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The H.E.R.O. Project

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The scent of spring was in the air, even in the middle of Cenere City. Fluffy clouds populated a sky of infinite depth, moving slowly with the first warm winds of the year. The sun floated over the city with a radiant benevolence, not yet in its cruel summer mood. It was a perfect day for eating outside.

However, ice cream wouldn’t have been Izuku’s first choice. It wasn’t quite hot enough for him to crave it, but because he knew Ochaco didn’t get out much, he had happily accompanied her to the local ice cream parlor. She’d chosen a table among Over the Moon Ice Cream’s outdoor seating, under its red-and-white-striped awning, where they’d been sitting and chatting for the past thirty minutes.

Ochaco waved her hands about excitedly, her cone piled with soft serve wobbling dangerously. “It’s about this family, set in pre-World War III America, where the son has this girlfriend, right?”

Izuku nodded, trying to keep up with Ochaco’s re-telling of all the new TV sitcoms she’d been watching in her free time. He took the pause in the conversation to remind her that her ice cream was melting.

“Oh, you’re right!” She hurriedly licked it, accidentally leaving a pale pink dot of strawberry ice cream on the tip of her nose. Unaware, she simply continued talking after she’d finished, practically bouncing in her chair with excitement. Izuku wasn’t sure how to tell her without embarrassing her, or himself for that matter, but if he waited any longer, it might melt and drip onto her new t-shirt, which was white with a cute little cat on the chest. He knew she’d be a little sad if she ruined it.

“Ochaco…”

“Huh?”

“T-there’s a little ice cream on your nose…” Izuku could feel his own face heat up when she blushed, even though he wasn’t really sure why.

“Oh, gosh, really?” Ochaco grabbed a napkin out of the dispenser and wiped it away, grinning even though her cheeks were still pink. “Thanks, Izuku. I never would’ve noticed!”

“N-no problem!” They’d known each other since childhood, but Izuku couldn’t remember when or why she’d begun to make him feel so nervous. He preoccupied himself by biting into his cone, having already finished the ice cream.

Ochaco paused to finish off her melting ice cream, so Izuku took the moment to take a deep breath and reassess his surroundings. He knew it was silly, to be so obsessed with training reserved for future heroes like Ochaco, but he couldn’t help himself.

Carefully, Izuku took note of the small cafes and shops around them, mostly selling food or souvenirs for tourists. To his left was the parlor window, which he couldn’t see through, but he could see the reflection of the sidewalk, carefully spaced trees, and the road. Izuku turned as a black car drove by, comfortably under the speed limit. A spherical security drone hovered above, taking in a 360 degree picture of the street with full sound. About twenty feet away, another camera drone floated. During his studies, he’d learned that the drones were also capable of collecting meteorological data, remotely reading I.D. cards, performing thermal scans of individual people, and other useful functions. Together, the system of drones throughout the world could construct a detailed picture of the movements of any of the globe’s 10 billion citizens, until they entered private property, at least. At that point, they relied on the subjects of the H.E.R.O. Project to fill in the holes.

“Izuku?” Ochaco was looking at him curiously.

“Oh, sorry! I, uh, got distracted.” Izuku looked away just as a silvery mobile security drone across the street turned and aimed its camera at him. He swallowed awkwardly. He knew he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but when they looked right at him like that, it put him on edge anyway.

Ochaco sighed contentedly. “It’s such a beautiful day outside...Oo, let’s go somewhere special!”

“S-special?”

“Yeah!” Ochaco looked at him with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, which probably meant she wanted to do something expensive. “I was thinking—” She was interrupted by a beep from her phone. She puffed out her cheeks in annoyance when she read the notification. “Aw, they want me back at the Lab.”

“That’s okay,” Izuku said quickly. He knew his dad was planning something exciting for her, after all, even if he hadn’t been told too much. “We can go wherever you want after you finish.” Only after he’d said it did he truly realize what he’d said, his cheeks heating again.

Ochaco just giggled in excitement, oblivious. “You’re the best, Izuku!”

Izuku nearly sighed in relief. Even though her words had made him blush even more, he still had his dignity if she hadn’t noticed.

Together, the two of them walked back towards the H.E.R.O. Lab. Izuku scanned their surroundings some more as they walked, not willing to let go of the old habit. The street was lined on both sides with quaint shops, but at the intersection ahead, there were a few mega-stores and a supermarket, and further beyond those were towering office buildings, the Lab among them. A drone glided nearly soundlessly behind them, scanning them before beeping its approval and leaving to scan anyone else that moved locations.

“I wonder what they want,” Ochaco mused, finishing off her cone with a crunch and sucking the residue off her thumb. “Nothing too crazy, I hope.”

Izuku felt a twinge of guilt at that, since he always enjoyed watching the crazy stuff from the observation deck. The scientists let him up there sometimes, especially if Dad was already there anyway.

“Probably not,” Izuku assured her. “My dad was dropping hints and it sounds like something you’ll like.”

Ochaco sighed, tossing her napkin into a garbage can as they walked by it. She slapped her cheeks a few times to psych herself up before breaking out into a smile. “Alright! If you think so, I’m looking forward to it!”

After they arrived at the building, Izuku’s phone made a few duck sounds.

“Your dad?” Ochaco asked, tilting her head.

“Yeah.” Izuku took it out, reading the message.

bring ochaco to rm 115-9 pls?

One of the meeting rooms? He’d expected his dad would want her in one of the training rooms. Frowning, he typed back,

15-9?

no 115-9

“Okay, then…” Izuku muttered.

“What’s up?”

“Well…”

The two of them walked through the pristine lobby and towards the elevators, stepping into one as it automatically opened in response to Ochaco’s I.D. card.

“Dad actually wants you in one of the meeting rooms right now.”

Ochaco let out a little squeak, fiddling with the hem of her t-shirt. “Oh, no! They said I would be debuting soon, but I didn’t think it’d be in front of a bunch of business guys, first!” She sighed. “Maybe I should have put on a little makeup or something…”

“You look nice,” Izuku assured her feebly, the content of his words compromising the delivery. His face went red again.

Naturally, it didn’t seem to soothe her. “Thanks…”

The pair stepped out on one of the upper floors, potted plants at the sides of the elevator door. It was one of the areas that business partners and government officials actually got to see, so it was less sterile and more office-like, with art on the walls and sculptures on pedestals. Ochaco looked around, astonished.

After a short walk down a carpeted hallway, Izuku opened the door to Room 115-9, Ochaco’s breath catching in her throat in anticipation. A whiteboard hung on the wall opposite the door, a large mahogany table filling most of the floorspace. Five black leather swivel chairs waited around the table, an additional chair occupied by Dad.

“Izuku!” He waved. “Good! You brought Ochaco.”

“Um...Dr. Midoriya?” she asked. “What’s going on, exactly?”

“I’ll explain once everyone’s here, but don’t worry, it’s nothing stressful.” Dad smiled at her reassuringly before turning to Izuku. “We need Tenya, Momo, Katsuki, and Shoto. All of them are in the training halls except Shoto. He’s in Dr. Shuzenji’s office. Can you get them for me?”

“Yeah, of course.”

Ochaco shot Izuku a questioning look, as she didn’t recognize any of the names, but Izuku just returned a smile before leaving her in the room with his dad. He could hardly believe what was happening. Despite the overwhelming emotion rising in his chest, he tried to keep his focus.

To the training rooms.

Without Ochaco with him, Izuku had to actually press a button in the elevator to go down to the basement. As the elevator began moving, Izuku couldn’t help but feel his heart leap a little. Having grown up around the subjects but never being able to talk to one about any of the others had been difficult, and sometimes a little saddening. Now, however, it seemed all of his friends would finally be meeting each other.

The first training room belonged to Katsuki. Izuku opened the first door, which led to a small mudroom with two other doors– one to the observation deck, and one to the actual training room. In the observation deck, several scientists were taking notes on Katsuki’s abilities. Izuku tried to resist the urge to watch his old friend when he walked in, but it was hard when he was so amazing, jumping and flipping and making droids explode with a gigantic grin on his face, like it was no big deal at all. Though Katsuki had stopped being nice to him over the years, Izuku had to admit that he’d never quite gotten rid of his childish admiration for the other boy.

“Dad needs Katsuki right now,” Izuku reported to one of the scientists, who simply nodded and spoke over the P.A., telling Katsuki to come out and meet Izuku in the hallway.

A minute later, they were walking down the hall to fetch the others.

“What does your dad want on a damn Monday?” Katsuki growled, wiping sweat from his brow with a towel. He was always in a foul mood these days, but Izuku figured he was probably more irritated than usual because his favorite training day had been interrupted.

“Sorry.” Izuku managed a small grin, even though Katsuki was still glowering at him. “I’m not sure what he wants exactly–”

“Geez, he doesn’t even tell you anything?”

His harsh tone made Izuku stop in his tracks. He frowned, shifting from foot to foot. “Well, they wouldn’t want it to leak...In fact, I probably already know a little too much for my own good, anyway…”

“Whatever.” Katsuki stomped out ahead before realizing he didn’t know where he was going. “Which way?”

“Uh, here...” Izuku scurried in front of him and led the way to the other rooms. On second thought, maybe he should have gotten one of the others first, since they tended to be more civil than Katsuki. Then again, it was unlikely any of them would be truly intimidated by his rough exterior, except perhaps for Ochaco, who was already upstairs.

Once again, Izuku felt a buoyant sensation of excitement, like there was a balloon expanding in his chest. He felt himself walking faster now, his feet lighter; he was sure he was floating. His hands tingled, and he couldn’t have stopped the smile spreading across his face even if he’d wanted to.

Finally!