“Sorry, Lenny. I kinda screwed the pooch on that interview.” Shane said into his cell phone without preamble. His blunt tone didn’t mean his apology wasn’t genuine, as anyone who knew him for long would be able to tell, the attitude was merely a product of his upbringing. Mistakes were to be handled upfront and as soon as possible when he was raised and trained, grandpa especially preferring apologies and explanations that didn’t drag on.
“Not gonna lie to you, Shane; this could turn into a complete shit-show. As you probably already know, there’s a reason Heroes don’t get political often; say or promote the wrong thing at the wrong time and some people might refuse to be saved by you. And I know enough about Hero work that delays like that can be disastrous.” Lenny said, the clickity-clack sounds of keys on a keyboard being hit signaling that his attention was split even as he talked to Shane.
“Yeah… I know.”
“Up side though; that doesn’t seem to be happening. In fact, based on the reports I’ve read so far, you’re going to be making an ass-load of money.” Lenny replied.
“W- wait, what?” Shane stuttered in surprise.
“Yeah! Remember, I said it could have gone bad for you. But as it turns out; the idea of a descendant of Captain Starlight being a Hero that makes it his business to hunt down violent Nazis is incredibly appealing to the public. If I’m not careful you’ll run out of merchandise before the end of the week.”
That… wasn’t what Shane had ever even considered. Sure, if someone had asked him straight if most of the public would agree with his brunt line during that interview, he would’ve said yes with absolute confidence. But, to his rather embarrassed surprise, he’d been too caught up on the fact that he had misspoken instead of on what he’d actually said. “That’s… That actually makes me feel a hell of a lot better, and a little bit proud of the people in my town.”
“If you think that only the locals have got their eyes on you and your merchandise then you are in for a very pleasant surprise in the next few days.” Lenny said with a chuckle. “And that reminds me; we need something a little more physically iconic from you to sell as merch and it just so happens to coincide with the idea I’ve got for an amazing new addition to your costume.” Lenny said. “Tell me; How do you feel about cloaks?”
“I’d need to think on that, it might be a bit-“ Shane tried to say before being cut off by a call from out in the hall.
“Styx, are you ready? It’s time to get going.” Jack half-yelled from down the hall to be heard.
“I’ve got to go, we’ll talk about this later.” Shane said hurriedly before shutting off the phone, putting it on his desk, and picking up his Hero phone. He wasn’t a close-range fighter, sure, but a flowing cloak might be a little much.
It was the day Pulp had said would be best for meeting with Kurtis and Olivia. His nerves buzzed a bit in anticipation of the upcoming trip as he met up with Spectrum and Pulp. But the sight of the rest of the team lined up near the entrance waiting for them eased them a bit.
“You guys here to send us off?” Shane asked as he approached them, Pulp and Spectrum flanking him.
“Yeah.” Amy said with little enthusiasm.
“You bet.” Victoria followed up.
“I wanted to just relax, but Hugh made me come anyways.” Greg said dryly before giving Shane a wry grin.
Shane felt his spirits lift a bit at their answers, they’d all been honest in their own ways at least.
“It’s a bit of a tradition with this team to personally see off any members that go on completely new kinds of missions.” Rikki explained.
“It has been since the first leader, Prime, started this team. We’ve found that it can ease worries and nerves, always helpful for Heroes considering how things can get very violent very fast for us.”
“Aww, Thanks.” Pulp said before looking at each of the interns. “And don’t you three worry, I’ll be taking a different one of you, and your mentor, every time I go out for a ‘visit’. I’m going to be asking a lot in these meetings without being able to give much in return. And while I usually wouldn’t care about stepping on a few toes, some unpredictable and strong muscle will go a long way in stopping them from just telling me to fuck off.”
“So, we’re going to be thinly veiled bodyguards?” Hugh asked.
“I prefer the term; ‘specialized diplomacy assets’.”
* * *
The next two hours were quite peculiar as Pulp simply led them along as she traveled to different, slightly remote, spots in downtown passing messages along to seemingly innocuous people on the street. Until finally they were directed to a rundown theater, the old wood and metal of it’s frame practically screaming every time it was buffeted by the chilly, not quite winter, winds.
Which was a sharp contrast to the relatively put together area they arrived in, past several very nervous looking guards, which was in fact the stage area of the theater where two people lounged on a leather couch.
“Well, if it isn’t Pulp.” The bubbly looking woman with short black hair, who Shane assumed was Olivia, said. “And you’ve got our resident paragon of power and Nazi hunter in tow as well.”
The shorter man beside her was far less coy in his answer though. “This is quite bold of you Pulp. Honestly, if you hadn’t give us forewarning, I would’ve assumed you Heroes would finally be coming down us.” The man, presumably Kurtis, said.
Based on what Styx could see, they still considered that a possibility with how often the guards at the exits and around both Olivia and Kurtis glanced worryingly at both him and Spectrum. Though he did notice that a few of the eyes that lingered on his sleek and armored form were tinged with… not approval, but definitely less distrustful than the glances Spectrum or Pulp received. Interesting as that was though, he couldn’t let oddity stop him from fulfilling his role. “We came to talk business.” He said, his voice easily carrying to everyone in the room. Nobody would call it aggressive per say, but it definitely didn’t seem like objections would be appreciated.
Pulp nodded and stepped forward, placing herself in front of the two Heroes. “A little blunter than I’d prefer, but he is right. We’re not here for small talk or verbal dick jousting.”
“A little presumptuous for such a green Hero, wouldn’t you say?” Kurtis said, his hazel eyes watching Styx carefully as every guard shifted their attention a little more towards him.
Olivia cut threw the uncertain atmosphere though. “It’s fine. You guys can go take a break or get some jobs done while we talk.” She waved and the goons filtered out without pause. Her tone was calm, almost amused, and Styx had the inkling that of two individuals before them she was far more dangerous.
Kurtis huffed but didn’t voice any protest. “Well, now that our boys are out of earshot: What can we do for you?”
“We need info on the White Boars.” Pulp said without preamble, her mask partially gone now that the thugs weren’t around.
Kurtis had relaxed too, loosening the tie on his suit and leaning back. “I don’t give those fucks much attention, really. Couple of my boys keep watch over our territory and spotted them trying to recruit more though.” He explained. “The tech weapons, zealous followers, and abundance of Super muscle makes it dangerous to confront them.”
“Don’t judge Kurtis too harshly though; he takes it upon himself to guard our people and business. While I’ve been able to setup someone undercover in my free time and recently found out something very juicy.” Olivia said, her mouth twisted into a satisfied smile. “It seemed prudent to keep a closer eye on a group that’s causing that much of a shit-storm, it was a little hard convincing Tom to take the job though. Anyways; The boss of their outfit came down pretty hard on his tech-super. Not enough to cripple him, obviously, but definitely enough to keep him well in line; word is it was because he kept sensitive information in his ‘base’ and someone managed to steal it.”
Pulp ignored the look Olivia gave her and folded her arms. “Go on.”
“Her point is that the tech guy is probably gonna be sloppier and a little less stalwart in his loyalty after catching a beating like that. I bet if you found him and put on a little pressure he’d fold like wet paper.” Kurtis said, ignoring the pout directed at him by Olivia.
“That’s pretty forthcoming for you. And you haven’t made a single demand of payment.” Pulp questioned, her tone more curious than accusatory.
Olivia rolled her eyes at that. “Come on, Pulp. If our skin color wasn’t a big enough indicator; then our aversion to direct conflict and wanton violence should indicate that we both have a vested interest in getting such a recklessly violent gang out of this city.
Kurtis glanced over at Styx and Spectrum before voicing his own opinion. “And we got the feeling you might want something a little more comprehensive than usual. Besides, Tom does some work for both of us and he’s exceptionally loyal too. Don’t want a valuable asset like that getting any deeper into that cluster fuck of racists.”
“Thanks for then help, I owe you one.” The words Pulp said had a certain weight to them this time. Styx didn’t know exactly what a Hero like her could offer people like Kurtis and Olivia, either with her connections or power, but based on how both of them straightened up a bit, it was probably substantial.
The meeting went by fairly quickly after that, Pulp pumped them for more information for a few minutes and things ultimately ended with them having a few places where they were seen recruiting the most and the knowledge that their tech guy was injured and possibly open to persuasion. Not exactly a smoking gun, but far then what they’d had before.
“So, what happens now?” Styx asked as they made their way back onto the street.
“Now Pulp goes back to base to inform the rest of the team while you and I go on patrol for the day” Spectrum said before turning towards Pulp. “And we’ll need to discuss what exactly your favor entail.”
Pulp gave a sheepish smile, but no apology seemed forth coming.
“All that being said though; good work today. We’ve got a relaxing day planned tomorrow with helping pitch in with cleaning up the street where you cut up all that Super tech. There won’t be as many Heroes around but Corpies will be there to help out.”
“We’re gonna be babysitting Corpies all day tomorrow?” Pulp said, her tone decidedly not enthused.
Styx bristled a bit at that, “Corpies” was the slightly mean-spirited nickname PEERS teams were given and Pulp’s question indicated that she didn’t think much of them. The problem was that he’d seen how much good PEERS teams did over the past few months, cleaning up after almost every fight Heroes and criminal Supers got into. And their occupation and work ethic definitely helped with relations between humans and Supers as well.
“They’ve got a Hero liaison for that. Besides, I doubt it’ll take more than a few hours with them helping us. We Heroes are better at fighting but rescue work and collateral damage relief is their specialty.”