Chapter 102

                There was little difference between November’s trial and October’s, save that this time the students had a better idea of what they were facing when they walked in. The strikes were cleaner, the civilian lives lost were fewer, and no one voluntarily withdrew from the program. Overall, a solid showing, even if the staff knew that this demonstration meant little. The students were getting used to this format, throwing small variations wasn’t enough to catch them off-guard anymore. That was a good sign, it was an important aspect of their training, but it was also dangerous. A complacent Hero was a short-lived Hero. That was why December’s test would break the mold, throwing them a curve that no one could anticipate.

                The Heroes who’d been watching November’s trial milled about, even as the meet and greet ended, discussing the show that had been put on. More were here than usual, at least for this particular trial, as word had evidently been spreading that Lander’s senior crop was proving to be a strong one. Several times, the words “Class of Nightmares” were softly whispered, never quite loud enough to be overheard. It was, in truth, a somewhat silly name, but those who wore costumes and code names either had been born with a theatrical streak or had it worn into them by their career choice, so such things were permissible.

                Titan stood off to the side, largely unbothered by the other Heroes. While he’d done his best to keep a distance for as long as possible, the time had finally come for him to join the socializing. If he was really serious about taking on an apprentice, then he needed to put himself out there. Reputation or not, no freshly graduated Super would sign on with a Hero they hadn’t met in person, not outside of extenuating circumstances anyway.

                From a nearby crowd, Gale emerged, a polite laugh fading from her lips as she made her way over to the massive Hero. “Not trying to chat anyone up?”

                “I just came to meet the kids,” Titan told her. “Soon as my beer is done, I’m heading back to Brewster. Team goes on standby tonight, so I need to be there.”

                “Good thing those don’t affect you. Some of us had to request a whole night off if we wanted to drink.” Gale punctuated her point with a gentle sip from the red liquid in her highball glass. “Mind if I ask a question?”

                “I’ve known you long enough to be sure you’ll ask no matter what, so go right ahead,” Titan told her.

                “That strongman kid, Roy; seemed like he’d be a good fit for you. And I assume every strongman more or less worships Titan. Yet he didn’t come near you during the meet and greet. Not one word, barely was willing to look at you. That’s not so shocking, a lot of these kids get star struck and don’t know how to approach us, but you didn’t go near him either. The two of you were like magnets with the same polarity, one steps closer and the other moves away.”

                “The name ‘Titan’ isn’t exactly a universally loved one,” he replied. “Some people still haven’t forgiven me for what happened all those years ago.”

                “That’s the way you want to play it, fine by me.” Gale set her drink down on the table and moved a touch closer, allowing for easier, and quieter, conversation. “So, want to fess up about who you’ve got your eye on? Chad Taylor seems like he could learn a lot from Titan, but you’re going to have to work hard to snap that one up. He’s made it public that he’s a legacy by applying for his father’s code name, and Intra still has some friends out there looking to take care of his boy.”

                Titan had indeed noticed Chad Taylor, it was damned near impossible not to. Strong, smart, tactically minded but still prioritizing the safety of others, the kid had potential coming out of his pores. “While I have no doubt the second Intra is going to be a fine Hero, I don’t think I’d be a good fit as his teacher. His power requires too much thought and creativity; I couldn’t lead him down any paths he wouldn’t find on his own. Better he goes with someone craftier, and I stick with an intern who leans mostly on punching the shit out of whatever is in their way. I was actually thinking the Sullivan girl might be a good match.”

                “The one with purple hair and density powers? Yeah, I can see that. You did train under Dean Jackson, so you’ve got some familiarity there. She’s got guts, too. I considered her for a bit myself,” Gale admitted.

                “Really? Seemed to me like you were courting Alice Adair pretty openly,” Titan replied.

                “Never hurts to have eggs in multiple baskets. But yes, she’s far and away my top choice. Between the flight-based tactics and using gravity to shove objects around, I think a lot of my experience would translate well when teaching her. Plus, if I’m being wholly honest, that woman is going to be a powerhouse when she gets older, and I wouldn’t mind adding her to the Elemental Fury roster.”

                “Always thinking about recruiting,” Titan chuckled.

                Gale nodded, no trace of shame on her masked face. “Damn right. That’s how teams last from generation to generation. Have to keep an eye on the future.”

                “Guess I can’t fault you for that.” Titan tipped back his beer, finishing the last of the dregs. “You given any thought to Vince Reynolds or Thomas Castillo? I know they won’t be a good fit for you, but Elemental Fury could use a few more up-close brawlers. Granite does good work; he just needs some relief at times. Both those boys seem to be able to take or stop a lot of punishment.”

                “Reynolds is out, same problem as with you and Chad: no one on the team has the right experience to help him grow. Castillo is a maybe, if he uses that orange energy to function like a strongman then Granite might be able to help him, but it’s kind of a stretch.” Gale paused, gently tapping the side of her drink. “Actually… the reason I asked you about Roy is because I was thinking he might make a good intern for Granite. Tough, strong, and heavy-hitting, they both play in the same wheelhouse. But when I saw the weird distance… well, I didn’t want to step on any toes. I owe you at least that much.”

                “I appreciate it,” Titan said. “But bring Granite next time if you think they might be a good fit. It’s not my place to stand in the way of Roy’s future. He deserves all the offers he’s earned. At the end of the day, only he can decide what the right course for his future is.”

                They sat in silence for a moment, before Gale leaned in and whispered: “You’re really not going to tell me what’s up with you two?”

                “Good night, Gale. I’ll see you back in Brewster.”