Bettie was exhausted. Four hours on ‘Titan Watch,’ followed by a four hour walk back to the base that Operative Dauntless insisted on calling a foot patrol, meant that it was now late enough that it was actually early the next day instead. That sucked pretty badly on its own but, to make things just a little bit better, Bettie didn’t know where her room was.
Sure, San Francisco was her home town and she could have just stayed at her parents’ place, but… Nope. She was an adult now with a real job and everything. She’d registered for base housing instead and that meant that, somewhere around here, there was a room with a bed that, probably quite literally, had her name on it.
The Citadel’s office here in San Francisco was the first floor of a small high rise. The rest were dedicated to training facilities, equipment storage, administration and housing for Citadel staff. She didn’t know if it was some kind of security thing or a side effect of all the remodeling that’d been done when the Citadel took it over but the room numbers didn’t seem to make any sense.
She was looking for thirteen oh five. The building didn’t have thirteen floors. If she’d thought about it ahead of time, Bettie could’ve asked someone at the front desk or one of the people who’d been on the first elevator she’d taken. Now, it was nothing but long empty hallway after long empty hallway. A lot of the doors didn’t have numbers and the ones that did weren’t in any kind of order that she could find.
Bettie was just glad everything was so brightly lit or she’d have started to think she was stuck in a horror movie. That particular thought was enough to get her looking around for creepy twins and waves of blood but nope, just an empty hall. “Ah!” She gave a terrifying war cry and jumped into the air to be ready to defend herself. It was not a frightened scream and she’d fight to the death to prove it.
There was something scurrying away and her ankle hurt. The thing, maybe a rat, was gone before she could figure out what to do. Bettie knelt and rubbed the sore spot. How had a- a rat or whatever it was managed to bite her through the thick boots she was wearing? The pain faded quickly but now she was even more eager to find her room. She couldn’t exactly take off the heavy boots and clean out the bite to make sure it didn’t get infected right here.
“Hey there, need a hand?”
It was a big man, almost as tall as Operative Dauntless but younger and not as wide. He had dusky skin and blond hair that looked really familiar but she definitely would’ve remembered meeting someone his size, so…
“Do I know you?” she asked, trying to keep her tone polite. She’d have been more suspicious about the sudden appearance of a large man when she was alone in the middle of the night but he was wearing an Operative’s uniform so he was probably on her side.
“Kelly Protean. We met earlier.” He was smiling again and he had his hand out to shake or- oh, woops. She took the hand and let him help her up.
“Oh, um, Operative Kelly. You’re Jordan’s mentor. I- I know you’re a shifter but I thought that was your real body. I mean, the way you usually look.”
He gave a chuckle. It wasn’t quite as deep and rumbly as Operative Dauntless but it was still kind of nice.
“That was my real body. So’s this. Don’t worry, it takes most people a bit to get used to it.”
“Oh! No, Operative Dauntless told me a bit. You’re a ridiculously powerful shapeshifter and have been since you were little. That means that before you really had a settled gender identity you were able to flip without even thinking of it so you’re like the ultimate version of gender fluid now, right?”
He blinked. The smile was gone but not in a angry way, more of an ‘I don’t have a clue how to react’ way.
“Um, yeah. Huh, you catch on quick.”
She smiled at him, just a little smug. She was a San Francisco native. This barely even tripped the weird meter she’d had before she’d spent four months hanging out with Empowered at Citadel Basic.
“So, yeah. If you don’t mind, I could use some help.” She gave him a sec to switch his train of thought, then went on. “I’ve only got around six hours before I have to get up for standby duty and I’d really like to get some sleep. But… I have no idea where my room is.”
“Ah, I’ve been there. I just spent the last few hours filling out reports for… well, it doesn’t matter.” He gave a rueful grin. “What’s your room number?” She told him and he consulted his wrist-com then led her down three floors to a room that didn’t have a number but opened when she touched her thumb to the little plate above the knob.
“Thanks!” she told him and started to go in. He didn’t move so she paused to find out what else he wanted.
“Operative Bettie Boom. I’m not your mentor so I don’t have any right to give you orders. Officially, we’re the same rank and I’m not in your chain of command.” His voice was weird. Bettie couldn’t have put a finger on exactly what was wrong with it but… “This is not an order. I don’t have any right to give you those.”
There was a weird shimmer in the air around him. It took her a second, but Bettie eventually noticed some kind of… vapor coming off his skin.
“Even so, I suggest you listen to me very carefully.” Bettie was suddenly very aware of the bite on her ankle. It didn’t hurt any more than it had a moment before but it was just more there.” Isaac is your mentor and you’re his shadow. That means you’re partners. Partners take care of each other. They don’t take any risks with the other one’s life or wellbeing. Understand?”
She nodded. He didn’t respond at first, just sort of looked at her.
“Good. Isaac’s… he’s not as tough as he seems. Be careful with him.”
“I… um, I will.” she said. There wasn’t anything else she could’ve done.