Aldrich tossed those numbers around in his head.
Ten million credits to Aldrich. Fifteen million to Seismic. A total of a twenty-five million credit investment.
This was an amount of money that Aldrich would only have dreamt of even grasping at.
His parents, as relatively regular D and C rank heroes, earned almost two hundred thousand credits a year together in Neo-York, which sounded like a lot, but living costs in Neo-York, a tier 1 city, were absurdly high.
Even if his parents could take all of their earnings without spending anything on rent, they would need one hundred and twenty-five years to match what Hat Trick was offering.
But Aldrich did not care about how much that credit amount meant to him. Because soon enough, he was going to have enough power and influence that credits were not going to be an issue.
No, what he wanted to know was how much that amount meant to Hat Trick.
From what Aldrich knew, it was at the A rank that heroes started becoming superstar earners that could earn millions of credits a year. He did not know exactly how much Hat Trick himself earned, but on average, he figured that an A ranker with a strong social media presence and decent sponsors made around the ballpark of ten million credits a year.
'I see,' said Aldrich. Hat Trick was a new A ranker and had only been working for five years.
If Aldrich recalled correctly, then, his lifetime earnings were around 50 million credits, but like most superstars, Hat Trick was not exactly frugal with his spending.
Aldrich figured those 25 million credits was close to almost all of what Hat Trick could cough up at a short notice. 'And how did you respond to that offer?'
'I didn't,' said Seismic. 'I was waiting for your decision. I will make this clear now. I will follow you. I will walk the path you pave. It's what I owe you for giving me back this life.
If you take a step one day that I don't think I can follow, I will tell you. Then, you can turn me mindless, I don't care. This body isn't mine anymore. It's yours. So do what you want with it.
But besides that - are you going to take Hat Trick's offer?'
'Of course not,' scoffed Aldrich. 'I only asked to humor myself. I wanted to know how much Hat Trick thought his life was worth.'
'And? Do you agree with the number he put out?' said Seismic.
Aldrich paused for a moment before he stared at Hat Trick, at the hero's fake smile that he flashed towards the disbelieving, disgruntled, tired, now homeless citizens of Haven.
The fakeness of it all almost made Aldrich's undead stomach sick, if that was even possible. 'Let's just say I would never sell something worthless for that many credits,'
"You there, newcomer!" Hat Trick's voice resonated outwards, aimed right at Aldrich. He waved at Aldrich with a nervous and now barely maintained smile, though perhaps due to years of training his fake smile, he could still keep it up in the face of so much public opposition. "I can't thank you enough for the service you've done today.
I know you are no hero, but with the valiant efforts of tonight, I'm sure you'll be recognized by the agency.
I'm sure you've talked with Seismic about how the agency works with its heroes, yeah?"
"Yes," said Aldrich. Hat Trick here was speaking in double meanings. He could not just reveal to the public the blatant corruption he wanted Aldrich to pull off, so he veiled it in seemingly 'proper' hero related talk.
"Good, good," said Hat Trick. He sighed dramatically. "It's not often that I need to prove myself, but I guess that's on me for forgetting to record my fights.
It's hard to remember that when I fight variants to protect, not to profit."
Hat Trick shook his head and cast a look of judgement around the crowd before looking up at Aldrich with a hopeful smile. "But I'm sure you understand, don't you, newcomer?
You've been in the dark for so long, probably fighting without any recognition all that time. You understand me, don't you?"
"…," Aldrich did not respond, and that silence unnerved Hat Trick.
Hat Trick paused awkwardly, and the crowd stared at him with ruthless silence, showing very obviously whose word they trusted at this point.
Right now, everything short of Hat Trick's life, his entire career, his reputation, all those movie deals and sponsorships, were on the line. No, that might just be worth his entire life to him.
"If you talked with Seismic, then you know, right? What I did?" said Hat Trick. "Then I'd like you to tell the people here about the role I played in tonight's defense. Just like how you were at the frontlines, beating back that monster of a Locus, I was at the coastline, beating back the reinforcements."
At this moment, Hat Trick's eyes narrowed as he lowered his gaze, his long locks of red hair falling across his face in disheveled manner that gave his stare a pointedly threatening aura to it.
"Heroes stand tall because we have each other's backs, isn't that right?"
This was Hat Trick's direct call to get Aldrich to lie. Hat Trick's words seemed harmless at first, but in reality, he was reminding Aldrich of what he had told Seismic.
Heroes have each other's backs. Or, more accurately, they cover up for each other's faults.
This was a veiled command to Aldrich, telling him to cover for Hat Trick now.
At this moment, the crowd's attention shifted to Aldrich. They instinctively understood that it was now up to Aldrich.
For him to lay down judgement.
Aldrich remembered Ghost. He remembered Seth Solar. He remembered how he had judged them.
He would judge Hat Trick just the same now.
Aldrich began to walk forwards. He towered over most of the people in the crowd, and he trudged forward, the crowd automatically parted way.
With every step towards Hat Trick, with every passing second of silence, the hero grew increasingly more nervous. When the female team members behind Hat Trick saw Aldrich's menacing, bone spiked, blood infused form trudge forward with the heavy click of armor, they slunk backwards, afraid.
None of them were fighters. All of them were just pretty playthings for Hat Trick. Things he used to make himself look and feel good. Symbolic of how Hat Trick lived his life and how he saw the world. As playthings.
One big playground to do whatever he wanted in. He could leave his toys whenever he wanted. Throw them away whenever he wanted. Break them whenever he wanted.
All that mattered was what he wanted.
When Aldrich stood right before Hat Trick, he stood half a head over the hero. Hat Trick maintained his smile, but he was forced to look up at Aldrich's unnerving red dot helm.
Aldrich stared right down at Hat Trick and spoke, his voice echoing outwards and reaching the whole crowd. "Here's what you did tonight - nothing.
You left the moment the Locus came. Seismic and every single hero and police force outside these walls can attest to this. You left because you were a coward. You left because you thought everyone here would die, leaving no witnesses to your sickening weakness.
Had you stayed, had you held even the smallest shred of bravery in that pathetic excuse of a heart of yours, you could have fought with Seismic and beaten the Locus.
But now look at you. You have to come back here with this poorly made-up excuse, relying on me and Seismic, no, bribing us both to try and back you, because you know you can't keep this a secret.
Everything about you reeks of desperation. And nothing smells worse than the filth of desperation from scum like you."
Hat Trick made several steps back, his eyes wide in shock. His female team members blinked as they broke their practiced smiles and nervously stared at Hat Trick, wondering what to do.
The crowd erupted in a united chant of hatred against Hat Trick, spurred on by Aldrich.
"You ran! And you come back to us again with lies like this!?"
One particular anguished man shoved his way to the front and pointed an accusing finger at Hat Trick. "You're the reason my son died out there.
Just a boy, torn to shreds like that - you, I'm just one man, someone so insignificant you can just leave behind to die, but I'm going to do my best for the rest of my life that you never get another deal, another sponsorship, ever again! That everyone in the world hears about this!"
The crowd roared in agreement, their chants and proclamations of how they would make sure Hat Trick's image never recovered melding together into a weapon that could hurt even Hat Trick.
Individually, all of these people were weak and without influence, but together, they could at least make sure the consequences of Hat Trick's actions caught up with him.
Hat Trick stepped back again, still shocked. He looked around at the rage contorted faces screaming up at him, and he stammered out, "D-don't you all love me? Remember my movies-,"
"We don't give a sh*t about your corny ass movies! Get out of here!"
A unified chant formed, and with each 'get out', Hat Trick's gaze dropped lower and lower, until his hat fully covered his facial expression.
People started to throw things at him. Rubble. Half eaten rations. Broken electronics. Whatever they had on him, they pelted at him, some with considerable force considering there were a few Augmenter alters there.
Of course, everything just bounced off Hat Trick's tough body, but his female team members shrieked at the sudden outburst and rain of projectiles and scattered away like scared cats, leaving Hat Trick utterly alone.
That was when Aldrich noticed a shift in Hat Trick's body language. It was incredibly slight, almost imperceptible, but alarming.
Hat Trick stiffened up, and it was not in shock either.
It felt nearly violent, like how a beast might stiffen up right before they lunged to kill.