Chapter 17

               The store promo, as Galvanize had called it, turned out to be little more than thankless glad-handing at the opening of the latest Fiery Discussion, Hexcellent’s most prominent sponsor. There was a small crowd there, no doubt drawn by the advertised sales and giveaways meant to promote the store’s new presence in the South Brewster mall. A small black tent was partially obscuring the mall’s walkway, filled with the store’s staff, along with several corporate representatives, gathered to greet the eager shoppers. Hexcellent, in her capacity as a representative of Mordent Holdings, the conglomerate that ultimately owned this “rebellious”company, was tasked with circulating through the meager audience.

                More people recognized her than Owen had expected, a mystery that solved itself when he glanced through the glass storefront and realized she was heavily featured in posters on the walls. Even those who didn’t know her usually greeted her with some warmth, at least among the males. Hexcellent was pretty in a way that appealed to them, she used their products and style with skill that still showcased her natural gifts. True, she wouldn’t be winning any classic beauty pageants, even if she had scrubbed the make-up and tattoos away, but that was what they liked about her. She didn’t look like a model grabbing a paycheck; she appeared to be the genuine article. Since Owen had seen her dress in similar fashions while on her off-time, he had no reason to suspect that wasn’t exactly the case.

                “Nice costume.”

                Owen glanced down, noticing a gangly male somewhere in his teens staring up at him. Despite all the reasons he had to don his non-descript mask, Owen had shown up in full Titan uniform. He sat away from the corporate folks, as Hero he needed to take care not to accidentally endorse their products, but he still drew attention as he towered over the rest of the crowd.

                “Thanks. Do I look like the real deal?”

                “I mean, it’s close, but the real Titan used bolder reds and had different stitching along the seams. Plus, he was taller, not that you can really help that. Still, all in all it’s a commendable job. I bet you could win a few prizes at conventions if you attended.”

                Owen suppressed the urge to frown as the teen wandered away, off to find a new novelty to occupy his time until the doors opened. On one hand he was glad not to have been recognized, it helped that almost no one knew Titan was back, but… taller? It was those damn television cameras always choosing the perfect angles, making him look like he was even bigger than he was.

                “Anyone pieced together that you’re the real deal yet?” Hexcellent asked, walking over with a water bottle in hand. It surprised him how few curse-words she’d used since they arrived, but he supposed even among this crowd certain personality aspects required corporate sanitization.

                “Not so far,” Owen replied. “Though that last kid said my costume was ‘close.’ So, that’s progress.”

                Hexcellent snorted, trying not to spray water from her nose, then quickly turning away lest any of the audience should see her near-mishap. “It’s your own fault,” she said as she delicately wiped her face, careful not to smudge any make-up. “You’ve got that grey mask, you could have come incognito.”

                “Forget it, I’m here with you. We’re part of a team. Sooner or later people will realize that Hexcellent and Titan are working together, think of how thrilled these folks will be when they can say they were at the first public appearance.”

                “You severely over-estimate how many fucks are given about our team.” Hexcellent caught the curse only after it had exited her mouth and glanced around frantically to make sure no one else had heard. “What I mean is, yes, they’ll shake my hand and all, but at the end of the day that has way more to do with my face and body than with my professional exploits. Same is true for everyone on the team.”

                “I disagree,” Owen replied. “You guys save lives for a living. Just because this group doesn’t understand and respect that doesn’t mean there aren’t others who do. I bet at least one kid you’ve pulled out of a wrecked car or burning building has a poster of you over his bed.”

                “Trust me, I’ve seen the sales numbers, statistically your statement is probably true. Personally, I just try not to think about all the other posters of me that get sold. You know, to people who don’t know my name. Gives me the creepy-shivers.” One of the men wearing a collared shirt with the Fiery Discussion emblem on it was waving Hexcellent back over. It seemed they were nearly ready to open the doors, meaning Hexcellent had to stand-bye to do another round of greetings and handshakes that lasted a bit too long.

                “Titan, are you able to take assignments?” He didn’t jump in surprise at Dispatch’s voice humming in his ear this time, maybe he would get the hang of this again sooner than he thought. By plugging his earpiece in that morning, he’d put himself on the grid of Heroes without going officially active. While he didn’t anticipate a need so great they had to rally coverage, it was his obligation to at least be prepared for such things.

                “I’m working as Hero Liason right now, so I’m not taking assignments unless there’s a severe shortage or tremendous threat. Then I’ll do my part.” Owen pulled a cell phone from his pocket and stuck it to his ear as he spoke. No need to make people worry that the enormous, muscle-bound man was also having a psychotic break.

                A slight pause came before Dispatch's reply. “Status recorded. There is a minor disturbance some distance from you. It is escalating, but the responding Heroes are establishing control. Should you be needed, teleportation will be arranged. If you hear nothing from me in the next fifteen minutes, consider the situation resolved.”

                “Gotcha. What is this situation, anyway?”

                “Mechanical constructs with capable weaponry and high-levels of adaptability. Appeared and began wreaking property damage roughly ten minutes ago in the south-western area of the city. Elemental Fury has now arrived on the scene and diminished their numbers by forty percent. Likelihood of your needed intervention is dropping, but stay ready.”

                “Of course.”

                Owen put the phone away since their conversation had momentarily ended. Dispatch wasn’t really gone, she never stopped being right there. She was simply not talking, at least to him. If Elemental Fury, Gale’s team, was as good as their rep then he probably wouldn’t be needed. Even knowing that, Owen looked around, finding the most likely route of entrance for a teleporter to take. In a real battle, nothing was ever certain, no matter how good the Heroes were.

                Hexcellent looked up from her crowd and flashed him a pained oh-god-how-much-longer-do-I have-to-do-this-grin. He responded with a small wave, doing all he could to hide the sudden spike of pre-battle anxiety rising in his gut.