Chapter 39

                “Miss Adair?”

                Alice turned in the direction of the voice, a small cracker smeared with cheese halfway to her mouth. The morsel nearly snapped between her fingers as she took in the dark-skinned woman in green and black. Carefully, Alice lowered it back to her plate, trying to yank the diplomatic instincts out from her brain.

                “Yes. I mean, that’s me. I mean… you’re Gale, aren’t you? The leader of Elemental Fury?”

                Gale smiled and dipped her head modestly. “I’m impressed you know about me. I’m mostly a Brewster celebrity.”

                “Are you kidding? That thing with the robots last year was nuts. Even if the woman causing tidal waves in Port Valens stole the media spotlight a few days later, I still caught some of the coverage. It was really impressive,” Alice said. Giant robots weren’t exactly unheard of in a world of people who treated the laws of reality like mere suggestions, which was probably why the story hadn’t rated higher, but she’d personally found it intriguing. Of course, given who else had been prominently on display, she never brought it up around the rest of Melbrook. Roy and Hershel could be a bit touchy about their dad, at least before he helped train everyone over the summer.

                “Glad to hear it,” Gale told her. “We all did our best, that’s the most a Hero can ever strive for. On the subject of impressiveness though, I have to say you were pretty spectacular in there yourself. While the highest engagement count will likely go to one of the students who were in the giant brawl, that four-person team of yours took down a lot of the other variables. This trial wouldn’t have gone as smoothly if you two didn’t pick off the stragglers.”

                It was Alice’s turn to be modest, glancing down at the pile of crackers on her plate. “Jill’s the one who had tech to find them, and Rich made taking them down a lot easier with his stares. I was mostly transportation and backup.”

                “No, you coordinated the attack, and saved your own, more dangerous, power for when it was needed,” Gale corrected. “The two of us aren’t so different, in terms of ability. You seem to utilize telekinesis or some other external force, while I control the wind, but in terms of how we’re best used there’s a lot of similarity. Except that I didn’t have quite as healthy of an attitude toward teamwork when I was a senior.”

                “More of a lone wolf?” Alice asked.

                “Somewhat. Being a legacy meant there were a lot of eyes on me, and that pressure took me to some places that weren’t as productive as I thought at the time. Although it did force me to be powerful, since I didn’t trust anyone else to have my back. But that mentality comes with a very firm limit on far you can go,” Gale warned. “Anyway, it’s nice to see someone with similar abilities put on such a good showing. I just wanted to tell you that, as well as to let you know that I’d be keeping an eye on you through the rest of the year. Obviously you seem to know me, but perhaps do a little research on Elemental Fury as a whole. If it looks like a good fit, there might be a spot for you should you reach graduation. I think you’ll make a fine apprentice, if not for me then for whoever does train you.”

                “Really?” Alice’s decorum seemed to fail her as she grasped around for words. When her mind finally located something, it was the last sentence she wanted to utter. Unfortunately, she also knew it was the one that she absolutely had to.

                “I appreciate that, honestly I’m kind of wowed by it,” Alice said. “But I feel like I should tell you upfront: despite my power, I’m not a Control student. I decided to major in Subtlety. I’d still be honored to learn under you, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want to pull a bait-and-switch if you thought you were getting another type of Hero.”

                Gale’s smile widened, just a touch, as she nodded. “That’s quite upfront and respectable, Alice. All the more so considering your specialty. But rest assured, I wouldn’t make this sort of offer without an understanding of who I was extending it to. After last year’s robot debacle, I’ve begun to see the importance of Subtlety Heroes. Finding one for the team has proven difficult, however, as our reputation pulls us into a lot of high-conflict situations. Another local team has been helping us out, but I decided it might be best to recruit our own. A Subtlety Hero who can hold their own in high-stakes combat. Someone like you, Alice.”

                “That’s… very kind of you, Gale,” Alice said. “Oddly pragmatic, too.”

                “Running a team means learning to think practically,” Gale replied. “At any rate, this is all very tentative, there’s still a year of training left, and you’ll have to make it to the final ten. I just wanted you to know we were interested, so you could decide if you felt the same way. If not, that’s perfectly fine, I’ll understand if you want to intern under a fellow Subtlety Hero. Just keep in mind that our specializations are just that: things we excel at. It doesn’t mean a Subtlety Hero might not need to know how to fight, or a Control Hero couldn’t benefit from some hacking skills. Meaning I might have a bit to teach you, even if we do come from different disciplines. Something to keep in mind.”

                Gale walked off before Alice could reply, leaving her with a lot to consider, and a plate of crackers that no longer seemed quite so appetizing.

*             *             *

                Owen Daniels, clad in full Titan costume, sat in the small room with Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport, sipping on beers covertly “displaced” from the bar. On the screen, video of the earlier battle played, stopped only by Owen calling for a pause to check some angle. Bit by bit, the tape moved forward, as he examined the fight from all sides. Finally, it neared the end, and Owen reached for a fresh beer from the iced-filled bucket in the center of the table.

                “Thanks again for doing this,” he said, carefully pulling off the top while making sure not to rip the glass in half.

                “It’s a pleasure,” Mr. Transport said, a few empty beer bottles stacked up in front of him as well. “But you could have attended the live showing, you know. Even with your time off, you’ve still logged more than enough time to qualify for taking an apprentice.”

                “Wouldn’t have been right.” Owen tipped back a mouthful of his new beer, enjoying the flavor as it washed over his tongue. “For better or worse, there are still folks out there who react strongly to the name Titan. Better to keep the focus on the kids than to chance one of them being in the room. Besides, I like this better, lets me go slow and get a good sense of what everyone is packing.”

                “Forgive me for saying so, but isn’t this a bit of a waste of time?” Mr. Numbers asked. In the spirit of the evening, he had actually cracked open a single beer, of which he’d consumed nearly a quarter. “Obviously you’ll be offering Roy the internship.”

                “I’m not so sure about that,” Owen said. “My sons and I are getting along better, but I’m pretty doubtful he’d actually agree to be my intern. Even if he said yes, it still might be a bad fit. Mentor and intern is a powerful relationship, one that requires a lot of trust and respect. I’m worried that the father and son dynamic I screwed up would get in the way, and that could lead to Roy and Hershel being hurt if they disobey in the field.”

                “Then why did you want to watch the tapes?” Mr. Transport asked.

                “Not that complicated; working with my PEERS team and helping in the desert gave me a teaching bug,” Owen told them. “I think it’s high time for Titan to take an intern. Maybe it will be my boys, maybe they’re better served by someone else teaching them. For now, I just wanted to see if there were any other contenders at Lander.”

                “And?” Mr. Transport asked.

                Owen took a longer sip of his beer, watching the screen carefully. “And this was a softball. Not in so far as the combat part, which I’ll admit Dean Blaine did a good job with, but the other stuff. I get that they were using this to calibrate for power, however it didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. When are they bringing in the new Sims?”

                Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport exchanged one of their silent glances. “The third or fourth month’s exam,” Mr. Numbers said at last. “Dean Blaine wants to get them used to different civilian situations before springing it on them.”

                “Then that’s the one I need to see,” Owen said. “Keep me in the loop, because when that trial comes, we’ll see who’s actually got what it takes to survive outside these walls.”