Training Day 6, 7, 8




Note: Training day 1-5 were posted on another thread on this forum. Please check those out as well


Training Day 6

“Ink.” Max held up a corked test tube containing a small amount of dark green oily-looking liquid. Wander and Halo gave him a puzzled look.

”Not poison?” Wander asked.

“Oh it’s poisonous alright. But it’s mostly mineral pigment suspended in a water base. It has curare and a few other nasty things in it as well. Here’s the list.” Max nodded to the large computer monitor.

Wander went over and looked where Max was pointing.
Bubbles asked Halo, “What’s curare?”

Halo looked lost in thought.

Wander answered her, as he continued to stare intently at the screen, “A poison. It’s also a medicine. It can paralyze you.” He looked over his shoulder at Halo. Wander looked back at the screen and then said to Max, “This, my friend, is no mere poison.” He tapped the screen with his index finger in a couple of places. “This is a cocktail of nasty things, and more: There’s spell ingredients here. Whatever it is, they went to an awful lot of trouble to make it.” Wander’s voice trailed off as he continued to study the screen.

Max came up next to him and pointed to a spot of the list, “See that?” He asked.

“Aye, blood, a different blood-type from Mikey’s. They used human blood in it. Like I said, they’re up to a bit o’ hocus-pocus with the home chemistry set. We could use help on this.” He said, giving Max a meaningful look.

“Yeah, I called. She’s on her way,” Max said. They both returned their attention to the screen.

“The poison did not paralyze me.” Halo said softly.

Max looked at him, “Oh?”

“No. It affected me later; it burned, lit up all my nerves like Tabasco sauce, and made me dizzy and numb, almost knocked me out. But that’s not what paralyzed me.”

Wander turned from the monitor and looked at him, “Did you see what it was?”

“Not what, but who. It was them, some of their thugs. They came up and stood behind the ones fighting me and… just stood there, like they were trying to say something, but they didn’t say anything. They just looked at me. But then I couldn’t move. They all kept attacking with knives, shirukens, darts, you name it. But suddenly I couldn’t dodge or block them. I was stuck. I could see it coming but I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

Bubbles muttered, “Oh my Gosh!”

Halo looked at her, ”Don’t worry, It’s not going to happen again. I brushed up on a technique that should allow me to resist it.”

Wander said, “Should?”

Halo shrugged and was about to say something when then the entry beacon softy sounded.

Wander smiled at them all, “She’s here.”

Halo relaxed a little and gave a smile. Max was smiling too. Bubbles wondered who this could be?”

“Cari!” Wander said, walking up to her. A tall elegantly dressed woman walked in and gently hugged him, kissing him on the temple. She was beautiful, regal even. She smiled broadly as she walked over and hugged both Max and Halo. “My dear friends! How have you been? I have missed you so! And who is this?” She gazed warmly at Bubbles. “This is Bubbles, Bubbles, this is ApotheCari.”

“Hi.” Bubbles said, lamely. Not really knowing what was expected of her.

“Delighted to meet you.” ApotheCari came over and clasped Bubble’s hands in her own. It felt like she was meeting the Queen.

“It is always nice to meet a new member, have they been behaving themselves?” She asked, smiling conspiratorially. Bubbles found herself instantly liking her. It was like meeting a favorite aunt for the first time. She was so elegant and yet so nice. Suddenly Bubbles felt very childish and awkward. ApotheCari did not seem to notice.

“Um…” Max interrupted, “She’s not exactly a member. At least not yet.”

ApotheCari raised an eyebrow at the men, “Oh?”

“I’m getting my license soon.” Bubbles interjected, “I go to the course Friday. They've been training me, getting me ready, you know, sort of showing me around and giving me a head start.”

ApotheCari’s expression turned sad, “We have lost some dear friends, Bubbles. Some very dear friends. Great heroes, great people. So very brave. I understand why they would want to take precautions. Most of us had to learn this alone, through trial and error. Too many of us did not survive it. Now that we are established, it is just hard to get used to. We now have the means to help train our teammates, we should use it. Still this is so very dangerous…” ApotheCari ran out of things to say. A long silence hung in the room. She admionished herself, “Oh listen to me carry on! Please, this is not the time to be sad, I apologize.” She summoned an encouraging smile. “You must tell me all the news. Let’s make some tea.” She put an arm around Bubbles and gave her a brief hug and they walked out toward the kitchenette. As they left, ApotheCari smiled at her and said, “Us girls must stick together, you know.”

They sat in a small kitchen in Max’s lab. If not for the housekeeping and maintenance robots, the place would have been an utter disaster area. Max rarely came here. Usually it was only occupied by the robots. In a way, he had forgotten about it. It was just not that important to him most of the time. He looked around idly wonder about ways to make it more efficient.

ApotheCari sat serenely as Halo told her the whole story. When he was done, she said. “It’s not mesmerism. It’s not regular psionics or ESP either. I am not sure.”

Wander stood up and paced. This was made all the more distracting by the fact that his typical walking speed was twice that of normal. “We’re missing something here.” He shook his head.

Max stood and moved over to the sink, talking and thinking as he walked. “Okay. What we have is a gang. It is mostly an Asian Gang, but not all of them are Asian. They are all not from the same places in Asia either. And it is not a typical street gang, like the Hellions or the Skulls. They don’t wear gang colors. They are not in a turf war. They wear all different clothing, mostly oriental. Some of them do not wear shirts and are heavily tattooed. They carry archaic weapons and practice a variety of oriental martial disciplines. They also practice magic and…”

“What kind of tats?” Bubbles had been keeping her mouth shut up to now. She was as puzzled as the rest of them. She’d said it without thinking. Everyone looked at her and she felt like crawling under the table.

Halo looked at her a moment and said, “They were oriental designs, traditional stuff, tigers, dragons, serpents… like their fighting styles… hold it… They DID match. They fought and like their tattoos and their clothing! It was like they were… impersonating the animals.” Halo turned and moved his hands strangely remembering. “In fact they were identical. They imitated the animal forms - Some I have never seen before.”

“Could they have been posessed?” ApotheCari offered.

“Yeah, but not possessed as much as… obsessed. Like they wanted to become that animal. It can take years and years of training to perfect only one form.”

“Maybe they were whacked on opium, or drank some of that filth they’re cooking up.” Wander offered.

“Maybe, Max said, “But they went to an awful lot of trouble to make the ink if they are just going to drink it.”

“Tattoos!” Bubbles said. She immediately regretted saying anything, as everyone looked at her.

“You have something else to add? Max asked, not too gently.

“Um, no… not really, it just, you know…

ApotheCari put a reassuring hand on her arm, “Please dear, tell us. What you are thinking.”

Bubbles smiled shyly at her. “Well, um, you know, the tattoo thing is really popular. Mostly yourger people,’ she glanced at Halo and Apothcari, “No offence, but these are mostly young guys, right? What if that poison ink is what they use to make their own tattoos? It’s got some kinda magic in it, right? They draw a tattoo in the shape of a magical symbol or, like, a charm using magic ink? Wouldn’t that make them, you know, like magical and strong and stuff? Instead of taking years and years to learn the animal thing, it’s like a short cut.” Bubbles had stood up while talking. She realized everyone was quiet and looking at her. Just before complete embarrassment took hold, Wander slapped his forehead.

“Doh! I don’t believe it!” he said.

Max looked at the ceiling, “Aw man, how obvious.”

Halo smiled.

ApotheCari looked surprised, “Oh my dear. I never even thought of that!

“It’s brilliant!” Wander chuckled.

Max grinned at her, “Out maneuvered by a rookie! I don’t believe it! Yes of course. That’s GOT to be at least part of it.”

Wander beamed at her. “Like you said Max, she’s smarter than she looks!”

ApotheCari gasped, “What a rude thing to say!” Wander tried to look innocent and pointed at Max. Max glared at him. She continued, “But Bubbles, I believe you have it. It all fits. Good job!” Bubble had never felt so proud. She blushed and grinned like a ninny.

“Michael, these criminals who can freeze people in place with a look… That sounds like a psychic attack. There are drugs which can enhance, and perhaps even create those abilities. People who are not ESPers usually get sick from doing that. It can make them physically ill.

“ESPers?” Bubbles asked.

“People with Extra Sensory Perception, mind readers, telekinetics, empaths, are sometimes people with built-in mental abilities. You can get the same effect from some special machinery, magic, and through drugs. A schedule of the right drugs, administered over a long period of time, would do it. But it would have terrible side effects.”

Wander said, “Getting a tattoo with it would be a mega dose.”

“I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but Mike did not find an ink factory.” Max said, “That ink is perishable. To manufacture ink and apply the tattoos on dozens, if not hundreds of their people, would be a big operation. It would take at least a small lab, or a big kitchen. They would need room for people, sterilizers, beds, and tattooing equipment. Lots of it.

Halo rubbed his jaw. “No. Traditional oriental tattoos are done without using machines. They use pins and a small hammer. It’s all done manually. They would chant. Burn incense, opium perhaps. The process is painful and very time consuming. They would need some room; depending on how many artists they had working at a time. They would still need a big place, but quiet, and without interruption. Mixing magic potions requires a lot of preparation. The ingredients are bulky and would have to be gathered and stored. Then they would have to be prepared and combined under exact conditions.

“If they ARE dosing themselves like this,“ Wander added, “It wouldn’t be permanent. The initial dose would be large, but it would taper off. The tattoos would stay, but the body would eventually absorb the active ingredients. Anything that is put in the body like that would get used up. And they would have to get the tattoo gone over again, or get something added to it, or get a different one. Eventually they might cover their whole body. They would not want to lose the power, they would be like tattoo junkies.”

“Or mad.” ApotheCari said quietly. “This sort of thing would drive a man mad after a while.”

Halo nodded thoughtfully, “I have a couple of leads to check. I think I know what we are looking for now. I would like to move on this quickly. Can we meet again in a few hours? I want to hit them at night; tonight, if we can.”

They all nodded, already thinking about preparations they would make. ApotheCari and Wander went into another room, talking. Halo headed for the exit. Max headed him off before he got there and handed him a box. “You’re going to want this.”
Halo nodded his thanks, “I’ll try to make this one last a bit longer.”

“I don’t mind making them, but I don’t need you to help test my designs quite so severely.” Max said, trying to sound clinical. Halo could hear the feeling behind his voice and knew that was a close to an emotional outburst as Max would get.

Halo gave him a pat on the shoulder, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Ok, see you in a few, I have things to do.” Max walked quickly into the other room.

When Bubbles suddenly realized that everyone was leaving she had followed Halo out. She stood quietly until Max left.

“What’s the plan, boss?” She asked.

“We are going to find and raid a tattoo parlor, I hope.”

“Am I going?” Bubbles asked, suddenly not wanting to be left out.

He nodded, “You are a key part of this. Remember your training.” Halo had that fatherly tone of voice again.

“Cool!” Bubbles’ eyes were wide.

“Suit up and wait here. Cari will tell you what to do.”

Without another word, he stepped into the ring of light and was gone.
Bubbles suddenly felt very alone. “Ok.” She blew out a breath. “Off to karate land.”

“Commo Check” Bubbles heard Battle-Star’s voice over her ear receiver. “I hear you.” She said, softly. Bubbles was wearing the pale blue outfit Uncle Mike and Max had given her. It was puncture resistant reinforced tights, with transparent rings on her shoulders and down the outside of her legs. She thought it looked sexy and sharp. She didn’t have a mask. She really never even considered getting one.

As Battle-Star, Max looked massive. He was much taller and the armor, though thick, looked form fitting and flexible, like a layer of plate-reinforced steel muscles. From within the helmet, his voice sounded completely different, deeper and more mechanical. The suit was an engineering marvel. Bubbles could not get over being so close to such a celebrity. “If my friends could see me now!” She thought.

They stood on the rooftop of a building in Independence Port. Wander was dressed in his usual white clothes. “I’ve had enough Stars blood on me for one week. Can we do this by the numbers and avoid any unpleasantness?” Wander asked.

ApotheCari sighed, “And when has this sort of thing ever gone ‘according to plan’ old friend?”

Max interrupted. “We’ll be fine. Just stay together. Do this methodically. WE don’t need to be worried –THEY do.” He smacked his gauntleted fists together.

Wander nodded and returned he gaze to the street below.

Bubbles looked at Wander, “Stars blood?”

Wander stood beside her, looking at the street below. “Us love, just us. Stars of Paragon. That’s our charter, our team name. I see too much of our blood. Any blood for that matter.” His voice was low but bitter.

His sudden mood swing left Bubbles speechless. ApotheCari stood slightly apart. She wore tights, similar to what Bubbles wore, but all in dark russet. She wore a cape that flapped softly in the breeze. Some how, she looked dangerous AND elegant. Bubbles heard her voice in her earpiece, ”Coms are all good. We are standing by.” ApotheCari sounded terse.

“They’re a little scared too,” Bubbles realized, “Yet they are still going through with it.” She clenched her fists together and extend her fingers as wide apart as they would go, feeling the gloves against her skin. “I ain’t chickening out.”

The three senior heroes barely moved. Many such long evenings had seasoned them into an efficient fighting unit. Bubbles, however, felt like her nerves were supercharged. She wanted to jump up and down and scream. “Ok, calm down. Breathe. Focus.” She repeated to herself.

“Come.” A soft voice sounded in her ear. Before she knew it, they were jumping down the ledges to the ground below. Battle-Star soared gracefully down.

They ran around a corner and saw two bodies lying on the ground. A dark figure knelt above them. The silhouette stood up and the unconscious figures teleported away. “So far so good.” It said. Bubbles suddenly realized it was Halo, but she could not really see him. He seemed to be out of focus. The dark uniform and cape made him seem misshapen, like a moving shadow.

They entered the building. The lights were out. The only illumination came from the streetlights and the moon. To Bubbles’ over active imagination, it seemed like a monster was hiding in every shadow. They moved as a group, walking silently down the corridor. It was a warehouse, apparently long abandoned and then re-opened by the criminals.

“Ready?” Halo’s voice whispered in her earpiece.




“Um, Ready.” Bubbles stuttered. She suddenly realized that a mere thirty feet away from her stood four strangely dressed men. Some were armed with what looked like swords hung from their backs.

Halo drifted toward them and vaulted over and past the group landing lightly behind them. Bubbles lost sight of him and suddenly all four men’s feet went out from underneath them and they fell to the floor. Much to Bubbles utter amazement the room suddenly lit up like the Fourth of July as twin bolts of blazing electricity erupted from Battle-Stars extended arms, striking the men. Suddenly it was all silent. No one moved, everyone listened.

“Clear” She heard.

“We are getting ahead of ourselves, please gather” ApotheCari’s said. They stepped closer and ApotheCari and Wander both waved their hands, making some quiet fireworks of their own. Bubbles felt her senses heighten and her nerves energize. Suddenly she realized she had forgotten something. She raised her hand and a forcefield appeared around Halo, then Wander, and then ApotheCari. She raised one around herself. Wander gave here a big grin and a thumbs-up. ApotheCari motioned them forward. Reflexively Max felt the wall of the translucent sphere surrounding him and nodded his head slightly. He looked at Bubbles and gave her a thumb-up too. Then he put his index finger in front of his voice plate indicating quiet and jerked his head in the direction they were headed. Bubbles grinned at him and gave him the thumbs-up.

They crept down the hall until they came to a larger group. A taller man wearing a horned mask was talking in Chinese to the other men. Under any other circumstances, he might have looked comical. To Bubbles he looked horrific.

Bubbles saw Halo raise his hand in a prearranged signal. ApotheCari stepped forward and simply walked up to the villains. They stopped talking and looked at her, completely confused for a second. A second was all she needed. Bubbles saw her wave her hands. They all looked astonished and then their heads fell to their chests. The man with the mask shook it off and shot a glare at ApotheCari, just as Halo’s foot smashed into his jaw from a long leaping kick. Battle-Star hurled what looked like a sphere of electricity, about the size of a beach ball. It struck the thugs and appeared to multiply and attach to each of them. They trembled briefly and then sagged to the floor unconscious.

A Chinese man in a large straw hat abruptly teleported right in front of them just at the thugs collapsed. He raised his hands towards his comrades and then, frustrated; he looked at the heroes and said something in Chinese. A loud whirling wind appeared around him, like a mini hurricane, driving them back.

They suddenly heard a long low moaning sound. An apparition of a huge man in wildly colored clothing and an ornate mask flew around the corner swooping straight for them. Before they could react, he slammed his massive hands together in a thunderous clap, which sent a shockwave knocking the group off their feet. He charged at Battle-Star who sprang to his feet and started fighting the monstrosity hand to hand.

Somehow Halo was the only one not affected by the whirlwind. He attacked the hat-man who dodged his kicks and then counter-attacked. They became locked in single combat. Bubbles found she no longer had time to watch him, the hovering apparition was pounding Battle-Star and slammed him backwards, sending him crashing into some wooden crates. It turned, looked at Bubbles and ApotheCari, and charged. Bubbles almost froze. She almost forgot what to do. Then she cast another force field on ApotheCari, Battle-Star, and Wander and then herself, just as the thing attacked. It pounded its enormous fists on her force field. Its hideous face was not a mask at all, but a painted deformed face of a mad man. It snarled at her, ripping at the force field, trying to get at her. She tried to blast it a way from her, but she could not. Her force bolt did not work. She almost panicked. Then the apparition was violently engulfed in electricity, arched its back in pain, and froze. Suddenly it dissipated like smoke. As the hideous form faded away she saw behind it: Battle-Star stood thigh deep in broken crates, feet braced, his metal fist pointed at her like a gun. Wisps of steam trailed from his knuckles. He relaxed his arm and moved back toward where they had left Halo. Bubbles followed.

“Sorcerer.” Halo growled. “And that was a spirit. Black magic. They summon the spirit of an ancestor and bind it to do their bidding. This is much worse than I thought. This is not Chinese or Japanese; it’s a perversion of several Asian faiths. Their depravity disgusts me.”

Bubbles looked down and saw that the sorcerer face was forming bruises. Halo pulled a small disk from his belt and stuck it to the Sorcerer’s forehead and then tapped the spot in the center. The Sorcerer transported away.

He addressed the group in a low but clear voice. “I want them all. Every one of them. I don’t care if it takes all night. “He had a strange look in his eyes. Bubbles had the jarring feeling she was looking at a stranger. Battle-Star, ApotheCari, and Wander nodded but said nothing. Halo moved down the hall.

Bubbles had about a million questions, but this was neither the time nor place. Things were happening far too fast for her. And the rest of the trip through the winding corridors of the warehouse was no better. It was almost a blur. They encountered several small groups of men and quickly subdued them. It seemed like Halo was getting more and more violent with each group. But Bubbles will never forget what she saw at the end.

They found themselves on a balcony overlooking a vast, open warehouse. But it was not a warehouse any more: Walls made of woven reed partitions divided the warehouse up in to areas. The areas had reed beds, tables, reed mats, wall hangings, pillows and tons of tattooing paraphernalia. Over looking it all was a enormous, monstrous, statue of Buddha. However it was NOT Buddha. It had huge horns protruding from its head, like a demon. It sat in a huge low pool of black liquid, which flowed from its out-stretched hands like a fountain. The stench of plants, incense, and chemicals was so overwhelming it almost made her gag.

There were a number of colorfully dressed men down in the warehouse. Apparently, their guards had failed to alert them.

“Too bad for them,” Bubble grimly thought. “Uncle Mike is in the worst mood I’ve ever seen.” She followed the team as they moved toward the stairs and suddenly Battle-Star stopped and looked back, “Halo?”

The group turned around and looked at Halo, who still stood staring at the scene below.

“Halo?” Battle-Star asked again.

He turned around and strode past them, cracking his knuckles, “Yeah. Let’s go.”

He took the stairs five at a time and hit the floor running.

“Oh boy, here we go again,” Wander said.

Without pausing, Halo ran past several thugs and vaulted over the top of the reed wall, disappearing from view. As the men he had just passed attempted to draw weapons, ApotheCari threw out her hands and stunned them. Bubbles ran past them and they looked to be asleep standing up. Battle-Star unleashed massive blasts of electricity, quickly subduing them the rest of the way. On the other side of the partition, bodies were being tossed into the air. Occasionally, a dark blurry form would leap into view, followed by a resounding crash of furniture. Bubbles and Wander cleared the corner or the reed wall and skidded to a halt, witnessing an incredible scene. A dozen men with swords, knives, and shirukens were desperately trying to kill Halo, but he simply was not there, he was a dim blur of darkness, darting and twisting among them. Bodies flew yards away to land without moving. A man bearing a sword was swept off his feet, his sword sent spinning away, a massive double-handed attack drove his head into the floor. Halo executed a perfect back flip and seemed to disappear. Three more thugs were launched into the air and landed hard on their backs. Halo delivered a round-house kick followed by a full front kick which sent his attacker sailing over the reed wall and landing in the huge reservoir of ink at the base of the horned Buddha. Wander found Halo in the churning melee and waved his hands, sending radiant waves of energy toward him. Bubbles recast her force fields and was startled to see a huge bolt of electricity blast outward from Wander’s extended fist, catching a particularly troublesome thug in the chest, and rendering him instantly unconscious.

Before she could ask Wander how he did that, she saw, to her utter amazement, that Halo was attacking her! She gave a yelp and ducked as he flew over her head catching a silent attacker, who had been sneaking up behind her, in the chest, sending him flying. A second thug jumped down from somewhere above her and Bubbles extended her hands slamming a bolt of translucent blue force into his stomach, doubling him over and launching him half way across the room. She suddenly realized she could not attack anything with her own force field on! Nothing could match the satisfaction she felt at that very moment. Any sense of pity or fear about using her powers against criminals evaporated.

She looked up and saw Battle-Star draw a bead and fire on her would–be attacker, knocking him flat. “In your FACE karate boy!” She yelled triumphantly.

Suddenly everything was quiet. Battle-Star turned his helmeted face toward her, but said nothing.

Wander was in the center of the main area, checking pulses and placing a port disc on each criminal. One by one, they were slowly vanishing.

ApotheCari, Battle-Star, and Bubbles walked into the main area looking around. Bubbles felt slightly numb. The adrenaline washed through her, making her shake.

Abruptly Halo emerged from the other side, deftly leaping over the other reed wall to land silently beside her.

He looked at Bubbles and was about to say something when a man groaned near him. He spun and raised his hand. “Michael.” ApotheCari’s voice stopped him. The groaning man rolled on the floor, holding his stomach.

He relaxed and glanced at ApotheCari. “Ok.”

The morning sun peeked between the skyscrapers as they emerged from the warehouse. The time consuming task of collecting the evidence and processing the crime scene was left to the dedicated professionals of the Paragon Police Department. With the amount of drugs and stolen property they’d found, which included some priceless antiquities, as well as a long list of other contraband, deportation or long jail sentences awaited most of the gang.

Though tired and battered, they were relatively unhurt, which surprised Bubbles. Most of them sported cuts, scrapes, and bruises which, through the combined efforts of Wander and ApotheCari were mostly healed. Even Battle-Star’s beautiful armor showed some damage, which, to Bubble’s utter amazement, appeared to be knitting it’s self back together.

She put her hand on a gash on Battle-Stars armored stomach. “How do you do that?” She asked.

“Nanites. Tiny machines built into the armor.” He said.

She smiled at him, “Wow.” And shook her head.

“You did ok. Come see me after camp and I might have some more power experiments ready for you by then.” He said.

Bubbles gave Battle-Star a hug. He gently hugged her in return. His armor was rough on her skin, but she did not mind. He really was pretty amazing. “You bet!”

Battle-Star stepped back and small jets fired under his feet, sending him wordlessly aloft and gone.

Halo was talking quietly to ApotheCari as Bubbles drifted over to them. Physically Halo was large compared to ApotheCari, yet whenever he spoke to her, he seemed to shrink. Bubbles realized what she was seeing was respect. “…purified with fire. That’ll be the end of it.” He said. Their conversation ended as Bubble approached. She had the feeling she had interrupted something.

ApotheCari smiled warmly at Bubbles, “You were wonderful in there. Well done, dear.”

Bubbles tried not to feel shy, but ApotheCari always made her feel that way. “Uh, thanks. Thanks for, you know, bringing me.”

ApotheCari beamed at her and gave her a hug. “Good luck with Cape Camp, dear, I’ll see you all soon.” ApotheCari step back a few steps and floated up into the air. The wind flapped her cape around her as she soared away.

“Wow.” Wish I could fly!” She ginned at Halo.

“Maybe you will.” Halo grinned at her.

“Really?” She gasped.

“Never know. We’ll look into it after you get back.” He said, cryptically.

She almost laughed at him but she was interrupted. “In the mean time…” Wander had suddenly appeared at her side,” As I recall we have a date tonight!”

Bubbles was about to say something. “No, no, that’s quite alright, I will be happy to take some time out of my busy schedule for you, my Bubbly dear. I’ll pick you up at seven, ok?”

“Um, but...” Bubbles started.

“Great! Get some rest. Bring an appetite, gorgeous, and wear something sexy, and flimsy, and tight!!! I’ll do the rest!” Wander stepped back and said, “We need to have us a party before you go off to booty camp! See you fine folks - LATER!” And WHOOSH!!! He was gone, running down the road, leaving a streak of energy behind him.

Bubbles looked at Halo. Halo sighed and gave a brief chuckle. “Promise to be gentle to him?”

Bubbles batted her eyelashes at him, “Are you kidding? I most certainly WILL NOT be gentle with him! I’m a professional party animal! I plan to HURT that boy!”

Halo laughed, “Good.”

On Guardian!
Mike Halo
& a few dozen others.

Our SG: Stars of Paragon

Fiction: Training Day



Training Day 7

“Rise and shine, sleepyhead.” Bubbles was already almost awake. She sat up in bed as Candy walked away from her door.

“I’m up, I’m up… sort of…” She mumbled. The smell of coffee tickled her nose. “Oh girl, you are the best!” She hopped out of bed and padded into the kitchen. The apartment they shared was roomy, almost empty. Neither one of them spent a lot of time there, so they had not really accumulated too many belongings. Candy was Bubble’s best friend. They had been roommates almost from the day they met, about three months after their neighborhood, the part of the city named Baumton had become known as Boomtown. They had known each other at a distance in school, but had not run with the same crowds. Candy was a few months younger than Bubbles and had been a junior. Bubbles had been a senior. The classes of ’02 and ’03 never graduated. Many had not survived.

Three years later, they were better than best friends; they were also now business partners. They and a small circle of friends were all the family they had. They were similar enough looking that most people thought they were sisters, which had become a running joke with them.

On a lark, they decided to stop living in minimum wage poverty and dared the unthinkable: they tried out as strippers. There was an ad for “Exotic Dancers” in a local hero bar called “The Paragon Dance Party.” It had been a secret warehouse used by rumrunners in the bad-old-days. It was once renovated into a trendy urban disco. Later it had evolved into a rave club. The rave scene in Paragon City did not survive the war: Neither had most of the ravers.

Then some heroes took it over and renamed it “The Paragon Dance Party.” That was a bit of a joke too, as there was not a whole lot of dancing, and not a whole lot of partying that went on there. It served as a rendezvous point and a meeting room where heroes could exchange tips and trade a new line of designer performance enhancing drugs.

However, a man, whether he is a hero or not, will not usually complain about seeing a pretty girl dance. The manager was clever enough to realize having a few dancers would liven the place up. Candy and Bubbles had been far prettier than average and very popular in high school. Then the war left them homeless and orphaned teens, Too old for an orphanage and not quite ready for adulthood. They took the dare, aced their auditions, and became instant hits at the club. They quickly overcame their natural shyness and became accustomed to running around in skimpy outfits in front of strangers. This was made easier by the fact that those strangers tipped like millionaires. In addition, because mostly heroes frequented the club, they never had to deal with drug dealers or pimps trying to ruin their lives. Every day at work was like a party, a day to dress naughty and have fun. And the money rolled in. Before long, the girls found themselves financially solvent, with a place to live, and a relatively secure future. And they enjoyed the work. Both of them liked men, liked talking to people, liked to party, and drank very little. Neither did any drugs much stronger than aspirin.

The afternoon sun filled the kitchen with golden light. Candy sat at the kitchen table in the drinking coffee, wearing what she had slept in, a black tank top and loose grey shorts. Her pale blonde hair was in a big single ponytail. Bubbles wore an over-sized grey t-shirt.

“Tonight’s the big date, huh?” Candy asked, smiling mischievously.

Bubbles held a hand up like a referee and reached for the coffee with the other, “No fair teasing me about my love-life before my first cup.” She poured, breathing in the aroma, trying to clear the cobwebs.

“So is he cute?” Candy asked warming up for the interrogation.

“Yep.” Bubbles said sipping coffee, ignoring Candy’s expectant look.

“And…” Candy was not giving up.

“And he’s very nice. “ Bubbles said.

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.” Candy was going into full interrogation mode.

“Eh, you know men,” she shot Candy a meaningful look. “He’s a man. He’s also really… pushy… but not in an icky way. He’s just kinda high strung, you know? But he’s funny, and he’s… I don’t know…” Bubbles drank more coffee.

“He doesn’t sound like your type.” Candy observed.

“Yeah, I know.” Bubbles conceded. “But what’s that? Who has time for a social life? We always work nights and weekends, work IS our social life. How sad is that?” Bubbles groused. “If I knew what ‘my type’ was, I’d write it down somewhere so I don’t forget.”

“You’re going out with him because you’re desperate?” Candy asked.

Bubbles sipped her coffee and thought for a moment, “No, I’m going out with him because he is nice. He pays attention to me, makes me feel like I’m more than just a… set of boobs.” She said this without smiling. Candy nodded and looked down at her coffee too. Bubbles stretched and scratched her head through her loose hair and tried to shake off her sour mood.

She grinned at Candy, “On the plus side, he IS a total flirt, but not, you know, not in a icky way. He just likes being outrageous, I think, I don’t know.” She shrugged and went over to lean against the sink near the coffee pot. “Anyway, he’s crazy and fun and I could use some fun.”

Candy was strangely silent. Bubbles turned and looked at Candy. Candy looked at her. “I plan to sleep here.” She said. “Alone.” Candy nodded and looked away. Bubbles stepped over to where she sat and hugged her from the side, stroking her hair.

“I’m not going to leave you, CC.” Bubbles said into her hair, “not yet anyway. We’ll both find nice men and live happy, safe lives.”

Candy forced a smile, leaning against Bubbles’ shoulder and then broke the hug, “Happily every after?”

“Happily every after, after I take a shower.” Bubbles headed back toward her bedroom. “I still smell like yuck from the warehouse.”

“I didn’t want to say anything, but you do kinda reek. Do all superheroes stink?” Candy said, making a big show of pinching her nose.

Bubbles turned and yelled at her, “OH! You...!” She grabbed the dish towel and started popping her with it. “Here’s a super power for you!” Candy shrieked and ran as she gave chase, repeatedly being popped with the towel as she attempted to elude Bubbles through the living room.

Later on Bubbles was in the bathroom finishing her makeup. Candy came in grabbing towels. “You’re my hero Hon, Thanks.”

“Yeah well it’s YOUR turn to do laundry, you owe me, sister. Big time!” Candy tried to pretend to be angry but couldn’t. She stopped in the bathroom door and leaned against the doorframe hugging the bundle of towels.

Bubbles wore an almost knee length black spaghetti strap dress, sandal-strap black pumps and diamond earrings, and almost nothing else. One side benefit of being a stripper, you HAD to have good skin. They both worked at maintaining a perfect, smooth tan. She only wore hose or stockings to show off her legs, not hide them.

She had decided to go for a different look with her hair: She usually wore it in her trademark double ponytails, today she had taken a long time to comb it all out to let it dry straight, taking on a natural wave. It hung in a magnificent golden mane to the middle of her back. In a way, her hair almost covered more than her dress did. When facing an unknown situation, she knew her best weapon was her looks, so she decided to go loaded for bear.

Candy eyed her critically. “Hmm… dressy and sexy. Where’s he taking you?”

“Don’t know. Thought I’d go overboard just in case.” Bubbles said, applying eyeliner.

“You’re getting more buff,” Candy said, appreciatively. Bubbles had noticed too. “Yeah, it’s all the clean living and exercise. Uncle Mike eats like a health nut. I feel guilty if I even smell a French fry.” Bubbles cupped her breasts through the thin fabric of the dress. “The girls are shrinking, but I weigh the same. I’m rearranging the weight.” Candy nodded. She was built nearly identical to Bubbles; having C+ cups on a petite five foot tall frame had advantages and disadvantages. Both women exercised fanatically, but Candy knew all about Bubble’s new ambitions. She did not approve, but she wisely kept her mouth shut. She and Bubbles loved each other more than sisters. She would not do anything to put a wedge between them.

“Do you like him?” Candy asked. Bubbles knew the look and exactly what she meant.

“Yeah I like him, or I wouldn’t go out with him, why?” Bubbles evaded.

“No I mean LIKE him.” Candy asked.

“I don’t know yet. Give me a chance to find something wrong with him, will ya?” She grinned.

Candy smiled and set the towels down on the hamper and folded her arms. “Just, you know, it has been a long time. I’m just a teeny bit jealous is all.” Her expression brightened, “Does he have a hunky friend?” Candy bobbed her eyebrows hopefully.

“I’ll ask him.” Bubbles said sarcastically.

“What about, um, Uncle Mike?” Candy asked, trying to sound casual.

“I don’t think I could date him. He’s not into me. He’s just a different kind of guy.”

“NO, silly, ME!” Candy said. “Could you introduce me sometime? I’d like to meet him… you know… MEET him.” She gave her the eyebrows again.

Bubbles giggled, “I bet he hasn’t been on a date in years, he might go wild on you.”

“I am willing to take that chance.” She said trying to keep a straight face. “I bet he know all sorts of ORIENTAL stuff!” As she said this, she slid her hands up into her hair and rolled her hips seductively.

“CANDY!” Bubbles gasped.

“Well?” Candy said. “Seems like years since I’ve been on a date too! Anyway, I got work to do, someone has to around here. Promise to give me all the gory details!” Candy trudged toward the basement stairs with a huge laundry basket and a romance novel stuck in the waistband of her shorts.

“Promise.” Bubbles said.

The doorbell rang and Bubbles grabbed her purse. The key turned in the lock with a satisfying click. Little things seemed suddenly more important now. Bubbles found that she heard more, tasted more. As she went down the inside stairs she noticed the evening air smelled fresher, the sounds coming from the city were more musical. She was utterly energized. Another thing she noticed was that she NOTICED. The meditation, the training, was having a subtle, yet profound effect on her. She was starting to notice more and more things and tune out less important things. She was listening less to what people said, but paying more attention to how they said it and what they did with their hands. She did not feel like she had to answer or reply every time someone said something. So many things were self-evident. So many things were so simple, yet beautiful in their simplicity. Like the key and the lock.

Bubbles opened the outside door. “Hi, gorgeous,” Wander said. He was dressed all in black, with cuffed dress slacks, elegant shoes, and a fashionable collar-less short-sleeved black shirt which fit him perfectly. It was of some synthetic that clung to him, showing off his muscles.

“Hi! Ooo, nice hat, handsome.” She was in a bantery mood.

His head band had been replaced, most surprisingly, by an expensive looking black fedora, which he removed as he handed her a small box.

“A little something for the lady,” he said bowing slightly and smiling. “I… hope you don’t mind.”

Bubbles was surprised yet curious, and a tiny bit apprehensive. “Uh-oh, I hope he is not getting carried away.” She thought. She covered her sudden apprehension with what she hoped was a gracious smile.

She need not have worried. It was a small rose corsage. “Oh, how nice!” She beamed at him, “That’s so sweet! Thank you!”

He did not miss a beat. “Let’s put it on and be on our way shall we? I have tickets and we don’t want to be late!” He proceeded to gently pin the corsage to what little of her dress came above her breasts. Bubbles eyed the pin nervously, and fully expected him to “accidentally” run his fingers around a bit, but he didn’t. “Hmm… He seems different.” She thought.

“There you go. The poor flower doesn’t stand a chance, you’re too beautiful already.” Bubbles wrinkled her nose at him but loved the flattery.

“Thank you, it’s beautiful,” she said.

“Shall we then?” Wander indicated a waiting cab.

Cabs were a rarity. Paragon City was not a place for cars. Almost four years had passed since the invasion. Each year since, the city had taken a day in November to observe “Omega Day” commemorating hero 1 and Omega Team as well as Alpha team and all the rest of the heroes who gave their lives in the Rikti invasion. Every year the politicians declared the war walls would soon be coming down and the city would open back up.

Only a few cars and trucks ran the streets of Paragon City. No automobile dealerships or service stations survived the devastation, most of the people who owned cars had used them to flee the war. The tram service provided the only reliable transportation between the intact sections of the city, and even then not into all areas. Gradually people moved closer to work or found work closer to where they lived. With all the people who had died, evacuated and never returned there were plenty of cheap places to live. It had become a city of pedestrians.

“Do I get to know where we’re going?” She asked.

“Why of course. But I may want to keep it as a surprise.”

“I like surprises.” Bubbles said, deliberately teasing him. “But I like peeking at my presents too. Is it someplace fancy?”

“Where else would a fancy guy like me take a fancy girl like you?” He asked, innocently.

“I’m almost afraid to ask.”

The confines of the cab were cozy. She could smell his cologne. She sat turned toward him, but was conscious that her seemingly long enough dress was not all that long. He was noticing too.

Instead of answering her he said, “You look absolutely amazing. I did not realize how long your hair is. You should wear it down more.”

“Thanks, you look sharp too.” She fluffed her hair back off her ears, “I wear it down sometimes. The pony tails are easy, they go with my routine. I don’t like to perform with my hair down; it gets in the way and throws my balance off.”

“Could I come and see you dance some time?” He asked.

Bubbles shrugged and smiled at him, “Yeah. I’d like that.”

“Really?” He asked.

“Yeah, of course, why not?” She looked him. “Wander, I’m a stripper. I’m not ashamed of it. It’s fun. It pays well too. Dancing saved my life. God only knows what would have happened to us after the war if the bars had stayed closed.” She grinned wryly.

“Us?” He asked.

“Me and the girls: The McSweet Dancers.” She explained.

“There’s more of you?” He asked grinning toothily. The old Wander was coming back. She thought, “Good!”

“Yep, we have eight girls now. We formed a company. We hire only the best dancers. We negotiate jobs and contracts. We staff clubs, do private parties. The girls make better money and they have certain safeguards against pimps and pushers. It works well.”

“Nice. You make it all sound so upright and professional.” Wander said. He immediately regretted saying it. “I’m sorry luv, I dinna mean…”

Bubbles smiled and gazed out the cab window, “Don’t worry, I hear that all the time. I’m not ashamed of my body. We are all born naked; Naked and beautiful. I was lucky to be able to keep it. I work hard to keep it. Men and even some women like looking at me and they are willing to pay. How is this evil? I’m not a I don’t do photo shoots, I won’t do porn. I’m just a dancer. I love dancing. All kinds of dancing.”

Bubbles looked at him. She noticed that, to his credit, Wander tried to listen intently and tried his best to not stare at her chest bobbing hypnotically in front of him. Good boy. Points awarded.

Wander almost looked relived when he announced, “And we’re here!” Bubbles had barely noticed the cab slow down.

“Well done driver!” Wander handed the cabbie a wad of money and was out and opening Bubble’s door before she could react.

“Here you go.” He said, offering her his hand.

Her eyes swept up the huge marble steps of the theatre as she emerged from the cab and then locked on the marquis. “ELENA!?!” She gasped, “You got tickets for ELENA!?! Oh my God, Wander How? It’s been sold out for WEEKS!” She suddenly shifted gears and looked at him reprovingly, “This had to cost you a fortune. You did not need to do this.”

“Not to worry.” He smiled calmly, “They dinna cost a fortune. There are plenty o’ people in this burg who owe me a favor.”

He gently guided her by the arm toward the steps. “And if’n I wish to blow a sack of cash on a night out with you, I’ll do it, thank you very much.” He paused a moment and looked deep into her eyes. “No strings attached, love, none at all. Okay?”

Bubbles did not know what to say for a moment. “What is up with him?” She asked herself.

To him she said, “Okay. And… thank you...” She could not help but be excited. They proceeded up the steps. “This is so COOL!” She squeezed his arm, “I’m very impressed.”

“That’s the idea, love, that’s the idea,” he said with a straight face. “Did I mention there is a champagne and hors d’oeuvres reception for platinum ticket holders before the show?” He held one of the massive oak and brass theatre doors open for her, ”These…” he waved two long silvery tickets, “…are platinum. Elena said she wants to meet you.”

The echoing murmur of the crowd milling in the marbled foyer was almost loud enough to drown out Bubbles’ surprised squeal of delight. The heavy door swung gently shut behind them as she grabbed him in an exuberant hug, knocking off his hat.

The show was fabulous, as expected. Bubbles even had Elena’s autograph on her program. To her utter amazement, Elena had been interested in her new “career path”. Apparently, she and Wander had known each other for a while. When they emerged from the posh theatre and stepped into the cool evening air, Bubbles felt like she was walking on air.

“Wow, I did not realize how long that was, that was so great!” Bubbles said, beaming at him.

“That was a fine show indeed.” Wander said, still strangely quiet.

They walked together down the street. Cabs did not usually run this late. Bubbles did not mind, did not care. She was having a perfect night. Wander had been gracious and gentlemanly all night long. She’d half expected to spend most of the night fighting him off with a club.

“Have you known her for a long time?” Bubbles asked.

“Couple of years.” He said. Not offering more information. They walked in silence for a few minutes. The evening was not too cold, she felt a tiny bit chilly in her dress, but it felt good. She was still on a high from the concert.

“It’s a tad late, love, but would you care for a bite to eat somewhere?” he offered.

“I’m starved.” She gave him a grateful look. “Could we eat at a club? I want to go dancing.”


They went to a popular dinner club which offered dancing. It was nice, but not fancy, but Bubbles had been here before and liked it. They started off with a light meal since it was so late, and Wander ordered a nice wine. She liked wine. She started to become slightly concerned however, when he ordered beer with dinner and then kept ordering refills. After they ate, they hit the packed dance floor. The club was full. The food and the music were good. Wander was back to being his usual self. All seemed right with the world, for a change.

He did, however, seem to be drinking a lot. Bubbles worked in a bar: she had seen men do some serious drinking. She knew that some men could drink a lot and show almost no effect and some could hardly drink at all without getting completely drunk. At one point she glared at the waitress when she came by to offer him more. She got the message, but did not seem to care. She was also a bit too flirty with Wander for Bubbles’ taste. She fantasized about putting her in a force field bubble and bouncing her out the door. She smiled at Bubbles as she left the table. Bubbles quickly smiled back. Neither of them had given a friendly smile.

Wander failed to notice. He became more talkative. During dinner and between dances he delighted her with stories of his exploits fighting criminals and investigating cases. She could not tell where the truth stopped and exaggeration began, some of it sounded too far fetched to be believed. Several times he had her laughing so hard she had tears.

And they danced. She knew she was attracting a lot of attention and she did not care. She just wanted to move to the music and watch Wander watch her. She admitted that she got a thrill out of teasing men, but it was especially fun with Wander because he teased right back. He was a good dancer, and he seemed totally uninhibited.

And he drank. After a while, Bubbles switched to soda water and lemon, just to stay hydrated. Wander seemed to get more and more intoxicated, but his coordination did not diminish. Bubbles decided to try to get some water in him and get him to dance off a bit of the alcohol before calling it a night. But then things got complicated.

A couple of large, handsome, well-dressed men came over to their table and leered at her, “Hey buddy, mind if we take the next dance.” The blonde man said.

“Um, no thanks, darling, I’m sitting this next one out,” Wander joked drunkenly.

Bubbles could not repress a smile, and instantly realized that was the wrong thing to do.

The blonde man still smiled but he stiffened and what little friendliness was in his eyes left, “Funny guy. C’mere baby, lets dance.” He grabbed Bubble’s arm and started to drag her out of her chair.

Wander started to protest but the other guy, the one with the dark hair, put a finger on his chest and pushed him back into his chair as he sat down next to him. “Why don’t we have a drink?”

Wander looked at the finger, his eyes blinking, “Hey, get your big nose picker offa me.” He growled drunkenly.

Meanwhile, Bubbles was half out of her seat when she deftly twisted her arm around and out of his grip. He looked mildly surprised and stared at her, not exactly realizing what she’d done. “I don’t want to dance.” She said, smiling sweetly.

“Don’t be like that baby, all I want is one dance, you need to be reasonable.” He pretended to smile politely but the determination in his eye was unmistakable; He was used to getting his way.

The dark-haired man said to Wander, “Settle down, little man. My partner wants to dance with your date, no problem.”

Something changed in Wander’s eyes. He smiled back at the man but his eyes were sharp. “Quite right, no problem at all. Another drink sounds good, put ‘er there!” Wander shoved his hand out and gave the man a handshake.

Bubbles spoke to the blonde man in an even, polite voice, edged with steel, “I don’t NEED to do anything, YOU need to go away and leave us alone.”

The blond man reached over toward Bubbles again. He had relaxed slightly, perhaps he was only going to give her a condescending pat on the head and try to leave with the last word. For Bubbles it was the last straw. As the man reached for her, she quickly grabbed his hand and stood up, passing under his arm and turning, wrapping his arm behind his back into a half nelson. Unfortunately, she had never practiced this in high-heels. She tripped as she completed the move and wrenched his arm further than she would have, driving both of them off balance. The blond man’s face slammed into the tabletop. He sagged to the floor.

Wander, still holding the dark-haired man’s hand, moved uncomfortably close to the other man’s face and said, “Buuh Bi-yeee!” Just as he did this, he sent a jolt of electricity lancing through his hand up the dark haired mans arm, engulfing him in electricity. Every muscle in his body spasmed causing him to arch his back, rear up and pull hard against Wander’s hand. Wander let go and watched placidly as the dark haired man went flying backwards into the crowded dance floor.

People shouted and screamed as he careened through, clearing a path down the center, knocking dancers everywhere.

Bubbles stared at Wander in horror, “WANDER!”

“Wha? I din’t do nuthin!” He stared at her.

The blond man groaned and began to stir. Wander looked down at his mashed face and said in a mock surprised voice, “BUBBLES!”

Bubbles looked down and then at Wander, speechless.

The blonde man sagged to the floor. The dark-haired man and several of the men he had knocked down were suddenly in a general free-for-all. Women screamed, people were shouting and cursing. The music stopped. The sound of falling tables and breaking dishes spread. Club staff either fled or tried to contain the pandemonium, depending on their job description. The smart people were heading for the door. Problem was it was past two in the morning and almost everyone, including many on the staff, had been drinking. There was a shortage of smart people.

A woman Bubbles had never seen before punched her in the face from the side and then hit her in the head from behind with her purse. She wound up for another swing, and Bubbles, without even thinking, gave her two left jabs to the mouth, and a right hook to the stomach. The woman folded to the floor with a whimper.

Bubbles stared at her clenched fists in disbelief, and then looked up. “This is insane. We need to call the police,” She thought. Bubbles suddenly realized that her beautiful light black dress was very roomy, torn most of the way up one side, almost even with her breasts. She snatched the two halves of the fabric and held it closed with one hand. Her hair was in her face and plastered to her skin, perspiration covered her, partly from dancing, now from adrenaline. She gingerly touched her rapidly swelling lip with her free hand.

“Where’s Wander?” she said to no one, feeling dazed. She shook her hair and wiped it out of her face. She suddenly realized two things, first, she was witnessing the start of a first-class bar fight; second, Wander was nowhere to be seen.

It seemed like people were fighting everywhere. Bubbles dodged and ran around struggling people as she looked for him. She completed most of a circuit around what used to be the dance floor and had still not found him. She turned to search elsewhere and spotted him. He was slouched against the back wall behind one of the bars. His black fedora was perched crookedly on the tops of the bottles lining the wall behind him. He had a fifth of something amber in one hand, which he swigged from as he shot bolts of electricity from his index finger, taking pot shots at the bartender and a bouncer who crouched behind the far end of the bar.

“H’lo luv!” He shouted merrily, waving the bottle at her. He sloshed some on his leg and glared at the men, “Oooh, NOW look what y’ gone and made me done!” and blasted another bolt at the determined men, disintegrating a beer bottle above their heads.

He looked back at her and yelled, “Now this is MY idea of a PARTY! Thanks luv! None o’ this could ha’ been possible without ya!! You’re a first rate gal y’are!”

Bubbles had had about enough. She vaulted over the bar, leaving what little remained of her dignity behind her as her dress flapped wide open. She thought. “Just my luck we’ll survive this and I’ll be arrested for indecent exposure!”

“WOA, Darlin’!!!” Wander said, as she landed with most of her dress trailing behind her. “Good thing ya wore some drawers, lass or youdaUUURK!!!!”

She grabbed him by the throat with one hand and snatched the bottle from his hands with the other, slamming it on the counter out of his reach.

“WANDER! “ She shook him, “WANDER! Stop screwing around! Wander! Listen to me! We have to call the police! We have to stop this before someone else gets hurt!”

He squinted and stared for a moment at the considerable expanse of her side and hip not covered by the torn dress for a moment and mumbled, “Mother of God…” Then he shook his head and looked at up at her, realizing what she had just said.

“Nooo.” He tried to shake himself free of her grasp. She held him tightly by both shoulders, and was ready to shake him again. “Nononono. We canna do that, we be in big troub, uh, trouble.”

Bubbles held his face so she could get eye-to-eye contact, “What do you MEAN!?!” She yelled.

“Well, love”, he said, trying heroically to speak through the booze, “Iss like thiss… YOU sarded it! We cannn call da cops, we ARE th’ cops, sorda. Th’ hava really, really, really, baaaad jail f’ cops likus, we DON wanna go dair, trus me, I been dere! Not good.” He said, shaking his head theatrically, but trying to be as serious and sincere as he could.

The reality of their predicament suddenly sank in. Bubbles felt trapped. “Oh my God.” She looked around. “Oh my God oh My God. Wander, what are we gonna do?”

The sound of a different kind of shouting, through bull horns, was starting to be heard from the main entrance. Brawlers suddenly ceased fighting as if by magic and bolted for a way out. Bubbles felt panic start to rise. The bartender and his team stood up, “Finally, you’ll get YOURS! Now GET OUT OF THERE!!!”

Bubbles looked fearfully at them, then at Wander. Wander suddenly stood straight up. The bartender and his crew dived back behind cover. Annoyingly Wander took a slow deep breath and tucked his shirt into his trousers. He retrieved his somewhat battered fedora from among the bottles and carefully set it on his head.

“Kiss me.” He said.

“What?” Bubbles almost shouted.

“If you kiss me I’ll go.” He said with a goofy grin.

“Stop being stupid, lets get out of here.”

“No.” he said, attempting dignity.


“Kiss me first.”

“Fine. Here’s a kiss.” Bubbles went to give him a peck on the cheek. Smoothly Wander pulled her to him and took her into a full dip. The move took Bubbles completely by surprise, but his grip was firm, he was not going to drop her. She went to rise out of the dip and Wander planted a firm full kiss on her mouth. His lips were soft and, despite the liquor and sweat, he smelled and tasted good. Without thinking, she just reacted to it and kissed him back. A small part of her brain was screaming alarms at her.

She pushed him off her as he lifted her upright and glared at him, completely flustered. Instead of looking at her, he abruptly swept his hat off and bowed to the bartender and the rapidly approaching riot squad.

He then snaked his free arm around her waist and pulled her close against his side as he called to the bartender and his growing squad of reinforcements. “Th’nkss lads, fora loverly ev’nin’. S’long an G’NIGHT!!!” He pointed his fist in their general direction and they dived for cover again. To Bubble’s utter amazement, instead of a blast of electricity shooting from his fist, everything turned brilliantly white and the world vanished.

A different part of the world reappeared. They stood in the doorway to the club. Squad cars and armored vans filled the street with blaring radio noise and even more blaring lights. A few cops stood around talking. Behind them a line of riot cops were walking in a line through the club arresting people. Bubbles took this all in instantly.

“OH, no good…” Wander mumbled as he adjusted his hat. Someone yelled, “Hey, YOU!” That was all the time she had before another flash of light engulfed them.

They reappeared a block down the street. It was suddenly strangely quiet. Bubbles felt like her ears were clogged. She said, “Wander, what are you doOOOOOOO…” FLASH Again they disappeared.

They were up on the low roof of a nearby building. “…IIIIIIING!” she felt a sudden wash of vertigo.

“I’m jus goin’, Like you wannud me to….” Wander explained in a reasonable tone. FLASH! They blinked out again.

When they reappeared, Bubbles was suddenly aware that she no longer had ground under her feet. She looked down and saw that they were several stories up, hanging in mid air. One of her shoes fell off. Bubbles screamed. FLASH!

They reappeared in mid air again. Bubbles screamed again and violently wrapped both arms around Wander, terrified. This, unfortunately, bumped his arm UP, which HAD been aiming his teleport ring in the general direction of down and away. FLASH!

They reappeared high above the city. Bubbles looked down and saw the tops of the sky scrapers. “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” She shrieked, “Wander, stop it you’re scaring me!”

Wander had been concentrating on where he would shoot them next. He paused and looked at her, his face filled with blurry concern, “Oooooh. Um surry, m’Luv. I dint meen to scur you.” Suddenly they started to fall.

Bubbles screamed again, “Wander! Please fly, FLY! FLY! FLY!” She gripped him tightly sobbing and screaming into his neck.

“Wha? I don know how to fly,” he slurred.

“WHAT!?!” She shrieked in horror. The wind whistled by, Bubbles’ long mane of hair flew straight up from her head.

Wanders’ hat flew away. She saw the hat go and buried her face in his neck screaming louder. He looked at the departing hat indignantly and said. “Oh now! That’ll NEVER do!” FLASH!

They reappeared, still in mid air but no longer falling. Wander lurched in her arms, causing Bubbles to cling more tightly to him and look up to see what he was doing. She stared in shock as she realized he was putting his hat on again. He grinned stupidly at her. FLASH!

They reappeared still in the air. Anger was beginning to overcome her fear, “I am going to KILL YOU!!!” She screamed at him.

He was about to argue and she stuck a finger vertically in front of his face, “SHUT UP!!! You stop it right now and get me down!!!” He looked at her finger vacantly for a second and Bubbles felt them start to accelerate downward. She squealed, “NOOO!” and buried her face in his neck again. Wander grinned maniacally and aimed the ring downward again. FLASH!

All she wanted was for this terrifying ride to be over. She was completely frazzled. She did not know if she actually fainted, she just went numb. She lost track of how many more times he teleported them. She was still in Wander’s arms, with her face in his neck. Her arms wrapped around his neck as tight as possible. His arms and hands were strong against her back and under her knees as he carried her. She noticed that they were swaying back and forth, moving. She looked up.

Wander was walking down the street, carrying her in his arms with no apparent effort. The night sky was turning pale around the edges. She was in her neighborhood. She felt limp. She felt that he held her with her torn dress wrapped closed around her. “Considerate.” She thought drowsily.

She was exhausted. She felt the cold air but she was not cold. The warmth from his body soaked into hers. For the moment, she was content to stay there, even though she was remembering all the reasons to be mad at him. She rested, letting her head clear, feeling her anger bloom like a flower inside her. What time was it? How long had he been walking?

Wander stopped in front of her apartment building. “Here, we are love, all safe and sound.” He said, in a sober, normal tone.

He gently, slowly, set her down allowing her to get her feet under her. She was suddenly reminded that she only had one shoe left when she stumbled and almost fell. Wander caught her hand and steadied her. Using him for support, she removed the shoe and stood up. She did not let go of him, but instead, pulled him close.

“Thanks, Love”, She said, smiling sweetly. He smiled big at her and came in for a kiss. Bubble pulled back and slugged him as hard as she could, right in the stomach.

Wander doubled over, almost throwing up. Bubbles stood there, in her bare feet and ruined dress, one hundred pounds of seething mad, threatening him with her remaining shoe. “DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!!” She screamed at him. She looked like she was going to start clubbing him with her shoe.

Wander held up his arms to protect his face and stepped back,”I’m sorry, love, I just…”

“I DON’T CARE!!!” She yelled. “You LUNATIC!!! YOU STUPID CRAZY LUNATIC!!! Look at my dress!” She ranted, venting her frustration, “You scared me half to death! Those people at the club are probably looking for us! The cops are probably looking for us!” She brandished the remaining shoe at him like a billy-club. “You lost my SHOE!”

Wander kept repeating, “I know love, I’m sorry, I, I’m sorry, I dinna mean to, Oh how can I make it up to you.”

Bubbles froze in mid rant, “Make it up to me?!” She glared at him, “MAKE IT UP TO ME?!” She paused. She took a couple of breaths. She said the first thing that came into her head. She could not remember feeling so mad, “Youuuu… FIND MY SHOE!!!”

She turned and started up the steps and stopped. She turned around, walked back to him and slapped the remaining shoe into his hand. Wander flinched, expecting to be hit again. She glared at him. She did not know if she wanted to kiss him, or punch him in the mouth. She turned without a word and stomped back up the stairs and up to her apartment.

She made an effort to get herself back under control. Her breathing slowed down. She did not know what time it was. It had to be after four in the morning, maybe five. She hated to wake up Candy, who would just now be getting to sleep. She went to open the door and realized it had been hours since she had last seen her purse, which contained her house keys.

She sagged against the wall beside the door and deflated. She simply could not believe what had happened. A mixture of warring emotions washed over her as she recounted, in pieces, all the things that had happened that evening. Inexplicably, she started to giggle. She could not control herself. She felt like she had just gotten off the biggest, worst roller coaster on earth. Her knees were suddenly wobbly. Her stomach hurt. She started laughing. Trying to remain quiet, so as not to disturb her neighbors, it only got worse. Tears ran down her cheeks as she leaned against the wall, laughing uncontrollably.

Her apartment door popped open and she was abruptly eyeball to eyeball with Candy who said, “EEEP!” This made Bubbles laugh even harder.

“Where have you been?”

Bubbles draped her arms around Candy’s neck and went into full belly laugh. Candy gave her a big hug and then pushed her back. Candy got a good look at her and was horrified: Bubbles’ pretty blonde hair looked like a hay stack; her makeup was ruined, smeared, and mostly gone. She had a bruise on the side of her mouth and an assortment of scrapes and bruises on her shoulders, legs, and arms. She was barefoot and her dress was torn almost in half. “Oh my GOD!! BB!! What did he DO to you?! Are you okay? Come here and sit down. Are you okay?”

Bubbles allowed Candy to steer her into the kitchen. Her laughing fit had slowed down to chuckling. “I’m okay, really, I’m fine.”

“Well… What happened?!” She almost yelled.

Bubbles looked up at her and sighed, still giggling, “I’m sorry, I’m just… hehehe… I think I just had the best date of my life!”

On Guardian!
Mike Halo
& a few dozen others.

Our SG: Stars of Paragon

Fiction: Training Day



Training Day 8

The massive fire rapidly engulfed the old warehouse, lighting the night sky, reflecting brilliantly off the murky water around the pier.

“A toast,” Max said.

“A toast.” Halo agreed. They gently clinked their cups together and drained them. They set them on the roof vent and Max refilled them from a bottle.

Another huge ball of fire erupted, expanding and twisting into the darkness like a living thing. Muffled explosions could still be heard filling the structure to capacity pushing flame through every crack and vent, blowing out windows.

"We're destroying evidence, you realize." Max said, completely unconcerned. He passed a cup to Halo, who took it and drank. Max drank from an identical cup.

"You're not old enough to drink either, what's your point?" Halo said, in a conversational tone.

Battle-Star and Halo sat on the roof of a warehouse, their faces illuminated in the darkness by the massive roaring fire rapidly consuming the warehouse on the opposite side of the parking lot. Halo was not in uniform. He wore his usual street clothes: jeans, a t-shirt, and a black jacket. Battle-Star was in his armor, but this was one of the rare times Halo had ever seen Max remove his helmet outside of the lab. Max still wore the white inner cloth hood, with the sensors and leads attached to it, making him look a bit like an astronaut. It was mildly disconcerting to see his young face protruding from the dangerous looking armor.

"I never knew you drank, either." Max pointed out.

"This is sake; it isn't like real drinking, besides, this is a ceremony. Show some respect." Halo did not exactly smile, but his eyes had a merry glint to them.

Max sighed, "Ceremonial vandalism. Has a nice a ring to it. Every felony should have a couple of misdemeanors, kind of makes it into a full meal." The wine was getting to him quickly. He smiled to himself and took another drink. "You know, this reminds me of a time when me and my dad went camping." He spoke looking at the white china cup in his armored hand, examining the delicate flowers painted on it.

"You burned down the forest?" Halo asked.

Max gave him a reproving look, "You, sir, are a mean drunk. No, I mean sitting in the dark watching a fire. It's nice. Primal. We should do this more often."

Halo nodded and then his expression darkened. "Let's hope not, my friend, let's hope not."

Max gave him a thoughtful look. "They really GOT to you, didn't they?"

Halo did not answer immediately. He could not find the words to describe how he felt after encountering the Tsoo. He had seen death before, had even been responsible for it, but never intentionally. Never before had he WANTED to kill. Mike Halo did not kill. It was not the way, not part of the Path. The Tsoo had offended him down to the utter core of his soul. It was a hard thing to come to grips with. He had not killed any of them, but he had wanted to.

"Yeah.” He said, sighing, “yeah they did." He reached for the bottle and poured another round. He leaned back on an elbow against the slope of the roof. "That's okay, though, I'm better now." He said nodding toward the fire with satisfaction. The building was beginning to collapse.

"When do you think the Fire Department will get here?" Max asked idly.

“They won’t.” Halo sipped his drink.

Max gave him a questioning look and was about to ask why not when Halo reached into his jacket, pulled out some stapled-and folded papers and tossed them into Max's lap. He picked them up and activated a tiny penlight built into his gauntlet.

Halo said, “I asked Chief Williams to stay away. He owes me a favor or two.”

"What's this? A deed and a… demolition permit?” Max muttered, as he scrutinizing the documents.

Halo looked up at the stars, breathing the salt air of Independence Port, feeling a sense of release.

"What's the deed for?" Max asked, trying to read.

"That." Halo nodded to the fire. "Can't get a permit to demolish a building if you don't own it."

Max stared at him in utter disbelief. “What!?”

Halo felt his eyes on him, even in the semi-darkness. The fire was beginning to run out of fuel. "Hey, I'm not an arsonist; I just contribute to the delinquency of minors." He glanced over at Max who looked back at the fire, smiling, shaking his head.

“You blow my mind, you know that?” Max marveled.

"Hey, the Tsoo should be grateful I didn't torch the building with them IN it. But I had to draw the line somewhere." Halo said dryly.

Max looked at Halo and Halo looked at Max, they both knew what the other would say, but they said it any way; grinning, they pointed a finger at each other and said in unison, "Now if they were RIKTI...!"

They chuckled and clinked their cups together again. Their laughter rang out into the night. The remains of the warehouse collapsed upon its self rapidly diminishing to a dull red glow.

Wander dashed with amazing speed from bush to bush, planter to planter, methodically searching all around each towering office building. He was dressed in his usual white clothes, with the white headband and, strangely, had a very small, very elegant, black high-heeled shoe partially protruding from his pants’ pocket. He muttered to himself under his breath as he meticulously searched each area and then moved down to the next.

“And I have to ask meself, is it really worth it, boyo?” He paused, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and adjusted his headband. His arms and hands bore the scratches from pawing through the bushes. He rolled his shoulders and head around, producing a satisfying crack from his neck and then gazed down the long avenue in the general direction of a distant apartment on the other side of the city. He sighed and resumed searching.

The rubble pile smoldered and glowed dull red. Bubbles skirted around the hottest parts, half running, half sliding around the heap, working her way around toward her fallen suspect.
“Crime fighting isn’t supposed to be this hard!” She sulked, muttering to herself. She crouched next to the unconscious man beside a stairway, trying to catch her breath. She wiped the sweat from her eyes, spreading a nice dark smear across her forehead. She did not notice nor would she have cared. She was speckled with soot. The smell from the burning rubble heaps was a mix of wood, rubber, and something organic. She did not want to think about that. The acrid stench stung her lungs and forced her to take short breaths. She hauled herself to her feet and set off down the winding street at a jog, “This place is bigger than I thought,” She said to herself for the tenth time.

The area looked like a war zone; ragged, violent people were everywhere. This was all supposed to be part of the exam. It would determine her final grade for completing Cape-Camp. Eight weeks culminated in this one day: ‘Outbreak’. It was a simulation, but you could not tell what was and was not real. The Police Academy used a combination of real actors, androids, and holograms to re-create an actual event that had happened shortly after the Rikti War. For Bubbles McSweet it was all too real. Everything here smelled bad, was too hot, and wanted to kill her.

Somehow, she had managed to turn off her nav. It was a mini pocket computer, like a PDA, with advanced Global Positioning System mapping and compass, text messaging, and two-way voice capability. It was standard issue to every hero license holder. The teleportation grid and the 911 system were tied to it. Unfortunately, shortly after she had synchronized it at the Rivera Hospital terminal, she had somehow accidentally turned it off. Now she could not figure out how to turn it back on. Did that mean her MediCom emergency medical grid patch was off-line too? Instead of obsessing over it she followed her instructions and muddled through the orientation.

During the briefing, the instructor warned the students that this was a live event with real ammunition. Each student had then nervously touched his or her grid patch. To Bubbles, porting to the hospital was the same thing as giving up. She was starting to feel very stubborn. There was no way she would give up.

Her first foray into “The Zone” had not gone well. She had managed to get herself bruised and beaten with a metal pipe before she had subdued her suspects. None of the police officers offered any assistance. They were only there to observe and report.

Finally, she had received some measure of assurance in the form of two auto-injectors from a Sergeant Hicks. “Have confidence! Be inspired!” said the tiny labels. A new pharmaceutical company specializing in the fast emerging market for performance-enhancing synthetic drugs and micro-devices manufactured them. They were designed specifically for military and law-enforcement use. The instructors had gone over their use extensively in class. To Bubbles, the thimble-sized doses were too little, too late, but she would take what she could get. She was beginning to understand why Halo did not like to rely on them.

Hicks sent her back into the zone to find four more suspects. “Gee thanks,” was all Bubbles could say. She was starting to feel frustrated; it did not help that, of everyone in her class of fifty, she was easily the weakest and smallest. Strangely, none of her instructors and no one from City Hall had ever asked any of them what there powers were. Bubbles thought this was odd until she met Swanson. He did not have a single “power” at all. He was just a normal guy, kind of quiet, average sized and physically fit. It turned out that the City had no prerequisites or qualifications for this course whatsoever. Anyone who wanted to try their hand at operating under a hero license could. But even Swanson seemed more dangerous, more determined, more focused than many of her power-endowed classmates. It turned out that Swanson was particularly good with guns and explosives. Some lessons Bubbles was learning for herself, like learning to NOT underestimate people like Swanson. The rest of her classmates were powerful, strong, confident, and not afraid to tell everyone about it. She had seen this all before, in the club, and was not at all impressed. She kept her mouth shut and tried to soak up as much as she could.

The course had started simply enough: They were assigned rooms, did an orientation tour of City Hall, and went straight into the lessons. The classes were not too much different from what Bubbles remembered from high school. The main difference was that the students listened and did not deliberately disrupt class. Everyone WANTED to be there, or they were gone. Bubbles imagined that this must be what it was like to be in college, another unfulfilled dream of hers.

Her instructors varied according to specialty. Most of them were professionals from their fields. Some had been heroes. One of them was from Freedom Corps. The tactics instructor was a Lieutenant from Paragon SWAT who was a normal human but still managed to intimidate the entire class.

The classes were not too hard. A lot of it was common sense stuff. They had classes on law, police procedures, psychology, city history, tactics, and a whole lot more. It was far more interesting than watching some cop-show on TV. Bubbles ate it up. However, the days were long, which was partly the reason they offered dormitories. There was a TON of reading to do. They had one or more major exams every Monday and the classes and homework often stretched into a twelve-hour day.

She did her homework every night, something she had never done in high school. Many of her classmates wanted her to go out and party. The thought was appealing in a way, but she had been in every bar and club in town before she was twenty one. The idea of barhopping with a bunch of flirty strangers sounded too much like the life she was trying to leave behind. She politely turned them down.

She spent her weekends at home studying while Candy played Mother Hen. Candy was sometimes reading her textbooks too and starting to show interest. This made Bubbles smile inwardly. Candy was a very nurturing person at heart and even more of a girly-girl than Bubbles. She grew the few plants they had in the apartment. She adored animals and children. She would have had a houseful of animals if Bubbles had not put her foot down. Candy still put food out in the alley for the strays. Until now all she had ever talked about was settling down with a big, rich, adoring man and raising a bunch of kids. Now she was showing interest in something she had not approved of Bubbles doing. Bubbles could NOT see Candy being tossed around a mat by Uncle Mike. The minute she broke a nail, she’d be done! The thought of it made Bubbles smile. No, Candy was not a fighter; she was a different kind of hero.

Candy had also assumed full control of the day-to-day management of their company, McSweet Entertainment, Inc. She was doing all the scheduling, assignments, and organizing to keep the parties rolling in Bubbles’ absence. Bubbles was profoundly grateful for Candy. She was the one thing that Bubbles could depend on, no matter what.

She shook herself out of her daydreaming. She needed to focus and she knew it. She tapped the grid disk she had just placed on the man’s forehead, as well as the one on his knife, as she had been taught. Suspects were teleported via the police emergency transport grid to a secure medical reception center to be checked, treated, confined, and arraigned as necessary. Weapons and evidence were gridded to an evidence locker for disposition. Everything had a time, date, location, and ID stamp on it. It was a tidy system, eliminating the need for tons of paperwork. She looked around and saw that this section of the street was clear. How many had she arrested? She was losing count. It had been four at least. She headed back the way she came and saw more ragged street-people with glowing eyes walking toward her from between the buildings. “Oh man, this is just crazy!” She took a deep breath and kept running.

She skidded to a halt at the gate, ignoring the police drones. She spotted Sergeant Hicks and jogged over to him. Hicks went over some of the information they had already covered at great length in class about inspirations and how a hero could train and enhance their abilities. All at a reasonable cost, at one of the many licensed stores and individually licensed sales people located throughout the city, of course. Bubbles had heard it all before. It all sounded suspiciously like a scam to her, but she played along.

Finally Hicks said, “You need to see Coyote for the next phase.” Bubbles nodded and then gave him a blank look. Hicks gave her an exasperated look and pointed down the hill.

Bubbles looked where he pointed. “Thanks,” she said sweetly and jogged down the road.

The four lane road rolled down the small hill into a deserted business district. Here there were some very tall office buildings. Near an Information Terminal there stood a muscular man in red and white tights. He had a design like an animal paw on his chest. Bubbles was mildly surprised to see that he was obviously an American Indian. He looked very mean and tough. Bubbles was again surprised to find that his voice was low and soft.

“I am Coyote.” He said.

This seemed neither the time nor place for formal introductions, but reflexively, Bubbles put out her hand to him. “Um, hi, I’m Bubbles. Bubbles McSweet.” He smiled kindly and took her hand in a warm handshake. His hand was huge and thick. He could have crushed her knuckles easily, but he shook her hand gently and firmly, as though he were meeting an equal. “I am honored.” He said. Bubbles sensed that he meant it.

Then Coyote said, “I have been doing some digging and found an abandoned office where the thugs were given what they thought was a common street drug. It was actually a Rikti mutation drug. As you know the Rikti have been a constant nuisance to us since their failed invasion. I spoke with Dr. Miller and he says we can create a cure, but we need the original formula for the mutation drug. I believe the formula is on a computer in that office. I want you to go in there, clear out any enemies you find and find the formula on the computer.” He looked sincere, as though he had not said these same words to hundreds of students before her.

He pointed his nav at hers and pressed a button. Then he said, “I have marked the abandoned office on your map and compass. The door is open. Defeat any enemies you may find there, search the computer for the formula. Bring the formula back to me at once.”

Bubbles sighed and said, “Um, I’m sorry… but I’m kinda lost and, uh, this thing doesn’t work. Can you please tell me how to turn it back on?” Bubbles held her nav out to him.

Coyote looked at her for a second and then took the device from her, tapped it a few times and handed it back to her. Bubbles reached for it but he did not let go of it, causing Bubbles to suddenly look up at him.

Her eyes met his and he said, “We are not allowed to give any help. But a mere toy should not stand in your way. Good luck.” He let her have the device.

Bubbles smiled at him gratefully, “Thank you. I really appreciate it. I’ll be right back!” She jogged down the street, further away from the riot zone. The compass on her nav steered her directly to the correct building a couple of blocks back. “God, this is so much easier this way!” She said.

The door opened with a soft squeak. The inside of the building looked nothing like the clean exterior. Inside it was showing serious signs of neglect, vandalism, and decay. It smelled of dust and mold, like old rotting books. Just down the hall from the entrance, partly concealed in the semi darkness, she could see the outline of two people. Their eyes glowed with pale yellow-green phosphorescence, the telltale sign they were contaminated by the Rikti drug.

Bubbles cautiously approached. One had a knife and the other had a handgun. They seemed to be panting and gasping, either in pain or out of exhaustion.

Bubbles had given up trying to talk them into coming along quietly. The drug robbed them of any ability to reason. She reached with her mind, saw the gravity rings surrounding the one with the gun, and pulled. He launched into the air, slammed into the ceiling and fell to his back. The one with the knife whirled around, screamed and charged. She blocked his knife thrust and punched him in the stomach. Then she flung him into the ceiling too. She stepped to the left of the gun-guy, who had scrambled back to his feet and aimed at her. His shot went wide, striking the wall behind her. She punched him in the face and then tossed him again. Suddenly it was over. They both lay unmoving. She tagged them out and moved down the hall. As long as they did not come at her too fast or with too many guns, she felt like she could handle it. However, it was wearing on her nerves.

She looked at the bullet hole in the wall. “Gee, suddenly dancing in my undies is starting to sound a lot better.” She thought, wryly. This was SO different from that night in the tattoo parlor. Here she had to do everything, and she didn’t have anyone to lead, fight, or magically heal her or make her stronger. That made her think about Wander.

Since their fateful date, Bubbles had heard from him only once: It had been enough. At the end of the third week of school, she came home to find the usual pile of mail and a package. It came with no card or return address, but it contained her autographed theatre program, BOTH of her shoes, which were clean and polished, as well as an exact replacement for her ruined black dress! It also contained a long jewelry box. Bubbles opened it to find a fabulous diamond necklace that matched her diamond earrings perfectly.

Candy’s eyes bugged out of her head and she yelled, “WOW!!!”

Bubbles gasped, “Oh my God!”

“These look real… oh my God!” Candy exclaimed.

They looked at each other, their mouths hanging open. Then they smiled and giggled at each other.

“Still mad at him NOW?” Candy poked her in the side.

Bubbles gulped and then grinned again, in spite of her self. She raised a threatening finger to poke Candy back. She still felt stubborn. The package had been impressive enough, but it also reminded her of how infuriating he had been. She put the necklace back in its elegant box. She held the dress up against herself for size and then hugged it to herself, thinking.

“Maybe a little less.” She grudgingly conceded. “I still want to shoot him though. I know, what I could really use is a nice diamond-studded shot-gun! It would go perfect with my earrings and necklace! It could be like a graduation present! Then I can go ‘Wander hunting’ after I get my hero license.”

They had good laugh about that. A little later Candy walked in on Bubbles lying on her bed studying. Candy wore two baseball hats with the bills reversed to look like a hunters cap and held a baseball bat like a rifle. She crouched and walked around the room stalking. Then she looked at Bubbles and said in her imitation of an ‘Elmer Fudd’ voice, “SSShhhhhhh… I’m hunting WANDERS! Heh heh heh heh.” Bubbles shrieked with laughter and threw a pillow at her.

Bubbles cleared her mind and focused, as HE would have expected, “Thank you, Uncle Mike,” she whispered under breath. “Where would I be without you?” She crept down the hall and peeked around the corner. She encountered and subdued six more thugs along the way, singly or in pairs. She could not really hate them. They were the actual victims here. They were victims of their weaknesses, which made them seek the drugs in the first place, and they were the victims of some sadist who had callously used them.

“Ok,” She thought, “These are not real, this is just a simulation. Get a hold of yourself.” Then she thought, “But this DID happen. How could anyone be so cruel to a bunch of homeless people?”

Finally, she saw a grungy desk with an older model desktop computer sitting on it. She could hear it faintly humming. She quickly found the data she was looking for in the form of an old style floppy disk. “Okay, good enough, time to go.” She said, thinking about what to do next.

She pulled the nav out and discovered to her dismay that it was off again. “Great! Just great!” She poked the buttons to no effect. ”I don’t believe this! What, did they give me a defective one?” She angrily shoved it into her pocket. “Fine!”

Exasperated, Bubbles retraced her steps back to the door. Back on the street, the fresh air helped improve her mood. She stepped out to the curb and looked up and down the rows of deserted office buildings. Everything looked the same. “This just keeps on getting better and better. Where did I leave Coyote?” She fumed.

She set out at a jog in the general direction she thought she needed to go, then doubled back, looking for any landmarks. She eventually found herself in a park area bordered by a tall concrete retaining wall. She looked up and down and saw that to the right it made a sharp slope upward to the next level. “God, I wish that stupid nav worked.”

She climbed to the top and over the chain link fence. She was beside a small park area and the gate to the riot zone was ahead. The yelling and screaming coming from there seemed louder. She trotted out to the intersection and saw Officer Parks and the drones in the parking lot to her right.

Parks had not seemed particularly friendly or helpful. She decided to avoid him because, for once, she knew exactly where she was AND how to get back to Coyote. Feeling relieved, she turned to leave. She started to feel excited about finishing. She began jogging past the first gate toward a movie theatre. Without thinking, she slowed and then stopped, staring past the police drones through the gate at the smoke and chaos. She could see a few desperate people screaming, holding their heads in anguish, or threatening each other with whatever makeshift weapons they had found.

Maybe it was just because she was tired. Maybe it was all the stress catching up to her. She had tried for years to block it out of her mind. Even earlier, when she had first entered the riot zone, she had been concentrating solely on her task and ignoring the destruction. Without warning, the horrific memories of the Battle of Baumton came roaring back to her.

Suddenly she was a high school senior again, staring at the smoldering pile of rubble that used to be her house, her neighborhood, her world. She could hear the screaming children, the crying and yelling adults, the panicked shouting as the too few police and firefighters tried to aide or evacuate everyone. The sinister hum of the enormous Rikti ship hovering above her hit her like a punch to the gut and made her jerk her eyes skyward. The sky was empty, bright blue and clear. She jumped as she realized she was standing right beside a noisy Police drone. She gasped for breath, trying to steady her nerves. She was covered in a sheen of cold sweat. She staggered away from the drone, trying to get some distance from the noise. Each step carried her closer to the gate. She couldn’t take her eyes off the ruined buildings, the burning rubble piles, and the ragged desperate people. She felt tears well up in her eyes and fought them back. She blotted her face with her sleeve and gulped back the rest of her tears, feeling anger rise.

“I gotta do something. I gotta do… SOMETHING!” She muttered. “I… I…” She leaned against the fence, trying to think. “I… don’t care if they’re drug addicts, they’re… victims! They need a doctor. They’re a danger to themselves and everyone else. They DON’T need to… to… to be left to rot and die, they need a hospital! They need help!” She looked up at the sky feeling miserable, tears streaming down her face. She held her arms around her chest trying to calm down. She was tired of feeling as if she were on an emotional rollercoaster. She had to get control. She stayed there for a few minutes, willing herself to calm down. She felt her grief and fear harden into something else.

“This is s’posed to be a… a… test. I’m s’posed to be a hero. A hero wouldn’t just walk away! Even though they don’t want my help, they need it. I’m s’posed to know the right thing to do. I’m s’posed to DO the right thing. Well I, I know what Uncle Mike and them would do.” She was terrified to go in again. She was also afraid to leave. She felt rooted to the spot.

“They were scared to go in and they went anyways. That’s what you’re s’posed to do. That’s the way it works. You do it. It doesn’t matter how scared you are of how much it hurts, you’re s’posed to do it.” She realized she was talking about loud.

She stood up straight and self consciously looked around as she tried to regain her composure. She knew what she was going to do, what she HAD to do. The inevitability of it was strangely calming. There really was no choice. She still had wet eyes but she was no longer crying.

Softly she said to herself, “You do it… or you die trying.”

She walked over to the gate and stood looking into the zone. She was vaguely aware that this may be the dumbest thing she had ever done in her life, but she no longer cared. She pulled a small red auto-injector out of her pocket and pressed it against the inside of her forearm. The stimulant instantly raced through her system, filling her muscles with energy. She set off at a run straight into the ravaged area.

She ran up to a couple of thugs holding makeshift clubs. They stopped arguing and one of them looked at her and yelled, “Who feels lucky?” Without breaking stride, she ran right up to him and knocked him out with one punch. She turned to the other one and launched him into the air, slamming him on his back. She slapped port tags on them both and simply threw their weapons behind a dumpster. Grimly she said, “Today, you’re the lucky ones.”

She proceeded down the street, flipping, throwing, and punching every thug she could find. Her world became a blur of action, her mind turned inside its self. She was shot in the leg and she simply slapped a med-injector on it sealing the wound and numbing the pain. She took a few hits from pipes and fists and gash from a knife, but ignored it, fighting through the pain, and blocking it out the way she had been taught. The surge of adrenaline, anger, and determination which had taken her back into the zone has beginning to wear off as she approached what she realized was the other gate at the far end.

She placed a disk on the forehead of the unconscious thug, still holding him up by the front of his shirt. She looked at his filthy, unshaven face. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know if you are a real person, but I hope they take care of you.” She carefully laid him back on the ground. She took a deep breath and gently tapped his disk with her pale blue-gloved finger. He silently faded away. She was well past tears.

Bubbles stood up and looked down the road to where she knew Coyote stood, though she could not actually see him. She turned around and looked back up the street. She heard, more than saw, more victims between some of the buildings. She walked away from the exit gate and went toward the buildings. As she walked toward the buildings, she looked with her second sight at the rings of gravity around her, around them, around everything, and gathered them to her.

More than an hour later Bubbles stepped through the gate, walking slowly past the police drones with her force-field activated. Sergeant Hicks gave her a surprised look but said nothing. He continued to look at Bubbles as she walked by. Bubbles did not care. She reached with her mind and untied the knot that held the force-field bubble in place. Silently it dissipated.

Everything was strangely quiet. Even the police drones seemed quiet. She could hear her own footsteps. She was past tired, past pain, completely exhausted. Numbly she limped down the hill to Coyote. He watched her approach. Bubbles came up, feeling dread suddenly grow. Bitterly, she remembered that she had not followed his instructions. She should have brought the disk right back, as she had been told; But she had not. At this moment, she really could not explain why. She wasn’t going to either. “Screw him,” she thought, “Screw them all if they don’t like it. I don’t need this crap!” She felt her temper well up in her, almost out of control. She clenched her fists, glaring at him.

“You are injured.” He said, unexpectedly. “I have been waiting for you for a long time. I am happy you returned safely.” His voice was so deep and rough, yet so gentle. Bubbles felt suddenly ashamed for being mad at him. He didn’t do anything to her. She realized she was suffering from shock. She couldn’t think straight.

“You are the last one.” He said.

“Yeah, I kinda thought I might be.” She said, her heart sinking.

“They have all been defeated.” He said, stating the obvious.

Bubbles looked at him defiantly. “I hope so. God knows it took me long enough.”

“Why did you return to quell the rioters after you recovered the data?” He asked.

Bubbles looked at him and swallowed, feeling anger instead of tears. She pointed a finger at herself and said, “Because, I AM SUPPOSED TO BE A HERO!!! And heroes don’t just walk away from people who need help! No matter what!”

She violently wiped away her tears with the palms of her hands and sniffed, glaring at him. Through gritted teeth she said, “Listen, I know this has all been a big waste of time, I know I took too long, I blew it. Can we just go?”

She thrust the data disk and her nav out to him. He took them from her and looked at her nav. He poked it a few times and to her surprise, put it in his pocket. From another pocket, he produced a new one and gave it to her. Except it was not new. It looked older and worn. He studied her for a moment and then said, in that serene, sincere voice, “You are very brave for one so small.”

Bubbles looked at him. Time had stopped for her. She felt her anger drain out of her. She did not know what to do. She could not leave until he released her. She tried to calm herself. Focus. Breathe. Focus on being one with your surroundings. Nothing else matters.

He nodded, as if making up his mind about something and said, “Bubbles McSweet, you ARE a hero. You have met and exceeded the requirements for this exercise. Indeed, you have exceeded the requirements for this entire course.”

Bubbles could not believe her ears, “What?” She mumbled, “What did you say?” She felt dizzy.

He put a huge hand on her tiny shoulder, “You passed, little one,” His rough dark face wrinkled into a big smile, “You passed.”

Being teleported no longer made her feel quite as queasy as it had. She found herself in front of the steps leading up into Atlas Plaza. She remembered coming here for picnics with her mom and dad when she was a little girl. She had played on these steps… when was it, ten, fifteen years ago? Was it that long ago? Before the war, before they needed ‘hero trainers” to keep the city inhabitable.

Ms. Liberty stood beautiful and dignified, golden blonde hair shining in the afternoon sun. Bubbles was aware that she was filthy and her pretty uniform was cut and torn. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that she was here, finally, standing in front of Ms Liberty.

Bubbles walked up to her and handed her the nav Coyote had given her. Ms. Liberty took it without comment and examined it briefly. She pulled what Bubbles saw was a fancier nav out of her belt and pointed it at hers.

“Bubbles McSweet, you are ready for security level 2. This authorizes you to obtain more advanced training and a higher level of responsibility. Do you understand?” Bubbles was caught off guard by the last part.

“Yeah, uh, yes ma’am, sure.” She said.

Ms. Liberty was still reading her nav and looked up at Bubbles, slightly surprised, “Ms. McSweet, do you know that you single handedly defeated over one hundred suspects?”

Bubbles shook her head, “No, I didn’t count.”

Ms. Liberty took a deep breath and put her hands on her hips. “Bubbles McSweet, you have earned a special citation most heroes have not and will not ever earn.”

A lady in an expensive looking black suit came up beside Ms. Liberty and handed her a slim folder. Ms. Liberty took it and unceremoniously opened it. In a loud clear voice she said, “For exceptional bravery and determination in the line of duty, I am honored to present to you the Paragon City Citation for Achievement. You, Bubbles McSweet, were the only one who stayed to face the threat to and from the rioters. Furthermore, you alone stayed to fight until you completely isolated the contamination. You gave no thought for your safety, only for the safety of others at great personal risk to yourself. This reflects great credit upon you and sets the standard by which we measure a hero. Well done.”

To Bubbles’ astonishment, a rustle of applause broke out behind her. Awkwardly she thanked Ms. Liberty, and took the citation folder she handed to her as she shook her hand. Bubbles stepped down from the low dais and saw Candy and Joe, as well as Halo, Max, ApotheCari, and another very tall man all dressed in white. Bubbles tucked the folder under her arm and went to put her nav away. She saw that there was now a bright red hologram of a “2” in the center of it.

She went over and hugged Candy and Joe. Hugs and congratulations from everyone made Bubbles feel teary with joy. Halo touched her wet cheek, “What’s the matter?”

She sniffed back her tears and gave him a smile, “Nothing, I’m ok, I’m happy. I just never… I mean, I just didn’t expect this.” She tried to regain her composure.

She reached up and hugged him, pulling him down to her. She spoke softly in his ear, “I never graduated from anything before.”

Halo gently hugged her to his chest, and murmured in her ear, “You did great.” He broke the hug and held her at arms length by both tiny shoulders. “But this is not the end of anything, it’s just the beginning.”

Bubbles looked up at him and nodded, wiping her cheeks. She went to Battle-Star and he extended his armored hand to her, she ignored it and gave him a hug. “Thanks for all your help.”

“No problem. Congratulations.” His metallic voice said. “Before you ask, Wander is out of the City on a case. He sends his congratulations… and an apology.”

Bubbles looked at him. She could not see his eyes behind the visor. “Ok, thanks.” She said.

“It’s none of my business, but he talks about you all the time.” Battle-Star stopped, feeling a bit awkward.

Bubbles nodded and smiled at him. “Thanks.”

He let her go and she went over and hugged ApotheCari, who kissed her on the cheek and beamed at her, “We are so proud of you, dear. We heard the Special Citation. That is wonderful!”

“Thanks,” she said. As always, she felt a bit overwhelmed by her. ApotheCari, gracious as ever, smoothly saved her from further awkwardness by saying; “I would like to introduce you to someone, Bubbles, this is Star-Paladin.”

The man in white stepped forward. He was enormous, easily over seven feet tall. He knelt on one knee bringing his face to the same level as hers. It looked like he was either wearing form fitting metal armor, or had metal skin. It shone like a mixture of chrome and white porcelain.

“A pleasure to meet you.” His voice was surprising normal, but deep. He did not exactly smile at her, but he took her hand and made a small bow over it. Bubbles was struck by the thought that he might not be human.

“Hi, uh, sir, nice to meet you too.” She said.

“I have been following your progress. You show great promise. Abilities such as yours should be cultivated, trained, and used for the betterment of mankind. Bubbles, I would like to offer to you membership in our team. We call ourselves, ‘The Stars of Paragon’. Halo will explain further, but I wish to offer this to you personally.”

Bubbles nodded her head, “Thank you. I won’t let you down.” Star-Paladin didn’t smile, Bubbles was not sure that serene face was capable of smiling. However, he seemed amused, “I do not demand perfection. I only ask that you do your best and seek always to do the right thing, the best thing you can.”

Bubbles nodded and said. “Ok.”

He held out a small ring-sized box to her. “This is for you.” He said.

She took the small box from him, “Thanks, uh, sir.” Star-Paladin placed it in her hand and wrapped her fingers around it with both of his huge hands. Then he released her hand and stood up.

“Battle-Star will tell you how to use this, when you are ready.” Star-Paladin said. He was so tall Bubbles had to stand back and crane her head to see him. He looked like a white metal statue.

Before Bubbles could say anything else, Star-Paladin stepped back and addressed the rest of the heroes, “We still have some unfinished business. I suggest we attend to it.” ApotheCari, Battle-Star, and Halo nodded.

He looked at Bubbles and help up his hand. “You, dear lady, have done enough for one day, please rest and gather your strength. We will talk soon.”

Then he floated into the air and soared away. Battle-Star’s boot jets made a soft rumble as he too flew away, giving Bubbles a brief wave. ApotheCari smiled and waved as she flew away as well. Halo said, “Don’t lose that box. I’ll see you tonight, if I get a chance.”

Bubbles smiled and nodded, “Ok. See ya.”

Halo smiled and nodded to Candy and Joe. Then he turned, took two steps, and jumped, soaring into the sky. His dark cape billowed and flapped as he rose.

Bubbles stared in utter amazement. Candy and Joe stood next to her watching him go. Candy said, “Hmmm… You never mentioned he could fly.” Then they noticed Bubbles’ stunned expression.

Joe smiled mischievously, “And neither did HE!”

They all turned back to watch him disappear from sight. “Wow,” she said.

Candy scolded her, “You never told me you know Battle-Star!”

Bubbles grinned at her, “Yeah, sorry.” Then, with an evil glint to her eye said, “You should see his super-secret lab. It’s really cool!”

Candy made a mock-outraged face at her, “I think I hate you!”

They looked at each other and smiled. Bubbles was battered, bloody, tired, dirty, hungry, and ready to go home. They started walking toward the tram station.

Joe said, “Maybe we should stop by the hospital before we hit the tram.”

Bubbles nodded, “Yeah, good idea. I think it’s mostly healed though. It doesn’t hurt.”

Candy nodded, “so what’s in the box?”

Bubbles handed the folder to Joe and pried open the lid. In it was a silver brooch in the shape of a star.

On Guardian!
Mike Halo
& a few dozen others.

Our SG: Stars of Paragon

Fiction: Training Day









Wow; Mike comes through again...nice little touch with the Contaminated badge, too!



Mike, I read the Training Day chapters you have posted on the Stars of Paragon website. Very good read, thank you.
For those lazy people out there here's the link, go to Message Board, then Your Fiction (on the bottom).
Stars of Paragon

I brought this series to the attention of friends of mine who do NOT play CoH and they enjoyed immensely; one of them wants to upgrade her computer now so she can try the game out!
Good work Mike.

"I used to make diddly squat, but I've been with the company for 16 years and have had plenty of great raises. Now I just make squat" -- Me

Pediatric brain tumors are the #1 cause of cancer related deaths in children.



Thank you! My intent was to post it all here with some more rewrite/clean-up, but I have not managed to do that yet. If you managed to navigate the website then Kudos to you!

The best compliment you could give me is that something I wrote helped inspire a friend of yours to come play CoH. That is just awesome.

Your words of encouragement mean a lot to me. Training Day 20 is still being written, but has gathered a bit of dust as other projects (rewiring my jeep, for example) have jumped ahead of the line. No more excuses! I better get busy and write!

On Guardian!
Mike Halo
& a few dozen others.

Our SG: Stars of Paragon

Fiction: Training Day