Aldrich stepped over to the hangar entrance. It consisted of two interlocking sliding metal panels that opened up to allow the carrier within out.
Because of the sheer size of the carrier, these doors were massive but thankfully just as armored as the proper doors of the bunker itself.
A green ring of fire from the Deathwheel flickered around the hole leading down into the hangar, and when Aldrich approached, he waved his hand, willing the flames to fade away.
As they dimmed down, the corpses of dozens of fishmen became visible.
Unlucky victims that the Deathwheel had either run over, completely splattering into roadkill mush, or those caught in the life draining flames, reduced into corpses so dried and drained of life that they disintegrated into dust when exposed to the night breeze.
Aldrich leaped into the hangar and fell several dozen meters before he landed on solid, tiled metal ground with a heavy thud. When he landed, he looked up to find a crowd of men, women, and children huddled away from him, shuddering in terror as they inched back to the walls.
"Stay calm." Aldrich projected his voice, and it echoed through the hangar. Upon hearing a human's voice, the energy of the crowd lost a bit of its tension, but not much - after all, these people had been through so much this night. "I'm…human, and I'm here to save you."
"Save us!? You're just going to leave us like the other heroes!" shouted a man.
"You're just like the rest of them! You don't care about us Duds!"
"All of you heroes are useless!"
With that, the crowd gained a surge of confidence. All it took was one or two hecklers for them to feed off their energy and start to shout and rage towards Aldrich.
They broke out into a cacophony of angry shouts and yells that distorted into something unintelligible, a mess of projected frustration haphazardly thrown Aldrich's way.
When Aldrich looked at them, at their faces twisted in anger and fear, he could only shake his head.
They reminded him too much of himself. Or rather, how he had been. Before he had gotten this power.
It was pitiful.
Aldrich knew he should not have thought that way, especially against those that were Duds just like him, but becoming an undead, especially a Lich, had and was continuing to change his perception of humans.
Nevertheless, Aldrich still had enough humanity left in him to sympathize.
To know what words to say to reach their hearts.
"Be quiet." Aldrich projected his voice and the volume of his words resonated outwards in powerful peals that immediately silenced the crowd.
This was not because Aldrich's voice was threatening.
On the contrary, it was quite calm.
The crowd did not grow silent because they were intimidated, no, they sealed their lips because they knew a force of authority far greater than them was about to speak.
"I want to make one thing very clear: I am not a hero," said Aldrich as he eyed the crowd of Duds. "If I were, I very well may have left you all here to die. Or killed you for raising your voice against me.
After all, that's what so many heroes do now."
Aldrich planted first the seeds of doubt against the Alterhuman Agency and its heroes. Though, considering how much these people had gone through with betrayal after betrayal already, this would not be too hard.
"If your lives are not worth saving, if they don't give the heroes their Achievement Points or more clicks on their social media, then they would not hesitate to just let you die. You have seen that happen to you firsthand tonight.
That is what heroes are now.
That is what the Alterhuman Agency is.
But I am here to save you because your lives do matter to me. Your struggle matters to me." Aldrich paused.
"What do you know about our struggle!?" said someone from the crowd. "About what it's like to be one of us. Powerless and waiting for people like you to save us!"
"Oh, but I do know. I know all too well," said Aldrich. "I know what it's like to be afraid to show your CID (Citizen identification).
Because you know that when you show that card, when it gets scanned at the store, at the movies, at a restaurant - anywhere - it shows proof that you are inferior.
I know what it feels like to be powerless. To always have to look up to a cape for help, and when you do get it, to see that it is handed to you with disgust.
I know what it feels like to be hopeless. To know that no matter how hard you try, how hard you try to stand out, the only thing that will ever define your entire existence is that one label of 'Dud'.
I know what it feels like to hate yourself. To wish that you were not born. To feel that if you were dead, humanity would be better off, more evolved. To feel that if only you were different, you might have a better life outside ghettos."
Aldrich pointed up, towards the open doors of the hangar where the darkness of the night sky stood out strongly against the dim lights of the hangar. "But out there, no, up there, in those skies, do you think caped heroes know about your struggle?
Do you think they know what it means to be like you?
No. That's why they left you.
But I do. And that's why I've come here for you."
Aldrich gazed at the crowd and found them staring at him, quiet. He had reflected their suffering, their lifetime of facing discrimination as a Dud, through his words, showing that he was not only unlike a hero, but even an Alter - he was someone that could relate to them on a deeply fundamental level.
"Then who…who are you? If you're not a hero, if you know what it's like to be one of us-," began someone.
"You'll come to know in time," said Aldrich. "Just remember this when the world asks you who saved you at your darkest hour of need. When they ask who lifted you up from the depths of despair.
That it was not a crowd of bright capes and masks.
It was me."
Aldrich then moved past the crowd of Duds. They shifted away from him, giving him a path through them, and stared at him in awe as he passed. There was an aura of strength about him that stopped them from speaking to them.
Aldrich had said what he had wanted to say. He wanted to hammer into the Duds that the AA and heroes had abandoned them and that the one who had saved the day was Aldrich himself.
With that, they would maintain positive PR for him and negative PR for the AA when the world started to investigate what happened here.
Past the hangar, through a series of sliding mechanical doors that led across a tunnel, Aldrich found himself in the bunker. He checked out the bunker just as a precaution to check how defensible it was as he soon had to leave and, more importantly, whether he could operate the control room to close the hangar doors.
A cursory glance at the bunker's ceiling indicated that it was still more than sturdy enough to weather an attack, especially with Aldrich's undead defending it.
As for the control room -
Aldrich paused outside of the room. His [Death Sense] was triggered, allowing him to see individuals in near death. He could perceive them through walls in a sort of X-ray vision, and right now, he could clearly see the faint green silhouette of a woman behind the control room doors.
Aldrich went to the double metal doors of the control room and found it was jammed, its motion sensors broken. He sunk his claws into the doors, easily shearing through the metal, before pulling, ripping the heavy doors straight out. He flicked the two door halves away and watched as a young woman's body fell by his feet.
The woman was around Aldrich's age, her face showcasing the last remnants of her teenage youth through slightly round cheeks. Her hair sprawled out behind her in a mess of amber spattered in dried blood.
The woman was young, just as young as Aldrich, maybe even younger, but despite how young she was, she wore a full hero's costume.
A bodysuit comprised of a dark pink, almost purple leotard attached to black leggings lined with several grooves. The material looked thin, but the hexagonal patterning on it indicated that it was hex-weave: an ultra-durable fiber sourced from a spider type variant.
A patch on her shoulder shaped in the form of a dark blue wave crest indicated she was from Haven Supers Academy. It was the best academy in Haven, but that was not saying much.
Overall, its ranking was low, just moderately better than Blackwater, and Blackwater was made intentionally as low as possible to hide attention from it.
Aldrich spotted a hole gouged out in her stomach. A rock shaped projectile had roughly gored through her. But remarkably, even with the horrible wound, she was still alive. He noted that there were faint blue lines sparking around her face.
"The life force in her brain has been preserved," said Volantis. "Those lines possess an energy that circulates blood and activity within her brain."
"I see," said Aldrich. He looked into the control room to see another costumed hero. Guy dressed in blue and yellow with a red, blue and green wire motif running down his chest. Faint sparks sputtered from his body, but he was dead. A huge hole was gouged out in his head, not to mention deep slashes and bullet wounds littering the rest of his body.
"The energy signature preserving this woman matches that emitted from that human," said Volantis.
"Hm." Aldrich nodded. He could piece together what happened.
These two heroes were probably left behind because they disagreed with the rest that fled in the carrier. They were killed, but the male hero, in perhaps a last-ditch act of mercy, likely with a chunk in his head missing, had used the last dregs of energy of his power to try and save the girl.
But it was far too late. Aldrich could tell with how pale the girl was that the blood loss alone was enough to kill her soon, and he had no way to reverse that. But what that hero's last effort had done was ensure that this woman's soul would not expire.
Theoretically, Aldrich could raise this girl with her soul intact, but then he had to ask himself: was it worth it? Was she useful enough?
Reading Aldrich's thoughts, Volantis spoke.
"This woman, unlike those aboard that flying vessel, is not at the limits of her physical and energy harnessing capabilities… Rather, both qualities are highly unrefined, capable of enhancing greatly with time."