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Electra

Head in the Game

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It was getting late, nearly midnight as Wander leapt into the West End, landing atop a bank building to take in the lay of the land. Warmer weather was keeping people out later, which in turn invited more bad-deed-doers, but the night had been fairly quiet. She'd busted a teenage pickpocket at half past eight, saved a dog from traffic on the Pramas Bridge around nine-fifteen and served as a human jack for a motorist with a flat tire just after eleven. Street superheroing, a very glamorous life, she thought to herself with a small laugh. She'd take it over fighting off apocalypses any day. 

 

She was familiar with the West End but didn't come out here that often, just because there were so many superheroes who called this place home. Next to Bayview, it was the most super-dense population she knew of in the city. But the Interceptors were justifiably distracted these days, and she'd heard rumors that someone might be trying to cause them trouble, so she'd cruised through the area on her last few patrols. She wasn't technically responsible for Mara, Ellie and their family when she wasn't working, but they were still her friends. Never hurt to be a little cautious. 

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The quiet of the night was...well, it wasn't shattered, per se, but it did become a little more tenuous. The faint grinding of rooftop gravel underfoot wasn't the overt sort of alarming noise that would catch the attention of most people, but then again, Wander had been tempered in a much hotter crucible than most people.

Right side of the street, next building down, a two-story shop-and-apartment deal -- there was someone lurking on the rooftop.

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Wander cocked her head, taking a few silent steps across her own rooftop to get a better look at the lurking presence. Being as how this was the West End, the rooftop lurker could easily be another hero... or a villain, or a burglar, or just someone hoping to get a cigarette before bed in the cool night air. Better take a closer look, ideally in a way that would not surprise a civilian into falling off the roof. Not even bothering with a running step, she leapt the distance between the two buildings, carefully avoiding the HVAC unit (experience had taught her that while they offered the high ground, they made an enormous BONG noise when landed on), and touched down with no more sound than a soft swish of gravel. Bat holstered and hands loose, she walked around the air conditioner to get a look at whoever was lurking this evening. 

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Whomever it was, he apparently had excellent hearing, because when Wander came around the side of the outcropping of sheet metal he had just finished whirling to face her, despite the fact that she had made minimal noise.

 

He was crouched, defensively, and his body laguage read like a startled animal.  Dark pants and boots, black top, all apparently military surplus -- it fairly screamed 'rookie'.  His mask was vaguely feline in design, and left both his dark hair and the lower half of his face exposed.

 

His eyes, seen through that mask, didn't quite catch and reflect the light of the streetlamps, but it was a near thing, their pale brown more of an amber in colouration in the darkness.

 

The lack of immediate offensive action against him seemed to take the immediate edge of his wariness, but he seemed content to wait to see what happened -- react, rather than take the initiative.

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Erin wasn't one to automatically assume that anyone dressed all in black was a villain (just look at her boyfriend, for pity's sake), but it couldn't be denied that a disproportionate number of villains decided on the as-dark-as-humanly-possible look. But his stance said he was more pluck than skill when it came to fighting, so unless he had some kind of combat power, she probably wasn't in danger either way. She left her hands loose and planted her feet to move quickly if the need arose. "West End's not a good neighborhood for supervillains," she said neutrally. "Lots of heroes around to keep things in order." 

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He started, then straightened abruptly.

 

"Wait, what?" he blurted, sounding startled.  "Supervillain?  No, hey, you've got it all wrong," he told her defensively.  "For one thing, I'm not all that super," he told her, and actually managed to sound like he might be sincere.  "Seconds, I am so not a villain.  I'm..."

 

He shrugged.

 

"Just trying to help out," he concluded off-handedly.  "There are lots of just regular people in the West End that can't get out of the way when something bigger comes rolling through.  I'm just here to try and help them out, how I can."  He sniffed -- not like he was dealing with allergies or anything, but more...like he was testing the air.

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"Good to hear," Wander told him, relaxing another fraction and leaning one shoulder against the big metal shell of the HVAC unit. He was pretty young, she guessed, but not a student, somewhere close to her own age. "I'm Wander," she told him by way of introduction, "I'm with the Liberty League. Sounds like you and I are in the same business, or at least on the same side. But I don't think I've seen you around before. What's your name?" Meeting a new hero was at least considerably more interesting than bouncing around the city looking for stranded motorists and drunk drivers heading home from the bars. 

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Now that it seemed less likely that they were in imminent danger of a tragic misunderstanding that would lead to an unnecessary brawl, the young man seemed...a little rattled.

"Ahhh...you can call me...Wildcat," he told her, and swear to God he actually sounded self-conscious? He had to admit to himself, however, he was at least a little impressed. Liberty League? Full-on superhero team, with member roster and everything.

He...was just himself.

"Good to meet you, Wander," he went on, making an effort to sound 'heroic'. "Glad we're working the same side." Because, well...he wasn't all that thrilled about hitting girls.

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"Wildcat," she nodded, storing it away. His mask did look kind of catlike, she supposed, and lurking on rooftops at night was also pretty thematic. "Nice to meet you. Are you new around here?" As she spoke, she walked to the edge of the roof, still staying out of arm's reach so as not to spook him. The wind carried her scent, clean smells of soap and detergent, a faint smell of chocolate, just a whiff of dog and axle grease, and a strange, hard-to-identify scent that prickled the nose and seemed mostly centered on the silver stick in a holster at her side. 

 

She looked over the edge of the roof, keeping one eye on the quiet street below. "Not much going on at this hour, but you never know. Sometimes things pick up after midnight. What kind of skills do you have?" 

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As they conversed, Wildcat did seem to become less keyed up, physically, but if possible seemed to be becoming even more tense, socially-speaking.

 

"Uh, not really new to the, um, city, but I haven't been doing this kind of patrol for very long yet," he admitted.  'Very long' being perhaps a mild understatement that meant about 'a week'.

 

If he had to guess, Wander seemed to be about his own age, but he was fairly sure she'd already been doing this whole gig for years.  With full-bore super powers often having their onset at puberty, there were quite a few kids out there younger than he was that had quite a bit of experince over and above his.

 

"Skills?  Little bit like yours, as far as I know, actually," he went on, recalling what he'd heard of this particular heroine.  "I can scrap, and I'm a lot stronger and quicker than average."  She was reputed to be a good deal faster than he was, though.  "I've got pretty keen senses, too, so I'm good at spotting trouble or tracking it down."  He felt a little...odd...just telling her all of this, but as she'd said, they were on the same side, right?

 

He was so very new, he needed to put in his dues and make a name for himself, if he was ever going to take part in this whole heroic...community.

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Wander nodded. "So a little bit like a cat, then? Makes sense." She was still keeping an eye on the street, but her companion's nervous demeanor was commanding most of her attention. She wasn't sure if it was meeting a superhero at all, something about her in particular, or just people in general, but he looked about ready to jump out of his skin and she was starting to feel like she was in high school again. She took a knee to better look over the edge of the roof, a tactically vulnerable position that made her well-trained instincts yelp at her, but it was just about the least threatening posture she could manage without it being weird. "Have you had any training?" 

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The impulse not to sound like a total rook warred with the realization that claiming training he didn't have would pretty much inevitably lead to him showing as much almost immediately.

 

"...not as such," he admitted reluctantly, dropping easily to sit on his heels, so as to not loom quite so much.  He was pretty sure she wasn't afraid of him...and he couldn't blame her for that...but that didn't mean that standing over her was anything approaching...polite.

 

"I mean, I'm not entirely useless," he added with a wry twist to his lips.  "I've got some pretty awesome reflexes.  But I've nevery really been able to figure out how to go about having someone teach me fighting skills, when...."

 

He trailed off for a moment, his attention turning inward for just an instant.

 

"...well, when it's hard to be sure you're holding back enough so you don't give yourself away, y'know?"  He...didn't actually know if she knew, when it came down to it, but surely if nothing else she had something equivilent that made things...interesting.

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"Or seriously hurt whoever you're sparring with," she agreed with a rueful grin that suggested she understood what he was talking about. "I went to Claremont, the hero academy, so I never had to worry about giving myself away, but it definitely takes awhile to learn to gauge your strength. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea for you to pick up some training, at least some basic martial arts, acrobatics, dodging-flying-people-trying-to-kill-you, stuff like that. It's dangerous out here," she told him soberly. "Nights like tonight, you may sit on a roof all night and never see anything, but when it hits the fan in Freedom City, it gets really bad, really fast. It's good to be prepared." 

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Despite himself, Wildcat chuckled.

 

"I have a feeling I might stick out a bit at Claremont," he replied dryly -- he had been out of his teens for a couple of years now, and he'd lost that whole 'school' vibe some time ago.

 

That, and the thought of being thrust back into that churling maelstrom of adolescent hormones and scents....

 

He shuddered, just slightly.  It was hard enough to keep his head as it was, sometimes, without thinking of going back to that sort of thing again.  Without even realizing what he was doing, he scented the air again, carrying those particular elements that made up 'Wander' to him.

 

"I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly helpless up here," he countered, slightly stung by her implication that if things went bad, he'd be way out of his depth.  "I'm not exactly straight out of Kung Fu Theatre, but I can hold my own and keep from getting my tail singed."  Not that he actually had a literal tail, but...well, you know.

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"No, no, I'm sure you've got the basics down just fine," Wander told him, waving a hand. New superheroes could be very touchy, especially the guys, if they thought someone was disparaging their powers. "And for most of the basic patrol work, that's really all you need. But if you do run into a supervillain, or a group of supervillains, or get caught up in some kind of world-threatening event, the whole ballgame changes. Guts and instincts are great, but they'll only keep you alive for so long. I could show you a couple things, if you want." 

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Wildcat clamped down hard on the instinctive response that sprang to his lips at her offer, by now a reflex from long practice.  If he just let his tongue run away with itself without a care, he would long ago have gotten himself in a great deal of trouble.

 

"...what did you have in mind?" he asked cautiously.  He couldn't really argue with her, however -- he didn't really know how he might stack up against a supervillain or supervillains, but if there was a situation where the world was in peril, he wasn't really sure what he could do about it.

 

Of course, he wasn't sure there was any degree of training that would help him out in that respect -- there's only so much that above-average physical capabilities can do in the event of, say, an alien invasion.  Punching them out one at a time struck him as a loooong prospect.

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She shrugged one shoulder. "Couple fighting techniques that help when you have a lot of extra strength, some fighting stances and how to read them in other people, ways to duck and avoid what comes at you from weird angles, like right over your head." Erin wasn't exactly sure why she was offering, it wasn't exactly her style. She wasn't the teacher type, but maybe it was the mentoring stuff she'd been doing lately, rubbing off on her hero work. The idea of leaving a newbie to fend for himself in this town seemed wrong. "A lot of it's just practice, lots of practice, and learning how to read the city." 

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Wildcat found himself a little...hesitant.

 

"I'm...not sure that's the best idea," he replied, his voice a little rougher than it had been.  "I'm not always so good at keeping things at a 'friendly' level, once my blood gets up," the tall young man explained.  He'd gotten a bit of a reputation when in school for being a pushover, because he couldn't even trust himself at 'screwing around' levels of physical contact.  The instincts within him wanted to dominate, to win, and he really had to hold himself back from going way too far.

 

"I mean, my getting some training isn't a bad idea," he clarified hastily.  "I just don't want to hurt anyone more than I should, unintentionally."  He couldn't really say he didn't intend to hurt anyone -- if that was the case, he wouldn't have been out here to begin with.

 

He just intended that the hurt happened to people that had it coming.

Edited by Mad Scientist

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Wander grinned without meaning to, but she did restrain herself from out and out laughing, so she gave herself a little credit. Reaching for her holster, she pulled out the silver stick and gave it a twirl, spinning it out to a baton five full feet in length, then held it horizontal, nonthreatening for him to inspect. With the bat out, it was obvious to Wildcat that this was the source of the strange, indefinable smell. "You see this? I got my first one back at Claremont when I started training. It's got shock absorbers in it so I literally can't hit anybody too incredibly hard with it. My trainer was worried I was going to kill somebody before I learned how to control my strength. Means when I go up against big bads I have to fight barehanded, but that's okay. It's way convenient for everyday." 

 

She leaned back on her heels, bat resting across her knees. "You're not going to hurt me," she promised. "And if on the offchance you do, I heal really fast. Sparring with people who can take your strength is how you start to learn to manage it. It's how I did it." 

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WIldcat had to chuckle.

 

"Makes mine look a little puny," he admitted, slowly drawing out from behind his back an eighteen inch baton of what looked to be some sort of dark ballistic plastic.  "Although it doesn't really do anything to keep me from hitting anything too hard.  It's...sort of the opposite."  He hadn't really needed to pull it out on anything so far, but he'd rather have it and not need it than the other way around.

 

Tucking it back behind his belt -- he was not about to start whaling with a weapon on someone trying to help him out -- he spread his hands in question.

 

"So, what -- you wanna just start taking swings at each other, on this guy's roof?" he asked dubiously.  That...struck him as a good way to get people annoyed with them.  Not to mention pretty much inviting someone who didn't know what was going on to get involved.  And, of course, that would mean having them jump on him with both feet, no doubt.  It was almost a law.

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"Nah, roofs are terrible places to spar. Footing's bad, and you might wake somebody up," Wander told him, straightening to stand as she collapsed the baton with another quick twist and tucked it away. She checked the street again, still quiet and nearly empty, a good time to wrap up patrol. "Also, somebody could fall off. Claremont has some outdoor practice fields that hardly anybody uses at night, they won't care if we spar there and nobody will see. It's right over in Bayview," she added, nodding towards the southeast. "Do you have a way you get around?" 

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In response, Wildcat lifted a foot and waggled it.

 

"I don't break the sound barrier, but I can better interstate speeds on a straightaway, short-term," he told her.  He wasn't...smug, exactly, but in general he cross the city at better speeds than a car could, especially since he wasn't limited by streets and traffic lights.

 

Of course, in a world of people who could do the same thing in seconds he didn't rate very highly, but it was far, far more than most people could manage at all, and he was okay with that.  He wasn't a major player in the greater scheme of things, he was well aware of that.  But he was above the ninety-ninth percentile when it came to the general population, and that certainly meant something.

 

"Although I, uh, I've got a general idea where we're going, but I haven't done the route at speed, by night, cross-country," he admitted.  "I'm finding that losing my bearings when running about above street sign level is a bigger worry than I'd realized."  He was tempted to try and run the GPS program on his phone, but that was pretty much asking for it to go flying and smash into about half a million pieces.

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"Perfect," she told him, "you can follow me and we'll stick to the rooftops till we hit the bridge. No more than city driving speeds," she promised with a quick grin, "and then you'll know the way. When you run on rooftops, it's easier to keep an eye on your landmarks." She pointed to the lights of downtown in the distance. "Pyramid Plaza, downtown." She turned south, pointed. "Mona-Glen bridge, takes you into Southside and Lincoln. From out there, you can see the international airport. Turn north, there's Hanover and the ArcheTech building, that one's pretty easy to pick out. Lots of weird buildings in this city," she told him, "lots of signposts to keep you oriented. And if it's dark enough you can follow the stars," she added, pointing up at where the Big Dipper was attempting to make itself seen through the haze of light pollution. "But I wouldn't count on it around here. Come on, this way." She leapt to the nearest roof, waited to make sure he could follow, and then set off eastward in an easy lope. 

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Making mental note of each landmark as it was pointed out to him, Wildcat had to admit that it was really a rather good idea, when it came to navigating. It wouldn't work nearly as well at ground level due to buildings blocking line of sight, but on the rooftops....

He watched her jump to the next rooftop, marvelling at how effortless she seemed to make it. He could do it himself, but the while sensation of falling throughout was more than a little disconcerting.

Getting a running start, he bounded across the intervening space in her wake. While his technique wasn't Olympic-grade, he clearly had a lot of raw talent when it came to this sort of thing, and he just as obviously had done it before.

Landing in a scuff of gravel, he straightened and gave her a nod. Lead on -- he'd be right on her tail.

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Wander set an easy pace across the city, pausing every few buildings to make sure he was still with her or to point out another set of useful landmarks. This was a route she could do in her sleep, for three years it had been the way back to the only home she knew. She didn't get back to Claremont too often anymore, but she still patrolled Bayview every so often to make sure the new kids were keeping things clean. "We'll take the pedestrian walkway across the Pramas Bridge," she told him, "unless you're in the mood to climb the cables. The view is amazing, but it's easier to do it the first time in the day if you haven't before." 

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