Chapter 51

Professor Fletcher was just finishing up with a freshman when Camille arrived. Her knock echoed through the room, rousing the young man from the discussion.

“That’s my next appointment,” Professor Fletcher said. “Just practice what we talked about until we meet next week.”

“Will do. Thanks, Coach Fletcher.” The young man got up, opened the door, and allowed Camille to enter first before making his exit.

For his part, Professor Fletcher tried not to wince when one of the younger students called him that. He understood it was tradition, that being able to call your instructors “professor” was a mark that the student had advanced enough to learn, not just be trained and drilled. Nonetheless, something about it bothered Carl Fletcher; it seemed disingenuous. His predecessor had liked the tradition so much that George rarely allowed anyone to ever call him professor, though perhaps that had more to do with how he saw himself than how he wanted his students to see him.

“You wanted to see me?” Camille asked, shutting the door and taking the seat that had previously been occupied mere moments before. In her hand was a notecard she’d found in her locker, giving her the time and room for this meeting.

“I did,” Professor Fletcher confirmed, mentally shifting gears. His last meeting had been with someone scared they weren’t powerful enough to make it in the program. This would be about the opposite. “It will be announced tomorrow, but next week starts the first testing round in every class but Subtlety. They’ll go on throughout the week; Close Combat usually takes all five days to complete due to how many students take the course.”

Camille had to agree, Close Combat was likely one of the most popular courses, right along with Focus. She suspected that would change next year, when everyone had to choose the area they’d try to graduate in, but for now it was too practical to forgo without good reason.

“The reason I’m telling you all of this ahead of time, is that I felt it was only fair I let you know that the clock on your game has run out,” Professor Fletcher continued. “Last year you did a good job of hiding your abilities, and make no mistake here, I don’t begrudge a student keeping an ace in the hole. But that’s only if they can really train themselves to the best of their ability while doing so.”

“If people know what I can do, it means they’ll be able to counter it,” Camille protested weakly.

“Which is why I’m telling you to quit hiding it,” Professor Fletcher said. “In the Hero world, that surprise will work once, maybe twice, and then everyone will know. The first two years, I agree it served you better to stay covert. Then, you could use their ignorance to your advantage. But now is the time to learn to fight people who do know what you’re capable of. That will force you to learn how to counter their counters. It’s how we grow our abilities in a combat setting.”

“I understand,” Camille said. She did, too. She had known since the first day of junior year that it was only a matter of time until someone told her she wasn’t allowed to sandbag anymore. It had only been luck and cunning that let her hold onto her secret for this long. Still, knowing it would happen and hoping it wouldn’t weren’t mutually exclusive things.

“There is another option,” Professor Fletcher said gently. “Healers do benefit from Close Combat, but there’s also a case to be made for them learning Ranged Combat. You were doing well in that course until you chose to drop it at the beginning of the year. I talked to Professor Baker, and she’d be willing to let you back in.”

“That’s surprisingly nice of her,” Camille noted.

“It’s not something either of us would sign off on if there were even an outside chance you were going to do Ranged Combat as your major, however if you make the change, obviously you’ll lean into the healing abilities and major in Focus.”

“I could major in Close Combat,” she replied, a bit of heat in her voice. Camille tolerated a lot, but she had little patience for others telling her what she was or wasn’t capable of.

“No argument here,” Professor Fletcher said. “You’d be a real terror under the right conditions. That said, if you aren’t willing to train on how to use your ability for Close Combat, then you sure as shit aren’t going to be able to major in it.” He pulled a form from his desk and slid it across the table. Though the fine print was hard to make out from a distance, Camille could clearly see the words “Transfer” in bold lettering near the top.

“We both know you’ve got your reasons for wanting to hide your real power,” he continued. “I’m not here to make you break you out of your shell of secrecy. My job is to train you as best I can with what you’ve got, in the class I teach. If you want to keep hiding, that’s your business. You just can’t do it in my classroom.”

Camille picked up the page and skimmed the text. Everything was just as he’d said. She would transfer to Ranged Combat immediately, and though she’d almost certainly fail the first test, that didn’t mean she couldn’t pull her grade up by year’s end. Besides, it was like Professor Fletcher said, with Close Combat gone she’d inevitably be majoring in Focus, like every other healer. It was all there in black and white, a way to keep her secret and still keep moving through the HCP.

“No, thank you,” Camille said, pushing the paper back across the desk.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” She was sure when she’d taken her first martial arts class, all those years ago. She was sure when she told her parents that she wanted to be a Hero, and sent in her applications to the HCP. She’d been sure ever since a silver-haired young boy had shown her what it meant to have someone stand between you and the darkness. She’d been sure she wanted to be that shield for someone else, and Vince’s surprise attendance in the program didn’t change that. Camille wanted to be a Hero, not a healer or a helper. She wanted to give some other little girl on the ground hope that there were people in the world that would protect her, merely because it was the right thing to do.

“I’m not going to go easy on you,” Professor Fletcher warned her. “In fact, you’ll have the hardest exam in the class, if only because I want to test your real potential.”

“That’s fine,” she agreed, picking up her bag and standing from the chair. “Just make sure there’s another healer on hand.”

“You can’t heal someone after a fight?”

“I could, but there’s a very real chance they won’t want me to touch them ever again,” Camille warned. With that, she was out the door, refusing to look back at the office or her choice.