australia, where barely anything major happened, and then suddenly, he hears that the two women he’d fucked a decade ago and then abandoned, had gone and died without him. Only when it was too damn late, that’s when he decides he’s going to finally be a man and throw himself against the Supervillain Epidemic, avenge his lost lovers, and maybe now, with the famous heroes no longer around, he can finally have his time in the sun. He can have his personal glory and pretend it made up for his lack of dignity.
Except it turns out they aren’t dead, and now he’s going to go on a wild goose chase to save the damsels in distress, and be the knight in shining armor for them that he always wished he could be. I bet in the back of his head, he thought Echo and Glorifica were going to reward him with a threesome.
I heard something make a soft burst in my hand. I looked down and realized I had let my internal energies balance out again. I had been keeping my durability maxed out by default, as usual, but as I sat here fuming over this arrangement, I’d slipped and let some energy shift back into speed and strength. I’d also quit tossing the baseball and had started squeezing it like a stress relief toy.
My Level 1 Strength, approximate to a Class 2 on the common ranking system, had been sufficient to crush the baseball. I frowned, staring at the limp covering, the inner material crumbling away. I hadn’t slipped with my power like that in a long time.
It was unfair of me, really. James had had every right to chose the life he’d wanted. He hadn’t been ready for the big leagues like Echo and Glorifica had been, and it was probably the smarter choice for him to run, rather than stay and end up cracking under pressure and screwing up a much more serious mission. Unlike me, he hadn’t let the power go to his head and turned to crime, chasing some juvenile illusion of control.
Echo had spoken fondly, but regretfully of him. She’d said it was her fault that he’d run, that when the three of them had first teamed up to stop the Shadow Queen, she’d taken things too far, too fast. She had killed the villain right in front of them, and never even hinted that she was going to do it before hand. Glorifica and the Earth Mage had been horrified.
She’d said Glorifica had nearly run away as well. She almost went with James, and no one could have stopped her. She’d just hesitated a bit longer, thinking of her friends and family back home, and that had given Echo enough time to convince her to stick around. James, however, had just cut and run completely. Apparently, he hadn’t really had anyone or anything tying him down. Echo had always lamented it, knowing his great potential, but also knowing he would never abide her ways.
I’d never known him like Echo had, and to be fair, she hadn’t known him long enough to form a real relationship with him. As James had said, it had been a fling. Even though Echo had not been above using sex to manipulate people, I could tell she really had felt something for him.
Me, though, I hadn’t fucked him, and I hadn’t worked with him before. I’m sure he was a perfectly swell fellow normally, and that he really was doing this out of a sense of responsibility. Maybe if this were just some random mission we happened to team up on, I’d be a lot more willing to drop all the crude jokes and snide remarks. But this whole situation just rubbed me the wrong way.
I’m not gunna claim I was the best I was at what I did. People who said that were either jackasses who were about to get knocked down several pegs, or they were comic book power fantasy characters, usually sporting an excess of claws and hair. But ridiculous super powers aside, this wasn’t a comic book. You couldn’t just whip together a random team of kooky characters and expect them to save the day because some cosmic force of narrative destiny proclaimed that your plucky team of do-gooders could pull through if they were just really determined enough.
If James wasn’t paying me so handsomely, and god only knows how he got such a fortune doing street-level crime fighting in desert country, I would seriously quit right now.
I threw the busted ball into the far corner of the room, where the old filling material broke into a bunch of crumbling chunks. I knew myself better than that. Just as James was here to save the Super Fem Force, perhaps Echo and Glorifica more specifically, I was here to save Echo. Or, if it did turn out they were dead, fake bodies or no, we would at least avenge them.
I sat up on the bed, swinging my legs over the side and resting my elbows on my knees. I shifted my energy fully back to durability. Well, first things first. If we were going to be a team, we needed to figure out how to function like one. Obviously, I was the front line fighter, Shoggoth was the healer with possibly some combat and stealth support, Hitchhiker was our stealth and espionage unit, Strider was our movement and observation support, and James could be a mixture of front line combatant and artillery.
I had to admit, it was actually a well-balanced team, closer to a Stiletto unit than an SFF squad. I gave James shit for not having a well-thought out plan, but in this, he’d laid out a good team strategy.
Actually getting that team to work cohesively together, that was a whole other matter. After James’ meeting, I’d see about doing some training.
Speaking of, just then, James called up the stairs. “Alright, folks, if you’re ready, let’s huddle.”