Chapter – XXXVI
Most college professors would be thrilled, or possibly heartbroken, to walk into their classroom on a Friday morning to find the entire class already seated with their notebooks and ready, eager, for class to begin.
However Dean Smith of the Sizemore Tech HCP wasn’t a normal professor. It was what he expected of his class, and on this day his expectations were higher than ever. This Friday marked the first time an outside speaker would be addressing the freshman class, and not only had Dean Smith emphasized how important it would be to their grades, he also made sure they knew how rare an opportunity this was.
So he wasn’t surprised at all to walk into the room to find a model class before him. Under normal circumstances there were always a couple students who scampered in just before class started. But today everyone was settled in with an electric excitement in the air as Dean Smith entered the room.
“Good morning class!” He said, in a bright tone that would have been simply painfully ironic in any of the above-ground classes. “I can’t say how glad I am to see you all here bight, early, and ready to go. As you well know, we will be welcoming our first guest speaker of the year today, leader of Second City Justice, Ani-Man. Now, I’m sure you are all anxious to hear him speak, so I will keep this short. I doubt I need to say this, but I expect all of you” he said, eyes casually scanning the classroom, briefly pausing on Christina Ross before moving on. “To be polite and respectful of our guest. Not simply because he is a guest, but out of respect for what he has accomplished as a Hero. Now, without any further ado, give a warm welcome to the leader of Second City Justice, Ani-Man!”
Some professors, or administrators for that matter, might have tried to encourage the welcome by leading off with obvious, and possibly phony, clapping. Even if Dean Smith were prone to such displays, it wouldn’t have been necessary for a class of aspiring heroes about to be addressed by one of the preeminent heroes in the city of Chicago.
The class gave an enthusiastic round of applause as a tall man, in a red and blue costume that was so stereotypically bold it bordered on the the cliche, entered the room. His eyes were hidden by lenses built into the cowl, but the rest of his face was only framed by the material, which also left his golden blonde hair exposed. The more observant members of the class noticed that the uniform seemed to incorporate padding and strike plates over particularly vulnerable areas.
“Good morning everyone.” he said warmly, his confident voice filling the room. “As Dean Smith said, my codename is Ani-Man, and I am the current leader of Second City Justice. I have no doubt that you’ve already been given a thorough grounding in the role of teams in hero work, so instead of giving you guys yet another lecture I’m going to jump right to the part where I answer your questions. Sound good?”
Ani-Man was rewarded with an enthusiastic murmur of assent. “Okay,” he said “Who’s up first? And please, tell me your name.”
There was a brief pause, a long moment where the only sound was bodies shifting uncomfortably in seats. Nobody could blame the class for being a bit star struck, Ani-Man cut an impressive figure by design and his public persona embodied everything they were trying to achieve. But before that silence could truly grow awkward, Peter Shaw raised his hand, and was quickly called upon.
“Good morning sir, Peter Shaw, I thought I’d get the big one out of the way first. How did you get to be the leader of your team?” Peter asked.
“I can’t say I wasn’t expecting that one,” the hero said with a small laugh. “I was originally apprenticed to Lodestar, who was the leader at the time, I learned a lot about real leadership. After my time as a sidekick was up, I was accepted into Second City Justice as a full member. After a while, other members started looking to me when only parts of the team would mobilize or we would split up to accomplish multiple objectives. When Loadstar finally retired, he had one hell of a long career for a hero, the team elected me the new leader. Some teams do things differently, but when Justice was set up, the founders thought that the members agreeing on the leader would help them work more effectively.”
“Thank you, sir.” Peter said.
“Absolutely. Now, who’s next?” Ani-Man said with a smile, scanning the classroom “How about you? The tall blonde young lady in the back.”
“Thank you, Elizabeth Rowe, I was wondering, what is the hardest part of being the leader of a team like Second City Justice?”
“Good question Elizabeth. The decisions you have to make in the field are always the hardest part, but something people don’t always realize is how hard it can be to deal with the various personalities on a team of heroes. We are all powerful, highly trained, and usually more than a little bit confident. You can’t do this job if you don’t have iron-clad self-confidence, but that also means heroes can have some awfully big personalities. People are usually professional, but dealing with personality conflicts, learning the best way to deal with different people. That can be one of the hardest parts of being a leader, even though most on the outside don’t realize it. That’s something to remember, for all our power and training, heroes are still people, complete with all the quirks and faults that everyone else has.”
As he finished, Elizabeth was nodding her head in understanding. This time without being prompted a small forest of hands sprouted, and Ani-Man called on one that he thought looked familiar.
“How about the young lady with the… Interesting hair?”
“Christina Ross” she said. Ani-Man’s suspicions confirmed, he carefully kept his pleasant, encouraging smile, and didn’t let a hint of recognition show as she continued. “Why did you join the team in the first place? I saw the “Heroes Tonight” vid of you guys taking down those thugs at the gas station. You or Cold Fusion could have taken all of them out without breaking a sweat. So why bother with a team?”
Figures Ani-Man thought to himself.
“Could I have taken them out by myself? Sure. But what you saw was a distraction” He said, emphasizing the word. “Cold Fusion and I were distracting them so we could rescue the police officers stranded outside and the hostages inside, and doing so in a way that kept those gang members from blowing up the gas station and putting even more innocent lives at risk. After my internship, I joined Second City Justice as a full member because I learned the value of having teammates to watch my back, to do things that I just can’t. And also, to help cope when we fail. There are some heroes who work solo. Some are powerful or versatile enough to handle most situations on their own, or some who are too useful to be attached to any one team, usually teleporters or healers, but most of us have to rely on someone else. One of the hardest lessons you’ll learn in the HCP, and hopefully as a Hero, is that there is always somebody more powerful, stronger, or just matches up well with you. The only way to win is with help.”
Christina looked as though she wanted to add something, but simply frowned and held her tongue. From his spot observing surreptitiously in the corner, Dean Smith counted it as progress. While the dean was quietly musing, Ani-Man called on Max.
“Thank you, and I’m Max Hall sir.” Max said, “I was wondering, you said that not all teams vote on who the leader should be, what are some of the other ways they decide?”
“There are a few ways to various teams use. For some teams it’s… Well, hereditary for lack of a better term. Leaders name their replacement when they retire. Other teams use power assessments to make the choice.”
“Power assessments? Shouldn’t they already know what each others powers are?” Max asked.
Ani-Man chuckled “No, they’re really more like the ranking matches you guys have here. A bit longer and more complex, but really just fights. It’s something the more combat oriented teams use. Only the strongest can lead, sort of thing.”
“Oh, okay, thank you sir. I have a ranking match tomorrow as it happens, do you have any advice?”
“Only to try your best and don’t give up,” Ani-Man said. “A fight can be a chaotic thing, and how you respond to the unexpected can be almost as important as whether you win or lose.”
“And on that note, I think we have reached a good stopping point” Dean Smith broke in. “Our guest has other matters to attend to today, so we best leave him to it. I’ll be releasing you early, but you still have P.E., so I suggest you don’t wander far.”