Captive Audience pt. 1

In the aftermath of a devastating incident that destroyed an entire district, Seaside City reacts as the Hall of Heroes puts forward a new defender whom they purport will save the city from the villains running rampant in the streets.

NOTE: Later in this story, you will find links in the text. Those were placed there for verisimilitude. They do not actually lead anywhere.

Collateral Living

by Edwina Franz

It’s a bracing autumn Tuesday when I sit down for lunch at the Café Pontus. It’s a quaint little place, popular among locals and, if the plaques hung proudly on the wall are to be believed, the winner of the Seaside City Chamber of Commerce’s "Model Business" award for three years running.

Across from me sits a young lady. She is well-kempt and put-together, polite, pleasant, and unassuming but for the uncomfortable glances she casts to the side now and then.

It used to be that the outside dining area of Café Pontus boasted one of the most beautiful views in all of Seaside City. Nowadays, it overlooks the remains of the famous Springtide District.

And suddenly, the young lady’s discomfort makes sense. She is Lucille Tam, one of the thousands displaced from their homes in the aftermath of last year’s clash between the Hall of Heroes and the supervillain syndicate that calls itself the Azure Synod.

Ms. Tam is a second-generation immigrant. Her family escaped the poverty-stricken stilt-towns of Lower Guangzhou and settled briefly in Meizhou before emigrating to the Commonwealth.

She moved to the Springtide District five years ago as a fresh graduate with a degree in fine arts. As she tells it, she was looking for a change in scenery after having lived at the family home—a modest townhouse across the city in the Ochre Parks—for most of her life.

After two years working as a graphic designer for a local firm, she was able to purchase a small home in the Springtide Terraces where she lived with her two cats Hardtack and Sailor until the incident.

As luck would have it, Ms. Tam was downtown at the vet with Sailor and Hardtack for the cats’ annual checkup when the Hall and the Synod clashed over the Springtide District. Others were not so lucky.

Breakfast was a somber affair. Ms. Tam kept her eyes on her plate, flinching whenever some loud noise drifted up to us from the construction site below.

Six months on and the Springtide District has yet to be restored. City officials report that the damage to critical infrastructure is more severe than initially realized and teams continue to struggle with clearing out debris and secondary phenomena from some parts of the district.

Ms. Tam tells me she was one of the lucky ones. Her house remained mostly intact—to the point she tried moving back a month ago. Unfortunately, it was far from a return to normalcy.

We make small talk as we head to the Terraces after breakfast. Ms. Tam talks about her cats. I talk about some of the most interesting people I’ve interviewed for this column.

The roads are usable but the ride is bumpy. Very much so. We end up having to park half a mile outside the Terraces. Half the road has slid down the slope and barely any is left of the lane leading into the neighborhood.

The upper parts of the Terraces are remarkably intact but here and there one sees reminders that the clash reached them too. There’s a house by the roadside covered in splinters and the stump of an oak tree that looks like it was struck by lightning and exploded.

Ms. Tam doesn’t live too far from the entrance. Her house is quaint. Cozy. She lets me in through the front door, sweeping her arm toward the interior as if to say, "Welcome to my castle."

Apart from a thin layer of dust, the place is surprisingly clean. Ms. Tam tells me the last thing she did before leaving was make sure her home was pristine.

She takes me to the kitchen and flicks the light switch. There’s no response. At least, not until we’re standing in front of the sink, talking about the utilities being unreliable.

Ms. Tam runs the tap and seems surprised when it works. As she tells it, half the time, she had no running water when she moved back in. The universe must have a wicked sense of humor because the lights flicker off right then.

Perhaps the worst part, however, is the noise. I ask her about it since she hasn’t said anything, and she seems taken aback when I bring it up.

I wonder if perhaps my hearing is being overly sensitive but she just laughs and apologizes. It’s constant, she tells me. A cacophonous din of construction at all hours of the day.

"You never get used to it but you learn to live with it after a couple of days," she tells me.

I’m not so sure I would. I appreciate the quiet and my home is my sanctuary. I don’t think I could live with such a clamorous intrusion.

I do know one thing for certain, though: Ms. Tam is made of tougher stuff than me. She managed to bear the racket for a week before moving back into her Hall-provided temporary housing and even then, she tells me it was the lack of running water that sealed the deal.

City officials promised residents of Springtide Terraces minimally-impacted areas of the district that repairs would be finished in as little as two months, that no effort would be spared to restore services and some semblance of normalcy.

Half a year later and here we are. The lights have flickered on and off five times in the span of my conversation with Ms. Tam and there doesn’t look to be an end in sight.

Setting aside obvious questions of corruption and incompetence, the repair efforts are frustrated by the ongoing trade conflict between the Commonwealth and the United Earth Council (UEC). Though hardly the only class of goods impacted, anyone who has thought of building a home in the last year would attest to the dramatic rise in the cost of construction materials.

Space mining projects aimed at reducing the Commonwealth’s dependence on the UEC for resources would help but most are in the early stages of planning. Others are plagued with significant delays and budget overruns.

Ms. Tam tells me she is grateful for all that the Hall of Heroes has done to provide for her and the other displaced victims of the incident. She is glad they have gone out of their way to secure free temporary housing for them and that they’ve done all they can to make things as comfortable for the victims.

Others believe the Hall is doing the bare minimum, that the victims have suffered more than just the loss of their homes and livelihoods.

In many ways, I’m inclined to agree. Ms. Tam and others like her have had their lives turned upside down and it is difficult to ascribe a monetary cost to the price of that sort of disruption.

Dr. Albert Pérez, an expert in Super law and professor adjunct at Seaside University East disagrees. In an interview with SNN, he points out that the Hall has gone above and beyond what the law would expect of it.

As an example, he calls attention to three facts: that the Hall is funding 70% of the reconstruction effort, has paid all current medical expenses of the victims, pledged to pay for any ongoing expenses resulting from the incident, and provided temporary housing for the victims—entirely free of charge.

Dr. Pérez says that to ask for further remunerations from the Hall of Heroes wouldn’t just be an excess of greed, but also an insult to the brave men and women who protect Seaside City and the rest of the Commonwealth.

He ended the interview by saying that if anyone needs to pay remunerations to the victims, it would be the villains responsible for the destruction in the first place.

Ms. Tam agrees. She says she doesn’t blame the heroes, and that she’s thankful for their service. She understands the frustration with the Hall but she says that people who blame the heroes for the destruction confuse her.

She says she wants to ask those people if they would have preferred the alternative—if the villains should have been allowed to run rampant instead. I have to say, she makes a salient point.

We conclude our conversation and make our way back to the Café Pontus, where I drop her off. As we’re pulling up, I ask her if there’s anything she wants people to hear and I’ll end this column with her words to the Hall of Heroes.

"Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. You’ve been nothing but kind and I don’t mean to be greedy or selfish or anything but I hope I can go home and be home with my kitties before too long."

New Hope for the City or Too Little, Too Late?

by Stewart McKenna

THURSDAY, Seaside City — An update pushed to the website of the Hall of Heroes’ Seaside City branch has the social media sphere buzzing.

The otherwise innocuous update includes a countdown timer and a short post promising an important announcement from the Hall of Heroes’ Seaside City branch.

The changes were spotted by an eagle-eyed netizen earlier this morning. The image he posted to his profile attracted 700000 likes and 2000 comments within the first hour of posting, igniting a storm of online speculation.

At the core of discourse is a graphic in the background of the timer. Revealed through the use of image editing programs, what appears to be a subtle design in the background is in fact what appears to be a hitherto unknown hero emblem.

The discovery has revitalized discussions of rumours that the Hall of Heroes has been raising a prodigy in secret. A prodigy, ostensibly, who would be set to the task of resolving the ongoing situation in Seaside City.

Widely known to have the weakest roster of supers dedicated to its protection in the Commonwealth, Seaside City has long suffered under the heel of supervillains running amok.

For many citizens long since disillusioned with the Hall of Heroes’ ability to protect them, the imminent announcement does very little to assuage their concerns. While the nationwide attitude to the countdown has been generally positive, the atmosphere in Seaside City has been notably subdued.

Indeed, filtering only to the local ComNet, the online sentiment appears to be one of pessimistic and cynical skepticism. As one netizen succinctly puts it: "so what if there is a protigy[sic]? its[sic] not like 1 person can make a difference"

Besides the dubious effectiveness of a single hero, some netizens are questioning the timing of the announcement, which comes on the heels of a Commonwealth Statistics Office (CSO) report on crime.

The CSO report details rates of normal and super-related crime. Seaside City ranks highest in both absolute numbers and per-capita crime. Furthermore, despite the local Hall of Heroes branch’s efforts, Seaside City crime rates have seen the greatest year-on-year increase among cities of comparable wealth and size.

Even experts speculate that the Hall of Heroes announcement is a reaction to the damning data in the report. Some contend that the report forced the Seaside City branch’s hand into making a premature announcement of their plans, the validity of the rumours notwithstanding.

As our resident political analyst, Sierra June Peters, explains, "The Seaside City branch is in a tough place here. For the record, I believe the rumours but it’s a tough choice. The branch can choose to wait and ensure everything is in order but in the meantime, it will look like they are doing nothing. Alternatively, they can choose to push ahead, regardless of the status of their plans. It’s risky and they may be unprepared but it at least gives the impression they are making an effort."

Whether the forthcoming announcement bodes well for Seaside City remains to be seen. One thing is for certain: the eyes of the world will be on Seaside City.

53 years ago, the Seaside City branch of the Hall of Heroes was founded. Just like our brothers and sisters throughout the nation, we have dedicated our lives to the preservation of law and order in this beautiful and beloved city of ours.


Jackson Jeong glanced at the woman standing nearby. She was wearing jeans and a black shirt that said the words "Stage Manager" across the front.

It is true that Seaside City has fallen upon hard times in recent years. We have failed, time and again, to protect you from acts of violence and wanton destruction perpetrated by individuals who exploit their gifts to achieve their ends regardless of who gets hurt in the process.

Jackson fought the urge to laugh at the question. He didn’t want to be rude. He just thought the question was idiotic. He gave her a small smile and said with a shrug, "As I’ll ever be, I guess."

The humility was believable enough for anyone paying attention but it wasn’t genuine. Jackson believed he was ready. No. He knew he was ready.

But you know what I admire about this city? Our people are proud. They’re strong. They’re resilient. I walk down the street and in the face of every man, woman, and child I come across, I see conviction and drive. I see a fire that says "We will not be trampled! We will never surrender!" These are words I take to heart.

Jackson rolled his eyes at the speech. The branch president was onstage, a 40-something that was either in bed with the villains or had no idea what the fuck he was doing.

Though we have been beaten down time and again we continue to get up and do what we can. With every stumble, every fall, every failure, we grow stronger. Wiser. We will never give up. Not while we have a city to protect! Not while your loved ones live in fear of their lives!

There was one thing the branch president knew how to do, though: he knew how to give a rousing speech. Whether he could write one was another matter entirely. Jackson had his doubts.

This is our duty. Our purpose. Our commitment to you, good folks of Seaside City. And as a sign of that commitment, I would like to introduce you to the first of the new generation of heroes that will be Seaside City’s stalwart protectors!

Jackson wiped the grimace off his face and put on his best smile. This was his moment to shine. He had endured rigorous training and assessment after assessment after assessment for this.

He’d passed every test, aced every evaluation, and impressed every panel of retired heroes they’d brought him in front of for the past couple of years. He wasn’t just the first of the new generation of Seaside City heroes: he knew he was the strongest, too.

Please join me in welcoming to the stage, and to our Seaside City Hall of Heroes family, Justicar!

Excerpt from the transcript of the Lord of the Brocean podcast, episode #122, aired 10 October 2145

[Subdued applause from the video clip of Justicar’s debut announcement]

Justicar: To the citizens of Seaside City and the Commonwealth, I make a solemn pledge. I will defend you with my every word and deed. I will fight for you until my last breath. With every ounce of my power, I will strive to build for you a better, safer city. To the villains that have been allowed to run rampant for much too long, enjoy what time you have left. I will come for you. I will defeat you. And most of all, I will bring you all to justice.

[Deacon laughing hysterically as he pauses the video clip]

Deacon: Dude. What the fuck, right?

Bryan: Oh, gods. Have you ever heard anything so cringe?

Deacon: Gonna be tough to beat that.

Bryan: No kidding.

Deacon: And people wonder why Seaside City’s so fucked up with crime!

Bryan: Right. I mean, no offense to the guy, but fuck, man. What are they thinking? Do they seriously believe a pretty boy in tights is going to go up against the likes of the Cataract?

Deacon: Hah. No chance. But you know what they say, gotta look marketable for the sponsors and all that.

Bryan: Wouldn’t be surprised if that was at least part of the reason they made such a production of this whole thing.

Deacon: Dude. I don’t think the guy’s gonna last a day. Honestly, I think I could take the guy on.

Bryan: Hah! Okay. I think that might be going a bit too far, Dee.

Deacon: No, seriously, man! No powers. Mano-a-mano. I mean. Look at this. I think I got a real shot putting him on the ground.

Bryan: Okay, big boy. Put the biceps down. Haha. I can see where you’re coming from, though.

Deacon: Like, this is the rumored prodigy? The guy that they’ve been training in secret? The one that’s supposed to take on the whole underground of Seaside City? It doesn’t even look like he’s grown hair on his balls yet!

Bryan: Dude. Dude! We went to our old high school’s graduation the other week, right? I swear he could have fit right in.

Deacon: Oh, God. Wouldn’t it be so funny if that was true? Like, if they’d just picked up a random guy out of a high school graduation and told him "Hey, you’re going to be a hero now!"

[hysterical laughter]

Deacon: Also, like. Going back to that pretty-boy thing earlier.

Bryan: Yeah? That your type?

Deacon: Fuck you!

Bryan: No. I’m asking if you want to fuck him!

Deacon: Haha. Fucking dick. Go fuck yourself.

Bryan: Might need some tips. You go first.

Deacon: Bet you’d like some nice fat tips. Anyway! I swear I have a point. Oh, right! Honestly, are they even trying at this point? Pretty-boy like that? Imperious is gonna fucking eat him alive.

Bryan: Oh shit. I didn’t think of it like that.

Deacon: Yeah. Right? Right? Like, are they even serious about this Justicar dude or, like, are they low-key offering him to Imperious to get him to back off?

Bryan: I know you’re joking but you know what, I can see it?

Deacon: Yeah?

Bryan: Yeah! Dude. Let’s just look at the facts, yeah? Crime rate’s been getting worse for like a decade now. Hall’s tried all sorts of things…

Deacon: Oh yeah. All sorts of things.

Bryan: Right! And nothing worked. And we’re still worse off than before. Even when they brought in the big names, the Springtide District gets destroyed. So they’re probably desperate and out of options at this point.

[Extended silence]

Deacon: Pfft. They’re not gonna do that, though.

Bryan: No, but the fact it sounds like something they’d do?

Deacon: Oh, yeah. The Seaside City branch is shit. Like, that’s a fact.

A blank, black screen.

Scene opens with a hand pulling back from the camera as EspersInAction falls back into his chair which rolls away from the camera.

EspersInAction grabs the edge of his desk and pulls himself back into the center frame and waves at the camera.

"Guten Tag, everyone! It’s your favorite super-analyst EspersInAction again. How’s it hanging? Did you miss me?"

EspersInAction drums the edge of his desk with his index fingers and spins his office chair.

In the background, a mini-fridge with a glass front prominently displays boxes of Supr™ brand frozen ready-made meals.

"I’m going to bet that a whole bunch of you have been sitting at your computers all day pressing F5 on my channel, waiting for just this video to drop. Why do I know that? Well…"

EspersInAction points to the upper left. A graphic of a partial email page is overlaid where he is pointing.

The page is on the "Inbox" tab and a cursor points at a section that says "Unread Messages: 13926"

"This was my email two days ago. And this—"

EspersInAction moves to the left side of the frame. The graphic disappears as he points to the upper right side where a graphic showing a social media post is overlaid on the footage.

"This was my tweet about today’s video. Seriously though, guys. 12k likes in 2 hours? How badly did you want to see this? You know what? Nevermind. Nevermind. I know I’m excited too."

EspersInAction slides back to the right side of the frame as a small picture-in-picture window showing the first still frame of footage is overlaid on the lower left-hand corner of the frame.

EspersInAction leans forward, places his fingers on his lips, and then brings his hands down into a praying position as he twists his chair from side to side.

"So. I know everyone was probably looking forward to my costume review for Justicar. I’m really sorry, but we’re probably not going to get to that today."

EspersInAction squeezes his eyes shut and ducks his head for the camera, placing his face against his hands.

"But don’t worry! It’s definitely still going to happen. Especially now. I don’t know when you guys are watching this but literally ten minutes before I sat down to make this video, well…"

EspersInAction holds his phone up to the camera. The image on the screen is briefly blurry before the camera refocuses.

"Sonora released a compilation of concept art, design iterations, and progress shots of the making of Justicar’s suit. If you guys have been watching my channel for very long, you probably know her. But if you’re new here, she’s the head of costume design in the Hall of Heroes and she’s super nice."

EspersInAction sets his phone down and reaches for his keyboard as he casts a glance at the camera.

"Okay, so, before I get even more distracted, I should probably get to watching the video."

EspersInAction adjusts his headset and looks at the camera again.

"So this is going to be a genuine reaction. Like, I avoided Chirpr and the news like the plague once I heard something like this had happened. So I swear I’ve never seen this video before. This will be the first time I see it and I’ll get to enjoy it with you guys!"

EspersInAction presses the spacebar on his keyboard. The footage starts to play. After a few seconds, EspersInAction pauses the video and turns to the camera, gesturing at the out-of-frame screen of his computer as he addresses the audience.

"So, first of all. I have to say. Wow. Someone really went, like, all out to capture this footage."

The picture-in-picture window on the lower left-hand corner expands to cover the whole frame. A cursor flies in from the side and swirls around a subtle distortion in the image.

"So if the video quality wasn’t already a dead giveaway, do you see this little distortion here? I would bet a thousand credits that’s probably a drone that was edited out of the footage."

The picture-in-picture window returns to its normal size. EspersInAction is looking at the camera.

"’But why is that so special, EspersInAction? Anyone can do that with a video editing program!’ is what you might be thinking right now but you’re wrong. This wasn’t done in post! It’s subtle but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to see that this was probably done concurrently to the footage being taken and there’s really only one product on the market today that can do that, the PAN-OPTX™ 140."

EspersInAction taps the spacebar.

"Anyway, let’s keep going."

The footage plays. It’s an aerial shot pointed toward an empty midtown street. A figure clad in midnight blue walks down it with impunity. Another figure, clad in silver, flies down to confront them, hovering a foot from the ground. The footage pauses.

"We’ve got another flying super, folks! Is it just me or does it feel like there are more and more of them these days?"

The footage resumes. The two figures on the street stand across from one another. They appear to be talking. Their voices echo off the nearby buildings but the drone is too far to make out what they say. The drone flies closer.

"Wow. This is intense. Wait. What are those?"

The silver-clad figure rises higher into the air. He holds his palms out in front of him, producing a pair of metallic glowing spheres in gold and silver.

"Okay. Okay. Flight and conjuration. Not that unique of a combo but I want to know what those balls do, first. Oh shit. Cataract’s making a move."

The sound of cracking asphalt and straining metal fills the air. A nearby fire hydrant bursts, shooting first into the air before the flow defies conventional physics and turns mid-air to aim at the silver-clad figure. The footage is paused.

"Classic Cataract, guys. Okay. Pop quiz! Do you remember what Cataract’s powers are? Pause the video and comment down below! No cheating! You’ll only be disappointing yourself. Okay. Got it? Welcome back."

EspersInAction zooms in on the water rushing out of the fire hydrant in the still frame of the video.

"Okay. Here’s the answer. Cataract has three main powers! First—and this one should be obvious if you’ve been paying attention—is hydrokinesis! He can move water with his mind. This—"

EspersInAction swirls his cursor over the dramatic bend in the column of water gushing out of the fire hydrant.

"—this is child’s play for Cataract. If you’ve been here long enough, you’ve seen Cataract’s highly-focused jets of water cut clean through steel and concrete!"

EspersInAction pans over to where Cataract is standing. A cloud of droplets surrounds the villain. When the video resumes, the cloud visibly increases in density, turning into a ring of water that swirls at high velocity around him. The video is paused.

"Second is what I like to call elemental proliferation. As long as Cataract has some water, he can make more. As far as we know, it’s not a super quick process, otherwise, he’d probably have flooded Seaside City by now."

The footage resumes playing. As Justicar flies around to avoid the rushing stream of water from the fire hydrant, Cataract creates hovering blobs of water that freeze into sharp projectiles that shoot toward Justicar with remarkable speed.

"There it is! I knew he’d use it too! His third power is thermo-manipulation. He can only affect water with it but he’s really good at being creative with that. Anyway. It looks like Justicar is starting to fight back."

The silver sphere intercepts the frozen projectiles from Cataract. They sink harmlessly into its surface, which ripples as the projectiles pass through.

"Okay… That’s new…"

With a wave of his hand, Justicar moves the gold sphere in a horizontal arc before him. As the sphere moves, it expels darts of golden light that resemble the projectiles absorbed by the silver sphere.

"Wait! Is that what I think it is?"

EspersInAction leans forward in his seat. The darts streak through the air so fast Cataract barely has a moment to react. Two manage to strike the villain. Cataract staggers back from the force of the impact but appears physically unharmed. The ring of water spinning around him, as well as the powerful current gushing out of the fire hydrant both falter as he seems to struggle to get his powers under control.

"Holy shit, guys. I don’t know for sure yet but holy shit. Do you know what this means? Justicar probably has Reversal and Disruption powers!"

Cataract regains control after a few moments. He growls and thrusts his hands forward. The stream gushing from the fire hydrant narrows to the width of an arm, shattering windows on nearby buildings as Justicar flies out of the way of the beam.

"Holy shit. Wow. I can’t even process it right now! No fucking wonder they thought he could single-handedly turn the tide in Seaside City… pun not intended."

Justicar glances at the damage behind him and scowls. He moves the silver sphere in front of the water jet. The high-pressure stream is harmlessly absorbed into the surface of the sphere. At the same time, he brings the golden sphere to bear against Cataract, and a beam of cascading gold light streaks off its surface toward the villain.

"Yes! Holy shit! Yes! It is Reversal!"

EspersInAction raises both hands in the air and laughs, nearly falling out of his chair. Cataract transforms the ring of water spinning around him into a dome-shaped barrier. The light easily pierces through the water and strikes Cataract. The barrier instantly loses cohesion and the flow from the fire hydrant slows to a trickle.

"And if that isn’t a textbook case of Disruption, then I don’t know what is!"

Cataract staggers back and shakes his head. He thrusts his hands forward. Jets of water from the puddles around him shoot into the air but do not make it far before they fall back to the ground.

"Holy shit, guys. Holy shit. Some of you probably don’t know this since you don’t live in Seaside City, but Cataract has been a total menace for the last couple of years. No matter what the Hall tried they couldn’t even get close."

Cataract growls. He swings his arms, jets of water leaping from puddles. With each desperate motion, the jets become stronger, reaching further into the sky, but still far short of Justicar.

"Cataract was pretty much untouchable, you know? And, like, everyone believed that. He probably believed it too. Then here comes some new kid, probably still wet behind the ears. Cataract probably thought he could teach Justicar a lesson, show him how things worked in Seaside City, now he’s getting his ass handed to him. Fuck, guys. Cataract’s gotta be pissed."

Justicar drifts down to just beyond Cataract’s reach. He speaks. This time, the drone is close enough to capture his words with minimal distortion. "It is time for your judgment," says Justicar as the gold and silver spheres combine into a half-gold, half-silver set of libra scales.

"Woah. I don’t know what the hell that is but I can’t wait to see what it does."

Justicar holds the scales out in the palm of his hand. When he speaks, his voice is resonant with power. "Your heart is full of malice. Your motives are unclean. Your hands are stained with the blood of innocents. The scales turn against you." With every statement, the silver dish of the scales sinks as if a weight has been placed on it.

"I can’t tell if that was cool or cringe."

Streams of glowing silver mist radiate out of Cataract. Simultaneously, streams of glowing golden mist rush into Justicar. The effect is readily apparent. Cataract grows weaker. Justicar grows stronger.

"Holy shit. Holy shit!"

Justicar’s eyes glow golden. "I will bring you to justice." Golden bands of energy shoot out of Justicar’s hand as he holds it out, palm forward, in Cataract’s direction. They wrap around the villain, restraining him.

EspersInAction looks at the camera in wide-eyed disbelief.

"I almost feel like I’m dreaming, guys. A rookie hero just beat Cataract. A rookie. Cataract! Fucking Cataract! Gods. I think I need to take a break for a sec."

"We’re on in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… And we’re live!"

As practiced a dozen times in rehearsal, the upbeat theme music played as lights swept across the studio toward the man of the hour as he descended the steps from the audience and walked toward the stage.

"Yes. Yes. Yes! I’m loving the energy!" Kaiser Chan was a titan of the industry fortunate enough to get established before the reputation of Seaside City took a straight nosedive into the dirt.

Kaiser beckoned to the audience. "Come on! Let everyone watching at home hear how excited you are, folks!"

The wave of raucous cheers and applause was nigh-deafening and infectious. Kaiser grinned, bathing in the energy of it all. He could count on the fingers of one hand how many times he’d had such an enthusiastic live audience in the studio.

"Welcome, welcome, welcome, everyone—"


"—Thank you, sir! I love you too!" Kaiser waved at some random part of the audience. He wasn’t sure where the voice had come from and the bright lights made it difficult to see. "But anyway. Hi! Hello! Welcome to tonight’s Kaiser Kouch. Most of you probably know me but I wouldn’t be surprised if all of you knew my guest tonight!"

"WE LOVE YOU, JUSTICAR!" chorused a bunch of girls in the audience.

Kaiser was usually the type that didn’t appreciate being outshone on his own show but he could hardly blame the people. It was taking all his willpower not to get swept along in the hype with everyone else.

Besides, his show had been floundering in the ratings for a while now. Everyone wanted to pretend things were going fine in Seaside City but no one wanted to watch celebrities prattle on uselessly about their newest projects while they were doing it.

He owed the surge of interest to Justicar and the team behind the Hall’s brightest new star. "You’ve seen him. I’ve seen him. If you haven’t yet, then I have to wonder… Have you been living under a rock?"

The audience laughed.

"I know you all probably want me to just get to the good stuff so just for tonight, you won’t be getting an opening monologue from me."

The audience cheered and Kaiser had to laugh. "Okay. Ouch. Just a little hurtful. But I get it. Trust me, I get it. Honestly, I was grinning from ear to ear when I got the call he wanted to come on air with me so! Without further ado!"

Kaiser motioned held an arm out toward stage right. "He’s the hottest new addition to the Hall of Heroes’ roster. The new defender of Seaside City. His face has been all over the news and wouldn’t you know it, he might just be the man we’ve all been waiting for here in this part of the Commonwealth: Justicar!"

As upbeat music played, Kaiser made his retreat. He stood in front of his desk and waited there as Justicar walked out to cheers and applause from the crowd.

The young hero seemed perfectly at ease in front of an audience. The new generation all received intensive media training from the Hall of Heroes. It was encouraging and, at the very least, meant less work for Kaiser.

Justicar smiled at the crowd and waved. His eyes twinkled as he nodded and mouthed "thank you," to the people.

He walked at a perfect pace—not too slow, not too fast—and shook Kaiser’s hand when they finally stood face to face.

"Please, please. Take a seat," said Kaiser as he walked around behind his desk. Justicar sat down on the couch to the side.

The layout of Kaiser’s set was pretty similar to 21st-century American late-night talk shows and was unique in that regard. He enjoyed the aesthetic and felt it was significantly more personable than contemporary formats.

Kaiser leaned across the desk. "So, first of all, I know being a hero is hard work. In Seaside City, especially, with everything going on so I just want to say—and I think everyone here will agree with me—thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come on tonight. And thank you so much for your service."

The crowd cheered and applauded.

"Please," said Justicar. He smiled bashfully at the crowd and waved his hand in front of his face. "I couldn’t do what I do without the tremendous support of everyday citizens like these kind people here," he said, motioning to the crowd.

Justicar turned to Kaiser. He leaned back and gestured at Kaiser with both hands. "And of course, none of us heroes can do this with people like you, Kaiser! This job would be so much more difficult if the people with a voice and a platform didn’t spend the time and effort to help us get our message across."

Kaiser patted his chest and smiled. He wasn’t going to lie. Justicar’s words had made him feel oddly warm inside. "And what would that message be, Justicar?" he said.

Justicar turned to the camera.

Kaiser remarked to himself that Justicar was a natural at this. The boy knew exactly what to do and what to say. Little wonder he’d succeeded in charming the nation so.

Justicar smiled at the camera. His expression was serious and it seemed even the audience recognized he was about to say something important, falling silent.

The young hero held a fist to his chest as he spoke with conviction. "That things might seem bad, some days, but it’s important to never give up. That things will always get better. That good will always win in the end."

"Wow…" said Kaiser. He blinked, feeling oddly emotional.

Justice was a mighty charismatic young man.

Kaiser smiled. "I felt that. And I think, for the first time in a long time, I can believe it. Thank you," he said.

"No, no," said Justicar. He reached across the desk and placed his hand on Kaiser’s. "Thank you for having me on, Kaiser. Thanks to you, I can reach the people I serve—the people that need me."

"Oh, please. It’s nothing," said Kaiser with a chuckle. "Anyway! Enough about me! We’re here to talk about you. So. How are you?"

Justicar smiled. "I am… alright," he said. "Being a hero is hard work but it’s very gratifying. Seeing all the support and knowing that every day I help make the city safer is what gets me out of bed in the mornings."

Kaiser nodded. He could understand where Justicar was coming from. Patrolling a whole city couldn’t be easy and he could imagine it took an awful lot of motivation to remain enthusiastic about it.

"That’s good. That’s good. As I understand it, the Hall was super careful to keep your existence secret, right?" said Kaiser.

Justicar nodded. "They did. It was really kind of them, actually. I discovered I had powers when I was 12 and when they realized my potential they went out of their way to protect me and my family."

Kaiser scooched his chair forward. "So, and I think a lot of our audience tonight are probably quite curious about this, how did that work? Did you have someone pop by the house every weekend, being all, ‘Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Justicar, time to take junior out for training now’ or did the Hall of Heroes take you in and do everything in-house?"

Justicar laughed. "No, no. It was nothing like that. Though I could imagine the look on the neighbors’ faces if Magnussen came to the front door."

Kaiser chuckled. The boy had a sense of humor. That was good. He’d come across as a bit of a stick in the mud during his debut press conference but it was encouraging to see some humanity in Justicar.

"In my defense," said Kaiser, "I meant something like a suit coming to your door, not, you know, one of the heroes."

Justicar grinned. "No, of course not. I just enjoyed the mental image," he said. "No. It wasn’t like that at all. I had training five days a week. After school. Can’t really tell you how they kept it a secret but they made sure I at least managed to have a somewhat normal childhood."

Kaiser nodded. "That’s good," he said. "That’s good because those years are the most important for building social skills. And trust me, kid. I’ve been in this industry a long time. You’ve got them in spades."

Justicar’s cheeks flushed pink. "Thank you, Kaiser. That’s kind of you to say. But I’m nothing that special. I just try and be the best, most genuine person I can."

Kaiser laughed. "You say it like it’s just that simple but I think we all know someone who proves it’s easier said than done."

"Fair enough, Kaiser." Justicar laughed.

"It must be different, though, being in the public spotlight after all this time," said Kaiser, launching into the next topic of discussion without hesitation.

"Oh, yeah," said Justicar, nodding along. "Yeah. It’s very different. But it’s also a refreshing change of pace, you know? It’s almost liberating. I feel like I don’t have to hide who I am anymore."

"But you do," said Kaiser. He gestured at Justicar, who was in his iconic silver, gold, and white suit. "Because, you know—"

"Right." Justicar laughed. "Because I’m a hero. But see, that’s the weird thing. I’m not just—" Justicar wiggled his fingers "—whoever I am outside this costume. I’m Justicar, too. And it’s such a relief having to not hide this part of me, too."

Kaiser nodded. "I understand. It looks like you’re adjusting pretty well, though."

"Yeah," Justicar chuckled. "You can thank the Hall for that. I can’t tell you how valuable the media training course is. I don’t think I could have managed without it."

"I don’t know," said Kaiser, drumming his fingers on his desk. "You seem pretty natural at this, from where I’m sitting."

"Oh, trust me. You wouldn’t think that if you were sitting where I am," said Justicar.

Kaiser laughed and the audience joined him. "Alright," he said. "I’ll take your word for it."

"I’m not perfect, Kaiser. I swear," said Justicar. "It’s a good thing you’re not a telepath because you’ll be hearing a lot of ‘Ahh! I’m on the Kaiser Kouch! Ahh!’ if you were."

"Flatterer," said Kaiser, reaching across and lightly tapping Justicar on the shoulder with his fist. "Anyway. You’re new to the scene. Youngest full hero in the current generation, right?"


"Previously, the youngest full hero was Tempest. You’re two years younger than him, right?"

Justicar nodded. "Just about," he said.

"So… Who’s stronger?" said Kaiser.

Justicar scratched his chin. He laughed nervously and averted his gaze. "I… I couldn’t say," he said. "Tempest has made great contributions to the safety of Selene City and the Commonwealth… I don’t think it would be appropriate to—"

Kaiser pressed a bit. "I won’t force you to, but come on. Just between you and me?"

Justicar shook his head. "No. No. I couldn’t. I owe Tempest a debt of gratitude. He was one of the heroes that came to the aid of Seaside City six months ago when the Synod was running rampant. I don’t want people to think one of us is worse than the other."

For the first time in the evening, Kaiser saw something sharp in Justicar. The boy had been disarming people with his charm all night but Kaiser had been in the industry long enough to understand how the court of public opinion worked.

By not giving an answer, Justicar had shown his humility, to say nothing of the way he answered, which showed that he was the sincere and grateful type. That was all most people would see but not Kaiser. No. Not Kaiser.

Kaiser saw the barb embedded in those words, the subtle implication that Justicar was better than Tempest.

No. It wasn’t just a barb. It was a full-on attack. It seemed humble and deferential on the surface but by bringing up Tempest’s involvement in the clash with the Synod, Justicar was questioning his closest rival’s integrity and ability.

Kaiser was impressed. It was proof Justicar was born for the spotlight. The boy was cutthroat and sharp as a tack.

Unless something even more dramatic happened on the show tonight, Kaiser was pretty sure he could predict what would be showing up in the next news cycle.

Good performance deserved a reward, as far as Kaiser was concerned, and he was confident Justicar would know what to do with what he had in mind. So, he threw the boy a bone. "I’m sure there are plenty of people in the audience tonight who are curious. Where were you when the clash with the Synod happened? Were you waiting in the wings, in case things went badly?"

Justicar seemed surprised. He met Kaiser’s gaze, a smile briefly touching his lips before his expression turned somber. "Please believe me when I say that I would have wanted nothing more than to join the fray and fight alongside my brothers and sisters against the villains on that day but the Hall of Heroes held me back as a last resort."

The crowd jeered. The chorus of boos was so loud even Kaiser was taken aback. He didn’t think he’d ever heard such a negative reaction before.

"No, no," said Justicar, waving his hands at the audience to get them to settle down. "Please. The Hall made a difficult decision but it was the correct one. I wasn’t ready. Not yet."

Justicar sat forward, putting himself closer to the audience. "I tried to sneak out of the compound. I was so gripped with the fervor to defend the citizens of this beautiful city I ignored orders and tried to fight anyway!"

He thumped his chest. "But that was proof I wasn’t ready. I let my emotions get the better of me. I disobeyed my superiors’ commands."

Justicar stood. He stepped forward. "I am ready now, though," he said. "And believe me when I say—as long as I draw breath, I will keep fighting for each and every one of you!"

Kaiser smirked to himself. He wasn’t wrong about Justicar. The play was masterful. In the space of a few minutes, the young hero had managed to secure for himself a greater degree of independence, elevating himself while simultaneously putting down the Hall of Heroes.

It was a ballsy move—and the consequences remained to be seen—but Kaiser had to admire Justicar for having the chutzpah to make it.

Justicar: Protector or Pretender?


17 October 2145 | 12:43 PM
Ashten: LMAO. Imagine being this triggered.

17 October 2145 | 12:45 PM
Kittykrisp: Slow fake news day at the Commoner. LOL.

17 October 2145 | 12:52 PM
JollyWasRogered: You cant call the Commoner fake news thats an insult to fake news

17 October 2145 | 12:56 PM
KittyKrisp: You’re right. I’m sorry. You’re right. Fake news takes more effort than this bullshit. LOL.

17 October 2145 | 12:42 PM
RobertLawton2092: Well said. This city needs a real hero, not some kid that’s only interested in chasing his 15 minutes in the spotlight.

17 October 2145 | 12:40 PM
xXiliketheletterXx: No wonder people call the Commoner a rag. LOL.

17 October 2145 | 12:43 PM
UnCattedBoy: I dunno man. I wouldn’t use a rag to wipe my ass

17 October 2145 | 12:55 PM
xXiliketheletterXx: I mean I wouldn’t wipe my ass with the Commoner either

17 October 2145 | 1:01 PM
MAGA2145: wouldnt want ur delicate snoflake ass too get skrached up by hard facs lol

17 October 2145 | 1:04 PM
UnCattedBoy: What hard facts? LMAO. It’s the fucking Commoner!

17 October 2145 | 1:05 PM
UnCattedBoy: Also. What the fuck are you doing here? Can you even read?



17 October 2145 | 1:13 PM
CerdanyaGirl04: If you tryed youd end up with more shit on yore ass than when you started lol

17 October 2145 | 1:04 PM
Billiejeams: I dunno, man. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

17 October 2145 | 12:59 PM
SandraLewis19: Just because you don’t agree with what it says, doesn’t mean it’s not true. The Mainstream Media is lying to you!

First they’ll come for the villains. But you don’t mind, right? Because you’re not a villain.

Then they’ll come for the rapists and murderers. You probably don’t mind that, either, since you’re not a rapist or murderer.

Then they’ll come for the thieves. Again, you probably won’t mind. Because who cares? They’re criminals, right?

But just you wait. Sooner or later they’re gonna come for the people who do petty things. The people who use adblock. The people who watch movies for free or share streaming accounts.

I don’t know who you think you are, you’ve probably broken a law at some point and they’re coming for you. Yeah, they’re coming for you. The supers and the government? They’re in bed with each other. And normal people like you and me are the only ones who will suffer.

You should be glad the Commoner is standing up for us now. Go ahead. Laugh. We’ll see who’ll be laughing when they come for you and you look around and realize that there’s no one left to speak for you.

17 October 2145 | 1:07 PM
UnCattedBoy: Jesus Christ, lady. Calm down.

17 October 2145 | 12:37 PM JeTimesUp: Wait. I don’t get it.

17 October 2145 | 12:41 PM UnCattedBoy: The Commoner thinks Justicar’s just pretending to be a hero for the fame.

17 October 2145 | 12:42 PM JeTimesUp: I mean, I got that from the article but, like, why?

17 October 2145 | 12:43 PM UnCattedBoy: The picture.

17 October 2145 | 12:44 PM JeTimesUp: But… He just looks tired. This was after the Kaiser Kouch, right?

17 October 2145 | 12:47 PM UnCattedBoy: Yeah. Exactly! That means he probably actually hates Seaside City, right?

[Continue Thread…]

17 October 2145 | 12:50 PM CayetanoBestMILF2148: Didn’t you know, bro? Frowning means you hate everyone and want them to die. 17 October 2145 | 12:55 PM RaffleshiaJordan: God forbid heroes show human vulnerability sometimes. 17 October 2145 | 12:59 PM HauntyGermima: "If you’re not smiling 24/7, you’re just pretending to be a hero" — The Commoner (2145)

17 October 2145 | 12:35 PM LabradorTears2148: It’s just unprofessional. He shouldn’t have gone into this line of work if he couldn’t handle the pressure.

17 October 2145 | 12:38 PM JollyWasRogered: Dude. He just got off patrol duty and went straight to a talk show.

17 October 2145 | 12:40 PM LabradorTears2148: So?

17 October 2145 | 12:41 PM JollyWasRogered: So have a little heart. The guy was just tired!

17 October 2145 | 12:44 PM LabradorTears2148: I don’t care if he ran to Timbuktu and back before the show. He’s a hero, for fuck’s sake! What would children think if they saw this? He has a responsibility to be a source of positive energy for the people. He should never make people feel like they’re a burden on him.

My 5-year-old saw the picture as I was reading this and you know what she told me? She said, "Daddy, why does Justicar look upset? I thought he was supposed to be a hero? Does saving people make him mad?"

17 October 2145 | 12:47 PM JollyWasRogered: Your daughter said that? Sure. LOL.

  1. I don’t believe a 5 year-old could be that eloquent.
  2. I don’t think any woman would touch you with a 10-foot pole.

And even if she did, so what? It isn’t a hero’s responsibility to look after your feelings. He’s human just like the rest of us. He’s allowed to look tired if he’s tired.

Like, seriously. The nerve of some people.

[Continue Thread…]

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