Chapter 10

                “Please tell me we have long enough to get some lunch before the meetings start,” Vince said, walking with Hershel and Chad toward the changing rooms. Ideally, they’d have the chance to put on regular clothes, pop up to the surface, and slam down some food before reporting in to choose their discipline. While the morning hadn’t been a particularly stressful one, at least not for them, it had taken a long while for all of the fights to be resolved. Vince almost found himself grateful that he’d been knocked unconscious when he was a freshman. It made the day go a lot faster.

                “It’s just now one o’clock, so I’ve got an hour and some change,” Hershel said, checking a nearby clock on the wall. “I don’t know when your meeting was scheduled for, though.”

                “Not until two-forty-five,” Vince said, relief evident in his voice.

                “That’s right after Roy,” Hershel noted.

                “And just before I go in,” Chad added. “I suspect they are trying to keep those of us with similar course schedules bunched together, as it will make things easier on the professors. I doubt our meetings will take very long, either. Vince and I both have high enough marks in Close Combat to continue our training. For that matter, so does Roy.”

                The three men walked through the entrance and quickly opened their lockers, revealing the mundane clothes tucked away inside. “You’re not wrong about that, but he’s dead set on going with Weapons,” Hershel said. “It was a surprise at the time, though the longer he works at it, the more I’m glad he made the choice. We might just have a real shot at graduating.”

                “True, choosing the discipline is almost as important as the training itself,” Chad agreed.

                “At least ours were straightforward,” Vince said. “Oh, Hershel, did you ask Mary if she wanted to join us for lunch? Camille is going to meet us by the lifts.”

                “I did, but her meeting is earlier than ours, so I’m bringing her back a sandwich. Alice might be able to find us up there, though. She had one of the first meetings on the schedule.” Hershel looked at the phone in his pocket as he changed from the uniform to his jeans. “In fact, hers should be starting any minute now.”

*             *             *

                Alice stepped into the room, noting the long table near the front where Dean Blaine sat, Professor Hill on one side, Professor Pendleton on the other. No sooner had she entered than Professor Hill gave her a warm smile, beckoning her forward to the lone unoccupied chair sitting directly in front of the table. Too aware of the gazes on her, she walked over to it and took her seat, careful to give eye-contact to each of her educators while maintaining a neutral expression.

                “Alice Adair, the time has come for you to choose your discipline,” Dean Blaine announced, as if it weren’t obvious. Silly as she felt hearing it, Alice could only imagine it was far worse for the dean, who actually had to say it to every senior student as they made their way in here. “Currently you are enrolled in Control and Subtlety. Despite the final exams being pre-empted, Professor Hill has determined your grades to be exemplary, and would like you to know that he will offer no objection to you continuing in Control.”

                The warm smile grew bigger, and she could almost imagine Professor Hill trying to flash her a thumbs up from across the table. Professor Pendleton, meanwhile, looked bored as he fidgeted with the pen in front of him.

                “And what about Subtlety? Do I have that option as well?” Alice made a point of not looking at Professor Hill; she could already feel his smile fading as he took in her question.

                “Since you managed to produce reasonable grades throughout the year, solved part of the cypher in your mid-year exam, and actually succeeded on passing the final, there’s no academic reason to bar you from continuing down that road,” Dean Blaine informed her. Professor Pendleton had looked up from his pen and was staring at her with uncertainty. It felt strangely good to be the one confusing him, for a change.

                “But it should also be noted that Subtlety Heroes are often looked upon with suspicion, and rightly so, as the moral lines they work next to are ill-defined at best,” Professor Hill added.

                “Oh, blow it out your ass, Blake,” Professor Pendleton snapped.

                “Gentlemen. I will ask you both to remember that we have a student in front of us and behave accordingly.” Dean Blaine seemed to still be calm, but Alice hadn’t taken two years of Subtlety for nothing, and she noticed the small facial tics signaling his frustration. She had a hunch that he’d cut off everyone in the room’s powers already, just to be on the safe side.

                “No, actually, I think I’d rather let them fight.” Alice leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, staring back and forth between the two professors. “That’s the best thing to do with these sorts of squabbles, right? Just fight and get it over with. Isn’t that how family is supposed to behave?”

                The room went deadly silent as Professor Hill looked from her, to Professor Pendleton, to Dean Blaine, and then around the rotation several more times. “Blaine… you didn’t.”

                “Didn’t stick my nose in where it didn’t belong? Quite correct, I did not. Alice learned through her own methods, or did you miss the part about her passing the junior year of Subtlety training? I kept your secret for the same reason I didn’t tip you off that she knew. I told you from the first day that this secrecy, all of it, was on you. It was never my place to get involved.” Dean Blaine stared down his employee without so much as blinking.

                For a moment, Professor Hill stared back, but when he didn’t see anything to distrust, his gaze turned to the other man in the room. “Then you did this, didn’t you Sean? Found a way to tell her without actually telling her, right?” He quickly looked to Alice, expression somewhere between angry and frantic. “What other lies did he tell you? It’s not true, you know. What happened to your mother-”

                “You should really stop talking,” Professor Pendleton warned.

                “So I can let my niece believe all the terrible things you fed her?”

                “No, because she did this in the hopes of goading you into spilling secrets.” Professor Pendleton looked at Alice, who offered not so much as a smirk in reply to the accusation. “It’s akin to reverse interrogation, you make someone flustered and angry, get them on the defensive, and they’ll start denying things you never even knew to accuse them of.”

                “He’s right. And I’m not sorry. I saw an opportunity, and I took it.” Alice let her arms fall to her side and leaned forward, refusing to back down in the slightest. “I know there’s more about my mother that you all aren’t telling me. I’m going to find out the truth, no matter how hard I have to keep digging.”

                Silence fell upon the room for a long moment, broken when Dean Blaine scratched a quick note onto the form in front of him. “Ms. Adair, shall I correctly interpret this circus as your way of letting us know you’d like to make Subtlety into your discipline?”

                “I sort of felt like just saying it didn’t seem fitting,” Alice replied. Only now, with the game fully played, did she allow a smile to creep across her lips. “But yes, Subtlety will give me the tools I need. That’s what I want to keep studying.”

                “While, generally speaking, pursuing a major of study out of personal reasons doesn’t usually lead to a good outcome, I suppose it’s hard to argue with the results you produced,” Dean Blaine said. “Please tell the next student that we will call them when we’re ready. I need to speak with my colleagues, for a few moments.”

                “Yes, sir.” Alice Adair rose from the chair, took one last look at the dean and her two uncles, one fuming, the other just staring at her, before slipping quietly out the door.