Chapter 172

               As the students walked in to their Wednesday gym session, they noticed a muscular man with a cleanly shaven head standing in the middle of the room. His uproarious laughter was echoing off the walls as he slapped Professor Pendleton on the back. Even the tall Subtlety instructor was smiling; a rare thing to see outside of when he was inflicting some fresh torture on his students, though Dean Blaine looked somewhat pained as he stood nearby. The HCP juniors fell into their usual half-circle for greeting a guest speaker, and after a few moments Victor’s humor subsided; allowing Dean Blaine to be heard.

                “Several times this year I’ve told you all that you would be hearing from a representative of the Super Athletics Association. Today, it is my pleasure to introduce you to that man. Many of you may recognize Victor Pakulski, as in addition to serving as a chairman to the SAA’s board, he also coaches a football team known as the Fort Worth Juggernauts.”

                “Four time Epic Bowl Champions, Fort Worth Juggernauts, if you want to be specific,” Victor interrupted.

                Dean Blaine shot his friend a long, hard stare, then continued. “Anyway, Victor is here to talk to you about the SAA, how it works, and what sorts of options you can expect if you should opt to try and sign on with the organization.” With that, Dean Blaine stepped back and Victor bounded forward.

                “I’m sure most of you already know this, but I like to start off by going into the history of the SAA a little bit. We were founded in the early seventies, after the world became aware of Supers and the Hero Certification Program took hold. It was then that people decided that it wasn’t fair for a person who could break the sound barrier to be running down the same field as a bunch of humans. To their credit, that does make an unbalanced game. On the other hand, watching Supers play against one another was too popular to ban us completely, and thus the Super Athletics Association was born. Unlike single agencies, such as the NBA, we run all different kinds of sports, so if you want to play pro then you’ll be dealing with the SAA.”

                Victor looked around the room, noting that while some students were politely interested, none were truly engrossed in the subject matter. He couldn’t blame them, at this point in his HCP career he’d been just as certain that he was going all the way. Every class reacted this way, as though what he were talking about couldn’t possibly pertain to them. And yet, before graduation day came, at least half of them would be gone, and suddenly what he was selling would seem a lot more enticing.

                “Now most players in our various SAA teams are professional athletes and Supers who have trained their entire lives to enter their respective league. Most, but not all. As a rule, we do recruit some Supers with HCP experience. Even if they don’t know the game in particular, making it this far in the program speaks to a level of power and skill that can often be translated into success on a field. Sometimes we get a bust, other times we get a real monster, like Jade Norris.”

                A few students perked up at the name, recognition washing over their faces. Victor loved pulling that card out of his deck; it was always guaranteed to yank a few wandering minds into the discussion.

                “That’s right, Jade, The Comet, Norris was an HCP washout when she was first signed up back in the early nineties. This was when co-ed teams were still a thing people fought about, as though a woman who could bench a truck was somehow inferior to a man with the same power. Any of you who are sports fans know Jade broke dozens of records, both as a receiver and, later on, a quarterback. In fact, a lot of her records still stand to this day, though I’ve seen a lot of people try to crack them. Fame, wealth, adoration, and last I checked a standing sponsorship deal with no less than ten major brands; not bad for a back-up plan.”

                Some of them were definitely listening now. Not many people had the mental fortitude to tune out a discussion about piles of money and easy living that might just be theirs for the taking. Of course, Jade was a legend for a reason, not everyone had the talent for a sport just because they were good at fighting. True, there were things like boxing or MMA that they could easily fit into, but the big money lived in America’s largest loves: Basketball, Baseball, and, at the top of the heap, Football. That was why coaches like Victor had to cast a wide net in recruiting. It took roughly ten disappointments to find one unpolished jewel.

                “That’s just an example of someone who didn’t finish the HCP. We also have a lot of former Heros on our rosters as well. Hanging up the cape is a damned hard thing to do, and I should know. Once upon a time, I wore one myself. Metaphorically, anyway, actually wearing capes is long out of fashion. Point is, I spent the better part of a decade out there, up to my knees in action every day, until one day I couldn’t do it anymore. I was getting too slow, the close-calls getting too close. I realized that if I didn’t walk away from the life, they I’d be carried out of it in a box.”

                Victor’s gregariousness fell away, a solemn expression taking the place of his beaming smile. “I won’t sugarcoat this for you: making that choice was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. To stop living in that world, to see people you know and love still entering the fray while you sit on the side-lines… personally, I think it’s the hardest part of being a Hero. The only way I could keep from going crazy was to find some action, somewhere, and that’s why I signed on with the SAA. It isn’t quite the same, nothing replicates being a Hero, but my worst injury days didn’t involve severed limbs or ruptured organs, and there’s something to be said for that too. Then I began to really enjoy what I was doing. Of course, the five star hotels and ability to afford fine dining didn’t hurt one bit either, if you know what I mean.”

                The seriousness began to melt, as Victor turned the conversation back to a positive note. Explaining what the SAA was, and what they did, was so simple that it didn’t really necessitate a speaker. Victor didn’t come out to get them amped about playing football instead of saving lives, nor did he show up just to bug Blaine for insider info. No, Victor Pakulski made this pilgrimage every year to make sure the kids knew what no one had told him and his peers: there was life after being a Hero.

                They didn’t all have to die with their capes on.