Chapter 18

                As the last of the students, Allen Wells, finished up discussing the upcoming training plan with his professor, Dean Blaine clapped his hands together sharply, gathering the attention of everyone, student and teacher, in the room.

                “Now that the most pressing matter is completed, if you would all line up once more, there are a few things to discuss before your gym class begins in earnest.”

                It took no more than those words for every student to fall back into line, waiting patiently to hear what the next twist or curveball coming their way was. After so long in the HCP, they’d learned to take nothing for granted, and to expect surprises at every turn. This was, obviously, a very intentional part of the program, and one of the elements Dean Blaine considered most crucial in their education.

                “As Professor Fletcher told you earlier, there will be exams testing your progress at the end of every month this year. The more astute of you have no doubt realized that would put your first exam at the end of next week, as August is already drawing to a close. I want to take a moment and put your minds at ease. Yes, you will absolutely be undergoing an exam next Friday.”

                In previous years, before he’d really gotten the hang of it, Dean Blaine had paused between the assurances that he was putting their minds at ease and the reveal that there would indeed be a test. In younger students, it would have heightened the sense of surprise, and made a bigger impact on them, but by the time they were seniors they’d listened to him too many times to be caught off-guard by a simple trick like that. Which merely meant he had found another way to make them take things extra seriously.

                “In previous years, we have used a first exam as something of a baseline to measure your progress with, and that will be the case this time as well. There will be no information handed out beforehand, not even whether you’ll be alone or in teams. All I can tell you is that while we will be evaluating your performance, we will not be the only ones.”

                Now that perked some ears up, uncertainty taking over where stoic attention had previously resided. Some were probably guessing the DVA would be observing, which was a fair guess given their presence in the school, but Dean Blaine had a hunch that at least a few of the smarter ones already knew where this was going.

                “As you all know, at the end of the Hero Certification Program, those who graduate will begin internships under experienced Heroes. Some of you will be offered those personally, others must apply and hope they are accepted. Both are perfectly valid methods to acquire a trainer, as not every Hero takes an active role in observing potential graduates. However, if any of you do have a particular trainer you want to work under, now is the time to start impressing them. Heroes will be dropping in throughout the year to watch your exams, but I’d be lying if I said the biggest crowd wasn’t at the first one. This is where they decide who stands out, who is worth watching, and who won’t be a good fit. So, if anyone was thinking about taking it easy on the first test, setting a low bar for themselves to surpass, know that you do so at the possible detriment to your own future training.”

                In truth, Dean Blaine knew none of the students this far along would try and lean on such cheap tricks to get by, that sort had long since been culled from the ranks. But he also knew that everyone dug a little deeper, fought a little harder, when there was something tangible on the line. This would get the best out of them, and with that information he’d be able to truly assess the growth and potential of his students. Besides, Dean Blaine was damn proud of the Supers he was molding, and every year he wanted to make sure the Heroes who attended understood just how special his kids were.

                “Once the exam is done, you will all have the opportunity to meet and chat with the Heroes who attended at a nice mixer put on down here. I’d advise you to bring your best social skills to bear at this, and all subsequent, occasions. After all, showing promise is important, but no one wants to train someone they don’t get along with.”

                Dean Blaine had seen more than a few promising students blow opportunities that would have given them the best possible training because they couldn’t keep their egos in check. Luckily, he didn’t imagine that would be much of an issue with this class. The most common students to fall into that trap were those at the top of the ranking, and, with the possible exception of Roy, every one of the top students were the humble sort. Of course, that had the possibility of changing soon.

                “On top of using this first exam as a way to get a baseline for you all, I should inform you that it will also be used to re-assess the class’s combat ranking,” Dean Blaine continued. “Losing last year’s finals complicated many things, but we feel it’s important to give you all a clear picture of where you currently stand. Top of the class, or down at the bottom, come next week you have the chance to completely change your ranking. The next re-assessment will be on your final exam, which will be your final ranks in the class. While not everyone has chosen majors that demand high ranks to graduate, the vast majority of you have, so use this opportunity wisely.”

                Dean Blaine paused, intentionally giving his students a chance to absorb all that he’d thrown at them. It was a lot to start off the year with, and that was by design. Things weren’t going to get less stressful or intense when they became Heroes. They either adapted to the increase in constant pressure, or they washed out. Hero work was not for those who feared chaos.

                “Lastly, before you go, I want to talk about Hero code names. We don’t bother discussing this until senior year, since there’s no point in doing the paperwork for those who wash out, but now is the time to start thinking of what you want to call yourself. The deadline isn’t until graduation; however, those of you who make your pick early will have an easier time of it. Once you have one in mind, come see any of us and we’ll check on its availability. If it’s open, we can reserve it for you, pending graduation. If not, back to the drawing board. So far as the actual choice goes, there are many different schools of thought. Some favor a name that captures the essence of your powers, while others like things a bit more off the wall. In the end, my recommendation would be that you pick something with significance to you. Names have power, and the ones we choose even more so. Pick a moniker you’ll be proud to wear, even if no one understands why but you.”

                Dean Blaine, the man formerly known as Zero, concluded his speech and turned to Professor Fletcher, signaling him to begin gym.