Chapter 5

The gym immediately filled with the distinct hum of chatter as the students spread out. Some made a beeline for their professors, others talked over the decision with friends, Dean Blaine’s remarks clearly inspiring them to doubt their original choice. Only a few headed for Kent Mears, though the fact that one of them was Chad Taylor did not escape notice by most in the room. It didn’t draw much curiosity though, if anyone could handle a job on top of the demands of the HCP, it was Chad.

 *              *              *

Roy finished letting Professor Fletcher know that he would definitely be pursuing Close Combat in the coming year, then looked around the room for his next target. There was a mini-mob around Professor Stone, which sort of made sense. Focus was a useful discipline for any Super, it centered on calming your mind and drawing out more of your abilities, so they tended to toss anyone without a clear third skill into it. As a result, it was a pretty full course, so ample students had to tell her if they were keeping or dropping it. Roy’s eyes wandered over to Professor Cole, who somehow managed to look bored despite the layers of clothing and mummified bandages concealing her face. Not many people seemed to be competing to talk to the Weapons instructor, and Roy could take a decent guess why. He suspected the course’s already small number would shrink significantly after today.

Not being one for lines, Roy walked over to Professor Cole. He threw a hand up in a lazy greeting and gave her a smile. She might have returned it; there was definitely some movement under her face-wrappings.

“Let me guess, you want to drop my class,” she said once he got close to her.

“I guess you noticed my lack of enthusiasm during all those drills last year,” Roy replied.

“It’s hard to stand out at not caring, but you made it happen. Congratulations, I guess. So you’re keeping, what, Close Combat and Focus?”

Roy nodded. “Let’s be real though, we all know I’m majoring in Close Combat, this was just a question of who got the axe first.”

“So you drop the one more closely related to fighting, rather than the one about a bunch of mental mumbo jumbo that won’t do you a dick whip of good,” Professor Cole said.

“Learning to think on my feet has actually done me a lot of good.”

“I’m sure it did, but you’re nearing the end of what you’ll get out of it. Once you’ve learned to fight with your head there’s only so much Focus improvement a person with a purely physical power can do. You should be training your body, learning new skills to help you give you options in battle.”

“I’m a bare-handed fighter, what do you think I’m going to get out of a Weapons course?”

“For starters, if nothing else it will teach you how to deal with other Supers who do use weapons. For another, you shouldn’t be a bare-handed fighter. If you had listened to anything I said last year you’d understand that a weapon’s primary purpose is to magnify your strength, to up the level where you can compete, something I’d thought would interest a person like you.”

Roy let a sarcastic retort die on his tongue. Those were actually good points, and a few months ago they’d have been wasted on him. However, after Vince’s year-end shitstorm and the summer spent under tutelage, Roy’s ego had finally started accepting that fact that if he wanted to reach the finish line it would mean taking every advantage he could get. Heroes were top tier, and you didn’t reach that summit by turning down things that might give you an edge.

“Maybe you’re right,” he conceded. “I guess since I’m going Close Combat anyway I don’t risk much by taking another year of Weapons instead of Focus.”

Professor Cole blinked her eyes, one of the few visible parts of her, in evident surprise. Clearly she hadn’t been expecting her arguments to work; she’d just been making them out of habit. Within seconds they were back to normal, but Roy knew what he’d seen in that brief instant.

“So glad you’ve deigned to stick around. Try not to get in the way of the students trying to actually learn.”

Roy flashed his smarmiest possible grin.

“No promises.”

 *              *              *

“Thank you, Alice, no need to say anything, I accept your desire to drop my course without objection,” Professor Pendleton told her.

“I didn’t say I was dropping your class. I literally just walked up to you,” Alice protested. She’d spoken briefly with Professor Hill, who already knew she’d want to continue her Control lessons, and had then walked over to the dark-haired Subtlety teacher, only to meet his odd greeting.

“I know, you didn’t need to say it. Busy day, just thought I’d speed things along.”

“Okay, well you’re wrong. I’m keeping Subtlety, that’s what I came over to tell you.”

Professor Pendleton arched an eyebrow in the practiced manner that only a man who has spent over a decade in prison with little else to do is capable of. “Are you sure that’s wise? Given what you learned about your powers last year, Control and Ranged Combat would offer you a much more useful skill sets.”

“I’m keeping Control, but Ranged Combat is redundant in a few areas. Subtlety is unique. I learned a whole lot last year.”

“I should remind you that you won’t have a teammate to cheat off this time, though,” Professor Pendleton said. “Even if you excel in Control, a poor assessment from your other course could hinder your chances of moving on. With that in mind, are you absolutely certain you want to keep my course for another year?”

Alice felt a strange pressure in the side of her head, like there was a swelling going on under her temples. Her eyes narrowed and it took conscious effort not to raise her voice or clench her hands into fists.

“I’m positive. Or do I need to remind you that I passed your tailing exam all by myself, as well as keeping passing grades on most of the written work. I don’t know what your issue is, but it’s obvious you don’t want me in the class, and I don’t think you ever did.”

“You’re right,” Professor Pendleton agreed. “You don’t belong in Subtlety.”

“Well, tough shit, because the dean just said we could keep any course we wanted and I’m keeping yours. See you in class.” With a polished turn she walked off, making a beeline to Professor Baker to cement her choice and drop Ranged Combat. She only hoped she’d manage to get her temper and blood pressure down by the time she was able to talk to the crimson haired woman.

Behind her, Professor Pendleton struggled to keep the emotions off his face. At the same time, he tried to puzzle out whether the more dominant feeling he was suppressing was disappointment or pride.