Though I wasn’t the best at reading people and Khithae didn’t have the same facial structure and expressions as most people I dealt with, I got the feeling she was unhappy from the way she slowly and methodically spooned food into her mouth, like she wasn’t even tasting it. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
If I knew anything about women, which I was absolutely not certain I did, that meant exactly the opposite. “How’s learning English going?” I asked.
“Fine,” she said.
Besides working and learning English, I really didn’t know what else she did. Which was the problem, I supposed. Not that I didn’t know, but that she didn’t have much else to do. “Troubles with English?” I decided to start with the potentially less touchy subject. I intentionally circumvented Translation to speak, though she would still be able to respond however she wanted to.
“… It’s not made for people with a mouth like mine,” she responded in her native language. “And there are no resources for learning. You are lucky, to have your magic.”
Ugh. Was I one of the reasons she was feeling bad about that? Maybe, but I was also an easy target. Translation was extremely useful, and I didn’t require effort to speak the language. I was even picking up a good amount of it naturally from about a month of constant usage. “I could use it on you,” I said. “It would only work for a few hours, though.”
She shook her head. “What’s the point? Nobody talks to me at work anyway.”
I wanted to say that someone must talk to her, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true or make her feel better. If I recalled correctly she worked as a janitor of some kind, so it was possible nobody was around. With nothing to say, I managed to say exactly that much. But it turned out to possibly be the right thing, giving her a chance to continue.
“My boss is the only one who ever says anything. ‘Kitay go clean this, Kitay go clean that. Don’t climb the walls. No you can’t clean the outside windows without a safety harness. No we don’t have one that fits you.” She stuck out her tongue in a clear sign of disgust. “But it pays for a tiny apartment.”
“It’s not that small, is it?” I asked. Hers was the same size as mine. “There’s a bedroom and a kitchen and a bathroom.”
“A shower is not a bath.” Her eyes drilled into me, “You are from somewhere with meager accommodations?”
Was I? I suppose that Master Uvithar’s tower wasn’t exactly roomy. “I suppose so,” I shrugged. I wasn’t ever the sort of person who put much thought into where he slept. And my other activities didn’t take much room- which was basically just looking things up on the internet. I really should check out some physical books from the Power Brigade library, if they would let me. “I guess so.”
“It also takes too long to get to work,” she complained.
“Same here,” I nodded. I was aware that it could be significantly farther, but neither of us had cars and paying for transportation both ways every day would get expensive. Busses were less expensive, but hard to figure out and not necessarily faster if the timing was bad. I’d actually thought about moving closer, and I might do so now that I had some money saved up. Prices were pretty expensive. Extra’s apartments were cheap, but I didn’t really have much else I needed to spend money on. Though I’d have to think about food more, since I couldn’t be in this cafeteria. Then again, I also needed to think about Midnight. Some of that would also depend on if he took the job offer and could start paying for his own food. It wasn’t that expensive, but my own food was free at this cafeteria. Or at least paid for.
I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure if I could. Or if she really wanted that. I thought she should want it, but apparently people also just wanted to ‘vent’ sometimes. The language learning was something I could participate in more. I hadn’t spent that much time just talking lately. As for the job… I wondered if the Power Brigade needed janitors or whatever. She also had some technical knowledge, if I remembered correctly, but since the technology was different here and she didn’t speak the language, it was hard to get that sort of job.
At the Power Brigade, us newbies sometimes got to watch higher ranking members spar. From up in the observation rooms, since none of us were using our powers to boost anyone. I had to admit it was much safer up here, especially when not dealing with mostly melee combatants like Great Girl and Shockwave.
Today we were especially lucky. It was Antagonist versus Electrode, which meant we should have a good light show. That was a guarantee. After all, with lightning upon lightning upon lightning, what else could there be? I was glad that the observation room would be filtering out the highest intensity though.
Electrode’s costume was weird, with wide lines criss-crossing over her body, running over her torso and down her arms and legs and up to her head, where her mask continued the look. I thought Francois had better taste than that, but maybe it made sense somehow? Or it was just what she wanted for whatever reason. Antagonist didn’t look like much, as he was dressed from head to toe in silver spandex- including over his face. Hopefully he could see out? Well, obviously he must be able to, or didn’t need to see.
Maks stood next to me, eagerly awaiting the start of the match. This was probably more important to him, because Electrode shared an element with him. While that didn’t necessarily put them in direct competition, there would always be comparisons people would make between related powers. I was also eager, because I’d like to spar with either of the two down below for various reasons.
When the battle began, a dome of electricity sprang up around Electrode. That was honestly something I had not expected. Her powerset had been rather vague in the database, but I expected it to work more like Shockfire. Which was of course ridiculous, because powers varied wildly in how they worked.
Then a moment later, a similar dome sprang up around Antagonist. Or rather, the version of Electrode that stepped out of his shiny, mirrored surface. It was weird to look at. The lines on it were black instead of white, but things stopped making sense there. Shades of blue became a weird orange, and shadows became brightly lit. That included everything, up to the orange-black arcs of lightning making up the dome.
At that point Antagonist just walked away, stepping out of the protective dome. That seemed silly to me, but then again this was a spar where there were specific parameters to the fight.
I expected Electrode to start flinging bolts of lightning at the other barrier, and I wasn’t entirely incorrect… but also unprepared for what actually happened. There was no bolt, it was just there. Blue-white danced against orange-black as tendrils poured over the copy’s barrier, and the same in reverse. Looking down from above we had a good angle on the whole thing. Lots of bright flashes. What was most interesting is when they started appearing in other places and taking out the lights.
“Dammit,” Meztli said from behind me. “I told them to focus on each other!”
It was hard to tell how and why the random globs of electricity were appearing. It seemed random to me, as I would see something skirting across a barrier and then suddenly a two or three foot wide line on the wall, as if something was running along and leaving a trail. But there was nothing there, and no transfer of energy that I felt. It was just suddenly there. The random blank sections were odd too.
I saw the lightning barriers wobble as they were bombarded, but they repaired themselves about as quickly as they took damage. I wasn’t sure what about them allowed them to interfere with the other. Despite the difference in color and lighting, the actual powers felt basically the same. I was pretty sure the orange-red-black lightning was still electricity for practical purposes.
One thing that was clear to me was that the original Electrode was stronger. She was breaking down the barrier more quickly, making constant progress as its warped and shrunk constantly before finally collapsing to only cover the surface of the copy’s skin. At that point the fake changed tactics, charging forward toward Electrode. Strangely enough, she didn’t try to avoid it, charging forward herself. Her larger barrier collided with the copy, who managed to puncture through it. The fists of the two met in a head-on impact, sending beams of multicolored light throughout the training room. Then the fake exploded.
A second later, a shimmering Antagonist stepped up behind her. Before he even reached her, orange-black lighting danced over her back. The way she yelled out indicated she wasn’t resistant to her own power, or at least the twisted version of it. She whirled around, which is what gave me an idea of one facet of her power. As she spun a trail of electricity charged along the wall, and when Antagonist kicked her in the chest and knocked her onto her side, she looked up at the observation room.
Lighting suddenly danced on the glass in front of us, fading away when she turned her eyes down towards her opponent. As Electrode was getting to her feet, a shimmering version of her was once more forming, stepping out of Antagonist’s shiny body.
“Screw you!” Electrode shouted. Somehow she seemed to be more angry at the fake version of herself than the actual cause of all the trouble, as she rushed forward and began brawling, only a thin layer of lighting over the bodies of each of them. Then with what felt like extreme effort she turned her head. Her punches didn’t stop, but her eyes stopped on Antagonist who was merely standing nearby. And then he was on the ground twitching as electricity coursed through him. That only lasted a moment before Electrode closed her eyes, the fake having dissipated after her attack on Antagonist himself. “Ugh…” I vaguely heard over the few working speakers. “I hate fighting you.”
Maks was staring raptly at the battle. I could agree with that sort of focus. It would be like me watching a battle of archmages. He was definitely enthralled… but a moment later he snapped out of his reverie. “… She doesn’t work like an electrode at all.”
I frowned. Was I supposed to know what an electrode was? Unfortunately my phone didn’t work on this level of the building for secrecy reasons, so I couldn’t just look it up. But apparently it was an actual thing, probably some sort of technology. “That’s powers for you,” I pointed out. “Do any of them work like any real thing?”
“Sort of?” Maks pursed his lips. “I’m at least a little bit like a battery, storing and releasing things.”
“Isn’t everyone though? It’s just not always zappy things. We burn through all sorts of energy.”
“It’s not the same,” he declared. “But anyway… I think I could beat her in a fight. Probably.”
“Yeah?” I raised an eyebrow. “No offense, but her power seems… a lot stronger than yours.”
“Exactly,” he said. “And all I have to do is use that to beat her.”
“A fair point, I guess…” I shrugged. “But that didn’t work for Antagonist that well.”
“That’s because he’s not resistant to electricity. And I don’t think Electrode is either.”
“Oh. Yeah, that… actually makes things pretty easy for you, huh?” Maks had the ability to absorb electricity or fire, and either store them for a short time or fling them back in basically the same form immediately. It was a big pain for me to fight him, but it would be even worse for someone who only had one of those things to use against him. It was just a question of whether their maximum output outpaced whatever he could take in. There had to be a limit- everything had a limit. “You might be a good counter for that power.”
Personally, I wanted to fight Antagonist. Once, at least. I had no idea what his power would do if it copied me, but I wanted to see it. It could be really interesting… or it might result in nothing at all.
Then again, at the moment I was willing to fight anyone. I was so close to level 15 I could taste it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my points, but I was thinking about upgrading a few things to be more efficient. I certainly wasn’t going to learn any higher level spells, but I might pick up a few lower ones. Unfortunately there were endless options, so I had to pick whatever I thought would go best with what I already had.