Chapter 39

              “By my count, we’re up to number five,” Jeremiah said after slowly draining a portion of his bright blue drink. “Of course, that’s a bit of speculation; whoever this is certainly doesn’t have monopoly on robots. But going by style and evolution of their design, it seems safe to say we just put down the fifth generation.”

                Owen nodded and took a sip of his own beer. “Guessing the others were easier to beat?”

                “The first few were, but the fourth generation gave us a bit of trouble. That’s why some of us started doing the research and keeping a log of when these showed up. Each time is always the same: robots show up, cause enough destruction to draw out some Heroes, then go to town on them. For those of us with some wits and experience, it’s not a giant issue, but this time they got hold of a team of rookies. That upped the collateral damage considerably.”

                “From what I saw yesterday, Wild Bucks going down early in the fight may have been the best thing for everyone,” Owen said.

                “Maybe so, but it made the rest of us a lot more cautious. These things were a big leap ahead from generation four. Learning as they fought was bad enough, add in the healing abilities and you get a bot that can catch even a seasoned Hero off guard.”

                “Five generations, all with no other goals than fighting Heroes. Has to be a refinement game then,” Owen said. Whether it was criminal organizations training new members or tech geniuses testing out designs; there was no shortage of people who used Heroes to refine their abilities. It was a dangerous game to play; every asset lost could put Heroes closer to the main inventor or organization. The flip side was that such a trial-by-fire method could significantly increase the power and knowledge of those pulling the strings.

                “That’s what we’re hoping,” Jeremiah said. “The other option is that someone is trying to get enough information on how each Hero in Brewster fights so that they can try and do a purge.”

                “In a town this hot? They’d have to more than crazy, they’d have to be stupid, and whoever built those things is far from stupid.” Owen had only personally witnessed one attempted purge in his lifetime, a coordinated effort by nearly every criminal, Super or mundane, to simultaneously kill off all the Heroes in their city. That had been when he was starting out, fresh off his internship, in a small city where The Gentle Hammers were one of only three Super teams. To their credit, the criminals had been smart, prepared, and well-coordinated. What they hadn’t been, however, was counting on the new team to be an unstoppable as they were. The effort was foiled, though each of the other teams lost people in the process. It had been a hard, bloody introduction to the world of Heroes; one that Titan had never forgotten.

                “There are all different kinds of smart. I’ve got a cousin that can’t remember what he had for breakfast but can quote Tolstoy without missing a beat. Building a robot doesn’t mean someone can’t overestimate their own chances at taking down Heroes.”

                “But you don’t think it’s likely,” Owen replied.

                “Hell no. Shit, with all the upstarts in this town not even I can keep track of the Heroes flowing through, and half my damn job is information,” Jeremiah said. Owen doubted the truth of the statement, most Subtlety Heroes tended to undersell themselves when dealing with those they didn’t completely trust. It was one of the many ways they stayed a step ahead of everyone outside their team. “Anyway, if this bot-maker is aiming for a purge, they’ll need a lot more generations to make it viable. Elemental Fury put those little fucks down hard.”

                “Speaking of Elemental Fury, what team do you work for, Jeremiah?”

                “No one that a Hero like you would be familiar with. Just a small collective of like-minded Heroes who operate under the name Modus Operandi. Nothing too fancy or flashy, we never even make the top lists of popular Hero teams.”

                “Modus Operandi… isn’t that a team composed almost entirely of Subtlety Heroes?”

                Jeremiah tilted his head ever-so-slightly and looked at his drinking buddy with new respect. “You actually did enough research to know about us? I’m genuinely impressed. Every story I’ve heard paints you as a sheer brute with little mind to speak of.”

                “Gee, what a compliment,” Owen sighed. “I swear, just because I can throw tanks people assume I’m a muscle-headed idiot. Of course I researched most of the Hero teams before coming to Brewster, the last thing I wanted to do was rub anyone the wrong way and end up dealing with unnecessary problems.”

                “From what I hear about your upcoming power assessment, you did a fairly shitty job of that.”

                Owen shot Jeremiah a hard glance, but he just shrugged and drank more blue liquid. Jeremiah was a Subtlety Hero, after all, it was essentially his job to be plugged into to every outlet of information he could. New Heroes in town, and any friction they might be causing, would certainly be part of that.

                “Well, in a few days you’ll get to see firsthand just how bad I am at handling these kinds of situations. The assessment is officially scheduled, and set-up so that everyone who wants to can see it. Makes me miss the days when all people did was try and kill me in my sleep.”

                “Worried you’ll get trounced?”

                “Nope, other direction.”

                “Ah, a man who at least believes he lives up to his legend,” Jeremiah polished off his drink and motioned to the bartender for another. “Look, don’t fret about it too much. Elemental Fury is a legacy team with outstanding stats and a reputation that deserves respect. That said, we all know Gale has a bit of a stick up her ass. No one is going to hold it against you if you manage to knock her down a few pegs. Well, no one aside from Gale, I mean.”

                “Maybe not, but this wasn’t really how I wanted to come back onto the Hero scene.”

                “From what I know about you, you sure as hell didn’t leave Hero work under the circumstances you would have chosen; I don’t see why you’re return should be any different.”

                “Has anyone told you that you’re terrible at cheering people up?” Owen asked.

                “Chin up, Titan. What I’m saying is you’re disgraced and tons of people hate you. You’re already in the shitpile. So what’s the worst that can happen here? Some people like what you do, some hate it, either way nothing really changes. That’s the upside of being disgraced and hated: you’ve got more freedom than the rest of us. You’re the only one who can truly say and do what he wants without fear of image repercussions. You’re free, Titan. Stop moping about and enjoy it for God’s sake.”