Chapter 87

                “So… you’re back in.” Dean Jackson sat across from Owen with the same careful, measured expression he’d worn back before the name Titan meant more than someone took a class on Greek mythology. Of course, that had been decades ago, when Dean Jackson still had his dark hair and Owen was comparatively scrawny. Idly, Owen found himself wondering how many years the old warhorse had left in him. It was hard to imagine anyone running Sizemore aside from Herbert Jackson. It always seemed like he’d been there since the first brick was laid, and would continue running it until it was rubble.

                “I’m back in,” Owen confirmed. “For a few months now. Working as a Hero Liason for a team of PEERS.”

                Dean Jackson nodded, the wrinkles around his forehead bunching together as a thoughtful expression found its way to his face. “A fine job, working with good people. I’ve always felt the PEERS get short-changed; they do as much as good as we do, and without having to get blood on their hands.”

                “I can’t say I always agreed, but being with this team has made me realize how vital they are.” Owen was a bit surprised to hear Dean Jackson be so positive about PEERS. He could scarcely remember the man saying anything kind about anyone, save for the mightiest of Heroes that had come before. Then again, it had been a long time since they last talked. Perhaps time had tempered his perspective just as it had Owen’s.

                “To be frank, I was a little surprised to hear from you.” Now that the basic pleasantries were over, Dean Jackson was clearly moving things to the heart of the matter. He was a busy man with a lot on his mind, and as such he rarely bothered to beat around any bushes. It was one of the qualities Owen admired most in his former dean. “Getting back into the Hero world is one thing, and make no mistake I’m sleeping sounder knowing that you’re out there, but doing recruiting work is a bit stickier.”

                “The name Titan tends to earn some polarizing reactions,” Owen agreed. “And I understand completely if you don’t want me coming around the Sizemore booth. I just wanted to offer, in case it was something you decided would be beneficial. You know I love my alma mater.”

                “Yet you sent your sons to Lander,” Dean Jackson replied.

                Owen wasn’t exactly shocked that an HCP dean would be in the know about that, though he was taken slightly aback. Before he had a chance to defend himself, Dean Jackson continued, this time with what Owen thought might be a slight chuckle in his tone.

                “Relax, I understand why it was the best fit considering their… situation. My ego has long ago made peace with the fact that Dean Blaine is far more capable at neutralizing a Super than I am. Were they my students and things went awry, there’s no certainty that I could stop them without making it permanent.”

                “Thankfully, so far things have gone fine.” Owen wasn’t entirely sure how much Dean Jackson knew, so it seemed prudent to keep things as vague as possible.

                “Better than fine, that class they’re in seems to quite the strong one, yet they’re hanging in. It’s bad enough that all anyone can talk about for this year’s upcoming Intermurals is the golden girl from Lander and unstoppable boy from West. Damn thing is still months away and it’s like we other three schools are just already assumed to have lost. If I have to put with another year of it, I might end up popping the other deans in their mouths.”

                Dean Jackson leaned back slowly in his white plastic folding chair, the worn cushion underneath likely providing little-to-no comfort whatsoever.

                 “I’ll level with you: Sizemore could use a little help reminding people that we produce just as amazing of Heroes as everyone else. With Globe busting Relentless Steel out of prison last year, all people are talking about is the damn Class of Legends again. I’d love to rub their faces in Titan, one of our own legends. If you’re willing to do a little work here and there, I think we can at least draw in the students who look up to you for the top-tier ass-kicker you are.”

                “And what about the people who steer clear because they hate me?” Owen pointed out.

                “Fuck ‘em.” Dean Jackson rested his hands against each other, fingertips pressing on their counterparts. It was a position Owen had rarely seen his dean in when he was a student, but since graduation had come to learn as a signal that the older man was making a firm decision. “I’m not training the kind of milquetoast Heroes that would pass up a good education because an alumni happened to make a mistake, and I’m damn sure not going to teach someone who thinks your orientation effects how good a Hero you are. Even if no one thinks my HCP trains the strongest Heroes right now, I can still make sure I churn out ones that deserve to wear the title.”

                Owen certainly couldn’t argue with that sentiment, especially since he’d seen it in action first hand. Dean Jackson had tossed out more than a couple of students who might have had the potential for greatness, simply because they failed to live up to his standards of character. Sizemore Tech might not have as many Heroes who were household names as some of the other schools, but they also had the fewest number of Heroes turn criminal by a wide margin.

                “Well, dean, you let me know what I can do to help and I’ll be glad to pitch in. Sizemore gave a lot to me, I’m happy to give back to it.”

                “Don’t suppose you could re-enroll in time for Intermurals, could you? Now that would be an upset worth watching.” Dean Jackson chuckled to himself, then shook his head. “Never mind, never mind. We’ll just get them next year. For now, if you’re willing to stop by the booth during operating hours, maybe help out a recruiter with the more obstinate potential students, I think that will be fine. Likely more work will come down the line, but for now starting small seems best. Besides, according to the schedule you’ve got a panel to be at this afternoon.”

                “I’m all too aware,” Owen said, sighing heavily. “Why can’t every aspect of Hero work just be punching? That’s the part I’m good at.”

                “No argument here.” Dean Jackson pulled himself out of the chair with a single motion, no sign of his age present in the way he moved. “But, until the world devolves into a dystopian wasteland with nothing but constant combat, our kind will have to soldier on. Want to get some breakfast?”

                As it turned out, Owen very much did want breakfast, or at least a breakfast that wasn’t carefully calorically calculated. There was no amount of cooking preparation that could replace good old fashioned grease and salt.