Chapter 168: Hear Me Out
This was why Aldrich was in a checkmate position. Or at the very least, why Solomon Solar thought Aldrich had no way to win.
Even if Solomon was forced to accept Aldrich's deal, he would not have to fulfill any part of it. Because the government could lock Aldrich up for any amount of time, and if he escaped, then they could just slander him as a danger to society that could not be contained.
An inevitable lose-lose situation for Aldrich. If he stayed too long in custody, people forget about him. If he escaped, he turned into a villain that Solomon could just disavow.
"Custody, is it?" said Aldrich. He looked to Solomon Solar, then towards the row of Guardians that carefully observed him, no doubt ready to engage any of their advanced weapons systems at a moment's notice. "That explains all these Guardians.
So, in the end, arresting me and throwing me in a cell somewhere matters more than all of this."
Aldrich motioned to the people behind him, towards the wreckage of the crumbling city all around him.
In response, the people of Haven spoke out.
"The hell? You're arresting him!? For what? For saving us when none of you could be bothered to get off your asses to do the same!?"
"You left us for dead! What right do you have to come here! ?"
Many more cries of protest rung out, aimed right at Solomon Solar, but he did not flinch. He maintained his composure and put on a saddened expression.
"I understand how you feel," said Solomon as his voice rung out with a powerful ring that bid silence from the crowd. "But all of you shouldn't worry.
Vigilantes that show their heroic hearts go into custody as a simple matter of Jaw and procedure, but it isn't prison by any means.
They'll just ask Thanatos here a couple of questions to make sure they know he's a good man, just as we all do, and once that's done, I'm sure he can come back and watch us build this city back better than ever before."
As if on cue, when Solomon Solar ended his sentence, an aircraft carrier descended from above. Its four engines whirred loudly as they forced squalls of wind on the ground, buffeting the crowd backwards.
Media drones zipped out of the way for the sizable carrier as it hovered in the air because it was big enough that its engines could shove the comparatively tiny media drones out of the way.
At the side of the carrier's green painted hull was a logo showing two chains crossed over in a X symbol. The mark of Lockdown, the biggest prison industry corporation in the states and in the world.
Not quite a Megacorporation, but still quite influential, especially in the United States where the prison industry historically had always thrived, even before the Altering.
The carrier opened up, revealing insides marked with black, dark purple tinged light.
"A Null Box, huh. You really did bring out all the stops to take me in," said Aldrich as he recognized the carrier. His voice could project outwards over the din of the roaring propellors and engines from the carrier, ensuring that Solomon Solar heard him.
A Null Box was a special containment cell made to take in Alters at the A rank.It was the highest level of containment that Lockdown could produce, comprised of a sturdy metal cube lined with Null Ore, an exceedingly rare substance located in deadly areas known as 'Null Zones' where absolutely no life could grow.
Null Zones also prevented Alters from using their powers properly, though there were some rare exceptions.
Null Ore replicated that power disruption process, making the Null Box one of the most reliable, albeit forbiddingly expensive ways to transport powerful Alters as trying to mine anything from a Null Zone was incredibly dangerous as most of them were located deep in the Wastelands where natural disasters and variants posed serious threats.
"It's simply a matter of security," said Solomon Solar. He crossed his arms and gave Aldrich a sympathetic look. "I hope you understand, Thanatos. I might know you as a man with a good heart, but the government doesn't.
But I'm sure once they hear how much good you've done, they'll have you out in no time. I'll make sure to support you as much as I can, my friend, and once you get out, I'll be more than happy to start rebuilding with you."
An obvious lie. If Solomon Solar got what he wanted, then Aldrich would never get out of custody.
Solomon Solar banked on the government either never releasing Aldrich, at which point the media could just paint Aldrich as a villain that they had rightfully incarcerated, or they would release him agonizingly slowly, only after they had gotten every ounce of information from Aldrich about his powers and his troops and access to all of them.
Whatever goodwill Aldrich dredged up here among Haven's citizens would get wiped out after a few weeks when the cleanup of Haven's wreckage finished, because by then, everyone that supported Aldrich would be separated and relocated.
And with those people relocated, there would be no unified body to support Aldrich.
"Please vacate the premises for your own safety." The Guardians marched ahead of Solomon and moved towards the crowd, corralling them backwards to give isolate Solomon and Aldrich. The crowd protested, but they could not stand against the Guardians and got pushed back.
One of the Guardians stepped in front of Aldrich and held out a blocky pair of metal cuffs that looked more like gauntlets with how sturdy they were.
Black tinted purple light emanated from within the cuffs, indicating they were also lined with Null Ore.
"Place your arms into these cuffs," said the Guardian in its cold mechanical voice. "Do not resist."
Another Guardian came up to Seismic with the same cuffs.
Aldrich nodded to Seismic, and they both allowed themselves to get locked down. The cuffs locked into place with a pressurized click, tightly wrapping memory structure metal around their arms.
"Citizens of Haven!" Solomon moved past Aldrich once he saw that Aldrich had been cuffed, obviously thinking Aldrich was done at this point, and spoke out to the crowd. "I'll put in my word for Thanatos here. He'll be out to help us soon, I know it!"
Aldrich looked at Solomon. The hero practically ignored him at this point, flying over to the crowd, probably believing he had won. But Solomon's victory was all predicated on the notion that Aldrich would stay in custody with no good way out without painting himself as a villain.
Aldrich would disprove that delusion. And when he did, when he came back, he would have the upper hand to force Solomon's Sunshine Foundation to siphon resources to him. Media coverage was a double edged sword in this regard.
It amplified Solomon's voice, but it also made him beholden to any promises he voiced, especially considering his spotless clean good guy image.
"A- rank hero Seismic, please proceed with me for questioning," said two Guardians as they flanked Seismic, escorting him away.
Two Guardians came by Aldrich's side in the same manner. "Vigilante, please proceed with us to the transport."
"One moment," said Aldrich as he turned around, ignoring the Guardians. He spoke out to Solomon Solar. "Solar! I'll be seeing you in a little over a week. I look forward to working with the Sunshine Foundation then!"
Solomon Solar turned to Aldrich with unblinking eyes and another momentary pause that indicated confusion. It was obvious that Solomon did not know how Aldrich could leave custody after one measly week without forcibly escaping.
The government would try to keep Aldrich kept in custody for as long as possible until they knew they could control him. A week was not enough for that. If they did not think they could control Aldrich, they might even try to terminate him.
"What?" said Aldrich. "You didn't think I was going to miss a chance to work with the Sunshine Foundation, did you? Didn't you say it yourself? That you would do your best to have me out soon? Well, I'll help you out with that. No,I'll even make it easy for you.
Ihave a hero that wants to sponsor me for a Hero Consideration Hearing. And, if I read the fine print properly, a sponsorship from a B rank hero or above means I'm obligated to that hearing within a week of going into voluntary custody.
I'll clear my name there."
"I'm sorry to say this, Thanatos, but Seismic is also under custody. His sponsorships won't be valid-," began Solomon.
"Not Seismic. I have someone else," said Aldrich.Solomon Solar paused, wondering who was sponsoring Aldrich.
To force a hearing required a hero that was B rank and above, and the only living B ranker in Haven was Rocket Man who was B-, just shy of being able to call for a hearing.
On top of that, Rocket Man was not popular and influential enough to really make waves in the news. Even if Rocket Man could sponsor Aldrich, it was possible the AA could just use technicalities to try and circumvent it.
There were a few other B rankers that had come to this city, but again, they were all at the B- rank.
And if they they had been raised from the dead, then a convincing argument could be made as with Seismic that their minds were compromised.
The only B ranker that had come here with enough popularity behind his name was Minuteman who had a strong following from his dashing good lucks and good guy persona. Though, unlike Solomon, Minuteman's persona was not a persona. It was how he really was.
But Minuteman should have been dead as well by all accounts. He had not been a part of the larger battle and the tech disrupting storm had ensured that he could not have contacted the AA at all, meaning he would have been classified as a casualty.
Solomon probably had only received a brief damage report and gotten cocky when he saw Minuteman among the listed casualties.
"Minuteman will sponsor me," explained Aldrich.
"Minuteman is...alive?" said Solomon. "...What a relief! It would have pained me even more to know a good man like him had passed. Did you use your powers to give him a second chance?"
"My powers? No, not at all. He's alive on the merit of his own bravery," said Aldrich. Solomon's question was asked to try and confirm whether Minuteman was ‘corrupted’.
If Aldrich had raised Minuteman, then that destroyed Minuteman's credibility."You know, before this, I didn't know how Minuteman was so popular.
But there's something so inspiring about seeing a real Golden Age hero fight for their principles that I started to understand why he had so many followers.
It's about being genuine. People like to see something real in a world that's getting so fake.
But you know all about that, though, don't you, Solar?"