Chapter 88

               For all the worry he’d had about standing in front of people, publicly representing Sizemore Tech, Owen’s morning was shockingly uneventful. He sat around with the recruiter, a nice young man who was paid by the DVA to help potential students understand what the HCP entailed, and occasionally answered a question from nervous teen.

                While Titan might have been a household name a couple of decades ago, the vast majority of the kids he talked to had only a cursory knowledge, at best, of who he was. Even if he’d been in his prime though, Owen had forgotten that most teenagers, especially Supers interested in the HCP, were far too nervous about their own future to worry about much else. In his time at the booth, Owen spent the vast majority of his time discussing whether or not a power could make it in the HCP, since that was the first question out of nearly every potential applicant’s mouth.

                To nearly all of them, Owen gave the same answer: for admission, power is less important than the person. These Supers would find their limits in the HCP, and at that time they would learn if it was enough to let them make the cut, but for just getting in to be a freshman, one’s power was almost secondary. Determination, willpower, strength of character, and guts all counted just as much, if not more, than what ability a student was born with. True, those who failed to improve or keep up would quickly be culled in the freshman year, but everyone who applied with at least a decent power had a shot. Save, of course, for those with completely useless abilities, and Powereds.

                Powereds were heavy on Owen’s mind as he finished his time at the booth and began the trek across the fairgrounds. He’d left plenty of time to reach the pavilion before Galvanize’s deadline, so he paused to swing by a tent that was sponsored by Shelby’s House, the largest charity for Powereds in the nation. The small staff was trying to coax passersby into donating their time at any of the local chapters in Brewster. Every one of the workers was young, and a few were charming enough that they’d actually gotten people to stop. Still, it was a losing battle, as it had always been. No one liked to think too much about Powereds. What they were, what they represented, or the problems they caused.

                Owen had never taken his sons to a chapter of Shelby’s House, being a Hero meant he could have experts assess their condition. Being a famous Hero also meant he had the spare income to take care of them, and to make sure they had the chance to come to peace with their abilities. Titan, on the other hand, had spent a large chunk of his time at chapters of Shelby’s House across the nation. He’d given as much time as he could spare to the organization that only luck and career choice had spared him from needing. Of course, knowing what he did about Hershel and Roy, Owen was keyed in to the fact that in the next decade or so, Powereds might become a thing of the past.

                “Excuse me; I’d like to sign up to volunteer.”

                The copper-haired woman stared up at him, visibly craning her neck to take in the giant of a man standing before her. Unlike the teenagers, she definitely recognized him, and the nervous shifting of her eyes made it clear that she wasn’t sure what to do with the offer. Heroes usually went through different channels, they didn’t sign up with workers on at a booth.

                “You… know what we do here, right?”

                Owen smiled and gave her a large nod. “I very much do. And I’d like to help.” Carefully, Owen took the pen and clipboard from her hand and scratched the name “Titan” along with his contact information. It was a message service that Heroes used, one that would see to it he got any calls or e-mail that were wanted and kept out the waves of spam or harassment.

                “I’m not trying to do PR work or anything. I can sweep floors if you need it. Whatever helps.” Owen handed the young woman back the clipboard, which she accepted limply with her jaw still half-opened. Without another word, he turned and started toward the pavilion once again.

                Behind him, Owen could already hear the crowd forming around the workers, people who’d been ignoring their calls suddenly desperate to find out what was happening with the volunteers of Shelby’s House. If he was lucky, word would spread, and they’d spend the day getting the attention that was really due to their cause. The day Titan had signed up would be filled with people wanting to chip in within the hour, that much was a given. It wasn’t a lot, in the grand scheme of things, but it was what he could do for now. After all, a cure in ten years wasn’t much help to the Powereds just trying to make it through the week.

                The rest of the trip to the pavilion was uneventful, assuming one didn’t count the usual array of stares and whispers that cropped up as he walked through the fairgrounds. Owen walked past a security guard manning the back entrance, pausing to give the man a handshake, and made his way up a narrow set of stairs. Though, in fairness, the stairs wouldn’t have been narrow for anyone else, but that was the curse of carrying around so much mass.

                “And there he is!” Hexcellent said, sitting in a small make-up chair. The other three were seated alongside her, being touched up by the staff Mordent had hired to ensure they looked their best. It was, after all, a public appearance, and they were the faces of several Mordent brands. One of the men holding a handful of brushes looked at Owen, who simply pointed to his mask. No need to work on what nobody could see.

                “Am I late or something?” Owen made his way over to the side of the room and sat down carefully on a large box, which thankfully held his weight.

                “Since you didn’t need to be checked over, you’re right on time,” Galvanize assured him. “Mr. Greene requested the rest of us come a bit earlier than we’d planned to make certain we were the best representation of the company that we could be.”

                “Personally, I think he just got wind of how many people were coming to this thing and decided to doll us up,” Bubble Bubble added, tilting her head back as the staff member applied her eyeliner.

                “This might not be that big of a house, but damn if we didn’t pack the fucker,” Hexcellent announced. “Standing room only.”

                Owen got up from his box and went over to the edge of the room, which opened onto an outdoor stage in front of a small cluster of benches. Sure enough, there were dozens of people out there, though mercifully almost none in costume, along with the beefy security guards walking around to keep order. Deep down, he’d know this was a possibility, but seeing so many faces before him, Owen couldn’t help the tickle of nerves in his gut. This time, there would be no other Heroes to protect him if the crowd tried to turn things south.

                No, this time he was the one who had to do the protecting. Whatever the world may think of him, his team deserved to be treated with respect. And Owen was damned determined to make sure that happened.