Rex Tyran defeated the Halcyon Heroes League more thoroughly than any of their prior opponents. And he did so by ignoring them.
Today, his hand-picked replacement team, the Stellar Six, are being recognized for yet another triumph. This time, it’s for defeating members of the Gray Knights - pro-Confederacy holdouts seeking to forcibly secede Southern states from America.
Other recognition ceremonies are being held at the same place and time. Mercury, for example, got his invitation for defeating third-tier villains like Frankenstein Jones, Ultra-Tardigrade, and the Crypto Crusader. He knows what this is - an attempt to have some of his cachet rub off on the Stellar Six, rather than fete him for any meaningful accomplishment. But he goes along anyway, because it’ll be worse for the city not to.
The HHL is nowhere to be seen, despite their ongoing efforts against supervillains and in rescue efforts. They simply weren’t invited.
The omnipresent security cameras watch the proceedings. The ever-vigilant security robots roam the streets and drift across the skies. Rex Tyran isn’t here in person, but his faithful spokesperson recites all of his favorite talking points and catchphrases. “Getting the job done.” “The heroes America needs.” And of course, “New Tomorrow.”
To Mercury, the surprising part is when the presentation announces that the Stellar Six are keeping an eye out for villains once held onto by AEGIS. But Tyran’s people only ever name-drop Craig Costigan, its former director, personally.
“We salute Costigan’s service to our country as Sergeant Stronghold,” the spokesperson explains delicately. “But the old fashioned ways of holding onto dangerous super-terrorists don’t work any longer. During the Atlantean invasion, we know that many villains escaped the official holding systems. That won’t be the case once they’re apprehended by the New Tomorrow’s champions, the Stellar Six. A new generation of confinement technology, and new ideas in power management, will keep these miscreants away from you and yours - for good.”
Andi is watching from the crowd. She’s near the front of the stage, rolling her eyes enough for both of them. Privately, Harry is grateful. He’s just as put off by the whole Tyran Enterprises presentation as she is, but he has to keep smiling and waving. And to be fair, they did talk about his charity, Chip In. It’s only moderately sized - he just doesn’t have the time to commit to it 100% - but it’s thriving. And if the cost of doing some real good is to stand here and look heroic for the regular citizens, he can do that much.
The ceremony finally ends, and with much relief, Harry signals to Andi to come hang out at a familiar spot. She flies, and he runs.
The cafe is full of people getting a late lunch. Some attended the ceremony, others work in the area. They’re all respectful enough of the city’s heroes not to bother two of them at their own table.
Andi is toying with her drink, pushing the mug back and forth across the table in directionless agitation. “How long are you gonna let Tyran run this city?” she asks at last.
“What can I get him on?” Harry asks, wearily.
“He’s up to something!”
“Obviously. We know where he came from and who he reports to.” Harry shrugs helplessly. “But I can’t just bust a guy for being slimy. Otherwise they would have gotten her too.”
“Well it pisses me off,” growls Andi.
“I know,” Harry says.
He catches a glimpse of a familiar face, and waves him over. It’s Trace, aka Stingray.
“Hey, uh…” Trace glances at Andi, but Harry’s reassuring nod answers his unspoken question - is it okay if I interrupt you two?
“Listen, I know you’re probably not going to like this…”
Harry laughs. “After Tyran’s show today, you gotta work hard for something I’ll dislike more.”
Trace slides into the booth, across from Harry and next to Andi, and looks at the speedster, fingers folded together.
“It’s like this. Ever since the invasion, Fuko - Ninjess - well, she’s been having… problems.”
“What kind of problems?” Harry asks curiously.
Trace lowers his voice. “People don’t wanna work for her. She’s one of ‘them’. Even if she’s on our side, even if she proved that. Keri left with the HHL, and that whole thing kinda stank, and even though she’s back she’s kinda weird now, and the Chosen who are left are getting a little pickier with who they want to be seen with.”
Harry narrows his eyes slightly. “Do you like, want me to talk to them, or something?”
“I dunno, man, it’s like, it’s just too late,” admits Trace. “I was kinda hoping…”
He glances warily from Andi to Harry. “People like you, man. Would you maybe work with her on some stuff? Let people see her in the best light?”
“We don’t really have anything going on, though–” protests Harry.
Andi kicks him under the table and turns to Trace. “Dude. She’s a ninja, right? Good at sneaking? Spying? That kinda thing? That’s all legit, right? It’s not just a name?”
Trace looks confused. “Yeah. She’s fucking amazing, if she wants to disappear, I can’t even–”
Andi cuts him off with a pointed finger, and turns back to Harry. “A ninja would be great at getting dirt on Rex Tyran, wouldn’t she.”
Harry sees now where Andi’s going with this, and smiles broadly. “Hey, yeah. Oh, and there’s someone else who could help with that.”
He looks at Trace. “You’re in this too, right?”
Trace blinks. “I guess? But why would you wanna work with someone like me?”
“Because you, Stingray, are a hero,” Harry grins, and he can see Trace’s uncertainty melt away. “Now come on. Let’s go to the Quill Compound. Call Fuko and let her know to meet us there.”
The ASIST program is still up and running, and Jason is still in charge of it. But something new has been added.
The “Mirror” Alycia created by the nanotech master villain Pyrrhus is still alive - in a sense - and is running as a holographic entity out of Jason’s main computer. She’s adopted the code name Mirage, alias Alycia Cheka, and has dedicated herself to keeping ASIST running in the face of Rex Tyran’s formidable corporate sponsorship of city heroes.
Harry has only interacted with her a few times, through ASIST. She’s almost totally like Alycia, but in other ways she’s… not? He’s not sure how, or why, only that she’s more like a sister or cousin to Alycia Chin than a real clone.
But Jason trusts her - to an extent - and she’s been professional, reliable, and scarily competent in Harry’s interactions.
At the compound, with Jason watching with arms folded, Andi lays out the case. “So we know Tyran is dirty. I mean, come on. We don’t know how. But it stands to reason we’ll get the dirt if we watch his Stellar Six up close, get in their business - accidentally, of course - and while that’s going on, get all the cool ninja spy people we got on the case.”
She points at the hologram of Mirage, standing in her own arms-folded pose. “No more of this ASIST business, is what I’m saying. We want you to coordinate stuff for us - for Ninjess to get some positive rep in town, for Trace here to get some self-confidence, and for Harry and me to take care of Tyran.”
“I’m quite capable of conducting ASIST operations while still assisting you,” Mirage replies, rather severely. “But I understand your concerns, and I agree with your assessment. As a corporate dictator wielding considerable power, official and unofficial, someone like Rex Tyran ought to be taken down. I assume you wish me to create a plan of action?”
Andi glances at the others, and Harry nods. “Yeah, uh, that’d be great.”
Jason smiles. “Feel free to keep using the ASIST app to coordinate. We can set you up on a dedicated instance, just you folks.”
Trace turns to Fuko, who up until now has been quiet. “What do you think?” he asks gently.
The girl smiles shyly, clearly uncertain but pleased at the help the others are trying to offer her. “I would like to assist you very much, in whatever way I can.”
“Then it’s decided,” Harry announces. “We’ll update our monitoring to pick up incidents the Stellar Six might be drawn to, and we’ll be proactive about information gathering.”
With that settled, there’s only one thing left for the group to do - polish off a basket of home-made nachos, prepared by none other than master chef Harry Gale himself.