Chapter 9

“Teamwork,” Professor Fletcher said, his strong voice echoing through the gym and landing upon the receptive sophomore ears. “Teamwork is our greatest advantage. Teamwork is what gives us an edge over the Supers who break the law. Teamwork can only come from trust, which can only come from not suspecting constantly that your teammates are looking to screw you over. That’s a gift only the good guys get. Nearly all Heroes have been, or still are, part of a team. There’s a reason for that. It’s a system that works.”

The attention of the students was well captivated by Professor Fletcher. Aside from the trouncing he’d given them the day before, he had a natural charisma that people responded to. Some of the more experienced faculty at Lander immediately recognized it as the decisiveness and confidence that came from having commanded one of the very teams he was talking about. It was the aura of leadership, and his last few years spent lounging in the sand hadn’t dulled it one bit.

“For that reason, this year you will see an emphasis on teamwork. In fact, you will be assigned to a team today and that will be your group for several events throughout the year. While you’ll attend classes as individuals, you’ll also be expected to take those skills and integrate them into the cooperative effort you’ll be building. And just so you know off the bat, this year’s final to qualify for advancement to third year will be a team event.”

There was a soft murmur of excitement amongst the students. Usually they didn’t know this much about their tests going in.

“Now since I did mention trust, normally we allow everyone to pick their own teams. We name some of the top ranks as captain then have them choose their partners one by one. Yes, we realize this leads to people picking their friends and we’re fine with that. Some captains do well with a thought out, coordinated strike team. Others choose people they can trust and depend on no matter the circumstances. I’ve seen the records and I can tell you both strategies are viable under the right circumstances. That’s what we normally do. But this year’s class isn’t exactly normal, now is it?”

There was an uncomfortable squirming from some of the students and unmasked glares from others. It seemed the collective attitude was somewhere between awkward and angry, which was still far better than Professor Fletcher had initially expected.

“That’s what I thought,” Professor Fletcher said. “All right then, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Five of your classmates were Powereds before they came here. Some of you are fine with that. Some don’t care. Some are liberally pissed off. There are probably even some of you that don’t know how you feel yet, and that’s okay. I’m not here to make everyone feel warm and squishy inside about this new development. What I am here to do is make sure we have four teams with good composition so that the match-ups result in legitimate learning opportunities. I somehow doubt that the teamwork will really be popping if each team has a few members that generate controversy and conflict just by existing. To that effect, this year we’re making a modification to the process. The four Captains will be Mary Smith, Chad Taylor, Shane DeSoto, and Britney Ferguson.”

Britney looked surprised, though she was one of the few. Despite the humble personality of the girl and seemingly non-combative nature of her ability, she’d placed highly in both last year’s midterm and final. She was resourceful, quick-witted, and determined under pressure, the perfect candidate for leading a team of fellow Supers.

“Now then, rather than forcing anyone to be on a team they have opposition with, we’re making things simple,” Professor Fletcher continued. “Roy Daniels, Mary Smith, Nick Campbell, Alice Adair, and Vince Reynolds will all be clumped into a single team.”

“Didn’t see that coming,” Nick mumbled under his breath. He actually agreed with this strategy, even if he hadn’t been able to help himself from imagining all the possible team combinations he could build from this selection of Supers. He’d crafted a few doozies too, but he was confident this team could do pretty well. Depending on who else they got, of course.

“For those of you keeping count, you’ll remember that the teams will be composed of seven each. That leaves this one short two members. So, instead of forcing anyone to get picked via the standard process, we’re just going to give the spots to people who want them. Anyone who is willing to work with these students, pasts as Powereds now known, please come step out from the line,” Professor Fletcher instructed.

It was a harsh move, admittedly, forcing people in this compact of a social sphere to publicly take sides with the outcasts. Professor Fletcher deemed it necessary, not only because they’d end up labeled as that by being on the team anyway, but because it would create a shared sense of being hated. There were few things to bring a group closer than by making them feel that their members were the only ones they could count on.

The first one to step forward was a lanky boy whose brown hair had grown shaggier over the summer. Had Hershel been there, Alex would have flashed him a smile as he moved his body before the rest of the class, but since it was Roy in attendance, Alex instead focused on looking stoic. Few people were surprised; after all, the delusional telepath was barely better than a Powered himself. Of course he would side with them.

Stella, Violet, and Thomas followed suit. They’d discussed it the night before and they’d decided to support their friends whenever they could. In truth, however, Thomas was strongly hoping not to get chosen for their team. Not because of lingering resentment, but because he very much wanted to face Vince in battle again. Vince had beaten Thomas once, and Thomas wanted to test his progress against those who had bested him.

Will felt his foot drift forward, then pulled it back in line. He had no problems with the group, and he would have happily served alongside his friends. That wasn’t viable, unfortunately; he needed to be in the same group as Jill and she would never take that step forward. He felt bad, and he fully intended to explain later, but his mind was set. Family came first.

Professor Fletcher was about to tell Mary to take her pick when one more figure gently glided forward. It was a small one, easy to miss in this crowd of large bodies and egos, but its advancement sent a ripple of surprise throughout the students remaining behind, as well as the ones standing forward.

Camille, for her part, tried to look nonplussed as she felt the stares of her class pile on top of her. Her neck became flushed and her hands started to tremble, but she kept all such nervousness off of her face. There would be time for cowardice later; now there was only the task at hand.

“More than I thought there would be,” Professor Fletcher commented. “Mary, take your choice of two.”

“I, um, I’m not sure,” Mary said. She hadn’t expected to be handed this responsibility, and wasn’t prepared to make a strategic decision that would affect all of her comrades for the rest of the year in the space of a few seconds. Fortunately, Mary’s particular talent kept her from being alone in her head, and even more fortunately there was a brain more cunning than hers actively lobbying to be heard from behind its stoic, sunglass-clad face.

“Camille,” Mary said, trying to sound sure of herself. The healer had been a relatively easy call; every team would have wanted her. It was the second choice that Mary was a little surprised by.

“And Alex,” she concluded. Mary wasn’t sure why Nick wanted someone who was essentially a weaker version of herself; however, she trusted his judgment in these matters. She’d just be demanding an explanation once they were away from prying eyes and ears.

“Okay, then, you seven cluster together,” Professor Fletcher said. “Everyone else, back in line. The other three Captains to the front. We’ll start based on rank, lowest going first, then up, and so on until all teams are formed. You’ll have a couple of minutes to talk, and then I’ll be giving out class schedules. Starting on Monday, you’ll be showing up for gym together then going to your assigned lessons. Team training takes place on your own time, so I’d advocate making some plans this weekend to find days that work for everyone. Just my advice, take it or leave it.”

None of the students were so thick-headed as to imagine there was actually a ‘leave it’ option on the table. Their final exam would take place with this group. Training was top priority in every one of their minds.