The next few weeks of Stella’s life were occupied with paperwork, seminars, training, more paperwork, and a stint shadowing each of the other Intervention teams on several cases. Specifically, she was assigned to follow the cowboy Bruce Ramirez most of the time, as her powers were similar to his. With her memories fully restored, Stella also gained a much greater appreciation for Bruce, and his way of dealing with kids and situations that she had to admit would have gotten the better of her.
The vast majority of cases were pre-teen kids just coming into their abilities who’d accidentally caused minor harm to others, or themselves. One especially sad case was of a powered boy who teleported whenever he was startled. A classmate did it on purpose, and the poor kid ended up teleporting at random from one scary situation to the next until his power left him exhausted, traumatized, and over 500 miles from his home.
Bruce only had to intervene physically on a few occasions, and spent a lot of time coaching Stella on how to use her strength in her role as team guardian. As usual for them, this talk occurred over a wonderful restaurant lunch. Since they teleported all over the Southwest and West Coast, Linda Anderson’s team had an enviable knowledge of some of the best restaurants in the United States.
“The best thing ya got to offer isn’t your strength,” said Bruce. “It’s that you can turn into a lady made of shiny metal. You need to find a way to make that work for you, like hand out little toy robots or something, and I know you’re about to interrupt, but let me finish.
“Ya need to find what works for you. I’m just giving an example. On that subject, I know ya been busy with all that paperwork and training, but are ya keeping up with your self-defense training? You’ve been working on it being all about the holds and controls, right?”
“Yeah,” said Stella. “It’s harder now though. I never used my power much after… You know. The Lander thing. I get so heavy when I’m shifted, I’ve had to work on how to not step on someone’s foot by accident. Or slam into them too hard.”
“It’s a tough one,” Bruce acknowledged. “You’re a smart girl, and you’ve got some smart people at the DVA willing to help out. Speaking of, have you seen Monique yet?”
“I haven’t shadowed Jane yet, so I haven’t spent much time with Jamie’s team. Schedule conflicts you know.”
“Have you tried all that hard?”
“No. It’s just…”
“It’s just that you’re afraid of letting her get a good look, because it might turn out that your power is inferior and broken in some way. I been there, and trust me when I tell ya that letting Monique have a look is only a good thing.
“I used to be an inferior strong man, more tough than strong, but Monique showed me that I was totally wrong, and for this work, my ability couldn’t be better. I ain’t a strong man, I’m an absorber. My skin and muscle and bone suck up damage like a sponge. It means that if a kid with abilities is lashing out, I’m usually as tough and strong as I need to be to handle it. It also means that I don’t go flying all over the place when I get hit being a danger to others.”
“That’s amazing,” said Stella. “But…”
“No ‘buts’ in this conversation girl.” Bruce pulled his DVA issue tablet from a leather messenger bag. “Looks like Jamie’s team is free for the afternoon, and I just sent her a message, cleared your calendar, and you have an appointment with our resident enhancer in an hour.”
“Wait… She’s an enhancer?!?!”
Stella was stunned. Enhancers were one of the rarest subtypes of super. Near mythical beings who could make other people’s abilities stronger, or even improve normal humans. The upshot was that they could name their price when selling their services.
Bruce shrugged noncommittally. “Not really. She can’t make people stronger, but she can, I dunno… Put ya in touch with your ability. She can even help powered kids get some control over what sets them off. She’s kinda weird about categorization, but if ya corner her, she’ll call it coaching instead of enhancing. Accordin’ the DVA though, she’s an enhancer.”
Stella acknowledged her defeat, and instead turned her full attention to the meal in front of her. Anything less would have been sacrilege, and so it was that later that day found Stella Hawkins yet again in one of the large sparring rooms underneath the DVA Research and Development building. This time with the stern and serious looking Monique Lopez. It made a certain kind of sense that she called her ability ‘coaching’ as she really did look like the type of gym coach that was in better shape than any of her students.
“Good afternoon Stella,” she said in an accent too faint for Stella to guess at. “Do you want to do a little sparring first, or do you want to get right to it?”
“Lets just do this,” Stella said nervously. “If there’s anything more that’s wrong about my ability let’s just get this over with.”
“Wrong? You are being ridiculous. Your power is strong, but I bet those fools in the HCP just told you to get strong and fast and hit things yeah? That’s the problem with the HCP sometimes. They see a power that makes someone tough and strong, and unless the student is sharp and motivated, they just say: ‘You are going to be combat, and if you can’t hit and take a hit, you’re not good enough.’
“I know you feel ashamed for failing, so did I, because I didn’t fit in their little categories, and when I told my professors that they didn’t know anything about super abilities, well I was a bit of a problem for everyone when I was nineteen. It doesn’t change that your professors were still idiots, since you can turn only part of your body into metal. What those fools upstairs call shifters do their thing all or nothing. Even I can’t show Jane how to turn just her nose into a trunk.”
Stella’s curiosity was piqued. “So what can you do for Jane?”
“She can turn into any large mammal, or something that’s like a mix. Rhino girl, Hippo girl, we even did manatee girl once. Same general power, but the surfaces are different.”
“I know the others told you how this works, because they like bragging about their ‘enhancer’.” Monique even did the sarcastic air quotes thing with her hands at that. “I’m going to put my hands on your skin, the head is best, so is that OK?”
“Ok good. Now I want you to play around with your steel shifting. Show me all the tricks you know.”
Stella obliged by turning her whole body into steel. It was the first thing she ever did, and it came easily to her. She did this several times; showing how she could go back and forth between flesh and metal faster than any other shifter.
“You’re boring me here chica. Show me something I don’t already know from just looking at you.”
Stella frowned, but remembered a stupid trick from her lander days, changing just a few fingers into metal, which was way more convenient than finding a bottle opener. Then she remembered a trick from when she was twelve, and turned just her fingernails and toenails into metal.
“Ever try turning into something else?”
“What? No! That’s not my power.”
“Did you ever try?”
“What’s the point? I never needed to be anything other than steel.”
Monique actually shook with frustration, and her accent got stronger. “Augh! Estúpido! Why are all supers so lazy! We have the most miraculous gifts of the angels from God, and you do nothing with it! Here, let me show you!”
Monique’s hands on Stella’s head glowed, and understanding hit Stella like a brick to the head. She saw her power laid out in front of her in all of its complexity, and wondered how indeed she could have been so stupid. She was not a shifter, she was more like her ex-classmate Chad Taylor, one of the most potent and dangerous fighters in her class. She could grab metallic elements from all around herself, and infuse her muscles, her nerves, her bones, and even her organs with metallic elements and alloys.
Stella reached into that new understanding, and transformed just her skin into copper; feeling how her power let her manipulate and twist what should have been inflexible metal so it worked like human skin.
“It’s a good color on you,” Monique complimented.
“And I’ll never be knocked out by electricity again!”
“I’d always get knocked out when someone hit me with electricity, and it’s because my metal sucked up all of it, but under it all I was still flesh. Now I can make my skin more conductive than what’s under it, and it’ll just flow over me, but… Will you be enhancing me every day?”
“No, it takes too much out of me, and that’s just what you could do on your own with practice. I didn’t broaden your power. Here, let me show you.”
Again, Monique’s hands glowed bright, and Stella felt her power expand. She didn’t feel stronger, just able to do more, though she found Monique’s assertion that she was not an enhancer ludicrous. Stella reached into her broadened capabilities and turned into marble, concrete, plastic, and glass. Then turned into an amalgam of different substances, but before she could get used to it, Monique took the power away.
“I don’t want you getting used to that. Every day, I’ll give you just enough to improve your power on your own, and we’ll do a bit of coaching, but you gotta promise to stick with us, and not use this to go running back to the HCP. We’ve had that happen a few times too many.”
“No worries Monique. I don’t think I was ever meant to be a hero. Not any more.”