Chapter 119

               Will scanned the new area for anything out of place, but it was just as the dean had described it: an empty room with only a single screen set above another door. As soon as he’d walked in, a message flashed across the monitor.

                Welcome. Please wait here while your course is being prepared.

                From behind the unopened door came sounds of heavy movements and machinery clicking into gear. It was a melody that was strangely comforting to Will; as a tech-genius he felt most comfortable surround by a symphony of well-functioning machines. He took the downtime to double check the implements on his staff. If he’d read the situation correctly, then he shouldn’t need to use it very much, but there was always the possibility that he was wrong. Were that the case, then he was going to fail. Will had bet his exam score on correctly interpreting the Subtlety portion of the trial. There was no way he could handle a room full of robots capable of fighting his peers. All he could do was hope that he was as smart as he thought he was.

                After what seemed like hours, but was in reality less than a full minute, the sounds from behind the wall faded away. Will felt his chest tighten in fear. Once he stepped through that door, he would be on full display for the entire class. His theory about the Subtlety test only worked if he could utilize it in private. Otherwise, it would be too easy for the other students to mimic. He waited, body tense, as the message on the screen changed.

                Your course is now ready. You may proceed forward at any time. If you have anything to declare, please do so before exiting this room.

                That seething sense of tension fell away from Will’s body as he read those words. A large smile came unbidden to his face and he nearly dropped his staff in relief. His only regret at that particular moment was that he wouldn’t be able to see the looks on everyone else’s faces.

*              *              *

                In the observation room, the screens flickered on simultaneously. They showed a variety of angles on what amounted to be a relatively small amount of space. The test course appeared to be exactly as Dean Blaine had described it: an industrial building boxed in by others that were nearly identical to it. Externally it was nothing special, almost aggressively mundane. On the inside, however, it was a far more fascinating sight. Sims of various shapes and sizes were scattered through the hallways, with a cluster of them convened in a central room. The single units were clearly working sentry duty, scanning their areas for intruders exactly like the one Dean Blaine had just sent in. A quick search of the various monitors and angles gave away their tally: nine Sims total, with four functioning independently and five huddled as a group. Of the five located together, three had red lights glowing in the center of their chest.

                “How do you think he’ll do?” Alice asked, eyes darting across the screens as she waited for the first sign of Will.

                “Roy has told me that Will’s weapon is pretty useful,” Vince replied. “Maybe he can use it to take them by surprise?”

                “Surprise would be useful against the guards, but I don’t know how viable it will be against the room full of them,” Mary said. “If we all get a cluster then we’ll either have to take them on at once or find a way to separate them.”

                Alice glanced over to the line, where Roy was practically hopping from foot to foot in excitement. “Something tells me we’ll get to see that ‘all-at-once’ strategy long before we ever get called.”

                “I think that only works in cases where the person has physical abilities, like Roy and Chad, or the power to take out groups, like you two,” Vince said.

                “Vince, your ability lends itself well to group battle as well,” Mary reminded him.

                “It does and it doesn’t. Sure, I can lay waste to a whole area, but that would mean seriously injuring or killing everyone in it. Dealing with groups requires me to use a lot of care.”

                “What the hell!”

                The three were pulled from their conversation by the sound of Violet’s voice.  It only took a moment to figure what had caused her exclamation. Three of the Sims had powered down: one red-light and two yellows. A few seconds later, another red light clicked off along with a guard in one of the hallways.

                “Did Will rig up some kind of invisibility device?” Roy wondered aloud.

                “Better,” Professor Pendleton said. “He did his homework.”

                The excitement and confusion in the room only grew as the last red-lighted Sim clicked off along with two yellows. All that remained was a single yellow-light Sim in the center room. It looked strangely lonely, surrounded by the slumped over shapes of its former cohorts.

                “What you are all seeing is a real-life demonstration of what the Subtlety Discipline can accomplish,” Dean Blaine informed them. “The Subtlety students were given an intercepted cipher over a month ago. In that time they have been trying to decode it and unravel the information contained within. In the scenario I gave, you were dealing with a gang of criminal Supers that had been located and required neutralization. For the vast majority of you, that is exactly how life as a Hero will go. Subtlety Heroes work slightly differently. They can, if they are good at their work, locate problems before they become threats. In this case, that is what Mr. Murray has done. Each group of de-activated Sims represents Supers that have already been neutralized before this situation ever came to a head. To put a point on it, by using the advanced information Will Murray took out these criminals before they had the chance to band together.”

                Will appeared on screen at last, moving carefully as he crept along the alley and popped in the building’s side door.

                “How is that fair?” Allen asked. “He only has to fight one damn robot.”

                “He has to fight one robot because all the others were already taken out,” Chad said, speaking before Dean Blaine had a chance. “Even though he would lose to any of us in combat, Will has more effectively neutralized the threat than any of us are likely to be capable of.”

                “Exactly,” Dean Blaine agreed. “I’m sure some of you still think of Subtlety as a weak Super’s discipline. I want you to really evaluate that idea as you are taking your own exams. Remember how easily Will Murray took out nine Sims, then compare it to how your efforts stack up. I believe you’ll find new appreciation for the discipline.”

                On screen, everyone watched as Will snuck up behind the one remaining Sim, firing something from his staff that crackled with blue light as it struck. Moments later, the Sim fell to the ground and its yellow light shut off. Just like that, Will had finished the exam.