Chapter 35

On Thursday, one day before the scheduled match between Chad and Angela, the junior year HCP class walked into the gym to find Dean Blaine and a woman in full Hero costume standing in the center of the room.

“Good day, students,” Dean Blaine greeted them. “Please form a half-circle around myself and our guest. I’ll explain everything once you’ve all made it in.

The students complied, arranging themselves in a wide half-circle around the dean and his guest. It didn’t take long; by now they were all experts in rolling with unexpected situations.

One they were finished, Dean Blaine continued. “As you saw with Mr. Mears, this is the year where we begin introducing you the concept of working in the real world. For, at best, half of you, this will mean doing the job of a Hero. The rest of you will be exploring other options. To give you some idea on what possibilities lie out there, every so often we’ll be using your gym time to bring in a guest speaker who will talk to you about what they do, and allow you to ask questions.”

Dean Blaine halted for a moment unintentionally. He’d been waiting for Stella Hawkins’ voice to ring out, asking a question despite the fact that he had yet to call on her. It only took a heartbeat of silence for him to remember that she was no longer in the program. His next words came quickly, hoping to cover the gap of speech before anyone realized what had happened.

“Today’s guest speaker is a working Hero named Shutterbug. She is a graduate from the Hero Certification Program at Korman University in New York, and has been active in the field for over eight years. I expect you to keep your questions on topic and show our guest the respect she is due. Shutterbug, please take it away.” Dean Blaine took a step back, and the Hero at his side came forward.

Her outfit was done in a color scheme of bright greens and shiny blacks, the patterning clearly meant to evoke the ideas of designs on an insect’s shell, if not stolen directly from one. She had mousy brown hair that was cut short and flared out, along with a pair of green eyes that nearly matched her costume. Her face mask obscured most of her features, though if one were attentive they could notice her small, sharp chin and button nose.

“Hey there, future Heroes,” Shutterbug greeted them, her voice more forceful than one might have presumed from her adorable appearance. “As the dean said, my name is Shutterbug, and I’m an active Hero. Some of you might have seen me before, but I’ll give you some basic information just in case. I currently work on a team called The Arc Alliance in Atlanta, and my ability is that I can freeze time in certain areas.”

Without any warning, she raised her right hand and a flash of light burst from it, engulfing half of the half-circle. Those not hit felt normal, but when they glanced over it was clear their fellow students were suspended in time: unmoving, unbreathing, not even blinking.

Shutterbug snapped her fingers, and suddenly everything was back to normal. Before anyone could say a word, she raised her left hand and repeated the process on the other half of the students. Once she’d unfrozen them, she continued speaking.

“Though I’m limited to a certain area and range, it’s still a darn useful ability, especially since I can freeze a part of something if the whole of it is too big to get in my field. Watching a giant robot try and free its hand from a suspended time field is damn funny, let me tell you.” She actually giggled a bit, then realized no one else was doing it, and composed herself. “Anyway, that’s a little background about me, now on to the actual work of being a Hero. I’ll keep this short and sweet, because unlike the other careers you’ll learn about, this is the one I’m sure you know a lot about already. If your time in the HCP is anything like mine was, then you you’ve been informed about the hard choices and constant dangers inherent to this line of work. I will tell you a few things I wish I’d known going in, though.”

Shutterbug paused, mentally recalling the list she’d been compiling ever since Dean Blaine had asked her to speak. At one time it had numbered well over a dozen points; however she’d gradually been weeding it down to the elements that seemed both important and unlikely to get covered during their education.

“First off, most of you will be on teams. That’s part of the Hero world, and even if you are strong enough to be a solo, you’re still better off getting your feet wet with people watching your back. It’s going to be natural for you to want to be with other people from your class, but try to keep an open mind. I know that you’re familiar with and trust these people; however, the Hero world is a bigger one than many people realize. Put your team together based on powers and personalities that work well together, not just ones that you’re familiar with. In the long run, you’ll be happier and get injured less.”

“Secondly, don’t underestimate the Subtlety majors,” she continued. “I know it’s always tempting to think that having more firepower means a better team, but that is genuinely not true. I’ve been on teams with and without a Subtlety Hero, and the difference is tremendous. The ones without nearly always ended in slug outs, often in populated areas, where people got hurt. The team where I had a Subtlety Hero, the team I’m still on, has allowed us to neutralize a great deal of threats without a single punch thrown. Not saying the brawls don’t still happen, but it’s far less common. Remember, no matter how dangerous an enemy is, they still have to sleep, and a good Subtlety Hero can find out where and when. Something to keep in mind.”

A few eyes darted in the direction of Will Murray, eyes he politely pretended not to notice.

“Lastly, get an agent,” Shutter said. “Officially speaking, the HCP doesn’t endorse them, which is why you won’t hear much about them during your time here. They’ll come up to you after graduation, and many of you will dismiss them for charlatans. Some of them are, some are not. Ask other Heroes, they’ll steer you in the right direction. As much as it might seem like a useless job, agents are important because of how much they take off your plate. When you have one, you know someone is always minding your image, making sure things are running smooth, and handling any issues that might arise. An agent allows you to focus on what you should be doing, which is stopping criminals.”

Shutterbug let out a small sigh of relief as her speech concluded. Though unflinching in the face of danger, she wasn’t big on public speaking. Now that the hard part was over, she allowed herself to relax slightly.

“Okay, I think that takes care of all the stuff I felt you should know; now it’s your turn. Any questions?”

Immediately a flurry of hands rose, as though she’d just asked who wanted free shots at a kegger. The mild wave of relaxation immediately turned into anxiety, as Shutterbug realized the hard part was only now beginning.