Chapter 81

                 “Today, we’re here to talk to you about what comes next. While you had ample time to go over the Hero occupation and world during the time you spent at your respective HCPs, by now you’ve all gotten at least a few months of real world experience under your belt. As such, the questions and concerns that you now have are likely different from a student’s, who had only theoretically delved into what it means to be a Hero.” Gale’s voice rang through the small building easily, keeping every back straight and ear attentive. Owen had to admit, whatever bad blood had passed them between since he arrived, there was no question that the woman could command a room.

                “Now, we are not here to speak over your mentors, they are of course the best font of wisdom any of you has access to. But, that said, no Hero has experienced every aspect of this life personally. We may be able to address questions regarding different specialties, or career paths, than what your mentors have dealt with. Please ask anything you like, though I do recommend you keep all inquiries respectful. Regardless of what our individual pasts may be, we are all up here because we have wisdom to share.” Speech done, Gale took her own seat and motioned to the event worker who was standing down near the front with a clipboard.

                The woman hurried forward so fast she nearly fell over, scanning down her clipboard and calling up a young woman wearing a bright uniform that seems to span the entire spectrum of colors. She rose from her seat near the back and walked briskly to the front as the worker ticked the name off the list. Ordinarily, this was where the enterprising Hero would have been given a microphone, but in such a small space adding any sort of audio equipment was a waste of money.

                “Hi there. I’m Lorikeet. Korman Graduate, and second year intern. My question was for Aether. Are there many teams out there like Transcendental Justice, or did you found yours because there was no other fit for you?”

                Given Lorikeet’s odd name and stranger costume, Owen had a hunch that the question was more personal than academic. While many Supers fell into easily classifiable categories where they could be lumped together, the fact that no two were ever completely alike could lead to some strange powers. Lorikeet was either very smart or very strong though, she’d have never made it out of the HCP without one of those traits, but it didn’t mean her power would easily fit into an existing team’s dynamic.

                As Aether talked about founding her team cooperatively with the rest of her group, being chosen as leader by a vote she had no hand in, Owen’s thoughts drifted back to the founding of his old team: The Gentle Hammers. Unlike those with odd powers, they could have easily been worked into any other team’s arsenal; there was never a shortage of need for those who could lift trucks and shrug off bullets. Still, they’d all decided to band together anyway, opting to go out and try and run things their way rather than being relegated to the role of mindless muscle, a stereotype thrust on strongmen since the earliest days of Hero work.

                The sound of applause jerked Owen out of his stupor, and he realized that Aether had finished answering. He joined in the clapping, better late than never, as Lorikeet headed back to her seat and a young man wearing a black and gold color scheme stepped forward. There was something a bit archaic about the design woven into his costume, though Owen didn’t have the historical sense to place where it was from. When the man reached the front, he scanned the panel, eyes narrowing a touch when he saw Titan, then continuing on until he was staring Jeremiah dead on.

                “My name is Hop-Frog, and yes it’s after the Poe story. First year intern, graduated from West Private University. My question is for Jeremiah. As a fellow Subtlety Hero, and a proud gay man, did you find the Hero world a welcoming place once you were out of your intern years?”

                “Hell no,” Jeremiah replied immediately. “And it started long before I got out of my internship. But, if I’m being honest here, the Subtlety thing has been far more a road block for me than being gay. Lots of Hero teams out there understand what it is we do and bring to the table, so they’ll let us join up, but it’s always with that attitude. ‘Letting us’, like we’re being done a favor by getting the chance to come on board and help save lives while keeping our team safe. I’m not going to paint with a wide brush and say every team is this way; in fact I know firsthand that the Subtlety Hero on Transcendental Justice considers herself a valued member of the group. That said, it’s still the way of thinking in a lot of the older, more established teams. Your options are either to put up with it, find a group that treats you right, or start your own damn team. In case you couldn’t tell, I opted for the latter.”

                Hop-Frog started to head back to his seat, but Jeremiah held up a hand to stop him. “Now, as for how being gay has impacted my career, I won’t sugarcoat that either. There have been times when I could have signed on to teams with clout and prestige, and all I would have had to do is put up with some other member who had very firm thoughts about people’s sexuality. Luckily, I had enough pull of my own to tell them to go fuck themselves, but that’s not the case for everyone. And this has gotten much better as time moved on and the older opinions died out. Were I trying to make it as an openly gay Hero even a few decades back, it probably would have been a whole different story. Back then, even admitting a simple truth about yourself could cost people their entire life’s work. It forced a lot of good people to live lies, all so they could keep doing what they loved: saving lives.”

                His speech over, Jeremiah lowered his hand and let the intern hustle back to his seat. The worker called another up, who began scrambling down the aisle. Up on stage, Owen looked down to Jeremiah, who made no effort to meet his eyes. Though Titan hadn’t been mentioned once in the discussion, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind what Jeremiah had been really talking about. It was a kind, unexpected show of unity.

                And a nice reminder to Owen that not everyone wearing a mask thought the worst of him.