Chapter 63

                Owen was surprised at how nostalgic he felt as he tooled around the supposedly abandoned building. The beaten exterior concealed a fair amount of furniture and creature comforts, but it was still an overall sparse space. In fact, most of the building had been left bare, save for a few weights in the corner. From the dents and broken pieces of concrete in one section of the building Owen immediately recognized what it was: a sparring area. All in all, the Wild Bucks’ base felt a lot like the one he and Topsy had shared once upon a time; the base of a new Hero team just starting up, trying to do their best on a bare bones budget.

                Several mismatched chairs had been pulled together in this central space, only a few feet away from where a large throw rug marked the beginning of the space designated as the living room. Three costumed Heroes were there waiting for him, and they hopped to their feet as soon as Owen stepped into view. Two were men, one wearing the familiar black fabric of someone whose shape would be drastically changing, while the other sported a simple black and blue costume with some interesting swirled patterns. The last member was female, and her costume was red and silver with curiously empty spots on her shoulder and outer thighs. They all stared at Owen, at Titan, with silent admiration as he and Topsy walked through the empty space from the door to their chairs.

                Enjoyable as Owen found nostalgia; it didn’t blind him from the fact that Topsy had clearly left something out when he talked about training these kids. His old friend had said he was hired on to coach them, but Owen doubted this team could afford take-out more than once a week, let alone the training of a Hero from someone as experienced as Topsy. More than likely, that meant a family relation of some kind. It at least explained why Topsy was sticking around even after the shitshow. Most Heroes who’d lived that many years understood a lost cause on sight.

                “Let’s start with introductions,” Titan said at last. “You’ll forgive the presumptiveness, but given the events of the last month or so I’m going to assume you all have a pretty good idea of who I am. Since everyone in the room is familiar with Topsy, we’ll go ahead and skip him too. Tell me your names and what you can do.” It was a faux pas to ask any Hero how their power worked, since the exact mechanics could often betray a weakness in it, but asking what they could do was usually general enough to get a sense of one’s capabilities.

                “I’ll start,” said the young man in the blue and black costume. “My name is Deadlift, and I am, or was, the leader of this team.” His voice was crisp and strong, but there was enough doubt hidden in his blue eyes to betray the uncertainty that had to be weighing on him after all that had happened. “My power is that I can lift, and wield, pretty much anything.”

                “So, super strength?” Titan asked.

                “If I may, sir, it’s easier to show than tell,” Deadlift said.

                Titan nodded, and Deadlift closed the gap between them. The young Hero reached over and grabbed Titan’s meaty tricep with a firm grip. To Titan’s surprise, he felt himself rise from the ground as Deadlift raised his arm, effortlessly lifting the man who weighed hundreds of muscle-heavy pounds in the air as if he had the mass of a cloud. There was no strain on Deadlift’s face, no visible effort in his muscles. In that moment, Titan understood: it wasn’t that Deadlift had super strength, it was that his power affected the weight of things he held.

                Deadlift set Titan carefully back down, then walked back through the room to rejoin the others. Next to speak was the one wearing shifter material; a thickly built young man with a freshly shaven head. When he spoke, his voice was friendlier than Titan was expecting, lots of energy and pep, despite their dire circumstances.

                “My name is Kaiju, and as you can probably guess from the costume I’m a shifter. If you’ve seen video or pictures of us, I’m the fourteen foot tall dark red one. I can shift if you need me to, but I’m not the quickest, so it will take a bit for me to get in and out of form.”

                “That won’t be necessary. I’ve seen your shifted form already,” Titan said. He had indeed taken note of the massive, scaly creature shown with the Wild Bucks during the footage he’d found. Shifter had been obvious, but it was still impressive. The bigger a form someone shifted into, the longer the process took. For this kid to have made it through the HCP he must have been impressively quick on the shifting draw.

                “That just leaves me,” said the woman in the red and silver costume.  “My name is Juiced, and there’s really no way to tell you anything about my power, aside from that I’m a strong woman, without giving away the whole kit and caboodle.” Juiced had the vague remains of an accent that Titan placed as from somewhere in the Northeast United States; Maine if he was guessing.

                She reached down to the floor and picked up a water bottle that had escaped Titan’s notice before. Twisting off the cap, she gulped down several swigs of the beverage, and as she did her body changed visibly. Her already well-defined HCP-grad muscles swelled and she grew at least an inch and a half taller. The gaps in her costume suddenly made much more sense, as it became clear that her movement would have been rapidly hindered by constricting fabric in those spots. Juiced lowered the bottle from her lips, and Titan noted that she hadn’t even drunk a quarter of what was inside.

                “I’m a metabolic converter. When I drink a certain liquid I get stronger, tougher, bigger, and can even heal faster. Diminishing returns kick in of course, and pretty quickly at that, but I can still get powerful enough to hold my own.”

                Titan nodded, and watched as Juiced set the bottle down. She had pointedly avoiding mentioning what was inside of it, and he made certain not to ask. The Hero had already given away much of her secret simply out of formality, there was no way he would be so rude as to try and uncover the part she clearly kept the closest guarded.

                “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Titan said. “All of you. It’s clear that you have some interesting abilities, and from the very fact that you’re HCP graduates I’m certain you know how to use them. That said, I’m not here just for fun and socialization. Given what you’ve been through in the past weeks, I’m sure you’re all keenly aware of the situation, but I’m going to say it anyway, because harsh truths need to be met head on if you’re going to conquer them.” Titan paused for a moment, and made certain to look every Hero there, Topsy included, directly in the eye.

                “The Wild Bucks are on the verge of being dissolved, and I’m not sure that anything can stop it from happening.”