Chapter 1

West Private University had a number of faculty conference rooms for its various departments. Only its Hero Certification Program located their faculty rooms below ground. There were any number of good reasons for doing so, including security, anonymity and minimizing damage to school grounds.

The Dean of West Private's HCP still regretted those reasons. A nice view would have been a lovely distraction from the arguments already filling this conference room.

"We've already admitted a full class," Sam Goddard said. He kept a level tone but his ire was unmistakable behind those lady-killer features. Seemingly no older than his mid-thirties, the Dean had endured all manner of whispers for the past few years since he'd signed on to teach Ranged Combat and Weapons. Why wasn't he still an active Hero? Of course, most concluded he had reason enough to seek a post here since his older sister was the Dean.

"Four more coming in at the Freshman level isn't going to matter much," said Ava Stevens. The small, petite blonde woman was among the kindest, warmest of her Professors despite her prodigious abilities in teaching Control. Disagreeing with Sam was second nature for her, ever since she'd broken off their engagement after he'd cheated on her years ago. The friction occasionally frustrated the Dean but, just as often, it motivated the two professionals to compete for turning out the strongest students. "It does break school procedure, though."

"Exactly," said Elaine Goddard. "You make an exception once and you'll have parents forcing their children into larger and larger class sizes. It's hard enough finding good faculty as it is."

The elegant, perfectly poised blonde instructor looked enough like Ava the two could almost be sisters, though Ava was American while Elaine was English. Their relationship was nearly that close, somehow best friends despite the fact that Elaine was married to Ava's ex, making the English woman the Dean's sister-in-law. Having three of West Private's HCP professors related to her was a headache she dealt with annually, always outweighed by the outstanding results her program turned out. That and Elaine's point; it was damn hard to find Heroes willing to tackle the thankless job of teaching the next generation.

At least, it was hard enough that it explained the fourth Professor here. Paul Matthias was a big man, dwarfing everyone else in the room through his sheer muscular bulk. The expensive suit, vest and tie combination did nothing to conceal his powerful arms or the sense of impending power he could unleash at any moment. Paul was perfect for Close Combat for a number of reasons. Those reasons, along with the Dean's own considerable charms, had been the only reason she'd been able to put him on staff given his history.

"I'm inclined to agree with Professor Goddard," Paul said slowly. His words, while measured, were sharply enunciated. The professor's articulation often surprised people who didn't know him, or only knew him in his former life. "Part of the reason for smaller class sizes is more individual attention. We're not just training the abilities of some young Supers. We're testing their character and forging Heroes."

"Where does this request come from?"

Glee's question silenced the faculty discussion as each professor considered an answer. Professor Glee was an oddity among the staff; the only faculty member who taught under her Hero name. The deliberately relaxed atmosphere Hero Certification Programs was usually an incentive to retiring Heroes to teach. Given Glee taught Subtlety, perhaps her work/home separation meant so much to her that she stayed 'in character' anyway. The Dean didn't much care. Glee was effective, efficient if somewhat whimsical and it was a bit of a coup for students to claim they'd studied under Glee herself.

Dean Goddard waited until everyone looked her way. "Major Isaiah Diaz."

She already had everyone's attention but the name was like electricity let loose in the small faculty conference room. Everyone visibly sat up, minds working. The information had escalated what was otherwise a minor procedural matter into something much larger.

"Wait, does that really change anything?" Sam shook his head. "We're letting Powereds dictate school policy now?"

"No one's dictating anything," Dean Goddard said to her younger brother, her tone silencing the displeasure on his face. "This is my school, my program, my decision. Nonetheless, I respect the Major's ability enough to consider his request. Just as I respect my staff's opinions enough to include you before I make a decision."

"I want to see the students," Glee said.

The Dean gestured to the table, and the tablets sitting next to each professor's binder. One by one, they took their tablets up and found the information she'd sent their way. Dean Goddard leaned back in her chair, steepling her fingers and once more wishing for a proper window. In a minute, she'd doubtlessly want to jump out of it.

"Jesus, Nate Insley?" Ava whispered.

Everyone started shouting at once.

The Dean silenced them all with one raised palm. "Enough. If I choose to admit him, he'll be under twenty four hour monitoring by a telepath. I'm just as aware as you are of his father's abilities and what limited research there is on his."

"I can't teach an ability like Nate's," Ava said, shaking her head. "No one can. It's too dangerous."

"Control is a second year program," the Dean said mildly, unruffled by the tension on everyone's faces. "If we admit him, and if he doesn't wash out of Combat or Alternative Training in his Freshmen year, we'll have a much better handle on what he can do. So will he. That said, I plan to personally interview him before he's allowed to train with the other students."

"You have Jia Sun on here," Paul said.

Once more, conversation stopped while the professors reviewed her record. Sam again was the first to object. "She's a washout."

"Which still makes her eligible to apply again," Ava said. "Besides, who knows what her father will do with her if we turn her down. You've heard of Dave Sun? The televangelist?"

"Does she have child care arrangements?" Elaine asked. She peeked at Ava and smiled a bit. "I'd be delighted if she wanted to try again but we lost her because of a pregnancy, right? She can't have given birth more than a month ago. Did she keep it?"

"Her parents have custody of her son, Jake," the Dean said. "Whatever Mr. Sun's reputation is in the community, I expect Jia's parents will do an adequate job."

"Jia was ranked first last year," Paul said. The massive well-dressed man shifted in his seat, leaning back to cross one giant leg over another. "I'm surprised to see her reapply but I'd be happy to have her back."

"So would I," Glee said.

The Dean looked around the room and said, "I think that settles Jia. Any thoughts on Finn?"

"Besides the fact he's a Brit?" Elaine said, smirking. "It took some sorting out for me to immigrate here much less use my abilities legally."

"I assume the Department of Variant Human Affairs approved his visa?" Sam asked.

"Once they understood it was Major Diaz asking, yes," the Dean answered.

"What's his ability?" Ava asked. Then, looking down at her tablet, she scrolled to the right part of the file and made a silent 'O' with her lips. "That mix is a little unusual. I'm willing to admit him if he's all they say he is."

Dean Goddard smiled as she watched the professors slowly work their way towards approval. There was more interest than conflict on their faces at least. She expected Nate would continue to pose questions as the school year went on but that was a manageable situation.

"Huh. Alexandria Amherst?" Paul frowned.

"Where have I heard that name before," Sam said, his face gaining the same frown. "Any relation to Sarah?"

"Ah." Dean Goddard paused, collecting herself regretfully. She'd forgotten the particulars of the girl's case until this moment. Bracing herself, she said, "She goes by Alley."

"Absolutely not," Sam and Paul said at the same time.

Ava and Elaine looked at each other, best friends looking for clues and realizing the other was just as ignorant. For her part, Glee looked merely thoughtful. Little made Glee thoughtful, which both pleased and concerned the Dean.

"Who?" the blonde women asked, as simultaneous as the men.

"She's from Sizemore Tech," Glee said. "Another first in her class. She-"

"She murdered a student two years ago," Sam said, his voice flat and absolute.

"Jesus, what's Diaz thinking putting her forward?" Ava said, looking stunned. "Wait, two years ago? Is she in prison?"

"She enlisted," the Dean said. A black cloud of angered disapproval swept over everyone in the room. "Now now, you all know better. The military took her in and put her to work. From what I see, she's done very well for herself there. I've Major Diaz's personal assurance the...unique circumstances surrounding that situation won't happen again."

One by one, the professors read over the incident on their tablets. One by one, expressions of sympathy and pain undercut the flat refusal that'd been there moments before. Finally, each professor ended up looking to Paul Matthias. For his part, he had the good grace to at least seem uncomfortable about it. Then Paul shrugged his massive shoulders and bent his head.

"Very well then." Dean Goddard unfolded her fingers and placed both hands on the desk. "Ava, you'll make arrangements for Nate. Otherwise, Housing should take care of the rest. The Major requested they share a dorm and I see no reason to deny that request. If nothing else, it concentrates trouble in one place. That said, I expect all of you on your best behavior with them. Except for perhaps Finn, each of these applicants seems to be badly in need of a fresh start. I want them to have that here."

Her voice rose slightly at the end, in tone and sharpness. It produced the desired effect. The Dean's staff nodded their acknowledgement, if not agreement, and filed out of the room one by one. Dean Goddard waited for them to go before spinning in her chair to face the back wall, decorated only with a rather picturesque landscape of a mountain standing over a lake.

Even rubbing her temples didn't help with the headache this year would be. Major Isaiah Diaz indeed. If he was involved...

Dean Goddard allowed herself the luxury of clenching her fist until her knuckles turned white.