Chapter 22

By Friday’s end most of the HCP sophomores were aching for the weekend, their minds nearly as shredded as their bodies had felt at this time last year. They’d expected many things from the program, many obstacles to face. Of all things they’d braced for, the absolute plethora of studying was the one that took most of them by surprise.

Close Combat class had yet to involve an actual punch. So far the emphasis had been on finding the right martial art for each member. While this sounded simple on paper, it in fact required every member to study at length the histories, philosophies, and manuals of several major martial art forms. Even the ones already trained were given this task because, in Professor Fletcher’s opinion, knowing an enemy’s tactics was almost as important as knowing your own. In a week they’d studied wushu, karate, Kuk Sool Won, and Sambo, with only three students finding a style they connected to.

Weapons had been even worse, with Professor Cole demanding they know the name, traditional style, and advantages versus disadvantages of every weapon in her collection. This would have been a far more accomplishable task if her collection didn’t require a miniature warehouse in which to store it.

Ranged Combat was similar; although Professor Baker put the emphasis on learning to use ranged weapons, she also demanded her students begin learning the principles of climatology and how to calculate decreasing velocity of a projectile along with wind resistance.

Control was something all its own. Professor Hill instructed his students in learning how to view the world in little more than terms of a physics problem. Instead of weight, they were calculating mass and volume, seeing every object in terms of the space it occupied in relation to the things around it, and being drilled constantly on their spatial awareness of their own bodies. Most of the students ended this class with migraine-level headaches.

Focus was a welcome relief during the actual class. After the first day, all Professor Stone had worked with them on was the principles of meditation and how to achieve a clear mind. The homework, in contrast, was beyond daunting. Poets, philosophers, artists, the students had to analyze the works of dozens of them and turn in essays with their own interpretations of or counterarguments to the pieces. These were inked liberally with a red pen pointing out the flaws in their thinking and returned to the students after meditation each class period.

Subtlety had been strange compared to the others. After the second day fiasco, the classes had consisted of a riddling tournament (which was won by Richard Weaver), an hour-long lecture on the dangers of wearing a hidden microphone, and a day where everyone was instructed to spend all their class time playing jacks while Professor Pendleton surfed the Internet. The class itself was a piece of cake so far, but that left the majority of the students with the uneasy feeling that they were missing something important. After all, no class in the HCP could really be that easy.

So it was that when Friday afternoon rolled around, it was greeted by the student population with significant gusto. Alice had solidified her plans for a girls’ night, the scope growing to include Mary, Stella, Violet, and Selena (added at Alex’s request). Once afternoon classes were completed the ladies took off, heading toward downtown, the spa, and a break from everything related to Lander and the HCP. This left the gentlemen up to their own devices, a gap in planning that was thankfully filled by Thomas before Nick could take the reins.

*    *    *

Dean Blaine heard his door open without so much as a knock. He sighed inwardly; whoever it was would probably require significant time, which would lead to him working yet another late night. This always seemed to be the cosmic curse of Fridays. He raised his head and saw Sean standing opposite him, patiently waiting to be acknowledged.

“Is there something you need, Professor Pendleton?”

“Indeed there is, Blaine.”

“Need I remind you that we are on school ground and I am your boss?”

“True, but we’re off the clock.”

“No, Professor Pendleton, only you are off the clock. Some of us have much to do and would greatly appreciate being left alone to do it.”

“Fine, fine,” Sean said, tossing up his hands. “Did you get the e-mail about what happened in Tuesday’s class?”

“I did.”

“Well, I wanted to take a look at the video footage from the entrance hall that morning. I doubt whoever did it placed the notes on everyone there, but it’s the best place to get at their backpacks. I’m sure we recorded at least one instance of them slipping in the papers.”

Dean Blaine relaxed a little. That was an easy request to fill.

“Certainly; all HCP staff has access to our archives. Go to room C-142-L and press your palm against the square pad. It will let you in and I trust you can figure it out from there.”

“I do have a knack with computers,” Sean agreed. Dean Blaine remembered Sean’s “knack” quite well. It had resulted in many a disabled alarm system at looted crime scenes.

Sean turned to leave, but Dean Blaine spoke up to delay him.

“If I were you, I’d focus the majority of my initial video watching on Nick Campbell,” Dean Blaine advised.

“The kid with the sunglasses? Why him?”

“You don’t think he is capable?”

“Not really. He was one of the first people out in the riddle contest, so he doesn’t have much creative thinking. He nodded off during my lecture, so he doesn’t have the willpower and dedication to take in a myriad of details that seem boring. Not to mention he was terrible at jacks, so he likely lacks even the basic dexterity to skulk, sneak, and steal when necessary,” Sean replied.

“Trust me on this one. Watch him first. Just call it a hunch,” Dean Blaine insisted.

“If you say so,” Sean grudgingly agreed.

“Oh, and one more thing,” Dean Blaine added.


“I know you find it tedious, but you really should read through the files of your students,” Dean Blaine told him.

“I’d really rather not. When you go in with impressions of people before you meet them it tends to taint your judgment of someone off the bat, rather than allowing you to come to your own conclusions. Even if it’s things like psych profiles and aptitude tests I’d still rather see those traits demonstrated than read about them. That’s your problem; you always liked charts and numbers. I prefer to learn by assessing the people,” Sean defended.

Dean Blaine smiled at him with what was probably an altruistically knowing and not-at-all-smug smile. Probably.

“If you say so.”