• Eddie Fogler

Sidekick-ed Next Chapter

Shrapnel


Mike has us do a bunch of group bonding exercises before we get into our trainings. It is really just group therapy. And just total bullshit. Tether says Mike only has us do this because the last team he was on dissolved because of so much internal conflict. This all reconfirms my hate for teams. There’s always a a fight on who should lead. A pair that’s dating either openly or secretly, which doesn’t matter because it still adds unnecessary tensions. Checkered pasts that come back to bite us all in the asses. If I don’t get to go solo after all this, I just hope I’m the one that dies in the end and finally gets the team to rally for the final battle. I don’t share this with the group obviously. I don’t share anything with them.


I honestly never know what to say during our activities, but I play along. I talk about waiting to receive our first mission and how that makes me feel. I pretend it doesn’t bother me and am extra encouraging to Bloody Mary as she inevitably causes one of us to faint during her shares. Nod politely as Tether and Ball constantly spew out facts about their favorite metabeings instead of sharing anything of substance. Correction, Tether talks for Ball. And let’s not forget Muzzle. Seriously. Trying not to forget that Muzzle is part of this is the hardest f-ing thing.


When Mike finally decides to let us start training, I almost explode right then and there. I don’t even give a shit anymore that it’s not in some high tech simulation dome. A freshly swept hanger is good enough. And it only bothers me a little bit that my ‘new’ training suit smells like wet dog. I’m ready to move. To fight. To show these bitches why an A-Lister doesn’t deserve to be a part of SCUM.


Despite Mike’s reservations, I practically demand to be the sparing partner for all my fellow teammates. It sounds corny, but I’m going to deal out a whole lot of hurt. You get a beatdown! And you get a beatdown! And you get a beatdown!


“Alright gang.” Mike has us lined up on the side by his office as he uses a whiteboard to explain his plan for our training. “This will be done in pairs. For the first round, I want you all to focus more on your hand-to-hand combat. Up close and personal. Limited power use. Round ends when one of your asses hits the ground three times. For the second round, we are going to do an all out. I want power heavy focus. Use your abilities to outwit your opponent. First person to hit the ground ends the round. Normally I would want you all to tag in and out, but Shrapnel has volunteered to be the sparring partner for each of you.”


I thought there’d be a small gasp or reaction from that statement, but there’s silence. They don’t even look my way. Either they are intimidated to fight me or anxious. Or both. Which is good. They should be.


“First up with Shrapnel is Muzzle.” Mike walks us out to the cleared space as he reviews his clipboard. “Remember Gentlemen, focus is on hand-to-hand combat. I don’t want to see a lot of power use. First to the ground three times and the round is over.”


Now that we’re about to start, the silence from the room gives off some weird tension. Muzzle even seems more quiet as he readies himself across from me. I’m not sure what part of alien he is, but it doesn’t matter. Magna Angel had me train with Pow-Pow several times, and she was basically an alien warrior monk. So I’m fairly well-versed in different alien fighting techniques.


Mike blows his whistle, and I’m the first to react. Because Muzzle is taller than me, I immediately lunge forward and jump up to deliver a swift kick to the face. Bringing in some kickboxing right of the bat always throws them off, cause they never expect that kind of fighting style from me. Success. The top of my foot makes hard contact with the side of Muzzle’s face. Instead of being surprised or knocked back, Muzzle manages to catch my foot with his shoulder. He does some sort of uppercut into my thigh, and my leg instantly cramps up.


Muzzle releases my foot, and I fall to the floor in pain. My eyes are watering as I try to massage my leg through the pain. I hear the whistle, but it hurts too bad for me to be pissed about losing the first bout. Like what the actual hell? Mike heads over to me, and my leg miraculously stops cramping. As least that’s over. I stretch it out a couple times to make sure.


“You all good,” Mike asks as he helps me up.


“I’m fine.” But seriously…the fuck?


“Okay cool.” Mike gives me a fist pump. “Whenever you’re ready.”


“Ready.” I shake my limps to hype myself up and give Muzzle a stare-down, but he doesn’t appear phased.


Whistle goes. My reaction time is even faster, and I decide to go low. Take the legs out from under a tall person, and they tend to fall easily. Just as I’m in my spinning sweep, Muzzle does a front somersault over me. Before I can react and counter, I feel a forceful jab to the side of my neck. My back seizes up. Down I go again. Another whistle. Another bout over just like that.


“So um, I should have warned you,” Mike mutters as he helps me up again. “Muzzle studied human anatomy pretty intently before he came to Earth. If you need a minute-”


Figures. I crack my neck and do a few stretches. “No worries. I got this.”


The adrenaline in my surges with determination and some revenge. I’m so fully amped that I meet Mike’s fist bump too hard, and I have to fake that my knuckles don’t already hurt. It doesn’t matter though; I’m going to go on the defensive. Let Muzzle come to me.


As soon as the whistle goes off, I take a step back and keep my fists up to block any possible attack. Limited power use means I can keep a couple mini-explosive bombs generating in my hands. If Muzzle gets close, bam, distraction and uppercut. Keeping my distance, I circle around Muzzle as he shifts to keep an eye on me. I stare back at him with my best bring-it look. He has to make a move sometime.


He must have read my mind, because Muzzle makes an aggressive run towards me. I fling the bombs I had generated at him and follow them up with several more. I’m like some crazed card dealer lighting up the table. Somehow, Muzzle manages to dodge the first two bombs and then proceeds to use the ones I continue to fire as stepping blocks. Using their energy to propel himself forward even faster. Fuck. I’m too stunned to stop. And then it’s too late. He’s up on me and does a spin kick to my face. I hit the ground hard. I don’t need the freaking whistle to know the bout’s over.


Does it bother me that I lost the first round to some alien mime? Yes. Is his sound manipulation any match for my explosive teleportation? Nope.


There’s so much pent up energy inside me now that I just nod along to whatever the rules are Mike is explaining. Something something understand our powers. Blah Blah not here to destroy each other. Mike asks if we’re ready, and I turn to give him a thumbs up. Him and the rest are wearing heavy duty ear protectors which gives me a little apprehension but whatever. I’m too excited that I get to go full power on Muzzle. Show these wannabes why I was the most sought-after sidekick.


From the corner of my eye, I can see Mike blow his whistle. It’s go time. Muzzle immediately opens his mouth. And it takes me back a bit because I can’t believe I’m finally going to hear this guy speak. It’s been weeks, and I’ve only ever heard a singular grunt from him. But as Muzzle opens his mouth wider, the room fills with the deafening sound of static white noise. It slams into me and vibrates through every cell of my body. I do my best to shield my ears, but the sound is persistent and manages to snake its way in. The buzzing consumes me. It’s as though thousands of cicadas have managed to infest my brain and are currently eating away at my thoughts.


I try to teleport, but my body can’t hear my commands. I try again, but the pressure of the sound keeps me from expanding. I have to shut Muzzle’s mouth somehow. But as I will myself to take a small step forward, the noise trips me up and causes me to fall to my knees. It’s impossible to stand and cup my ears at the same time. The noise seems to sense my predicament; it gets even louder and more overwhelming. Through the static, I swear I hear it say Just give in and let it be. I just want the noise to stop, so I let it be. I let it crumple me to the ground and envelop me, folding my body into the fetal position.


My ears are still ringing when Muzzle is declared the winner. I ignore the group as they congratulate him and praise him with high fives, and I get some water and pretend not to care. Magna Angel would have been pissed if she saw how badly I did. Maybe I lost my edge during all of the therapy and rehab sessions. It would at least explain why my explosions are no longer colorful.


“You had some pretty sweet moves out there.” Mike lies as he wanders over to me. “How you feeling?”


“I’m fine.” I’m sure the more I say it that it will eventually be true.


“You know you can sit this next one out if you’d like.”


“Nah. I’m good.” I look over at Muzzle still being praised by Bloody Mary and Tether. “I just wasn’t expecting all of that.”


Mike follows my gaze. “What did you expect?”


I shrug. It was the best I could do instead of saying what I really thought should have happened.


“You know what?” There was sharpness to Mike’s tone which makes me think he wants to say something different. “I think we’ll keep going as soon as you’re ready.”


Tether and Ball are up next. She gives me a handshake and pulls me into a half hug. “Hey man. No hard feelings.”


Not sure what she means by that, but I give her back a pat to say that I get it. Also not sure how this is going to go. Because it’s hand-to-hand combat, I don’t think I’ll be seeing Ball’s ghostly face. And Tether looks like she’s more of a bar fighter than an actual skilled one.


Regardless, the whistle goes off, and I decide to show off my agility. I vault into my best tumbling routine, building momentum which each cartwheel and flip. I notice Tether hasn’t moved but has her forearms up to brace herself for impact. I do a somersault twist into a dive kick and aim right for her block. Rather than making contact and knocking Tether down, I phase through her and tumble to the ground.


Second bout doesn’t go any better. I decide to keep Tether close and channel the street brawler in me. We’re like two champion boxers, circling one another in hopes of finding an opening. I fake left and seize the opportunity to deliver a special uppercut. There’s a little explosive humph added to it. Tether’s body is luckily solid this time, but it’s like punching a diamond wall. My hand shatters from the force, and Tether takes the opportunity in my surprise to delivery her own special punch. My jaw explodes from the hit and down I go again.


It takes a second for everything on me to regenerate. Mike takes the time to remind Tether that she can’t be so power heavy in the last bout and to save it all for the last round. If she’s relying so much on her damn density manipulation, it probably means that I was right about her not being much of a fighter. I vaguely remember her talking about how her and her brother were brought up by…I want to say a biker gang…but I honestly didn’t pay attention. I might be thinking bikers because of her signature jean vest, which is not an insult. She’s the type of badass that would own a chopper if allowed; that much I do know.


A thumbs up from a newly generated thumb, and the last bout is on...

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