Chapter 110

                “With the exception of Mr. DeSoto, can anyone tell me why Heroes so rarely have to deal with hostage situations?”

                Dean Blaine was cutting a brisker pace than usual, having barely bothered with more than cursory formalities before kicking off the day’s Ethics of Heroism course. “I ask because, while many aspects of the information are classified, the existence of the answer is not. And, more than any other class I’ve previously dealt with, you all have been around a presence that hints at the correct response.”

                Will, Britney, Chad, and Alice all raised their hands, but Britney was the fastest on the draw so Dean Blaine nodded for her to speak.

                “I’m guessing there are special people for that,” Britney said. “Probably ones with DVA approval and training. It’s sort of the same question as how come not every Hero team has a teleporter, but all of them manage to work across the entire nation.”

                “Light on details, but spot on in concept,” Dean Blaine told her. “Although your comparison is an imperfect one. Hero teams are able to get around thanks to DVA assets who can transport them as needed. The answer to the hostage question is a somewhat more complicated beast. I trust you all remember earlier in the year, when I asked you why this system exists. Why we call ourselves Heroes. You know that we exist as symbols and cultural touchstones as much as, if not more than, Supers who stop crime. Heroes are meant to be held up and pointed to, serving as proof that Supers can be an asset to humanity. Because of that, our duty was, historically, almost entirely in the limelight. All work in the shadows and background was delegated to others. That is how it stood for decades. As a matter of fact, the Subtlety discipline wasn’t added to the HCP curriculum until the mid-eighties, when the failings of several services made it clear that we needed to keep some resources in house. But listen to me, droning on about the theoretical, when we have guests who can speak in practical terms.”

                Dean Blaine turned to the doorway, causing the student’s eyes to follow, which was why everyone saw at once as Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport stepped through the door. They both gave a nod of greeting to Dean Blaine as they joined him in the center of the room, carefully flanking either side of him so the student’s concentration was focused in one point.

                “Some of you know us from being around here, or looking over Melbrook dormitory. For those who don’t, my name is Mr. Numbers, and my associate goes by Mr. Transport. We work for one of the companies that have government contracts to fulfil all sorts of tasks. Pertinent to you are the ones we do to make a Hero’s work flow more smoothly. Think of yourselves as the military and us as private contractors. While we have the same boss, our methods and resources vary greatly.”

                “Everyone in our company has a different job,” Mr. Transport said, taking over in a more cheerful tone than anything Mr. Numbers could hope to produce. “But Mr. Numbers and I are part of a team that handles, among other things, emergency extractions. Once you all become Heroes, you’ll get your assignments through a DVA representative. However, in the course of those assignments you might find that someone has taken innocent civilians hostage. That’s where our team, or one like it, would enter the picture. Unlike you all, who are trained for combat and neutralizing dangerous Supers, we were recruited for our powers to serve one specific task. In the span of a minute, our team can pull out any civilian hostages and allow the Heroes to stop their targets unimpeded.”

                “Hang on,” Amber interrupted. “If there are teams specifically built for getting civilians clear, then why are we working so hard on learning not to hurt them? Won’t the battlefield just be emptied of innocent people ahead of time?”

                “Ms. Dixon, my tolerance for outbursts is already minimal, you’ll find it even less so when we have guests.” Despite the harsh words, Dean Blaine didn’t sound especially agitated. The rambunctious and curious nature of students was something he’d long ago made a degree of peace with.

                “We’ll take questions at the end.” Mr. Numbers too seemed unbothered by the rudeness. “But since that one always gets asked anyway, I’ll tackle it now. The reason you have to learn to work around civilians is the same reason every purse-snatcher and litterer isn’t caught by Heroes: there are only so many qualified people to go around. Joining our company doesn’t take the same level of effort as becoming a Hero, however we still have to prove our skill and our trustworthiness, something not everyone can do.”

                “It’s also worth mentioning that, hard as we try, our teams can usually only work on the small scale,” Mr. Transport added. “Clearing out a bank of hostages is one thing, we can handle that. But entire city blocks are another matter. Look at the robot attacks last year in Brewster. Even if they’d had enough advanced warning to call us in, there was no way for us to clear out all those people. Which meant it fell on the Heroes at the scene to try and keep them safe.”

                Dean Blaine moved a step forward, retaking the room’s attention effortlessly. “Not every HCP introduces you to the existence of these resources during your education. Some feel it gives away too much, or lessens the responsibility students feel. However, I’ve found it’s better to give you understanding now, while there is still time to make mistakes and process the information correctly. Remember, these men and the companies they serve are resources for a Hero, no different than a communicator. They are not a safety net. They are not a place to pass the blame. As Heroes, the buck always stops with us. However, they are a specialized resource that will make your job easier in certain situations, and will help keep innocent people safe.”

                Whispers went around the room, none as rude as Amber’s outburst, but a fair bit of murmuring as the students wrapped their minds around what they were hearing. From the beginning, they’d always been told it was them against the criminals, standing shoulder to shoulder holding the line. And it was true, to a point. At the end of the day, there was no backup plan to stop a powerful Super outside of using other Supers. If they failed, people would die, that truth remained untarnished. Yet now, as he peeled back the layers, Dean Blaine was showing them that they wouldn’t have to tackle these situations completely alone. He found this lesson to be telling not in the moment, but in the weeks that followed. It was important to see whose resolve would lessen when they thought there would be other people to count on, and who would retain their sense of responsibility.

                Slowly, a hand rose from amidst the whispers, one belonging to Camille Belden. Mr. Transport pointed to her without bothering to check with Dean Blaine for approval first, a realization that hit him visibly as he glanced over in apology. Dean Blaine said nothing to stop him or Camille, better to move on to questions than let the muttering continue for much longer.

                “I wanted to ask what else you do,” Camille said. “Knowing you can pull out hostages explains a lot, and would be really helpful in some fights, but Mr. Transport mentioned that there were different kinds of teams. Seems like we should know all the resources that will be available to us.”

                “A lot of what we used to do got sorted into the domain of Subtlety Heroes,” Mr. Transport told her. “And some of it involves work directly for the government, with no Hero interaction. But aside from the hostages, teams are usually called in for covert communication, working as translators, locating missing people, disposing of dangerous technology, and guarding high-value assets. You’ll get a full briefing once you become Heroes; those are just some of our more frequent requests.”

                More hands went up, now that the gateway was opened, and Dean Blaine scanned carefully for whom to pick next. Ultimately, their questions wouldn’t matter much, they’d get boilerplate answers or none at all if they dug to deep, but it would be revealing for him all the same.

                There were only ten spots for graduation, and a class full of fierce competitors. At this point, he was taking into account every single variable he could for the looming decision.