Chapter 131

“As our year begins drawing closer to its end, I would like to move our conversations to more summary topics,” Dean Blaine said. He’d been taking it a little easier on them in the past few weeks, well aware that George and Persephone would be turning up the heat and stressing them out. Add that to the demands from their regular classes and it could be argued that the real point of this semester was training in how to handle eye-gouging levels of stress. An argument, by the way, that would not be entirely off point.

“So today, I wanted to talk about the HCP as a whole. We take people with extraordinary abilities and a desire to help, and we refine them into nigh-unstoppable warriors of justice. Yet at the same time, we take others with equally amazing talents and cast them out, telling them they are forbidden from getting involved when they see innocents in distress. The question I pose to you is why? Why do we insist so emphatically that the only person worthy of wearing the title of Hero is someone who has been given this course’s full education?”

“Everyone knows that,” Stella said. “Insurance.”

“If you’re going to speak out of turn you could at least present a fully-formed argument,” Dean Blaine chastised her.

“Okay,” Stella said. “I mean, it’s really obvious. People with abilities can cause a whole lot of collateral damage, even more so when they are fighting someone else with powers. That means people filing insurance claims for their homes and businesses. The companies really hate paying out all that money, though. They’d make us quit getting in fights, but regular law enforcement agencies aren’t able to able people with strong powers. At least, not as effectively as we can. So since they can’t tell us not to stop Supers who are killing and stealing, and they can’t refuse to pay out every time one of us causes damage, the only other option is to demand that the people stopping them, the people we call Heroes, have been properly trained to minimize that collateral damage. That’s why the training and certification started; it was so Supers could do their job without being held financially liable for every flipped truck and melted mailbox that wound up in their wake.”

Dean Blaine blinked in surprise, as did a large amount of the class. Stella, while forceful, was rarely so well-informed on a topic.

“That was an excellent, well-reasoned theory,” Dean Blaine said.

“My dad is an insurance adjuster,” Stella said by way of explanation.

“I see, that sheds a little light on it,” Dean Blaine said. “And Ms. Hawkins is correct. The roots of the HCP are most certainly in the goal of allowing those with special talents to use them to help people without being afraid of fiscal reprisal. That was the beginning, though, designed to suit a program far less expansive than our current HCP. So who else can tell me why we hold our defenders to such rigorous standards?”

This time several hands went up. Dean Blaine called on the fastest to get it out of the way.

“Yes, Ms. Adair?”

“Because we have to know more than just how to do the least damage to a city block. We need to know how to avoid, or least limit, civilian casualties. We need to know how to deal with hostage situations, and how to cope with the political implications of chasing someone across international lines. Being a Hero means people are trusting you with their lives. We need to be as best prepared to live up to that trust as possible,” Alice said.

“Very good,” Dean Blaine said. “However, as with the insurance, these are things that are already widely known and accepted as reasons for the HCP. I’m more looking for things that you, as participants, can appreciate that an outsider wouldn’t understand the necessity of.”

Most of the hands went down at this stipulation. A few stayed raised, though, and Dean Blaine perused his pickings, selecting one after a few seconds of analysis.

“Mr. DeSoto.”

“We’re learning humility,” Shane said. “Most of us came from towns where, if we weren’t the only Super, we were one of very few. We grew up feeling like we were untouchable. We aren’t, and some people needed to experience that firsthand to believe it.”

“Now, that is an excellent one,” Dean Blaine complimented. “Few people not in the program would understand just how important losing is. Mr. Wells, what is another example?”

“We’re learning what to really expect,” Allen said. “Before this class it had never occurred to me how many hard choices would come with being a Hero. I thought of it as just blasting away at bad guys. Knowing what I do now, I’m approaching this potential future with a lot more caution. I still want to do it, but I have a better idea of what I’m in for. If I’d had to face some of the tough situations in the field, with no mental preparation, it could have ranged from problematic to traumatic, depending on how bad things got.”

“Quite true,” Dean Blaine agreed. “The preparation of the mind is, in my opinion, one of the most undervalued necessities we instill here at Lander. Mr. Campbell, do you have another point you’d like to add?”

Nick’s hand hadn’t been up, but he rolled with the question anyway. Dean Blaine had made it clear long ago that the hand system was ancillary: he would call on whoever he pleased to answer him.

“The physical training,” Nick replied. “I mean, yeah, most people get that a Hero needs to be strong, but how many understand that he needs to have stamina, flexibility, and pain endurance even when he isn’t a front-line fighter? I think outsiders picture us just lifting buses and chewing on nails. They don’t appreciate the full range of effort we have to put in just to be adequate in a support capacity, let alone a front-line one.”

“A bit obvious, but valid, I’ll give you,” Dean Blaine said. “Now, that’s all focusing on the positive, what you get out of being here. That isn’t the entirety of the process, however. For every student who graduates there are tens to hundreds that tried for that spot. Putting aside obvious concerns about physical capability, why do we keep them out? Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow everyone help who wants to do so?”

“No,” Vince said, speaking up. “Because not everyone should be a Hero.”

“Would you like to elaborate, Vince?”

“I just mean that being looked up to, and exalted, that comes with a lot of prestige. A lot of power. That’s going to attract plenty of Supers, not just ones who genuinely want to help. It’s not a bad idea to have some sort of filter before we just hand out a title that tells everyone this is a person they can trust and rely on,” Vince explained.

“You’re quite right,” Dean Blaine said. “Heroes are trusted by civilians and governments alike. We have to be very careful who we give such responsibility to, and not just in case they have less-than-pure intentions. Who can tell me another danger of letting anyone through the HCP?”

“Because the worst-case scenario is that someone starts as a genuine Hero and then turns,” said Chad, face staring down at his desk.

“Go on,” Dean Blaine said softly.

“A Super who commits crimes is a pain for the regular people to deal with, but Heroes can handle most of them in relatively short order. When a Hero turns, on the other hand, he doesn’t just bring his abilities to the table. He brings all the training he received in the HCP, all the combat experience he acquired on the job, all the secrets he was made privy to, and all the trust that other Heroes have in him. When a Hero turns away from the law, entire towns get destroyed and other Heroes almost always die.”

“There is a very unfortunate amount of truth in that statement,” Dean Blaine said. “It is one of the key reasons we screen so thoroughly before admitting someone to the HCP. We seek to determine not only who they are, but also who they will become over time. It is a difficult task, and one we put tremendous effort and resources into. However, we are not, I’m sad to say, always successful.”