Chapter 158

               None of the students were surprised to see Dean Blaine waiting for them at what was supposed to be their first gym session back from winter break. In his hands were a stack of folders, some thicker than others, and it didn’t take a very astute guess to figure out what the information pertained to. Without a word from their dean, every HCP junior fell into the usual half-circle they took when being addressed by a teacher or guest.

                “As I’m sure you’ve all figured out, I’m here to give you your results from the semester final,” Dean Blaine announced. “But this time we’ll be doing things a bit differently. Just giving you a grade wouldn’t impart the level of feedback necessary for you to learn from; so today you’ll each be receiving thorough breakdowns of how you performed.” He could see the interest peaking in some of the students, those who already realized the value in what they were being given.

“We’ll cover what you did well, what you could have executed better, how you showed the skills that you’re majoring in, and what you should work on. This will be the system of feedback for all major exams going forward in the program, as we have now reached the point where you all possess basic abilities. What is left is to sharpen and refine those skills until they are unrivaled. Each of you will have the duration of this class to look over your results. When it ends, you’ll return them to me and they will be destroyed. Any clarification or advice you need from your professors can be obtained during their office hours. Any questions?”

                Several hands went up before he’d even gotten the words out, and Dean Blaine suppressed a grin. He knew darn well what they were curious about, and he fully intended to give it to them, but every now and then it was fun to watch these ever-growing-powerhouses sweat a bit.

                “Yes, Mr. Murray?” Dean Blaine pointed to Will, who immediately looked a bit uncomfortable now that all eyes were upon him.

                “I, um, I was just wondering if you were going to tell us how we ranked.”

                “Rankings only change at year’s end, Mr. Murray. I’d expect you to know that by now.”

                “No, I meant… you know, in the test.” Will shuffled his feet, only now realizing that the front runner asking for confirmation of his win might seem somewhat egotistical.

                “Yes, Mr. Murray, I know what you’re talking about.” Fun was fun, but dragging this out any longer would border on cruelty. “I will be relaying the information before you pick up your folders; however, I’ll only be giving you the top three in each category. Any lower than that would be shaming those who had a bad day instead of lauding those who had a good one, and that’s not what I’m here to do.”

                “What do you mean each category?” Violet asked.

                “I mean you were being tested in your overall performances, as well as how you fared in your individual majors. For example: someone who is enrolled in Close Combat and Weapons might have done well overall, but used their weapon very little and as such not placed highly in that category,” Dean Blaine explained. “Now then, are you all ready for the results?”

                No one actually spoke up, but there was enough nodding that, had an observer peeked in from outside, they might have thought Dean Blaine was hosting a secret head-banging metal concert. The faces of his students ranged from eager, to nervous, to downright terrified. Rich and Terrance wore those latter expressions, their status as the only two to fail at finishing the test no doubt weighing heavily on their minds.

                “I’ll give these to you in order; first name is the number one spot, then number two, then number three. We’ll start with what is likely the most obvious of results, Subtlety. The top three for that class are Will Murray, Britney Ferguson, and Alice Adair.”

                This was hardly shocking news, as it had been obvious by the amount of Sims that were shut-down who had done the best in the class. Still, Alice let out a small sigh of relief at the news. Part of her had been worried that Professor Pendleton would find some way to dock her enough points that she’d fall out of the top three.

                “Next is Ranged Combat,” Dean Blaine continued. “Our top three for that category are Thomas Castillo, Jill Murray, and Shane DeSoto.”

                The room filled with polite clapping, but all Shane could hear was the blood suddenly pounding in his ears. It was his own fault for falling to third. That challenge had been his to lose, and he’d had to go get and caught up with a yellow-light Sim while a red managed to run wild. There was no one to blame but himself, and no solution except to train harder. Chad put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, but otherwise said nothing. He knew there weren’t any words that would make Shane feel better.

                “For the Focus major, the top three are Selena Wilkins, Mary Smith, and Alex Griffen,” Dean Blaine announced.

                Alex found himself being slapped on the back by several sources, some of them unexpected. It was no surprise that Selena was in the top; she was a contender for the overall top three in every category but time. Mary might have taken the top spot if she hadn’t been so rushed, but for him to make the top three… he allowed himself a gleeful grin. It wasn’t often he got to stand in the spotlight, it only seemed right that he enjoy it.

                “In Weapons, the top three students were Britney Ferguson, Roy Daniels, and Will Murray.”

                Britney kept a neutral expression as Dean Blaine called her name for the second time. She was keenly aware that plenty of people thought invisibility was a useless power. So far as she was concerned, there was no need to correct them. Britney would let them keep on thinking that as she outscored them and won her way into the graduating class.

                “Control’s top three were Alice Adair, Vince Reynolds, and Amber Dixon.”

                Amber didn’t let the frustration on her face show as she clapped for her fellow top three. The whole class must have known the truth: that she’d been the real number one, but she’d lost it on a technicality. Just because she’d accidently killed a couple of yellows, she was demoted to third. That was fine for training and drills, but once they got into the real world Amber was certain that her strategy would be the one real Heroes used.

                “And finally, we have Close Combat,” Dean Blaine said. “There were a lot of you in the running for this one, but the top three managed to stand out from the pack. They are Chad Taylor, Vince Reynolds, and Camille Belden.”

                Camille’s eyes went wide and her body froze at the sound of the dean’s voice saying her name. She’d expected to do well with her showing… but top three? The others must have lost points for things she wasn’t counting on. Camille finally realized that Violet was shaking her shoulder, trying to high-five her, and snapped out of the mental fugue. It was just in time too, as Dean Blaine was moving on.

                “With your assessments by major out of the way, it’s time to more onto the overall stats. As I said, I’m only announcing the top three, but the rest of you will still get your ranks in the packets I hand out. If you need help understanding why you placed in the spot you did, I encourage you to seek out your professors. We have very quantifiable criteria we grade on and will be glad to break down, number by number, why you ended up where you did.” This was an addition to the speech Dean Blaine had learned to add over the years, otherwise the students tended to ignore the real meat of their feedback and focus on pestering him with questions about why they’d gotten the rank they did.

                “Your overall top three classmates shone in many areas, not just the ones tested by their majors, though those that excelled greatly in those skills did place higher. The student who placed highest overall was, to what I imagine is the surprise of very few of you, Will Murray.”

                Jill slapped her twin brother on the back so hard that he nearly went sprawling onto the gym floor, only two and a half years of constant training allowing him to catch himself before the tumble.

                “Second place demonstrated high overall skills, dispatching red Sims quickly and leaving yellow Sims in a healable state, all while putting up excellent time and minimizing damage. Second in the class is Chad Taylor.”

                If Chad was bothered by placing second in something, it didn’t show. He accepted the muted applause and handshakes from his friends with the same detached manner he used for most things.

                “And finally, the student who won the number three place overall put up a good time, minimized casualties, and earned a bonus for being the first among you to realize the full extent of what was being tested. The number three student overall was Vince Reynolds.”

                Vince let out a breath he’d been holding since he walked in. Maybe since the exam had ended, really. He’d needed to put on a great showing, and number three in this class was nothing to sneeze at. At long last, he was out of the middle of the pack, and this time under his own power. That was one test down.

                Only a year and half of them to go.