Chapter 21

                As soon as he stepped through the door from the elevator hallway to the living room, Owen realized something was up. Granted, Hexcellent’s inability to stop smirking and snickering throughout the entire drive back had clued him in that he was in for some sort of surprise, but seeing Mr. Greene standing there, with Galvanize nearby, drove the point the rest of the way home.

                “Oh shit, did I screw something up?” Owen held the door for Hexcellent, who scampered through and immediately made a beeline for the large television on the other side of the room. She snatched up the remote from Zone, who was sitting next to Bubble Bubble as she surfed the web on a slim tablet.

                “Not at all,” Galvanize quickly assured him. “This is something that we knew would happen eventually, it was part of the package when we chose you to fill the role of our Hero Liason.”

                “While that is true, we also had planned a nice, well-framed release of the information specially designed to cast you in crowd-tested sentiment,” Mr. Greene added. He wasn’t angry, men like him were too proper to ever get angry. Instead, he was put-out : a careful combination of annoyance, discontent, and resolve. Owen had known a lot of people like Greene in his life, and he’d prefer someone who called him a fucker and took a swing at him far above people who got put-out.

                “Could someone at least tell me what I’m in trouble for?”

                “You’re not in trouble, dumbass. You’re just not our little secret anymore.” Hexcellent made this announcement just before she drilled her finger into the television’s volume button, filling the room with crystal clear sound from expensive surround-sound speakers.

                “-which were cleaned up less than an hour later. Neither Elemental Fury nor Shifter’s Assembly were able to be reached for comment.

                If you’re just joining us, today in downtown Brewster several automated robots attempted to carve a path of destruction before being thwarted by our local Hero teams. While we’ll keep you up to date with how this impacts business and traffic, the most surprising part of today’s attack was not the robots themselves, but who appeared to help stop them.”

                The picture on the television switched from the anchor with perfectly sprayed hair and unnervingly white teeth to shaky footage clearly taken by someone with a cell phone. It only took Owen a glance to recognize what was happening on the film. It wasn’t hard to remember, after all, he’d been there only a couple of hours ago.

                “Sources have confirmed that the man in the picture is in fact Titan, a Hero formerly associated with the Chicago area and known for both his strength and the scandal that drove him out of the public eye over a decade ago. Already people are having powerful reactions to his reappearance, let’s go to Janice-”

                Hexcellent hit mute, then turned to Owen. “Seems you still look enough like yourself to get recognized.”

                Owen allowed himself a brief moment’s chuckle. “I bet that kid from the store opening is pissed he didn’t grab an autograph.”

                “I’m glad you two find this so amusing, because your little escapade has torched our entire plan for announcing your new position and controlling the spin of the story,” Mr. Greene snapped. “Dozens of carefully planned, focus group tested, events and promotions all rendered useless because you couldn’t stop yourself from punching some robots.”

                “Hang on now, are you trying to give me shit for doing my job? Hero Liasons are still Heroes, we have responsibilities to the public. I’ll say I’m sorry that this made controlling your precious image harder, but if you’re waiting for me to apologize for stopping threats to innocent people and property then you better have a toilet and a novel handy, cause it’ll be a while.”

                “No one is upset with you for stopping those things,” Galvanize said, hurriedly stepping in. “Mr. Greene just wishes you’d told us as soon as it happened so he could have gotten ahead of the story. It’s my fault as much as anyone’s, I should have briefed you on that policy before you and Hexcellent went out this morning. It just didn’t occur to me that anything would happen.”

                “Are you kidding?” Zone said from the couch. “How could it not? Once he was away from us I bet Titan couldn’t wait to get the cameras on him. He probably called in favors specifically to have them routed to him, all so he could play big bad Hero for the camer – OW!”

                The last bit came as Hexcellent took the remote still clutched in her hand and brought it down on Zone’s well-gelled head. It struck so hard that the back flew open and one of the batteries popped out.

                “Cut the fucking temper tantrums, Zone. He didn’t do shit. Titan came with me, stayed properly to the sidelines, and minded his manners the entire day. The only reason he took on those robots is because they were literally coming right for us. I’ve watched videos of what those things did to downtown, and if he hadn’t hung around to tear them up that that mall would be in pieces and at least some people would be dead. Even at that, he still took the time to try and get me away to safety before fucking those things up. Be a pissy bitch all you want about real shit, but there was a situation that needed handling and Titan handled it. End of story.”

                For a moment, the air between the two teammates grew very tense. There was a second, a very long and dangerous second, when Owen thought Zone was legitimately going to take a swing at Hexcellent. Thankfully, the moment passed, and Zone leaned back into the couch with a sour, but silent, expression on his face.

                “Right then, since I’ve already spoken with the DVA and they confirmed that you were pulled in out of necessity, you didn’t violate any protocol with your actions.” Mr. Greene didn’t need to add the “this time” to his statement, his tone already implied it perfectly. “Please do a better job of keeping us in the loop in the future though. I’d like to remind you that it isn’t just our ‘precious image’ that I’m here to manage, it’s yours as well.”

                “Appreciate the concern, but I already pay someone for that.”

                “And I’m sure he’s just as good as an entire staff of trained and experience public relations professionals,” Mr. Greene scoffed. “Regardless, you need to tell us when these incidents happen, especially when one of our people is on the scene with you.”

                Owen bit back his planned retort, a very graphic description of what Greene could do to his “public relations professionals,” and made himself calm down. While Owen was the new guy and couldn’t be held too accountable for not calling things in, Hexcellent didn’t have his excuse or his level of fame. Making waves might end up with her head going below water, and he wouldn’t be responsible for that.

                “I’m sorry I didn’t call it in,” Owen said slowly. “In the future, I’ll make sure to report these sorts of things as soon as they happen.”

                “That’s all I wanted to hear,” Mr. Greene said. “Now go fill out an incident report. I have damage control to do.”

                Owen just nodded, he didn’t trust his tongue with the freedom to speak.