Chapter 17

                “Did… I mean… they knew this was coming, didn’t they?” Vince asked. Unlike many of the others who rushed forward to get in line for discussions with their teachers, Vince, Alice, Mary, Roy, and Alex all lingered in place.

                “They must have,” Alice agreed. “Even if Hank didn’t train Heroes, there’s no way Roy’s… sorry, Titan, wouldn’t know what the HCP’s senior year was.”

                Amidst the seniors rapidly trying to figure out what sort of training to commit themselves to, there were several who looked unworried by the sudden news. Everyone who had been at the summer training camp was surprised, certainly, but they already had a good idea of what sort of programs they needed. That had, after all, been a large part of what made up the summer training experience. Yes, there were weekly sessions with Hank or whatever Super was willing to come pitch in, and they’d certainly been able to get guidance when it was needed, but for the most part they’d been left to their own self-direction. At the time, it had seemed like nothing more than a change of pace from the usual Lander regime. Only now, facing down their final curriculum before graduation, could they understand what had actually been happening.

                They’d all been given a head start. Not just on their senior year, which was useful in its own right, but on the very skills they’d need to continue training once their time in college was over. Without even realizing it was happening, they’d been taught the basics of self-education, and that, it seemed, was a lesson they’d keep leaning on for a long time to come.

                Slowly, they walked over and got into line with everyone else. If their teachers were at all surprised by the number of students coming forward with well-formed, if not complete, training plans, they said nothing. After all, it was expected that everyone in the HCP would keep training over breaks. Some had just taken that a little more seriously than others.

*             *             *

                “How do we do this?” Alice asked as soon as she stepped in front of Professor Pendleton. She, Britney, and Will were the only ones continuing their education in Subtlety, so unlike the other groups they didn’t bother getting into a line. Instead, they all just clumped up around their teacher to have a general discussion. As she joined the others, Alice was almost certain she could feel the occasional glance from Professor Hill, but she pointedly ignored it. She had no regrets about her choice, and he could either deal with that or not, it was his problem. “I mean, independent education I get, I’m just not sure what I’m allowed to ask for. Subtlety depends on interacting with people and things in a different way than just kicking ass. Will you set up entire elaborate conspiracies for us to uncover?”

                “Why? You think we’re running short on real ones?” Professor Pendleton replied. “I’d say to start off you should each pick what aspect of Subtlety you want to really focus on, and try and get better at that. For Britney, that’s obviously going to be infiltration and asset allocation-”

                “That is a very fancy way to say thief,” Britney pointed out.

                “In the field, we use the fancy words. It’s only thieving if you’re doing it for personal gain,” Professor Pendleton corrected.

                “You’re the expert.” Alice pretended not to see the dirty look he shot her, which only made the look grow dirtier. Rather than dwelling, Professor Pendleton got back to the matter at hand.

                “Anyway, Britney is going to be the best at infiltration. Will, on the other hand, should absolutely be brushing up on his hacking and surveillance skills. With his kind of talent, and a budget for gadgets, he could create a whole secret network of surveillance.”

                “That seems a tad… dystopian,” Will said.

                Professor Pendleton rolled his eyes so theatrically it seemed like he was going to sprain them. “Sorry, did you miss the first two years where I drove home the moral ambiguity of what we do? You didn’t seem to have any issue with hacking the security cameras of a mall when you were tailing me, so sooner or later I think we both know you’ll go back to that well.”

                Will shuffled his feet and looked away before mumbling, “That was a much smaller scale.”

                “Look, the things you’ll access aren’t usually going to be permissible in a court of law, though there are some methods you can use if it comes to that, but they will net you information. Where an enemy is, if an ambush is being set-up, what someone’s weaknesses might be, all the things we’ve been training for. Yes, you’re going to catch information you don’t want, that you’d prefer to never know in the first place, but that’s the price for what your talent lets you do. Remember when I said other Heroes don’t like those of us in Subtlety? There’s a reason for that. We know too many secrets. Because, every now and then, all that random intel you’ve gathered might just save a life. And you, Will Murray, are not going to shy away from the uncomfortable if you deem it necessary, so let’s at least train you to do it well.”

                After a moment to consider his words, Will looked up from the floor and nodded his head. The professor was right; he would do whatever it took when things got serious. Especially if Jill was out in the field as well.

                “Lastly, that leaves you,” Professor Pendleton said, turning to Alice. “Now, since you and Will both have some solid combat potential, I’d recommend both of you make time to work on those skills. One never knows when they will come in handy, even for our type of Hero. As for this class, you’re okay with a cypher, so I’d say keep training in that when you have the time, but overall your best piece of Subtlety has always been the human element. Tricking the security guard during the tailing exam, conning your fellow competitors in the final, and even picking the right person to ally with for that test. You’ve got a knack for people, which means you’ll need to hone that blade as sharp as you can get it. Britney and Will can get by using resources Lander has to train their sorts of talents, but yours is a bit trickier.”

                “True, it’s not like I’ll learn much by manipulating my classmates, and messing with the professors is probably frowned upon,” Alice agreed. “And the Sims won’t be much use either.”

                “Not for that task, no,” Professor Pendleton said. “There is a tool that might do the trick though. Thing is, since no one was expecting you to pick Subtlety, we didn’t bother requisitioning it. Could take a week or so to get it here.”

                Alice made a sharp, tsking sound against the back of her teeth. “Making assumptions and failing to plan ahead? You’d berate us six ways to Sunday if any of us made that mistake.”

                “Which brings us to the one lesson you all need to know as Subtlety Heroes: Never admit fault and always shift the blame. Remember, we must always seem to know more than everyone in the room, even if we absolutely don’t.” Professor Pendleton raised his voice, loud enough to be heard but not so much as to seem like he was shouting. “And I just cannot believe that Dean Blaine forgot to send in those requisition forms. Let this be a lesson, students, planning ahead is a Hero’s greatest asset.

                It spoke volumes to the self-control of the Subtlety students that none broke into giggles as Dean Blain glared at his unapologetic subordinate.