The first thing Hexcellent noticed as her eyes fluttered open was the strange man wearing a red and white costume with his fingers on her forehead. The second was Titan, standing over the other man’s shoulder and looking anxious. The third, a realization that quickly dwarfed the other two, was that she was lying in the paw/hand of a massive rabbit, which was stooped over to allow Titan and the stranger near her. Surprisingly, it wasn’t panic that welled in her at the sight of the towering creature, but relief, like something long trapped had finally gotten free.
“Is this… Hopcules?”
It nodded, a gigantic gesture that was impossible to miss, staring down at her with those black shiny eyes. Slowly, Hexcellent pulled herself to a reclined lean, noticing for the first time Galvanize, Zone, and Bubble Bubble were also there, albeit standing further back from the giant bunny. Next to her team stood Gale and an older Hero that she half-recognized as Titan’s friend. Around them were dozens, if not hundreds, of the robots, all collapsed lifeless on the ground. There was also a fair amount of damage to the nearby buildings, some in the shape of giant rabbit-like footprints.
“Oh fuck me running. Am I going to be held liable for all this? Cause if so, you can go ahead and just kill my ass now.”
“Good job, Bedrest,” Titan told the man in red and white. “Looks like she’s back to her usual cranky self.”
“She should still take it easy for a while; healing or not that sort of damage takes a toll. I have to get going though, lot of our people need patching up.” Bedrest walked away from the paw and Hexcellent over to where a nondescript man in a rumpled suit was standing. Seconds later they were gone, seemingly vanished into thin air.
“Okay, but seriously, how much of this is on me?” Hexcellent asked, just before Titan wrapped her in a hug so tight that for a moment she worried Hopcules would have to intervene.
“You damn kids are going to give me a heart attack, and I don’t think I can even get those.” Titan slowly set her down, at which moment the rest of the team swarmed her. Hard as she tried to seem bothered by the attention, it was impossible not to be a little moved by the influx of warmth.
“Anyway, to answer your question, you’re technically clear on all this,” Titan told her. “For one thing, it was self-defense, since Hopcules only attacked robots that came after it. Not to mention the fact that you were unconscious, so you had no say in what was happening. I ran everything up the ladder while we waited for Bedrest, and while there might be some hearings and paperwork, you’ll come out fine. I’ll make sure of it.”
Something about his voice made it clear that Titan meant those words, possibly by any means necessary, and Hexcellent had a good idea of just how many means the man had. As the others finally let go of her, she turned around to take in Hopcules in all his glory. He looked much the same as he had when she was a child, armored and human-like, but easy to cuddle. She wondered if he could still cast light from his mouth, like he did when something in her room had made a noise and he lit it up to show her nothing was there. It was possible, though clearly things had changed.
“When I summoned him as a kid, he was like five feet-tall, tops,” Hexcellent said.
“You said you summoned him to drive off your fears, right?” Bubble Bubble ventured. “Well, you’ve seen a lot more since then. Maybe you’ve got much bigger fears.”
“On the subject of your rabbit, I need to talk with you about something,” Titan interrupted. “We’ve learned that those giant robots are acting as relay points for the smaller ones. Basically, kill the big guys, and the little ones go limp.”
Something in Hexcellent’s brain wriggled again. Why did that seem familiar?
“Unfortunately, just like with the little ones, once the big bots are damaged to a certain point they self- destruct everything we might be able to use, signal relays included. Currently, the Heroes have been able to take down four of the large mechs, and they’re dealing with the fifth right now,” Titan continued. “The sixth will be a special case, however. We’re going to try to infiltrate it, find the device that’s receiving and relaying the master signal, and trace it back to the source. Brewster can’t take another attack like this one, it needs to end today.”
“So do you need me to unsummon Hopcules to clear space or something?” Even as the words left her mouth, Hexcellent hated the taste of them. She’d just been reunited with an old friend; the last thing she wanted was to send him away again.
“Actually, pretty much the exact opposite.” Titan pointed up at the giant rabbit, who was still watching everything with those glassy eyes. “Your summon is incredible, and right now it might be the most useful piece on the battlefield. If you’re willing, we’d like to have you and Hopcules help contain the mech while a team hunts through its insides for the signal device. If the robot is fighting something of equal strength, that will keep it from tearing up the city, which will minimize damage and casualties while we take the time to search. It’s dangerous work though, I won’t lie to you about that, and I understand if you don’t want to take the risk. Especially so soon after a close call.”
“Risk comes with the turf of being a PEERS,” Hexcellent replied. “But you’re sort of skipping over a big detail, aren’t you? Self-defense is one thing, what you’re describing sounds a lot more like picking a fight, and that’s Hero work. Giant bunny or no, I’m not a Hero, remember?”
“No, you’re not,” Titan agreed. “But this work is messy, and it’s far from the first time that a Super who had what we needed wasn’t wearing a mask. The DVA has protocol for this kind of situation, and with Brewter’s predicament you weren’t hard to sell them on. The technical term is Temporarily Authorized Hero Asset, and it means you can fight the good fight until the current threat is neutralized.”
“And if I screw up?” Hexcellent had seen what happened to Heroes who made serious mistakes; the DVA wasn’t shy about letting the public watch the trials. It was important to show that these enhanced beings charged with people’s safety were held accountable. That was part of why people were comfortable trusting Heroes.
“Then that’s on me as the one that authorized you.” Titan set a hand on her shoulder, his massive palm almost engulfing her whole upper arm. “But you won’t screw up. If you decide to fight, I know you’re going to kick that thing’s ass.”
“And what makes you so certain?” Hexcellent shot back, wishing she had as much confidence as he did.
“Because I know you. Because I’ve seen you work. And because the first time we trained together, your immediate instinct was to try and show up me, a Hero renowned for his strength.” Titan smiled down at her. “Half of this job is just having the guts to wade into dangerous, impossible situations, and try to fight them back to salvageable. Guts are something you’ve got a lot of. Guts, and a giant fire-breathing rabbit.”
“He breathes fire now?” Hexcellent glanced up at Hopcules, as if expecting an explanation, but only received the same endless stare looking back at her. Shit, she’d never given him eyelids, had she?
“Oh good, that’s news for you too, we were wondering how that bunny didn’t burn your house down,” Zone said.
“He can do a hell of a lot, and so can you, but only if you want to.” Titan dug into his pocket and pulled out a small silver device. “This was dropped off along with your healer. It will connect you with all the other Heroes out there trying to save this city. Take it, and until that last mech is beaten, you’re one of us.”
Hexcellent reached out, her chipped black nail-polished fingers wrapping around the device and carefully lifting it from Titan’s hand. The dream she’d had as a child, the one she’d pissed away with years of bad decisions, seemed to glow in the gizmo’s metallic depths. She was never going to be a real Hero, and she’d made peace with that a long time ago. But if she couldn’t grab hold of her dream, she would still settle for grazing her fingers against it.
“Tell me how this thing works, Titan. It sounds like we’ve got some robot ass to kick.”