Chapter 16

                Owen was surprised to find a car waiting for him and Hexcellent. They’d finished breakfast and gotten into their respective costumes, then headed down to the street level where she walked without pause to a dark sedan idling at the curb.

                “You don’t drive?”

                “Company policy,” Hexcellent sighed. “Two years ago one of their old PEERS got into a fender-bender with some old lady. She developed back-problems, went after him and Mordent in court, and generally drummed up a lot of bad press as well as draining some cash out of their pockets. Now we’re only allowed to use a car service, unless we’re driving to an actual response in the approved vehicle. Keeps us from being liable.”

                “Also keeps you from going anywhere they don’t know about,” Owen added.

                “For a guy whose whole career is built on having Armageddon-level muscles, you’re pretty quick on the uptake.” Hexcellent climbed into the back seat, followed soon by her massive co-worker, and the car began maneuvering back into traffic.

                “I’m actually not Armageddon,” Owen told her once they were buckled up. Laws were laws, even if he was effectively invulnerable. The minute a Hero began to think he was above them was the same moment his downfall began.

                “Really? I thought you were this legendary dude with impossible strength.”

                “I am, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s pretty much impossible for a strongman to be considered an Armageddon-Class threat. We just don’t have the damage capacity.”

                Hexcellent cocked her head to the side, current blasting of make-up causing her to look like a somewhat befuddled bat. “Damage? Isn’t the rating system like a power-level thing?”

                “No, but a lot of people mistake it for that, even some Heroes.” Owen tried to cross his legs in an effort to find a more comfortable position, but this only resulted in him slightly bending the window handle. “People have tried putting a level system into place plenty of times, actually, it just never holds up. First off, we’re always learning about new people and powers that make us re-think things in terms of scale. And the second reason it always goes to shit is that lots of powers negate or overwhelm each other. For example, a good telekinetic can knock most strongmen out of a battle by lifting them off the ground, even if the strongman would be rated higher in terms of raw power.”

                “You’re explaining to me how there’s no level system to help me understand the level system,” Hexcellent pointed out. “I’ve got some old Algebra teachers you’d fit in just great with.”

                “Sorry, I just wanted to show why measuring Supers by level doesn’t work. What you can measure, regardless of their power, is their capacity for destruction. As I recall, the default rule is it’s how much damage a Super could do if left unchecked for an hour.”

                “Sounds sort of morbid, and that’s coming from a girl wearing zombie themed lipstick.”

                Owen nodded. “You won’t hear me disagreeing. It serves a purpose though, knowing someone’s class tells you how dangerous they are. It informs on how we prioritize protecting civilians, minimizing property damage, and escalating force. There’s no need to try to cripple or kill a Standard Class threat if subduing is an option.”

                “What if they’re higher up the chain?”

                “Then we do what has to be done. No Hero, at least none that lasts, enjoys that part of the job. But if we don’t stop them, innocent people will die. Personally, I always try to subdue or de-escalate first for anything below Armageddon Class. Bear in mind, my power gives me that as an option. Others aren’t so lucky.”

                “Jesus, and here I thought all you people did was pick kittens out of trees and foil bank-heists.” Hexcellent’s eyes were wide, creating a strange contrast in the whites of her sclera and the ink-black of her make-up.

                “PR departments try to de-emphasize that aspect of the job, same as with cops. It might be necessary, but that doesn’t mean people like to think about it.”

                “No shit.” Hexcellent turned to look out the window for a bit, watching the buildings roll by. “So what are these classes, then? Like, where would I fit in?”

                “You’d be a Standard-Class,” Owen replied. “Most Supers are. It means you can do some significant damage and are a danger to life; however you’re not a threat to a large-scale area.”

                “Great, I’m lowest rung.”

                “Actually, that would be the NTC Class. It stands for Non-Threatening Combatant, though we just call them ‘knocks’ for short. That nickname comes from the fact that usually one little tap to the head can bring them down. They’re Supers whose abilities are in no way dangerous, meaning they have the same propensity for damage as a regular human. Healers, people with low-caliber display abilities, that sort of thing.”

                “But Healers become Heroes, they can’t be that weak,” Hexcellent said.

                “It’s not about weak or strong, just about immediate destructive potential,” Owen reminded her.

                “Alright, so it goes NTC, Standard, then I’m guessing there’s something between that and Armageddon.”

                “Two steps: Demolition Class and Manhattan Class. Demo, which is my actual classification by the way, means a Super could level several city blocks if left unchecked. Manhattan means the level of destruction they can wreak would be roughly on par with a nuclear bomb. That’s why Supers like me never hit too high on the scale; we just can’t cover enough ground to be considered a massive threat.”

                “Well damn, here I thought we were at least getting a hot-shit Hero and you’re not even in the second to best class? Maybe we should see if Galvanize thinks you’re really cut out for the penthouse.” Hexcellent smiled at him, showing more warmth that she seemed to with some of her other team members.

                “You can try to throw me out, but I should warn you: I’ve kicked the dogshit out of countless Manhattans and even a few Armageddons. They might be better at large-scale destruction, but I’m in the top when it comes to one-on-one.”

                “Unless a telekinetic lifts you in the air,” Hexcellent reminded him.

                “I said that works on most strongmen. I’m not among that number.”

                “That so? Please enlighten me, great Hero, what secret technique do you use for getting out of such a precarious situation?”

                Owen reached into the belt of his uniform and pulled out a few steel-balls, roughly the size of marbles. “I throw these at whoever lifts me. They’ll at least break the person’s concentration, and if I hit them then that problem pretty much takes care of itself.”

                “No way that works. I’ve seen a bunch of telekinetic Heroes hold shields while doing other stuff. They could just block them.”

                Owen slipped the balls back into his belt pouch and gave Hexcellent a smile of his own. “Shields, like everything else in this world, can only take so much. Put enough force behind it and the right blow can shatter them.”

                “You’d have to be throwing pretty damned hard.”

                “Unlike keeping my mouth shut, that’s one of the few things I can do well,” Owen said.