“Where’d you go, my little crustacean?” asked the Gimp aloud, senses probing the grimy alley. Of course, in the skin-tight latex wrapped kevlar of his costume, the words came out as an indiscernible muffle. “Wwwddduuugggmmmmlllllccccc”
Hooded, Gimp felt rather than heard the Superhero’s battle cry, “KUNG. PAO. PUNCH!” in the shifting shadows. Gimp smiled beneath his suit, the idiot telegraphed his attack the same way every time. A good thing too; with super strength that persisted even when he shrank, the shrimp could do some serious damage if he ever found two neurons to rub together. Gimp dodged the orange blur of the diminutive meta-human’s centimeter long fist: ducked, rolled, and counter-attacked. Everything went silent. The shadows around Gimp grew, solidified; became thick, wet sheets nearly unbreakable something. They wrapped themselves around Kung Pao Shrimp, squeezed tight.
A small voice squeaked, “You’re killing me…”
Underneath his body suit, the Gimp smiled and said. “That’s the idea.” “Hhhhtttdddaaaa”
The lights came on, dispelling the shadows, and from the wall speaker Power King announced, “Ok, that’s enough. Pack it in boys, you’re done.” The alley scene melted back into the bare surfaces of the default Danger Dome. Gimp unzipped and threw back his hood to reveal the angry teenage face beneath. “What the hell man? Why’d you have to screw this up for me?!?” He said to Kung Pao Shrimp.
“Me?” Said Kung Pao Shrimp, touching the flaming Shrimp Decal on his chest and growing back to his full size. “You’re the one who started acting like some kind of… of villain!”
Before the Gimp could respond Power King’s voice crackled back on the PA. “Ryan Matthews, Victor Nguyen, out of your costumes and in my office now.”
Victor Nguyen grumbled as he pulled off his sweaty Gimp suit and stepped into civie clothes.
Power King sat behind an over-large desk, steepling his fingers. His power armor was in its standby mode, crown retracted and helmet spread open to show serious brown eyes set deep in a lined, middle aged face. The veteran hero looked back and forth between the two apprentice superheros, saying nothing. Finally he sighed, “What am I going to do with you?”
“Look, it wasn’t my fault..” Victor said before a lifted finger from Power King silenced him as effectively as if he’d been engulfed in his own shadows.
“Let’s review shall we? Despite powers that others would kill for, despite excellent test scores; the pair of you can’t work with each other, hell you can’t work with anyone. Yet somehow you still expect me sign off on your petition for inclusion in field exercises for next week?”
Ryan looked at his feet, “You’re right Power King. We’ll try harder.”
“Hey!” Victor said, “I didn’t want to partner with this idiot anyway. There’s no we. I won the fight…”
Power King snorted, “Yeah and you almost killed your sparring partner. Like it or not, he’s your partner Victor, even if you are sparring. If and when you’re cleared for field work, you can opt to solo. But not before.”
Victor looked at the floor.
“And seriously, your costume is a Gimp suit? I don’t even… what? Why? Even if you can sense through the shadows, how are you supposed to work as part of a team if you can’t even talk?”
The teenager huffed, “I block out vision and hearing and I’m an umbrakintetic… what the hell was I supposed to call myself? Shade choker?”
Power King turned to him, “Your persona is nearly as ridiculous Kung Pao Shrimp.”
Ryan folded his arms over his chest, “I told you. I got my amazing power to shrink to prawn size while maintaining my superpowered Kung Pao strength after I ate an enchanted plate of Shrimp.”
Power King sighed, “Look, the costumes aren’t even the issue. I’ll let the PR department handle that if when and if you graduate. My job is to make sure you’re fit for duty. Now, you both can utilize your powers; I’ll give you that. But one of you seems to have gotten his tactics out of comic books, bad comic books from the 40s.” Victor snickered and Power King turned his attention to him, “While the other is an angry goth who can’t work with anyone. Field exercises are next week and neither of you is cleared.”
“Oh come on!” they shouted in unison.
“You’re nowhere near ready. In fact, I’m advising the membership committee that…”
The alarm blared out “Intruder alert, Intruder alert.” The building rumbled as something or someone breached the Citadel’s walls. Ryan held onto his chair to keep from falling to the ground.
Power King’s electronic armor clicked into place to cover his face, his hypersonic crown spinning up to charge his suit. The indicators on his chest glowed red and blue.
“STAY HERE!” He ordered, his inhuman, digitized voice issuing from the speakers embedded near his shoulder.
“What’s going on?” Ryan asked, Power King already moving out of his office. When he reached the threshold, he turned back to the apprentices, repeated, “JUST STAY HERE,” before rocket boosting and disappearing down the hallway.
His trainer out of sight, Victor pulled and stretched his Gimp costume, hopping and twisting to get the skin tight suit on.
His brow furrowed, Ryan said, “Victor… Gimp. We’re supposed to stay here.”
Shrugging on his hood, Gimp left without a word.
Ryan sighed, donned his orange domino mask and chased after. From far away, crashes and booms shook the floor.
Victor didn’t have to walk long before he found Power King. All around, tracks of fluorescent bulbs flickered, died. A large, gaping hole in the wall revealed the well tended grounds outside the Citadel.
Gimp didn’t see any of this from beneath the black latex that covered his face, instead he felt the angles of the shadows that caught the rubble, each one of them bubbling with possibility, with power. He smiled, he’d finally get a chance to show that pompous old windbag what he was capable of when he wasn’t sparring with an idiot.
Gimp stepped through a shattered blast corridor. Up ahead, the Supervillain Capybara held Power King up in an impact crater smashed into a reinforced steel wall. PK’s armor had broken in a thousand ways, half his face poked through his shattered helmet.
“Where is she?” Capybara growled, “Where’s my daughter?”
“Ok Victor,” Gimp thought to himself, “You only get one shot. You got this.”
He flexed the tiny shadows around Capybara’s nose, cutting off the villain’s vision and hearing in solidified, freezing blackness. From the floor, more pools of darkness rose and reached for the raging mass of hair and muscle. Half through his speakers, half through his mouth Power King screamed, “Vict… Gimp, No! You’re not ready! Get out of here!”
Gimp said, “IIIIggggtttthhhsss.”
The shadows surged up but Capybara flipped, avoiding them. He landed on Victor, striking his heels down with enough force to knock the wind from the apprentice’s lungs. Gimp struggled to breathe beneath his costume, his focus breaking and his command of the shadows slipping away. Capybara blinked, his eyes and ears unclouding.
“Cute. But I could still smell you.” The Villain hoisted Gimp. “Alright Power King, playtime’s over. Give her back to me or I’ll rip apart the kid.”
Power King fired his last missile, exploding it off of Capybara’s thick skull. The beast man snarled, dropped Gimp and ran towards Power King. Ryan, hiding behind some rubble that had fallen from the ceiling, decided it was now or never. “What would Victor do?” he thought to himself. He leapt up, a tiny orange blur, and caught Capybara in the middle. Capybara grunted, stumbling and smashing into the wall to the left. He swung his claws through the air, trying to catch his bee sized attacker. But Ryan had already scurried beneath a piece of fallen ceiling tile.
Capybara sniffed at the air and licked his lips, smiled with each of his sharpened teeth. “Not a bad punch… for a little guy. But you need to understand small fry, we’re in different leagues.” He brought his foot up over where Kung Pao Shrimp hid.
“Thhhhnssssseeeee” the Gimp said.
Capybara brought his hindpaw down, striking through the floor as Ryan jumped out of the way.
“What?” asked Kung Pao Shrimp, screaming to be heard in his miniaturized state. He rolled out of the way of a kick that would have splattered him against the wall.
Gimp unzipped the back of his costume, pulled his hood down to free his mouth. Wheezing to catch his breath, he said, “The Nose! Hit him in the nose!”
Kung Pao Shrimp put all he had into one more attack, his orange never before burning quite so bright. His tiny fist connected with Capybara’s nose with an audible crunch.
Capybara howled, blood dribbling down into the thick fur of his face. He snatched Kung Pao Shrimp out of the air before the hero could hide again. He squeezed and Ryan felt his ribs begin to give.
“I’ll fucking pop you…” Capybara snarled.
Victor focused, his shadows once again stealing the world away from Capybara. The villain thrashed, cursing as his taloned paws tore into the wall; but this time shadows wrapped around him. Kung Pao Shrimp squirmed, growing back to his original size and freeing himself just as the darkness enveloped Capybara. Blackness like ice-encrusted iron constricted, tightened; the vague shape of Capybara choking beneath it.
The Supervillain went still, but still the shadows pressed down.
“Victor, no. Don’t…” Ryan said, clutching at his broken ribs.
Resisting all his instincts, Victor let the shadows loosen, withdraw from the villian’s mouth and nose. He slumped against a wall, exhausted.
Crisis averted, Ryan moved over to a groaning Power King. A pained smile on his face, the trainer teased, “Heh I thought I told you to stay put.”
“Well I could just leave you here…” Ryan teased back, the first time he’d ever risked doing so with a superior.
“Tell you what… you get me to the autodoc in the infirmary and I’ll forget you disregarded a direct order. Hell, I’ll even sign off on field exercises next week. You two have earned it.”
“Deal,” Ryan said, hoisting Power King and helping him limp towards the hallway. Victor stood,falling in step beside Ryan. Thick shadows dragged Capybara along behind them.
After a moment, Ryan said. “I thought you were going to kill him…”
“Yeah, well, I just thought ‘What would Kung Pao Shrimp do?’ and eased off” Victor smiled.
“I thought something similar,” Ryan smiled back.
“You know, Power King probably has a point. I should probably rethink the whole Gimp thing… What do you think about Penumbra?”
“Nice!” Ryan said, flashing a thumbs up with his free hand. “I’m thinking about going for a rename myself… what do you think about Mighty Mite?”
“Ehhh,” Victor said, shaking his hand back and forth to emphasize the sentiment. “You know, I kind of like Kung Pao Shrimp. It’s colorful.”
Ryan laughed, then rubbed the back of his head and looked at the wall.. “Hey Gi… I mean Penumbra. I know you said you wanted to work alone and all, but we made a good team today. And I was just thinking -you know- that we could stay partners… if you wanted. Not that you have to or anything..”
“I’d like that.” Victor said, extending a hand. “Partner.”
Ryan shook it, jouncing Power King. The instructor winced, “Hey guys, how about a little less bonding a little more getting the injured superhero legend to medical attention.”
They walked in silence, the apprentices finally looking forward to next week’s field exercises.