Holding Out For A Hero, Part Five: Favored Child

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February

She crouched on the edge of the room, silently watching the small red light hanging in the air. Ahead of it, the sound of shifting gears and grating stone echoed through the red velvet curtain that Father had set up to keep the mystery of the automated training excercises. She watched avidly, feeling impatient. She liked to think of this as another test, a small game – could she keep from moving until the light changed?

She could. The red flickered out, and the curtain rose, and she spent a moment studying the arena before leaping into motion. Three steps took her to the edge of a small outcropping, and she ducked down low as three paintballs exploded past her head to hit the wall behind her. A glance, and she saw her target, standing behind cover opposite a long pit. She scanned the room, looked up, and saw a slim metal bar crossing the area. No problem.

A small whistling sound caught her attention, and she dove to one side, the weave of her specially-made cape billowing out behind her. A slender rod arced through the air, bounced once, and exploded into silver paint, which caught only the trailing edge of the cloak as she bounded ten feet into the air. Letting the silver-painted cloak waft to the ground behind her, she concentrated on the bar still fifteen feet above her and focused, looking at her outstretched hand. Threads of ivy curled across her fingers and then leapt into the air, forming a long, strong rope that wrapped around the bar three times and then contracted, yanking her through the air as paintballs exploded past her. She felt one slam into her knee, and winced, considering what the damage would have been had it been a real bullet. Not serious. She flipped onto the bar, conceeding a section of her leg to the game – it stretched and thinned as it disgorged the painted section, dropping wood pulp and leaves to the ground in a rain that caught more bullets. A moment's focus, and the leg was whole again. She spent a half-second testing the new weight – it was always difficult when she changed her central mass. It was good.

She sprang through the air again, intent on the prize. Her left wrist dropped small, compact pellets of soil bound with grass into her hand, while her right let loose another whip to carry her over the pit towards her target. More bullets flew, and she dropped the pellets, which exploded into clouds of dust and debris as they left her hands. She twitched her fingers, and felt long wooden spikes extend from her gloves. A twitch of movement, and she watched with satisfaction as ten spikes slammed into her target. She landed gracefully on the ground, as the machinery ground to a halt and the combat simulation processed completion.

As she surveyed her work, thinking about how she might have done better, a sound caught her attention. She pressed herself into the shadows as the door to the room hissed open.

“Are you threatening me, Mr. Henry?” The harsh voice belonged to Father. He was upset. She risked a quick peek, and saw him standing next to someone new.

“Not at all, Doctor,” the newcomer said with a sly smile. “It's really more of a bribe.” He looked around, and raised an eyebrow. “Combat simulators? I didn't realize she'd been approved for those.”

“She wasn't forbidden them,” Father said huffily, striding into the room. “What's your problem, Henry?”

“I don't have a problem,” Henry replied easily, stepping across the room. He cast an eye over the paintball guns set up in various nooks and crannies, the deep pits, and the black silhouettes propped up. “I'm just admiring your nerve. It's an under-rated virtue, I've always thought.”

Father's face twisted into the expression he made when he couldn't decide whether to laugh or yell. She was very used to that face. “Thank you, I suppose,” he said with poor grace.

“Not at all.” Mr. Henry said. He came to the final silhouette, the target, and raised an eyebrow. “And this?”

She winced, mortified. She hadn't meant for anyone to see that.

Father walked over to look. “What about it?” he asked.

“She appears to have killed this target,” Mr. Henry said carefully. “It's sort of interesting, the way she made a little smiley-face over his heart with sharp knives.”

Father shrugged, a hint of a smile pushing through his annoyance. “She's a bit whimsical. That's the thing about sentient constructs, Mr. Henry, they're like children. If you try to control their personalities, you end up with rebellion – at best. Let them develop naturally, guide their progress, and they'll surprise and delight you.”

“I wouldn't know.” Mr. Henry said with a hint of stiffness. Father shrugged again and turned to look around the room.

“Blossom!” He roared. “Get out here!”

She gave up on hiding. “Hello, Father!” she said cheerfully, stepping out from the shadows. Father turned to her sternly.

“Blossom, this is Mr. Henry, from the SEA. He wants to speak with you on a very important matter.”

“Hello, Blossom.” Mr. Henry was watching her carefully. She had a moment of panic – she'd been expecting to be alone. Was she fit for presentation? Was she wearing her mask?

A moment's reflection reassured her. Her jumpsuit, formed from thousands of green pine needles, was smooth and perfect. Her mask, made from smooth wood with dyed-red lips and green eyes, was carefully attached. Her hair, a slightly lighter green than the jumpsuit… out of place. She hurriedly re-arranged the strands, letting them fall into bangs on either side of the mask. Maybe he wouldn't notice.

“Hello, Mr. Henry.” she said politely, studying him in turn. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

“Well, the long and short of it is, I'm looking to recruit you.” Mr. Henry walked over to her. “Do you know what the SEA is?”

“Of course,” Blossom said brightly. “The Superhuman Enforcement Agency is in charge of policing metahumans and metahuman affairs within the United States of America.” She considered saying more, but decided against it. If he was from the SEA, he would know more about it than her anyway. She paused, and then let her mask frown. If it surprised Mr. Henry to see the wooden lips turn down across the carved cheeks, he did not show it. “You want me to be a police officer?”

“More or less.” Mr. Henry smiled broadly. “I've been put in charge of forming a team to handle magical crimes. As a creature of magic and technology, you're uniquely suited for a position on the team.”

Blossom considered quickly. “I don't have Benign Entity status,” she pointed out softly. “Father says I'm not to leave the facility.”

“I'm aware of that,” Mr. Henry assured her. “I can expedite the process for you.”

Blossom understood Father's first words now. “But not if I don't join you,” she said.

Henry's smile became strained. “If you don't want to join, that's fine. It won't count against your application, I promise you.”

Blossom looked over to her Father, standing to one side, and back to this strange man. There was something about the way he held himself – a confidence that she hadn't seen in any of the bureaucrats and scientists who had come to investigate her. She turned to face her Father. “Should I do this, Father?”

Father looked as though he had several opinions on the matter, but what he said was, “That's not my choice to make, Blossom. This is a big decision. You need to decide if it will be your purpose.”

“But you will be upset if I go with him?” Blossom asked. Her Father winced.

“No.” He said quickly. “It's a good job. Dangerous, but…” He trailed off. She'd been built for dangerous situations, and he knew that better than anyone.

“Will you be proud if I go?” she asked softly.

Father paused. Tentatively, uncertainly, he stepped over to her and placed a hand around her shoulder. “I'm already proud of you, Blossom,” he said with unusual softness. “You are my masterwork.”

She swallowed, letting herself lean against her. He didn't pull away today. She looked over to Mr. Henry, standing slightly uncomfortably off to one side. “If I go with you, but I don't like it…?”

“The introductory contract is three months,” Mr. Henry said. “After that, you are free to leave.”

Blossom let her mask smile, looking up to her Father's worried face. “I'll do it.”


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