Chapter 41

                The events of Friday had left even the highly trained seniors exhausted, and with no call from Nick to stir up trouble, all of Melbrook was fast asleep by ten that evening. Adding to the decadence, everyone, except Chad, slept in. Not until almost nine did they begin to move through the kitchen, grabbing hastily prepared meals to replace all the energy they’d expended the day before. Perhaps nine was still early for most college students, but those people weren’t on a rigorous class and training schedule.

                To their surprise, only a half hour after the Melbrook residents began moving about, Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport emerged from their apartment behind the kitchen. It wasn’t that anyone forgot the two men lived there, it was simply that, aside from the Saturday chess game and occasional check-in, their eternal chaperones liked to give the younger Supers plenty of space. This was supposed to be like a real college experience, or as much as they could safely allow with test subjects.

                “Morning, everyone.” Mr. Transport took a long swig from a coffee cup that would have seemed comically oversized, if it weren’t currently filled to the brim. “Before you all set off for the day, Mr. Numbers and I wanted to have a quick chat.”

                Chad noted that everyone else in room seemed to tense at the words, though he didn’t know why. From his perspective, both men had always been courteous and trustworthy. Of course, they’d never left him stranded at the base of a mountain, so that might have been why he saw them in a different light.

                “Relax, it’s nothing that bad,” Mr. Numbers said, visibly reading the room. “Word came down from on high that, given your special circumstances, any preparations we need to make for your covers could take a little longer than normal. Which means we need you all to make those choices as soon as possible to give us ample time to work in.”

                “Our covers?” Vince was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, his brain barely working at half-capacity yet.

                “In case you graduate,” Mr. Transport told him. The taller of the misters walked to the living room and took a seat, causing the rest of the group to follow him, albeit some with toaster pastries in hand as they did so. “Once you leave the HCP, the secret identity rule will no longer technically be in effect, meaning you are free to live openly as a Hero, as many have before. However, due to all the risks that come with that, the DVA provides a helping hand in the form of setting up cover identities for those who want them.”

                “Basically we run you through real corporations, just set up in special branches or classifications. You exist on the books, but your real work is as a Hero. That way you’ve got a ready-made explanation for when anyone in the mundane world asks what you do,” Mr. Numbers added.

                “So that’s what we wanted to talk with you all about.” Mr. Transport pulled five flash drives out of his pocket and set them down on the coffee table. “First off, these stay in the dorms. If taken outside they’re set to essentially liquefy and become unusable. On each one you’ll find aptitude tests for fields related to every major, in order to find a job that fits you well. Choose your major, take the tests, peruse your options, and pick a career path you think you can pull off. Remember, you don’t actually have to do the job, you just have to be able to convince people that you do.”

                “Though we are supposed to mention that, should you not make it to Hero graduation, this would be a useful tool for picking a non-HCP career.” The sour expression on Mr. Numbers’ face made it clear how felt about having to pass along such a message. “Chad, the rest of the class will have to do these later in the year, but since you’re living here it made more sense to just knock yours out along with everyone else.”

                “Take a few weeks to make your choices,” Mr. Transport instructed them.  “We’ll want to know your chosen covers by the middle of October.”

                “You know what, speaking of majors, I’ve got a question for Vince,” Hershel said, twisting over to look at the still sleepy student. “What major did you ever end up picking? Freshman year you were undecided, and with all the HCP stuff I never thought to ask what you landed on.”

                “Oh… well I had a meeting with an advisor last year, and she asked me what I really knew a lot about and enjoyed,” Vince said. “The only thing I could think of was traveling, since I did so much of it for most of my life. She said that sounded like a good fit for a Geography major, and I sort of went along with it. Mostly because it didn’t come with any extra math requirements.”

                “Huh, I guess it’s not the worst match,” Alice noted. “Though I’ll be damned if I know what sort of cover you can manage with a degree in geography.”

                “They’ve had to work with far worse,” Mr. Numbers assured her.

                “I have a question.” Chad politely raised his hand as he spoke. When no one talked over him, he took the cue to continue, putting his arm down in the process. “This seems to all work off the assumption that we want to have cover identities. What if we decide to live in the open as soon as we leave the HCP?”

                “Well, you’re free to do that, but it’s going to severely limit your internship options,” Mr. Transport replied. “Remember, your mentors will be taking you along, teaching you like a live-in student. If you don’t have a cover, then that exposes them as well, since anytime they’re seen with you out of their mask it risks their identity. I’m not saying there are none who would take you, just know that you’d be working from a much smaller pool.”

                “Ah, that explains it,” Chad said. He looked around the room at the confused stares, and explained. “I always wondered why Angela was so willing to accept living with her identity as a secret when she left the HCP. Her identities are so close to one another, I’d expected her to at least consider not bothering with it. But if it limited her training options, she’d certainly have agreed to drawing a line between Angela and Charon.”

                “Most Heroes do,” Mr. Numbers told them. “And that’s not an accident. It’s good to actually get into the world and see what things are like before making that kind of decision. Remember, there are a lot of safeguards to keep your identity protected, but once you choose to release it that genie can never be put back in the bottle. Your mundane life is a precious thing, don’t let it go easily.”

                “But for now, just worry about taking the tests and choosing a good cover.” Mr. Transport tapped the flash drives for emphasis. “And I urge you to take it seriously. This is your fake future we’re talking about, after all.”