Kelly gave a deep sigh, then resumed speaking. “We need to talk about the best way to kill ourselves.”
Jordan stumbled a bit at that. He went back to his normal stride right away, back straight and footsteps even, just a little awkward as he kept his stride matched to Kelly’s much shorter one. “Explain, please.”
Kelly gave a reassuring grin. Okay, a reassuring smirk but it was really funny to see the guy thrown off like that. “Okay, maybe that’s not the best way to phrase it.” She could hear the seals that gathered by the pier in the distance. They weren’t usually noisy this time of night but they did get a bit excited during Lights Out on Titans’ Rock. “Stationary operatives in every city run things differently. So does every Intervention team for that matter. Still, you’ll end up working in pairs or small groups a lot. Every time you join a new one, this is something you’ll need to talk about.
“They need to know what you can do, the same as you need to know what they can. Obvious, right? Otherwise you’re not a group that’s working together, just a collection of individuals.” The junior operative gave a nod at that. Figures the ex-Army guy would get the basis of teamwork without needing to have it hammered in. “A big part of that, arguably the most important part, is knowing each other’s vulnerabilities. Get it?”
Jordan didn’t answer right away but, when he did, it was obvious he was giving it real thought. “How far do you take that? Where do you draw the line for need to know on this?”
Kelly grinned, this time for real. “That’s the tricky part. It depends on your powerset and the abilities of the people you’re going to be working with as well as everyone’s personalities. A judgement call, basically.” They’d gone far enough along the waterline now. Kelly turned left on Hyde Street and the buildings went from restaurants and attractions to residential, mostly three and four story buildings broken up into little apartments.
“If exposure to some super-rare, exotic mineral totally shuts you down, I’d say keep that to yourself as long as you can. Mention that you have a weakness, but don’t give out anything more. The odds of running into something like that by accident are ridiculous. If your power is totally useless against things of a certain color then there’s no way that’s gonna stay a secret for long. I’d pass that around to your teammates early on so they can cover for you. Make sense?”
“Yes. What about the actual extent of our abilities? I wouldn’t have managed to get as high a combat score as I did if I hadn’t held back a little bit of what I could do until the last week in Basic.”
“Oh?” Kelly asked. “We had a guy who did the same thing, only he was holding back big time the entire way. He managed to get second, right below Jenny Awesome.”
“I was sixth.”
“Really? That’s kind of funny. Isaac had the same rank and he’s a Strong type with a few quirks, same as you.”
“Isaac Dauntless was only sixth? I’d understood he was the most powerful Strong type in the Citadel right now. Not to mention…” Jordan seemed to be struggling to find the right words so Kelly decided to help him out.
“Scary as all hell when he wants to be?”
Kelly shrugged. “Maybe he could’ve gotten a bit higher if he’d wanted but we had some pretty heavy weights in there. Jason could be about as strong as Isaac, at least for a while. Greg-”
“You mean Jason Grim? The guy who was dating Jenny Awesome?” Jordan interrupted, the first time he’d done that. Kelly couldn’t get too mad, everybody wanted to know more when they realized she’d been in the same class as Jenny.
“Yeah. That’s him. He was the one in second place.” Kelly kept her voice low and kind of sad sounding when she answered.
“What happened with him? I was in Basic when word about them dating started to go around, right after she beat… right after she beat Monster. I never really got the whole story.”
“He was in Phoenix.” Kelly made sure to keep her voice flat.
There was a bit of an awkward silence then. Kelly could still hear the seals behind them but only because her hearing was turned up.
“So, about what you were saying… Is there a standard protocol for introductions?”
“Nope.” Kelly shook her head. “The Citadel’s sort of a military organization and a police keeping force and a fight club all rolled into one and then painted purple. We don’t really do standard anything. But I’ll give you an example if you want.” She stopped walking and stood there on the sidewalk. Eventually, he turned to face her and she stuck out her hand. “Hi, I’m Kelly Protean.”
“I’m a high end shapeshifter. I can change just about anything in my body to just about anything else, but it’s easiest with organics and animalistic things. I can do a few tricks with simple devices and tricks but, as a general rule, anything mechanical with moving parts or electronics is too tough for me to mess with in a fight. I can’t hit any harder than a low-medium Strong type but I can usually make up for that with versatility. As far as defense goes, I can shapeshift to fix any damage on the spot and I’ll do it on reflex to fix immediately fatal wounds. That leaves me unconscious for at least a minute or two though.”
“Is there a limit to that?” Jordan asked.
Kelly grinned. He’d taken the bait. “See, that’s the sort of thing I meant. If I’d wanted you to know that, I’d have told you, right? There’s a certain amount of practicality involved, sure, but you basically just asked how to kill me. Kinda rude, isn’t it?”
Jordan nodded, thinking it through. “I can see what you mean, but there has to be a balance point somewhere.”
“There is, but you’ll have to be a better judge of personality than I am to find it on a regular basis. Incidentally, yeah. My limit is mass. I keep a- a reservoir of unused mass in a pocket dimension with me that my ability reshapes and switches out with my current body every time I shapeshift. It’s not a perfectly efficient swap so there’s some loss of mass every time. Put me down enough times and I won’t be able to get back up.”
“Pocket dimension? Mass reservoir?” Kelly couldn’t see his face well enough to spot the emotion but it was obvious in his voice. It really helped that almost everyone she talked to about her power had a similar reaction at some point.
“Yeah, Empowerments are weird. I used to eat three or four times what someone my size should’ve at every meal. I thought I was just hungry but it was actually my power absorbing the extra food to use for raw material. The actual elements involved don’t seem to matter, just the total mass.”
“Now I just take deep breathes all the time. My power absorbs what I don’t need and about half the air in every breathe gets added to what I’m carrying around. A really nasty fight can still burn through it pretty fast though. I can sorta tell when I’m getting low, feels a bit like I’m really hungry but not quite. When that happens, I’ll just turn off my sense of taste, go down to the beach, and drink a few hundred gallons of seawater.”
Again, Kelly was familiar enough with the reaction to guess Jordan’s expression without being able to see it.
“So… so you’re…”
“Pretty much immortal? Yeah.” Each of their communicators gave a distinctive, triple beep. Then a voice came from Jordan’s helmet and the bone conduction communicator implanted in Kelly’s chest.
“This is Analyst Potts. Apologies for the interruption, but there’s an incident in progress near your current location. Are you available?”
Kelly’s hearing was currently good enough that they were both perfectly intelligible. It gave her a kind of weird stereo effect, like when you’re in your car and someone with their radio set to the same channel and the volume too high pulls up next to you at the light. Kind of freaky but not really bad.
“This is Operative Protean, confirming for myself and Operative Strong. Please send us the details.”