It wasn’t a smart move to bring Dementra, Warrior Queen of Galadron, along for Career Day. Her outfit, a chainmail swimsuit right out of a sword-and-planet cliché, must have violated every dress code rule in the place. As if being a statuesque space amazon wasn’t enough of a distraction. At least it was a one-piece, although the shimmering metallic skirt was more of a belt than anything.
“I told you to wear your battlesuit,” I said.
Dementra replied, “I didn’t think we were expecting battle.”
“I’m behind on laundry,” she said.
“You could’ve borrowed something from me.”
Dementra smirked. We weren’t even close to the same size, but she was polite enough not to mention that.
We found the principal’s office, where we were greeted by the assistant principal, Ms. Wong. She cast a disapproving glare at Dementra, and I could hear her thoughts. Not literally. I wasn’t telepathic. But I’d seen that look enough to know when I’d run across someone who didn’t care for superheroes. We’d given up the spandex and colorful names years ago, but it didn’t change the image. Dementra wasn’t helping any.
“Are you the representatives?” asked Wong.
I nodded. “That’s us.”
She frowned. “For the record, I don’t approve of this.”
“Are you in a position to deny us access to our charges?” said Dementra.
“Then I fail to see why your opinion should matter to us. For the record.”
Diplomacy wasn’t the warrior queen’s strong suit.
“We just want to talk to the kids,” I said. “We aren’t here to pressure them into anything.”
Wong harummphed. Quite literally. I’d only seen Victor Van Vanquisher harummph with equal disgust, and that was after we’d smashed his doomsday device, the Annihilatoratron. Or was it the Decimatter Ray? It all started to blend together after a couple of years.
We were led to a small classroom where three kids were waiting for us. A young man, probably only fifteen, juggled fireballs while an eighteen years old goth girl was burning holes in her desk with her fingertips. There was a kid in the back too. No indication of what he might be capable of.
I expected Wong to introduce us, but she merely opened the door and marched away.
“Do you want to start or do I?” I asked Dementra.
“Given your deeper understanding of Earthly culture, you would probably be the wiser choice.”
“They’re kids,” I said. “What the hell do I know about kids?”
The goth girl raised her hand.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “You can just talk.”
She rolled her eyes and pursed her black lips. “I don’t want to be here. Can I go?”
“Sure, I guess,” I said.
Goth girl sighed as if carrying the weight of the world on her pale shoulders. “Forget it. Stupid radioactive waste. Why couldn’t it just kill me?
Instead, it gives me acid fingers. Goddamn acid fingers. What kind of superpower is that anyway?”
“Pretty stupid power,” agreed fireball kid. He stopped juggling with his hands, and the flames kept twirling.
She raised her hand.
“You don’t need to–” I started.
“Isn’t acid fingers more of a supervillain power anyway?” she asked.
God, I hated Career Day.
“Not necessarily,” I replied.
“How much do superheroes earn?” asked fireball. “Because I plan on becoming a musician, and I’d like to know my options.”
“That’s terrific,” said goth girl. “Very altruistic.”
“Just being practical.”
“The pay is okay,” I said. “Some successful heroes swing endorsement deals. But it’s not supposed to be about that.”
“Lame,” said fireball.
Dementra smashed her fist into a desk, breaking it. Wong wasn’t going to like that.
“The glory of conflict is the only reward a true warrior needs. It is only when testing our strength to its limits that we learn what we are made of. It is only when inhaling the sweet breath of death itself that we know what it is to live.”
I cleared my throat.
“Oh, and justice, too, and protecting the helpless,” she said. “That’s important, I suppose.”
I said, “Look. I know you didn’t choose to have this happen to you, and I can’t say being a superhero is a life for everyone. Most people don’t become superhero or villains. Most people like you elect to live as normal as possible. And that’s fine. That’s their choice, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But we’re just here to give you information that might be useful.”
“You’re not very good at this,” said fireball. “The guy they sent last year was a lot more inspiring.”
“Well, he’s off somewhere stopping terrorists from blowing up the moon,” I said. “So you’ll have to make do with us. Now, do you have any other questions?”
They did, and they were all the usual. Was it dangerous? Did you need a secret identity? Why didn’t we wear costumes anymore? Why did we even need a team when Barry had more powers than the rest of us combined? And so on and so on.
We answered them as best we could. Honestly. Despite what Wong might have thought, I never wanted to encourage anyone to be a superhero. The pay was decent, but the hours were lousy. The world quickly forgot every time you saved it and always remembered your ever screw up. For every thousand lives you might save, there was one you couldn’t. And you’d never forget them. You’d see them every night, and you’d tell yourself that you did the best you could. But you’d always wonder if you could have done better.
“No offense, Ma’am,” said fireball, “but it sounds like a shitty job.”
“That’s why most people don’t do it,” I replied.
The bell rang, and the kids filed out. I gave each of them a card to call us if they had any follow-up questions, but I didn’t expect to hear from them again. We usually didn’t.
The quiet kid took the card. “My mom was on that collapsing bridge when Collosotron attacked. She almost died.”
I remembered that bridge. I wasn’t quite certain of the limits of my strength, but that day, holding a bridge up, I think I’d nearly found it.
“Glad she didn’t,” I said.
He smiled and disappeared in a blink.
“And you said you didn’t relate to kids,” said Dementra.
“Oh, I’m down with the youths.”
We quietly exited the school before Dementra’s outfit could land us in detention.