Laura Gisela was trying to rally and corral a group of violent, super powered narcissists currently going through a fit of collective panic and failing miserably. Mostly because, even if she would consciously never admit it, the European woman had much the same mentality. For now, though, Gisela was content to attribute it to the three men’s clear lack of rational thought compared to her.
“Calm down!” She yelled for the third time to finally get the overlapping arguments in the heavily reinforced metal room to cease, just as her power told her it would. “We all knew things could go awry when it came to this city. That’s why we gathered enough forces to cement ourselves and win.”
The live stream of the conflict between Aldie, there only international teleporter, and the three Heroes had already gotten their hackles up. The stream suddenly cutting off as soon Aldie used the inferior as a hostage and pointed his gun at Styx had put them into a full on panic.
“I’m not so sure about that anymore, love. They’ve torn through everything we’ve hit them with so far.” Jan whined, the man’s almost bleach blonde hair sticking to his forward with sweat. His rather disheveled appearance contrasting with the almost angelic glow of gray light coming from his skin. Gisela could respect the paranoia of always having one’s power active whenever feasible, but that didn’t make the difficulty in reading his expressions any less irritating.
“Those were probing strikes, nothing more, and the grunts we’ve sent have actually come close more than once. If we struck at them with a coordinated force we’d be seeing very different results. Right now, we should just keep focusing on reinforcing our position among the other gangs while sending out a few sacrificial lambs to distract the Heroes.” Gisela finished all this and then braced for the retort she felt Stefan would make.
“Stop with the incessant coddling and give it to us straight.” Stefan practically barked, right on cue, his broad shoulders hunched in agitation. Like the rest of them, there wasn’t any visual indicators of when he had his power ready but the movements her power foretold if she attacked made it more than obvious.
Gisela let Thomas, by far the least fit among with a large beer-belly and long stringy hair, beat her to the punch. “Aldie is one of the fastest teleporter I’ve seen and has amazing range.” His voice was filled with what most would call forced-confidence, his in experience in vouching for anyone other than himself showing. “They just need to drop that anchor for an instant while he’s paying attention and he’ll be states away.”
“Unfortunately, that won’t be happening.” The familiar voice made them all jump as it emanated from the laptop’s speakers at full volume.
“H- hello, Laurel.” Gisela said as she dearly wished her power worked through technology.
“Hello, Gisela.” Laurel replied. “As I was saying; Aldie is no longer with us.”
“Shit. It was Styx wasn’t it?” Stefan asked.
“You should’ve been worried about whether he’d been captured.” The woman admonished the man, her tone pitched as if talking to a particularly slow child. “And no; he followed protocol and made sure to self-terminate instead of being interrogated.”
A silence settled over the room as they all took that in, and everything it entailed for them.
“So, is that it? We’re just stuck here now?” Stefan said, his words unquestionably rhetorical.
Thomas snorted at the shorter man’s words. “The hell do you mean ‘we’? As if little-miss-oracle over there can’t escape even if everything completely went to shit.”
“Stop whining.” Laurel interjected, cutting off Gisela’s retort before it could even form. “This wasn’t some frivolous incursion. Retreat was always a worst-case scenario last resort option and I told you from the beginning that the DVA keeps too much of a watchful eye on international teleporters for me to grant you access to any you didn’t bring yourself.” Her voice dipped down from its normal apathetic and calm tone to something colder. “You came here, and I equipped you, to win; just fight and use your resources with any modicum of skill and things will start to go smoothly.”
Even though none dared to say so; In spite of their cultural differences, varying toxic personalities, and slight distrust they all internally swore at the end of Laurel’s lecture. Why did this damn American have to go and jinx it?
* * *
“You doin’ okay, man?” Greg asked as he, Vanessa, and Shane walked down one of the base’s many hallways. “They didn’t show it on the news, censors got it, but I heard the report; that must have been rough.”
“I should have guessed by the way he slurred a bit. It wasn’t because he was on anything, it was the pill in his mouth.” Shane replied, voice bitter.
It was a few hours after the teleporter incident and Shane had just finished his debriefing. The hostage was fine, after some healing and being put into custody, and was revealed to in fact be an officer from a private bodyguard service that didn’t know about his client’s criminal inclinations. The report on the now-deceased teleported hadn’t come in yet, but Shane thought he could make a pretty good guess as to which gang he worked for. “That pill speaks to a whole other level loyalty we’d never accounted for.”
“Sorry.” Vanessa said, voice tinged with guilt.
“What for? What happened wasn’t your fault.” Shane replied bluntly.
“Yeah, but still… I feel kind of bad that, while you were out there dealing with real shit, Greg and I were playing Spells, Swords, & Stealth.”
Shane opened his mouth, a reminder that taking periodic days off was important, before a better idea popped into his mind. “Oh, well then. I guess you should feel ashamed if you were playing that lame D&D knockoff.” It took an immense amount of willpower to stop a completely amused expression from appearing on his face as he saw Greg and Vanessa’s twist into supreme offense, though he couldn’t quite suppress a small smirk.
“Woah, back it up there, Shadow Man. It’s so much better than ole double D.” Greg shot back, all compassion and understanding disappearing from his voice.
“I mean, I guess you see it that way if you couldn’t appreciate the Shakespearian grace and deeper themes of the senior board game.” Shane shot back.
Vanessa let out a sound that seemed stuck between a snort of derision and sqawk of indignation before putting a hand on her hip and pointing the other at him perilously; clearly intent on giving him a long lecture with Greg looking like he wasn’t far behind.
Shane took the tongue lashing in stride as they made their way towards the meeting room, simply happy that they weren’t wasting time feeling sorry about him or guilty for enjoying their own well-earned free time.
A minute of nerd jousting later and they arrived in the main meeting room to see everyone was already seated, with only Steve and Maria standing off to the side. Shane noticed that they’d been whispering something to each other before quickly stopping as soon as they walked through the door but shelved it away as just “odd” before going to sit beside his mentor. Despite the somber start to his day, he was looking forward to this.
With everyone seated, Jack cleared his throat and began speaking. “I’m not a particularly coy person so I’ll be upfront about this: In light of recent problems, and the informative council of my comrades, we have elected to bring on another Hero of the more cunning persuasion. Someone I believe most of you have already met.”
And then, with a familiar ‘swoosh’ sound, one of the metal door slid open and Pulp stepped through in full costume. “Hey, new teammates!”
There was some cheering at the confirmed arrival of a new member, exuberance at the prospect of a more permanent residence. As helpful and determined as the interns were, all of the mentors had noticed by now that Amy and Shane would most likely jump at the chance to form their own teams not long after their two years were up; most likely taking Greg and Vanessa along with them.
“So… what’s your power?” Amy asked without preamble.
“Well, I guess I could deign to tell you all what my ability is.” Pulp said with mock arrogance before straightening up when Jack gave her look. “Well, there’s not much to say really; I’m a carbon manipulator.”
“What?” Vanessa asked, her eyes wide.
“Let me finish.” Pulp said before anyone else could interrupt, people always got carried away with questions when she told them. “I can manipulate the carbon element of anyone or thing I make skin contact with, primarily concerning where it’s concentrated and intensity. Obviously, I can use my power on myself to be a strongman and I can use it to punch through almost anything by weakening the density of carbon in an area the moment I land a hit.” Pulp relished the wide and astonished looks she got as she described her power; it was a rare occasion indeed that Subtlety Hero got to impress their peers with how combat capable a power they had on top of having a sharp mind.
Then her eyes flicked to the side at Steve for a moment before continuing. “I’ve got a few other tricks up my sleeves of course, mostly involving manipulating how loose or rigid the carbon inside something is, but we can cover that in a proper power assessment later; we have more important things to discuss today. Spectrum didn’t call this big meeting together just to introduce little ol me.”
“She’s right; now that we’ve got the introductions out of the way we should move onto the more tactical side of this meeting: Pulp and Steve have some important information to relay to us.” Jack said before gesturing for Steve to step forward.
“First of all, I’d like to apologize for the delay.” Steve said first, expertly suppressing the urge to squirm under the attention of so many people. “Company business arose concerning a private military company trying to contract us for less than legal services… again. But being personally contracted by the DVA to help analyze technology made my employee’s especially motivated get on top of things. Here is our report about the most recent laser weapons you’ve had used against you: They’re trash.”
“Uh, what do you mean “trash”?” Greg asked. “They aren’t anything too fancy sure, but from what I’ve been told they’ve got a lot of power.”
Steve shook his head with a smile. “I admire how much firepower you guys have, and it means you recognize destructive potential when you see it, but you smash through opposition so fast you don’t notice the nuances of someone’s defenses. Yes, their laser weapons are unusually strong but that’s all they have; they’re fragile, imprecise, unwieldy, and have an incredibly high recharge time.” Steve said as a schematic of the very gun he was talking about appeared on the monitor mounted to the wall. And now that they got better look, un-warped by the heat of combat, everyone could see that he was right. Well, at least about the design, there a clear emphasis on looking intimidating over actual balance and ease-of-use.
He continued on. “This is why Police, soldiers, and Heroes have only been given gradual and nuanced increases to their standard gear and aren’t running around in power armor or using laser weapons; anything of quality takes too much time and resources to mass produce. And where there is attempted mass production of tech-genius inventions, there is a lot of money and bluster.”
Then Pulp stepped forward and picked up where his speech ended. “And the bragging and dealing becomes infinitely more blatant and uncontrolled when violent idiots are the primary consumers of such weaponry. The guys at the top of this gang might be more disciplined but the grunts and Super muscle they recruited are far less concerned about openly intimidating and showing off to the other gangs. And, most importantly, ”
“Are just going to tickle our balls all day or is there a point your getting to?” Rikki heckled from her seat next to Amy, though both her expression and tone indicated that she spoke with no real malice. Amy, for her part, merely rolled her eyes at her mentor’s crass outburst; she had long since gotten use to them.
“Well, since you asked so nicely I guess I’ve got no choice.” Pulp said. “You all already know how to beat the common Super thug and occasional maniac with more power than sense. I’d say it’s time you learned how to negotiate information out of, let’s say, individuals of questionable relation to the criminal element in this city. And I hear you guys already know about some of the local ones, but I’m betting the interactions have been brief at best.” At everyone’s nod she revealed the two individuals she thought would be most useful; “Olivia” and “Kurtis”, gun and drug connections respectively. “And if we put on just the right amount of pressure we might get something about this enhancing drug as well.”
Shane felt his spirits rise past the somber mood that had settled over him after the day’s events. This was a new opportunity, he’d never been trained in this kind of negotiation, he’d mostly focused on Close Combat and Control in the HCP. And, despite the increase in stakes and lethality, the fights he’d gotten into since becoming a Hero had actually been easier than the Sim battles.
“Of course, we’ll have to wait until after Spectrum and Styx finish with their interview tomorrow. They’ll be the ones I have tag along with me and record the conversation.”
The groan Shane let out then wasn’t terribly loud but the annoyance was clear to everyone that heard it.