Chapter 116

               Dean Blaine always felt a strange glow of pride when he looked at the older students before an exam. Seeing them grow from uncertain or overly prideful freshmen into competent warriors reminded him that as frustrating as his job could be at times, he was still helping to make a difference. The young men and women gathered before him were no longer undisciplined Supers with a disproportionate sense of their abilities. They were staring at him with eyes that, while nervous, still shined with controlled calm and preparation. These were the eyes of people prepared to walk into battle. These were the eyes of future Heroes.

                “Good morning, everyone.” Dean Blaine’s voice boomed through the gym, falling on the ears of waiting students and eager professors. “As you all know, you are here to take the semester final for your third year in the Hero Certification Program. I want to take this moment to wish each of you the best of luck. Though some will score higher than others, I hope each of you will use your abilities to their fullest potential. That, ultimately, is all that anyone can even ask from you as a Hero.”

                The students nodded their understanding, but made no comment. Tension practically radiated off of every one of them. They were ready to hear what they would be facing; all other sentiments were secondary concerns.

                “Now then, let’s get on with what I know you all really care about: the details of your exam.” Behind Dean Blaine, a large white screen lowered down from the ceiling. “As you know, the focus of your third year’s training is predominantly on handling multiple opponents on your own. Today’s exam will offer a real life situation to test how well you’ve absorbed that knowledge. You are all Heroes who have gotten a call about a gang of criminal Supers holed up in a building. They are planning to commit acts of serious destruction and all other Heroes are engaged in other assignments. It is up to you to neutralize these threats. And what are these threats? Let me introduce you to a training tool used by HCP upper classmen as well as actual Heroes: the Simulated Super Automated Battle Droids, or Sims for short.”

                On the screen behind Blaine appeared images of several mechanical beings. Some were large, easily eight feet tall and wider than a pair of vending machines, while others were human-sized or smaller. The one trait they all shared was a colored light in the center of their chest.

                “Sims come in a variety of builds, meant to emulate the powers of several basic Super categories. You’ll find that, depending on your particular suite of abilities, some will go down easier than others. Sims are a key part of training, but they do come with a very obvious flaw in that Supers with technical control abilities will find them laughably easy as opponents.”

                Jill kept her face as neutral as she could manage. The sight of robotic opponents had made her want to bust out a smug grin, but two years of this stuff had taught her that nothing would be that simple.

                “For that reason, during this exam it will be forbidden to use any abilities on the Sims that do not also work on humans. Case in point: Jill Murray will not be allowed to simply overtake them and power them down; however, she is free to use her ability on anything else in the training field.”

                “Doesn’t this actually make it impossible for some of us though?” Rich Weaver asked. “My power doesn’t work on robots, so I’m basically going in there human.”

                “I was getting to that,” Dean Blaine sighed. “Sims wouldn’t be very useful tools if they couldn’t register situations where non-physical abilities are utilized. We have calibrated these to record the triggers that would constitute power use, eye-contact in your case, Mr. Weaver, and they are programmed to respond appropriately if those conditions are met.”

                “Sorry,” Rich said, looking suitably ashamed for his outburst.

                “It’s alright, I understand the concern. Without those capabilities these would not be useful for a true test of your skills,” Dean Blaine said. “There is still one more thing I need to tell you about the Sims before we move on. Many of you must have noticed the light in their chest. This is not merely an aesthetic choice. When you get onto the exam’s field some of these lights will be glowing yellow, while others will be glowing red. A yellow light indicates that the Sim you’re facing has not been identified as a high-level threat and that lethal force should only be used if absolutely necessary.”

                As a whole, the group didn’t react to that, though some of the smarter ones did show changed expressions as they realized what red lights would likely indicate.

                “If the Sim is showing a red light,” Dean Blaine continued. “Then it means that Sim is a high-level threat, a serious danger not only to the Hero fighting it, but to the entire area around it. Those can, and often should, be killed on sight.”

                This time there was a reaction; there always was when they got to this exam. Eyes widened, feet shuffled, and a few loud gasps were even taken. Dean Blaine waited for the first wave of noise to cease before he went on.

                “This is a training exercise used by real Heroes. Real Heroes, with real lives on the line and real civilians to worry about. If you wear that title, this is a situation you will encounter more frequently than any of us would like. Some Supers are just too powerful to let run wild. If they turn criminal, people will die. Sometimes a few, sometimes hundreds of thousands, but any amount is too much. That is why we have damage-level assessments in the first place, so Heroes can prioritize threats and know how to react to them. I’m not saying you have to kill the red-light Sims on sight, but for some of you that may be the only way to neutralize them, and they must be neutralized. If anyone cannot make peace with what this implies about their future careers, I understand completely. You can leave this program right now with no ill-feelings and all my blessings. If you stay then make no mistake, you will be learning to kill. How fast or often you do so in the field will be your calls to make, but it is a skill you will either graduate with or fail out because you lack it.”

                Dean Blaine waited, giving the students time to let his words sink in. This was a breaking point for some Supers, when they were confronted by the reality of what they were training to do. Others would fall further down the line. After a full minute with no one volunteering to leave, Dean Blaine decided they were all committed to going forward, at least for now.

                “How you fight these Sims is going to be up to you. Use weapons, strength, abilities, whatever you like. You will be judged on how effectively you neutralize your enemies, what strategies you utilize to do so, and if any are allowed to cause collateral damage. Any questions?”

                His question was greeted only by hard, determined stares.

                “Then everyone to the lifts. We’re going down to the exam level.”