Chapter 8

Alice was the last to get back to the dorm on their first day of school. Her foreign language course had filled up faster than expected, so she’d been forced to grab a late class or put if off until next semester. It would be nice if HCP students were given some sort of priority in registration, but that would make it too easy for every teacher to know who in their class was secretly a Super. Aside from those bound by the HCP’s secret identity rule, lots of Alice’s kind chose to live out the open. However, it wasn’t unheard of for Supers to be treated with some discrimination, either out of fear, jealousy, or good ole-fashioned prejudice. Powereds might be looked down upon, but there was no real point in going out of one’s way to shit on them. Life had already done a spectacular job of that.

As soon as Alice walked in the door, she knew something was off. For one thing, everyone didn’t usually make a point of gathering in common room without the television on. For another, Mr. Transport and Mr. Numbers scarcely ever joined them in the evening, at least not for prolonged periods. Even without those, she still would have known this situation was out of the ordinary. Dean Blaine standing in the center of the room made that abundantly clear, as did his guest.

“Good evening,” Dean Blaine greeted. “Please, take a seat and make yourself comfortable.”

Somewhere in the pit of her stomach Alice felt a stone of fear manifest. This was how she’d always imagined it would go. Gather them together, make Dean Blaine neutralize their powers, and have Mr. Transport send them home. No muss, no fuss, no more freaks in the HCP.

“For anyone who doesn’t remember, the gentleman beside me is named Kent Mears,” Dean Blaine continued.

“Right, he’s the job guy,” Vince recalled.

“Employment Liaison is the more official title, but at least you got the gist,” Dean Blaine said. “Mr. Mears is here because while, for most students, the option to work a job during college is optional, I’m afraid that for you four it is not.”

“Let me guess, someone out there wants to see just how much stress we can handle without cracking,” Hershel surmised.

Dean Blaine gave him a nod. “Partly, yes. Partly it is to ensure that you can interact with regular humans as well as fellow Supers. These jobs put you back into the real world, a place where you have to be discreet with your abilities, and more importantly, a place where you are not surrounded by equals.”

“Not surrounded by equals? Didn’t we get enough practice at that when we were Powereds?” Alice asked.

“It’s not the same,” Vince told her. “We were weaker than everyone else; we had problems that made us less functional. Now we can do more than regular people, and sometimes feeling like you’re better than other people makes you treat them like they’re crap.”

“Vince hit the nail on the head,” Dean Blaine agreed, barely concealing his surprise at the silver-haired student’s insight. It was easy to forget that, despite his failings in most social regards, Vince had a good idea of how people behaved in regards to strength and power. “Every other student in the HCP has spent their life knowing they were, technically speaking, greater in some way than nearly every other person they met. They’ve had to temper their egos and learn to suppress that sentiment to function in society. None of you have had to deal with that; you went from being Powered to being in a place where you were surrounded by fellow Supers. Except for class and a few outings, you haven’t had extended dealings with the outside world. A point has been raised that if we don’t give you some experience, it could lead to disaster once you are done with the HCP, regardless of whether it is through failure or graduation.”

“Not to mention it gives people one more field to observe us in, and to watch for failure,” Mary added in.

“I won’t lie to you, that is true too. But I wouldn’t have agreed to this stipulation if I didn’t believe there was genuine merit in it for all of you,” Dean Blaine said.

“I want to jump in and say that I understand this isn’t exactly a normal situation, and that’s quite a statement given what I do for a living,” Kent Mears said, stepping forward from the corner where he’d been standing. “Blaine has explained to me that you four are working under special circumstances, so I’m going to do my darndest to place you in jobs that’s won’t be overly taxing or shove you too far out of your comfort zones. Unfortunately, it’s been clearly dictated to me that all occupations need to carry a social component, so I can’t stick anyone away to do data entry, but I still aim to make this as painless for you folks as possible.”

“Thank you,” Vince said, rising from the couch. “I’m sure we’ll all appreciate whatever help you can give. So, Mr. Mears, what do you need from us?”

“A few documents, a scan of your driver’s licenses, and a chance to talk with each of you one on one. I want to get a sense of who you are and what you’re good at so that I can find positions best suited to you. Once I float your resumes you’ll probably need to come in for an interview with the owners, and they’ll let you know if you’ve got a gig or not.”

“I should point out that while Mr. Mears always has enough job openings to accommodate the junior and senior class, many of them are at the same establishments, so the odds of you working with fellow HCP members are very high,” Dean Blaine added.

“That shouldn’t be too bad,” Vince said. “I think we’re on good terms with most of our class.”

No one had the heart to point out that Vince was still gauging their acceptance looking at the time before he’d wrapped himself in flame and torn a swath of destruction through last year’s final match. Things might still be okay, it was certainly possible, but there was also a very real chance that his escapade had placed a large target on their collective backs.

After all, a Powered becoming Super was hard for most HCP students to swallow. A Powered becoming stronger than them…that was a problem on a whole other level.