Chapter 171

                The first day back in the HCP was bustling with activity, as the underground halls filled with black, gray, and white uniforms. There were less of the black ones, as the first semester’s traditional weeding out of the freshmen had severely chopped down the crop of potential Heroes, but they seemed to take up just as much space with their enthusiasm. It was hard for any of the older students to blame them, they remembered how exciting it was to come back after making it through the first major cut. In the chaos of the halls, Roy was pleased to see Ashley’s face, oddly tan for coming back from Winter Break, still present among the black uniforms. She’d gotten past her first major hurdle, and he felt a small swell of pride at the idea that his training may have helped get her there.

                He worked to hold onto that feeling as he made his way into the gym, where Roy was unsurprised to find Dean Blaine awaiting them. After a test as intricate and carefully constructed as the end of semester trial, there was no way there wouldn’t be some sort of review. If they were lucky, maybe the rankings had even shifted, although there was no chalk board present so Roy kept his hopes for such a thing constrained. Instead, he fell into the usual half-circle that students always formed when Dean Blaine was present and waited patiently.

                “Students,” Dean Blaine said, bringing the entire class’s attention to him with a single word. “I’m sure you’re all curious as to why I’m here, and I won’t keep you in suspense. Today marks a significant moment in your Hero Certification training. This is, as most of you know, the home stretch. You have all done the incredible, the nigh-impossible really, by making it this far in a program designed to test every facet of your being. Each and every one of you should feel beyond proud to be standing here today, yet even as I say these words I know this isn’t enough for any of you. If it were, you would never have made it this far to begin with. All of you want to reach the final goal, the White Cape ceremony, graduation, and Hero careers beyond these halls. Or at least, most of you do. Before we continue, there is an elephant in the room to address, something I assume you’ve all taken note of already: Mary Smith is not here today. That is because she has elected to leave the Hero Certification Program.”

                The room didn’t exactly fill with gasps, but Roy did note more than a few shocked looks, many of which were directed his way. Hershel was still figuring out how he felt about Mary quitting, though Roy personally agreed with her on that call. This wasn’t easy work, and if she didn’t think she could handle the strain better she walk away before it tore her up inside. Being connected to the Hero world through Titan, Roy and Hershel had both seen the sleepless eyes and twitching reactions of Heroes who’d spent a long time in the field.

                “Ms. Smith’s decision, while I’m sure puzzling to many of you, is the right one for her. And I want to take this moment to remind all of you that it is not cowardice to turn from a path you know in your heart is wrong for you, it is rather a sign of great bravery. I love the Hero world, and I value my time spent in it, but under no circumstances would I say it is an easy life, or one meant for every Super. If you’re ever having doubts, or questions, about what it entails then feel free to talk to your professors, or Dr. Moran, or me. We will always speak truthfully with you about what lies ahead. However, since I suspect none of you plan to drop out here and now, perhaps it’s best to move on to what the remainder of the year entails for all of you.”

                Surprise was replaced by curiosity as the others quickly accepted Mary’s departure and moved on to the next topic. If there was one thing that could be said about HCP training, it did a stellar job of teaching the students to not dwell too long on things outside their scope of control. They focused on what they could affect, things they could impact, and took the rest as it came.

                “Little will change in your day-to-day routine for these final months,” Dean Blaine continued. “There will still be the monthly trials, and your training is still largely meant to be self-directed. Some of you have flourished when allowed to control your progress; others have fallen behind the crowd. If you are in the latter group, I urge you to take a hard look at what you’re doing and see if perhaps there aren’t better ways to improve yourself. Outside of the day-to-day, however, there will be some other events you’ll need to be ready for. First and foremost: it is time to begin applying for internships.”

                A soft murmur rippled through the students, one Dean Blaine silenced with a stern expression. “I’m aware that none of you know for certain who will graduate, but it hardly makes sense to scramble at the last moment, so existing Heroes begin accepting or offering conditional internships as of this point. If you graduate, you’ll learn under them, and if you fail to make the cut then they’ll look again next year. For those of you with specific Heroes you’ve met who you would like to learn from, now is the time to reach out to them. There is a formal request system, though you’ll probably want to talk with them before going that route to be sure they are indeed interested. Some of you will receive offers within the next week, as Heroes can now formally present them. If you haven’t found a Hero yet who you think will make a good mentor, have no fear. The post-trial mixers will continue, and as I’ve said there are Heroes who will take any applicants if you can’t fine one who you connect with. Everyone who graduates will have a mentor, but if you want someone specific now is the time to be proactive.”

                Dean Blaine paused here, allowing the students a few minutes to mull over the task he’d set before them. Roy wasn’t sure who he’d be reaching out to; there had been a lot of nice Heroes at the mixers, but none who seemed like a perfect match. Hell, it had taken him half the year just to think of a name, now he had to decide who to learn under? Maybe someone would make him an offer and take the issue off his plate. So long as it was someone decent, there was probably no reason to overthink it. He just hoped Hershel was on the same page.

                “Aside from that, most of the other events will be less immediate.” Dean Blaine had started once more, apparently deciding that was enough time for everyone to sort themselves out. “You’ll be meeting with agents toward the end of the year, there is of course a final examination you’ll need to pass as we narrow down the candidates for graduation, and you’ll be talking to DVA representatives occasionally to better understand the relationship between their department and Heroes. But there is one issue that is more pressing, and it’s one I warned you about at the start of the year. A competition that comes near the end of this semester; however, contestants must be locked in place well before then. The time has come, senior class, to decide who will represent Lander in the grand battle we know as Intramurals.”