Chapter 20

Nick had never suspected he would be grateful for assigned seating, but as he took his desk at the end of the row next to a short boy with messy hair, Nick did take a moment to thank his lucky stars. It wasn’t that he preferred aisle seats- he had a feeling that no position in the room would liven up Ethics of Heroism - but it did make things a bit easier on him. Nick had known when he chose the cover persona of a happy-go-lucky, chatter-happy dimwit that there would be certain concessions involved. One that he hadn’t counted on grating as much as it did was the need to be around his fellow dorm mates constantly, seeking them out and keeping conversations aloft. He’d vested ample time with Vince, but the others were a bit more difficult to wrangle, and of course Mary was a lost cause. Thus, if he had been able to choose his own seat, he would have been forced by his own sense of commitment to take one near his fellow Melbrook residents. Being placed on the end away from them allowed him a measure of alone time without offending his actor’s sensibilities.

Nick extracted a binder and a pen from his bag and turned to an untouched section. He already had notes from his economics and accounting classes that morning, so this was his last mind-stretcher of the day. Afterwards came gym, whatever that entailed, and then he would be done with his first day of college. It was pleasant of them to have put it on a Friday at least, allowing the students a chance to acclimate to the town around Lander.

Nick perused the room, taking cursory notes and finding the positions of the others from his dorm. Hershel had finally popped back up that morning, and he was easy to spot as he waded through the rows, awkwardly trying to find his spot. The others took a few minutes to locate since the room was full of the freshman class, all clad in their black uniforms. He managed to locate the final one, Mary, just as the door opened and Dean Blaine walked into the front of the room.

“Good morning, class,” Dean Blaine said with a large smile. “As all of you will hopefully remember, my name is Dean Blaine, and I will be teacher for Ethics of Heroism. And before anyone asks, no, you aren’t getting special treatment. I consider it my personal pleasure to instruct the new freshmen every year, helping them to understand not just what we do, but why it is so important that we do it.”

 A hand went up quickly. The class’s suck-up, no doubt. Nick knew there would be one: there always was, and of course they couldn’t wait to identify themselves by asking the first question. There was no surprise in Nick that someone was already drawing attention to themselves. What did surprise him was the voice of the question asker. He chided himself for not having anticipated someone that obvious.

“So does that mean you and the two coaches make up the entirety of the Hero Certification Program’s staff?” Alice asked once Dean Blaine pointed to her.

“Certainly not,” Dean Blaine assured her. “There are several more professors on staff here, though you won’t be working under any of them until sophomore year.”

“Why not?” This time the question came from a tall girl with her hair pulled back tightly into a braid. She didn’t bother to raise her hand.

“Well, simply put, you wouldn’t gain anything from them yet,” Dean Blaine explained. “You see, freshman year of this program is the year that we ready your minds and bodies for what is to come over the following three. This is the year that you get the basics, and it’s the year we see how many of you have the determination to see our program through to the end. The other professors will be working with you on more specialized programs, programs that you don’t have the groundwork for yet.”

“See it through?” Alice shot the tall girl who apparently didn’t believe in the courtesy of the hand raise a dirty look.

“Yes,” said Dean Blaine. “The training here is rather grueling, and many who think they want to pursue this line of work soon change their minds once they experience it. The dropout rate of the Hero Certification Program is approximately sixty-five percent. That does not include students who are cut by the staff, either; that number only represents voluntary departures.”

The tall girl let out a low whistle, but ceased her questioning of the dean.

“Anyway,” Dean Blaine continued. “As all of you should know, this will be the only Friday that we meet. Normally this class will only be on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the other three days allotted for personal study. I’m sure most of you are counting on that as a free period, but I assure you, it is time you should cherish. That is a boon we only provide to the freshmen, to help ease the transition. Now then, on to the syllabus.”

There was a collective sigh that rippled through the class. No one groaned, but it was close.

Dean Blaine laughed. “Same reaction every year. Forgive my little joke, but there won’t be a syllabus. This is a discussion class, one for which you will be graded on participation and attendance, but written work doesn’t really mesh with the subject matter we’re covering. If I asked you for a paper on why Heroes give themselves and their careers to protecting the safety of the people, you’d just be up all night writing words. When I ask you that question, which I will, incidentally, I want to look you in the eye and hear what you really think. So come prepared to talk and think, but otherwise you won’t need anything but your wit.”

That was a relief to almost everyone else in the class. Nick swore inwardly. Now he’d have to bluff the dean at least twice a week. Of course, he could always answer honestly, but Nick was smarter than he appeared, at least smart enough to know that was a dumb idea. The views Nick had been raised with didn’t correlate so well with the rest of society’s values. The truth had its place, and it was called a deathbed.

“That brings us to the matter of today. I’m sure many of you are anxious to be off to the next class and find out what gym is all about,” Dean Blaine said. There were a few enthusiastic nods around the room; clearly the idea of training openly with their abilities appealed to many of the students. “Well, I commend your curiosity and I’m going to reward it. Today we will be dismissing Ethics of Heroism early to give you all an extra half hour of gym. I think it will give you a proper appreciation.”

The rest of the class seemed upbeat as they stowed their binders and began rising from their seats. Nick was a bit more apprehensive. Among all of them, he seemed to be one of the few who noticed that Dean Blaine hadn’t told them what exactly they would be getting a proper appreciation of. He tried to assure himself that he was just reading into things too much.

Several hours later, when he finally had the energy to, he admonished himself for not trusting his instincts.