Chapter 80

                Owen made his trip through the fairgrounds as quickly and covertly as a man made of muscle and bordering seven feet tall was capable of managing. Thankfully, Galvanize had gotten them there early enough that the majority of others in attendance were either workers getting the booths set up or fellow Supers who were preparing for their own morning activities. Many were in costume, some Heroes and no doubt a few corpies scattered in the mix, but by far more of the attendees wore uniforms from their respective Super Athletics Association teams. Just walking through at a brisk pace, Titan spotted several Fort Worth Juggernauts, a couple of the Tampa Atlanteans, and one relatively massive quarterback from the L.A. Crushers.

                While Owen took in the crowd, it was also clear the crowd was taking in him. The more polite ones simply glanced in his direction and looked away, but a few felt free to stare at the famous, disgraced Hero hurrying through the grounds, dearly wishing he’d paid more attention to the map in his schedule packet. For the most part, people kept their conversations about him whispered low enough to where he was thankfully unable to hear them, however, on occasion a word would rise up to greet him, and it was rarely a kind one.

                His brisk pace waned as Owen forced himself to slow down. This wasn’t a mission or rescue where he could get in and get out. He, and his team, were going to be here for several days. This walk was likely to be the easiest one’d have in that entire time; at least these people felt some professional courtesy towards him. If he wanted to get through it, Owen would have to do more than act like it wasn’t bothering him; he would actually have to not let it bother him. He’d known this was part of what he was walking back into when he put on the mask, there was no wiggling out it now.

                Now taking his time, moving slowly across the grounds, it took only a few more minutes of searching before he found the small building where he was supposed to do the morning’s panel. Old, brick, and no doubt built for some utilitarian purpose long before Brewster converted this area of its town into fairgrounds, it was still a high step up from the open tents that were being set up all around him. Near the front entrance, a small line of people in costume was already forming, people younger than some of Owen’s team milling about in the morning sun. He was a bit surprised at the number, Brewster alone didn’t have this many interns or rookies. Seemed folks from out of town had traveled in for the event, which made Owen worry this might all be a bigger deal than he’d registered.

                Pushing that thought out of his mind, he made his way around to the back entrance before anyone spotted him. He gave a polite nod to the lone worker stationed at the rear, a teenaged girl who looked to be in awe of all the famous figures around her, then pushed his way through the door and into the building. Owen had barely made it five steps before he heard a familiar, though not always friendly, voice call to him.

                “Well I’ll be. Seems you really did sign up for this event. Aether was certain someone had put your name down as a joke.” Gale, fully costumed and a bit bleary eyed from the early hour, stood from her small metal folding chair and walked over to Owen, giving his hand a quick shake as soon as they drew close.

                “I wasn’t certain. I just said it seemed unlikely that he’d choose to spend time at such an unremarkable venue,” Aether corrected. She didn’t rise from her seat, but she did give Owen a polite nod and gentle smile.

                There were two more open chairs sitting at the long table that stretched across the makeshift stage, one far larger than the other and made of reinforced material, clearly set-up with Titan’s renowned size in mind. Counting Gale and Aether, that made for a panel of four, which was a healthy size given the intimate setting and small room. In just the three Heroes present, there was also a large amount of power and career diversity. Gale was the leader of a team that had been passed down for decades, and a powerful elemental manipulator to boot. Aether could speak to running a team with unusual power sets, as Transcendental Justice was an effective, if unorthodox, composition of Heroes. Owen himself had the experience to talk about what it was to be a strongman, to run a team, to fall from the public’s grace, and to work as a Hero Liaison. The only area they’d need to cover in order if they wanted to answer all the questions these kids might have was Subtlety.

                “I do not, for the life of me, know how you lot put up with arriving early to these things. Time is too precious to be pissed away on waiting around.”

                Owen did a half-turn, already knowing what he would find. Sure enough, standing there in the sort of simple, unremarkable costume that was the fashion with many Subtlety Heroes, stood Jeremiah. It looked strange on him, and it took Owen a minute to realize that this was the first time he’d ever seen Jeremiah in full gear, out in the field. Every other time they’d met he’d been behind the scenes, not out in public. Having finally seen him in costume, Owen could easily say that the other version suited him far better.

                There was little doubt Jeremiah agreed as he tugged at his mask and collar, clearly uncomfortable in the elaborate get up. That didn’t stop him from greeting Gale and Aether though, before finally making his way through the room and arriving in front of Owen.

                “Ready to dole out the pearls of wisdom from years of accolades and fuck ups?”

                “As ready as I can be when I have no idea what the kids are going to ask me. Haven’t exactly done one of these in a while, and I’ve been out of the field for a long time,” Owen admitted.

                “Please, the questions out of the newbies’ mouths never change. They’ll ask about how whether to pick a team or create one, what it was like to fight some criminal that we don’t remember but they studied meticulously, and if we have any tips for not dying. Same stuff we asked about when we were doing internships.” Jeremiah paused, glancing toward the front door where soon a dozen or so young Heroes would come streaming in. “Just try and make them feel at ease. Nothing we say in these things is likely to make much of a difference in the field, but we can at least give them some hope and confidence. That’s what they really came out for.”

                “I’ll keep that in mind.” Owen could hear the bustling of feet moving, a clear indicator that the door had just been opened. “Glad you were able to come out as well. All of you, really. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these with three different team leaders on it.”

                “You’re the one to thank for that,” Jeremiah replied, starting to head toward his seat. “We were approached about filling out the empty slots after so many others turned it down. Or did you think it was coincidence that the only people willing to sit on a panel with you, to be publicly associated with such a polarizing figure, were the ones who you’d personally worked with before?”

                Owen stared at the drably costumed man as he walked away, then took his own reinforced seat. It was nice to walk slow, keeping his chin up and trying to be strong, but he also couldn’t let himself forget how most of the Hero world still viewed him: as nothing but a scandal and a fuck up.

                He tried to keep that thought out of his head as the first costumed body entered the room and made a beeline for the front row.