Chapter 90

               “Yeah, I have a question for Titan.” The young man standing up near the back wore a yellow shirt that was half-stained with sweat, no doubt a byproduct of standing directly in the sunlight. Around him, Owen felt his team stiffen slightly. While he’d fielded a few questions that were tossed up so far, this was the first one directed at him. Showing no fear of his own, Owen nodded for the sweaty man to continue.

                “I want to know why these teams need Heroes on them at all. All they’re doing is rescuing people, why does a Hero need to get involved?”

                “Titan, I can address this one,” Galvanize began, but Owen shook his head.

                “No, I think I’ve been on the job long enough to give a good answer.” Owen turned back to the one who’d asked the question. “The simple truth of it is that they don’t have to have a Hero Liaison if they don’t want to. Instead, a PEERS team is welcome to pair up with local law enforcement agencies. They can rent space in the police station and act as a support unit for rescues and emergency services. But I think you were probably asking why they needed supervision at all, not necessarily just from Heroes, am I right?”

                “Yeah.” It was more grunt than word, but Owen accepted it.

                “Well, that’s because, dedicated and powerful as any given PEERS team is, they aren’t trained for engaging with people who are hostile.” Owen leaned slightly back, taking his microphone with him, and allowed his eyes to scan the crowd. “It’s an unfortunate, but real, truth that in many of the cases where emergency services are needed, Supers or Powereds are involved. Sometimes it’s unintentional, a young kid still learning to deal with their abilities. Other times it’s less innocent. I’m not saying every fire or busted building is the result of our kind, mind you, only that the risk is constantly present. That’s why we pair teams of PEERS with Heroes or law enforcement: to make sure they’re properly protected should such a situation arise.”

                A light applause swept through the crowd, nothing like Hexcellent had managed to garner during her answers, but enough to signify they liked his reply. The staff member with the microphone tried to move on to the next guest; however, the man in the yellow shirt kept hold of it, clearly not happy with the answer he’d received.

                “That’s bullshit and you know it. This is just another way for the so called ‘Heroes’ to get more influence and control over the lives of real human-” The remainder of his rant was cut off as the burly staff member physically separated the yellow-shirted man from the microphone. Already, two others working security were heading over, no doubt to toss him from the pavilion, if not the fairgrounds as a whole. Owen tried to think of something to settle the crowd, who were visibly unnerved by the unexpected verbal attack, but he wasn’t nearly as quick-witted as another member of his team, who grabbed hold of her own mic and addressed the crowd.

                “Whoa there asshole, I’m not exactly a big fan of Heroes either, but that doesn’t change the fact that we see some dangerous shit out there.” The security guards, trouble maker firmly in hand, slowed down slightly to let Hexcellent say her piece. “Titan here has kept us safe from fires, collapsing bridges, and even a bunch of dickhead gang members. Before him, Mirror Fog made sure we never went into situations too dangerous to handle. There are a lot of Heroes out there with god complexes and enough ego to choke a donkey, but the ones who come aboard to help us usually aren’t in that lot. And even if some are, Titan damn sure isn’t among them.”

                Hexcellent, ever the crowd favorite, was treated to enthusiastic applause. Owen was a bit taken aback at how quick she’d been, not only getting things back on track, but turning what had actually been an attack on Heroes in general into something personal she could defend. If this was what she was like when she actually tried, it was no wonder Mordent let her get away with so much. Hexcellent could deliver, when the chips were down and she felt the need.

                “Oh, and as for that ‘real human’ talk you started to spout, I’ve been around enough to know Purist bullshit when I hear it. Security, throw him out of here. Something tells me he’s got a cow to fuck and a cross-burning to start.”

                The crowd cheered loudly, while across the table Galvanize stuck his head in his hands. Regardless of the amount of leash Hexcellent had, that part might have been a bit over the line in terms of what Mordent would forgive, especially given how many people were recording the panel. If Hexcellent noticed, or cared, she didn’t show it, sticking her arms in the air and egging the crowd to get even louder.

                For his part, Owen kept an eye on the man they were escorting out of the pavilion. Humanity Purists might be the largest and best organized of Super hate groups, but they were far from the most radical. Usually they limited themselves to picketing outside events featuring Heroes, spreading the message that people with powers weren’t true humans, and of course trying to pass legislation to strip Supers and Powereds of their basic rights. That was as a group though, the actions of an individual could never be completely predicted, which was why Owen didn’t completely relax until the aggressor was completely out of sight. Given how many celebrity athletes and Heroes were present, security had been top-notch, but Owen had seen too many sure things go sideways to ever trust precautions completely.

                “Alright, now that the dickhead is gone, let’s move on to a fun question. Clipboard guy, pick us a good one,” Hexcellent demanded.

                The staff member, caught off-guard by the request, quickly skimmed through the list of remaining questions and selected one, hurrying over to a woman in a blue cap. She jumped up from her seat and took the mic, grinning from ear-to-ear.

                “Aside from Bubble Bubble and that fuckwad director, I wanted to ask: who else among you has gotten to bang a celebrity?”

                Around her the crowd began to hoot, and Hexcellent’s laughter could be heard ringing through the speakers as she immediately turned to Zone and began trying to extract stories from him. Galvanize did his best to reassert control, but it was a largely futile effort.

                The crowd had chosen their own leader, and it was a woman decked out in goth makeup.