Chapter 15

                It was strange to be back in the same classroom they’d hadn’t returned to since they were freshmen. With the gym, it was an ever-present part of their lives, just like the rooms where their specialized teachers trained them. But this was different. It was a piece of the past they’d thought behind them, and now, stepping foot into the room once more, things seemed the same, yet different. Smaller, somehow. This room had terrified them when they came to it the first time. Now, after all they’d seen and been through, it was no longer so imposing. If anything, it seemed a bit homey.

                Dean Blaine entered only seconds before class was about to start, preserving his tradition from their freshmen year and eliciting a few muffled chuckles. He took his position at the front of the room, gazing at the eighteen students who still remained out of the more than fifty he’d once seen here. It was a somber moment he took in every year, appreciating all the hours of effort that had brought the students to this point in their careers. Some he’d expected to come this far, others had outright surprised him. Either way, by the year’s end only a little more than half would finish their journey. So little time, and so much to prepare them for.

                “This is not the same class you took as freshmen,” Dean Blaine announced, not bothering with pre-amble. “Although many of the subjects we will cover are, in fact, the same. What has changed, what should have changed, is you. None of you are freshmen, just stepping into the Hero world with wide, naïve, eyes brimming with visions of glory. You now know what it is we do here. What Heroes are. You understand that as much as there are accolades and cheering, there is also blood, and loss.”

                The cheerful mood of the room had quickly subsided, too many memories of their brief glimpse at what they’d be facing were bubbling up inside them. Dean Blaine noted the sentiment carefully. It was good that they saw the truth that lay before them; they’d need to walk into this world with their eyes open if they wanted to survive. Still, it was best not to let them dwell too much. A quick reminder here and there would be sufficient.

                “But that isn’t all there is in the Hero world,” Dean Blaine continued. “Some of you got to see the best part of it during the attack on Lander. How many of you were able to personally save someone from certain death? Or even likely death?”

                Not every hand in the room went up, but many did, and as they rose so too did the overall spirit of the room. Hershel began to lift his arm, then changed his mind. He wasn’t certain he should take credit for Roy’s actions, even if they were part of the same team.

                “We don’t always get to do that.” Dean Blaine lowered his eyes from the students, letting his own mind drift back to the smiling, grateful faces he’d seen when he wore the mask. “As Heroes, sometimes we must concern ourselves with the greatest good possible, and there are times when no matter what we do people will die. However, when you do get to save someone, when you get to know that there is a life continuing on in this world because of what you did, what only you could do, that is a feeling unlike anything else.”

                He basked in the memories for a few moments longer, then lifted his head. Those days were behind him, now he could only save people by making sure his students were as capable as possible. “There is good, there is bad, there is heartache, there is regret, there is triumph, and there are countless other things that come with being a Hero. In this class, I will strive to cover the most important aspects, doing my best to mentally prepare you for the hard choices that lie ahead. As before, this will be a discussion class, and trust me when I say that what happens here is just as, if not more, important in determining who makes the cut than your other classes. Having power is vital, but knowing how to use it is by far the most crucial aspect in what makes a Hero.”

                Backs became straighter, and eyes more alert. They were down to the wire and they knew it. None of them intended to fail out because of a simple discussion class. Dean Blaine resisted the urge to smile; it was always interesting to see the fire in those who made it to senior year. Interesting, and a touch inspiring.

                 “The first question I’m going to ask you all to think about is the simplest one with the most difficult answer,” Dean Blaine said. “Why are there Heroes?”

                Tentatively, Rich Weaver raised his hand. “Um, we covered this freshmen year. They’re certified Supers who are taught to minimize damage. Heroes are the ones who can be covered by insurance and prevent needless loss of life.”

                “While you aren’t technically wrong, what you just gave me was a freshman’s answer,” Dean Blaine replied. “You have just told me why, in the face of discovering that Supers were real, our government saw the need for a task force comprised of them to protect the public. But that wasn’t my question. I asked you why are there Heroes? Why not merely people in uniforms or armor who keep the peace? Why this system?”

                Hands that were halfway up lowered quickly as the breadth of what he was asking sank in. Good, they’d learned that not every question was meant to be guessed at until the answer was hit. Sometimes reflection and contemplation were the best routes to uncovering an answer.

                “Take your time,” Dean Blaine instructed. “In fact, take until next class. There are many answers that are correct, in their own ways, and I’m as interested in the path your minds take as I am in their ultimate destination. Just put some real thought into it, and I bet you’ll have a theory worth sharing.”

                Dean Blaine glanced up at the clock, purely for show since he wore a wristwatch on his left arm, and clucked his tongue. “Well, seeing as I just gave you your first assignment, I suppose we could either go over the syllabus a bit, or I could release you early for an extra-”

                “Syllabus!” It was impossible to tell who actually started the cry, as it was quickly joined by many students until the word threatened to bowl Dean Blaine over. No doubt the memory of the first day early release during their freshman year still scarred their minds, and they were determined not to be tricked again.

                Dean Blaine repressed a chuckle as he pulled the paper syllabi from his briefcase. They were definitely learning.