Chapter 93

                Despite Jeremiah’s cryptic warning, the third day of the charity event started off just like all the others. True, Owen might have been a bit more on guard as he wandered about the booths, doing some meet and greets, signings, and shaking hands. And he might have readied himself just a touch too quickly every time a loud noise met his ears, as if he expected chaos to break out at any moment. As the day wore on, however, Owen gradually let his nerves settle, reminding himself that technically trouble was always around the potential bend. All stressing over it would do was wear him down for when he was actually needed.

                By the time the day’s main event rolled around, Owen had managed to completely settle down, a feeling that lasted only until he arrived at the stadium. It was a run-down relic of times long past, back when Brewster was a small city with little more than a farm-league to count as their professional sports team. Across town there was a new, high-tech stadium where actual events were hosted, yet their original field was still here on the fairgrounds, steadfastly refusing to crumble or give way in spite of its age and wear. Owen felt a kinship to the battered building as soon as he set foot on the green, well-cared for, turf.

                Already several of the teams for the tug-of-war, the vast majority of them players from the SAA, were out warming up. Some were having matches against teammates, others were tossing a ball around, and a few were just slowly curling weights while making conversation. It was a festive atmosphere; everyone seemed in high spirits about the impending event.

                For a moment, Owen was taken aback by the jovial sentiment. Years of Hero work had conditioned him to equate publicly using his powers with danger, to others and occasionally himself. But that wasn’t the case today. No one was going to get hurt, unless they turned an ankle or something. Hell, it didn’t even matter who won. Aside from bragging rights, the only real prize today was selling the tickets and raising money for charity. Which, if the crowd lined up outside was any indication, they’d already accomplished.

                Scanning the field, Owen finally saw his own team, grouped up near Galvanize as he no doubt drilled them on proper rope-pulling techniques. Owen was halfway to them when a familiar voice flagged him down.

                “Titan! Hey, wait up.” From across the field, Kaiju was jogging over. Though the young man was still in his human form, Owen had seen how quickly that could change. He glanced over to where Kaiju was coming from, noting that Juiced and Deadlift were both chalking their hands and practicing grips. This competition might be more interesting than he’d expected, Deadlift’s power alone was bound to have some unexpected effects.

                “Afternoon, Kaiju,” Owen said as the Hero finally came to a stop several feet away. Around them, a few people looked over, noticing for the first time that Titan had arrived.

                “Afternoon yourself,” Kaiju replied. “I’d heard people saying you were going to be part of this, but I didn’t really believe it. Are you actually going to come tug a rope around with us low-end schmucks?”

                While the assessment might have been harsh, it was true that there were very few other Heroes on the field, and of those that were present, Owen recognized almost none. These sorts of events weren’t usually appealing to Heroes from a PR perspective. If you were popular and won, pretty much nothing changed, but if you were popular and lost, people might think less of you. It was a poor bet for most Heroes to make, the obvious exception being ones that needed exposure and had little image to lose. A disgraced team that had barely held onto their certifications, for example.

                “What can I say, I heard you all were going to be here and couldn’t pass up that challenge. Who knows when I’ll get another opportunity to actually test myself against that kind of power,” Owen replied.

                Kaiju smiled, a small, guarded one that said he clearly knew Owen was just being polite, but it was still a smile all the same. “Whatever you say, big man. Well, it doesn’t change much for us; we were already expected to lose early. This is just one more check in the column against us.”

                Owen let out a snort that was so loud it startled a nearby man doing push-ups. “Who the hell would expect you three lose? You’re a team of strongmen, and women, plus Deadlift’s ability is bound to make things interesting.”

                “Sure, we’ve got power, but what we don’t have are alternates,” Kaiju said. “Every match is teams of three, and while the others have people to change out so they can rest, we’re going to have to do each one by ourselves. Since we’re going against other strongmen, it’s bound to get tiring.”

                “Maybe so, but I’ve seen you three fight. Something tells me you’re not going to let a little thing like fatigue slow you down.” Owen started to say more, but a loud female voice echoed through the ancient stadium, crackling across the speakers with a healthy amount of feedback.

                “Attention: All competitors for the tug-of-war please report to your starting areas. The gates will be opened to spectators in five minutes. Again, please report to your starting areas, guests will begin arriving in five minutes.”

                “Did she sound familiar to you?” Owen asked.

                Kaiju shook his head. “Doesn’t ring a bell. Then again, over all that static I doubt I’d even recognize Juiced’s voice, and she is not shy about filling the base with it when someone eats her waffles.”

                “Must be my imagination.” Owen looked at Juiced and Deadlift, who’d put down their rope and seemed to be doing stretches. “Good luck to you all. I’m not sure how the bracket system on this thing works, but if we face each other I hope it’s in the final match.”

                “Same here. Though ideally someone else will take you out, and we’d be able to capitalize on some fatal flaw in their team dynamic,” Kaiju replied. “But yes, barring that, here’s hoping we meet you in the finals.”

                He turned and jogged back toward his team, and Owen began heading to Galvanize and the others. Already, he could hear the excited chatter of the large crowd coming from outside the gates. In minutes, they’d come pouring through.

                The show was about to begin, and Owen knew he had to be ready. If he was going to leave his team soon, then the least he owed them was a moment in the glorious spotlight of victory.