"I am the leader of this…team, you could call it that," said Aldrich.
He willed Volantis to uncover his armor, and the spiked black helm around his face receded into his armor's gorget with a series of clicks. This revealed the human looking face of his Materius, and Minuteman nodded, put at ease with Aldrich's appearance.
It was an instinctive drive for humans to feel comfort in seeing another human face, especially when surrounded by nothing but inhuman monstrosities.
Taking that into account, Aldrich bared his human looking face.
In response, Minuteman blinked in surprise.
"Is there something wrong?" said Aldrich.
"No, I just didn't expect you to be so…young," said Minuteman. "With your build, height, and the way you carried yourself, I would have expected a much older man. But, looking at you, the way your eyes are set, I can tell you're no boy.
You're a man that's been through more rough times than many."
"Hm. You could tell that just from my eyes?" said Aldrich.
"Despite how tough I look, people have always said I was a sensitive man. I could always tell what someone was going through from their eyes. And I could always feel their pain and their struggle as if it was my own," said Minuteman. "A side effect of my own power: I'm sensitive to the wills of others.
But enough about that - if you're here to save civilians, you're probably a hero.
Are you international? With a group as large as this, I would know if you operated in the States. In any case, I'd be more than happy to work with you and your men to get this nightmare of a situation under control."
Minuteman reached out his hand for a handshake, and Aldrich noticed it trembling in fatigue and pain.
Aldrich held off on shaking Minuteman's hand.
"A hero? No," said Aldrich. "I'm not affiliated with the AA or any of its international branches."
Minuteman looked utterly astounded. "What!? You mean to tell me with all these men and all this power, that you aren't affiliated with the AA? Are you government agents? A band of mercenaries?"
"No to all of that. If there is anyone I take orders from, well, it would only be myself," said Aldrich flatly.
Minuteman retracted his handshake and looked at Aldrich with a little more wariness. "Then who are you? I'm sorry, but tonight has worn on my trust. I'm a little more on edge than usual."
"Who am I?" Aldrich repeated Minuteman's question. "I'm someone that wants to save this city. Just like you.
I'm someone that wants to do what they believe is right. Just like you.
You can trust me or not, but regardless of how you feel, I will protect this city where the AA has failed.
Whether you want to help me, do nothing, or even oppose me - that's all your choice." This time, it was Aldrich that extended his hand out towards Minuteman for a handshake. "But I'll just say right now that it would be a horrible shame for me to miss out on working with someone I respect like you."
"No, you're right." Minuteman took Aldrich's hand in a firm, solid handshake. "I'm in no position to be suspecting you, not after you've chosen to save civilians that the ordinary hero would leave to die without a moment's notice. And especially not after you saved my own life."
"Just like that? You trust me?" said Aldrich. He wondered if Minuteman was fundamentally naïve, his heroic ideals perhaps influencing him too much to see the good in others even when it was not logically reasonable.
"You want an honest answer? No, not yet." Minuteman shrugged. "But like I said, I can tell the character of a person through their eyes. I can feel their willpower. And yours is strong and clean. It isn't the type I usually see with people that have bad intentions.
And as you said, we're pretty similar in that regard.
Plus, you haven't given me cause to doubt you yet.
Maybe I am dumb, but I always like to give others the benefit of the doubt, even when their wills are spotty, and sometimes I get burned for it, but the times I don't, that's when I appreciate just how much good there can be out there."
Aldrich nodded. Minuteman was too experienced as a fighter and hero to be ignorantly naïve. He knew how bad this world could get, but he willingly chose to ignore his suspicions to try and see it positively.
It was so similar to how his parents had seen the world that Aldrich fell into a deep silence for several seconds. He could almost see his father and mother, their very smiles, imprinted right in Minuteman.
It was an idealism that Aldrich knew was inefficient. Something that had eventually gotten his parents killed. And yet, it was something he could respect. If every single person in this world thought like that, then this world would have been a utopia.
But idealism like that was rare. Precious. And because it was so rare, it was all too easy for the much larger darkness in this world to swallow it up and snuff it out.
"Something up?" said Minuteman.
"No. Nothing." Aldrich pulled out of his thoughts and executed a plan he had constructed in the case that Minuteman was willing to work with him of his own volition. "I'm going to go down to the hangar and check up on the survivors."
"I'll go with you-," began Minuteman.
"No," said Aldrich. "Look at how injured you are. You need time to rest and to heal. Here- Eric!"
Aldrich shouted out for Eric Glass, one of the Blackwater A class students. He sprinted forwards in his black bodysuit. He was a short man with a build on the leaner side with long black hair swept to the side that curled over one of his bright purple eyes.
"You needed me?" said Eric.
"Patch Minuteman up," said Aldrich.
"On it," said Eric. He eyed Minuteman's wounds, his gaping stomach slashes, his half eaten right deltoid, and the several dozen other less deadly yet still visible cuts and scrapes and bruises littering his body. "Damn, man, you look like total sh*t. Here, I'll get you fixed up."
Eric Glass was the only Alter so far that Aldrich had encountered who had a power that could directly heal others. In terms of Alter power categories, he would be classified as a Creator with a subcategory as a Restorer that had the rare ability to heal others.
In Eric's case, his power was called Growth Pod.
Eric demonstrated it now. He held out his arm to the side, and through the skintight covering of his black bodysuit, fleshy stalks rose up. Spherical pods of pulsating flesh grew from these stalks, causing them to droop down under their weight.
Each pod was filled with veins and looked positively nasty. Like a series of large tumors.
Eric's face fat drained, turning his cheeks hollow as the stalks grew, his bodily nutrients sacrificed to create them. He detached a growth pod from his arm and held it out towards Minuteman's gnawed right shoulder.
"Among Restorer powers, this is probably one of the creepiest I've seen," said Minuteman.
"Not good practice to complain to your Restorer. Thought they taught that at fancy hero school," said Eric as he tentatively placed the baseball sized growth pod onto Minuteman's raw, exposed flesh. The growth pod latched onto the open wound and started to melt into it, turning into a fleshy goo that created tiny tendrils at its extremities that hooked into Minuteman's flesh.
"The growths will dissolve and merge with your body in a few minutes. Until then, it's important that you don't move or strain yourself, or else you risk the growths breaking apart and leaving you worse off than you were," said Eric.
"Roger that," said Minuteman. He nodded to Aldrich. "Make sure they're alright."
"And if I do something to them?" said Aldrich.
"Then I'll be ready to fight you tooth and nail. Down to my last breath and bone," said Minuteman resolutely. "Doesn't matter how tough you are or how many guys you got."
"That's a good answer. I can respect it." Aldrich faintly smiled at Minuteman. Even against overwhelming odds, Minuteman was still willing to lay down his life and fight against Aldrich if he ended up being a threat to the Dud civilians.
That was true heroism. So rare. But admirable. "But you can ease up on the worrying. If there's anyone that comes close to caring about the people down there like you do, it would be me."
With that, Aldrich turned and walked towards the hangar. There, he would not only make sure everyone there was okay, but he would make his presence known. He would make sure the people there would spread what he did and make sure that the world knew of the AA's failure.
Then, he would replicate that same process with the Alter citizens holed up behind the city center's forcefield.
Like that, Aldrich would cultivate the support he would need after this incident was over. When he would have to face scrutiny under the public's eye.
When the Panopticon, the Alterhuman Agency, and the governments of the world would all scrutinize him.