As the tsunami waters receded from the city, there was nothing left on the surface but debris. It was completely unrecognizable. Just about every wooden or brick building had been pulverized, and their broken pieces were strewn across the streets. Even a few of the taller concrete structures had toppled. What junk hadn't been washed out to sea now littered the streets. The destruction was so complete that it was hard to tell where streets ended and the ruined buildings began in some places. Some of the tall buildings that had been hit had toppled over, crushing other buildings and making navigation even harder for rescue crews. Meanwhile, sinkholes broke apart the streets and ate up swaths of asphalt, making the roads even more hazardous.
It would take a massive concerted effort to clean everything up, though my bots could make short work of it once I built up the numbers. Sure, I had a lot of bots in the city. But the grand majority of them were now literally holding the city together. Though the floodwaters had receded below street level, underground it was still a loose and slippery puddle of mud. My network of bots was the only thing stopping half of the city from sliding into the sea, at least until the waters fully receded and things dried properly. That could take days or weeks.
I did spare what bots I could for replication. The upside was that there was no shortage of materials, it was all junk nobody would miss. In fact, most of it was a hazard to the recovery. Why not recycle the material into something useful? I figured that, as each Endbringer shelter was evacuated, I could liberate those bots for garbage-crunching duty when they no longer had to protect people.
To do that more quickly, I needed some help.
"Glory Girl, do you mind getting a little dirty?" I asked as she passed by while dropping off a pallet full of medical supplies.
"What kind of dirty?" she asked, eyeing me suspiciously.
"I need you to find a shovel… maybe a big one. Rip one off an industrial digger if you can find one, but the Endbringer shelters need to be saved," I told her. "They're all buried underground right now, but we have a chance of getting them out."
"Wait, really? But… the engineers said they would have run out of air even before the water levels dropped."
I shook my head. "I've been keeping them alive with my bots. Gave them some snorkels. Abyssal can show you the way. I'll let Dragon know too."
"Got it!" she said. I suppose she was excited to do more "heroic" work than being a flying delivery girl.
For the official government agencies, excavating the shelters had been shifted to a lower priority. I couldn't really blame them; both Thinkers and engineers had assumed the combination of the Lung-Leviathan fight, the erosive action by Leviathan, the tsunami all combined would normally have been unsurvivable. Add that to the long time it took the waters to recede, the fact that the shelters themselves had shifted underground to different locations, and the difficulty of getting heavy construction equipment to the areas meant that rescue was deemed fruitless.
Most were expected to either be fully flooded or run out of air hours before the rescue efforts even started, and they didn't see the point in simply opening up a concrete coffin filled with suffocated or drowned bodies. They just hadn't accounted for me patching up the cracks with my bots and providing the entire buildings with makeshift snorkels. The people might be hungry and thirsty, but alive.
A few other super-strength capes like Glory Girl or earth-moving Shakers could do the job, if they knew exactly where to dig. Dragon could probably supply more drones, if she could build them fast enough and send them over. While I had bought them time, I hadn't bought them unlimited time. Many of them still had taken damage I could only patch, not repair. And even with their air supply secure, they still had limited food, water, and first aid supplies.
Just like in the medical tent or hospital, I triaged. Those who could survive being left behind a little longer could wait. Those who needed to be saved more urgently got first priority. And those who were unlikely to survive even if I got there as fast as I could… well, they might unfortunately have to wait forever.
My hundreds of brains all made their own judgments of each shelter they were overseeing. Depth, damage, oxygen levels, number of people inside, supplies, stability of the dirt… with most of my brainpower set on the task, it didn't take long to make a priority list.
When Glory Girl found, and ripped apart an excavator bucket, I had Abyssal form nearby to lead her to the highest priority shelter. Abyssal turned his sword into a big shovel, and started digging. Glory Girl followed suit enthusiastically, shoveling literal tons of dirt at a time. I just had to make sure we dug at an angle so that people would actually be able to climb out without hurting themselves.
I had chosen the first shelter because it was at a shallow depth, yet moderately damaged, so they needed help soon. It also quickly liberated a lot of my bots, which I could then use for rescuing others. I let the whole thing collapse after the last person had climbed out, which caused all the evacuees to thank their incredibly "lucky" timing.
I didn't let Glory Girl bask in the crowd's gratefulness. Abyssal tapped on her and pointed her towards the next shelter to dig up.
Meanwhile, Panacea and I were kept busy in the medical tent. A high-priority one was the "star" of the Endbringer battle. Never mind the fact that he arguably caused just as much damage as the Endbringer himself. He was brought in by Alexandria herself, unconscious. The Triumvirate had left after that, with little more than a strong suggestion to the healers that it would look bad if Lung died after fighting Leviathan.
Honestly, Lung didn't even need that much healing. We barely had to do anything and most of us weren't interested in cozying up to him. Lung himself wasn't interested in dying, nor was he interested in being coddled. Though he had been unconscious and battered when Scion chased Leviathan off, his wounds were already closing. Panacea just touched him briefly and declared, "He'll be fine."
It didn't take long before he had healed enough to wake up. He sat up, taking a look around to get his bearings, but said nothing. A few other healers, mostly out-of-towners that had only heard the legend but never met the actual cape himself, tried to offer their services. "Do you need one of my potions?" asked Desnia, a somewhat medieval-themed chemistry Tinker. She styled herself as a fantasy potioneer, and I suspected she had a thing for dragons.
"No," he said, barely giving her a second glance. "I am Lung." Now fully awake, he merely wrapped a basic robe around his waist and walked out of the tent.
"Jeez. Cocky much?" Clockblocker said, after Lung was after earshot.
"Does it count if he can back it up?" asked I-Peace, one of the healers from out of town that had been more wary of Lung than the others.
"You know, I heard stories about how crime in this place is out of control. Rumour had it the Protectorate was just being lazy, but after seeing him… I think I get it," said Cryton, one of the capes from Canada. "Why do you guys stay here?"
"Because it's my home," Clockblocker answered hastily.
"I can actually make a difference here," Vista added. "In some other city I'd just be doing dumb things like standing around for photo shoots and signing autographs."
"You'd rather fight villains like him instead of meeting fans? Seriously?"
"He wasn't even the worst, actually," Aegis pointed out.
"Well, not for us Wards," he clarified. "Armsmaster and Dauntless were the ones who dealt with Lung most often. The Empire had a lot of… wild capes that sometimes took things too far. Like Hookwolf, or Cricket."
"But all of them are gone now," Vista said. "I like Miss Militia but Armsmaster just got things done, you know? Miss Militia is babying us even more."
"Yeah, it really wasn't fair what happened to Beardmaster," Clockblocker said. "Everyone knows that what happened to Browbeat was the villain's fault. He didn't have to get fired for that."
"I'm right here," said a gruff voice to their left. Errant had been brought in by my bots, but we never found his leg, unfortunately. I was keeping his body held together and hoped that Panacea could tidy up the infection and amputation. His suit was completely destroyed, and I had to cut him out of it. At least his helmet was intact. He wasn't being healed fully because he intended to install more prosthetics anyway; he was just waiting for Dragon to make the delivery.
"Oh jeez, is that really you? Armsmaster?" Aegis exclaimed.
"I don't go by that name any more," Errant told them.
"So… uh, looks like that fight cost you an arm and a leg," Clockblocker said, though he looked a bit squeamish at the state of the man's body.
"Just the leg," Errant replied. "I lost the arm when I took down Saint."
"How are you not in total a state of pain right now?" Cryton asked.
"Directed painkillers and nerve blockers. It appears my recently-installed digital nerve interface helps me manage the signal as well. Desnia makes an effective numbing salve as well."
Cryton looked at the Wards while pointing at Errant. "Is that normal?"
Clockblocker shrugged. "Sounds like Armsy."
I-Peace scoffed. "Sounds like Brockton Bay. Alright Wards, you're all healed up. Get outta here, we have more patients."
"Finally!" Vista was the first to rush out.
The group of civilians from the first shelter were now starting to reach the fallback zone, guided by Abyssal and my bots. The journey had been somewhat treacherous, and Abyssal had to act like the shepherd quite often. There had been many paths that looked simpler but were very hazardous. My bots did the best to clear out the safest path to make it an obvious choice, but they could only work so fast.
There were cheers of relief when they saw the encampment. These people had been marching for a while through a completely ruined city, a lot of them had been feeling helpless. But seeing another large group of survivors, with supplies and communications, roused their spirits. The ones who were feeling well enough started running towards the camp.
Likewise, everyone at the fallback camp noticed the large, cheering group of people. It was always a relief to find more survivors, and seemingly miraculous to find such a large group in good health.
It also sparked action among the search-and-rescue plans. When they told everyone they had come from an Endbringer shelter, that sparked an immediate review of their previous analysis. There was a quick rush to reorganize their rescue priorities, shifting back to trying to find the other shelters.
They needed a guide to actually find the shelters. Their maps weren't too helpful – while reinforced underground bunkers normally didn't just get up and walk away, Leviathan attacks were anything but normal. The shifting earth had moved some of them up to a hundred feet away from their original location, and their front doors completely flooded or disconnected from the surface entrance. Right now, I was the only one who knew where all of them were exactly, though I was sure there were some Tinkers out there that could map the underground to find them too.
I used Abyssal to act as a guide, sending the helpers towards Glory Girl, where she was already working on digging up the next shelter. As the other rescuers rushed to help her with the excavation effort, I decided to use the bots to consume the debris and hazards that littered the roads so they would have a safe path to and from the shelters.
Glory Girl was basking in the attention, even though she was completely caked in mud. I think her aura was actually being quite helpful, raising the enthusiasm and optimism of everyone around her.
The trickle of news was fairly positive as far as Endbringer attacks went. But while I was hearing a lot of relief, none of it was for Brockton Bay. Instead, people were just happy Leviathan came here instead of somewhere… nicer. Brockton Bay was almost a total loss, sure, but it wasn't exactly a valuable city. Nothing like New York or Los Angeles or Boston. It was a crime-ridden economically declining hole. In terms of lives lost, it was pretty low for civilians, and only average among capes. All in all, people were simply glad because it could have been much worse.
But the first major, positive news for Brockton Bay that was being reported was the civilians being rescued. Originally, the shelters were thought to have become forsaken tombs for those inside. Now they were out, alive and well, so it was turned into a miracle story. It sure didn't feel like a miracle to me, though, just a whole lot of hard work. In all fairness, it was relatively good.
For us on the ground, though, it was more of a logistical nightmare. Yes, it was good that thousands of people had been found safe. But we were trying to support those people in a town that had lost most of its infrastructure. The number of regular survivors after the battle was over was already stretching our supplies to the limit, and now we were going to triple the number of people to shelter and feed?
Yes, there was going to be tension and uneasiness.
That meant I needed to use another copy of Abyssal to help do some policing and prevent fights from breaking out while even more people were being rescued from around the city. He had to intervene when people were fighting over even stupid little things like standing under a canopy.
Some other capes were also trying to help, but the use of powers just caused some other people to lash out in fear. Others were causing as much problems as they were trying to prevent. Most of New Wave was also trying to impose some kind of law and order while Glory Girl was still away from the camp, digging out more survivors.
Unfortunately, normal law didn't exactly apply in situations like this. Things like jobs and bank accounts didn't really matter. Most people had little to offer, and it wasn't the kind of situation where we would only be saving those who had something to contribute. There were also the self-centered ones, normally law-abiding but reduced themselves to petty theft and hoarding in a stressful bid for survival.
Of course, having a villain in the mix caused a significant shift in who got to set those rules. Especially when that villain had quite clearly just managed to do what all the other capes combined hadn't.
Surprisingly, Lung wasn't trying to take everything for himself. He naturally pulled all the former ABB members to him; none would dare ditch their boss now. He simply ordered everyone to find and scavenge, as well as divide the food and supplies. While his people were the ones guarding and distributing the supplies, they were actually being fair about it. For now. He even sent people out to scavenge for more.
"Lung! What do you think you're doing?" Brandish was the first to take issue with him.
"The people need leadership. I am a leader."
"You don't get to make the rules," she said, hovering higher so her face was just slightly above Lung's.
"On the contrary. My law is the only law, because all others are inadequate."
It was hard to deny. Lung commanded more people than the PRT did. And those who followed him didn't question his orders. Unlike the PRT and Protectorate, which was in a state of confusion. The Triumvirate had left, now that the situation had stabilized. The local PRT was missing quite a few people along the chain of command, having died in the battle. The organization was a mess trying to piece itself back together at the moment.
Lung's organization was simple. There was him, and there was everyone else. His words were law.
His men went over to a delivery of several crates of supplies. They'd been waiting for some kind of signature or authorization or whatever from the PRT, or maybe the mayor. Who knew. That was part of the whole confusion over jurisdiction and responsibility. Lung's men bypassed all of that, pushed aside the people guarding it, and wrenched the crates open. They started distributing the packages – individual survival packs with small ration bars, space blankets, and other little bits.
People cheered for him as they each received their little baggies.
"Stop that!" Brandish yelled.
"You wish for me to stop helping? Look around, hero. You would rather the people starve and go hungry? They have been suffering for an hour while these supplies sit uselessly. They suffer for your desire to preserve… bureaucracy."
"Carol, he's not completely wrong. This time," Lady Photon said. "We're here to minimize the suffering. What can we do, take the supplies back from the people? At least we can just make sure they're distributed fairly."
At least Brandish knew when she was defeated as the people continued to cheer Lung, and yell at the guards who were feebly trying to prevent the packets from being given out. The rest of New Wave each gathered a handful each and flew off to distribute the packs more carefully than simply throwing them at the crowd that had gathered.
A few trips later, someone new arrived. "You will cease this instant! You are stealing from a federal agency! Who said you could take these?"
I didn't recognize the man, but given how he was being escorted by several PRT agents, I could only assume he was the new PRT director that replaced Calvert. The ABB members stopped pulling the crates apart, but only for a second. Lung glanced at the new director, then back at his men. With a mere flick of his finger, the men understood, and continued working.
"Agents, arrest them."
The PRT agents raised their weapons – they looked like shotguns, which I hoped were loaded with beanbag or rubber rounds.
Lung just gave an disapproving growl. The temperature shot up. All the guns were suddenly pointed at him, and the agents were looking very unsure of themselves.
"You have no authority here, little man." Lung turned to the crowds. "People of Brockton! This man would have you suffer with hunger, wet, and cold. Or would you follow me?" He flared his heat aura even stronger, to the point where it was uncomfortable to be near him. The water at his feet sizzled. The masses standing further away, however, felt a refreshing warmth after being soaked for so long.
The crowd let their opinions be known. Even though Lung was helping them for now, I was surprised at how quickly the crowd supported him. They were mostly Brockton residents; they knew how much of a problem the ABB had been. But a little short-term benefit had the whole mob entirely on Lung's side. Heck, it was obvious that Lung himself hadn't provided the packets, he just took them and gave them out. But the crowd didn't care. I was surprised how easy it was to sway them.
Tagg wasn't doing nearly so well. It really didn't take long before shouting and jeering turned to thrown objects. I had to use Abyssal to stop some of the deadlier objects like rocks from actually hitting him, but it was pretty clear where the crowd's displeasure was. Most of them weren't even ABB members, just people who had finally gotten their little survival packets.
Even though he was retreating, he wasn't leaving. The new director pointed at Brandish, Lady Photon, and Shielder, who had just finished distributing another round of supplies to the people. "And you! Are you working for Lung now?"
Brandish put a hand to her forehead. "I knew it…"
Lady Photon floated forward. "Director Tagg. These supplies were meant for the people. We're just making sure they're being given out fairly."
"And what are you doing to make sure people aren't cheating the system? Are you keeping records? Are you taking names? We don't have enough for everyone, we can't afford to hand these out haphazardly."
"And you have to have people wait here while you take your sweet time deciding who gets it first?" Shielder pointed out. "They're space blankets, glow sticks, and a cookie. Nobody's hoarding those."
"You're holding five of them right now."
"I was giving them out!"
"To whoever you like, not following any procedure. You're still breaking the law. Playing to the crowd is no excuse," Tagg said.
"Just because he's a villain doesn't mean he's wrong about everything," Shielder said. "And the damn law is making things worse for everyone. People needed their supplies sooner rather than later."
"It always starts with capes thinking they know better. You know your hero status is already under review. And now I see you helping Lung? Brockton Bay is descending into anarchy and you're part of the cause."
"We were only declared villains because your own damn predecessor was a villain that infiltrated the PRT!" Brandish shouted angrily. A light-weapon formed in her hands, and pointed it at the Director. Upon realizing what she was doing, she dismissed it just as quickly.
"What was that you said? Just because he was a villain, doesn't mean he was wrong. What Brockton Bay was lacking was law and order. The very fact that you, all of New Wave, claim to be heroes yet only enforce the law at your own convenience? You are only one step from villainy," Tagg said. "If you wish to be considered a hero, then join the Protectorate, and learn to work under rules, regulations, and order. You have until my reinforcements arrive to make your choice."
"Tagg, we had an agreement," Brandish said angrily.
"Well, the agreement's changed. Deal with it," the director sneered at her. He waved over one of the assistants, who pulled out some prepared paperwork. "You'd better have that signed the next time I see you."
Lady Photon called for a team meeting. Laserdream flew out to get Glory Girl, who had just nearly finished digging out the second-last Endbringer shelter. The other volunteers would be able to finish the job without issue. The final shelter I was reasonably certain wasn't even finished construction and was probably empty anyway.
Panacea and I had to be pulled away from medical duty too, which was especially annoying. But Brandish was worried that literally anything we did could be used against us. I thought the issue had been settled, that all we had to do was sign some papers before Leviathan hit the town.
Apparently not, though. The original contract was restrictive enough, which was why they had been waiting for us to return from Vancouver before actually agreeing to anything. This new contract, apparently, was twice as bad. Brandish had been going through the fine print, and the agreement was nothing like the original PRT agreement for independent teams.
It seemed that the new Director was taking full advantage of the disaster to forcibly recruit more capes into the PRT and Protectorate. Even offering incentives like better medical, food, and shelter, effective immediately. Anyone who didn't join was a villain. He was targeting all the independents and fresh, Leviathan-induced triggers first. He was drawing a hard line in the sand. If you weren't with them, you were against them. No more independent capes. Parian was an independent who famously just did puppetshows and dabbled in fashion and avoided the entire hero-villain conflict. And she was going to be labeled a villain. It could be argued that these contracts would be considered to be made under duress, but you would need a lawyer to do anything about it.
Tagg came to New Wave last because, well, we did have a lawyer. He really was trying to completely eliminate the very concept of an Independent cape. The new director would have only allowed us to keep the name of "New Wave." Just the name. Everything else, from our patrol schedule to finances to costumes to online presence, would be managed by the Protectorate or PRT. We would, essentially, have to join up with the Protectorate and Wards, being nothing more than a sub-team within them. Otherwise, we would keep our label as villains.
I thought it was a terrible idea, but terrible PRT directors and Brockton Bay seemed to go hand-in-hand.
"We do have other options," Brandish mentioned. "Namely, a lawsuit. Invalidate Calvert's original ruling and therefore Tagg's support for it. But that'll cost a lot of time and money."
"Let's consider that a last resort," Lady Photon said. "What else can we do?"
"I'm still not a fan of joining the Protectorate," Manpower said.
"The fact that they're even doing this makes me not want to join them," said Shielder.
"Agreed," said his sister.
"Yup," added Glory Girl. "Who the hell does this director think he is?"
"I don't think I can work with him," I said cautiously. I was more worried about him figuring out my "extra" abilities, and Abyssal. He seemed to be the kind of control freak that would absolutely try to figure out and limit what I could do.
Not to mention what Amy could do. I was still the only one who knew how much she was hiding as well, in terms of ability.
Speaking of which, some of those plants she had made in Concord last month… they had turned up in Brockton Bay, their seeds distributed by the water currents, and they had taken root here. They had managed to survive Leviathan because apparently they were very hardy and were perfectly fine being submerged in salt water, yet they looked like a typical berry bush. Many of Lung's men had come across them, picking the edible berries.
I was pretty sure Amy was not going to take credit for a new, somewhat unnatural source of food.
"We could always move," Manpower pointed out. "Each PRT director has a pretty big say in how they run their department. Heading over to Boston or New York would mean we wouldn't have to deal with Tagg."
"Move? Again? We just barely got settled into Concord," Laserdream said.
"Just saying it's an option."
"We could wait it out. I'm pretty sure his appointment is temporary. The PRT surely couldn't have deliberately promoted someone that incompetent. They'll replace him when the crisis is over, I'm sure," Brandish said.
"Or they might close the ENE division entirely, maybe roll it into Boston," Lady Photon said. "The headquarters is underwater, the Rig is destroyed. It would cost too much for them to rebuild a separate division, or even maintain it."
"But what would we do in the meantime?"
"I don't care what they call me. I'm not going to stop being a hero," Glory Girl said, crossing her arms.
"We'll just have to win over public opinion. Make sure we document everything we do, personal cameras on every patrol. It's more important than ever," Brandish said.
"This is so stupid. That director's probably going to find a way to call us villains no matter what we do. As long as we're helping people, who cares?" Glory Girl complained.
"I agree," I said. "Come on, Panacea. Let's go back to healing people. I doubt any of our patients would be on Tagg's side."
As we walked away, I had a few moments of privacy with Panacea. "You know, those plants you made? It's feeding people right now. Thought you'd like to know," I whispered to her.
"Uh, thanks. You haven't told anyone, right?"
I nodded. "You going to make more? I'm going to use Abyssal to help harvest the berries. Your plants seem to be producing a lot of berries, it's feeding a good number of people."
She looked at me and sighed. "I might. Maybe if I can get some privacy. So many people here don't have enough nutrients so I can't even heal them fully. We need food."
"You might have to; I think I can see Director Tagg sending out agents to burn them down. He is scared of bio-tinker stuff, but it seems like he hates all capes."
"Not hate. Just power-tripping," Panacea pointed out. "I know his type."
"Well, I'm going to help harvest some while they last. Do you have any other ideas? Maybe a bush with toilet-paper leaves?" I joked, but toiletries really were in short supply here.
"I'll figure something out later." Our private conversation came to a quick end as we neared the medical tent. We had only been gone for fifteen minutes and we had an overflowing number of patients once again.
Speaking of which, medical support was a pretty big problem. While we had most of Leviathan's battle-casualties managed at this point, it didn't stop people from getting sick. Many survivors were already suffering from mild hypothermia, others had waded through waist-deep water, getting scratches, infections, or twisted ankles along the way.
Like Amy had said, she couldn't heal people if they were malnourished. Other healers, including myself, had similar limitations. A few powers couldn't handle all of this. We needed food, medicine, and actual doctors and nurses.
And there were still more to come. While all the survivors from the shelters had been recovered, there were still many other people across the city in isolated pockets.
Meanwhile, Brockton Bay had no functional hospitals left. All of Downtown was gone. All of the Boardwalk was gone. Most of the Old Quarter, South Landing, Westwood, all the way up to Captain's Hill had been washed away, and that meant Brockton General, Bayview, Hillside Surgical, and the Pediatric hospitals were all gone. Further away were only smaller clinics, and even those didn't have electricity or might have been flooded.
The solution was pretty simple. Since Leviathan had been kind enough not to annihilate the entire coastline, Boston and Concord were the two closest cities that could handle the additional patients. The main issue was simply opening up the roads so that ambulances and other transports could get through. With my freed bots, I focused on chewing through the road blockages. There was going to be a pretty big migration between a few cities, and the faster I could clear that up, the better.
Meanwhile, I could probably dig up the final shelter myself. Maybe I could find extra supplies in there, but I didn't think it was likely if it had been unfinished. It wouldn't hurt to check.
- ah, the curse of having better ideas after something's already written, then trying to figure out if you can incorporate/re-write things so it still works out. I tend to get a lot of that while I'm writing, especially during the proofreading phase...