Star Dog: Earth’s Last Shield 1.17

Bandit looked at everything Caleb had set up in the backyard of the Academy where people rarely went. Targets crudely made from humanoid shapes of hay dotted the small, secluded lawn. The day was turning out to be overcast, just like Bandit’s mood. He turned to Caleb, who was crouched with his hands on his knees and looking positively jubilant.

“I think I did a great job,” he said with optimism in his voice. Bandit stared at him.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Just give it a try, will you? We need to be able to consistently reproduce what you did on the street. It won’t matter if we can find Raymond until you do.” There was a certain frustration in his voice that Bandit picked up on. Although they had some major breakthroughs yesterday realizing his motives, they had searched all day and been unable to find a hulking golem in the middle of Grism City. Whatever happened, he must have spent the day laying low. The least they could do with the time was practice so Bandit was ready, Caleb reasoned.

“What if I can’t do it?” Bandit looked solemnly at the targets, their misshapen hay heads mocking him.

“You won’t know until you try.”

“Fine,” Bandit said as he relented. He took a few tentative steps a few strides away from the nearest target. He eyed it up and bounced on his feet. Then he trotted until he was almost upon it, and then slammed forward in a full stop. Purple energy trickled off him as a wall, but it passed neatly through the target, barely bristling it. Caleb sighed.

“It’s okay, try again. If you can stop a bus, you can do better than that.”

“Why don’t you try, and I’ll encourage you from the sidelines?” Bandit asked with a biting tone, but Caleb just ignored him. The sable canine back up and tried again, this time going faster. When the purple wall of energy slid off him this time, it at least bent the target backwards. Again faster, it almost knocked it over from a short run’s worth of stored energy.

“Maybe try a different approach. Can you make any other shapes?” Caleb asked.

“I’m sorry. Is my supernatural power not as good as yours?” Bandit asked inquisitively. His innocent tone caught Caleb off guard, who stuttered a response.

“I don’t have one-”

“That’s what I thought.” Bandit backed up again, and despite his tone, when he ran at the target this time, he went a lot faster and instead of slamming on his front legs to stop, he twirled in a half circle. He felt the energy building up inside him start to swirl as well as it traveled along his spine. It came out as a long scythe that followed the curve of his body and the whip of his tail sent it sprawling into the target, which fell to the ground in clean pieces as if it had been sliced by a katana. Bandit looked at it with awe.

“Now that’s what I like to see!” Caleb clapped loudly and whooped. Buoyed by the result, Bandit rushed at the next target and repeated it, spinning on the spot to throw his inertia off his body and into the target, and the same thing happened. Tiny straws of hay fluttered satisfyingly to the ground, and a canine smile spread over Bandit’s face.

“I think I have it now. Watch.” Bandit raced after the next target and practiced different angles of slicing, most of which relied on the flick of his tail at the end of his run and stop. How he curved his body did most of the work, but all of the finesse was in the tail. As targets were obliterated, he started getting more and more precise in his cuts, and his exuberance overflowed into Caleb as well, who cheered with each conquest. On the very last target, Bandit leapt in the air and did a front flip, coming down hard with his tail for a perfect vertical slice of purple energy. He turned to Caleb, panting from the exertion, but looking fulfilled nonetheless.

“Do you think you’re ready?” Caleb asked.

“Well, if he were a hay golem, I’d say we have him right where we want him,” Bandit said through his panting, and Caleb smiled.

“We’re on the right track. Do exactly what you did, but just get some more inertia behind it. It takes practice.”

“I’m glad you’re such an expert.”

“You should be.” Caleb winked. “Now come on, we have another task to attend to.”

“Oh boy.” Bandit groaned as he followed his partner.

* * *

After a quick trip to the fabric store, they were on their way home. Bandit didn’t fully catch on, but Caleb’s wide, relentless smile and cheerful humming put him on edge. What was this man planning?

“You can’t exactly confront the golem as yourself. It would complicate things for you, and for me. We’d have to answer a lot of questions that we can’t, and it would bring us too much attention. At least for now, until we know what’s going on,” Caleb explained as he held up pieces of fabric to Bandit’s sable pattern.

“Uh huh,” Bandit said. “What does all that mean, exactly? What are you doing now?”

“Every superhero wears a disguise. We need to get yours situated.” Caleb held up a sheet of shimmering violet.

“I don’t think so.” Bandit tried to side-step away, but Caleb got a quick grip on his collar.

“Do you think supernaturally-gifted K-9 officers qualify for the Hall of Fame?”

Bandit stopped resisting and thought about it for a moment before asking, “So, what shade goes with my eyes? Let’s go with the redder purple.”

“That’s more like it,” Caleb said as he chuckled, then he stopped himself. “Wait, can you see color?”

“I guess so,” Bandit said, and he sounded surprised. “I didn’t realize it until just now. I mean, it happened so slowly. I can barely remember what it was like seeing before.”

“That’s weird,” Caleb admitted. “Hey, do you have a superhero name you wanted to use? You might as well get ahead of that before the press assigns you something stupid.”

Bandit thought about it for a moment, along with everything else that happened to him since that fateful encounter in the subway. He remembered what he had seen through the thin veil, and how he had felt with his entire body seizing. A ghost of a memory haunted him, and it was the echo of one name that he couldn’t escape. He looked at himself in the mirror without his police vest on for once in a long time, and he noticed something that had flourished. On his left shoulder, his black hairs had receded and the cream shone through brilliantly in the shape of a star. There was no mistaking it, and he knew what his name had to be. It felt like destiny.

“Star Dog.”

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