Ethan stared out the window of his hotel room, sipping his coffee and considering his future.
It was a rainy day in Chicago but the temperature was pleasant enough, and his room contained very comfortable furniture. He had tasks that needed doing, but he wasn’t really in the mood. Besides, it was the kind of soft rain that made you want to just sit and enjoy the moment.
He glanced down at the table nearest to him, full of scattered notes and files. Research. On the HCP, on Chicago, on Sizemore University. Blueprints of the entire campus lay there. Every restroom noted and every office labeled. Mom had taught him well the advantage of being prepared.
His purpose in becoming a hero wasn’t for revenge. He’d already accomplished that. Nor was it from some sense of self-doubt in his abilities. Stolen or otherwise. No, Ethan Burkhardt had a much more unusual reason for dedicating his life to such a goal.
An Oath and a Dream. His oath was his own, taken the moment he realized mother’s death was his fault. The dream could have been from anyone. It could have been his own subconscious causing trouble. He doubted that theory. It had been too clear, too easily remembered for it to be purely imagination.
His mom had always warned him about faulty memories, and though it was said with a laugh, he had taken it to heart. The next four years would likely be only the start of a career rife with hardships and pitfalls. He needed to remember it all. There was also the matter considering the drop out policy all applicants were forced to sign. It spelled out a version of identity protection that involved fogging a person’s memory.
While Ethan would do everything in his power never to get to that point, it was always better to be cautious. He had too much riding on this. He wanted it too much. He knew that. But it was worth it.
He would start with a small notebook, written in a code made of pure nonsense. Perhaps the pattern could be recognized, but translating it without the key would be nearly impossible. Nearly, because for whatever precautions one might take, there was undoubtedly a hero somewhere that could undo them with a snap of their fingers.
Notes, thoughts, reviews of training and combat, summaries of classes, and journals of daily activities. All offline.
He sat down his mug on the table and sorted aside his current semester schedule. There was English Lit, a history class, and Intro to Physics. A basic social elective filled out the calendar.
Only a few days left before classes began. He would be living in the dorm rooms and had already packed most of his items (such as there were) in preparation for the move. He’d have to put more work into meeting people once he was finished.
Problem was, he’d just been so busy trying to find a decent part-time job, but most were already locked down. This was Chicago, you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult for someone to find a place to work. His mistake was in forgetting that this was also the end of summer, and college students were flooding back into the area like locusts. The good jobs were all snatched up quickly, and what’s left were the dregs of… huh. Dregs. An idea began to form. There had been a number of cafes or coffee stands near the Market. Perhaps one of them would be hiring? The turnover rate was fairly sharp when working in retail or food industries. He might just get lucky.
Plus, his high school summers working in The Lodge might finally come in hand, and the thought of being a barista for a few semesters wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.
That goal in mind, Ethan moved back from the table, stretching widely before beginning the process of destroying the paperwork in front of him. It had served his purpose, and while not strictly illegal in any way, no evidence was always better than offering a confusing explanation.
His mind wandered to his future classmates. What would they be like? He fully expected the peace and quiet he was so used to while living alone to be shattered on campus. Hopefully, they would be interesting enough to make up for its loss… though actually, he’d rather desire that they be useful.
Ethan’s goals for the future relied on him becoming friends (or at the very least building connections) with a large number of Supers. Teleportation was at the very top of the list, but any kind of advanced mind would also be necessary.
The only question was, who would he meet first?
With a gentle stride, Jackson moved off the train and dropped to the floor of Union Station. He smiled a little then, looking about with eyes that saw more than they seemed. He shifted his duffel to the other shoulder, then began moving softly forward, the crowd of people in his path quickly giving him a wide berth. His obvious background showed clearly here in the city, his size only seeming to declare it all to the world. He disregarded the fearful looks that stared in his direction and made his way through the station to the taxi parking.
He quietly handed his duffel to the driver, who seemed fairly nonplussed about his size, and squeezed into the backseat. After giving the address of Sizemore Tech to the driver; he sat back and watched as the city flew past his window.
Well… it certainly wasn’t the forest. But to his surprise, Chicago did have its own unique beauty. It streamed from the high glass windows of the skyscrapers, flowing down across the brick and mortar of a weathered cathedral. There was a busy feeling to the city, a breath of purposefulness and determination, of excitement and possibilities.
“Heading to Sizemore, huh?” the driver glanced in his rearview mirror.
“Yes,” Jackson responded softly.
“Going to be Hero someday?” he grinned.
“Who can say?” Jackson turned back to the window. “The future is unknown. Full of potential, but undetermined nonetheless.”
The driver nodded with appreciation.“Huh. I guess that makes sense. Well, good luck anyway.”
“Thank you. Luck is always a good thing to have.” Jackson smiled back.
The rest of the drive through the city continued peacefully and without interruption, the taxi finally dropping him off at the front of the Sizemore Tech Campus. After a friendly goodbye to his driver, then shouldering his duffel once more, he made his way to the administration building.
Emerging about an hour later, he slowly began the walk to the designated dorms. Apparently he would be living in Randolph Hall this year. He wondered what exactly that would entail. After all, a great many of the buildings in this area of the city were very old. Many voices resided here, though they might be worn with age and disheartened by remaining unnoticed for so long. He’d noticed much impatience while in the city, a far cry from the laid back feeling so prevalent in the forest.
Well, this time someone was able to listen. He couldn’t wait to get to work.
Travis stopped walking once he reached the curb and stared at the dorms, a look of excitement spreading across his face. Behind him, Casey continued dragging his suitcases over to the curb, waiting for the rest of the family to catch up.
The blond-haired young man was slightly winded, but couldn’t use his ability for fear of being noticed. It was definitely an odd feeling, that of trying not to stand out. The boys had always been… well, noticeable, and had thrived in such an environment. This was a much different atmosphere.
“Hey, Travis buddy, if it isn’t too much work, thank you could manage to liberate a few boxes from the top of the stack? I’d rather get moved in sooner rather than later ya know?”
“Sure, sure. Be there in a sec.” Travis continued to gaze with thoughtful delight at the surrounding campus. From their current viewpoint at the northwestern top of the quad, they could see over quite a large area.
To the south and east, the campus spread out in a fascinating blend of the old and new architecture styles Chicago was somewhat famous for. Ancient red-brick buildings surrounded the central part of the school, usually two to three stories in height. Only slightly further beyond that, one could see the gothic church steeple rising in the background. Since the establishment of HCP in the 50s, the small community college had undergone something of a renaissance, shifting into the massive sprawling institute it was now.
Lake Michigan provided the perfect backdrop from this viewpoint, its shining waters reflecting the sunlight into a myriad of colors. A soft breeze from the north shifted Travis’s dark curls, and he closed his eyes to just feel the moment.
It felt so right.
Casey’s hand landed on his shoulder, pulling him from his reverie and into a tight side-hug.
“Hey. She would have been proud ya know. Seeing you here.” His best friend had a solemn look on his face and was joining him in staring at the distant horizon.
With a small nod, Travis broke the hug and stepped back with a grin. “Here, let me help you carry that. Before you break something. Again.”
“Hey! It was one time ok! I just misjudged how much I could carry. Cause, ya know, I’ve been doing all this work while you’ve been daydreaming. So now we have to be without your fancy speakers. Boohoo.”
Readjusting his load, Casey waited for a few other students to move past them on the sidewalk before continuing his journey to the second floor of Stangel Hall. The atmosphere around them was full of energy as over 20,000 new or returning students made their way on the campus in preparation for a new semester.
He shoved his way past the boxes lining the hallway, then virtually threw his suitcases into their shared dorm room. “Hey man, you never did tell me how we got a room together. I thought that was a random thing for incoming freshmen?”
With deft hands, Travis continued sorting his clothing into the small closet provided. “Well, you see, first I had to bribe the dean of admissions, which was no small task by the way, then I had to convince the dean of students, which was slightly easier, but then I had to talk to the dean of the HCP, and that my friend, was the real challenge.”
He turned to find Casey staring at him with a dead expression plastered across his face and two upturned fingers presented expressively. Laughing, Travis threw a package of underwear at his friend’s face. “Nah man. There was a note in the application if you already wanted to room with another incoming student. Since we’re both freshmen in the HCP, it was approved.”
“Cool.” Casey belted the underwear back towards the other side of the room. “Want to grab a bite to eat after this? I could go for some pizza.”
“Sure. Uh, but seriously though, pizza? You know orientation is tomorrow, right? All that grease, rolling around in your gut. Just a disaster waiting to blow.”
“Nah, I ain’t worried. After all, it’s the first day. What’s the worst that can happen?”