Above Haven City, at the edge of its Eastside district border -
"All this space, and to think that crazy musclehead was going to pack it full of Duds!" Rockshaper motioned around to the vast innards of the carrier plane around him.
There were three rows of seats stretching out seemingly endlessly across the flanks of the sixty-meter-long super craft.
Even if this Carrier was an older model from five decades ago, by virtue of being military grade during the peak of the Monstering, it still had everything needed to function in tense combat situations.
Between the rows of seats were storage compartments for holding medical supplies, rations, and weapons. There were even mobile med-pods capable of housing people in intensive care and, in cases where their injuries were so severe they needed to be preserved until they reached a proper hospital, life support stasis capability.
Rockshaper's mask was off at this point, baring a sweaty, grimy chiseled face with set in brown eyes and short cropped black hair and messy stubble. He unwrapped a chocolate flavored omnibar, a MRE snack packed with two thousand calories, and chewed into it.
"And we got grub, too. Damn, even this brick tastes fucking incredible after all the sh*t I had to put up with Minuteman. Hope that fucker dies," said Rockshaper.
"We should have at least saved some of them," said a cowboy themed hero leaning forward in a char who, in a stroke of original brilliance, had a hero name of 'Cowboy.'
Incidentally, he was one of four Sentries stationed in Southside, sentries being heroes at least C rank that oversaw the security of several neighborhoods in a city.
Underneath them were lower ranked patrol heroes that roamed around individual neighborhoods, but most of them, at least in Southside's chronically underfunded and under-defended confines, were dead.
The only ones alive were the higher-ranking Sentries and some C rankers from other parts of the city.
"Funny to hear that coming from you, Cowboy. You have a reputation of being a sh*t Sentry, after all," said Rockshaper.
"Yeah, can't deny that," said Cowboy. "I just couldn't be assed to do much with how little I was getting paid. Plus, they were mostly Duds. But that don't mean we had to leave all of em'. The kids, maybe, we could've gotten em' on here."
"We bring back even one of them, and they're a potential witness to what we did, and we won't just be losing our hero licenses, we'll be rotting in villain jail for the rest of our lives if we don't get flat out executed first," said Rockshaper. "Am I sensing…hesitation here, Cowboy?
Among us all, you're the weakest. It wouldn't be too hard to get rid of you like we did with Portal Girl and Sparkwire," said Rockshaper as he stepped in front of Cowboy threateningly.
Cowboy put his leather gloved hands up in the air. "No, no, don't got no problem with this."
"How about that? I guess it's true that it only takes a little pressure to get the right answer out of people," said Rockshaper with a smug smile. He strolled over to the cockpit where Computation, one of the C rankers, was operating the plane.
Sparkwire, or known as Miles as a civilian, had refused to pilot the plane and leave behind Minuteman, but thankfully, with Computation around and Minuteman gone, there was no need to keep Miles.
It was a shame Portal Girl had to go, thought Rockshaper. She was a young one, so much potential, plus, she looked amazing in that pink skintight costume. Such a waste to let pretty ones like that go.
But she had opposed Rockshaper, and that was it.
There was an ever-dying breed of heroes nicknamed 'Goldies' that tried to represent the idealism and pure morality of the first wave of heroes that had risen up during the supposed 'Golden age' of heroes, when Alters first donned costumes in light of Pre-Altering comic books and movies and media to fight villains not for themselves, but to try and make the chaotic world around them right.
As far as Rockshaper cared, they were all idiots.
There was a reason they were dying out.
Vanguard was probably the last big Goldie with Valkyrie's retirement, and he had disappeared almost twenty years ago, probably swallowed up in a Titan's nest somewhere.
When survival was on the line, morals did not matter. The Goldies did not understand this, and so many of them died sacrificing themselves.
Case in point: Minuteman.
Honestly, Rockshaper had no idea how these people fostered enough delusion within themselves to put down their own lives for others, but whatever. At the end of the day, Minuteman, that tiny brained idiot that thought he was so much better than Rockshaper just because he was B class, was dead, and Rockshaper was alive, ready to rise through the ranks.
"Computation, what's the ETA on us getting out of this watery sh*thole?" said Rockshaper as he sat in the co-pilot seat beside Computation.
Computation's glowing blue-light mask flashed as he spoke, his voice going through a synth filter. "Fifteen minutes, probably. We're almost out of Westside." He looked at a monitor showcasing blurry images of the cityscape below.
With the tech disrupting storm cleared away, satellite imagery could show what was going down on the ground, but it would still take a solid half hour before it managed to show anything crisp quality as the Panopticon's satellite array recalibrated.
But even with blurry images, it was possible to see that the Westside was just completely flooded, its usual colorful neon lights drowned out.
"What a damned shame. So much new tech in Westside just gone like that. In some ways, especially forgery, it was almost on par with tier 1 cities when I worked in the black market," said Computation flatly.
"Yeah, getting a fake I.D. for my mercenary gig was a breeze out there," said Rockshaper.
It was not a big secret that a surprisingly sizable number of heroes dealt with under the table jobs and activities to pad their incomes.
The hero industry was heavily top concentrated, with those in the Superboard Top 100 almost making more than all the other several million heroes in the United States combined.
Until a hero made it to the C rank at least, they got zero exposure from sponsorships or social media, not to mention it was hard to get into established teams or secure good missions to farm AP without either strong media presence or proven strength.
And once a hero got into the C rank, it still required careful maintenance of one's personal brand to keep ranking up, not to mention tons of hero teams were predatory in their contracts and, despite giving a more stable place for heroes to secure missions, often made sure that most of the rewards and social media exposure went to just a privileged few on the team.
The end result was that most heroes that were relatively talented and trained hard enough made it to the C rank but found themselves hard stuck there.
Maybe they were strong enough to go to the B rank but lacked the social media finesse to go higher, or maybe they were popular with the masses but flat out too weak to qualify for higher ranks - in some way, they were lacking.
Only a precious talented few were strong enough to just blitz through the rankings with incredible power that was undeniable, and most of them ended up in the A- rank.
To get from there to the A rank, they again needed a solid brand image.
The A+ and S ranks were a whole different breed altogether, where heroes were so strong that they were national security assets where their image mattered far less.
But trying to go up there was a pipe dream for basically anyone.
For the vast majority of heroes, getting into the B rank and above was good enough to live a comfortable life, but the cutoff between C and B was just too large for most to make that leap.
Hence, there was also quite some built up resentment between C rankers and B rankers they were envious of.
There was no doubt this envy had contributed towards Rockshaper and the rest of the C rankers rebelling against Minuteman, but the biggest thing at the end of the day that had turned them was the utterly repulsive idea of risking their lives for Duds.
"Still, poor Minuteman. Imagine dying for Duds," said Computation. "I couldn't think of a worse way to go."
"Thing about Goldies like him, though, is that they're perfectly happy to die like that," said Rockshaper as he shrugged. "If you ask me, I think we did him a favor, letting him die as a proper golden age hero like that."
"That's harsh, man, but I do know where you're coming from. When I see Goldies these days, it feels like I'm looking at a walking, talking fossil. Something that just doesn't belong in the modern age, you know?" said Computation.
"Then the Goldies and the Duds have something in common," laughed Rockshaper. "No wonder Minuteman wanted to die for them."
That was when the plane thudded, shaking violently and jerking downwards from an impact from above.
Rockshaper stumbled forwards in his seat, stopping himself from face planting in the controls in front of him. "The hell was that!?"
"Put on your seatbelt, dude," muttered Computation before he flipped a few switches, getting the Carrier's Threat Detection System to activate. There, localized high accuracy radar mapped out threats within the aircraft's vicinity, and the monitor drew out an approximate image of what had crashed atop the plane -
"A…person? No, wait, I'm not sure…," said Computation, utterly bewildered. The radar imagery did not give a perfect image, just a silhouette, but the projected silhouette, though humanoid, also seemed monstrously inhuman with spiked protrusions emanating from its shoulders, head, back, arms and legs.
"Whatever it is, shake it off!" shouted Rockshaper.