Chapter 38

                Vince turned around from getting a club soda to find a woman in a red and blue costume standing nearby, already nursing a beer from the bar as she watched people filter through it. No sooner had he seen her than she crooked a finger in his direction and motioned him over, which Vince complied with. Her outfit was nearly as concealing as Professor Cole’s, with a full-head mask covering her entire face save only for her mouth and dark brown eyes. For the first time, he realized that his own costume, if the stars aligned and such a thing came to exist, would have to be in a similar style. That, or he’d need to shave his head. Silver hair in a college of young people who loved Super-chic was one thing. Once there was a Hero with such a noticeable trait, it might be tempting fate for him to keep the hair out in the open.

                “You have a very interesting power,” the woman said. “If I were taking a guess, I’d say absorber? Of course you don’t need to confirm it or anything if you don’t want, preservation of secrecy and all that.”

                “I don’t mind discussing the general way it works,” Vince replied. He was supposed to network a little, and such things were bound to come up. “And to answer your question, yes ma’am, I’m a multi-energy absorber.”

                “Oooooh, let’s stay away from the ma’am talk, or I’m going to need something a lot stronger than beer.” She took a swig of her drink to drive the point home. “My name is Coral, and you’re Vince, right?”

                “Yes ma- er, Coral.”

                “Nice to meet you Vince,” Coral said. “So anyway, multi-energy absorber? Not a very common one there. Most tend to have one type they can handle. Guessing that means you work with a diminished holding capacity then, can’t take as much energy as a regular absorber?”

                “I’m… not certain. I’ve never met another energy absorber, just one who took in damage, so I’m unsure of what their capacity usually is. Can’t honestly say if mine is more or less.” In truth, Vince didn’t know what his limit was. He certainly had one, everything in the world came with limits, he just hadn’t actually hit that wall yet. From the way the professors acted, he didn’t get the sense that he was working with a diminished anything, though. But that might come off as presumptuous, better to stick with the absolute truth as he knew it.

                “Never, huh? Well, from what I’ve heard about Korman this year, you might just get the chance at Intramurals,” Coral told him. “But it’s not really my place to talk about that. Tell me about yourself, Vince. Got any Heroes in mind that you’re hoping to intern under, or teams you want to join if you make it all the way to Hero?”

                “Honestly, I hadn’t given it any real thought until recently,” Vince admitted. “I’ve been so focused on just making it to graduation; I didn’t consider what would come next. I suppose I’d be happy with any team that I could trust, and any mentor who could help me become stronger.”

                “Believe it or not, that might be the healthiest way to come into these sorts of situations.” Coral gestured to the room as a whole, where the other students were chatting with a variety of people in costumes. Vince noticed that Roy and Violet were both talking to a tall man in a black and brown costume, while Mary’s discussion was with a woman wearing a cape almost like a lab coat. Alice was being approached by a female Hero in green and black, one who seemed a bit familiar but Vince couldn’t place before Coral began speaking again.

                “A lot of these kids are going into the situation with stars in their eyes, chasing after teams or teachers based on their prestige instead of how good of a fit they are. Looking for the one that will make you the best Hero, that’s the way to really get started on your post-HCP career.” Coral paused, taking a look around the room once more. “That said, the ones who take interest in you might not always be the right fit. You need to do your own research, and figure out who you think will teach you well. Then you have to make them see that too. This is just like your HCP training; the ones who put in the extra work are the ones who go further.”

                “I see. It’s an area where I’m lacking, but I don’t intend to be for long,” Vince told her. “Thank you very much for the advice.”

                “Don’t worry about it. Between you and me, our kind have to stick together.” Coral lowered her voice to just a few degrees above a whisper.

                “Pardon me, our kind?” Vince asked, matching her tone.

                “Those who get looked at with a bit of extra suspicion. Whose family lines make others assume the worst of them. Globe’s return was pretty huge news, and the fact that he’d taken time out of being on the lamb to raise a kid made it through the gossip mill. Best to assume every Hero you meet knows about your connection to him,” Coral advised.

                “That’s a bit worrying,” Vince said. He’d known the Globe connection would cause more problems eventually, though he hadn’t expected this to be the day they kicked in.

                “Some people are assholes,” Coral agreed. “But you’re not on your own out here. There’s a clause in the HCP that forbids students from being barred entrance or kicked out based on what their family members have done, and you are far from the first to be protected by it. Like I said, our kind have to stick together.”

                At last, Vince put together what she was trying to tell him. “You’re the daughter of a criminal too.”

                “As are several of my friends and colleagues.” Coral finished off her beer and dropped it unceremoniously into a nearby trash can. “It’s something else to consider when you’re deciding which mentor to go after. While we don’t advertise our family relations, if you ask Dean Blaine he can get a list of those with cause to be a bit more sympathetic to the situation. Being connected makes things easier. It’s how we decided to do exactly what the HCP had taught us: turn a weakness into a strength.”

                “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Vince said. “Although, I think for now I’ll stick with my original plan. Better to find the best fit and hope they’re willing to accept me. I don’t want to limit my options until it’s necessary.”

                “An understandable strategy, but what will you do if the Hero you think is the best teacher doesn’t want anything to do with you?” Coral asked.

                Vince shrugged, jostling his soda and spilling a few drops to the floor. “In my time at the HCP, I’ve learned that there are some fights I can’t win, so if it comes to that then I’ll have to accept the failure. But that’s not to say I won’t fight with all I’ve got to convince them otherwise first.”

                Coral grinned, and started for the bar line to get a replacement beer. “With an attitude like that, you may just pull it off. And if not, now you know we’re around. Whether you reach out is up to you.”