Scene 5 – November 5th
Interior Conference Room, Morning
“Good morning!” bellowed a cheerful voice as its owner, a short man with olive-colored skin and a bright blue suit, entered the conference room where I sat. Director Shepard followed him, a laptop in one arm.
“Morning,” I yawned. “You must be the PR person?”
“Technically, I’m called a strategic consultant,” he told me, offering a hand to shake. “But yes, I’m basically the PR person for this region of the country – the whole east coast, in fact. Lucas Apollon.”
“Quinn Kaufman,” I said, shaking his hand.
“And, of course, you’ve already met Director Shepard, yes?”
She gave me a brief nod. “My presence here is just a formality, Mx. Kaufman, no need to worry. Mr. Apollon has my full confidence in these matters.”
“There have been, let’s say incidents, with consultants – one in particular, who I won’t give the respect of naming – designing overly revealing costumes and recommending inappropriate behaviors to new, inexperienced heroes,” Apollon explained. “Only one where they pressured the young hero into sexual acts, so far as we know, but after that abuse of power came to light it was made policy for the local director or their deputy to observe these meetings.”
“And as Mr. Apollon is completely asexual, you have no need to worry about that,” the director said, paying more attention to her laptop. “Officially, the reason is to support you against the strategic consultant if you butt heads, but again, he has my full confidence. I’m certain you two can compromise if necessary without me needing to weigh in.”
I nodded in understanding, then turned to Apollon. “So how does this work?”
“This is essentially your first go at creating a heroic persona,” he told me. “It’s not necessarily a permanent decision – it’s not easy to rebrand, but it can be done if necessary, and graduating from a junior team to a full agent always comes with a meeting to see if it is. But for at least the next six months, yes, this is the person you’re going to be to the public.”
“What do you mean by heroic persona?”
“Essentially, we encourage heroic agents to create a sort of persona for themselves in costume,” he explained. “It’s part of why they wear costumes at all, really. Because there’s been a long-standing tradition of costumed heroes since well before the government began regulating the practice, the public tends to trust people with a heroic persona better – a character and costume rather than an anonymous face in a uniform. The MLED wants you to have a simple, consistent face that the public can understand and trust.”
“And sell merchandise for?” I asked, my eyes flicking down to the Vulcan-branded shirt I was currently wearing.
“And sell merchandise for, yes,” Apollon agreed. “Any source of fundraising means less of a drain on the taxpayers – and some of that goes into your pocket as well.”
“So what kind of persona do you recommend for me? I assume you have some kind of file that tells you all about me.”
“I do have a file,” he admitted, opening a briefcase and setting it on the table. “But market research on what the public responds best to isn’t actually all that helpful here.”
“No. It’s not just about what the public likes, it’s what you can convey,” he explained. “The public’s favorite heroes are inspiring tanks – people who they can look up to and believe will always be there, people who can’t get hurt.”
“Aegis,” I said.
“Aegis foremost among them, yes. But not everyone can pull off inspiring, and not everyone can pull off tank. It needs to be something that they can believe from you – heroes seen as inauthentic are not well-liked, regardless of how effective they are.”
“So let’s go over the different kinds of heroes,” he said, “and you tell me what type of persona you think you can pull of.
“Now, I typically divide heroes into one of four types,” he said, showing me a graph with the logos of eight different heroes plotted across it. “Two axes, as you see – you can be leaning towards two of the types, but it tends to be better to focus on one.
“First up is Inspiring.” He tapped on the shield logo that represented Aegis. “Aegis, as I mentioned, is the preeminent example of this type of hero in the world – here in New Venice, we have Canaveral. Inspiring heroes are the ones who make people feel safe, who make them want to be better people. They’re often the favorite heroes of children. It requires a lot of charisma to pull of,” he warned me, “as it involves being a public figure. Expect speeches, appearances on talk shows, and similar events. Also expect a cape. Capes are almost mandatory for these heroes.
“On the other end of this axis is the Approachable. These are heroes that ordinary people can relate to in a way that they can’t, with the Inspiring. Inspiring heroes are people you look up to, but Approachable heroes are ones you can ask for help.” He pointed to the logos closest to that side of the graph. “Anima here in New Venice, or Omnipresence on the national level, are approachable heroes. Their costumes tend to be simpler, closer to normal clothes – although not actually normal clothes – and it involves more 1-on-1 time than Inspiring heroes have. Expect events more along the lines of visiting hospitals and local schools, and speaking with visitors taking tours of the Compound.”
“So the Inspiring have to be comfortable speaking with crowds, but don’t necessarily need people skills for interacting with individuals,” I guessed, “while the Approachable are the opposite?”
“Exactly. Consider it a charisma axis – do you relate better to individuals are small groups, or to large groups?”
“And Canaveral is Inspiring, not Approachable? I would have guessed the opposite, from my interactions with him.”
Apollon nodded. “He’s not very far towards the inspiring end of things, as you can see, because he likes to mix in being approachable on a personal level as well – particularly when speaking with young heroes. In his consultation when he first joined he wanted to be seen as an attainable ideal, something that people could imagine matching up to, rather than being something you can never reach, like Aegis. Adding in that approachable nature makes it easier to see him as a person, and that makes it more possible to reach for that ideal.”
He moved on before I could reply. “Next we have the axis of skill – practical vs academic. Practical heroes are the ones who have a reputation for getting the job done, no matter what. We don’t say ruthless,” he cautioned me, “that doesn’t poll well. ‘Reliable’ is a better word. Heroes who don’t necessarily have people skills, but who do have heroing skills.” The logos here were for Vulcan and Nanoblade, a nationally-famous hero who worked primarily on the west coast. “Their costumes err on the side of practicality, and sometimes barely resemble costumes at all.
“Finally, we come to Academic heroes,” Apollon said, tapping on the logos of Starling and Arthur Peregrine. “These are the heroes who’re trusted to be knowledgeable, to know what needs to be done. It requires you to have deep knowledge about a topic, whether that be in technology like New Venice’s Starling, or in magic like Arthur Peregrine – although he’s not actually a heroic agent, just a consultant – and to be trusted to have broader, shallower knowledge about a great many things beside.”
“Why is it always fours?” I asked as he paused.
“What do you mean?”
“Power classification is four keywords, three of them having four set options. There are four possible threat levels for a metahuman. Four types of heroes. Hell, I’m surprised there are only three types of powers!” I joked.
“Actually, for the purpose of classifying metahumans, the DMO uses four,” Director Shepard absently commented.
“What?” I asked. “Natural, magical, cosmic… what’s the fourth?”
“Magical is divided into narrow magic and broad magic,” Apollon clarified.
“Narrow mages like Canaveral and Anima don’t diversify, they specialize,” Shepard explained, glancing up from her work. “They may come up with new tricks, but those tricks will all fall under the same category – kinetic energy, for Canaveral, or zoetic for Anima. Broad mages like Loki or Arthur Peregrine, however, try to spread their magical talents as well, and can come up with entirely new abilities. They may have one particular specialty above all others, but they they don’t restrict themselves to it.”
“For example, the first time I had one of this consultations with Loki, he couldn’t control sound – now he can not only do that, he’s working on temperature as well.” Apollon said. “That was… what, five years ago?”
“Six,” the director corrected. “Broad mages are more versatile, but they won’t match up to a narrow mage in their particular area of expertise.” She paused, then added, “Arthur Peregrine is probably an exception to that. After two centuries, his skill is likely similar to that of a narrow mage in most topics, particularly healing.
“Anyway,” he said, waving a hand as if to dismiss the topic, “back to hero types. You will probably be unsurprised to learn that the second category has, you guessed it, four subtypes.”
“Of course,” I sighed. “Let me here them.”
“The last graph can be thought of as character types,” he told me, “but these are more like character roles. Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons, or an MMO?”
“Not for a few years…” not since I had lost most of my friends in high school…
I felt myself drifting back into the grayness and, with some effort, stopped myself. “…but yes,” I finished.
Fortunately, Apollon didn’t seem to notice, or at least to care, about the too-long pause. “Think of it like party composition. You want to have at least one of these for every team of heroes. And rather than being about the personality you present, these are about the skills you bring to the table.
“First, of course, is the leader. They’re in charge, and guide the team’s actions when they need to work together. Canaveral is the leader of the New Champions, but of our national examples, it’s actually Omnipresence is the one who takes this role, not Aegis.”
“And it’s leadership skills that you need, I assume?”
He nodded. “Yes. A power that helps you coordinate with people helps, of course – Omnipresence’s teleportation is part of why he’s so effective as a leader – but your tactical skills are what really makes this role. There are leadership courses provided to help you prepare for this role and keep your skills sharp, if you take it.
“Next up is support. Here in New Venice you have Anima – she can heal, and provide boosts to your abilities as well. Nationally, Peregrine can do… well, nearly anything,” he said. “These aren’t front-line fighters, for the most part, but they still have a valuable contribution. Being in a supportive role in the field often ends up with you providing emotional support as well, so basic therapy training courses usually go along with this as well.
“Third is tank, which I think I mentioned earlier.”
I nodded. “Aegis.”
“Aegis indeed,” he agreed. “These are the heroes who can take a lot of damage – the ones who protect their teammates. It requires some level of invulnerability, but you don’t have to be as absolutely indestructible as Aegis for this – Vulcan does just fine. Now, can you guess what the last role is?” he asked.
“Striker,” I said, confidently. “A damage-dealer.”
“Good guess, and you’d be right if this was D&D,” he said, “but no. Remember that half of these roles is how you appear to the public – having a role specifically about how much damage you can deal doesn’t play well in the public perception. Those who would be categorized as strikers do often fall into this role,” he admitted, “but a lot of heavy hitters are tanks as well. Care to take another guess?”
I thought about it, but after a while shook my head. The only other thing I could think of was healer, but he had already placed Anima as support.
“Last is a swing role,” Apollon told me. “Jacks-of-all-trades – heroes who can do a little bit of everything. Damage-dealing sometimes falls to them, but mostly they need to be there as back-up. The New Champions have Starling for this role, and Nanoblade is a national example.”
“Got it,” I said, leaning back in my chair to think. Where would I fit in?
“Time for a pop quiz!” he said gleefully, and I groaned. “You probably noticed that I used four members of the New Champions in my examples – Canaveral is an Inspiring Leader, Anima is an Approachable Support, Vulcan is a Practical Tank, and Starling is an Academic Swing. But!” He grinned. “There are five members of the New Champions.”
I blinked. “You didn’t mention Zookeeper at all!” I realized.
“Or the Journeymen, for that matter,” he agreed. “So, here’s your quiz. Tell me what you think their roles are – keeping in mind that, while we try to shuffle adult heroes around to get at least one of each type on each team, junior heroes get to stay where they signed up until they graduate.”
I sighed. “Okay… Zookeeper, from what I’ve seen, is pretty approachable – very personable. And… I’m guessing she’s a swing? Maybe support, but…”
“Exactly right,” he said approvingly. “Next?”
I drummed my fingers on the table, thinking. “Loki is an Academic Leader.”
“Not quite, I’m afraid. He was cast as Support.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really? I know he’s taking leadership courses, and is the leader of the Journeymen to boot.”
“That’s a recent development,” he told me. “Just in the last few years. He’ll probably rebrand as a hero when he graduates, but at present he’s still officially listed as Support.”
“Hm.” Perhaps that explained how Holly seemed to know exactly what to do and say to help me when I was consumed by my grief – she had no doubt taken courses on how to do exactly that. “Well… Simone is Approachable Support, I think.”
“Hypnos is… Practical Support? I don’t think he ever really does PR stuff…”
Apollon shrugged. “Not to my knowledge, no – he declined that part of being a junior hero. He doesn’t actually have a designation as a result. Bit of a trick question, I suppose, for which I should apologize. That is where I’d place him, though, yes.”
“Sequoia… Practical Tank? I’m just guessing now, I barely know him or Referee. Or Hypnos, for that matter.”
“He’s hoping to become an Inspiring Tank, actually,” Apollon corrected. “Still learning public speaking skills.”
“Referee is… hmm. She’s too shy to fall on the charisma axis, so… I guess practical support?”
“Right. Notice anything?”
“We’re missing some roles,” I said. “We have four supports – three if you count Loki as a leader instead – and no swings. Only one tank, too. Character-wise we’re leaning towards approachable and practical.”
He nodded. “Like I said, junior teams like the Journeymen aren’t required to be balanced like the adult teams are. So, do you have any thoughts on where you could fit in?”
I was surprised to realize that I did. “Approachable Swing,” I said immediately. “I could maybe pull off Academic, but I don’t know that I actually have enough education for that yet, really. And none of the other roles fits me exactly.”
The strategist showed me a page from his briefcase with my name on it – neatly penciled-in notes read ‘appr? aca? def swing, unless dr focus’. “My thoughts exactly. You’re a pleasure to work with, Mx. Kaufman.”
“Now that that’s set,” he said, crossing out the ‘aca’ on my file and checking off ‘appr’ and ‘swing’, “let’s talk costumes. I understand you’re making things easy for me there by providing your own?”
I nodded. “It helps me deal with the backlash of my powers, so… doesn’t seem like I should move away from it.”
“I would agree. But looking at the photos of it, I think you could stand to add an accessory or two. You were wearing a plaid shirt with it the night you met Canaveral, yes?”
“If you were leaning towards Academic, I might have suggested a change,” he told me. “Something like a cloak, longcoat, or shouldercape would have worked well for that – or a doctor’s coat if you were going to focus on a medic role and be Support. The plaid shirt, however, is perfect for an Approachable hero.”
“I bought a bunch more from a thrift shop already,” I offered.
“No need to worry about that. Maintaining your costume is the MLED’s responsibility. Besides, there will need to be a standard design for your shirts.”
“…does there have to be? I’ve always liked having lots of different plaids.”
He took a breath, considering. “No, it doesn’t have to be,” he decided after a few moments. “But they do all have to be color-coordinated with your suit.” He glanced down at a photo attached to my file. “I would say mostly in cool colors.” He squinted. “Perhaps some warm to bring out the purple of your costume, but mostly blues as the primary color. And…” he grinned. “Actually, yes, this is perfect! You can have a large stock of them, and when you’re out on patrol, you can give them out to people you help. Like shock blankets.”
“Would that… help?” I asked. “I guess I don’t know how shock blankets work, exactly, but…”
He waved his hand dismissively again. “Sure it will, shock blankets are all psychological anyway. And it’ll go over great. Perfect for an Approachable hero.”
“If you’re sure,” I said, not entirely sure myself.
“I am.” He glanced over my file once more. “Alright, last thing on the agenda here is your name. I see you picked ‘Newton’?”
“I’m not married to it,” I told him. “I just picked it because I needed to tell Canaveral something.”
He nodded. “Good, because it has to go.”
I blinked. “It’s that bad?”
“It’s not bad per se,” he said, “but it does lean heavily towards the Academic. You probably want something a little less associated with science. I have some suggestions, if you don’t have any ideas.”
“Hit me,” I said.
“Mythological names are always popular,” he noted. “As a prominent power of yours is ESP… Apollo, god of prophecy and divination.”
“I can’t actually see the future,” I denied. “And he’s pretty strongly associated with the sun, which has little to do with me.”
“Metis, titan of wisdom and foresight.”
I paused. “Maybe come back to that one?”
“Cassandra, prophetess of Troy.”
“Who no one ever believed. Next.”
“Telemus, another seer.”
“Why are you so set on seers?”
“Another mythology then,” he offered. “Heimdal could see everything in all the nine realms.”
“Come back to that. Next.”
“Seers again!” I protested.
“What would you prefer?”
“If we’re stuck with mythological figures, can we at least look at Jewish figures?” I asked him. “Seeing as I’m Jewish?”
He sighed, and went farther down his page. “Let’s see here… Uriel, an archangel associated with teaching?”
“Abuyah, from Elisha ben Abuyah.”
“You must be joking.”
He growled. “Eleazar, from one of the lost tribes.”
“Hm… come back to it.”
“No other good Jewish names,” he insisted.
“Metis, Heimhal, Uriel, Eleazar…” I mused. “None of them feel right.”
“Not mythological then,” Apollon sighed. “I take it back, you’re not a pleasure to work with.” I felt a pang of guilt for a moment before I noticed the faint smile that belied his protest. “Alright, what else do I have… ah-ha!
“Classic heroic names were often just two words combined, or even a single word that seemed to fit,” he told me. “The Doorman, Redeye, and so on. Now, I’ve cut out the blank-man and blank-woman names…”
“I appreciate it.”
…but that still gives us quite a lot of possibilities.”
“How about just the top five to start?” I asked.
He read them out all at once. “Mindweb, Everpresent, Sideminder, Telepresence, or Undermind.”
“Those are all…” I paused. “Actually, Sideminder isn’t bad,” I admitted. “But I don’t have a snake theme at all, so the sidewinder pun is lost.”
“Starling doesn’t have much of a bird theme,” Apollon tried.
“He at least flies.”
“We could add an accessory.” But I shook my head, and he sighed. “What do you want, then? Do you have any alternate ideas?”
“Not… really,” I admitted. “I just know that I don’t like any of those.” Picking my new name when I came out had been easier than this – the first name that I tried had stuck.
“Just let them stay as Newton,” Shepard said with a groan. “They’ll be leaning Academic anyway, remember?”
“Fine.” Apollon stood. “You have up until you’re presented to the public on the 14th to change your mind.” He swept out of the room in a way that made me certain he expected me to. “I’ll make the arrangements!” his voice echoed back down the hall.”
“I don’t think I will,” I confessed to Shepard as she closed her laptop and stood.
She shrugged. “As long as it checks out with Legal, I don’t particularly care.”
I watched her leave, not looking behind her, and sighed. I supposed I couldn’t expect everyone to be as supportive as Abe and Holly were, but it still stung.