Chapter 130

              As Vince stepped into the observation room, he was met with the expected reactions of applause and glaring from various parties. What he didn’t anticipate, however, was Dean Blaine putting a hand on his shoulder after a few steps through the door. The grip was gentle, but firm, rooting him in place. Thankfully he didn’t have to speculate about the reason for this stop, as the dean immediately began to speak.

                “Some of you are probably wondering why two of Vince’s Sims voluntarily shut themselves down,” Dean Blaine said, addressing the unseen watchers in another room as much as his students. “That’s because in each scenario, there is a randomized chance that each Sim will surrender if given the opportunity. The number will vary just like the hallway layouts and formations, but it is an element in the exam.”

                “Why didn’t you tell us that before?” Allen asked, clearly still a bit peeved from his own merely-moderate performance.

                “We never tell any class. You should have figured it out,” Dean Blaine said, voice growing sharp. “I told you that you were informed of Supers suspected of gathering to commit a large crime. I told you that this was a real-life scenario. So, given those two pieces of information, why did each and every one of you thus far assume that all the Sims were guilty?”

                “Because… they were there,” Thomas answered, his own voice fading out as the truth of the dean’s words hit him.

                “Precisely. You all went into a situation where Supers were suspected of criminal activity and immediately resorted to force as the best way to neutralize them. Many of you merely inflicted pain and injuries that can be healed, but some of you killed indiscriminately. And more than one of you killed an innocent Sim who would have happily surrendered if only given the chance.”

                “But if we’d given them all chances then we’d have risked way more collateral damage,” Amber pointed out.

                “That is also true,” Dean Blaine agreed. “I am not saying your strategies were inherently wrong or that Vince’s was inherently right. I am just making you aware of a bias you all entered that field with. As Heroes, you will have to walk a very fine line when dealing with criminal Supers. Some will be bent on destruction and every second you waste can cost lives. Others are merely swept up in something beyond their control and will jump at the chance to get out of it. Only you know your power, only you know if you can afford to offer someone the opportunity to surrender. Always be aware of what you’re doing, and the people it impacts. We’re training you to be Heroes, not tyrants.”

                Dean Blaine released his grip on Vince’s shoulder, and the silver-haired student scurried back to the area with his dormmates in it. The dean gave a nod to Professor Pendleton, whose long fingers plucked a fresh strip of paper from the jar.

                “Sasha Foster,” he announced, setting the scrap on the table with the other discarded bits.

                Sasha headed over to Dean Blaine who allowed her to grab some weaponry off the rack and took her down to the exam field. Once they left, the room filled with the gentle hum of conversation as discussion about the newly revealed rule commenced.

*             *             *

                “I thought the dean had more subtlety than that,” Ralph Chapman said, shaking his head at the picture on the screen. This room was smaller than the one with the students, however it contained monitors with views of all the same angles as theirs, plus two. The first showed the stairwell where Dean Blaine was currently explaining the procedure to Sasha. The second showed the observation room, where Vince was now speaking excitedly with his friends.

                “How do you mean?” Mr. Transport asked. He and Mr. Numbers had been asked to babysit the politician during the viewing. Ralph Chapman had access to be in the HCP’s halls, but there were still areas off-limits to him. Officially they were there as his temporary aides in case he needed anything. In reality, they were making sure he didn’t try to sneak off and do some snooping.

                “Obviously he told Vince about the surrender shut-down protocol. Wanted to make it seem like he was just such a smart guy that it had occurred to him all on his own. Too heavy-handed by far.”

                “And when, exactly, do you hypothesize this exchange took place?” Mr. Numbers asked. “We have watched them this entire time, since the exam was revealed. You saw them talk in the hallway before Vince went in. You even got permission to covertly use a telepath last night and ensure that Vince hadn’t been slipped any advanced information about the trial. So please tell me how you believe this trick was pulled off.”

                “How should I know? You damn people can do impossible things. Maybe you had someone beam it into his head, maybe someone made instructions appear on his eyeballs. I’ve got no way of knowing how it was done, because you all make anything possible.”

                “Mr. Chapman, I get the feeling you don’t care for Supers,” Mr. Transport said carefully.

                “I don’t care for people who play by an entirely different set of rules than the rest of us,” Ralph replied. “Because of a genetic fluke you people are born unique in one singular way, yet almost all of you choose to use that to act like you’re special all around. This is America, and we’re all equal. That means no one is above the rules we’ve laid down, not even people who can bend the laws of nature.”

                “Yet what Vince just did was well in the rules,” Mr. Numbers countered. “You read the briefing on the exam; you knew that the surrender shut-down system existed. Why are you so set against giving him credit for discovering it?”

                “Because there’s no way that kid actually figure it out. I’ve read the I.Q. assessments and seen his grades. He might not be an idiot, but he’s nowhere near smart enough to put that together.”

                “You’re right,” Mr. Transport said. He ignored the look Mr. Numbers tried to shoot him and kept talking. “Vince is far from the smartest member of this year’s class, and he almost certainly didn’t mentally work out that there would be a hidden protocol to account for innocent Sims.”

                “Then you see-”

                “Vince probably didn’t figure it out, but no one told him either,” Mr. Transport continued. “So that means he offered them the chance to surrender because he was treating it like a real-life scenario. He did it because he knew that’s how he would handle the real thing. Vince found the protocol because he understood the importance of a Hero showing kindness as much as power. He isn’t terribly smart, I’ll give you, but you would be hard pressed to find a more inherently kind and gentle boy in the entire school.”

                Ralph Chapman said nothing; he merely turned back to the screen to watch Sasha’s performance. Mr. Numbers, on the other hand, gave Mr. Transport the small nod that was their version of a high five. From him, it was a tremendous show of support.