Chapter 24

               With the media handled, or at least subjugated enough to where Owen no longer considered them an issue, the team turned their attention to cleaning up the area ravaged by the robot attacks. The cleaners had done an exceptional job of making sure all the roads were clear and the buildings stable. They’d even rebuilt several structures before calling the job done. However, there was still a fair bit of debris strewn along the sidewalks and in the drainage gutters of the streets. Glass was abundant, as well as small chunks of gravel. Some chunks were quite sizable, the sort that would have required more than one person and might have resulted in an injured back. These were the obstacle that Galvanize sent Owen and Bubble Bubble to deal with.

                Owen’s method for handling them was to simply lift the bits of concrete effortlessly off the ground and set them into the trash can he’d been provided with. Initially he’d worried that it would fall apart when it was filled and he tried to lift it, but that concern proved groundless as the repository held together flawlessly. These kids really did have the best of everything, even trash cans.

                Bubble Bubble made slower, but steady, progress. She would summon one of her energy spheres, carefully making sure the bulk of the debris was encased in it, then move it over to her own trash can and let the sphere dissipate. Her speed didn’t bother Owen, she was using her abilities the best way they’d function, but he did notice she seemed to take a lot of time between each piece of debris, fixing her hair and repositioning herself three to four times. At first he thought she was trying to find the best angle of approach for her pieces. By the fifth time it happened, Owen had recognized the all-too-familiar behavior.

                “Are you posing?” He set the sizable bit of broken building onto the top of his trash can, keeping his eyes on her the whole time.

                “Of course I’m posing.” If she was bothered by being called out on that fact, she didn’t let it show. In fact, she kept the same poised, neutral expression that she’d pretty much been wearing since Owen met her. Even her smiles and reactions were subdued, as though she were constantly on a job interview.

                “Let’s back up. Why are you posing? This isn’t a shoot, its work.”

                “For some of us, those are one and the same,” Bubble Bubble replied. “Many of my sponsors are clothing and make-up companies, which means I have to be camera-ready at all times. It wouldn’t be proper for someone to capture an unflattering photo of me.” A sphere crackled into existence around several small but jagged pieces of concrete, and floated up on a slow path toward the trash can.

                “I really hope you’re joking. What’s the worst that could happen if someone took one bad picture of you?”

                “I’m not concerned with what could happen, I’m worried about what couldn’t.” Even as she manipulated the sphere through the air, Bubble Bubble was able to keep her tone and expression perfectly placid. “A proper presence at all times is what opens doors to other opportunities, like modeling jobs outside of the costume, and those are a stepping stone to roles in television or cinema. Constant composure and beauty are the hallmarks of a successful media icon. We can’t all afford to brush off the press at our convenience.” She set her latest load into her trash can and looked down. “Pardon me, I’m going to take this over to the large dumpster.” A new sphere appeared, this one encasing the whole trash can, and Bubble Bubble walked off toward the industrial sized dumpster that had been set up to hold the accumulated debris.

                “Don’t let it bother you, she’s a career girl.” Hexcellent came over, broom and small bin still in her hands. Useful as her demons were, none were suited for delicate work, and they already had enough lifting power without Big Henry. “BB climbed her way up from a bit role on a minor PEERS team in South Dakota. The girl has ambition like a mother fucker. She’s probably the best person on the team at working crowds and cameras.”

                “So this job is just… what? A step on the path?”

                “If you know of another career that gets a Super out in front of cameras, access to professional PR teams, and minimizes personal risk, then I’d love to hear it,” Hexcellent said. “I give her shit at home, but honestly I sort of get it. The girl wants to go to the top, and as long she keeps her ass working hard at this job while she’s here then I don’t care where she goes next.”

                “You make it sound like you aren’t even friends,” Owen replied, lifting a few chunks of debris into his trash can.

                “We’re not. We’re teammates. I trust her to do her job and she trusts me the same way. Before I came onto the team there was someone else she trusted with that duty, and when she leaves for greener pastures I’ll get used to someone new. That’s all work, though; our personal lives stay way the fuck separate. It’s the same for basically everyone on the team, except for the monthly game nights that Galvanize always tries to organize.”

                That Galvanize would try and get his team to view each other more socially didn’t surprise Owen at all, what shocked him was the idea that any team could work so well together yet be so separate. In his Hero groups, people had been thicker than family. Then again, they’d also been facing the very real threat of death every day. That sort of pressure forced bonds between people, making small differences irrelevant.

                The more he thought about it, the more he realized the truth in what Hexcellent was saying. Even today, during breakfast, Galvanize had gone over everyone’s schedule and they’d all been doing different things. Helping clean downtown was the only team activity of the day, and it couldn’t possibly have been planned. These four truly were living entirely separate lives that happened to brush against one another on occasion.

                He grabbed his trash can and began hauling it to the dumpster, lost in thought. Maybe this was good enough for most of them, but Owen deeply suspected Galvanize wanted his team to be tighter knit. As the Hero Liason, it wasn’t technically under Owen’s purview to deal with that sort of thing.

                Not that he gave a shit. Owen hadn’t left retirement to sit on the sidelines when he saw a problem. If something needed doing, he was damn sure going to do it. The only hurdle to jump was figuring out how.