“So, you’re not going to play?” Levi, or rather Tanya, asked, giggling with mirth in anticipation.
“Fuck no.” Shane shock his head, a smile on his face.
“Aww, but your friends love playing it so much.” Tanya said with mock sadness. “They’ll be devastated.”
“I’ve got no inclination to both get drunk and play a knockoff of a D&D game that has way too many rules for its own good. Especially when Samshiel is the fucking worst when comes to playing remotely fair.”
“It can’t be that bad.”
Shane huffed. “The one time I tried playing with him and Gadreel he tried to steal my lucky dice.”
Tanya couldn’t hold it in any longer, a genuine laugh bobbled up from her throat and she clapped her hands lightly together.
Shane tried to keep his firm facial express for a few more seconds before the grin he’d been suppressing broke across his face. He just felt so… relaxed right now. Despite Tanya’s words, they hadn’t actually talked about the car crash much. He’d told her exactly what happened and all she did was make a ‘tsk’ sound and stated firmly that is wasn’t his fault before moving on to talking about some new Hero movie coming out soon. And that somehow had led to him admitting that he didn’t like the board game, “Spells, Swords, and Stealth”, that his teammates seemed so taken with.
“You look good.” Tanya said suddenly, eyes clearly checking over his expression.
“Oh, uh, thanks. I tried to make sure that my clothes matched and this is kinda my best jacket.”
“Not that, fool.” His girlfriend lightly admonished, slapping his hand. “I meant this is the first time I’ve seen you so happy. I always figured Heroes would get bored on regular old dates.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “No, the DVA ensures that Heroes, regardless of their base’ location, sees action on at least a weekly basis.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.” Tanya said, nodding a bit and Shane saw a little glimmer of something in her eyes. Face almost twitching into an expression of excitement.
“Would you like to talk about Hero things?”
“Umm, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” The older woman said hesitantly, though she did look hopeful.
“Don’t tell me your saying that just because you think I’ll think you’re just dating me because I’m a hero?” Shane asked.
Tanya pursed her lips, the universal sign that someone had guessed her intentions.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine by me. Though I would like to know why you’re so interested in hearing these things from me specifically?”
Tanya mulled the question over a moment before confidently responding. “I’ve always kind of been obsessed with weird factoids of the Hero world after my powers manifested. And it kinda feels like a husband that works for the FBI telling his wife benign secrets.”
Shane tactfully avoided drawing attention to her ‘husband and wife’ analogy and addressed her actual point. “What I’ve told you aren’t really secrets; just things that aren’t discussed much outside of Hero circles or that the media downplays. In a world of telepaths and easy internet access keeping something a secret is exhaustingly difficult, so the DVA actually has very few truly classified subjects they permanently keep under-wraps.”
“See?! That’s what I’m talking about!” Tanya exclaimed. “I love hearing stuff like that.”
“Okay then.”, Shane chuckled good naturedly. “What would you like to hear about then?”
“Well…”, Tanya contemplated for a moment. “I’d like to ask about the number of Supers the Pristine Strikers have been fighting. I know it hasn’t been bad recently, but not long-ago you guys would get into major gang fights once or twice a week. Supers are supposed to be rare and I know most of the gang members don’t get away.”
“Ah, that would mostly be the White Boars. And you’re not wrong, it’s a little unusual for a single gang to focus so much on one team, but the amount isn’t too unusual.” Shane started before tilting his head to the side, as if listening to something. And then for the first time Tanya saw the small, silver device in his left ear.
“Something up?” The dark-skinned woman asked.
“Nah, my team can handle it.” The younger man reassured her. “Now as I was saying; there’s easily over two-hundred criminal Supers in this city alone. And at least a quarter of them are what people would think of as violent, while the rest are thieves at worst.”
* * *
“Get a move on!”, Gadreel yelled.
“I’m trying!”, Samshiel shouted back as he avoided another pillar of dark metal that tried to knock him out of the sky.
Shit, things had spiraled so out of control.
They’d gotten a pretty banal call about armed robbery involving three Supers holding a section of some small-time mall at the edge of Brooklyn hostage. No information to go on besides them apparently “appearing out of thin air”, black pillars blocking any exits, and one of them using energy blasts to drop anyone that tried to stop them while they ransacked the place. No confirmed dead though, which showed that the crooks had at least a shred of humanity.
They’d gone for what their mentor’s told them was closet thing to standard procedure for these types of situations. Just to start with; send in the strongmen to engage the threats up close, Gadreel and Obsidian Wraith, and have your ranged guys wait by the most likely exit in case anyone managed to run.
The two strongwomen had flown into, and then smashed through, the pillar of pitch metal that seemed to have sprouted up to block the entrance. The glossy column seemed to have grown directly beneath the sliding doors, crushing the metal and glass thing, before stopping just as it hit the top of the frame. The fact that it took more than a few blows from both Gadreel and Obsidian Wraith to get in was a testament to the constructs’ sturdiness.
About two minutes later, as Samshiel and Terram waited by the entrance, the intern having made two shields and kept eight orbs whizzing around his own body, was when things went wrong.
First, they both flinched as they heard, then saw, another column of metal crash through the top of the mall. Then, before either Hero could react, a fizzling, orchid-pink beam of energy as thick as a house phased through the entire entrance and slammed into them. The beam was near instantaneous, faster than a bullet, and made them both collapse and violently spasm as the energy dissipated soon afterwards.
Samshiel, pushing past what he could only describe as the phantom-pain coursing through him and a piercing numbness through his heart, managed to maintain his energy constructs.
So as soon as a small black box streaked through the now-gaping entrance he had the presence of mind to put his shield in front of its path. The box shattered, the sound louder than the small object would suggest, while his barrier didn’t even budge. Three doll-sized figures fell from the shattered box before rapidly growing into fully-sized people in mid-air, landing in a tangle of limbs.
Both Terram and Samshiel put in extra effort towards getting back up as they saw the ski-masks and quickly deduced that these were their perps, who had probably been using some kind of travel-based power that condensed their physical forms. But neither got up in time to stop the group of thieves before they scrambled to their feet, running around the glowing shield.
Samshiel realized that if they got another chance to manifest that weird box, then catching them might become impossible. So, with another force of will he de-materialize the shield, resolving them into the four eclipse-balls of energy and force that had formed the barrier, and made them whip forward and perforate the legs of the scrawniest one. While simultaneously forming a platform underneath himself with orbs already near him.
His choice in target was process of elimination really; The one with a vaguely feminine figure past the thick, winter clothes had flickers of energy dancing between her fingers, and of the other two he figured the one with a power that made physical movement obsolete would be the least well built. And his guess turned out to bare fruit as the scrawny figure collapsed due to his injuries the others rushed forward to support him, instead of simply disappearing into another black box.
He smiled, despite still mostly being physically disabled, as Terram staggered back to all fours, the enhanced endurance of his shifted form apparently letting him shake off the effects of the energy attack much faster than Samshiel. Whose grin widened even further as Gadreel, admittedly at an uneven gate, ran through the entrance just as Obsidian Wraith soared down from above.
This feeling for only a few seconds before one of the crooks, the one Samshiel guessed was the pillar maker, cupped his free hand as a black liquid seemed to coalesce on his palm in the shape of a sphere. With a flick of his wrist he sent the ball sailing behind them as they fled, it’s shape dissolving into dozens of droplets that, after impacting the ground, became large puddles of black sludge.
“Aw, shi-“ Was all Gadreel got out before a sea of dark spires erupted between them and their quarry.
And now here they were; Samshiel hanging for dear life as he rode one of his shields, Gadreel and Obsidian Wraith flying, and Terram trying to jump through a maze of shifting pillars. And Samshiel’s own rather piss-poor progress was rapidly revealing why he often never used his barriers as flying carpets; they were fine when used as stationary platforms but were so lacking in friction that it made hanging on during flight a supreme challenge.
He mentally weaved himself around another pillar as Gadreel jerkily flew ahead, she’d obviously been hit by the energy as well since her control over her propulsion was demonstrably less fine than usual. Obsidian Wraith seemed unaffected though as she tried to navigate the pillars, likely thanks to her in-organic form, and Terram jumped with his typical uncanny grace after having fully recovered.
Now this all might have been manageable if not for the fact that the super could apparently shift the trajectory of eruption and even make mini-pillars suddenly sprout from the main one; like branches the size of telephone poles sprouting from a tree the size of a building. It gave Terram a challenge while also giving convenient footholds for his hulking form to gracefully swing from. But the shifting angles of eruption and the mini-pillars sprouting from the side, and taking into account the thief had thrown out well over three dozen, made Obsidian Wraith’s attempts to fly around the collation increasingly frustrating.
“Ah, fuck this! Gadreel, follow me!” The older Heroine shouted, apparently forgetting her communicator transmitted her words just fine without needing to raise her voice. She immediately streaked down towards the largest pillar in the center of the structure as Gadreel abandoned her flight in midair, propelling herself straight down and landed with a shuddering impact before leaping to her mentor’s side.
It wasn’t hard to figure out Obsidian Wraith’s plan from there; So, after only a few exchanged words, both Heroine’s cocked their fists back before punching the base of the pillar as hard as they could. Their combined strength easily causing a fissure that spanned almost the entire of its base, and before it could fall naturally Terram took the opportunity to jump up and kick the pillar with all the force and momentum of his several hundred-pound body directly down the middle of the remaining field of obstacles.
The massive pillar rapidly tipped over before crashing into its brethren with a metallic clang, and for amount it looked like the others might hold, before slowly, then rapidly speeding up, the ones hit began to tip over and cause a domino effect. Seconds later, and after a veritable avalanche of toppled pillars, the team of Heroes finally had a clear line of sight and path to the fleeing crooks.
Where upon they all had to swerve to the side and avoid the massive beam of numbing, crackling energy; this time only the size of a truck instead of a house.
Samshiel could see that they we’re nearly at the end of the parking lot now, approaching a large, black pick-up. The vehicle wouldn’t be able to outpace Gadreel or Obsidian Wraith, but all the thieves would need would be a few seconds for their teleporter to lie down and focus past the pain for them to be whisked away faster than a thought. They wouldn’t be able to reach them in time.
Luckily, they didn’t have to. Second part of standard procedure; Keep your heavy damage dealer and all other teammates hidden and waiting for the opportunity to ambush the enemy.
Just as the trio were frantically stumbling forward, only a few meters away from their get-away vehicle, Spectrum stepped out from behind the vehicle, a ball of lightning already in his hand and pointed at the group.
They had just enough time for their eyes to widen before the blast of electricity consumed them and put them on the ground in a fit of spasms as Crusader and Simikiel descended on them from above, blades lashing out.
* * *
“Are there more of them than there are Heroes?” Tanya asked in a mock conspiratorial.
“Absolutely, easily more than double.” Shane said without hesitation. “Always have been, probably will be for decades to come.” This was one, of many, lessons that his grandfather had drilled into both his and his sister’s heads. It was the same reason why fighting multiple opponents at once took up a whole year of training at all HCPs; While less common these days, it has never been unusual for an entire Hero team to be outnumbered during fights.
“Then uh, not to be too blunt about this, but then why don’t they just band together and try to overwhelm you guys?”
“Yeah, that’s the first question most people ask.” Shane affirmed. “But that’s true of any police force; Sure, theoretically, if all the criminals in the nation banded together, they’d be able to overwhelm us. But that ignores three fundamental truths of about Super criminals in America.” He paused then to take a sip of water.
“Do go on, professor.” Tanya teased, but her attention was visibly piqued.
“Well, first of all, most criminals aren’t interested in anything near that scale; they just want a quick buck, not a fight to the death. Secondly; Criminals in general are hardly a unified group of individuals, most would have significant trouble doing basic networking. And when you compare that to the system Heroes have access to, our advantage in ability to prioritize threats and respond quickly becomes apparent. And last, but certainly not least, most criminals simply can’t match a Hero in terms of raw combat ability; whether it be economic or locale limitations, they simply can’t overcome the fact that the HCP often attracts and produces Supers with strong abilities. And in most Super fights; quality will almost always trump quantity.”
“So that’s it?” Tanya asked. “The DVA is set for life now?”
“Hardly.” Shane snorted. “I said the populace banding together was unlikely, but rebellions have happened before. So, we can’t exactly sit on our laurels either. Also…”
“Go on.” Tanya prompted.
“Well, while this is even more unlikely but there is also the possibility of criminals working in and recruiting help from foreign nations. But that sort of international networking among criminals has dwindled sharply ever since Supers were first announced to the world.”
Tanya clapped her hands together, the expression on her face just screaming ‘eureka’. “Ah! You mean The Day Trade Stopped.” She said it in such away that it was obvious that the string of words was actually a single title.
“An extreme exaggeration.” Was Shane’s immediate reply, disliking the semi-popular phrase. “We do still trade goods, and smuggling still happens…” Shane trailed off at the pointed look Tanya was giving him before finally relenting with a sigh. “But it does grasp the feeling of how isolated most countries have become; they all have enough trouble dealing with their own variant humans as is and understandably want to keep any discoveries regarding them a secret.”
“Oh, political intrigue?” Tanya asked coyly.
“But that’s enough official talk for today.” Shane said with mock seriousness.
“I’ll buy you your favorite scones.” The dark-haired young-man said in a conciliatory tone.
* * * *
Author’s Note: Discussion and criticism of my work is encouraged and appreciated.