Chapter 33

"Welcome, class. If you would take your seats quickly; today we have much to cover," Dean Blaine said as the students filed into Tuesday's Ethics of Heroism class. Nick moved briskly, taking his seat and sliding into his usual defensive posture. It said that he was bored, but not so much so that he wasn't paying attention. It conveyed respect without conveying interest, and all in all served the purpose of making him blend into the sea of faces. Nick might have been considered lacking by some in the power department, but the skills he did possess were honed and polished.

Sitting comfortably in his cocoon of apathetic camouflage, Nick allowed his eyes to wander around the room. He hadn't seen much of his dorm mates this weekend, but then again, he'd spent a lot of time working on a business model for one of his real life classes. Of course he had heard about Roy's sounding defeat at Chad's hands - that one had spread like wildfire - but he hadn't had a chance to catch up on the nitty-gritty details with Hershel. As for Vince, he hadn't come home until Sunday night, and despite Nick's respectable arsenal of wheedling techniques had refused to divulge any details of his weekend. Not that Nick couldn't string things together on his own, but it was always so much more satisfying to coax a secret from someone's lips.

"Class," Dean Blaine said once everyone was sitting in their chairs. "Today I introduce you to what will ultimately culminate in the grade for your mid-term exam." Nick could actually hear necks pop as they swiveled forward in a sudden burst of attention. "You will all be participating in research projects, and in one month you will make a presentation to the class as well as turning in a twenty-page paper."

"I thought we weren't going to have papers in this class?" The speaker was the girl with tightly pulled back braids, or Stella Hawkins as Nick had learned since the first day of class. In all the weeks since then, she had never raised her hand once when asking a question, driving Alice to grind her teeth but not even denting Dean Blaine's plastered-on grin.

Well, that was usually the case at any rate. Today Stella's question triggered a slight twitch in Dean Blaine's right cheek. Nick was confident no one else would have noticed it, but to him it was plain as day. That meant he wasn't as sure-footed on the topic of this project, or that there was something about it that made him uncomfortable. It wasn't much, and Nick wasn't sure what to do with it, but it was something and something didn't mean nothing. Nick trained his complete attention on the now-speaking dean.

"That is usually the case," Dean Blaine replied, no trace of the tremor from his face audible in his voice. "However, this is something of a special project. It will be a team project, one to help you all branch out and better get to know your fellow classmates. It will be on the full career of a Hero from the list I'll be hanging on the board. I want you to trace them from their training, their career path, and their retirement. Yes, Miss Adair?"

Alice's hand had been up since halfway through the dean's explanation, and it seemed she was a few seconds short of waving it around like an elementary school student to demand his attention. "How is this applicable from an ethics standpoint? This seems more like a history project."

"As I was explaining before you put your hand up," Dean Blaine replied curtly, "this project will trace the life of a famous Hero. While I do want you to spend some time discussing the major events in their life, the real purpose of this project is to look over some of their exploits from a more personal level. Look at some of the foes they dealt with and some of the battles they lost. Your goal is to help me, and the rest of your class, understand the motivations and complications of the person behind the mask."

"How does that help us with ethics?" Stella belted from the back of the room once more.

"Think of it as advanced preparation. I want you to see what these people went through, because a Hero's life is often fraught with hard choices and living with the consequences of them. By digging deep and understanding choices that past Heroes have made, I hope you will ask yourself what decisions you would have made in similar circumstances," Dean Blaine explained. "Because one day, those life and death decisions could be on your shoulders, and its best to start preparing for them sooner rather than later."

Dean Blaine braced himself for more questions as his explanation finished, but the somber subject matter seemed to have cowed even Stella. It wasn't surprising; after all, when one thought about becoming a Hero, one usually focused on the glory and pride that came with defending the innocent. Rarely did people stop and consider the responsibility that came along with the job when deciding the direction into which to punch a villain could result in a building full of people losing their lives.

"Okay then," Dean Blaine said, making a snap judgment to steer the thoughts of his class toward less chilling waters. "I'll now announce the pairs for the projects. You will have the rest of the class to discuss possible Heroes from the list I'll be posting in a minute, and the two of you have until the end of the week to let me know your pick. Don't hesitate, though; they are first come, first serve, and each Hero may only be done by one team."

Dean Blaine produced a piece of paper and began calling out pairs of students. As each team was named the duo would rise from their seats and flag each other down from their respective positions, stopping only when one relocated to the other's area. Nick tried not to center too much on disappointment. If the list was already chosen then he couldn't use his power to affect the outcome. If he had known and had blasted out some luck during its creation the situation would have been different, but luck was only applicable to objects in motion. No amount of luck changed the dice roll once the results were written down. It would have been beneficial for Nick to land on Hershel or Vince's team and solidify the sense of friendship he had been crafting with them, but as Hershel was announced to be paired with someone named Alex and Vince was put with Will Murray, it became clear that Nick would be expanding his social circle. It could be worse, though; increased connections were rarely a bad thing.

"Next team," Dean Blaine announced. "Nicholas Campbell and Alice Adair."

"At least it's not the telepath," Nick mumbled under his breath. Humorously enough, Alice was muttering approximately the same thing from her own desk across the room. The two began the dance of waving, determining who would move over to the other's area, neither one particularly excited about their partner but each confident they hadn't gotten the shortest stick in the room.

Many might have believed that dubious honor went to Hershel, who drew up a seat next to his new partner.

"Hi," Hershel said. "I'm Hershel Daniels."

"Oh, I know," said the sandy-haired boy. "I heard all about the fight this weekend. I'm Alex, though. Alex Griffen."

"Nice to meet you, Alex," Hershel said. "So, I guess you already know about Roy then?"

"Totally," Alex said, nodding enthusiastically. "Seems like an awesome ability, turning into someone crazy strong and tough."

"It's... not as great as one might suspect," Hershel said delicately. He was hesitant to badmouth Roy at the moment. Roy had attended gym the day before, but he'd been different from usual: less proud, certainly, but less sure of himself as well. Hershel knew better than most what that was like, so the last thing he wanted to do was pile abuse onto his recovering alter ego. "It can be fun, though, and it's rarely boring. What about you, Alex? What's your power?"

"Nothing too exciting," Alex replied. "I'm basically a Jedi."