Chapter 224

               “Since you were all so patient to listen to my spiel, I think it’s time I took some of your questions. Bear in mind that I won’t talk about my clients for the exact reason you’d want me to stay silent if you were one. Discretion is the agent’s native tongue.”

            Lenny glanced around the room once, then pointed to a girl with purple streaks in her hair.

            “I wanted to know how you choose your clients,” Sasha said, lowering the hand she’d raised. “Since you’re apparently so good and all, what stands out to a top agent as someone they’ll work with?”

            “We’ve all got our little things we look for,” Lenny replied. “I’d say the majority of your really good agents trust their guts more than anything else. Our number one goal is to pick someone who can make it for the long haul. We don’t want the ones who will burn out, or quit, or heaven forbid pass on, before they’ve had enough time to build a proper reputation. Me, I can usually tell if I think someone had what it takes after a five minute conversation and a good handshake. Others have their own methods, but one thing I’ll tell you upfront: we all like Heroes who sign on early. There’s going to be a session in your senior year where a bunch of agents come schmooze with you, in fact that’s part of what I’m here to do, I just came a day early to talk. Signing on then shows that you see the value they offer, and lets you build a relationship early.”

            This time Lenny pointed to a young man, one with a goatee that needed professional trimming before Lenny would ever let him in front of a camera.

            “What do you charge?” Rich asked.

            “Fifteen percent is the agent standard, and I stick to it,” Lenny replied. “Some feel that because they’ve been in the game a while or have a big reputation that they deserve more, and I think that’s pure bullshit. A great agent makes his money by getting you so big that fifteen percent is plenty. Oh, and that’s only off extraneous income, the base pay from the government is all yours, no reputable agent will ever try to touch that. Let’s see, next question from you, the tall gal.”

            “You mentioned booking appearances earlier. How much of a Hero’s time is dedicated to that sort of thing? It feels like it would take away from time we should spend helping people.” Alice asked.

            “That’s a fair concern, but a misplaced one. Heroes are, by their definition, a reactionary force. When shit goes down, you spring into action. Shit isn’t always going down though. Sometimes people don’t try dumb shit, and you find yourself with nothing to do. That’s when Heroes will often find themselves filling the time by doing things like interviews or booking appearances. As to the idea that you should spend the time helping people, giving talks to students still finding their way in life or visiting Hero-loving kids in the hospital can make a big difference to them. It’s not as glamorous, but it’s an important part of what Heroes do.”

            Lenny looked around, noticing that the selection of hands was getting slimmer to choose from. Rather than flop about waiting for them to think of more things, he decided to cut it off while there was still demand. “Sorry to say, this will be the last question I’m able to answer. Your dean wasn’t lying about how busy I am.” Lenny pointed to a short young lady with pale-blonde hair.

            “I was just wondering what the biggest piece of advice you give your clients is?” Camille asked. “Like, if there was one thing that you wished every Hero would do to make life easier for you and them.”

            “Truthfully, it’s the oldest gem in the book,” Lenny replied. “Be yourself. I can work with just about anything. Anti-social can be spun as lovably shy, fearful can be prudently cautious, cursing and drunk can be burdened by the demands of the job. The one thing I can’t do is help when someone tries to be something they’re not, something they think the public wants, and the shell finally cracks. Nobody can fake it forever, sooner or later the truth comes out. Something to keep in mind when you craft your Hero persona: base it on a part of you, a part that connects to the core of your being.”

            Lenny avoided meeting Roy’s gaze as he spoke. There was no point to it. They both were keenly aware of the object lesson they’d lived through that proved the point so well.

            “Lies have a cost, and it’s cumulative every time you pay it, until one day you wake up and realize that even if you want to pony up again, you’re fresh out of willpower to do it with.”

*          *          *

            “How bad?” Globe was calm, which honestly scared Joan more than if he’d been fuming or stomping about. Those were appropriate emotions for the situation. The way he radiated calm though… it made her wonder just how deep the fury he had to be feeling ran.

            “Bad. This Evers kid has reached out to the Sons of Progress, and they’ve been itching for a demonstration of force since the last time one of their rallies got broken up. I don’t know how many he’s managed to put together yet, but from the buzz I’ve been hearing…” Joan let the words fall away. She couldn’t think of how to possibly end that sort of statement, so she just decided not to.

            “I had to deal with more than a few of their members back when I was active,” Globe said. “I know they hate Heroes, they see us as a tool used to repress other Supers, but they were also scattered and unorganized.”

            “A lot has changed since you were a Hero,” Joan replied. “Now they’re responsible for bombings, Hero ambushes, they’ve even sunk so low as to attack HCP kids, when they can find out their identity. The Heroes keep bringing them in, but there always seem to be more.”

            “And now a horde of them are amassing in close vicinity to Lander.” He was still calm, though Joan noticed his left hand tighten, just a touch. She’d never seen was lurked under the leather glove and cloak sleeve; Joan had merely caught on that it was the more expressive of his two hands.

            “That’s the thing though, they’re not gathering. Not yet. There’s definitely a job, but no one has been given a date. They just get told to wait until the call comes, then they show up ready to rock. The only reason I know it’s connected to Lander at all is because I was able to trace the offers back to Nathaniel Evers.”

            “I see.” Globe stood from the old recliner where he’d been resting, then offered his hand to help Joan up as well. “Thank you for your diligence in this. I know you must be frustrated to have been unable to flush out exactly what is being planned, but you’ve given us so much more warning that I could have ever hoped for.”

            “What are we going to do?”

            “The only thing we can, unfortunately. Keep watch, hope for the best, and continue trying to cut this miscreant’s legs out from under him before things escalate.”

*          *          *

               “Let’s all thank Mr. Nicolo once more for taking the time to come and speak to us,” Dean Blaine said, beginning the round of polite clapping as Lenny retreated from the front of the room. “I’m sure most of you are now expecting to go into a shortened gym class, but there is something I must bring to your attention first: as you’ve all known for some time, your final exams are just around the corner. Most of you have also noticed that they are scheduled earlier than either of your previous year’s tests, and that is with good reason.”

            Dean Blaine paused for a moment, enjoying the looks of wild speculation in some eyes and weary acceptance in others. Everyone loved the event as freshman, but by the time their junior year rolled around they often cursed the tradition for being established.

            “The need for your early exams is due to two facts: first is that each class’s tests are very time consuming for your professors, and therefore cannot be held simultaneously. As for why the junior class gets the earliest spot, that is because you will need the extra time after completion to set up our yearly Freshman Carnival.”

            To their credit, the student didn’t let out a series of groans. At least, not with their mouths. If eyes could be heard then Dean Blaine would have been drowning in a sea of moans so great it would sound like a zombie invasion.

            “Yes, the bulk of the work falls upon you lot to handle. We’ll be offering a bit more guidance than usual since your class was excused from working on the carnival last year, but rest assured that this is a project that you are responsible for, and it is just as important as any other HCP task you’re given. I urge you to remember what it was like being in those freshmen’s shoes, scared and uncertain of what lay ahead. Remember how much the carnival lifted your spirits and made Lander feel like a home. You incurred a debt that day, and the time has come to pay up. Now, please report to your professors so they can assign tasks and committees for all the work that needs to be done.”

            Dean Blaine watched with a slight smile as they dutifully headed over to meet with their teachers. Much as they might dislike the extra work, it would be good to get their minds off of the final exams. At their stage, they were more likely to make a mental mistake than a physical one, and keeping them occupied helped cut those down.

            Besides, Dean Blaine was a devout fan of skee ball and cotton candy. He was hardly going to let a year go by in which he didn’t get his usual fix.