Chapter 11

Unlike freshman year, the new rankings were not posted on a giant board for the entire HCP to see. This time they were written on a chalkboard; easy to miss if one wasn’t looking for them, however every student filtering into the gym certainly took notice of them. Some of the changes, or lack thereof, weren’t that surprising. Chad was still on top, of course. Since this was the first co-ed ranking they’d gotten, Mary was now number two overall, bumping Shane down to three. All of that was well within everyone’s expectations. The next rank, however, was a bit more surprising.

“I’m number four?” Vince said, staring at the board while the other students bustled around him.

“Were you expecting to be on top? You put on a good show but the others still have far better overall records than you,” Alice pointed out. She was glad to have the attention off of her own rank, which had leapt from near the bottom to eleventh in the class. Since it was based on a single match where she showed her power, it seemed to her a bit excessive.

“No, I mean I can’t believe I’m that high,” Vince replied. “I don’t have that many official wins. Definitely not as many as some of the other people on here.”

“Tell me about it,” Roy, the number five rank, grumbled. “Some of us have been busting our ass for two years and haven’t moved up a single spot.”

“Considering how much changed, I think staying in the top five is a real accomplishment,” Mary told him. “As for you, Vince, I think they weight the year-end matches more heavily than our overall record when determining these ranks. The whole point of these things is to see where we are now, not where we were when the program started.”

“That is my understanding as well,” Thomas chimed in. He was taking his new rank, seventh in the class, with his usual taciturn demeanor. If not for the episode with Vince, he would have felt the rankings unfair; however, the act of running away had wounded his pride so much that he was thankful to still be in the top ten at all.

“I think that’s long enough for everyone to have seen their ranks,” Dean Blaine announced to the junior year class, a not-so-subtle prompt that it was time to get the real work started. The students moved to the usual starting line, whispering with curiosity over why the dean was in attendance. Usually only one of the combat professors oversaw their physical training, Professor Fletcher being the most common, though Professor Cole showed up quite a bit as well. Their curiosity was short-lived, as once they were arranged Dean Blaine began speaking once more.

“Now that you’ve all seen your standings, I wanted to have a brief discussion with you about exactly what the ranks mean at this point in your HCP career. Those are an assessment of your overall combat potential, what you can do in a physical altercation based on what we’ve seen you do so far. Will Murray, please step forward.”

Will took a quick hop forward immediately. In this gym, obedience was automatic. That was one of the lasting lessons George had imprinted on them all.

“I’m sure you saw the board. What is your current rank, Mr. Murray?”

“Nineteenth in the class,” Will replied. If he held any shame about being one from the bottom, it wasn’t evident on his narrow face.

“That it is. Given that we only take fifteen students in our senior course, would that lead you to believe you’re on the shit list and likely to be cut?”

“It seems a logical assumption,” Will admitted.

“It does seem that way, doesn’t it,” Dean Blaine agreed. “Mr. Murray, you are, currently, the student with the top grades in Subtlety. Professor Pendleton sees a tremendous amount of potential in your ability, but more importantly he thinks you have the ingenuity and resourcefulness to be a very effective Hero that works in the Subtlety field. You are far from the shit list. You are, in fact, one of the top contenders for graduation. Step back in line, please.”

Will complied, somehow keeping the grin that was tugging at his cheeks under control.

“These are combat rankings, nothing more, nothing less,” Dean Blaine continued. “We do them because fighting is an undeniable part of what Heroes must do. Strength, speed, resistance to damage: all of these are essential for many of the functions a Hero fulfills. Many functions, but not all of them. Professor Pendleton’s ability gives him excellent defense but minimal offense in combat. My own power does nothing to stop general means of incapacitation or injury. Yet we are both graduates of a class renowned for the caliber of Hero it produced. We are not exceptions in that grouping, we are counted among them. So, if all of that is true, why even bother with the ranking system? That’s what some of you are surely wondering.”

Though no one nodded overtly, several faces wore a sentiment of agreement to the dean’s words.

“Because for some of you, this is the only path forward. Roy Daniels, for example, has no talent for anything other than combat, at least not on a Super level. For him, that ranking is very important. All his training, his energy, and his time need to go toward getting it as high as it will go. For Alex Griffen, he could excel in both combat and recon missions. For Will Murray, the ranking as a whole is far less relevant. You all know your abilities better than anyone else. You know where your strengths lie. The rankings have their place in our system, but do not take them as a gospel list of where you stand in ultimate usefulness. Figure out what gives you the best chance of moving forward, and focus on that. Talk to your professors, everyone is here to help you find the right path. But now is the time to start making those commitments. Your final two years will go faster than you imagine, and setting the wrong goals early on can leave you with no opportunity to correct yourself. Something to keep in mind when you select your ultimate major at the end of the year.”

Dean Blaine finished his speech and headed out of the room, leaving behind a group of students far less certain of their overall standing than they had been minutes earlier.

Which, truth be told, was exactly the point.