Aldrich paid very careful attention to the body language between Seismic and Hat Trick's hushed conversation. Seismic, as always, was like a rock. He stood tall, straight, and utterly stiff.
Among the many people that Aldrich had analyzed in his life, Seismic was among the very few that was nearly impossible to tell anything about based off his body language and facial expressions.
Hat Trick, however, was like an open book.
Hat Trick put his arm across Seismic's shoulder in a friendly gesture, but when Seismic stood coldly still, Hat Trick withdrew his arm awkwardly.
Hat Trick talked with expressive gestures and an ingratiating smile marked with nods punctuating every sentence as if he was saying "you understand why I did what I did, right?".
In response, Seismic just stood still, and that unnerved Hat Trick more and more.
As Aldrich watched, he noted from the periphery of his vision that many of the people in the crowd were behind him, keeping a wary distance from him. They recognized him as their savior, but at the same time, the aura of mystery around him, plus his menacing looking armor, made him less approachable.
Aldrich did not actually mind this. He did not care to be a shining smiling hero that tried to spread love and hope and warm goodness every chance he could. He did not want to be someone that promised many things but failed to deliver on them, because he knew that even if he fulfilled ninety nine out of a hundred grand promises, that single broken one would overshadow all the others he had upheld.
There was also the obvious problem that Aldrich's personality and way of thinking was just entirely unsuited to being a shining beacon of hope like Minuteman or Vanguard or any of the Golden Age heroes. What he did best was leading through cold hard results.
At the same time, Aldrich knew he could not just ignore these people either. They were his people after all. Or soon to be his people if his gambit to become a Sentinel paid off.
"What is it?" said Aldrich as gently as he could manage.
"Are they talking about anything important?" said a man, obviously worried. The man was costumed, though very plainly in what was basically standard issue body armor painted white.
He carried an arm in a sling and walked with a limp. He was probably a low ranking hero that had not been able to fight due to his injuries.
But still, because he was a hero, the people trusted him to act like a representative to talk to Aldrich. "Hat Trick mentioned classified information, and I'm way too small of a fish to know anything about what's going on.
I hear that there's been wide scale attacks everywhere but they're mostly all dealt with. But the people are still on edge, worried that there might be another attack."
"Another attack is unlikely," said Aldrich. "And whether what they're talking about is important or not is something we'll find out together soon enough."
"And…another thing. Something all of us have wanted to know for a while," continued the man.
"What's your name? Your Sign? We've tried to search for you in the hero database or even whether you were a villain, but nobody's been able to find out anything. Or are you a shadow?"
A Shadow. Something that Aldrich briefly had considered being. These were entities that had no signs and acted in pure secrecy. They were mostly assassins who did not want the brand name recognition of being villains or mercenaries attached to them.
Being a shadow promised the greatest amount of secrecy, but Aldrich, though he valued secrecy, knew he could not hide in obscurity forever. He needed the influence and power that having his own name could bring out.
"Thanatos," said Aldrich.
"Thanatos…" repeated the hero, nodding to himself. He smiled at Aldrich. "Ironic, isn't it? All of us getting saved from death by death itself?"
"Those who walk closest to death know the best ways to avoid it," said Aldrich, and at that moment, he watched as Hat Trick patted Seismic's back and flew back over to the crowd.
"Citizens of Haven, I'm sorry for the delay, but my business with Seismic over there is done," declared Hat Trick as he tipped his hat at everyone and assumed his position in front of the giant adboard. "Rest assured, you won't be under another attack.
My efforts, along with the valiant fighting of Seismic and the newcomer, and, of course, the noble sacrifice of the many heroes and policemen outside these walls, have let us see the light of a new day!"
"How do we know that's true?" said a man. Judging by the rectangular deep dive goggles on his face and the port on the side of his shaved head, he was a techno. "I've been managing and tuning into every broadcast I could find about this. And I've never seen you anywhere!"
Murmurs of agreement rustled through the crowd.
Hat Trick just smiled and put up a hand. "Of course, of course, that's understandable. I told you, though, I was at the coastline. Up there, with the crashing waves and even more waves of variants, it was impossible to set up a stream of my own. Not to mention the disruption field was impossibly strong there.
But you all know me. I might like to enjoy the good life-," Hat Trick flashed a smile to one of his all female team members, and she smiled coyly back at him. "But deep down, I fight to protect what matters. And that's all of you. I don't need the recognition, and honestly, I don't care that there's no evidence. What I care about is that tonight, here and now, all of you are safe, standing, and alive.
Now then, if any of you want to support me, you can talk to my assistants here for my Sharespace pages to drop likes and follows-
"Sounds like bullsh*t to me," said the techno, and the crowd nodded in agreement. "I've talked to some of the surviving heroes, too. They said you ran. And if that's the case, I wonder how you have the balls to even show up here again."
"Run? Me? Ridiculous," said Hat Trick. "Look at my past record! I've killed eleven B rank disasters and over a hundred C rank disasters. I've never run from a fight, and I've never stood down from protecting the people…"
While Hat Trick and the crowd argued, Aldrich telepathically tuned in with Seismic.
'So, what did he say?' said Aldrich.
Seismic looked towards Hat Trick with crossed arms and stern expression, but his mind communicated with Aldrich.
'The summary of it is simple. Hat Trick first gave me a bribe to keep me quiet. Decent amount of credits. Easily enough that it would put a big dent in his wallet,' said Seismic.
'So he's desperate,' said Aldrich. 'How's he going to handle the testimonies of all the other heroes?'
'They don't matter as much,' said Seismic. 'If I join Hat Trick's side, then the voices of two A rankers outweighs the voices of all the heroes here. It sounds unequal. But it's the way it is.'
'And about me? Does he think he can bribe me?' said Aldrich.
'Yes he does,' said Seismic. 'Credits are king. Now more so than ever among heroes. It's called an industry for a reason. He's willing to shell out just as many credits to you. He also expects you as a newbie to understand that heroes help each other out. They cover for each other's mistakes.'
'You mean they cover for each other's faults,' said Aldrich.
'There isn't much difference between the two. Not in this industry,' said Seismic. 'It's corruption, plain and simple. You help cover what he did up, and he'll help you cover something you do up in the future.
Like I said, high ranking hero voices are resources on their own. We're celebrities. Idols. Our voices influence the public. What we say can shape how they think. How they make judgements.
And we have corps backing us. Corps willing to pay to take down news. Recordings. Silence voices.
This is how the B rankers and above keep their images clean.'
'Your image isn't clean, no?' said Aldrich.
'No,' said Seismic. 'Because I never cared. Not until recently. But by then, I had done too much damage. Too much to cover up. Search my name on the net, you'll find a hundred articles about how much damage I caused. People I've accidentally killed.
Only reason I even have a sponsor is because Hammerhead is one of the corps that don't care. They just value strength. And that, I have.'
'And I'm assuming Hat Trick's sponsors aren't like that,' said Aldrich.
'Elysium Entertainment is the exact opposite,' said Seismic. 'They sponsor heroes based entirely off image. Off of their looks. The characters they can put out. They basically sponsor actors. Hell, you'll see their heroes starring in their movies.
Hat Trick has a character he can't break. He's broken it today. Badly. Word gets out, he's done for. He's willing to do anything to patch this situation.
Getting himself in debt to a newcomer like you hurts his pride. Not to mention having to throw so much money at you. But he's willing to do it."
'Humor me, Seismic. How many credits is he willing to send my way?' said Aldrich.
'Ten million credits,' said Seismic… 'And fifteen million to me.'