Friday, November 5, 2117, 1 P.M.
Alter Agency Outpost in Haven City Center
Brent McAllister, current director of the AA's Haven outpost, sat in a sterile white conference room with a group of high-level personnel, or the highest level it could get in a tier 3 city like Haven. They sat about in sleek black chairs that screamed corporate aesthetic as they watched a Panopticon researcher present his findings.
"As you all know, the Panopticon's variant detection network is thorough, but not perfect, especially when it comes to the ocean or subterranean threats.
Even before the Altering, humanity had yet to discover even 5% of the earth's vast oceans, and that problem is still the same now.
Ocean exploration may even be more difficult in this modern era considering the powerful variants that tend to lurk there," said the researcher with a droning voice.
He had on a distinctive white lab-coat emblazoned with an insignia showcasing a black pyramid with an eye encased inside - the logo of the Panopticon.
"Skip with this introductory bullsh*t," said Brent as he waved his steaming coffee mug impatiently. "And tell me how the Panopticon fucked us over. You do know that the AA has to pay for this disaster, right? We might be the only multinational organization out there subsidized by every country, but our funds aren't unlimited, and we rely on the goodwill of the people for donations and support.
Sh*t like this does NOT send a show of confidence to our investors."
"I must inform you that the Panopticon also shoulders some costs-," began the researcher.
"'I must inform you'" Brent mocked the researcher soft spoken tone before returning to his loud and brash mode of speaking. "You know damn well that the Panopticon doesn't need to pay sh*t.
It's got leverage over everyone and anything, Skyfields and tech and all."
One phenomenon noted among variants was that there were precious few that flew above a certain atmospheric range, making them entirely rooted to the earth.
The only exception was when variants were attacked from near orbit or orbit, at which point they would start to adapt high flight capabilities in response to the severity of the attack they received.
This meant that orbital bombardments were highly risky because it initiated an arms race where variants would evolve orbit capable flight, and humanity was far less equipped to deal with orbit based attacks than variants and their more expendable numbers.
This variant adaptiveness to attack was also why the AA and Panopticon used nuclear weaponry extremely sparingly.
Anytime a nuke was thrown out, a variant would spawn, often from the radioactive energy of the fallout zone, that was even harder to deal with than what the nuke wiped out in the first place.
This meant that Panopticon run Skyfields - massive, controlled dome environments where large tracts of food were grown in the high atmosphere where variants did not conventionally reach - could make up for food shortages from large swathes of destroyed farmland across the world.
Skyfields made the Panopticon untouchable because no country in the world would ever risk alienating the Panopticon and their food supplies, not to mention their monopoly over variant surveillance and large-scale drone mobilization against variant attacks.
The Alter Agency, on the other hand, had to deal with daily protests over some hero doing some stupid thing here, some failed rescue there, some villain this and some variant that.
And now more than ever, in the post-Vanguard era of heroes, things were getting worse and worse.
More villains, not just thugs using their powers for stupid, selfish needs, but legitimately organized and powerful organizations, rose in strength.
More and more variant attacks, many of which were becoming ever more dangerous.
The ant colony attack on South Korea that killed hundreds of thousands a couple of years ago was just one of a dozen such incidents throughout the world in just the past twenty years alone.
The worst thing about all this was the pay cuts Brent had taken.
Over the years, he had had to downgrade his fleet of ten high end sportscars down all the way to two.
"I feel for your struggles, Mr. McAllister, I truly do," said the researcher as he maintained neutral professionalism in his voice. "But you must understand that the Panopticon and AA are under a partnership.
Accountability goes both ways.
If you had not ignored early warning signs, then you would have already had a class 5 drone response within city boundaries by the time of the B-class disaster variant's attack.
Granted, a class 5 drone attack cannot halt a B class disaster variant by itself, but it would have eliminated the threat of its amorphous liquid ground army."
Brent opened his mouth to talk back, but the researcher raised a firm hand to stop him.
"I must continue this report," said the researcher, his steely grey eyes turning surprisingly cold, oozing power and threat that made Brent stay quiet and listen. He pointed with a metallic arm at a map of Haven. "As you know, Haven is a port city that borders the Atlantic Ocean, making it high risk for aquatic variant attacks.
Aquatic variants are especially difficult to trace for our satellite arrays cannot detect under the ocean.
However, our coast detection nets should, in theory, should sense the approach of variants from within a fifty-mile radius stretching out from the coastline.
This specific variant managed to clear a straight path through several underwater sensor towers, utilizing a unique electromagnetic pulse that bypassed prior EMP shielding.
By the time the variant reached shallow enough waters for our satellite arrays to pick up on, it could utilize a form of spatial warp to reach Haven before an apt response could be formulated.
Now, Mr. McAllister, the Panopticon will ignore the fact that your outpost received report of downed sensor towers and ignored requests for hero investigations a full two hours before the attack began."
"You can't blame us on that! We've been cutting costs! Do you know how hard it is to cough up heroes at a moment's notice like that? The logistics involved in it?" protested Brent.
The researcher raised a hand again, silencing Brent. "Of course. What's past is past, and the point of this report is not to place blame. As you all know, two vigilantes halted the attack when B rank heroes Gladiator and Rocket Man were incapacitated."
"Vigilantes," scoffed one of the executives. "They ought to be round up and rotting in prison. Without regulation, they're just as good as villains. Plus they don't make us any money."
"The B class disaster variant which we have coded in our system as the Shock Manta was not confirmed killed," continued the researcher, ignoring the executive. "However, its energy signature has faded away entirely, indicating that it is very likely dead or, at the worst, recovering from injuries.
As you know, there is a high chance that a variant attack of this scale generates an Aftershock Effect, drawing variants for often second or even third attacks.
In the case that the Shock Manta itself recovers or there is an Aftershock, the Panopticon and the Central AA Headquarters has determined it fit to station 2 A- class heroes and a class 3 drone fleet in Haven for the next week."
Brent smiled widely. "Now, that's more like it. Finally ensuring the safety of the people."
He said this, but his mind wasn't on the people, it was on his next fat paycheck.
A class heroes were extremely expensive to field. The gap between a C and B class hero was already sizable, but the gap between a B and A class was liable to be akin to an entire canyon.
An A class hero could destroy a B class disaster variant solo.
In fact, beating a B class disaster variant solo was one of the main ways to become an A class hero.
Haven's city government would no doubt have to shell out massive amounts of credits on the order of millions to hire 2 A- heroes on contract, and some of that money would trickle down to Brent and his execs.
"The people are always our main objective," said the researcher. "But I believe you are misunderstanding this situation somewhat. For your incompetence in dealing with the Shock Manta attack, you will not receive any bonus for the heroes.
The cost of their contracts will be entirely subsidized by the Panopticon, for Haven has suffered enough.
Rather, central AA HQ has determined another pay cut for you. Details about this will be sent to you through an AA representative. Now, if you will excuse me-,"