The next day was a hectic one. Book bags were packed, breakfasts were scarfed, and new classes were attended. The time above ground passed more or less the same for everyone, getting the syllabi for their new courses and hurriedly finding the locations of their classrooms. There were lectures on attendance requirements and expectations for the year, but they may as well have been monologues about ham versus bacon on eggs benedict for all the HCP students could tell. Each one was focused on the coming afternoon and on the final hour of gym when they would at last begin a new regimen of training. Alternative and combat alike were excited, scared, and awash with the curiosity for something new. The morning flew by. However, there was still one roadblock before the new classes in gym could begin.
“Welcome back, everyone,” Dean Blaine greeted them as the freshmen wandered into his classroom. “I hope you all had an enjoyable vacation.” There was a grumbling of answer that seemed to lean slightly toward the affirmative. “Glad to hear it.”
As Nick took his usual seat near the middle row, he noticed something. The extraneous chairs appeared to be gone. He kept watch as the remaining ones filled up and confirmed his suspicions. There were exactly enough chairs for the current number of freshmen attending the class.
“Now, as I’m sure some of you have noticed, we’ve scaled back the clutter of extra seats over the break,” Dean Blaine said once everyone was seated.
“Took you long enough,” Stella called out.
“So pleasant to hear your voice again, Ms. Hawkins,” Dean Blaine said with his usual unwavering smile. “I assure we had our reasons for waiting, as well as for removing them over break. Would anyone care to take a stab at what those might have been?”
Alice’s hand shot up in the air as usual. Dean Blaine pointed at her out of habit, only doing so after realizing that her hand had, in fact, been up.
“You wanted us to look at the empty seats and be reminded that those were students like us who didn’t cut it. And to remind us that if we didn’t do our best our seat could be empty too.”
“Very good, Ms. Adair. So why did we remove them?”
“Because... because we’re starting a new semester, so you wanted the empty chairs to be fresh examples?”
“Not quite, no. Anyone else?” Dean Blaine asked. This time a black-haired boy with a thin goatee raised his hand.
“Mr. Weaver,” Dean Blaine said, pointing at him.
“You’re took the chairs away because you’re finished cutting people with that system,” he said.
“Correct, Mr. Weaver, all of which leads us into what I’d like to talk with you all about today. I think it’s time we discussed how the remainder of the Hero Certification Program will work as far as continuation and admittance,” Dean Blaine said.
“Admittance? We’re already in the program,” Stella pointed out.
“You’re in this year’s program, yes. I’m talking about the years to follow, though,” Dean Blaine told her. The was a ripple of stillness as the implications of his phrase settled in the minds of the class.
“Allow me to clarify before anyone asks further questions on the topic,” Dean Blaine said; years of giving this speech had left him well-prepared to avoid the tidal wave of panicked queries that would strike if he didn’t take charge. “Each year we take a small number of promising Supers and admit them to the freshman course of the program, the one you are all currently enrolled in. The first semester of that time is used to trim the fat in multiple ways, both by beginning the basic necessary physical conditioning and eliminating those who lack the qualities to move onward. The second semester is spent continuing to lay the groundwork for continuing in the program, giving you training a bit more specialized to your particular talents. Near the finale of the second semester, we hold another battle session to assess your combat abilities, as well as looking at your other skills through various tests to see how much you have grown, and how much further we think you can grow. At the end of this year you all have the option of applying for the next year’s program. I should caution you, however, there are only twenty-eight spots available.”
A few of the mentally swifter students reach the conclusion first, but it was of course Stella who voiced it.
“So three of us will be gone?”
“Correct,” Dean Blaine confirmed. “While you are, of course, welcome and encouraged to continue pursuing a degree at Lander, you will no longer be part of the Hero Certification Program. I should tell you that generally speaking we have cut the class down to much fewer than thirty-one by now, so feel proud that you are part of such a talented group.”
Vince raised his hand hesitantly.
“I believe I said no questions, Mr. Reynolds; however, since I just took one from Ms. Hawkins, I will make one more exception for fairness before I expect that rule to be followed once again,” Dean Blaine said.
“Thank you, sir. I was just wondering, if it’s usually a lot lower than this, and there are twenty-eight spots, does that mean the sophomore year generally has unfilled spots?” Vince asked.
“An astute and fair question, and actually my next point,” Dean Blaine replied. “No, the classes are always filled and many are turned away. Let us say, hypothetically of course, that you don’t make the cut this year and are removed from the program, Mr. Reynolds. In the duration of next year you work hard and improve your abilities. When the year’s end comes around, you apply for the sophomore training once more. You are tested, measured, and found to be one of the twenty-eight most deserving candidates. You would then be accepted and placed into the next year’s course.”
“Wait, wait a second. You mean we’re not just competing with ourselves, we’re competing with everyone who ever completed their freshman year in the HCP and wants back in?” Stella asked.
“I’m going to choose to interpret that as a statement, rather than a question, since I feel I’ve been quite clear about my negative feelings towards those right now,” Dean Blaine said stonily. “That would be a correct summation of the situation, though. You should also note that the twenty-eight spot limitation is only for the sophomore year.”
The class relaxed a little bit. It was scary to have to jump through another hoop, but if it was only one time they each felt like they could make the cut.
“Junior year we only accept twenty students, and senior year it will be a paltry fifteen,” Dean Blaine continued. “Of course, the process will be the same each time, as will the existence of an outside pool of competition. And I suppose I should mention that of the fifteen accepted senior year, only ten will graduate and become fully licensed Heroes. You may now ask any additional questions you may have.”
“Why limit the number of Heroes out there?” Alex asked immediately.
“Because Heroes must be the best. They are tasked with dealing with Supers, Powereds, and all manner of natural disasters along with everyday problems. Just completing the course isn’t enough; you have to prove you’re better than everyone else. Because you’ll have to be,” Dean Blaine explained.
“What if there are more than ten capable Supers in the senior year class, one or two who would make awesome Heroes and are just below the cutoff point?” Gilbert tossed out.
“They are welcome to apply for the year once more and try again. Perhaps with another year of training they will rise in standing and make it out. If not, though, well, then they weren’t the best, were they?” Dean Blaine queried back at him.
The class lapsed into a stunned silence, taking in everything that Dean Blaine had explained to them and trying to mentally assess their current standing.
“The ultimate thing to remember here is to work hard, try your best, and never forget that just getting by is not an option for students who want to be trusted with the lives of the weak and innocent,” Dean Blaine advised them. “I know this system seems harsh, because it is. When Heroes fail, people die. That isn’t a responsibility that can be trusted to just anyone. Keep that firmly in mind as you learn this semester, and I’m sure you’ll find the gumption to push yourself just that little bit harder.”