Chapter 52

“Next week begins the first round of testing in your other classes,” Professor Pendleton announced on Friday. He sat on the edge of his desk and looked out at a fraction of the faces he would see in nearly any other class. Subtlety was, if possible, even less popular than when he’d gone to Lander. It was very possible his own Hero career had contributed to that, a thought which he quickly banished before continuing. “We, however, will not be taking one. Your other classes should provide four tests: one now, at semester’s end, midway through spring, and at year’s end. Subtlety only has tests at the ends of each semester.”

The students covertly exchanged tentative looks. While having two fewer exams than the others was a boon, they couldn’t help but feel apprehension at the idea. Two years in the HCP had made them aware that few good things came without a cost. Professor Pendleton was proud of their suspicion. It meant they were learning.

“I could tell you why this is, but I think I’d rather see who among you can put the pieces together yourself. Anyone want to give it a shot?”

Rich Weaver raised his hand, and was immediately given the nod by Professor Pendleton. “Because our major is different from the other five, and so it requires a different way to test?”

“A bit obvious, but in a roundabout way you came close, so I’ll count it,” the professor said. “Yes, the other five all do some variation of many people getting together and punching or shooting or blasting one person who must defend. Our first exam is going to be similar, but with some components meant to test things I care about seeing in you, not just your punching talents. That deals more with parameters, not why we have less tests.”

“The HCP wants us to focus on martial skills, so less time is allocated to Subtlety?” Britney Ferguson ventured. She noticed the slight narrowing of the professor’s eyes, and quickly clarified. “I’m not saying I agree with it, I really like this class. I’m just accepting the situation for what it is and making deductions based on that, like you taught us.”

“Damn you students and your gift for remembering my words so well,” Professor Pendleton sighed. “I’ll admit, you’re correct in that this course is seen as less prestigious by many, however the time and training for it are still deemed necessary, so they did not strip our testing opportunities out of mere derision.”

Will Murray raised his hand, having taken the time to carefully consider the professor’s precise question. Since he was the only one volunteering, he was quickly chosen to speak.

“We get fewer tests because we get fewer chances to succeed,” Will said, voice steady and even. “Subtlety doesn’t work like fighting classes; we’re information gatherers much of the time. If you lose in a fight, assuming you don’t die, there are chances to have a rematch. In information gathering, once an opportunity is lost there is no promise it will ever appear again.”

“Very, very well said,” Professor Pendleton complimented. “You hit the nail on the head. As Will stated, you have fewer chances to succeed. The other classes have four tests, four grades, four scores to average together in determining their fitness to continue in that major. One bad showing doesn’t need to be the end for them. You get two. A failure means continuing will be incredibly difficult. A total blowout means there is almost no hope. This major, this career, is one of constant high stakes. Your testing schedule is one, among many, of the ways we like to slowly indoctrinate you to that world.”

 *              *              *

Ralph Chapman, Dr. Moran, Mr. Numbers, Mr. Transport, and Dean Blaine all sat in a conference room, silent save only for the sound of turning pages as Chapman reviewed the file in his hand. Several minutes passed, then he closed the set of documents and turned his attention to the other people in the room.

“I’m not sure how I feel about it,” he said warily.

“No one is asking how you feel,” Dean Blaine replied, his tone more patient than his words. “You’re being notified because this change affects Vince’s living situation, and we felt it was good faith to let you know before things became official.”

“Still, seems dangerous,” Ralph Chapman said, glossing over the dean’s dismissal of his opinion. “Intra’s son living under the same roof as Globe’s kid, are we sure this Chad Taylor isn’t just setting himself up to make an attempt on Vince?” At no point did his tone indicate he would object to this turn of events, he merely posed the question of their viability.

Dean Blaine felt a fiery retort try to break free from his mouth; instead he swallowed the cinder and kept his words even. “Chad Taylor is, quite literally, the model of control. He has worked through his issues with Vince, and neither feels any animosity toward one another. They understand that the actions of their fathers do not have to dictate their own relationship.”

Ralph Chapman snorted. “Sure, every kid with a dead dad is so gracious when they meet the killer's son. What about Vince? How would he handle this?”

“Vince is well-adjusted enough to easily cope with a new addition to his household. If anything, I think it would be good for him. He thrives in large, family-like settings. Adding one to the bunch, especially one like Chad, will have several positive effects,” Dr. Moran informed them.

Ralph Chapman flipped back through the file and furrowed his brow in concentration. He didn’t like this. It made their investigation look weak and stupid. If even Intra’s son was so certain Reynolds was a good kid that he’d share a roof, then how much could there be to worry about? That was the argument that would get made down the line, and Ralph didn’t think he had a counter for it yet.

“If you have any more questions, come by my office,” Dean Blaine said, rising from the table. “We’ll be dealing with everything next week, once the juniors' first trials are complete. You have until then to bring forth concerns.”

The other three followed him out of the room, leaving the file in Ralph Chapman’s slightly sweaty hands. It didn’t matter if it got damp, it was bullshit anyway. The staff was stone-walling him; it was the only explanation for how Vince Reynolds, admitted son of Globe, kept coming up looking so squeaky clean. They were coaching him, lying for him, and covering his mistakes. Sure, they’d left one or two to keep Ralph off the trail, but he wasn’t fooled. No one with that pedigree came out clean. He just needed to find Vince’s sins.

Ralph knew he wouldn’t uncover much in just a week, but that was okay. The move didn’t matter, it was when the dean tried to use it as evidence that it would truly be in play. Ralph just had to find something good enough by then, and he could undo the sham that was Vince Reynolds.