Chapter 13

                There were all sorts of Hero-themed bars and restaurants: Supper with Supers, Capes & Cocktails, and Planet Hero were only some of the more nationally franchised ones. For the most part they were horrendously tacky affairs, with staff wearing costumes and walls decorated in art featuring Heroes, or even some vintage Hero memorabilia.

                In larger cities, Heroes would frequent these establishments in costume; having a quick beer or bite then signing autographs for the adoring fans. Such appearances were, of course, purchased by the respective establishment and carefully scheduled. They wanted patrons to think that any trip could lead to meeting a real-life Hero in the flesh.

                Off-duty Heroes, or ones not contractually obligated to show up, avoided those places like they’d seen the kitchen. A real Hero bar was one that catered to them when the capes were off. These masqueraded as unassuming watering holes, almost a dive without the rustic charm. There was, of course, no way to turn away non-Heroes without advertising what clientele they actually catered to; so instead the staff made sure regular people didn’t want to stay. Horrid service, flat beer at room temperature, and food that would turn a garbage disposal’s stomach ensured that if you weren’t supposed to be at a Hero bar, it wasn’t a place you felt inclined to linger.

                Owen felt the assessing stares as he stepped through the door of Brin’s Gate, a small bar twenty minute’s jog from base. He was dressed in streets, as was everyone else here. You didn’t step into one of these places in costume, it defeated the whole point. The staff saw that he was big, but big might only mean he was a Super, not a Hero, and even that required some assumptions. He’d probably be stuck getting treated like a mundane until Gale arrived and vouched for him.

                “Hey, over here!” A breeze hit his left ear and Owen turned, finding Gale standing up at a booth and waving him over. He saw the staff relax, accepting him as a proper client. It usually took more than a wave to do that. Either this place had lax standards or Gale had more clout than Owen realized.

                He lumbered across the room and slid into the wooden booth-bench that awaited him. Instead of the usual groans and creaks he was accustomed to from furniture, the seat held firm. That was one thing about Hero bars; they either started out with reinforced furniture or learned very quickly to get some.

                Gale was dressed in slacks and a blouse, the sort of outfit that said she might have just gotten off work or could be heading out for a proper dinner after her drink. Without the mask, she was even more fetching, comely features now on full display. In front of her was a cocktail, halfway watered by down by the melted ice.

                “Been waiting long?”

                “I had another meeting here earlier, so I just hung around for this one,” Gale replied. “I appreciate you being prompt.”

                “Course, we all have our schedules to keep.” The waitress came by, and Owen ordered a local beer. Once she left, he turned the conversation toward the most important subject, so far as he was concerned. “Everything go okay with Alexandria?”

                “No issues. She made it into the facility without so much as a flare-up. I think it helped that she was a little star-struck.” Gale was keeping a neutral face while she examined Owen with attentive eyes. “I’m surprised you care so much about one Powered girl.”

                “First job back. Haven’t had time to get jaded again, yet.” Owen’s beer arrived and he took a long draw from it. Dark, yeasty, and potent; he’d have to find out the name of the brewery so he could try more of their wares.

                “About that, I was wondering what made you decide to leave retirement. And why you picked Brewster, Illinois to reappear in, of all places. We’re a decent sized city, but we’re no New York or Los Angeles.”

                “I left retirement because I wanted to start doing some good again,” Owen said. “As for why I came here… this is where I got a job.”

                “You’re on a team?”

                “I’m…” The urge to lie, or at least tell half-truths was almost overpowering. But Zone’s words were still ringing in Owen’s ears. He thought he was better than them, and what right did he have? Those kids didn’t have his power or training, yet they were still doing the best they could to help people. Meanwhile, he’d taken all his abilities and holed up in Colorado. Like a coward.

                “I’m working as a Hero Liason for a team of Privately Employed Emergency Response Supers. I’m also going to do a little Hero work when time permits, but they’re my main job.”

                Gale stared at him, then let out a short, sharp, laugh. “You expect me to believe that Titan, the Titan, finally came out of hiding just to lead a bunch of corpies? I’m not an idiot.”

                “No, you’re the leader of Elemental Fury, one of the most well-known teams in Brewster. It’s been in existence for over twenty years and you’re the fourth leader they’ve had, presiding for the last three years. Your team is efficient, skilled, and great at minimizing collateral damage, which is probably part of why you’re so liked by the citizens. It also means you’re on top, which makes you a target for criminals and Heroes more concerned with image than the job. You think I’m the latter.” Owen had done more than just paperwork in his time before the meeting; he’d also pulled up some background information on Gale. Knowledge was usually more useful than muscle, in his experience.

                “Titan was quite a media juggernaut in his day. I find it hard to believe you plan on laying low. Seems like you might want to be the new big-dog in town, and the only way someone with your rep could do that would be to make us look bad.”

                “I’m not here for the media, and I’m sure as shit not a gunner who is going to sabotage your PR. Those guys don’t last as long as I did before I quit, and you know that.”

                “I’m not sure what I know when it comes to you,” Gale said. “Nearly every piece of information I have on you is from hearsay and propaganda. The one thing I do know is that you’re powerful and experienced, which makes you dangerous.”

                “Only if I come with ill-intentions, which I don’t.”

                “Why should I believe that? You come here and feed me a story about baby-sitting corpies; giving me nothing to go on. I’m not trying to be a bitch, Titan, but this is my city. I was born here, I grew up here, and I lay my life on the line every day to keep it safe. Glory-seekers are a real danger, they take stupid risks that get people killed. For someone on your scale of power, that could be a whole lot of people.”

                “Gale, you can either trust me or not. What you can’t do is stop me.” Owen meant it in a general sense, but her saw her tense. She probably had a hurricane ready to go the moment he made a sudden move. “I mean that in a technical way. I’ve got my certification and my license. Until I do something worthy of bringing before the DVA, I’m free to fulfill my Hero duties as I see fit.”

                “I can make it hard on you.”

                “That just gets us into a stupid feud, and I don’t need that kind of headache,” Owen replied. “Here’s what I’d suggest instead: watch me. Let my actions tell you if I’m here to hunt glory or here to help. If I fuck up then you’ve got something to bring before the DVA, and maybe along the way you’ll realize I’m telling the truth.”

                “You know damned well I was going to put surveillance on you anyway.” Gale gulped down the last of her drink, half-melted ice cubes and all.

                “It might have occurred to me.” Owen gave a lop-sided grin, then finished his own drink.

                “Alright, I’ll back off for now, on one condition.”

                “Let’s hear it.”

                “I want you to come by my base for an ability assessment,” Gale replied. “I’ll feel more comfortable once I know what you can do, and it’ll be interesting to see how my team stacks up against a legend.”

                “I’d have to schedule it around my own team. I wasn’t kidding about them being my main priority.”

                “Understood. We’ll shake our schedules and make something work. Bring them along if you like, might be a thrill for them to see what a real Hero team looks like.”

                For a reason Owen couldn’t yet define, that comment rankled him.

                “I’ll find a time. Hate to tell you this though, but you were wrong about one thing.”

                “What’s that?” Gale asked.

                “Once you’ve seen what I can do, comfortable is the last thing you’ll be feeling.”