“Today,” Dean Blaine said as the class settled into their seats, “I want to talk about categorization.”
Dean Blaine began walking along the front of the classroom, stepping out of his usual center area.
“Controllers, generators, absorbers, healers, enchanters, shifters, speeders, teleporters, advanced minds, and illusionists,” Dean Blaine said, ticking off each term on his hands as he rattled them out. “And that’s just a few off the top of my head. The full list of all the classified types of Supers goes on for several pages and is constantly evolving. Just from that statement, what can you tell me about the nature of this categorization? Mr. Murray?”
Will’s head snapped up. He hadn’t raised his hand, nor had anyone else. Dean Blaine had called on him before even Stella had the chance to bark her answer.
“A cursory analysis would suggest that if we’re still adapting something as general as the categories for different Super types then it means we’re still in a state of discovery regarding them,” Will said.
“Very good, Mr. Murray,” Dean Blaine complimented. “Will is correct; we are still learning more and more about Supers every day. Not just how certain powers function, either, but learning more about the broad spectrum different abilities can fall under. That isn’t the whole story, though. Anyone else? Mr. Matthews, perhaps."
A long, lean boy in the front row snapped to attention.
“I guess it implies that there is still active research ongoing in the field of Supers,” he ventured.
“True, but a restatement of Will’s previous conjecture. Please pay more attention, Terrance,” Dean Blaine told him. “Let me add this nugget to the discussion. Did anyone else know that until seven years ago, Mr. Murray’s ability was not actually recognized as a power? Show of hands.”
Will and Jill slowly put their hands up. The rest of the class’s remained down.
“Thank you, you may put them down now,” Dean Blaine said. “So until seven years ago, Mr. Murray would not have been considered for the HCP. He would have been classified human by all metrics of the time. Yet here we are, seven years later, and he is doing exceptionally well, posting excellent marks on a consistent basis. So, what changed seven years ago that altered Mr. Murray from a mere human to a Super, and a Hero candidate at that?”
“Duh,” Stella said, voicing her opinion at last. “You already told us. Extreme technological genius was classified as a power.”
“I did, Miss Hawkins, I did indeed. But that’s merely what I said. I’m looking to see if anyone noticed what I told you. There’s a conclusion here that I want you to reach,” Dean Blaine said.
It was a soft, unfamiliar voice to most of the class that piped up at last.
“The labels don’t mean anything,” Camille said, barely breaking over a whisper.
“And why is that?” Dean Blaine probed.
“Because nothing significant really changed. Will can invent things that make him a candidate to be a Hero. That’s true whether you call him a Super or not. He’ll always have that capability.”
“That is correct, Camille,” Dean Blaine said. “No change in terminology can take away the actual talent Mr. Murray has, nor any of your abilities. There was a time when telepaths were all thought to be charlatans, and illusionists nothing more than skilled stage magicians. It’s only over time, as these respective groups have consistently demonstrated their abilities, that they have been reclassified. Which brings us to most important thing you need to know about categorization.”
It was Vince who raised his hand this time, and Dean Blaine gave him the nod.
“They’re reactionary. The terms, the categories, everything in that area is created in response to new Supers or Powereds showing up and changing what they thought they knew.”
“Very good, Vince,” Dean Blaine agreed. “And that is the heart of the matter. Some of you are classified as shifters, or healers, or absorbers, and while the terms are comforting in that they make us feel like someone higher up the chain knows what is going on, it is critical that you all recognize them for what they are: words. It is human nature to put words to things, to file and sort even the ineffable. We do this because it makes us feel like we can control that chaos.”
Dean Blaine stepped back into the center of the room and gazed at the faces of his charges.
“Chaos is not here to be controlled. It cannot and it will not bend to the will of something as fleeting as an ancillary term ascribed to it. You are not controllers, or teleporters, or even Supers. You are individual people with individual skills. Never forget that. And never, ever forget that the same can be said for anyone you face out in the field. Grouping is a lovely tool for paperwork and mental accounting. Assuming you know what a person is capable of because you know the general shape of his power is dangerous, though. Often it’s downright deadly.”
“Deadly?” Stella snickered.
“Yes, Miss Hawkins, deadly. Because seven years ago, if you had run across a predecessor of Mr. Murray who lacked his moral code committing a crime, you would have undoubtedly assumed him to nothing more than another frail, powerless human,” Dean Blaine said.
“Yeah,” Stella agreed.
“And when he pulled out a device capable of liquefying steel, then utilized it, what would you have thought of him then?”
“That is incorrect, Miss Hawkins. You would have thought nothing, because, with all due respect to everyone’s individual beliefs about the afterlife, dead people do not think.”
“Okay, fine, but obviously someone realized Will has a real ability and took notice of it,” Stella said. “So that’s a bad example.”
Dean Blaine raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Miss Hawkins, ‘someone’ took notice. I want you all to think about something, though. Which seems more likely: that there was a long certification process through which ample evidence and documentation was provided, making the case for technological brilliance to be considered a power, or that a scenario very similar to the one I just described occurred and a Hero’s corpse was all the proof that was needed?”
“Oh,” Stella said, sliding down a few inches in her chair.
“Yes. Oh.” Dean Blaine realized he’d been addressing Stella directly and turned back to the rest of the class. “Please remember, a story like that is applicable to almost all of your powers."
Some of the more astute students noticed a sliver of sadness in his voice at his next words. Luckily, they were also astute enough to gather the reason and keep it to their damn selves.
"So keep your wits about you, and never make assumptions. Because I’d very much prefer it if the next power to be added to the list was done so through the boring paperwork route. It would be a very welcome change of pace."