Aldrich walked past the last sliding metal door in the tunnel, his each and every step echoing with the sound of clacking metal. When he entered the hangar again, the crowd stopped what they were doing to stare at him in awe. All of them, well, those of them that had phones, had them in their hands, but they were turned off and by their sides, but it was obvious they had been using them just moments before.
They were watching something. Meant Net connectivity was back up. The signal towers in Haven probably had finished auto-maintenance and rebooted after the storm shut them down.
Even more of a tell-tale sign that the crowd had been watching something was that someone had brought a mobile holo-projector and projected a large screen showcasing a low-resolution video stream. The man owning the projector immediately scrambled to turn it off as Aldrich entered.
It was as if Aldrich was an incredibly well-respected professor who had just made his entrance to his classroom, making all the students scramble to put away everything so they could give their full and undivided attention.
"Turn that back on," said Aldrich.
"H-huh?" said the man as he looked up at Aldrich.
"Turn it back on. It was a stream showing what was happening outside, wasn't it? I want to see," said Aldrich.
"Y-yeah, sure," said the man nervously, intimidated under Aldrich's presence. He turned the projector, a sphere-shaped metal ball on three legs that could retract or stiffen like a tripod, on by tapping a circular button.
A glowing blue dot centered in the projector lit up, and from it, the holographic screen projected outwards again. From the layout of the website hosting the stream, Aldrich could determine that it was from Sharespace, the largest social media website in the world headed under Mediacorp, a tech giant social media and news megacorp.
The stream's screen was black, a rotating circle at its center indicating that connectivity was slow. It looked to be a personal stream, and when the stream connected, Aldrich could see that it was being recorded through a commercial drone.
It showed a ground shot of the mass of thronging fishmen, crab variants, and mermaid variants all staring ahead, towards the towering walls of Haven's central district. The forcefield covering it flickered, its one proud blue color now growing weak, almost translucent.
They moved about impatiently, their fangs bared and their claws snapping as they waited for the precious moment where the forcefield would go down and they could have their feast of prey.
"Net connectivity is back up!" shouted the stream's recorder. "I'm showing you what it looks like in Haven right now from my drone. The heroes say that they've got this under control, but, but I don't think that's true. Just look at how many variants there are! And, and, look at the forcefield, it's…it's almost going down!"
Just as the recorder finished that sentence, a large rumble and flash of blue light burst down. The drone captured a dozen pillars of spiraling plasma energy shooting from the ground in novas of bright light. From the high vantage point of the drone, the beams looked small, but in reality, each one was large enough to easily engulf a house.
The destructive force behind them must have been phenomenal.
The beams smashed into the forcefield in one final volley, and where they contacted, they superheated the forcefield, turning its pale blue color white hot. And with that, the forcefield flickered for one last time. It broke apart under the final artillery volley form the sea anemone variants, breaking apart from where the beams struck it.
"No, no, no!" shouted the streamer, his voice drenched in desperation. "Anyone, anybody out there, if you see this, please, send some help!"
"What's the AA doing!?" shouted a man.
"Where's the Panopticon!?" A woman joined in on the protest.
"You know already that they are not here to defend them," said Aldrich. "But I am."
"Wh-what!? You're going to leave us here!?" said a woman. "If you know how much we go through, how much we've been abandoned, don't be another one to leave us!"
"Don't go!" her child shouted with her.
"Your safety will be guaranteed," said Aldrich. "The variants are concentrated around the city center, so you are not under any immediate threat. Even then, there may be a few stragglers here and there, so stay here where it is safe. I will have some of my forces guard you.
If you do as I say, I can guarantee that of you will lose your lives.
In exchange, I want you to keep this stream open. I want you to watch." Aldrich began to step away from the crowd. His helmet reappeared in strands of black metal covering his face, combining together to form his spiked helm.
Draconic dark wings sprouted from Aldrich's back, unfurling majestically. "I want you to bear witness. Witness me as I save your city."
Aldrich crouched down before jumping, soaring into the air. His draconic wings flapped down, giving him lift as he shot through the open ceiling of the hangar. He landed in front of Minuteman. Portal Girl was not there, for Aldrich had given her a further mental command to warp away as far as possible to prevent Minuteman from seeing her.
"How are you holding up?" said Aldrich.
Minuteman sat on the mud and looked down at his shoulder and stomach. The wounds had patched over with an amorphous, blobby layer of raw, pink skin. "I feel better, but these things are taking longer to adapt to my body than I thought."
"Working with Augmenters like you is the worst," groaned Eric as he knelt by Minuteman, overseeing his healing powers to make sure his growth pods did not suddenly turn into explosively growing tumors. "It takes ages for my growth pods to adapt to tougher, stronger cells like yours, but all things considered, you're recovering pretty fast."
"Good," said Aldrich. "You should be back in action again soon enough then."
Minuteman nodded. "Yeah." He looked up at Aldrich, staring at his helmet. "You know, with how you look, I almost a hundred percent expected you to be a villain. The black and blood red with all those spikes, you know."
"And you look exactly like what you are: a hero," said Aldrich.
Minuteman paused for a moment of surprise before smiling. "Thanks. But a hero? No, that might be what my job is, but that's not what I am. A hero saves the day all the time. I try to do what's right. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail." Minuteman shook his head. "I'm far from being a real hero. Like Vanguard."
"There is a difference between being a hero and being perfect," said Aldrich. "You aren't ready to fight yet, but soon, you'll be healed enough to defend the people here."
"And where are you headed?" said Minuteman.
"To the city center. I'm going to end this," said Aldrich. "I'm leaving four of my troops here, including Eric who needs to stay to make sure nothing goes wrong with the recovery process.
Everyone else, I'm taking with me."
"I promise you-," Minuteman stood up.
"Hey, I know you're a tough guy, but you shouldn't be standing like this-," began Eric.
"I have to stand for this," said Minuteman.
Eric sighed. "Augmenters. All of you are so hardheaded and impulsive."
"I promise you that everyone down there will be safe." Minuteman put a fist over his heart. "I'll fight down to the very last fiber of my being to make sure that they'll get to see the sun rise tonight. It's the least I can do for you.
And I owe you one. Anytime you need a favor down the road, as long as it's within my power, I'll try and get it done."
"A favor, is it? I may be calling on you very soon, then," said Aldrich.
"Just make sure you get through this alive, or else I'll be left hanging." Minuteman smiled and nodded to Aldrich.
Aldrich nodded in turn before he addressed his troops. "It's time for us to move. Chiros, gather your men. Have them carry your art piece back too. Alexis, choose four among your class to leave here. When you're done, follow me back to the mega-complex."
"Your will shall be carried out!" said Chiros. He turned to his death knights and pointed at the crystallized shark variant. "Carry that out! But make sure it is not damaged!"
"Roger" said Alexis as she looked to the Blackwater A class students, choosing who to leave behind.
Aldrich unfurled his wings again, preparing to fly, but before he did, Minuteman spoke once more.
"Sorry to catch you right before you get out of this depressing spot, but I never did catch your name. I'm assuming you got a sign to go by, right?" said Minuteman.
"A sign, is it?" Aldrich paused for a moment.
A sign was a codename. Something you went by as a hero or villain or mercenary or vigilante to avoid revealing your real name. It was something that Aldrich knew he had to make for himself sometime sooner or later, but things had developed so suddenly.
Right after the Red Circle event, Aldrich was thrust into this mass scale variant invasion. He had not had time yet to plan anything. What he did have, however, was a username. A name from the same game that had started this entire journey.
"Thanatos," said Aldrich simply… He then jumped into the air with a heavy metallic click before his wings flapped, sending him soaring high into the night sky.