Greg hadn’t known exactly what to expect when he walked into the now-familiar debriefing room that Maria liked to use, but an absolutely merciless grilling definitely wasn’t it.
“You used a civilian’s car as weapon, damaging it completely beyond repair. Willingly attacked multiple controlled innocents and taunted a criminal that held hostages.” Maria’s tone wasn’t heated, but definitely clipped and practically demanded everyone’s attention. “Am I getting all of that right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Shane answered. His helmet was off, and his suit was mostly dry after getting out of the rain for a while. He seemed mostly unfazed by Maria’s unusually harsh questioning, save for sharing the same grim-yet-determined look Spectrum had on his face.
“And on top of that you repeatedly ordered around officers that arrived on the scene and assaulted one of them twice. Honestly, with how panicked the public’s been lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were turned into a scapegoat to show how the Heroes are obviously mishandling things.” Maria continued.
Greg couldn’t take anymore then, his mouth opened before his brain could get a word in edgewise and started to say. “Hey now, you know-”
“I know, what?” Maria said sternly, not quite a shout, but loud enough to easily cut him off. “That Shane didn’t really have much choice in the matter? That, given the situation, things ended exceptionally well with zero civilian casualties? That stopping that officer from shooting those kids was a good call?” Her tone was obviously rhetorical. “Of course I know that, because I have the perspective and knowledge to put all of that together. But those scared kids, the police chief, the public, and some media outlets don’t or purposefully chose not to. In the next twenty-four hours there’ll be at least four different versions of this story spreading throughout the city, and I’m willing to bet none are going to point him in a positive light.”
Greg looked ready to argue the point, but his mentor cut him off before he could start.
“She’s right, Greg.” Hugh said. “It’s happened with everyone on the team at least three times.”
“And she’s always been right in how fast misinformation spreads and it makes relations a bit more strained for a time until things are cleared up.” Spectrum agreed. “It isn’t exactly a common thing for any Hero but when it does happen things can quickly spiral.”
“She didn’t do this when things kinda went to shit during the harbor fight.” Greg muttered.
“Because Gadreel was dealing with the emotions from her first kill and the fight wasn’t very public. This situation was decidedly different.” Maria replied promptly, as if she were professor trying to instill a concept into a particularly thick student’s head.
“Thanks for trying to stand up for me, though.” Shane spoke up, making purposeful eye contact with his teammate. “I heard stories from my grandfather of DVA representatives that aren’t nearly so constructive with their criticism as Maria is. It’d be nice for someone to have my back if our future team gets a less-than-understanding one.”
Greg genuinely smiled at that, gratitude and comradery warming his heart. At least until Maria turned on him.
“Now as for you, Samshiel; let’s talk about that casualty you made.” Maria said before pulling a few forms from her briefcase. “Let’s go over exactly how many forms you’ll need to fill out for intentionally killing a combatant that was unaware of your presence.”
Greg’s demeanor deflated like a popped balloon as his smile of gratitude turned into one of chagrin.
It was after the debriefing was over that Shane finally found an opportunity to talk to the team’s newest member.
Pulp was lifting weights in the work out room, or at least she was trying to. Shane had walked by the entrance while she was in the section reserved for Elizabeth and Vanessa that held the heavy-duty ultra dense weights. The older Hero was barely able to hold the barbell parallel to her stomach, and by the time Shane had walked further into the room he could see a vein throbbing on her neck and near her temple.
He figured that just out and asking someone to give you more personal information about them was rude, so Shane decided to stick to his plan of letting casual conversation carry things. Besides, he had a more practical reason for approaching Pulp anyways. “I don’t mean to discourage, but maybe you should take a rest.” He said from more than a meter away, careful to be clear just in case she dropped it out of surprise.
His caution proved unnecessary though; Pulp merely grunted before setting the barbell down gently and responding. “Like most strongmen, I’m tougher than I am strong.” She let out a pant before continuing. “Even if I dropped that thing on my foot it would barely strain the skin, let alone legitimately hurt me. Besides; it’s always good to occasionally stress the limits of a power, to measure growth if nothing else.”
“True enough.” Shane said. “You’d think something as impressive as carbon manipulation would be have more applications than making things stronger or weaker.”
“There are; It’s just that most aren’t as immediately applicable to combat or my many ninja skills.”
Shane’s usually stony expression cracked at that comment with a light snicker. “Ninja skills?”
“Subtlety classes teach you how to be a ninja and nothing you say can convince me otherwise.” Pulp replied. “Besides; I thought I’d give a joke that was just as silly as your approach was obvious.”
Shane huffed out a bit of a laugh. “Didn’t fool you for a second?”
“You we’re barely subtler than my first date, and she thought slapping my ass was a good conversation starter.” With that she brushed aside the strands of hair stuck to her sweaty brow and took a long draw from a water bottle she’d set off to the side. “So, what did you really come in here to ask me about?”
“I wanted to ask about the afterwards of the potential base assaults.” Shane said simply. “I’m fairly confident we can win, but won’t we be in the exact same position afterwards? Just waiting for them to make a move again while have to recover from the fallout.”
“Oh, is that all? That’s actually the simplest part.” She said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I’ve seen the inside of that gang and gotten a few reports from other Subtlety Heroes in the city. So, unless they’ve exponentially expanded their ranks, an assault like they’re planning will definitely stretch them thin and leave their network more vulnerable and less secure. Not to mention that if we move quickly enough, and assuming most of them survive the fight, the criminals can be interrogated for info on more specific people and places we need to run down.”
Shane nodded in understanding, though he did raise one more doubt. “You seem awfully sure they’re going to over-commit to this strike instead of playing it safe.”
Pulp shrugged. “The people that are actually in charge will keep themselves safe, or at least try to. But as for the gang’s local leaders and members; it’s just who they are. I’ve seen over a dozen gangs like them and the White Boars don’t seem to be any different.” She explained. “They’re like bullies, people I’ve got ample experience with; Over confident, an inflated view of their own physical or social power, desperate to prove something, and too proud to pass up a chance to beat on someone they think is beneath them.”
Shane initially nodded his understanding before tilting his head. “Wait, ‘ample experience.’?”
“Yeeaaah.” Pulp said, dragging out the word to a near comical extent. “High school sucks for most people but I seemed to draw an especially shitty stick when it came to the sheer concentration of sadistic pimple-poppers. And being black, gay, and a Super only exacerbated the problem in my neighborhood down in Colo-.”
Before Pulp could finish her sentence, much to Shane’s frustration, Dispatch’s voice suddenly crackled to life in both of their ears. <Be advised; Obsidian Wraith and Gadreel are currently engaged in conflict with a Super gang. Though it is my estimation that they will not need assistance.”
Despite the mysterious woman’s reassurance during the end of her update, both Heroes cursed under their breath before rushing off to get suited up.
Today just seemed to be determined to be all kinds of hectic and unpleasant.