Chapter 42

                “We don’t have to do this, you know,” Will whispered. They were seated by wilting plants, away from the rest of the small, but larger than they’d hoped, attendees waiting for the meeting to begin. The Lander Student Center was vast and largely deserted, not much of a surprise on a Saturday afternoon. One of the more moderately sized meeting rooms had its doors open, along with homemade posters alerting all to what was happening inside. As the time to start drew near, Camille felt familiar knots of tension in her stomach. She would probably never get over having poor nerves, but she’d long ago learned to push past them and focus on the task at hand. Be it a battle, or something she was less experienced with.

                “That’s my line,” she told Will. “I’m the one who invited you along.”

                “I was just throwing it out there.” Will turned slightly away, carefully examining the faces of the other nearby students.

                “Were you really going to just let this slide without keeping tabs on them?” Camille asked.

                “No, but my methods involved a less personal touch.” Will sighed and adjusted his glasses. “Though I suppose there is something to be said for firsthand experience.”

                “Excuse me, everyone.” A tall woman with clearly dyed red hair stepped into the hall, drawing all eyes to her. “If you could come on in, we’re about ready to get started.”

                Camille and Will joined the rest of the herd as they began filing into the room, rows of padded folding chairs set up for people to rest on. She took a bit of vicious joy in the fact that there were far more seats than people, they weren’t drawing as much of a crowd as they’d hoped. Then again, she would have preferred to see the room entirely empty, so it was a bitter victory.

                No one seemed to pay much attention to either she or Will as they made their way to a pair of chairs near the middle of the room, far enough back to not be crowded, but not so near the exit as to draw attention on themselves. Both of them had worn loose, layered clothing to hide their physiques. It was one of the reasons she’d asked Will to come along, his naturally slender frame meant that while three years of HCP training had left him strong and toned, when well-covered he could appear as scrawny. Being fit was hardly a dead give-away of HCP students in a school this size, there were dozens of sports and athletic clubs without even counting people who just liked to exercise, but every little bit they could do to blend in was key. Powers aside, neither she nor Will stood out as particularly remarkable, and for once that was something she considered a strength.

                The room quickly settled as the other attendees found seats, mercifully none of them came too close to Will and Camille. Not that they would do anything as risky or stupid as trying to talk during the meeting, but she still preferred not to sit any closer to these people than she had to. Even being here made her skin want to crawl, and she found herself suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that her power hadn’t forced her to go the Subtlety route.

                “Afternoon everyone.” The red-head was now standing at the front of the room, a large white board and folding table filled with fliers behind her. “As many of you know, my name is Kennedy Dawson, and I’m one of the co-founders of this student activist group. Now some of you are familiar faces, but I see a lot of newcomers in the crowd as well, so please forgive me while I do a brief introduction to what we’re trying to accomplish here. Simply put: in light of last year’s events we believe that it is no longer safe to house the Hero Certification Programs on campuses with normal, non-Super students. While no one here wants to disparage the work that actual Heroes do, this situation puts us in unnecessary danger, and it is our goal to make the administration recognize that fact and take action to correct it. We want to take Lander back for the regular people.”

                Years of shyness and forced facial control paid off, as Camille fought to keep a sour expression from breaking through her placid facade. Will also remained stoic, which was the other reason she’d chosen him to come along. Showing up as a lone woman to something like this risked inviting unnecessary romantic attention, and while Camille wasn’t particularly prideful about her looks, she’d been hit on enough to know it was a possibility. But the other men she trusted were a little too passionate; they wouldn’t be able to hold their tongues listening to this. Much as she loved him, not even Vince would remain silent if he heard something he felt was wrong. That attitude had its place, but this wasn’t it. Right now, they just needed to know what was happening. Information was worth more than speaking, for the moment.

                “Now there have been some concerns raised, probably by the HCP members themselves, that this sort of rhetoric falls in line with hate groups like the Sons of Progress,” Kennedy continued. “So I want to take this moment and make it clear that we are in no way a group calling for any sort of harm or end to Heroes or the Supers training to become them. We have lots of respect for what they do; we just want them to do it somewhere else.”

                “You know Lander was founded as a school for the HCP in the first place, right?” The voice came from a broad-shouldered man with a buzz-cut, sitting by himself near the back of the room. “So saying you want to take it back is a misnomer. This place exists because the Heroes needed a place to train where they could still get an education. Without them, you wouldn’t even be here.”

                “It’s just a phrase we picked to encapsulate our goal.” To her credit, Kennedy handled the interruption with surprising calm, even smiling at the man as he glared at her.

                “Uh huh. And what about all the Supers and Powereds who aren’t with the HCP? Do you think they need to get off campus as well?”

                “Of course not, we are certainly not advocating for any policies that infringe on the civil liberties of Supers or Powereds.” Kennedy’s words so crisp it betrayed the fact that they’d obviously been rehearsed.

                “Your type never does, at first.” A few of the other organization members had worked their way around to the man with the buzzcut, who stood from his chair as they drew closer, revealing just how much larger he was than them. From the way he held himself, Camille had a good hunch it wasn’t useless muscle, either. If it came to violence, her money was on the buzzcut, and not just because she really wanted him to win.

                “I’ll go on my own, thanks,” he offered. “But if you want to try and grab me, I’ll welcome the chance to exercise self-defense. I’ve heard enough anyway, I know the makings of a hate group when I see one.” He literally spat on the floor as he walked past one of the men sent to grab him, his face red, daring anyone to try and get too close. “The HCP students weren’t the ones who attacked us, you know. They risked everything to help us. One of them saved my best friends. So you have your little meetings, stir up the same anti-Super bullshit, but know that you’re not going at this uncontested. We stopped the administration from kicking them out of housing, and we’ll get you shut down as well.”

                With that, he pushed open the door and slammed it behind him.

                “Sorry about that, everyone,” Kennedy said, somehow still composed after that tirade. “As you can see, emotions on the subject run high, which is why we have to be all the more stalwart in our determination. Some people are going to react poorly, even though we’ve got the school’s best interests at heart. Don’t worry though, we’re all committed to supporting one another, and if we keep at it, together we can make a difference at Lander.”

                Her cheery tone lightened the room, filling many of the more devoted students with a fresh wave of hope. Crazy as it was, there was always the chance that this movement could pick up steam, actually managing to do what she promised: change the very face of Lander.

                And that was exactly what Camille was afraid of.