Chapter 33

                “That a fact? I didn’t recognize you outside your shifted form.” Titan finished the handshake while keeping a close watch on Granite’s face. Teams were complicated entities; in order to function every member had to be completely loyal to one another, but that didn’t mean they had to agree all the time. Granite would back Gale in any moves she made against Titan; however, he might not harbor any personal animosity toward the older Hero.

                “I try not to get photographed in human form, even with the mask. If I can pull it off then retirement will be a lot easier.” Granite released Titan’s hand, his own eyes clearly scrutinizing the man as well. “Trying to figure out if I dislike you as much as Gale?”


                Granite laughed; a deep, booming sound that seemed out of place among the chaos around them. “Don’t mind Gale, she’s a little tightly wound. In the last few years some high profile Heroes have come out of Brewster, folks who moved up to bigger cities and better merchandising sales. That’s great for them, but the fact that they’ve all come from here means a lot of new or overambitious Heroes have been migrating to our city, trying to use it as a career springboard.”

                At last, the pieces of Gale’s behavior fell into place for Titan. When a city had a lot of well-known Heroes coming out of it, it was considered “hot.” Hot cities were a double-edged sword: not many truly skilled criminal Supers tried to start shit in them for fear of meeting too strong of opposition, but it also drew the sort of Heroes who were desperate to get bigger in the public eye. Those were the kind who made dangerous mistakes and took stupid risks, doing things that got innocent people killed. No wonder Gale had been on such a hair trigger about him coming to her town, if she was already dealing with a bunch of upstarts the last thing she needed was someone with his profile doing the same thing. It would validate their behavior, invigorate them, and lead to even more reckless choices.

                “Should I bother telling you that’s not what I’m here to do, or is it wasting my words?” Titan asked.

                “I already know that you aren’t in Brewster for anything PR related,” Granite assured him. “For one thing, you’re fucking Titan. You were back in the public eye as soon as you put the mask on. For another, Brewster is hot right now, but you don’t need hot. You could have walked into any city in the continental USA and been huge. And lastly, I mean, come on. You’re sheparding a team of corpies around. That is not the action of an over-ambitious man.”

                “Glad at least someone on your team believes me.”

                “More than you might think. Of course, you know that won’t affect anything.”

                “Of course,” Titan said. Whether Granite believed him to be an attention-seeking ass was irrelevant. Gale was going to order them to come at him hard during the ability assessment, and they would all obey. She was their leader, they were on a team, and short of a severe moral conflict with her orders they would follow her without question. Titan didn’t just understand that, he respected it completely.

                “Titan, stand by for entry, you’ve got a third en route.” Galvanize’s voice crackled over the radio in Titan’s ear, sounding more strained than it had when they’d last spoken.

                “Looks like we’re almost clear,” Granite said. He tapped his own ear as he spoke and gave a small nod. “I just got word to shift.”

                Without a word more Granite changed, demonstrating what made his Hero name so appropriate. His dark skin changed, growing lighter but with a distinct grey hue. The outfit on his body sprang and stretched as his form expanded, widening and rising in nearly equal measure. An audible crunching sound, like a tumbling bag of rocks, filled the air as his entire body’s composition altered itself.

                In the span of ten seconds Titan went from looking at a muscular young man to a nine foot tall monster composed entirely of stone. It towered over him, a strange sensation for a man the size of Titan, and looked down.

                “More familiar?”

                “Much,” Titan replied. He’d studied up on Granite, on all of Gale’s team, ever since she put out the possibility of an ability assessment. The rocky fellow was large, strong, and durable, which would have effectively classified him as normal strongman in combat, but he also had a handy side-effect with his transformation. Granite could reform his stone body easily, even if the individual pieces were shattered. This made him functionally unstoppable by brute means, though he’d suffered serious injury at the hands of powerful elementalists. Titan had an idea for how to handle him in the ability assessment, but now that he’d actually met the guy it seemed a cruel method to use.

                “Hey you two, ready to go in?” These words came from a tall, willowy woman who floated over to them. She was adorned in a white and blue costume with a cape that fell nearly to her calves. If she was a Hero, then she was the type who didn’t do straightforward combat, because a cape like that would have gotten her killed already. “I’m Aether from Transcendental Justice.”

                “Granite,” the large living being of rock rumbled.

                “Titan,” Titan said. “Granite is supposed to hold the bottom floor while I go up and grab anyone trapped. What assignment are you on?”

                “I’m with you, Titan,” Aether replied. “I can make other people and objects, as well as myself, incorporeal, so I’m supposed to help you search and handle the delicate extractions.”

                A wave of relief washed over Titan. He’d been seriously worried about accidently bringing the building down when trying to get to someone. Having a Hero with a light touch would make them dozens of degrees more effective. Whoever was coordinating this effort had a solid head on their shoulders; they were allocating resources in a way that maximized their usefulness. Corpie or Hero, when this was over Titan meant to shake that person’s hand.

                “Scope sent me over with word that we have survivors on the third and fourth floor confirmed, and Afterthought is scanning the fifth floor as we speak. Granite, your orders stay the same. Titan, I’m on point to survey the area as we go, so hang back a few steps behind me. I’ll make sure the floors in each section can bear your weight. Once I get you up to the third floor, I’ll leave you to extract while I grab people from the fourth. If you hit a situation where you’re not sure you can get someone out without knocking things down, just give me a holler. I’ll be listening.” Despite her lithe frame, Aether’s voice was authoritative and certain as she doled out the orders. Whatever role she filled for her team, Titan had a hunch she did it well.

                “Sounds good,” Granite said.

                “Glad to hear it, because we just got clearance,” Aether announced. “Let’s get in there and save some people.”