Unlimited Tiger Crisis
On the Chopping Block
The man looks around, his senses going haywire. For the past ten minutes, he felt he wasn't as alone as he wished. There shouldn't be any Heroes way out here in the periphery city, right? The Heroes stay in Central, their pretty fishbowl, and pretend the world outside the Stages doesn't exist - that's how it's always been. How it's supposed to be.
But then again, why is there a guy with a domino mask and a worn longcoat grabbing him and now dangling him from a fire escape by his feet?
"GUH-! Wha-what the f-!"
"Hey hey, no need for that language here," He looks up and sees the smirk on the man's face. His opposition to the F-bomb and that weird coat suggest Hero, but the outfit's not quite flashy enough for the audience. But the domino mask and dark green hood with the two triangular folds on top look too Hero to be a coincidence. Maybe he's a delusional cosplay freak.
"Looks like a tiger's caught YOU by the toe!"
"No, wait, that doesn't sound right – hey c'mon, give me some feedback."
The shock of being caught by a dark avenger of the night asking for advice on mind-numbingly lame one-liners causes the man to stare blankly at this tiger guy's expectant grin for many seconds. Reality soon slams back into his senses.
He sputters, "Y-you have no idea who you're messing with, you wannabe hero!"
The masked man sighs and gives a little shrug, continuing his nonchalant chat, "Yeah, your other friends tell me that all the time. Let's see, you're goon number seven, I believe. Let's see if you're the lucky spiller." A wicked grin appears on Tiger's face. The bronze knuckles on his black gloves glint in the dull neon lights as his fingers tap menacingly on his victim's foot. "It's time for Tiger's Terrific Interrogation Time!"
"Enough with the alliteratiAAAHH-!" In a single fell swoop, his interrogator rips off his shoe, tickling the sole without mercy.
"HAHAHOHGODSTOOOOOP!" The laughter echoes off the dilapidated walls, but the Tiger begins his relentless questioning, "Where's the new storehouse this time, bozo?"
"You – hahaha – th-think I'll taHAHAITSOTICKLY – OK I'LL TAAAAAAALLLKK!"
Tiger pauses, a finger hovering threateningly over the twitching foot.
The man wheezes, still feeling the uncontrolled laughter bubbling from his chest."Heh, heh, it's the garages over near the haharbor, a few miles to the eheeheeast. The mechanics are covering a chop shop hahaperation ," he tries to glare at the hero, but the twitching smile and streaming tears dampen the effect a smidge. "That's what all you Heroes want, isn't it? Take down us bad guys and take the points so you can be the next Prom Queen Hero. Ha."
The man finds himself lifted face-to-face to the hero's smirking face, "Well, too bad I'm not really on the ballot, I would look lovely in a tiara." Wait a minute, the Tiger's words suddenly click in the goon's head, He's not a Hero?! That means this guy's the one—
But before he makes the connection, the Tiger is upon him.
[SEVERAL MINUTES LATER]
"Thank you for your cooperation, Goon Number Seven! Man, this so my night!" The man can't really say the same, being strung up by his hands on the fire escape like a piñata.
"Can't take all the credit, though! Gotta go thank my informant for the hints about the smu—"
The sound, several decibels above a fighter jet, erupts from the hero's utility belt. Said hero jumps a good half-foot, landing on a can and falling inelegantly on his back. The goon, unable to protect his ears, is fairly sure his eardrums burst. Through his blistering eardrums, he dimly hears someone muttering, "Stupid beeper, I swear the boss picked the loudest one he could find…"
In a flash, he holds the deafening device, flash drawn from a pouch on his utility belt, which looks suspiciously like a handyman's belt spray-painted black. With white chevron stripe accents to compliment the ones on the bulletproof vest under the coat, the goon idly notes in a vertigo-induced fashion critique. Tiger squints at the obsolete device's tiny screen.
"Ah crap!" He hastily picks himself up, almost tripping on the can again. "Geeze, it's three thirty AM, what do you mean 'be here now' you damn dictator!" The Tiger rushes off in a panic, flashing that strangely cute tiger logo, looking very un-mysterious. The defeated goon waits for the police, dimly aware that he got his ass handed to him by a company slave wage.
It could be worse.
He could be a drunken hobo out on the streets.
But at least then the pigeons wouldn't be asking for five orders of no-fat triple caramel mochas.
"All right, I've got your coffees, enjoy—!"
"HEY! This isn't soy milk! I'm a vegan, you know! And where's the extra whipped cream!?"
"Ugh, I think they used Kona blend instead of Java, buncha amateurs, I swear."
"These coffee beans are not certified organic!"
Dynamic Interactions Specialist my ass. I didn't sign on to be a barista.
He grits his teeth and attempts to smile without looking like he wanted to shove their stupid cups down their stupid throats. "Alright then, I'll go get –"
"Hey, you! Where are those copies I asked for three minutes ago!?" Still printing, owing how you wanted 10,000 copies with a ten year old machine you're too cheap to replace. "Uh, coming right up, chief –"
"My car was supposed to be washed during the public service meeting, so why's my Hummer still have dusty tires!?" They're drive on top of dirt, what do you expect! "S-sorry, I'll finish after—"
"Hey new guy—!"
"Hey, come and do these for me!" Kotetsu stares at the zit-faced brat shoving papers in his face. "Aren't you an intern?" The kid shrugs. "Yeah, but you're the Dynamic Interactions Specialist!"
Kotetsu is starting to understand just how far down the totem pole he's at. Somehow, he landed a position where everyone simultaneously has high expectations and zero respect for him. He has to know everyone in every department, be everywhere at once, and do every stupid finicky chore perfectly or risk getting something thrown at his face. Again.
Over the past few hours, he's ran paperwork and equipment from all ends of the building, filled out pointless forms and tedious data sheets for others, ran through the streets for dry cleaning / caffeine / returning videotapes / whatever else these yuppies can come up with. Small, pointless jobs no one with a proper salary wants to do.
He sighs and heads towards the back doors with his arms full of his new responsibilities.
Somehow, this isn't how I pictured my return to Hero TV would go, Kotetsu thinks as yet another suit shoves a paper into his hand on his way to the editing room.
He never thought he would be back here after leaving the Hero business all those years ago. He made his peace, he just couldn't stay. And now that he's dropped Wild Tiger for Bronze Tiger, he's practically become their sworn enemy.
And yet, for all his years as a vigilante, the companies haven't made a move, or even indicated they were aware of his presence. I guess I'm not making enough of a difference for them to notice… Kotetsu allows himself four seconds of wallowing before slapping his cheeks.
Well, seven years is a long time. These big wigs aren't likely to remember a bygone Hero from a defunct company. And anyways, sticking to the unpopular parts of Sternbild is his shtick. Staying far away from Hero TV and the Administration of Justice is the name of the game, he can't do his work under the control of this system. And he'll get arrested. That too.
Then again, I hear that Sterbild's prisons are nice and peaceful, he thinks as he picks up the thousands of papers he dropped to slap himself.
His eyes burn with the many hours of bedtime he skipped to do his rounds. One day into his glorified indentured servitude and he feels the pressure on his hero schedule. Ben made it sound so logical: earn money to not starve and gain intel at the same time! Last time I ever listen to logic, he grouses as he stifles a jaw-breaking yawn.
He walks into the editing room to hand them a few terabytes of video footage he worked on. I'll take a dozen more coffee orders if it means I don't have to edit in one more stupid lensflare onto Mr. Rookie's stupid fancy suit.
The room was in complete pandemonium. As the nerve center of Apollon's Hero footage and home base for the Hero TV van team, the high-tech room is crawling with editors conferring, splicing, debating, and yelling at each other to decide the best shots for the company Hero.
"…and he should do an orphan rescue to appeal to the traditionalists, they love the classics."
"Roger, we'll keep our ears open."
"I think we should drop the footage of the 40 year old for the supermodel carwash promo, gotta use his looks before gets old and boring."
"Add more bloom, that shot's lighting looks like it was taken by a colorblind old bat."
Yep, support base of the Heroes, right here. "Um, hate to interrupt but I have your video junk." The head editor gives him a withering look before she snatches up the USB drives on his. "About time! Alright, people, we have the filler shots done. Splice in what you need and make it snappy!"
He sighs. He can't believe how naïve he was as Wild Tiger.
Of course this is all what the Hero industry is about: wooing the cameras to make heroics marketable. This room filled top to bottom with monitors, editors, and Photoshop are what make Heroes happen. They carefully craft the image the head cheese decided on, paste in the material their Hero gives, and sell it for profit. The business of Heroes is just as efficient and soulless as any other pencil-pushing office job.
Giving a quick glance, he drops his papers and boxes onto an empty desk while no one is looking and grabs a box of cleaning supplies.
At least there's a few perks.
"How ya doin' Kotetsu! God, it's good to see you here!"
Antonio Lopez gives his best friend a bone-shattering slap on the back.
"Oof! Careful, big guy, I need that spine for delivery runs."
Maintaining the exercise equipment meant Kotetsu could come and see his Hero friend during training hours. Seven years split as work friends meant nothing to Kotetsu and Antonio's longstanding friendship. They meet up for drinks most nights, though they keep to odd hours thanks to Kotetsu's schedule.
He looks around, not recognizing the other Heroes. Man, I really need a TiVo or something, 'cause I have only have a vague idea what all the other new Hero faces look like. His TopMag loyalty and functional poverty kept him from looking at other magazines for more than a glance. And his schedule only gave him time for Hero Radio, Sternbild's Number One Official Hero broadcast. There's no giant screens where he patrols, they would be stolen in two seconds flat.
A few of the other Heroes were starting their routines. Some cringing blonde kid is getting his ass handed to him by a tomboy kung fu girl. Another blonde guy (seriously, does Hero TV have, like, a quota to fill for towheads? With the rookie that's 70% of the cast here) sits at the chest press, sculpting his Charles Atlas physique.
Mr. New Guy's a no show. What, too good for the common rabble or something? He's not bitter. Not even a little. That other guy Fire Emblem isn't here either, so maybe they're ditching together.
For all his grief with the Hero business, Kotetsu couldn't help but feel his inner fanboy squee with glee.
Heroes! Right in front of him!
He didn't even care that he was there to clean sweaty seats and restock the towels.
He sees a fashionable teenage girl smile pointedly at him, and he smiles broadly back. See, they can even act like heroes off camera!
The she tosses her towel in his face.
"Hey towel boy, you mind washing that? Thanks! Oh, and remember to use the name brand detergent, not that generic stuff!"
Screw this. He wants to be hobo man again.
"MY EARS, THEY BLEED!"
"WHO USES BEEPERS NOWADAYS!?"
The Doom Beeper, his new nemesis, goes off like a chainsaw in a tin box. The Heroes struggle to protect their ears, earning him a very annoyed glare from the towel girl. Blushing, his legs automatically run for the door. Yup, rethinking my life choices right here.
Antonio looks after his friend solemnly, his words reaching no one in aftermath of The Doom Beeper. "Don't die, Kotetsu."
[MIDNIGHT, AT SNAKE OIL MECHANICS]
"So, this is where all the cars disappeared to, huh? The place is a dump, I have a feeling Hero TV won't want to shoot here. See, the big guys don't want to ruin Sternbild's appearance, rookie, don't want to show the city's money isn't exactly being well distributed."
"D-does that mean the Heroes won't come to save us? Wh-what are we gonna do, sarge? A-are we gonna go in after them?"
"Easy, rookie, we can't barge in with only two officers. There's too many dangerous guys in there, we need to wait for backup."
"B-but those robbers on the Gold Stage earlier took out three squad cars! And if Hero TV doesn't cover this area, there's no way anyone's going to get here in time!"
"Yup, things look preeeetty bad here."
"Sarge, aren't you worried?! That's an armed chop shop operation right there! They've taken over the neighborhood! They've got enough fire power to last through a siege! They're really, really bad guys and I'm kinda scared..."
"Oh, I'm worried all right. It's a nasty situation. No support from HQ, no word from the Heroes – seems as if we're all forsaken out here. Don't blame you for chickening out."
"I-I'm not a chicken…"
"Heh, sure kid. Luckily,"
A glimpse of a black and green streak flies into a warehouse window.
"These things have a way of working themselves out."
Okay, maybe taking on all these guys at once wasn't the smartest plan ever.
Here he makes the extra effort to make a stylish landing after smashing through the window, and what does he get? Bullets to the face. His reaction time activating Hundred Power is top notch, polished from the number of times he found himself in this exact situation. The bulletproof vest is a nice security blanket just in case.
Then again, if I could break out of Hero TV mode, I wouldn't be in these messes all the time, he muses as he charges the stunned car thieves.
He's careful with his punches. Don't want to crush their faces too bad. But it's no less effective. A short series of –THWACKS— later, with a particularly rowdy ruffian earning a trip out the window, and the floor is covered with groaning men.
Well, that was quick. The Hero TV director would have been disappointed with the footage. He feels his powers fade after a round of zip-tying and surveillance. He stretches and sighs in contentment. This is his mode – stopping baddies with no ridiculous obligations for the camera. Saving people is more important than getting back their stuff, but if the info's right…
He strolls up to a van and looks inside. It's a huge, very eco-unfriendly affair, as are the other cars in the shop. Large bodies with a lot of room to spare. Most of them are stripped to their metal skeletons, except for the one in front of him. It's covered in new paint and looks like a perfectly respectable vehicle, but Tiger knows for a fact that decent cars in the peripheral city don't exist.
He promptly rips the siding off (Hey, it was stolen goods anyway!) and sees exactly what he came for.
Jackpot. Flaming Peacock got it right on the—
A bullet hits the frame, barely missing his ear. He dives under the car as more shots fire. Reinforcements already?! How the hell did they get here so fast!?
The hail of gunfire ceases. "Heeey, we've got you surrounded, Bronze Tiger. Make this easy on us and come on out."
Yeah, forgive me for not caring about becoming target practice! Things can't be any worse, and even the threat of jinxing doesn't stop Tiger from cursing the situation. I'm surrounded by a bunch of guys with very big guns, there's the police out front, and I ran out of Hundred Power seven minutes ago because I wanted to look cool. This has been a FANTASTIC day.
He hears footsteps. He has to do something.
His fingers scramble around and hit a metal plank with wheels. A car creeper, he recalls. He also spies some bricks that no longer prop up the van, and a discarded tow rope. Above, the floor of the van is not as finished as the body, the space under the pedals empty.
A dusty lightbulb flashes in his head.
The armed men saunter closer to the truck they spotted that annoying busybody inspecting. They see the stripped siding and, by dumb luck or deliberate investigation, Tiger saw what lay underneath. He can't leave alive.
They raise their guns at the van…
…which at that instant, roars to life and lunges forward.
Startled, they jump out of the way, some more alarmed recruits firing wildly at the back. The van makes it ten feet before crashing into the side of a shelled Hummer.
The steadier members smirk. Such an obvious, desperate move. It suits the wannabe hero.
The let loose a deluge of bullets into the stalled car. The mechanic shop lights up from the gunfire. Casings litter the oil-stained floor. They pepper the van's windows, the doors, every place Bronze Tiger might be hiding..
As if they were amateur enough to come near such an obvious trap.
Twenty seconds of thundering gunshots is good enough.
They gesture, and two men walk cautiously towards the demolished back doors. They open the door…
And see bricks tied to the accelerator with a tow rope.
They jerk their heads behind them and see the man in that ridiculous coat knock down gunman after gunman with powerful, practiced punches.
They hear the click of their empty magazines – they completely unloaded on the rigged van. They frantically reload—and see a black fist with dull bronze knuckles streak for their faces.
As the thugs fall, defeated, they swear they hear their victorious opponent say something unbelievably stupid: "Looks like your roadside assistance didn't fit the grade! Wait a minute, I don't think that makes sense, um, gimme some feedback when you wake up."
Hm. I should ask Antonio for pointers on cool one-liners. It's tough without editors. He finishes the last zip tie and lets out an exaggerated sigh, his body sagging in relief.
Holy Pope in Rome, that was close. This isn't the first time he used his powers too soon and ended up in trouble. And with no other heroes to save his ass out here in the sticks, he needs to be a bit more flexible.
All things considered, he's pretty happy with how smooth the plan worked. Those thugs were so focused on the van they didn't think to look under the other pile of cars he deliberately crashed into.
Ow. That wheelie-bob thing worked a little too well. Cracked my head on an axle. He's surprised he was able to launch himself under the crashed cars without getting shot.
Aw, yeah! Master of strategies, right here. Then he looks at the bottom of his coat. "GAH!" Bullet holes pepper the bottom edge. Those idiots firing willy-nilly must have gotten lucky and shot his trailing coattail.
"Ah man! Look at what you jerks did! It's gonna take forever to mend this!" The only thing worse than being an illegal vigilante is being an illegal vigilante with no money. His badass coat has accumulated quite a few stitches and patches over the years. Why can't my invulnerability protect my clothes all the time?
Still grousing about tomorrow's sewing work, Kotetsu looks around and confirms the remains of the chop shop guys.
And the remains of the cars.
Bah! Who cares about property damage? I'm doing community service here!
Kotetsu sighs sagely. "Well, all's well that ends well, I guess."
"Don't count on it."
A red suit of armor flies towards Tiger.