"I appreciate the thought, but when the hearing comes around, I want to handle it alone," said Aldrich. He did not want Minuteman to testify in the hearing on his behalf because depending on how things went, there was a distinctive possibility that Aldrich was going to use some, well, less than savory means to obtain the control he needed.
Aldrich did not want Minuteman to get caught in the crossfire. Because, honestly speaking, Aldrich did not particularly think that testimony from Minuteman to vouch for Aldrich would do much. It was as Minuteman said, Aldrich had power with unfathomable potential for growth, and that would make people, people used to maintaining the status quo, afraid.
They would want to control Aldrich.
Well let them try, thought Aldrich. By the end of this all, Aldrich would be the one in control.
"Got it," said Minuteman. "Well, at the very least, let me submit recorded testimony on behalf of your character and what you did today. I don't know how much that will help, but it should be better than nothing.
There's nothing worse in this world than good deeds going punished. If possible, I'd like that not to happen to you."
Aldrich nodded to Minuteman before gesturing towards the bunker vault doors. "Do you have an idea about what's going to happen to them?"
Minuteman sighed. "Times will be tough, that's for sure. Most of their homes were washed away or flat out destroyed. The homeless shelters are also flooded, so they won't have anywhere to stay. And as powerless people, I doubt they have the means to piece their lives back together.
And it's not just Southside either that's suffering. THe rest of Haven's also in shambles. A lot of folk are probably going to think about moving out or maybe taking up Nomad cloaks."
"The Panopticon won't help?" said Aldrich. "What about the Reconstruction Initiative?"
The reconstruction initiative was a combined effort between the Panopticon and manufacturing companies to work together so as to rebuild cities after variant attacks. Most city walls and structures were built with pre-determined templates so as to make rebuilding as quick and efficient as possible.
The Panopticon had ownership rights over the templates of city wals and fortifications while private companies had ownership over templates of civilian infrastructure like housing or office buildings.
Through the Reconstruction Initiative, even massive cities like Neo-York could repair severe damage to itself over the course of weeks to months.
"It's sad to say, but tier 3 cities like this are pretty replaceable," said Minuteman. He shook his head. "Like everything in the world these days, it's a matter of economics. Tier 2 and 1 cities have enough money to easily cash out high paying construction contracts to rebuild themselves faster.
But unless a tier 3 city holds something important like, say, etherite deposits, they get left to rot after big attacks like this. There's just not enough money in rebuilding these cities."
"He's right," said Seismic. "With the amount of damage Haven's suffered, you'd be hard pressed to find a construction company willing to shell out resources at a loss to fix it. There's just not anything worth rebuilding for."
"I'll be changing that," said Aldrich.
Minuteman raised a brow. "How? You don't mean that you'll sign a contract with a construction company, will you? Having a corporate backer is fine, but that will limit your freedom even more."
"Maybe. Maybe not," said Aldrich. "Nothing is set in stone yet. But at the very least, I can guarantee that this city won't get ignored. I spent the effort to save it, I sure as hell am not going to just watch it wither away."
"I respect your commitment," said Minuteman with a firm nod. "You never do forget the little guys, huh."
Before Aldrich could respond, a voice crackled in his earpiece. It was Fisk.
"Uh, boss, you might want to get back to the city center," said Fisk.
"Hm? What is it?" said Aldrich.
"Remember that A class guy that was stationed in Have? Alongside grumpy old Seismic? He's back," said Fisk. "And…I'm not sure what he's trying to do, but it looks like he's trying to claim credit for what you did. Going on about holding the line up the front and making sure everyone had time to evacuate and whatnot.
Buuut I'm pretty sure he just got scared and ran with his tail between his legs. Makes me sick, honestly, watching this."
"I have to go," said Aldrich to Minuteman. "Watch over everyone here until they get sent off to safety. And again, I appreciate your willingness to sponsor me."
"Heh, that's nothing. A tiny sponsorship in exchange for my life? Now that's a deal I'd take in a heartbeat," said Minuteman. "Good luck with whatever it is you need to deal with."
Aldrich nodded before he got back on Crow. He had the Blackwater students that remained with Minuteman hop on as well. He willed Crow to move, and Crow loosed a guttural grumble as he flapped his wings, soaring into the sky with explosive force.
Aldrich scooped up Valera's head in his arm, and she looked up at him. "So how was it, master? Did you obtain what you needed?"
"Yes," said Aldrich. "But this is just the beginning."
"Oh, a plan is it?" Valera smiled at Aldrich. "I do love those wondrous plans of yours. They keep me alive so I can unleash as much destruction as I want."
"Not battle plans this time," said Aldrich.
"Oh," said Valera with a sigh. She might have been surprisingly tactical on the battlefield, but that was because she loved fighting in its entirety. Outside of it, she had little interest in boring pen and paper affairs that Aldrich would now be getting into.
"I have an idea of what you want to do," said Seismic.
"You want to be a Sentinel," said Seismic as he crossed his arms and stared at Aldrich with his sharp gaze.
It was an old title from near the beginning of Alter powers, back during the Age of Villains when there was no Alterhuman Agency and Panopticon to keep a semblance of world order. During this era, when modern governments collapsed under the weight of unregulated Alter conflict, people reverted back to older governmental systems.
Amid the chaos of conflict, certain powerful Alters emerged as the defenders of their homes, essentially ruling their cities like feudal lords. These Alters were dubbed many titles ranging from defender to protector to, eventually, officially known as Sentinels.
Sentinels basically controlled an entire city as their base of operations, giving them unprecedented amounts of power. The Sentinel title remained in use throughout the Age of Villains and even through the first half of the Monstering.
However, once the Titans were defeated and humanity sought to rebuild, Sentinels were gradually phased out. There was no place in a world governed by the order of large organizations for single individuals with too much power like the Sentinels.
Aided by the threat of Vanguard, most Sentinels willingly gave up their titles and folded into the AA/Panopticon complex. A few actually fought back, unwilling to give up their lord-like power. Even fewer actually maintained their Sentinel status for they were simply too popular in their home cities with a good track record of fair governance.
To this day, there were a few Sentinels here and there, but they were basically ancient relics. It had been nearly a century since a new Sentinel title had been given out.
"Sentinel? My, that title does have a nice ring of power befitting my dear master," said Valera.
"Don't get your hopes up," said Seismic. "It'll be impossible to get a Sentinel position. They are already afraid of you. Why would they give you even more power?"
"That's the point of the hearing, isn't it? To negotiate my terms?" said Aldrich.
"And if they don't listen?" said Seismic.
"Like I said, I can be quite persuasive when I need to be," said Aldrich.
"You're planning on doing something, aren't you? Something that won't exactly fit under the umbrella of the law," said Seismic. There was no sense of judgment in the hero's voice, more a sense of simple understanding.
"And if I am? Are you going to stand against me?" said Aldrich.
Seismic shook his head. "No. Laws aren't perfect. They're guidelines. I should know. I never had much respect for them in the first place. I'm just curious how you'll do. How far you'll go."
"I aim to go far. And if possible, I want you to walk that path with me," said Aldrich. After Aldrich said that, Crow quickly neared Haven's city center. There, in the central square where people had been watching Aldrich's fight all night, there was Hat Trick.
Hat Trick and several other people… All women dressed up in revealing magician's assistant costumes with top hats, very likely members of Hat Trick's team.