Anaand, Billy. 24
Anthon, Robert. 31
Gretson, Stephanie. 22
Major, Jeff. 44
Roth, Cavan. 37
Roth, Bethanie. 36
Roth, Jerry. 12
Zac, Clarke. 67
“Whatcha reading there stud?”
“Hm?” mumbled Maxwell, looking up from his tablet. The voice had come from his friend, coworker, and sometimes-lover Steph Watson. Currently she was playing up the lover bit, standing at the entrance to his penthouse’s kitchen in nothing but panties and a red apron that complemented her cocoa colored skin. Unprofessional to date a coworker? Maybe. But they weren’t exactly dating. More like a friends with benefits situation. In their line of work you didn’t get much opportunity for relationships, and those you did make tended to be fleeting, so you didn’t pass up a good thing when it happened.
“Oh nothing, just the morning paper,” Maxwell answered.
“You still read that thing? Well put it away for now, I made breakfast.”
“You can cook?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“For shame. I slave over a hot toaster and rehydrator and you question my skills?”
Maxwell chuckled and put down the tablet, following her into the kitchen, “How could I have ever doubted?”
Despite their teasing, Steph really could do a lot with a little, and they both tucked in with gusto. The rehydrated eggs were great, and whatever she had done to the bacon was divine (the real stuff, one of the few luxuries Maxwell accepted and even insisted upon). He tried to pester her into telling him how she cooked it, but she only responded with: “Nuh-uh, need to keep you on the hook.”
“Already there babe, already there.”
They ate, and flirted, and tried somewhat successfully to avoid work-talk. Right up until Maxwell’s earpiece beeped an alarm (he had forgotten to take it out last night, a frequent occurrence). Maxwell automatically lifted his hand to his ear and pressed the device in the correct way to receive communications, while Steph scrambled to grab her earpiece off the kitchen counter where she had left it.
Maxwell and Steph listened to an incoming report from Central, scarfing down the last bites of food before confirming that they were on their way. They left the dishes on the counter and ran for the elevators at the back of Maxwell’s penthouse suite, not bothering to dress. They grabbed separate elevators, slapping hands down on the keypads to register their fingerprints and unlock the doors. Maxwell snuck one final glance at the vision of Steph in just panties before he entered the elevator, and they both laughed when he saw she was checking him out too.
But then he entered the elevator and the doors closed, his expression quickly becoming neutral as his mind focused on the business at hand. He placed his hand on another (slightly more innocuous) pad, and said, “Guardian, dress protocol, rooftop.” A robotic woman’s voice answered, “The Guardian, recognized,” and the elevator ascended to the top floor of the Central heroes headquarters. Panels eventually opened, and pieces of his costume folded out on robotic arms that helped him dress in the skin tight material. Soon he was wearing his blue and white costume, with the emblem of Fortress City across his back. The small blue domino mask was the last piece, and he put it on himself. If it were up to him he wouldn’t have ever bothered with a mask; he’d once heard his father say “I can’t trust a man whose face I can’t see,” and those words had stuck with him. But, everyone from the marketing department, to military advisors, to lawyers, to retired capes had told him to put on a damned mask. That last one had been the real clincher, so Maxwell had settled on a thin blue domino mask that barely covered his eyes. He had guessed (correctly) that keeping a secret identity truly secret wasn’t really possible without extreme measures anyways (which he didn’t want to bother with), and instead he wanted to present an image that people could trust. It was important to him.
But he had to admit, the mask looked pretty darn good on him.
The elevator reached the top floor and the door opened, exiting into a reinforced observation room disguised as a rooftop electrical closet/maintenance shed. Next to him a second elevator opened, and out stepped the Silver Star.
Steph Watson to him.
Her costume was a bit more armored than his, looking more like one of those super compact astronaut suits that tinkers loved to make (he was half convinced the nerds made them like that just to see curves on the lady astronauts, an observation Steph had rolled her eyes at). The fact that her mask was also a full helmet with an opaque faceplate, and her power had her floating a foot off the ground, completed the impression that she should be bouncing around a moon somewhere.
“You ready to fly?” Steph asked, her voice slightly digitized by the helmet.
They stepped out onto the roof, and Maxwell released his power. His was one of those powers that never really turned off, he could only suppress it. Luckily suppressing it wasn’t difficult, and even if he didn’t it rarely caused problems. Now it covered him like a second skin, and with a thought he went from ‘standing still’ to ‘upwards, thirty-five degree tilt, five mph.’
Vector control, the scientists had called it. Anything that came within a short distance of himself he could control the vector of, including himself. At this moment, he used it to fly. Easily his favorite part. He rose up into the sky, which today was cloudless if still a bit dark; the sun had barely started to rise into the sky, and several stars still shown.
“What kind of villain starts shit at six a.m. on a Sunday?” asked Steph, floating up to his side.
“I know right? Should be illegal.”
She laughed, and they took off in the direction Central command had indicated. While both of them were technically part of Central Sector’s hero team, things rarely went wrong in Central itself. It was mostly government facilities, and between the military police, private security companies, and the dozens of heroes who might be in Central at any one moment, no villain in their right mind would cause trouble there. The few not in their right mind who tried got put down rather quickly. As such, Maxwell tended to have his status marked as available to respond to the surrounding sectors instead, which was where he and Steph were headed now. The inner sectors were much smaller than the outer ones due to Fortress City’s design, but it still took five minutes of flight to reach S2, where a disturbance had been reported at a construction site.
The site in question was the top of a skyscraper, where a super brawl last year had sheared off the top couple floors. Maxwell remembered helping with clean-up for hours after that incident, but luckily no one had died. Now the half-reconstructed floors and support beams stood like an exposed bone from a wound. Work on the building had stopped part-way for one reason or another, and probably wouldn’t restart until several months after Odd Summer.
Of course, the large robot that was currently dismantling the work done so far certainly wasn’t helping things. It was twenty feet tall, with a cockpit that looked stolen from a bulldozer set into the chest. In fact, all of its parts looked like they were stolen from construction machines, making the mech seem like it had transformed from a bulldozer or earth mover not seconds ago. As Maxwell and Steph watched, the mech’s right hand reached out and (in a strangely calm manner) knocked down a cement wall, before stacking the rubble onto a pile to the side.
“What in the world is going on here?” muttered Steph.
“Not sure, but if he’s trying to steal materials he’s not being very subtle about it.”
“I don’t think he’s a tinker on a budget. See the way the joints move? There’s not enough supporting mechanisms.”
Maxwell took a better look at the mechanics of the mech. Steph was right, beyond a few moving hydraulics to complete the look, the mech might as well have been moving by magic. That meant it wasn’t a tinker device, or even a gizmo. It was a construct, animated only by its owner’s power. But if that was the case, why steal materials? Theft was the only reason he could think of for the systematic dismantling he was witnessing.
Maxwell and Steph circled the mech for a while, to gather information and hash out a plan. Then Maxwell approached cautiously and tried to address the pilot, who was semi-visible through the tinted window of the cockpit. From what Maxwell could see it was a guy in army fatigues.
“Sir, I’m a licensed Fortress City hero. I’m gonna have to ask you to exit the vehicle.”
“Buzz off,” came the reply. Not encouraging, but better than nothing at all.
“Sir, the destruction of Fortress City infrastructure is a felony offense. If you don’t cease and desist now, I am obligated to use-”
Maxwell didn’t get to finish his sentence, because the mech had swung one of its bulky arms at him. His power activated automatically, and deflected the swing straight up and away from him.
“Force it is then.”
Maxwell rocketed up and punched the arm that had taken a swing at him, ramping up his power as he made contact. He tried to rip the mechanical arm from its socket by sending it straight up on an even faster vector, but the joint held, and the entire mech went up a few feet before gravity protested, pulling it back down with a roof-shaking crunch. Definitely a construct of some kind, a normal machine would never have withstood the strain.
The mech’s second arm came at him, this one with two dirt excavator shovels giving it a ‘claw’ for a hand. It tried to clamp down on his leg, but the mech’s feet were suddenly pulled out from under it, and it crashed to its knees. Steph had entered the fight, and was using her telekinesis to restrain the construct. It struggled on hands and knees, but couldn’t stand back up with the Silver Star focused on it. Not surprising; while technically she was a ‘normal’ telekinetic, Steph was powerful, and Maxwell had personally seen her toss dump trucks like hacky sacks. Maxwell used the opportunity to get at the cockpit of the mech, and with a touch the door flew open, and nearly off its hinges.
“Stop! Stop! You don’t understand,” yelled the pilot. He was an older man, much older than Maxwell had expected. Once upon a time the man must have been very fit, his muscles still taunt under weather blasted skin, but now his army fatigues (real ones, threadbare and faded) hung loose on his bony frame. Scars criss-crossed his skin, including a particularly nasty one that came down from his right temple and landed somewhere in his bushy white beard. Around his neck was a set of dog tags (Panama tags, good lord), but what really gave Maxwell pause were the man’s eyes; a brilliant winter blue, they were full of tears, and the man had obviously been in distress for quite some time if the streaks on his face were anything to go by.
“I can’t let them erase him!” yelled the aging veteran.
“Sir please, I’m willing to listen but you have to disembar-”
“HE WAS MY SON!”
The old soldier swung at him, giant robot forgotten. Maxwell’s power activated and brought the flying fist to a gentle standstill, and the next punch, and the next. Eventually the punches ceased, and the soldier practically deflated in front of Maxwell as his willpower finally broke. He sank back onto the pilot seat and dropped his face into his hands, weeping openly. Once Steph realized the fight was over she joined Maxwell, and together they helped get the old man down out of the construct. A few minutes later Central sent a skimmer to pick up the man, which gave Steph and Maxwell breathing room to discuss what had happened.
“He said this was about his son?” asked Steph.
“Apparently so, which makes it strange that he’d decide to dismantle a construction site.”
“Maybe his son died in whatever caused this?”
“No, no one died in this one. This was the one where Piffle and his group tried to set up that mind-control tower that didn’t work. Happened last year.”
“Oh right, that one you talk about all the time. That was here?”
“Yeah, I remember it because no one died and-”
“-you were stuck cleaning up the whole afternoon, even after the sector head congratulated you. You may have mentioned it,” finished Steph.
“Heh. Yes, I may have mentioned it,” his smile faded a bit, “which raises the question again: why’d he target this place? Obviously it was personal.”
Steph tilted her head in thought, “You don’t suppose… his son is Piffle?”
Maxwell raised his eyebrows, “I… suppose he could have been. Piffle got life for this incident. Most parents wouldn’t be happy about that, even if their kid deserved it.” The idea didn’t really mesh in Maxwell’s head though. A conniving sociopath like Piffle being the son of that old veteran? It didn’t fit.
“Tell you what,” said Steph, “I think I’ll follow the skimmer in, and maybe I’ll get the chance to ask him.”
“You sure? I could go.”
“Nah, I can already see you twitching to get on with patrol. Maybe I can convince them to go easy on the old guy while I’m at it; it's not like he hurt anyone. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“Thanks Silvy, I appreciate it,” said Maxwell, using his work nickname for her.
They split up, and Maxwell headed out on patrol. He usually flew along the outside edge of the first ‘ring’ of sectors; close enough to reach Central sector inside five minutes while skimming over as many sectors as he could. But, since he was already out in the second ring he decided to straddle the line between the second ring of sectors and the third. Technically speaking he didn’t need to be doing patrols outside his assigned sector, but while Central was a bit bigger than the surrounding sectors due to being the center of the city, it wasn’t worth it to patrol there; nothing ever happened, and if it did they’d call him directly. In fact, if Odd Summer wasn’t active the inner sectors tended to be rather dead from a crime standpoint. Oh it still happened, but patrolling was a waste of time then. It had always irked him that as he got promoted they kept moving him inward towards Central. On one hand it gave him more resources and a better location to intercept major threats to the city, but when those disasters weren’t happening it left him with too much time on his hands. So much so, that some of the other teams had complained about having the ‘big guy’ looking over their shoulders all the time.
Until Odd Summer rolled around. Then having a flying bruiser around (who could reach the surrounding sectors in less than ten minutes) was suddenly on everyone's wishlist.
He patrolled for the rest of the morning, cruising at a leisurely fifty mph. The street he followed marked the switch from the second ring to the third one, and if he followed its gentle curve he’d eventually make a complete lap of the second ring. He wondered how many laps he’d be able to make before something happened?
The answer was two. Then he got to witness a car suddenly blur, ghosting through the stalled traffic in front of it in a burst of speed, before slamming on the brakes and skidding out, eventually fishtailing into a traffic light pole. He was there in seconds, pressing his communicator once just to inform that he was occupied with an incident.
He approached cautiously, but once he had eyes on the driver he hurried to get to her. She was a middle-aged woman in a business suit, and was gripping the steering wheel in a death grip while staring out of the front of her car with wide eyes. Obviously she hadn’t expected the sudden power display. He tapped on the window to get her attention, making sure that he had on his most winning smile, the one Steph called his ‘Boyscout smile’. The woman’s eyes opened even wider, if that were possible, and she hurriedly fumbled for the button to lower the window.
“Oh my god, I’m sorry. Oh my god. I didn’t, I didn’t mean to! I was just late for work. You’re the Guardian! Oh my god, the Guardian. I’m so so sorry. I… I don’t...”
“Calm down ma’am. Deep breaths. You aren’t in trouble, and no one was hurt.”
Maxwell waited for the lady to compose herself a bit more before continuing with the knitty-gritty of it. It took less than three questions to determine that it had indeed been the woman’s power that caused her car to crash, and that she hadn’t had a power when she woke up that morning. A power awakening. Technically a ‘trigger’ event since it had probably been in response to her being late for work. Semantics; she had powers now.
He stayed with her until emergency services could arrive, answering her questions about what she should do (mainly assuring her that she didn’t need to stop her career and be a hero), and helping her call her boss so that she wouldn’t be in trouble for missing the day. By the time an officer arrived, the woman was in much higher spirits, and he found he was as well. Always nice when things turned out fine.
Maxwell continued his patrol, stopping briefly at a soydog stand for lunch. As he ate, his mind drifted back to the early morning encounter with the old veteran. He was quite curious as to what grudge the man might have had against the building, and he wracked his mind for extra details on the original destruction of the top floors. But, no matter how hard he tried he simply couldn’t recall anyone having been hurt during that incident. Evacuations had been handled well for that one, and no one had been hurt beyond a few bruises and maybe a broken bone or two between the heroes and a few of Piffle’s minions.
Maxwell slapped his forehead; of course! The veteran’s son must have been one of Piffle’s hired goons. He couldn’t imagine the cowl being the son of the old veteran, but a faceless minion? Easily. Lots of people went into henching for one reason or another, mostly those desperate for cash and a fast payday. It was all too easy for Maxwell to imagine the veteran’s son hiring on for one job, thinking he could earn enough to pay whatever bills were overdue, but then getting caught and winding up in prison.
Maxwell sighed. It was probably too pretty a picture, but it made more sense than someone actually caring about Piffle. Man, what a scumbag he was.
Maxwell crumpled up the soydog wrapper and dropped it in a trash bin as he passed over. He was about to try and contact Steph when the next encounter of the day revealed itself. There were police sirens in the distance, and he followed the noise until he could spot two police cruisers pursuing a green sedan. It must have been modified, because the police hadn’t shut its engine down, and it was staying ahead of them by a decent margin.
He pressed his communicator, “This is Guardian. I’m seeing a high-speed chase and am going to pursue.” He started flying in the chase’s direction when a voice spoke in his ear.
“Negative Guardian. Please head for sector N1. Fire in progress.”
“Central the chase is right in front of me. N1 is almost two sectors away, can’t someone else get it?”
“The W2 team have already been alerted to the car chase; the fire requires a flier. Please head there immediately.”
“...Alright. On my way.”
He took a last look at the car chase and turned to fly towards N1, burning his internal reservoir of energy to get there faster. While his power was automatic in most cases, directing it to do something costed him, and going above his limits cost even more. Luckily hovering wasn’t one of those costs, although being able to arrive at N1 in under two minutes was (powers were quirky that way). Better to burn a bit extra for speed though; fires killed fast.
When he arrived, he spotted the problem location before Central could give him directions. A plume of smoke was rising out of a gutted, eleventh-floor highrise apartment. He made a beeline to it.
The highrise was one of the more ostentatious buildings around, built to house multiple penthouses with different designs. The one he stopped in front of had a balcony, but the floor to ceiling window that led to it had been blasted, the edges of the hole still dripping from whatever heat had melted it.
A super did this.
He was about to call in to get a fireproof cape for backup when a scream sounded from inside the apartment. Without a second thought he flew in through the melted window, flying low to try and stay away from the smoke. The apartment was a complete mess. There were holes in everything; the furniture, the walls, the floor, all of it looking like lava had melted through them, not to mention the sporadic fires that were everywhere. Safety proofing had helped, but it was only a matter of time before the numerous fires overwhelmed what was left. Whatever made the holes had blown a hole through the water main, and the water that should have gone to the sprinklers was draining uselessly down a hole in the floor.
He followed the increase of holes deeper into the penthouse before he located the source. In a large living room, with a comfy green couch and table at its center, two women were huddled to the side against a wall, trapped by a ring of melted holes that had decayed the floor too much to walk on. On the other side of the room was the culprit. A man was huddled in a corner, as far from the women as he could get, but the floor and walls had melted around him, and he was trapped in the molten slag. He struggled weakly to extract himself, but he was shivering uncontrollably, and after a particularly bad spasm a ribbon of molten fire burst from him and hit the ceiling above, dripping more molten slag on top of him. Obviously he had no real control over his power.
A bad trigger.
Maxwell hurriedly flew over to the two women, he had to get them out of here first.
“Are you both alright? Can you move?” he asked.
The one on the left continued to cry as she hugged her friend, but the one on the right pointed to the middle of the room where the couch was.
“J-Johnny. He, he was…”
Maxwell looked and wished he hadn’t. There was a large hole melted through the once-nice couch, and on the floor in front of it were shoes, facing the table, with the feet of the former owner still in them. The stumps still smoked.
Maxwell recognized the pink smudges on the table in front of the feet. It was a party drug called Dust, a hallucinogen that was supposed to be non-addictive, and therefore easy to quit before Odd Summer rolled around. In reality, users often grew too comfortable with the substance, and then found that going two to three months without it after previously using heavily was more than they could bear. Maxwell had never tried recreational drugs himself, but whatever effect they had must have been quite something if people were willing to risk a bad trigger for them. What was that statistic again? Twenty-five percent chance of a bad trigger per trip? Thirty-five?
Maxwell turned back to the two ladies, “Alright, I’m gonna get you two out of here. I want you both to hang on to me, and don’t open your eyes until I say so. Okay?”
Both ladies practically flung themselves onto him, more than willing to do exactly what The Guardian said if it got them out of the hell they suddenly found themselves in. Maxwell put an arm around each, and activated his power to both levitate them and keep smoke and embers away. He moved them carefully but quickly out of the apartment, reminding them to keep their eyes closed before he dropped over the balcony. Seconds later he had them safely on the ground and across the street from the high-rise building. When they opened their eyes they immediately hugged each other and began crying anew, the sudden change of location from a burning nightmare to a safe sidewalk seeming like a miracle.
Maxwell rocketed back up into the air, intent on the apartment, when a crackle in his comm gave him some well needed relief.
“This is Blazerunner to Guardian, you’re looking mighty toasty, what’s the situation?”
“Damn it’s nice to hear from you. I’ve got a bad trigger stuck in the burning apartment. He’s giving off discharges that are burning through the walls and setting things on fire. I don’t know how many more people are trapped in there, and the structural support won’t last much longer.”
“Shoot. Alright, I’ll handle the fire and Mr. Hot Tamale, you handle anyone else in the building?”
Maxwell met Blazerunner at the entrance to the burning apartment. Blazerunner was a tinker, who rode in a modified skimmer designed to handle just this sort of situation. Skimmers looked a little like helicopters without the blades. Transport units of various kinds would normally be attached under the ‘tail’ of the skimmer (normally prisoner transports), but in Blazerunner’s case he had two tanks full of fire suppressant. A nozzle on a robotic arm extended from the front to start spraying down the apartment, and once the fire was banked Maxwell went in to begin looking for other residents, stopping only long enough to yell to the unfortunate “Hot Tamale” that help was coming.
It took a while to clear the building of residents, but other than that, Blazerunner had the situation well in hand. Maxwell thanked him for the assist, and then started flying slowly in the direction of W2 where his patrol had been interrupted. He was still a bit peeved that he’d been called for this one, but there was no guarantee that Blazerunner would have made it in time for the two women, so it had been worth it in the end. Still, he hated to leave things unfinished, so he contacted Central to see what had become of the car chase.
He listened to Central’s update. Scowled. Then put on a burst of speed, burning energy once again.
The car chase had gone badly. The green sedan’s escape had been cut short when it plowed into the side of a public bus, embedding its entire front half. Then, the criminals that survived got into a shootout with the cops, putting surrounding civilians in danger, and preventing help from getting to the injured people on the bus. This did not turn out well for the criminals when one of the bus passengers mutated. One criminal was stabbed by a tendril before they realized what was happening, and only a handful of passengers managed to get off the bus before the exits were blocked. The speedster that showed up didn’t have the powerset to handle the situation, and his attempts simply exacerbated the mutation as mutavus tried to find a ‘solution’ to dealing with a speedster. This meant that the mutation had advanced even farther by the time the second hero arrived, and resulted in him being unable to act as well.
Then the Guardian landed next to the two heroes.
“Anything special besides the tendrils and spikes?” he asked, keeping his eyes on the mutant.
“Um, some of the tendrils are thin and hard to see, like razorwire,” answered the speedster.
“How long since the last noticeable change?”
“Maybe… ten minutes or so? Why does that matter?” asked the speedster.
“When mutavus activates, it continues mutating the host until the host is out of danger. If you can’t put them down immediately, you need to wait for them to stop mutating. Otherwise mutavus will just keep going, until the threat is removed, or the host is dead.”
“O-oh,” said the speedster, who had not waited for the mutation to abate. He must be new.
Maxwell approached the bus. A web of tendrils originated from a point somewhere near the impact between the two vehicles, and it seemed as if it had been trying to make a protective shell using the remains of the bus. He flew in through a window, and immediately his power activated to keep the razorwire tendrils and spikes from eviscerating him. He floated down the bus aisle, using his power to push tendrils out of his path. There weren’t any other people on the bus anymore; the biomass for the tendrils had to come from somewhere.
He reached the center of the tendril mass. There laid the torso of the man who had mutated, tendrils extending from points all over his body. The impact of the green sedan had sheared off everything below the waist, but had pinched the open wound closed, which explained how he survived long enough for mutavus to kick in. Unfortunately, a stray bullet had taken the poor man in the eye shortly after the mutation started, blowing out the back of his head.
Maxwell sighed. There was no one to save here anymore. Mutavus was mercilessly efficient in how it went about "saving" its host. But it needed fuel. If you didn’t have the fat reserves to fuel what it had planned, then prepare to lose a few "unnecessary" organs. The only food around is a dead rat? You’d best eat it, before mutavus found its own "solution". The only possible source of fuel after exhausting all other options is people?... Too bad. Sometimes, in the case of friends and family, or if the person had a strong sense of morality, Maxwell had seen people resist the urges mutavus triggered long enough to die before they hurt someone. No such luck today. With the man’s brain destroyed there was no “moral compass” to hold mutavus back, and it had simply… done its best.
He stared at the man’s face. The one eye that was still there opened, but didn’t focus on anything in particular. No one was home. Maxwell leaned in.
The Guardian exited the now still bus, and flew upwards to avoid answering questions or talking to others. But then his comm beeped an alarm, and his hand went up automatically to answer.
“Guardian, W7 has just declared a lockdown. A high speed skimmer will rendezvous with you in thirty-five seconds.”
“Acknowledged,” he replied.
Steph got in at two in the morning, dead tired. She didn’t bother to redress after the elevator stripped her costume off; her plan was to just fall into bed and cuddle the beefcake until dreamland took her, but instead she grabbed a robe when she realized the lights were on and sounds were coming from the living room. Was someone over? It wouldn’t be the first time a few teammates stayed late to unwind after the day’s events. But, when she got to the living room it was just Maxwell sitting on the couch and watching the news. In costume...
“Hey there stud, what are you still doing up?”
Maxwell startled a bit, but greeted her with a smile before muting the television.
“Oh, I was just waiting up. Wanted to ask you if you managed to find out what was up with our army veteran friend.”
“You waited until two in the morning just for that?”
“Two in the… oh. Guess I must have lost track of time.”
Steph bit her lip. Truth was she had found out what was up with the veteran, but she had hoped Max would forget about it. No such luck; Max could be like a bulldog when it came to this kind of thing. She took a deep breath before deciding to rip off the bandaid.
“Well… the old man didn’t talk, but I managed to get his name and look him up. His son ran a small company out of an office on one of the floors that Piffle destroyed. He lost everything when it was destroyed.”
“...Ah. So I suppose he…”
“...Last week. The funeral was yesterday.”
Neither said anything more, but Steph could see Max physically deflate. The Piffle incident had been one of the stories Max loved to bring up, because no one had died in it. She drifted over to him and pulled him off the couch, helping him peel off his costume (and throwing the comm in a corner) before leading him off to bed.
“Come on stud. Been a rough day; let’s get ourselves some shut-eye.”
“Yeah,” replied Maxwell. Suddenly, against all expectations, he chuckled, “Speaking of rough, I got to see a lady fishtail her brand new Plaustra into a streetlight. She was late to work and triggered. Ghosted a whole row of traffic.”
“... Cause she was late to work?”
They looked at each other, before bursting into laughter. The kind where you could only breathe to laugh harder. By the time they were finished, they had fallen into bed, and were out like lights soon after.