Closed Hard Times, Harder Questions, with Jake Flanagan

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on smoke break, bother somebody else
Staff member


"... unveiling a new initiative partnered alongside MIRA to try and combat childhood obesity in public schools. I mean, didn't we already do this with the Obama admin? When asked about the similarity, Director Stone said 'Well, yes, but now we have a hero that can give you a liposuction. He's touring the country now...'."

It was Hard Times, Harder Questions, with Jake Flanagan. A late-night talk show with a political leaning-- primarily focusing upon a centrist, rational approach. Really, Flanagan was practically insufferable, but the appearance would be easy enough for the three heroes.

"... and I mean, really, you have all these Jurors running around in... plate armor, ballistic vests, using guns... I mean, I feel like I'm walking through Iraq, not Manhattan. Half-expecting Cheney to pop out of a dumpster and ask me if I've gotten my thyroid checked before I'm shipping off..."

He was "tough, but fair". Softball interviewer. A bipartisan hack, as critics liked to call him, though he was easy enough to get along with. No crew abuse allegations, either, so despite the personality, he seemed like a decent enough person for MIRA to send over some representatives. Tonight's topics were just discussing recent developments in the doppler system they were designing alongside DARPA, as well as various initiatives to promote humanitarian efforts. The main X-factor was Monsoon being there, but there wasn't much riding on the appearance.

".... though the increased frequency of metahuman attacks arrives alongside the unveiling of MIRA's latest development in citizen security-- the PMPD SafeCity app. It boasts real-time tracking of Juror teams, monitors response times, and gives updates on local events... and for a premium subscription, you can use the Uber: Scramjet rideshare app."

A laugh from the audience. The graphic behind him depicted a photoshop of Scramjet, blurred and running-- a businessman riding piggyback with a briefcase. "Yeah, beats the metro, I'd say. Just hop on, and..." A little musical sting from the in-house band. The host pulled on his tie, a bit, then moved to the desk, sitting down at it.

"But that's enough of This Week's Hard Times. We've got a great show for you tonight-- examining growing tensions at the Russia-Germany border, dissecting the myths of espionage on the west coast, and taking a look at Fielder's initiatives for a MIRA enlistment... but first, please give a warm welcome to our boys-and-girl in spandex-- MIRA Specialists Monsoon, Gilgamesh, and Songbird, our special guests for tonight!"

Raucous applause. Cheers. The band played them on-- it'd be up to them to do the rest. The table panel awaited, along with whatever interview this was going to be. Softballs, was what they'd been told. Though who really knew, with hosts like this?

10:00 p.m.

I don't wear spandex, Monsoon thought with dismay.

This was supposed to be an easy assignment, one for which he would be grateful. But there was an unmistakable tension in his jaw - the perpetual frown that had become part of his character over the last decade or so, one which reflected itself in the roiling clouds far overhead. Through focus, he kept any thundering to an absolute minimum. One rumble was enough to send the likes of Jake Flanagan into a veritable comedic conniption.

To other MIRA agents, this would effectively be considered a day off. He'd wasted his. His eyes cracked open at 8:00 a.m., and gray clouds whorled overhead as they usually did. When he saw the time on his phone, he'd groaned, rolled over, and completely failed to get out of bed, despite having set three alarms. Another fruitless attempt at 1:00 p.m.; then, hunger finally drove him to the kitchen. He kept the curtains in his apartment drawn; he didn't need to see outside to know that it was definitely raining, and that it was more likely than not his doing, but he'd feel guilty about it if he saw anyone without their umbrella. Making it sunny was like flexing a muscle all day, and he was too tired for that.

Breakfast/lunch was a microwaved sausage-patty Egg McMuffin-thing, feebly insufficient to meet his nutrional needs. It was halfway through heating up when he decided he didn't want it at all, but by that point, he'd already put it in the microwave, and it'd be a waste to just throw it out. He ate it slowly over the next two or so hours. Usually he'd start the day with a shower, but with the appearance tonight on Flanagan, he'd be better off waiting. When not in uniform (only at home, never in public), he wore a bathrobe and slippers. A notification on his phone reminded him to exercise. Objective: failed.

No. Incomplete, he thought with a sigh, massaging the bridge of his nose with his thumbs. There was so much he could've done, but he wound up doing nothing but waiting for that night - waiting for orders.

When did he turn into such a drone?

Now it was time to go on stage with the others. He'd exchanged precious few words with Songbird and Gilgamesh, other than a customary "Hello, how are you? I'm well, thanks." Instead of his oversized operations goggles, which would be ruthlessly lampooned on television, he wore a smaller pair under his drawn hood, an iconic element of the Monsoon Anti-Weather Power Poncho™. He usually came off as aloof to others, a man of few words.

Outside, the rain gently washed over the roof of the studio. He was monitoring it carefully - so carefully, he almost missed his cue.

"Hello, Jake."

He manually smiled, then rigidly took a seat.

Better to let Gilgamesh lead with this one. He'd do what he could to keep the weather under control.

Don't get political, he reminded himself.
Rowan had watched Jake's show before, once.

She thought it was awful, but most late night talk shows were, in her opinion. Only a few struck that perfect balance between good jokes and good interviews. Most of them didn't have either, some had one of the other. She thought he was mostly on the neither side, though sometimes he had a good quip or two. Hell, maybe if she knew Scramjet a little better, that one would've been good.

This type of assignment was normal, for her. Public appearances were exactly what she was suited for. Rowan took great strides to make sure she looked good and felt good, even on days where she was doing field work. Every morning, she woke up with the sun, earlier if she felt it was rising too late. A strict schedule for her meals, morning workouts most days of the week. Maybe another one later in the day, if she didn't have anything demanding, work wise. That morning had been no different from any other, and she'd spent most of her day going through her regular routine.

Hannah had stopped by before she left for this, sometime in the afternoon. They hung out a while, though nothing was particularly notable. She spent several hours ensuring her hair and makeup were good, and on the honestly short trip here, to the studio, she reviewed Jake's personality, and the people she'd be appearing with.

Monsoon was the quiet type. He was a Flex agent, like herself, though he tended more towards wet work. She wasn't unfamiliar with it, but their paths hadn't crossed in some time, and she was mostly certain they'd never done an actual job together before.

Gilgamesh, on the other hand, she was quite familiar with. Again, she'd not done field work with him, that much she was sure of. He was a cloak, and quite a flashy one, at that, and tended towards being involved in incidents, rather than cleaning up after. He had a certain stylistic charm about him, though, and it was a look similar to what she'd tailored for herself, though not quite as flashy. As such, they'd made public appearances together before, he as a fan favorite and up-and-coming hero, herself as a symbol that the danger was over, and a known and established hero.

They walked out just as the band started playing. Rowan put on her grandest smile and waved to the live audience- practiced and easy. She wasn't in spandex either, instead dressed much more like the celebrity she was meant to act as tonight: high waisted skirt, maroon turtleneck, long jacket, and heels.

"Happy to be on, Jake," she said as she took the middle seat, between Monsoon and where Gilgamesh would soon be sitting.



"13. Do I really have to go on that wet napkin's-14-broadcast twice in one fucking month? 15."

He took his hands off the rubber wrapped grips and peeled his sweat covered back from the pleather seat of the incline press machine.

"It's easy press Lucius" His PA chimed back. "Last time you were on his show 3 separate clips went viral and each clip boosted your points with the 16-31 demographic. MIRA wants to capitalize by having you go back on before the buzz completely dies away. Social is already workshopping some meme formats based on the pre-approved questions"

A random intern ran up with a towel to try and wipe the sweat off his brow. She shot a timid hand towards him which slowed down to a halt 2 inches from his face. He could see her muscles tensing along her arm as her brain continued pushing while trying to figure out how to proceed. He gave her a sweaty smile and grabbed the towel. "Thank you. Run down to the store and grab me a MetRX bar, the apple pie one." She nodded her head and scurried out of the room. "Do they not fucking tell these interns anything? It's one thing to not pay them but, to let them look stupid on top of that is fucked up Angie."

The PA rubbed her brow and let out a soft sigh. She was used to him changing subjects when she was right; it didn't make it anyless insufferable.

"Style is recommending a more casual fit for the show. Testing has shown that it will make you look 'based' which they estimate will lead to a minimum of a 0.5% bump."

He clicked his watch timer, made his way over to the cable stack, hooked up a rope grip, and started on his tricep pushdowns. "Have them prep the Brunello Cucinelli Paisley with the Chevron Solaro's. No Blazer or tie. G. Ponti-2's for the glasses"

"Will do. Last thing, you're gonna be on with Monsoon and Songbird. I already pulled their files for you to review. They're in the locker room."

"You know me so well" He smiled at her and went back to his workout.

Monsoon was an enigma. Partially forward facing as a hero but, he did far more dagger work behind the scenes. The two had barely interacted before, mainly because Monsoon was the type of hero who didn't really divide or unite audiences. He was the type of hero that was liked, not loved.

Contrast that with himself and Songbird, who was one of the agents he got compared to often. (Their past interactions had been press related, since their powers suited different aspects of the job, and their personas complimented each other. There had been some light shipping on some less popular forums but, nothing that warranted leaning into that narrative.) He couldn't help but feel like MIRA might've been testing the waters on some type of B-Team here. A nice diverse spread of personalities and complimentary personas.

The band played them on and he walked out. Shooting a smile to the crowd as he moved to his seat. "Surprised you wanted me back after last time Jake" Gilgamesh chuckled a bit after the jab. Social wanted him to covertly slip bits of their pre-planned narrative into this.


"Sit, sit! Happy to have you all on, of course, as well. Gilgamesh is on thin ice, though. That was my favorite mug you shattered, you know." Referring, of course, to a practical demonstration of Gilgamesh's powers that-- predictably-- resulted in a mug shattered. Pre-planned. Stagework was an art, after all, and organic moments like that were oh-so hard to come by.

"Monsoon, I appreciate the clear skies on the drive over here," Jake started off strong, getting a chuckle from the audience. "And, I will-- I will come clean, here, and confess that I do have an unpaid parking ticket, maybe a few overdue library books." Another laugh from the audience. "First, though, can we get a round of applause for what these guys do? I mean-- saving people's lives every day, it's--" Applause nearly overpowered the sound of his voice, and he gave a pause, gesturing to the three across from him with a wide smile before leaning back in his chair. "-- it's crazy. Could never do what you do, I just sit here and read jokes. I want-- I want to launch into this, make sure we use our time wisely. And I want to hear this from all of you. What's it like, living with PMPD? Working with MIRA, being a Juror? How's the job been treating you, lately? Benefits good? Generous PTO?" Another little bit of laughter, from the audience.


"I'll talk to my people about getting you a replacement. I'm thinking 'One Of The Hosts Of All Time'." Gil quipped back. He was sure to slightly chuckle at the low hanging fruit that was the Monsoon joke. He smiled and waved at the audience, playing coy with the eruption of praise. Every motion rehearsed and planned to be feel as genuine as possible. He couldn't help but savor the feeling of being in his element.

"It's a difficult one Jake. I can't speak for the others but, I know that if it wasn't for all the training MIRA gave us I wouldn't be half the man I am today." Textbook response. "I'd probably have to settle for being a talk-show host or something" Subtle jab; play it off with a hearty laugh. "Hahaha, but seriously if it wasn't for you guys putting your trust in us we wouldn't be able to do the work we do so how about a round of applause for you all." Play the audience, make them feel important, and then pullback to let someone else have some time. Hogging all the questions reduced the effectiveness of his own in the eyes of the viewers while also damaging potential audience crossover between himself and the other cloaks at the table.

She had to give it to him, this was a good first batch of questions. She knew it was all preplanned, that these were meant to be easy to answer, but even still Rowan found herself giving a more genuine smile than she expected tonight. With a tilt of the head, humble acceptance of the applause, she waited for Gilgamesh to finish his answers.

"It's definitely different. PMPD is something you don't really even know you have, right up until one of the toughest times of your life. Up until then, things can be pretty normal, but if a test doesn't catch it, or if you don't go in for regular screenings, it can really turn your life upside down. Be sure to get screened, you don't want to be surprised by this, trust me." She pointed to the crowd, making it known she was serious, before turning her attention back to Jake.

"MIRA's great, though. I can't speak for the other two's personal experience. but the work we do feels so important, and fulfilling. I don't know where I'd be, if not for what I do, but I know for sure I'd be enjoying it a lot less."
Monsoon wasn't particularly nervous in front of cameras. For a man with such dramatic powers, attention wasn't a big deal. What bothered him was the pressure - that if he got annoyed, the gentle patter of rainfall on the roof would become a storm. The people he worked with directly on the MIRA-NASA joint unit knew that he wasn't flexing, or lashing out, or losing his temper when things like that happened - on the official record, Monsoon hadn't lost his temper in twelve years.

No, people would know if he lost his temper. He wasn't managing anger - he was mitigating annoyance. The recurring thought: I don't want to be here right now. He wanted to just get up and walk out.

Flanagan's joke about the weather merited a response. He couldn't emote with his eyes behind the goggles, so he let his tight lips curl upward for a fraction of a second before they reset into their perpetual-neutral frown.

The talk show host, after a bout of laughter, decided to get into questioning. The first was a softball for all of them. Gilgamesh knocked it out of the park with audience participation, and Songbird provided an excellent personality foil, mature, conscientious, and mission-focused. Then silence fell as Flanagan looked at him expectantly. He was still expecting him to contribute.

"Well...I influence weather patterns."

No theoretical physics discussion here - no mention of exotic particles or meteorological phenomena that would bore the audience out of their wits - but he was very careful to not say "I control the weather." That was the sort of line that contributed to a reductive, oversimplified understanding of what it was that he did - and one that created popular expectations for him among the general public...

A moment of silence followed his reply as he realized that he'd answered the question wrong, but at this point, there wasn't much to do to correct it. He just let the simple statement stand.

Let him break the silence.

After another second passed, he cleared his throat.

"Hahah!" Jake replied to Gilgamesh's bit of banter, slapping the desk softly as he leaned back in his chair. He played the part of fool quite well, and was able to switch gears back to a more serious state once the Juror invited the audience to clap for themselves. Eager to play a part in the process, the crowd ate it up-- a wave of clapping came and went, leaving a neat vacuum of power for Songbird to step into. "For sure. Definitely," Flanagan replied, nodding along with Rowan's words-- a good listener when he had to be. The crowd was receptive to her; the bit about making sure to get checked, as was so prevalent everywhere, was also received with light applause. Proactivity was peace and safety, after all, and PMPD was an ugly thing to manifest.

And then there was Monsoon.

Expecting more, there was a bout of silence between Jake and the Juror as the talk-show host leaned forward, a bit-- until the quiet persisted, followed by the clearing of Monsoon's throat. There was a bit of awkward laughter on behalf of the crowd, as if the odd answer was some sort of bit; a moment later, Jake gave a soft laugh, leaning back in his chair.

"Ever-humble, Monsoon. And a man of few words." Another soft laugh from the crowd. "Love the answers from all three of you. Now, you have your MIRA identities, your Juror titles-- and what's it like to step out of that... well, for lack of a better term, costume? Not planning on giving supervillains any ideas, here, but what do you guys like to do for fun? Do you ever really clock out?"

Again, an invitational for all three to respond.

They must have forgotten to brief Monsoon.

Rowan sat in that awkward silence, looking between the host and her fellow agent. His clearing his throat nearly got a laugh from her, but she managed to hold it in, though the live studio audience clearly couldn't She couldn't blame them, honestly, but soon enough, Jake realized that Monsoon had nothing else to add, and continued on with the interview without further incident.

"Well..." she began, cocking her head to the side as she took a moment to consider. It would be difficult to answer, given how personal it was, but it was still a good question. "Well, and I can't answer for these two," she said, tapping either of them on the arm, "and to be perfectly honest, I can't say that I do. Obviously, we get time to ourselves, and time to relax and be more, for lack of a better term, normal, but if there's an incident, we have to be ready to respond, you know? I clock out, but I'm always on call, if that makes sense. It's important work, and if I ignored an incident, and someone got hurt, I don't know if I could relax, after that."

With the more pressing second half of the question answered, she moved to the much easier first half. "As far as that leisure time, I read. I go to movies, have dinner with friends, go out to drink. Just- nothing spectacular. It's time to relax, right?"


Every muscle in his stomach locked up to stop anyone from seeing how close he was to bursting out laughing at Monsoon's response. If Monsoon knew how much potential his brand had off of quote generation alone he would've been a genuine threat to their rankings. It made him the perfect compliment to himself and Songbirds more practiced interview style.

"I couldn't have put it better myself." He chimed in. "I have a few hobbies though. I'm a huge fan of fantasy novels, we have an office DND game, & recently I've taken up Piano."

All things considered, he'd answered...poorly. But as a unit, the team was working well. Flanagan played it off and everything went right back to normal, as if he'd not fucked up at all. And if he didn't react, when questioned about it later, maybe people would think it was a bit - part of an inscrutable persona. He could do with some mystique, maybe. Compared to the brash and confident Gilgamesh, and the straightforward Songbird, he could be...enigmatic.

It was a bit late for a pivot, though, and the direction of questioning - which he was now paying closer attention to - led more toward the mundane. When Songbird tapped him on the arm, he was decidedly nonreactive. He managed a small smile, enough to come off as human, instead of a weather-controlling slab.

New topic: hobbies.

Songbird's response was perfect, of course. Very natural. Gilgamesh's surprised him a little. The suave savant had a nerdy side. But then, that had really become mainstream since the early 2020s. He knew his Tolkien, but he didn't want to copy Gilgamesh, and it didn't really define him. Flanagan wanted an original answer - something that would make him more personable.

He didn't really watch TV. He didn't read. He didn't risk drinking, which could lead to a natural disaster.

Monsoon didn't really emote much, but he did simply provide the following:

"I have a snow globe collection. And a ship in a bottle that I'm working on."

His lips tightened a little.

The ship in the bottle set was actually unopened, but one day day.

"Ah, always a fan of seeing a movie, myself, though I haven't had much experience with DnD." Jake replied, nodding. "Must be hard trying to go out to AMC as Songbird or Gilgamesh, though. Can imagine the crowds. Monsoon could just put up a cloud cover, though, so he's got you beat there," He stated, making a quick joke before turning to the Flex agent proper. "The snowglobe collection is certainly thematic. Wonder if you could make a little mini-storm in that bottle..."

He let the question linger for a moment-- offering a chance for input from any of the Jurors-- before straightening his posture and nodding, moving onto the next round of questions. "Well. Gilgamesh, I know you've recently had a bank robbery in Manhattan stopped; I think I actually use that bank, so let me be the first to--" The audience was already escalating into applause as Jake pointed out the Juror's successful operation, though he kept talking through the noise "-- thank you. And, Monsoon-- recent unveiling of the new doppler tech in development. Has to be exciting to get hands-on testing with that, yeah?" He looked to Songbird, then. "And what about you, Songbird? What heroics have you been up to, lately? Any lives saved, kittens taken from trees?"

He gave a smile-- an oafish, purportedly genuine smile-- and leaned back in his chair, addressing the group as a whole, now. "If you had to tell the new generation of heroes growing up now anything-- anything at all-- what would it be?"
Of course, her blood ran cold near instantly. Her smile was, for all intents and purposes, a mask now, hiding the several dozens of thoughts running through her mind. A lot of them wanted to accost Flanagan for asking such an insensitive question, to leave what he shouldn't know alone- but that was the thing. He didn't know. Couldn't have, really. Monsoon and Gilgamesh certainly didn't. The only person on this set who knew what Songbird had been up to lately, work wise, was the woman herself.

She'd intentionally distanced herself from the aftermath. Rowan didn't want to know if they found the body, what the family had to say. She instead got lost in the details of those who'd gotten away, and what little Blood Pact had been willing to share with MIRA analysts. They hadn't gotten anywhere.

Had she saved any lives? Somehow, she thought, through some convoluted chain of connections, she hoped so. The smile had never flinched. "I've been mostly sticking to local, small scale stuff. Not exactly as tough as these two," she said, nudging either agent to either side, "so unless it's something big, that needs everyone available, I try to take care of the small stuff so the big hitters can stop the guys with the guns."

Maybe, if they'd sent Monsoon, things would've gone differently. Ciccetti wouldn't have gotten away, certainly. Maybe Tommy wouldn't have-

No, not the time. Maybe- Hannah would maybe be willing to chat. Clear her head. After the interview, though. Right, a second question. She cleared her throat.

For the next generation, huh? Probably just keep your head on your shoulders. Take it a day at a time. This isn't easy work, but it's necessary, I think. We have a responsibility to keep everyone as safe as we can, and that can be stressful. Take care of yourself, just as much as you do everyone else."
"Khm..." he cleared his throat.


Monsoon shifted in the chair a bit after Songbird answered Flanagan's question. He had the creeping sense that he was somehow bombing the interview, and that it'd just be another opportunity to throw on the pile. His mind wandered to the episode in the Southwest. Best not to mention that.

He had to think of something to say to the next generation of heroes. It'd felt like an eternity had passed. Were they looking at him? They were, right?

Whether Gilgamesh had started speaking first or not, he plowed forward, his bassy voice reciting a go-to phrase plucked from the inner recesses of his mind:

"If you or a loved one manifest symptoms of PMPD, consult a local PMPD hotline to schedule an appointment with a Parametabolic Specialist."

He tapped his thumbs together.

"Don't...ah...wait too long."

He kept his face strictly neutral.

Jake was right about the crowds being some of the most infuriating parts of his job, when it came to trying to be a normal person. The trouble was that voicing it was shown to drop a cloaks ratings. Instead Gilgamesh rolled his eyes and gestured his hand to brush off anything of the sort.

"Glad your pockets are protected Jake" He joked back at the hosts thanks. Songbird gave a pretty succinct answer (expected since this was their forte) and he left room for Monsoon to get a word in. That might've been a mistake. Maybe his team hadn't briefed him, or done enough camera training, because he was one more prewritten answer away from becoming a walking meme. That wasn't a bad angle to take but, Monsoon had the type of power that Gilgamesh wanted on his side when he reached the top.

He laughed a bit at the heroes answer before chiming in "While it sounds like an advertisement Monsoon isn't wrong. It's important to get checked out. Some PMPD manifestations are much more destructive than others. I really can't stress enough the type of tragedy that can strike when they aren't discovered in time."

"Other than that I'd say that PMPD isn't a gift or a curse. It doesn't make you less human or better than others. Its just something that we humans can develop. Like blue eyes or brown ones."