Chapter 16

                As the students made their way into the gym, they were all surprised to discover that it was not only Professor Fletcher and Professor Pendleton awaiting them, but in fact all of their professors, Stone, Cole, Baker, and Hill, were present. Even Dean Blaine stepped through a side-door, having clearly sprinted around them after his class ended to make it there. Odd as it was, they’d all been trained for three years under unusual conditions, so they did what they always did at the start of gym: fall into line and wait for instructions.

                Once everyone was settled, Professor Fletcher stepped forward to address them. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why almost the entire staff is here, and I don’t intend to keep you in suspense. They’re here because I’m about to explain the senior year curriculum to you, and once I have there’s a good chance you’re going to have some questions. Questions that I won’t be able to answer without their help. This time has been specially put aside for you all to figure things out, so don’t waste it. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first, the curriculum.”

                Professor Fletcher didn’t yell or threaten the way George had, in fact he barely ever raised his voice. He preferred to rule with a quiet, careful control that was held in place by respect, and a bit of fear. The latter was only necessary with the younger classes, though. By this point, every professor had proven their skill to the students, and the ones dumb enough to ignore that fact had long ago been drummed out.

                “Your freshman year, we focused almost solely on personal development. Getting your bodies strong enough to endure our classes and your minds sharp enough to actually think about how you used your powers. Sophomore year was about teamwork, because learning to coordinate with your fellow Heroes will be a skill that saves you, and them, more times than you’ll be able to count. Junior year we taught you how to fight multiple opponents, because criminals don’t politely wait their turn in the real world. This year, we bring it all together, as well as look toward what’s coming next. So, what’s your curriculum going to be? That is, for the most part, entirely up to you.”

                As well-trained as they were, this still elicited visible confusion and a few hushed whispers as his words sank in. Professor Fletcher allowed it to last for several seconds, a little fear got the adrenaline pumping and made for sharper thinking.

                “Don’t worry, we’re not flinging you out on your own,” he continued at last. “Your professors will still be here to coordinate with you, setting up whatever you need for your training as well as helping teach you along the way. But make no mistake, you are each going to be in the driver’s seat for this year, and how much you improve or fall behind will be dependent on how you spend your time. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the line. If you graduate from here, you will no longer be students, you will be Heroes, and there won’t be a set of veteran combatants on hand to tell you how to get stronger. That’s why we do the final year this way; it’s effectively what you’ll spend the rest of your life doing, only with training wheels. This is where you show us not only the sort of Hero you’d make right now, but how well you’ll grow ten, fifteen years down the line.”

                Confusion had given way to understanding, which had led to resolve. Now that they’d figured out the why, they were all immediately beginning to contemplate just how they would train. Professor Fletcher liked that about the older students, after they’d accepted a task, all thought immediately went to getting it done.

                “But, lest you think the whole year will be one giant free-for-all, we’re also going to be testing you at regular intervals. Every month, there will be a class-wide exam. Some of these you’ll learn about early on, and can plan for. Others will be a surprise. Some will allow teams to be formed, some will force teams at random, some will be solo. In every exam, we will be replicating situations you very well might face out in the real world. We expect you to do your best, but we don’t expect you to be perfect. What you learn from your mistakes, and how they affect your training, are equally as important as your actual scores. Because that is the harsh truth of being a Hero: you will make mistakes. People will die because of the wrong call you made, and worse, sometimes they’ll die because you made the right one. When those days come, you can either let the despair swallow you up, or you can work like hell so that the next time, maybe things will turn out differently.”

                Professor Fletcher had never, of course, experienced this as a Hero, but he’d seen too many missions go sideways when he worked for the company. Some units were built so perfectly that they were nearly unstoppable, like the one Transport and Numbers ran. But not every unit was like that, there were only so many Supers in the world, and of those not everyone wanted to, or could, do what the company asked. Carl Fletcher understood what it was to make a mistake, even if he hadn’t worn a mask when he did it, and he knew how important it was that these kids learn to handle their own failures in a constructive way.

                “Now, I’m sure you all have lots of questions, but you should save those for the people who can answer them best. Don’t try to lay out a game plan for the entire year today, just figure out what a good first step is. Your plans will change; they’ll have to, so for now focus on getting things started. As of right now, your future as Heroes is in your own hands. Work hard, think harder, and do everything you can to get even a little bit closer to that White Cape ceremony.”

                Professor Fletcher took another look at his students, all working their brains so hard he could practically hear the gears turning inside their skulls. They’d all done well, impossibly well, to make it this far. He’d be curious to see what they could pull off when left to their own devices. If last year’s class was any indication, it would certainly be interesting.

                “Alright everyone, find your teacher and make a plan!”