Chapter 164 - Standing By Haven
Aldrich and Seismic made their way to the nearest shelter where most of the crowd had fled due to Hat Tricks ridiculous manchild tantrum. The shelters were underground constructs that were essentially scaled down versions of the Panopticon Bunker that the Duds in the Southside holed themselves up in.
They were easy to find. Building tops marked with blinking white signal lights indicated the streets where they lay under, the thick plating of their round vault doors showing in the middle of the street.
Aldrich stood before the vault doors, waiting for them to open. Seismic hunched over a streetlight pole, punching his large fingers almost comically into a tiny control pad that manned entry into the shelters. Normally, people could just scan their way in via an Eye Phone app, but many heroes like Seismic could not easily carry around phones without them breaking, so they had to do things manually.
Seismic carefully punched in a seven-digit code to authorize himself and to open the vault doors.
Aldrich watched the doors rumble as they began to slide apart with a mechanical whir. While watching the doors, he reflected on how these shelters were used and who they were for.
Walled cities were designed with safety against variants in mind, and Panopticon building regulations stated that there be adequate shelter space for at minimum 50% of a city's total population to reside is Every couple of streets had a shelter constructed underneath as a result.
An average person's gut reaction might wonder: why not a higher percentage? But 50% more than covered the Alter
Even if the average Alter did not have the multiple years of training that proper heroes and support did, they still had to by law register for a PRL (Power Regulation License) which, depending on its type and class, gave a citizen a set amount of authority with which to use their powers.
The higher the class of a PRL, the more freely a citizen could use their powers, but this came with additional required training to certify that they were capable of responsibly using their abilities.
Hero Licenses were considered the highest end of PRLs, requiring at the very minimum four years of dedicated training and two years of in field experience to obtain, but even the weakest of Alters who had a class i combat PRL, the lowest there was, still had to go through six months of training on how to use their abilities.
As a result, there were very few Alters that were truly useless in a war effort. That made the shelters mostly spaces for the young, elderly, or injured. Individuals whose abilities were in some way either compromised or underdeveloped.
Coincidentally, that was why most of the people in the crowd that Aldrich had seen was comprised of these exact demographics. The exact type of demographic that needed protection and drummed up public sympathy.
The perfect people for Aldrich to surround himself with. No hero, not even a S ranker, would want to get caught trying to harass Aldrich while he was watching over the sick and young and elderly. That was one downside of an S ranker coming here.
They might have been powerful, but simply by virtue of that power, they had fame, and with fame, they lost the ability to act without thinking about their precious image.
Tome on," said Aldrich as he waved over Seismic when the doors were fully open. Below, they led down to a steely grey, empty containment chamber where newcomers could get disinfected and inspected before passing through to the main body of the shelter itself.
If a variant managed to claw their way through the doors, then the containment chamber also doubled as a trap room that had its own weapons to deal with intruders or just seal them off completely.
"One thing," said Seismic.
"How do you want me to deal with them?"
"The people down there?" Aldrich motioned to the bunker.
Seismic shook his head. He pointed up. "Up there. When they get here. They'll take me too. They'll question me. What do you want me to do?
"Cold silence and five-word sentence answers have gotten you through multiple collateral damage disasters," said Aldrich. "I figure they'll get you through this, too."
Seismic just stared at Aldrich. Though the older hero's expression remained still, it was evident he was a little hurt by Aldrich mentioning his past incidents. It was a soft spot that the usually stoic hero had, probably because he deeply regretted the person he used to be.
"My apologies," said Aldrich. "If you want a more detailed answer, then here: you have Hammerhead Industries sponsoring you. You're their greatest asset as a well-known A ranker, even with all your past incidents. Because people might not admit it, but they respect power, even if they don't like where it comes from or how it's used. Power is a form of popularity of its own.
Hammerhead Industries will do whatever they can to get you in the clear, and they may not be in the Council of Fortune, but they're a big enough corp to take care of you
That's what I mean by cold silence. You put it out, and your corp fills in the rest to bail you out. Do the same here, and I'll clear my own name soon."
"Understood," said Seismic as he hopped down into the containment room. Aldrich followed. Not a moment passed after the two touched down than did the vault doors above close with a heavy, groaning thud.
A green light shone throughout the room with a buzz, indicating that Seismic and Aldrich were cleared to move on. A heavily armored door on the other side of the room slid open, and after passing through a hallway, they stepped into the surprisingly spacious innards of the shelter's main body.
Here, the crowd from before had gathered together, those that could stand standing at attention in respect for Aldrich and Seismic.
"Is it over?" said the older former policeman that had thanked Aldrich for saving the city. The rest of the people there, approximately half children and half injured and elderly, peered at Aldrich and Seismic warily, all their eyes tired, too tired to be dealing with a mad hero after seeing their entire city get picked apart by variants.
"It's over," said Aldrich, and a visible wave of relief washed over everyone.
"Thank god," said the ex-police with a sigh. "World's going to hell, I tell you. Variants baring their fangs at us and heroes going mad - nothing could be worse."
"A situation can always get worse," said Aldrich, and the crowd murmured in panic among themselves. He reflected that even though he could lead fighters, maybe he was not the best person to be comforting a crowd of civilians. "But the situation outside is stable. Hat Tricks been taken care of, and the fighting's over."
Aldrich spoke over the murmurs, and the crowd settled back into order.
"You are right, though," said the former policeman. "Things CAN get worse. I don't know what no, what most of us
will be doing after this. Haven - the place we've called home for so long, the pretty little port city that I'd served for thirty years - it's gone now.
Damn near nothing's left, and I for sure know I don't have any credits lying around to make a big move."
"What about variant disaster relief, sir? asked an injured, younger policeman whose leg was held in a cast while bloody bandages wrapped around a clawed-out eye.
"Disaster relief? Son, you've got a nice sense of humor," chuckled the older policeman. "You'll see more rat shit on the streets than credits in a tier 3 city's relief fund. And those slimy politicians have been sucking those funds dry and using em' to launder their dirty money.
Hell, with how badly those funds have been getting run over roughshod, I doubt even you young ones could start a new life somewhere else."
"So then, what will you all do? said Aldrich.
A silence hung in the room for a few seconds. The former policeman spoke out first. "I don't know. Got some grandkids down south. Guess I'll have to leech off of them and watch them resent me until the day I croak"
"As things are now, I guess I'll have to move. I don't have the credits...but what's left here except for rubble and bodies?" said the younger policeman.
"Why are all of you so sad? Dad said that once the fighting's over, the heroes will build everything back again!" said a young boy around the age of nine. Old enough to try to think for himself but not old enough to know how the world truly
The boy turned hopefully to Seismic. "Isn't that right, Seismic? You're sponsored by Hammerhead, right? He's got all those giant machines that make tall buildings, right? He can fix everything, right?"
..." Seismic looked down at the boy with a frown - a rare sign of emotion - but remained silent for the answer was obvious, albeit bleak: Hammerhead Industries would not bother wasting money rebuilding Haven if there was no profit to be had in it.
"Kid, don't pressure him. Come on, get back here and tell you where I last saw your dad," said an injured hero as she limped forward, took the boys hand, and led him away.
As Aldrich saw the child's back fade away into the crowd, he spoke out again. "This city's been abandoned enough. It's about time someone stood by it."
"What do you mean? said the older policeman.
"I'm going to stay here," said Aldrich "And I'm going to rebuild this city...