Aldrich remained high in the air as he observed Hat Trick. He wanted to get a read on the situation first before he went down and engaged with the A class hero.
"Do you know what happened with Hat Trick?" Aldrich asked Seismic.
"He ran when the Locus was detected," said Seismic. That was all he said, but that was enough for Aldrich to immediately have negative levels of respect for the hero.
Aldrich had a decent amount of knowledge of all the A and S class heroes because information about most of them was widely publicly available. Hat Trick, too, he knew. He was an up-and-coming young A ranker with a stellar amount of promise who, with a couple more years of building up his rep, would probably easily make it into the A or even A+ rank.
The S class, though, Hat Trick probably never would break into. Hat Trick simply did not possess enough raw power.
From what Aldrich could recall, Hat Trick had a fairly good public image. He marketed himself as a roguish playboy but balanced that out with supposedly a strong sense of heroism. Cool on the outside, warm in the inside; an image that was probably straight up copy pasted from countless romance novels fantasizing about getting it on and breaking into the warm hearts of supposedly cold CEOs or whatever.
"As far as I know," said Aldrich. "His public record is clean with a solid track record of beating tough variants and a few humanitarian relief cases here and there."
"It is. His marketing team has been good about that," said Seismic. "But this - this is his first mistake. Maybe his last."
"Explain," said Aldrich.
"Hat Trick ran because he thought Haven would fall," said Seismic. "He helped with initial evac. Got the important people out. Afterwards, when he thought his life was in danger, he fled."
"I see what you're getting at," said Aldrich. "It makes sense to stay for evac, especially since it prioritizes important and wealthier people that'll contribute more to his payroll.
But when all the evac vehicles ran out and there were still thousands left behind, he figured it was safe to just run because he assumed they would all die.
And dead people tell no tales.
Or, if they were heroes that ran, well, they couldn't speak out against Hat Trick when they had committed the same act of cowardice.
With the storm cutting out any form of recording, it would have been the perfect opportunity to just run without consequences."
Seismic nodded his head. "That's right. He tried to convince me to leave, too. If I stayed and beat the Locus, then that would expose him as well."
"But you didn't leave."
"I see," said Aldrich. "Considering the fact that Hat Trick knew you would stay and still fled, then that means he bet on you dying and the city falling."
"Yes." Seismic cracked his neck as he stared downwards towards where Hat Trick was. "He would have won that bet, too. But you showed up."
"And now that he's lost that bet, he needs to do damage control," said Aldrich. He clenched his hand into a fist, feeling the same sense of disgust well up in him when he had destroyed that ship full of fleeing heroes from the panopticon bunker.
What sickened Aldrich was not the fact that heroes did not always save every life. No, he understood that. He even understood that sometimes, it was better to sacrifice lives to achieve a long-term goal so long as in the end, more lives were saved.
In a hypothetical tough fight, if Aldrich had to make a tactical retreat at the cost of a thousand lives, he would take that retreat so long as it gave him a chance to win later to save a hundred thousand more lives.
There was no glory in self sacrifice that led to long term suffering. There were plenty of cases of heroes, especially those from the Golden Age, sacrificing themselves only to rob their communities of a protector that they needed long term.
But where Aldrich drew the line was with individuals that sacrificed others solely for their own sakes. For nothing more than a paycheck and a handshake with grubby corporate moguls. These were people that proudly proclaimed something they were not. Snakes masquerading under capes and costumes.
"Are the defenders of this era so cowardly?" muttered Valera. "It seems that these mortals known as 'heroes' are this era's chosen warriors, and yet, so very few of them possess the mettle of a true warrior."
"I can take care of him," said Seismic. "If you care about your image. Would be less risky for you if I went down."
"There's no reason that this can't benefit me," said Aldrich. "Plus, this feels a little personal. I'll handle this with you."
He willed Crow to move down.
As Crow approached the crowd below, Aldrich took in and analyzed the surroundings. There was a crowd of hundreds gathered before a massive adscreen that, normally, would have projected a giant in exchange for an exorbitant price.
The screen had been hijacked by technos to showcase the battle sites, and there, they showed Okeanos blitzing his way through the remainder of the aquatic variant army, utterly annihilating them in droves, completely proving that Aldrich had full control over the Locus.
However, most notably, the audio had been cut off from the broadcast, giving full reign for Hat Trick to hover in the air and talk to everyone below. Hat Trick had a suave smile on his face while his entourage of female team members behind him just acted like pretty props, just smiling and nodding along.
But Aldrich could immediately tell there was nervousness etched into Hat Trick's face. And the people around Hat Trick stared up at him not with adoration or relief or anything remotely resembling something positive, but bare hate at worst and visible disbelief at best.
Good. This was an easy situation for Aldrich to use.
Aldrich laid Valera down on Crow's back.
"Not again," complained Valera. She glared down towards Hat Trick. "That fool better make your time worthwhile for making you leave me, master."
"Oh, he will," said Aldrich as he jumped down. Seismic quickly followed.
Together, they landed on an empty spot away from the crowds. Aldrich broke his fall with draconic wings while Seismic used a tiny quake to offset his impact.
When they landed, the crowd turned around, and immediately, all the negativity they had shown Hat Trick melted away as their faces grew bright and hopeful seeing the two heroes that had actually saved them.
"Seismic and that new guy, are they working together!? Maybe they're in a new team?"
"Seeing the guy in armor up close…wow, he really does leave a strong impression on you."
People started to snap pictures of Aldrich and Seismic en masse, and as the two walked forwards, several people from the crowd reached out to them.
"Thank you," said a woman in tears. "When they didn't let us board the last evac ship, I thought my whole family was doomed, but you've saved us all."
"I can see my daughter another day because of you two," said a man.
An older man, former policeman, it seemed, from the badges decorating his coat, nodded at Aldrich and Seismic. "When everyone else left, you stayed. I know none of us don't have much - there's a reason they left us while the folk with money got to leave - so we can't give big donations to you, but I hope that our thanks still means something."
"Your thanks has meaning. More meaning than a few credits," said Aldrich, and Seismic nodded.
"Ah, so you two have come back from the cleanup, eh!?" Hat Trick's voice resonated outwards, drowning everyone out. "And it's great to see you alive, Seismic. It would have crushed me to know a man as great as you had died out there."
"Cleanup?" said Aldrich. "You call that fight a cleanup? Where have you been?"
"Hah, what do you mean?" said Hat Trick. "I was out in the front lines, by the coast itself, fending off against waves of reinforcements from pouring in!"
Before Aldrich could respond, Hat Trick waved to Seismic. "Seismic! Can I have a moment with you? It's about something quite important, and classified information, I'm afraid."
Seismic paused, unsure of what to do. He glanced over at Aldrich.
Aldrich nodded towards Seismic. He was willing to see what Hat Trick wanted to do here.
"Alright," said Seismic.
"Good, I knew you would understand," said Hat Trick as he flew over to Seismic and took the older man aside, away from the crowd, speaking in hushed voice that nobody could make out.