Ground Force signed the papers with the sort of flourish one expects from a hero in multi-hued spandex. “How’s it feel to be a hero instead of a sidekick?” Longarm grinned. When he was a sidekick he much preferred the official term ‘Special enforcement level two’, but now that he had made it to ‘special enforcement level one’, aka superhero, he now felt that it couldn’t have been that bad. What’s in a name, really?
Ground Force grinned back and slid the shiny blue booklet to the next seat at the bar where Blue Jay fiddled with the pen and made a big production of tapping her head and thinking over whether to sign before out flourishing Ground force’s signature and giving a big wink. “Of course you know, now you have to take on a sidekick for training.”
Longarm hadn’t thought of that, but it stood to reason. You only got to be a supe by doing the apprenticeship. Well, some didn’t, but they were vigilantes, not supes. If you wanted to have the backing of the police and the government you had to jump the hoops. It could be a pain, and there wasn’t a supe around who didn’t complain about some sort of red tape almost daily, but it came with a paycheque and legitimate rights of arrest as a de facto special auxiliary of the RCMP. Two years as a side kick showing you understood the laws, could stand up on court without looking like an idiot and revealing your secret ID to your mentors didn’t look at all bad. Especially now that it was all behind him. No matter how often they complained about this or that, the Canadian licensing system beat the hell out of the carnage that littered the news south of the border every night where American supes couldn’t agree on any sort of oversight, always producing some rogue hiding behind a secret identity and messy legal liability issues that made sure no police force wanted to work with them. Supes up here would often say the edges of the Canadian flag represent that two thirds of our life was made of red tape, but they usually said it with a hint of pride.
Ground Force grinned at Blue Jay. Blue Jay grinned at Ground Force, and then they both turned to Long Arm. He had a sudden worried feeling that their grins were a little too…grinny.
“Speaking of…” started Blue Jay.
“There has become a little tradition…” interrupted Ground Force as they smirked to each other.
“Your new sidekick is ready!” they said together, pulling out another little book and making hasty signatures in it as well, before giving each other a hug as if celebrating the passage of a burden. Longarm was the tallest of them at 6’8”, but Ground force wasn’t too far behind and Blue Jay’s marvelous wings towered over them both as she opened them slightly to make room for Ground Force’s embrace. It wasn’t until they stepped apart and made room that he could see an average sized woman dragging GF’s multi-tool closer to a table. On the attractive side of average, around 5’6” with brown hair and stylish glasses she seemed to be one of the few people in the pub who could keep her eyes off of the magnificent physical specimens swathed in spandex at the end of the bar. Her ‘costume’ appeared to be sensible cargo pants, a roomy tee and runners. Her shirt did at least have ‘The Ounce’ embroidered over one breast as some sort of nod to a super identity. The domino mask beneath her glasses made the barest of acceptable nods to super costuming rules. It was barely visible under the glasses themselves.
“Uh…huh, what?” Longarm sputtered as The Ounce put her hands on her hips and gave an appraising glance up and down her new mentor. She didn’t exactly radiate the aura of respect that one expected from a sidekick working her way up to hero. She stepped out of the way of a waitress who couldn’t take her eyes off of GF and BJ as she walked through the spot GF’s multi tool had been parked just a minute before.
BJ stuffed both books in Longarm’s hand as if finally ridding herself of handcuffs. He looked at them both. His had his stats for ID purposes, limits of license, brand new signatures complete with license numbers to make it official. He then looked at hers. It had pages added, which was odd, but after perusing a bit he discovered it was to make room for all the additional names – 15 different mentors over six years. “Six years?” he blurted without thinking.
“Closer to six and a half now,” BJ said.
“What’s…uh…?” Longarm started, but politeness stopped him while the subject of the query was less than two paces away.
“What’s wrong with her?” said Ground Force feeling no such difficulty as a reached down and absentmindedly pulled his multi-tool back into the path that the wait staff tended to use. “Nothing.”
“But apprenticeship is only two years…what the…?”
“She just never completed many of her reqs.” Said Ground Force as The Ounce moved a pitcher of beer slightly down the bar for no apparent reason.
“She also has no mobility advantages” said BJ as she ruffled her wings prettily over a now empty patch of the bar. “She shows up after things have already wrapped up. Usually via subway.”
“No combat skills” said GF in a slightly hushed voice as if it was a secret shame that he dared not speak too loud. “I have no idea how she survives in the field. I spent more time keeping my eye on her than the bad guys.”
The Ounce didn’t appear to be listening. Instead she just casually reached over and tipped the multi-tool so that it fell into the shadow of a nearby table. She then sat quietly behind BJ as if she couldn’t care less about the conversation and wanted to be out of the way of something.
“She’d constantly make me late” said BJ, “or get me somewhere early. She once had me sit in a bank for an hour. I signed a few autographs, chatted to a few fans, and after a while she just said ‘okay, done’ and we left. Absolutely nothing had happened. No robbery, nothing. You’ll have to be quite firm with her if you want to get anywhere, but as you can see it really doesn’t make much of a difference to her if she ever gets her full license. “
A gent popped in from the snooker room at the back and suddenly presented with three large colourful super heroes did a double take. GF smiled and waved, comfortable with fame and attention, but with his eyes firmly locked on the wall of muscle waving at him the new arrival didn’t notice the handle of the multi-tool and stumbled over it. BJ’s lightning fast wing shot out and kept him from falling, cradling him in a wall of soft blue feathers. In the jostling his wallet fell from his jacket. Then his other wallet. Then a few more, slapping against each other as they fell on the ground. His eyes bugged out a little and he suddenly spun on his heel but his attempt at flight was cut short as GF lifted him from the ground by the scruff of his neck and his feet no longer had the benefit of the floor as a means of propulsion.
“That’s an unusual number of wallets, friend” GF said in a voice that practically wagged fingers all on its own.
“I think we need to bring you down to the station” BJ added “Longarm, would you like to have this as your first fully licensed nab?”
Longarm pulled thoughtfully on his lip as he noticed GF absently reach for his multi-tool again without even realising that it had fallen down. Apparently The Ounce had already stood it back up, for it was right where he expected it to be and he popped it back over his shoulder.
“I think I’d better stay and get to know…my sidekick.”
BJ and GF shrugged, gave him sympathetic looks and lugged out their pickpocket leaving him to settle the bill. The Ounce just looked at him. During a long pause she nodded slightly several times as if agreeing to something before she smiled at him, a smile that he got the impression was fairly rare for her mentors. At last she spoke. “You’re smarter than most supes. I think you should ask the question.”
He hadn’t even realised that he was about to ask her a question until then, but then it just popped out. “I barely made it on a sidekick’s stipend, how come you aren’t trying harder to get a full license?”
For the first time since he’d noticed her she looked self conscious, in fact, a little shy. She cocked her head to shield part of her face with her hair, in that fetching way shy girls sometimes do. “I won the lottery about 7 years ago. I don’t need the money.” She blushed, and seemed to develop that alert clumsiness that folks who are unused to such scrutiny sometimes have. She seemed different now, as if letting down a shield she hadn’t realised that she’d had.
After an awkward pause they both started to speak at once before he held up his hand and said, “You first. I’ve had my question.”
She took a deep breath, as if rehearsing a question in her mind for the thousandth time before actually ever daring to give it voice for the first time. “What’s more important? Stopping a tragedy, or getting credit for cleaning it up and catching the villain?”
That took him aback for a moment, but the penny was in the midst of dropping anyway. “You’ve never told anyone how accurate you are as a precog?”
She blushed even more fiercely, a wholly different woman than the almost robotic, almost emotionless sidekick that he’d first seen when the spandex sea had parted. She stared at the floor making her eyes totally unreachable. “Not much glory if you don’t have any crimes.” She mumbled. “But you’re different. You’re smarter.” She gasped out as if having a hard time breathing. She looked distinctly uncomfortable.
“How do you know that? Ground Force and Blue Jay are local legends! They’ve rushed into fires to pull people out! They’ve faced hails of bullets sheltering innocents behind them!”
“Yeah, they do that. I prefer just making sure these things don’t happen. You do too.”
“Precog tell you that?”
“It’s one of the things you say the day you sign my papers” she said, beet red, face getting more hidden by the moment as she virtually curled up to avoid his gaze. It wasn’t easy at his height but he found himself trying to lower his head to look up at her, completely unsuccessfully.
“The other being?” he said extending one of his arms to the floor to keep his balance as he continued trying to find her face.
She threw money on the bar to cover the tabs as if she needed a sudden break from an intense conversation, and practically ran for the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” she practically yelled as she made an escape. Or almost did, she stopped dead in her tracks a mere moment before his arms shot out to their full strange length to stop her, obviously knowing he was about to. She gave him the briefest of eye to eye gazes before declaring in a panic, “You know it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask while I’m still just your sidekick. It’s a definite conflict of interest!” She ended that in a high pitched squeak of panic, and while he froze trying to figure out what the hell was happening she made it to the door, and disappeared into the night. After a few moments he realised his mouth was dry and shut it with a clack. It opened again almost immediately when he looked down at the money she left and noticed she’d written on the top bill in hasty letters before she’d put it down; “But I’m pretty sure I’ll say yes”.