7 Random Days in the Life of a Hero
Subject: Linda Scoven, Thursday
The area around Woodlawn Park was rapidly spiraling down from simply 'out of control' towards full blown chaos. The Hero on her impossibly fast motorcycle had beaten her ETA by almost a full minute as she followed the directions from Dispatch that led her to the southwest corner of the park and had almost fallen of the bike at the scene laid out before her when she arrived.
Trees along the park's perimeter were fallen and burning, or shattered and scorched by some kind of very powerful blast. Buildings across from the park had suffered similar damage, with a large jewelry exchange seeming the worst off with nearly the entire front of the building destroyed. That was probably the original alarm that brought in Heroes in the first place then. Linda was reasonably certain of her assumption, but she couldn't work to confirm it when she'd arrived, nor could she begin any kind of search for the rogue Supers who'd done this damage. Because three of the five buildings that had been carved into by some kind of intense heat during the battle were occupied apartment complexes, and emergency services was not going to get there in time to get a lot of those people out.
The black and red garbed woman noted the changing scene outside with each trip she made in and out of the burning buildings. She noted when two other Heroes, a speedster and apparently a line of sight teleporter arrived and began assisting her with the evacuation. She heard bits and pieces of the argument going on between various first responders as several of the firefighters apparently planned to join the Heroes in evacuating the buildings, and were being ordered not to by their superiors. Linda wore a grim smile when she noted the wave of men and women in the black and yellow fireproof suits rush the least damaged of the buildings anyways, and turned to follow that group. I can at least keep the building from falling on anyone until we get out of here. Hold on Ed, I just have to get these people safe and then I can come find you.
People moved past the kneeling Hero, giving her a wide berth and carefully averting their eyes when they noticed the tears and the racking sobs. Lying on a pair of gurneys in front of the crying woman were a pair of body bags, zipped open just far enough to show the masked faces of two men. Fast Break and Attitude Adjustment had both been killed before even the fastest responders had arrived. Linda's former mentor had been electrocuted, apparently caught from behind by surprise as there was a handprint burned into the back of his costume. The younger Hero had been beaten to death, massive blunt force trauma. God dammit Ed, how the hell did you let someone get the drop on you? YOU?
“Trick Move?” The tentative question snapped the Hero's attention back to her surrounding as she turned red eyes towards its source, one of the EMT's that had arrived only a few minutes after Linda had herself. “Sentry is awake.” The words were barely out of the young woman's mouth before the tall brunette was past her and standing at the back of the ambulance housing the only surviving Hero they'd found so far.
Or she would have made it to the back of the ambulance, if that area hadn't already been heavily occupied. Occupied by at least one form that the black and red costumed woman had never expected to see again. “What the hell are you doing here, Conquistador?” The question, barely more than a whisper spoken from directly beside the huge man, carried a significant hint of a threat.
“My retirement is delayed until this is resolved.” The large man didn't even glance down as he responded in a similarly quiet tone. “I know I fucked up, but I'm not dropping out of the world the same day some asshole kills two of us in MY city.”
“Thank you.” Those words DID get a reaction from the garishly dressed strongman as he looked down at his former teammate, but he didn't get a chance to respond.
“LISTEN UP!” The shout from the front of the crowd that had assembled to hear what the wounded Hero had to say carried an impressive weight of authority with it. The whole group of Heroes immediately went silent. “Five minutes ago we had two deceased, one wounded, and one missing Hero, and no one who could tell us what the fuck did all that and took out most of a city block doing it. Two minutes ago Sentry woke up and our situation went from bad to worse. Solitaire is not MIA, he's gone rogue.”
The silence that had held for the speech was immediately blown away by this declaration. The assembled group immediately began to disperse, most speaking to Dispatch over their earpieces while a few were calling out to teammates that had arrived with them. Linda found herself still standing next to the huge strongman as she attempted to process the shock. Solitaire, the fucking 'One Man Army,' went rogue. But... “Who else was with him?” The shouted question was barely audible over the chatter, and no one seemed to notice. God dammit Linda, this is what you get for crying yourself hoarse when you SHOULD be accomplishing things.
“HEY! WHO ELSE WAS WITH SOLITAIRE!” The bellowed question, loud enough to rattle the windows on the nearby emergency vehicles, caught Linda even more by surprise than the declaration of a rogue Hero had. All eyes turned towards the source of the shout as silence descended again. The strongman responded to the attention by pushing the shorter woman next to him forward.
“Solitaire couldn't have done all this himself.” Linda found herself now the focus of all eyes in the area as she spoke. “He coul-...”
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” The interruption came from inside the ambulance, and the athletically built Hero who'd stood in the doorway as he gave the briefing stepped aside so that the injured man inside see who he was talking to. There was another ripple of shock through the crowd as many of the Heroes and other first responders saw the condition of the injured Shining Sentry for the first time. “You know they call him the god damned One Man Army for a reason. You a rookie or just really fucking out of the loop?”
Linda was amazed that the man could speak at all. Shining Sentry's power was that he could shift his skin into an extremely sturdy armor and he was a mid range physical enhancement Super. His armor was burned cleanly through in several places, and his left arm was just gone. “Neither, I'm well aware of who Solitaire is and what he can do. The trees and most of the buildings, the ones that look like someone took a plasma torch to them, those are probably him. But he can't electrocute anyone with his hands, and he doesn't have enhanced strength. He wouldn't have beaten Attitude Adjustment to death with his bare hands, he just would torched him.” The brunette wasn't sure, but even through the helmet she thought she could detect a change in the injured Hero's expression. Why is he afraid all the sudden? “He couldn't have broken down the front of the building like the jewelry exchange either. He's basically a nearly indestructible walking plasma fountain, and the only scorch marks are what you would expect if he was here fighting AFTER the wall was torn down. What the hell really happened here, Sentry?”
Instead of a response, the athletically built Hero in the dark costume who'd relayed the initial information stepped up into the ambulance and pulled the door closed behind him. Linda had just a moment to see the injured Hero flinch back from whatever he saw in the other man's expression.
“So what are you saying, Trick?” The question came from a female Hero in a blue and green costume, completely unfamiliar to Linda.
“Everything Sentry just gave us is bullshit. Judging by the buildings... and the bodies,” it took a bit to force the second point out, “the actual attackers are some kind of electricity manipulator and a strongman of some kind.” Like Sentry himself. Linda barely kept from saying the last part out loud, though she was almost certain she was correct.
“What now? Where'd they go?” The question from Conquistador took the brunette off guard again, as he seemed to be setting her up for a leadership role. Seeing her surprised look, the big man simply shrugged. “You're the Subtlety Hero, I'm the brute force. We don't have to like each other, but we both know how this works. Your type tells OUR type where to go to get the job done.”
Linda looked around and realized that the other assembled Heroes, all seven of them, were nodding in agreement with her former teammate and looking to her for answers. “All right, we need to move out from here in pairs. Whomever is out there can apparently stand up to Solitaire and they already took out two Heroes, no one goes it alone on this one. Pick branching streets and let's start heading South and East. Dispatch, please coordinate future arrivals to search for signs in that direction.”
“Southeast? Why would they run that way? Residential area means there are a lot of eyes that might spot them. We've got people searching the park now, a lot better escape route that way. Get out of sight, vanish, and you have almost ten blocks you can emerge from at will.” Linda didn't even look up to see which of the group had asked the question.
“Assuming that Solitaire is in pursuit of whomever did this, and we really have no reason NOT to think that since he's not here and is reportedly VERY hard to kill, then running into the park would be suicide. He did some collateral damage here, though considering he was fighting at least two Supers who had already killed two Heroes I think that can be forgiven, but I've seen what it looks like when he really cuts loose. This isn't it, and if his opponent ran into the park, AWAY from populated areas?” Linda turned and waved dramatically towards the dark, wooded area behind her. “We'd be able to see the light show from here. Only way to keep Solitaire at low power is to keep the potential for collateral as high as possible, that means the residential blocks South and East of here. Pair up and MOVE OUT!” The black and red Hero smirked a little bit as the assembled Heroes hastened to follow the orders from one of the most junior Heroes present.
“I guess I'm with you?” The blue and green Heroine floated over to Linda and offered a nervous smile.
“I don't know her name.” Linda spoke so softly as she moved to quickly mount her motorcycle and listened that no one should have been able to hear her, save for one person.
“Trick Move, Aeromancer, assigned search area NE Bellevue to 13th. Confirm.”
“Confirmed Dispatch.” Thank you! Linda turned her bike in the direction they were assigned and saw the younger girl make her own confirmation. “I've got the street then, can you get high enough to watch the building tops?”
In response the younger Hero floated up to a couple hundred feet and waved down. “Dispatch, direct patch to Aeromancer please.”
“Direct patch, Trick Move and Aeromancer are now on channel.”
Linda smiled a little as she heard the surprised sound come over her earpiece at that. “Alright Aero, make sure to stay in my line of sight at all times, and do NOT fly in straight lines.”
“Ah, copy that Trick. Why not straight lines though?”
“Because it makes you an easy target, and someone has already killed two Heroes tonight. No more.”
“All search teams, return to staging point. We have located Solitaire and he's being transported back now.” Linda barely paused long enough to make sure her temporary partner had registered the communication before turning her bike around and burning back up the street at close to 200 miles per hour.
At that speed she was among the first to arrive, but no one ever beat the teleporters. Linda forced a weary smile onto her face as she spotted her teammate, Blue Path, having apparently just brought in a man with a costume so charred his Heroic identity was unidentifiable. Process of logic says that has to be Solitaire. Before she could make her way to the pair, the dark costumed Hero who'd been in the ambulance with Sentry appeared with a pair of men in suits wearing windbreakers bearing 'DVA' in large bold letters across the back blocker her path.
“Solitaire, I'm afraid we have to take you into custody for the time being.” The shocked looks were evident all around, in spite of how quietly the dark suited Hero had spoken. None of the looks were nearly as expressive as the one worn by the man he was talking to.
“You have to WHAT?” The expression on Solitaire's face was halfway between flabbergasted and furious.
“Shining Sentry has made repeated statements that the deaths of two Heroes, and his own injuries, are the result of actions committed by you.”
“His injuries, yea, I did that. I was trying to get him off that mentalist kid he was fucking beating into the pavement.” He looked about to continue when one of the DVA agents stepped forward.
“Solitaire, I can tell you right now that Sentry's story is full of holes and is probably going to fall apart completely as soon as we can bring in a deep mind telepath. But here we have two Heroes, both accusing the other of going rogue. We HAVE to follow procedure to the letter in this circumstance.”
“This is complete and utter BULLSHIT, and you know it!” Solitaire turned his attention from the agent to the Hero in front of him. “And you know it too, Scream.”
“Warscream, I hate when people shorten my name. And as much as we all know this is bullshit, can you honestly tell me that there's a justification for ignoring the regs here? Anything that would offset the amount of damage that might do to the case against Sentry or any FUTURE cases?”
It was at this moment that Linda decided to make her presence known. “Right, you both agree, and I do as well, that this is all bullshit. As bullshit it's unimportant, unlike the fucking debrief we should have already started. Solitaire, we need a description of the Super you were chasing. Appearance and powers, everything you can remember.”
“Stand down Tri-... erp.” The DVA agent the attempt to step in front of the black and red suited Hero found himself held off the ground by his neck, unable to speak but somehow without his breathing being restricted.
“You guys are trying to control the PR nightmare of this, I get that. But there is another Super out there who killed a Hero less than four hours ago. Solitaire fought him and chased him, and is the only person other than Sentry who can give us any real information. Seeing as how Sentry is most likely the PARTNER of our unknown Super, that makes any intel he gives us more than suspect. You can get back to your busy job of sweeping this shit under the rug AFTER Solitaire gives us that information.” Turning back to the man in the tattered, charred costume Linda saw he was grinning at her, and how she was holding the agent aloft.
“I have always dreamed about doing that you know.”
“Don't care. Your earpiece got fried in the fight?” Still grinning, Solitaire nodded in response. “Take mine.” The tiny earbud practically flew out from under the mask and into the woman's waiting hand, as if by its own volition. “Give Dispatch a FULL debrief. It's more efficient for her to get it once and relay it to us than just about any other way we can do it. And this way you guys can get back to your VERY important task of detaining a Hero who was trying to do his god damned job.” With that, Linda turned and stalked away from the group and towards her bike, intent on getting her backup earpiece and getting back to work, only to find her path blocked once again.
“Time to take as step back, Trick.” Blue Path spoke very softly to her teammate as the taller woman appraoched.
“Fuck that, time to get out there and FIND this guy.” But Linda had no defense against the sudden blue flash that left her standing in the garage of the Guardian headquarters, with her teammate still standing calmly between her and her bike.
“You aren't acting rationally any more Linda, you need some rest, and you need some time to grieve. You just assaulted a DVA agent in sight of half a dozen news crews, and how long have you been quietly bleeding for a power boost?”
The brunette started to respond angrily, intending to push her way past her teammate and force her way back outside, when the final question stopped her. Fuck, I completely forgot about that. No wonder I've been getting lightheaded. Taking a moment to compose herself instead, Linda went with a different tactic. “I'll head upstairs and get healed first. But I was thinking PERFECTLY rationally when I shut up that idiot agent. They were so focused on containing the PR that they were going to skip the part where we get vital information from the only Hero on scene who could give it to us. He won't even have a bruise.”
“I believe the part about the bruise, which is good because it will show you were still in perfect control when you get your hearing later.”
Fuck, they probably are going to pull me in for a review for that aren't they.
“But right now you need some rest, and you need to step back and let some of the other Heroes handle it. Street Level has twenty people on the ground looking for our mystery Super, including Wild Grrl. Unless you want to try and convince me that you're a better tracker than she is?” Sally waited a long moment to see if her teammate would respond, before she finally added. “So that's that then. Say goodnight to Maddie.”
Linda barely managed to register surprise at the statement before she felt a hand on her shoulder, and a brief flash preceded everything dropping away into darkness.
“It was insubordinate, irrational, and idiotic!” Linda simply blinked sleepily as her team leader continued his tirade at her in the conference room, noting similarly uninterested looks from the other team members that had decided to attend the meeting. Paladin, Jack, and Blue Path were on patrol looking for the Hero killer from last night, leaving the two youngest members of the Guardians with the oldest. “It doesn't matter if you were in the right, if you decide to make your point by being a bully about it then no one will actually CARE what the point was! All the news crews are going to show is a Super using her power to bypass a normal human's objections. Made all the worse because that particular 'normal human' is a federal agent working for the agency that is nominally in CHARGE of Supers like us. Do you have ANYTHING to say?”
“Yes. If you're so worried about how the media is going to paint this then we go to them first and release exactly what those agents were doing and the fact that they were preventing us from getting key information regarding a Hero killer in the process.” The completely composed tone from the still tired looking brunette seemed to take Richard off guard. “If you want to be a little nicer about it we can point out to the media that the agents were likely not aware that Solitaire hadn't yet been debriefed and as such didn't know that they were jeopardizing the manhunt by trying to take him into custody so quickly.”
“Completely out of the question. The Guardian Elite have always worked hand in hand WITH the DVA to do our job. You want to put us at direct odds with them? You want something like that you should have joined the Outlaws or stayed with Street Level.”
“You asked, I answered. You want to work with the DVA on this then collaborate on that media release with THEM. Remind them that what I did, while admittedly a little more blunt than was needed, ultimately saved them from having a lot of egg on their face when someone later asked why we didn't debrief Solitaire before locking him away until the PR is sorted out.”
“This is about way more than Public Rel-...”
“Bullshit.” The interruption from the auburn haired healer left the team leader looking shocked again, but Linda was more surprised that Maddie had waited this long to chime in. “This is the worst case scenario for the DVA; Heroes are killing Heroes and we don't have an unimpeachable testimony to tell us exactly who the bad guys were. So they have to sit on everything until they're sure they have it right and they release it all to the press in one giant lump. If it was about more than just PR they would have already informed the media about everything up to now, instead of going into blackout mode until they can get a telepath they trust to sort things out.”
“And everything you're yelling about, Rich?” Linda rejoined the conversation before the team leader could find his voice again. “You're whining about how the media will perceive what I did and how they'll play that to the public. That is almost the DEFINITION of Public Relations. I told you how to manage it, even gave you multiple options so as not to completely piss off the DVA while doing it. Now if you'll excuse me I need to get out of here and help track down the man who murdered a friend of mine.” There was a great deal of anger in the young woman's eyes as she locked gazes with the older Hero.
“No, you don't. You're on monitor duty with Madeline, Linda.” Before either could object the man held up a hand to stall them. “Yes, a little bit because I'm pissed off at how you handled things last night, but mostly because the DVA is pulling you in front of a review board today at one o clock. You have about two and a half hours to prepare before Blue Path comes back to transport you down up to Seattle.”
“Why Seattle?” Linda had considered several possible responses, but discarded them ultimately as meaningless. Richard couldn't realistically delay the review unless there was a truly catastrophic emergency, and it made sense that the DVA was attempting to tie up all ends of this current catastrophe as quickly as possible.
“Since the agent you 'assaulted' is based out of the Portland office it's the closest site where they can convene a full hearing for an active Hero.”
“They're pulling a full hearing? They're going to look like idiots when they realize she didn't actually hurt the guy.” Maddie was far more surprised than her friend at the news. Full disciplinary hearings were usually reserved for questionable lethal force cases and other actions that could result in serious consequences being handed down.
“They can't look like they're playing softball with a Hero 'bullying' their agents or the press really will run with a story about Heroes running the DVA instead of the other way around.” Linda stood and stretched as she responded. “So let's grab a bite and go waste some time in the monitor room Maddie, it looks like I have a defense to prep.”
Linda could barely restrain her anger as she made her way out of the hearing room. In the end, it had all amounted to nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Thirty day probationary status where all of her actions would receive extra scrutiny was about what she'd expected when she'd honestly thought about her actions. But that had been the smallest part of the hearing. Instead of defending her actions for the single incident that the hearing had ostensibly been called for, she had instead spent three hours hearing about every black mark her current team had put in her file, and an unending stream of accusations that she was as out of control as her father. I think I finally understand WHY some of the teams set out to establish an adversarial relationship with the DVA.
What had really hurt was finding out how little her current team leader seemed to actually trust her, and again all of that seemed to boil back down to the fact that her father was Mayhem. Information he wasn't even competent enough to figure out on his own, I had to spell it out for him at the interview. Linda had learned that had Paladin NOT backed her up in the recent incident with Conquistador, Starfall would likely have swept the whole thing under the rug and punished HER for not being a team player. Apparently he's more than willing to cash in on my apparent popularity with the public for the team, but it seems our great team leader doesn't trust me much more than he does the criminals we bring in every day. What really shocked the brunette Hero as she strode angrily out of the building and towards her waiting teleporter teammate was a realization that caused her to actually stop and burst out laughing. My God, Scott was more up front with me than Richard was, all these years. I think I owe that misogynistic prick a drink.
“So you can laugh afterwards, I'm guessing it went pretty well?” Blue Path sounded a little nervous as she asked the question, apparently having taken note of the abrupt transition between anger and hysterical laughter.
“30 days probationary status, about what was expected. The other two hours and fifty five minutes were very... enlightening though.” A plan formed in the taller woman's mind as she spoke, a plan she decided to act on immediately before she could rationalize the day's events away. “We need to go and see Mathias.
“I cleared things as quickly as I could, what can I do for you ladies?” The slightly overweight man that stepped into the waiting room bowed deeply at the two Heroes as he entered. Both found themselves smiling at the over the top, but completely genuine, welcome he always offered.
“I'm afraid this isn't a social call, Matt. And you aren't going to like it.” Linda stood as she spoke, trying to project the seriousness of what she was planning into her tone.
“Oh no, they suspended you? Worse? I can have the best lawyers in the country here in an HOUR and we ca-...”
“No no, nothing like that. I got a 30 day probationary period as a warning this time, nothing serious.”
“I could still get those lawyers here. I bet we could get THAT insult stricken from the record as well!” Linda had to sigh to hide another smile. The marketing genius that she had somehow come to think of as a friend over the last couple years seemed to find the idea of her receiving the probation a nearly equal affront as the more serious consequences, and one he was willing to spend just as much energy in overturning if needed.
“No, Matt. I was out of line, and I deserved the slap on the wrist. This meeting is about some other things I learned at that meeting. I got a large amount of my performance evals, the ones that get sent in by Starfall as our team leader in lieu of a DVA supervising agent since we're on an established team. I learned some things I didn't know about how he thinks of me.”
“Oh? Something scandalous?” The sigh this time was genuine, and from both women. Mathias seemed momentarily heartbroken as their responses told him that whatever was going in, his desire to live vicariously through the Heroes he represented was probably going to have to go on hold for a bit. “So tell me, what is the big event that has you here instead of out there on the streets?” A wave of the large man's hand encompassed the nearly panoramic view from the huge windows of his corner office and waiting area.
“I'm leaving the Guardian Elite, effective immediately. I want all merchandise not currently distributed that bears my likeness removed and destroyed, immediately. I'm going to authorize you full access to my accounts to refund where needed and soften the blow so that this doesn't completely screw over the companies you're working with. I only want to burn MY bridges, not yours.” Both the teleporter and the marketing guru stared, apparently so floored by the revelation that the pair seemed to forget even to breathe for a moment. “Effective as soon as you can get the paperwork through for me, Trick Move is a solo act. Since I can't 'officially' take any actions without authorization from my team leader at present, that means I'll be here doing whatever I can to speed the process along until I can get a supervising agent assigned to report that I'm going out on the hunt. Tell me what you need me to do.”
“Explain.” The single word came, not from Mathias, but from Blue Path.
“Every review of mine submitted by Starfall has me operating at borderline levels. I am apparently not at all a team player, I haven't integrated well with the team even after two years, and it seems that the fact that my father is Mayhem is a MASSIVE concern to both the Guardian Elite and the DVA in regards to my potential for future stability. They want to be worried about it, I've decided to give them something to worry about.”
“You are certain that the hearing wasn't simply providing false details to try and provoke a reaction?” The playful demeanor that Mathias usually wore when dealing with anything was gone. His tone was perfectly level and his eyes flicked back and forth as if analyzing something that no one else could see. “There are several regulations that would allow them to mislead a Hero during an active investigation to see if they incriminate themselves, similar to the rules regarding police interrogations.”
“I'm familiar with those regs, Matt. I requested to see the files myself after a large chunk of them was brought up as character evidence by someone sworn in. If they'd been making things up with a sworn statement...”
“It would have been perjury, the entire hearing would have been invalidated and the DVA would have gotten themselves into a much deeper mess than could possibly have been worth it for a single incident involving a single field agent. Are there any specific details you would like me to know while we set up your transition?”
Linda was more than slightly shocked at that. She had expected Mathias to ultimately help her, but she assumed the man would make at least a token attempt to keep her on the team. Especially as she was, as he put it, the most marketable asset the Guardians had at present. “It was implied that he would have swept things under the rug if Paladin hadn't backed me up on Conquistador's last stunt, and I would have ended up pretty far in the doghouse instead. I think it was worded that way to indicate he didn't completely believe even BOTH of us together, it kinda paves the way for Conquistador to come back more than temporarily in the future.”
Blue Path had remained speechless since asking for an explanation, her next words were not directed at anyone in the room. “Dispatch,” the teleporter's hand rose to her ear as she spoke, “I need you to confirm what Trick Move just told me. You were in her ear the whole time, and I know you can't actually recite what was said to anyone that wasn't present, but please tell me if things are as bad as Trick Move seems to think they are.” There was a pause while the blonde waited for a response, then she vanished in a burst of azure light.
“I guess Dispatch couldn't confirm, and she couldn't believe me on her own then.” Linda tried to keep her tone level, but the man across from her could clearly hear the quaver of sorrow hidden behind the impassive front she was trying to put up.
Before Mathias could respond, there was another blue flash as a somewhat confused Diamond Jack appeared in the waiting room. Another flash produced Reset, then Paladin and Blue Path arrived together. “Tell them what you just told me. Dispatch confirmed every word she said is true, and you guys need to hear this before you decide to go back to the team or not.”
Mathias stood and walked from the room as Trick Move began to tell a more detailed version of her story. Leaving the room allowed the Heroes to go into more detail than could be allowed with him present, and the man figured he might as well get a head start on the work. On the downside, he was reasonably certain that this was the end of the Guardian Elite. As much a genius as the marketing consultant was he had always known that the team's leader had been a little less than honest, but he had never suspected the degree the 'Hero' was going to. On the plus side, he figured he would be able to keep at least four out of five of the Heroes currently having a discussion, with rapidly escalating levels of volume, as clients for private image consulting. Mathias hadn't worked simply as an agent for individual Heroes in a while, but he was very good at what he did.
“Paige, are you still in the office?” His inquiry to the intercom on his desk was answered promptly.
“Still wrapping up some of the accounts, what can I do for you Mr Elben?”
“Call legal, tell them we need them back here for a special project. Double overtime is approved on this one because it's a major rush job. I also need you to bring up all of our currently active ad contracts with the Guardians and start highlighting the severance clauses for me. We also need all the DVA transfer paperwork so we can help our clients get that started and finished as soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir.” Mathias smiled at the simply acceptance of a request that would have sent many seasoned marketing reps into a screaming panic. He worked with people whose job description involved risking life and limb day in and day out, the least he could do for his clients is make sure his own employees were competent enough to do PAPERWORK for the people who saved countless lives every day.
“Turn on the news!” The shout from the outer office where the least amount of paperwork was spread out on the floor turned all attention to the large screen in Mathias' office which blinked on to show a live broadcast, apparently an overhead view from a new helicopter zooming in to focus on two individuals standing on the roof of a parking structure. One was hard to make out, wearing a dark body suit but constantly emitting brilliant sparks and miniature lightning bolts as the other man walked towards him. The second man's clothing was burned in several places, but the redslashed brown leather was easily identifiable, and the scrolling text at the bottom of the screen confirmed it a second later. 'Mayhem corners suspected Hero Slayer.' The address was only a few miles away.
Everyone in the office, five costumed Heroes and a dozen men and women in stripped down business attire stood transfixed at the scene on the television as the lightning wielder struck out at the man approaching him, the screen whiting out for a moment from the intensity of the blast. When the camera refocused it showed that Mayhem had crossed the distance to his attacker while the picture had gone blank, he now had a hold of the man by the shoulder. Repeated flashes of electricity arced between the two, and the dark suited man began hammering his free arm against his opponent's head as well, all in a futile attempt to break free of the inhuman grip slowly forcing him to the ground.
The another flash momentarily blinded the camera as the captured Super changed tactics, and screams were faintly audible on the feed even over the breathless voice of the studio anchor describing what was happening, as apparently the unidentified Super was targeting anything nearby in an attempt to get the Hero to release him. The camera refocused in time to see the brown and red suited Hero raise his free arm and bring it down with enough force that the rooftop beneath him cracked visibly on the camera. The man he was holding went limp, and no further signs of lightning were visible. A second later the camera feed cut back to the studio, but not before the viewer could catch a brief glimpse of Mayhem standing and pulling away from the unknown Super. His fist had clearly gone straight through the man's chest and into the concrete beneath him.
Everyone stood silent for a moment, before attention in the room turned to the overweight man closest to the television as he began to slowly applaud. The Heroes joined in almost immediately, and with little hesitation the rest of the room did as well.
“To two great men. They were taken from us before their time, but at least they can rest easy tonight.” The toast from the bartender was echoed by everyone in the room. At a glance it would look like the dive bar had somehow managed to host an Olympic convention or something similar, but that glance would be nearly impossible to get as the windows were shuttered and the door locked with a handwritten sign declaring it; 'Close for Privat event.'
Linda raised her glass along with the other occupants of the bar, and downed the bitter whiskey in a single gulp as did most of the others, before returning to her seat and looking at the older man across from her. “Thank you.”
“You don't have to thank me, I just did what everyone in here wishes they'd been in the right spot to do.” Carl Scoven's tone didn't carry any of the false humility that one would normally expect from a declaration like that. It was one of the things Linda found she truly liked about her father, having gotten to know him over the past two years again. He said what he meant.
“Then thank you for finding that asshole as quickly as you did, for scaring him badly enough that he basically spouted off everything they need to lock Sentry away forever and get Solitaire released in less than a day. Thank you because Ed isn't here to thank you himself.”
The older man nodded, and poured both of them another drink from the bottle of single malt that the bartender had left with them. “So, Trick Move is going freelance I hear?”
“Where did you hear something that ridiculous?” Even with the somber mood in the room, Linda managed to crack a smile at the surprised look on her father's face. “Trick Move is officially retiring.”
“WHAT?” The outburst drew a few looks, but most of the bar ignored the pair at the booth in favor of their own discussions.
It still creeps me out how Heroes in these places manage to stay out of each other's business so well. “I said Trick Move is retiring, she doesn't exist any more as of about an hour ago. She was a little bit too straightlaced to make it as a solo act.”
Realization and relief both flooded the older man's face. Then a frown returned. “You have any idea how much paperwork and bureaucratic bullshit you are setting yourself up for? The DVA doesn't like it when Heroes want to jump identities.”
“It's easier if you're picking up a legacy identity though. Since you're old ass won't retire I'll have to be Lady Mayhem or some shit like that for a few years though.”
Shock returned to dominate Carl's features. “You... you don't have to, I mean I thought we-...”
Linda managed a chuckle at her father's speechlessness. “This isn't about twenty years ago when you told me you wished I could follow in your and grandpa's footsteps. Tonight I finally got what you've been saying for so long. Heroes have the option to use lethal force for a reason, and pretending we can do everything without ever invoking that option is just arrogance that will get us or someone else killed. I'm done pretending to just by a body control Super and trying to skate under the radar by getting underestimated. I spent two years in the trenches with Ed, and I accomplished more in any month of those two years than I have in the past two years with a 'real' team. I signed up to be a Hero, not a mascot. So I'm going to be back in the trenches, and I'm not going to be holding anything back anymore.”
“Well then,” Carl raised his newly refilled glass and pushed the other towards his daughter. “To Lady Mayhem, the newest addition to the ranks of Heroes.”
Linda finally made her way out of the bar and began the trek back towards her apartment, wishing she'd dragged either Sally to skip the walk or Maddie to skip the hangover along with her tonight. Both of them had their own ways of dealing with grief, and drowning their sorrows wasn't on either's list though so alone she was. Alone until a man stepped out into her path roughly halfway back to her apartment. It took a moment for her to recognize the costume her wore, swirling patterns of incandescent blue and white that blended together to look like the man was actually covered in blue-white flames. “Solitaire, I have to say I was not expecting to see you while I was so... underdressed.”
He raised a hand and bowed slightly in acknowledgment of the rebuke; it was generally considered EXTREMELY bad manners amongst those in the Hero community to approach an uncostumed Hero while 'on duty.' “I apologize, I just got out of my last damned interview and I didn't want to waste time changing before I got a chance to talk to you. I saw you one of my other times in the bar, and recognized you earlier today. I wanted to say thank you while I have the chance. I never thought I'd actually see someone do that to one of those arrogant field agent pricks.”
“And this couldn't have waited until tomorrow? Or any of the numerous OTHER times it would have been more appropriate?” Slightly drunk, Linda still remembered to keep her voice low so that the two didn't attract too much attention. Fortunately the street they were on was currently deserted, so she figured she wasn't going to be stuck in paparazzi hell with her identity outed quite yet.
“I'm leaving. I figured I could work around the bullshit, everything they put in the way of Heroes doing their jobs; but after spending all day in a god damned lockup because the ACTUAL bad guy claimed that I was the murderer, and knowing that if Mayhem hadn't gotten a half a confession from Sentry's partner I would probably still be in there right now, I've decided I'm done. I'm going overseas and going private industry, seeing you cut through the bullshit as much as you did back there, I figured I'd see if you wanted to join me.”
Linda stared at the smiling man in front of her for a long moment, the shock of the man's speech doing a wonderful job of sobering her up. “Just like that? You think it's that easy?”
“I dropped my resignation on the desk of my supervising agent on the way out, which means I technically need to be out of this costume by midnight. I also sent a press release which will get delivered around 6am, and settled up with my agent. My flight leaves in ninety minutes, and I bought two seats in case you wanted to come.”
“I can't. I can barely understand how you can walk away, Solitaire. But I don't think I have it in me to stop being a Hero til the day I genuinely can't any more.”
“Fair enough, just thought I'd make the offer. I wish you the best of luck saving the world.” There was no trace of sarcasm in his tone as the Hero finished speaking and turned to walk back down the alley he'd come out of, waving his goodbye as he went.
Linda's mind was off and racing however, trying to remember all the regulations that were supposed to be followed when a Hero retired from active status, before giving up. I don't know if what he's doing right now is technically legal or not, but after the crap they put him through today he can at least have a head start. The brunette pulled a small slip of paper from a pocket to write a reminder message on it as she resumed her trek to her apartment. 'Call DVA, re:Solitaire.' Tomorrow morning is early enough to waste more time helping the DVA clean up the messes they made.
The note was stuck to her bathroom mirror as a reminder for the next day, as the young woman entered the bedroom to lay back and stare at the ceiling. Everything finally taken care of, she allowed herself to resume the grief-wracked sobbing she'd interrupted while kneeling next to the body of one of her best friends, less than twenty four hours ago.