Chapter 7

                Before either of the men could step forward, a bright red light began flashing through the room, followed by a brief siren. That dissipated in moments, replaced by the calm voice of Mr. Greene.

                “There is a fire two point five miles away from here. It’s an older building, and structural integrity is a concern. Firefighters are currently spread thin, so they’ve requested our help.”

                “We’ll do it,” Galvanize yelled into the air. Owen presumed Greene could hear them, a suspicion confirmed moments later when the voice came back into the air.

                “Understood. They’ll be waiting for your presence. Transport is in the basement when you’re ready.”

                “You heard the man. Everyone, into your costumes and downstairs. If you take longer than five minutes, you’re getting left behind,” Galvanize commanded. His tone had seamlessly shifted from controlled but friendly to authoritative. Owen had no doubt he’d be abandoned if he dared go over the five minute mark. Evidently the others believed Galvanize too, as they immediately dashed off toward the door, Zone peeling off part of his sweats before he’d even gotten clear of the room.

                “Feeling nervous?” Galvanize asked, breaking into a light jog so as not to violate his own edict.

                “Lil bit,” Owen admitted. “Been a long time.”

                “You’ll be fine. Fires are where B.B. and Hexcellent really shine. Just follow orders and everyone will get home safe.”

                “That would be a pleasant outcome,” Owen agreed. How nice these kids had it, when if they did their job right, no one died. In the Hero world, even if you did everything perfectly, sometimes success still meant blood on your hands.

*              *              *

                Titan nearly missed his debut that day, due to the mirror in Owen’s room. He’d tried on his old costume before leaving Colorado, of course, but that had been a piecemeal ordeal. It meant wearing and checking each piece separately so problems could be identified as they occurred. It wasn’t until he was fully suited up, walking toward his door, that the figure in the mirror caught his attention and stopped him cold.

                It had been over a decade since he’d seen this person looking back in a reflection. This was different than going to see Lenny; this was a man about to walk out into a world of danger. He wasn’t just Owen Daniels wearing a costume. He was Titan, and the full of weight of that realization nearly sent him to the ground. So many memories, so many ordeals. So much loss. Part of him wanted to shrink back, to let Titan fall away in costume pieces and turn back into Owen.

                Instead, he reached up to the side of his mask and pressed a device in his ear, hidden by the red material covering his face. None of the others would have this accessory. It was only for Heroes. They’d made improvements to the ear pieces since his time away. This one was light, and nestled into the crevice of his ear with total security, giving a sense that no side-ways blow would knock it loose. The things had always been damned tough, but a good rocking could send them away. Titan was unsurprised to find this flaw had been addressed.

                “Titan, reporting in.” His words echoed through the empty room.

                “Dispatch recognizes Titan,” said a soft voice in his ear. Somewhere in his stomach, a knot of worry loosened. Part of him worried Dispatch would have changed as well, but her voice was the same as always: strong, well-enunciated, and with a vaguely European accent. No one, at least no one Titan had ever talked to, knew Dispatch’s real name, location, or even powers. She was just always there, no matter what time you plugged in. Always there, always the same.

                “Titan, please respond,” she repeated.

                Titan realized he’d zoned out, listening to her voice but not her words. “Sorry, repeat the question.”

                “You are cleared for active Hero assignments and for monitoring of a Privately Employed Emergency Response Supers team. Which of these tasks are you signing in for?”

                “I’m babysitting the corpies tonight,” Titan replied, working very hard to keep the annoyance out of his voice. If he signed in for active Hero duty, it would mean she’d direct him to any calls for help that fit the bill. Being on oversight duty meant he could use her if a situation arose, but she wouldn’t try to provide any new tasks to him.

                “Confirmed,” Dispatch said. “Is your team responding to the fire on forty-third street?” Since corpies and Heroes overlapped on rescue duties, Dispatch always knew who was going where.

                “If that’s about two miles from my current location, then yes,” Titan told her. He also broke his eyes away from the mirror and headed out his door. The earpiece wouldn’t be bothered by anything like walking. He’d seen people easily hold conversations with Dispatch while flying at supersonic speeds.

                “Confirmed. You are on note.” Titan winced, involuntarily. “On note” meant he was officially working the incident, and any other Hero who wanted to check and see if it was handled could find out he was there. Being a working Hero made it pretty much impossible to keep a low profile.

                “Thank you. Anything I should know going in?” Titan rounded the corner and stepped into the elevator at the end of the hall. The team had already informed him that the space below the lobby button would take him to a transport basement, if pressed by someone with the right biometrics. A small push from his thumb and spot of clear metal suddenly lit up, sending him a rapid journey downward.

                “No documented Supers or Powereds in residence at the building. Cause of fire is undetermined, though given degree of neglect and decay in neighborhood, natural causes are highly possible. Nothing in the reports so far suggests any variant-human activity.”

                “So if it is a Super, I’m going in blind,” Titan muttered. He preferred to get at least a forewarning on these sorts of things.

                “Again, nothing suggests-”

                “I know, I know, sorry Dispatch. I’m just a little on edge,” Titan told her.

                “Ah yes, this is your first active assignment since renewing your license,” Dispatch said. “In that case, let me be the first to say welcome back. The world has missed you, Titan.”

                The elevator doors whooshed open, revealing a large black vehicle with a single open door.

                “Tell the world I’m on my way.”