A chance meeting and the conversation that followed had interested Maury Jones in the superhero work of Daphne Palin, now calling herself “Equity” as a code name.
Daph was waiting when Maury pulled up on a fancy high-tech motorcycle. The journalist waved from her bike, but didn’t dismount.
Daph raised an eyebrow. “You afforded a rig like that on a vlogger’s income? I’m in the wrong business.”
Maury laughed. “The benefits of networking. My cousin dated one of Otto Newman’s family, I got introduced, and the Garage built this thing for me gratis. I’m kinda like a war correspondent, but for supervillain battles, so I need to be able to get into danger zones and stay alive.”
Daph nodded. “Roger. If you need protection, I expect you to call for it then.”
“Will do. You need a lift, or you have your own ways of patrolling the city for danger?”
“I’m good,” Daph smiled. “Hope you can keep up.”
“Try me,” grinned Maury.
Both women surprised each other.
Daph was able to sprint at vehicle speeds, with a runner’s versatility and flexibility. She could leap dividers and cross barriers it would take cars minutes to circumvent via the roads, but she could match even a bank robber’s getaway vehicle - and did. If she couldn’t go over or around a wall, she’d go through it, without stopping. But every time she damaged something, Maury could see her snap a quick photo of it, with a camera-phone sewn into her jacket. Equity was not a hero that would just damage the city thoughtlessly.
Maury’s new toy, on the other hand, had multiple transformations. Daph watched it seamlessly move from motorcycle to some kind of centaur-type harness to a pair of huge gorilla-like arms that let Maury climb up a fire escape in record time, and it even had its own rockets for flight mode. The reporter was fearless in getting into range of trouble, navigating her peculiar vehicle and operating multiple flying camera drones at the same time, and in general staying close to the action without once interfering with Daph’s own work.
The first three days of their collaboration yielded fruitful outcomes. One bank robbery was interrupted, with all cash accounted for and nobody seriously injured. A lab that was quarantining animals who’d been infected by an alien virus had been broken into by extremists, and all the animals were safely returned. Two home break-ins and one kidnapping were thwarted.
It was the incidents Equity didn’t respond to in time that interested Maury the most, however. For example, there was an incident where a couple of joyriding car thieves had insisted on returning someone’s prescription from the stolen car, and local hero Kinetica had handled it. Tyran’s robot enforcers, on the other hand, had shot up several buildings in vain pursuit of the vehicle, and endangered numerous civilians.
Other cases where Tyran’s forces were involved had a similar track record. Villains would wreck buildings - including residences - and the forces sent against them would do just as much damage in an attempt to apprehend them.
“I researched, and it turns out Tyran Enterprises always pays to rebuild,” Maury explained to Daph, one day over lunch. “Problem is, they rebuild exclusively through Tyran subsidiary companies, according to their own designs. Tyran doesn’t need legal shenanigans to own the city. He just needs to let villains knock it down, like a demolition crew he doesn’t have to pay. Then he swoops in and builds things back his way. That includes more security cameras that feed into his network. And it includes contracts that let his security robots come ‘protect your interests’ if anyone else attacks the place.”
Daph stabbed her salad with a fork and took a bite. “The whole point of the Equity identity is to break the cycle of revenge,” she explained. “Part of that is dealing with property damage before grievances build up. So I should be a happy camper that they’re doing all this. But the way you say it, makes it sound like Tyran’s pocketing the money as well as pirating the city.”
“Yes. Exactly.” Maury drove home her point with her own fork, waving it about as she talked. “The way things used to be, you’d go apply for villain insurance, get a payout, and use that to rebuild. Until then, social services would make sure you stayed warm and fed. It feels equitable if you don’t scratch the surface, but once you look at it closely, it’s all about removing the self-determination of citizens on how they contribute to the city’s culture. You don’t get to build back your way, you get Tyran’s New Tomorrow. It’s fair at the individual level, grotesque at larger scales.”
“And you’re documenting all this? That’s your goal?” Daph asked.
“Yeah, I want to get the word out about this.” Maury took an aggressive bite of cucumber. “That’s why I’m so interested in your perspective about this. See, here’s the thing. It’s usually the heroes that defend the status quo, right? People rob a bank, you stop the robbers, you give the money back. Why? Because people want to feel secure in the institutions they use. The FDIC means the bank isn’t gonna be seriously hurt by losing a few grand, even a hundred grand. They cover two hundred and fifty grand, per depositor. If someone robbed a bank to put food on the table, that’s huge. So there’s arguments that some vigilantes and villains let some crimes happen because it helps the little guy. But what happens when it’s that status quo itself that’s hurting them? What’s fair when the actual crime is just, I dunno, a side effect of a very legal and very immoral process?”
“That’s a lot to think about,” Daph conceded with a smile. “Alright. Say we look at this just from the perspective of people. You’re saying I lose faith in powerful people if I know my bank is being robbed, whether or not I’m actually out any cash. But powerful people aren’t looking out for my interests, so sometimes I do the robbing because that’s how I get by.”
“Yeah, you got it so far.”
Daph smiled. “Right. The ABCs at my old school might say the right move is redistribution. More money to ordinary people, so there’s less temptation to rob banks to begin with. Only we can’t just unilaterally declare that’s how it’s gonna be, because that’ll cause more people to lose faith in the institutions that are supposed to protect them, because look what just happened - someone with power pushed their agenda out. Even if that agenda helps those self-same people, they’ll resist it, because they don’t feel like they had a say. And they didn’t.”
“There is that,” Maury said.
“And to take that further, if we did what those people might want - left it up to them - they might resist redistribution. ‘What about me?’ ‘Those bums should work for their money.’ Stuff like that. The self-interest instinct kicks in when you talk about societal changes whose scope they can’t intuitively grasp, even if you explained it. And while that whole situation wobbles back and forth, you have people like Rex Tyran, who do operate up at this societal level, taking and taking.”
“Yeah. That’s part of the problem.” Maury smiled. “So what’s someone like Equity to do here?”
“In terms of like, I dunno, an radical vs. progressive, aggressive vs. milquetoast approach to solving social issues?” Daph shrugged. “I think all I can really do is try and set an example, shore up the dam before it all gives way, and buy time for smarter people than either of us to find a way to effectively sell social progress to society. And while I’m at it, open eyes to the alternatives to how things are now. People can’t agitate for social changes they don’t realize are even on the table.”
A fleet of police cars rolled past the restaurant, sirens blaring. Both women looked at each other and smiled.
“Hey, gimme the check, right now!” called Maury to the waiter. “We gotta roll!”