Chapter 2

                Dean Blaine walked slowly down the concrete hallways, examining every nook and scratch in the remodeled corridors. It was the last day before his students would return, and he was determined to oversee every inch of the place where they would be educated. Deep down, he knew that this was merely a way to keep his mind distracted, and to quell the need for control that had been blooming in his chest since the attack, but he kept at it anyway. Better this than peering over his staff’s shoulders, making them just as nervous as he was. Besides, there was something to be said for a detailed inspection, regardless of what motivated it.

                “If you’re wondering, yes, you do look like you’ve lost your mind.” Professor Pendleton had approached silently in the way only Subtlety Heroes could, and was clearly watching his boss, his friend, stare at the walls.

                “Minds were made to be lost,” Dean Blaine replied. “It’s how Heroes stay sane.”

                “And now you’re quoting Dean Merrick, so I know you’ve really gone around the bend.”

                Dean Blaine chuckled slightly and turned away from the wall. “The longer I do this job, the more I understand why that curmudgeon was as surly as he was. Especially given the handful our class turned out to be. If I had to deal with another Victor and you, I’d likely lock myself in my office with a full bottle of scotch nightly.”

                “Which, for all we know, Dean Merrick did,” Professor Pendleton pointed out. “And don’t go leaving your name out of that statement. You raised hell on more than one occasion yourself.”

                “I suppose I might have allowed a bit of youthful exuberance to run wild.” A smile flitted across Dean Blaine’s face, dissolving almost as soon as it appeared. “What I wouldn’t give to worry about nothing more than students and pranks.”

                “Who says that’s all Merrick had to worry about?” Professor Pendleton walked silently over and carefully put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Things were rough back then too. That’s our world. That’s the life. It’s never perfect, or safe, or peaceful, but it’s the dean’s job to let the students feel that way. At least while they’re here. Truthfully, I can’t imagine why you took on a job like that in the first place.”

                “Why do any of us do anything?” Dean Blaine replied. It was a rhetorical question, one that Sean Pendleton already knew the answer to. Still, he answered all the same, not because he felt the need to prove himself, but because it seemed like Blaine would do well to hear the words spoken aloud.

                “Because we can. Because we have the ability, and sometimes we’re the only ones who do.”

                “Look at that, seems you didn’t entirely sleep through Dean Merrick’s lectures.” Dean Blaine glanced down at his watch, slight creases forming around his eyes. “Speaking of which, I need to finish getting my materials prepped. In light of last year’s events, I’ve added several new discussion points to the syllabus.”

                “For the freshmen or the seniors?”

                “Both, though largely the latter,” Dean Blaine said. “While I would be remiss not to talk about what happened with those entering the program, it’s with those who lived through it that I feel the most pertinent discussions can take place.”

                “At least they’ll learn from it, if nothing else.” Professor Pendleton glanced down the hall, noting a few of the final DVA workers heading to test the lifts. The DVA would have a continued presence at Lander, and every other HCP school, for some time to come. It didn’t exactly fill Sean with warm fuzzys, but he didn’t hate it either. So long as it helped protect the students, he was on board with whatever changes needed to be made. “How’s the freshmen crop looking this year, anyway?”

                “It’s… interesting,” Dean Blaine admitted. “As expected, several of the ones we offered admission to instead chose to accept offers from other HCPs. However, many of our top tier candidates opted to come here instead. In fact, after the events of last May, it seems many of the applicants switched from their originally desired schools to apply here. We’re seen as more dangerous, and while that deters some, it also lures in others.”

                “So we’ve got a freshman class that’s smaller than normal, but also filled with people who are either brave or stupid,” Professor Pendleton surmised.

                “Yes, but also quite strong. Word of students helping turn back the attackers has given many the impression that Lander has the strongest crop around. Some want to be trained here, others want to test themselves against the students we have. Either way, it brought in a few legacies from other schools I’d have never expected to get. Looking at averages, this may be one of the more powerful classes we’ve had in a while. Coupled with the brave and stupid aspects, I imagine I’ll have my hands quite full once the semester begins.”

                “Stronger than the ones we’ve got now?” Professor Pendleton was half-skeptical/half-curious. He’d taught surprisingly powerful Supers in his two years of freedom, but living in the Hero world had shown him how quickly one’s idea of strength could change.

                “Comparing seniors to freshmen is like comparing butterflies to caterpillars. These have potential, which is more than I was letting myself hope for after what our school endured.” A sly tug of a smirk pulled at the edge of Dean Blaine’s lips. “Though I will say Dean Fox sent quite the e-mail when he learned some of his choice picks had come here instead of Korman University. I daresay they’ll be out for blood at Intermurals this year.”

                “Let’s hope not,” Professor Pendleton replied. “At the rate these kids are growing, if they come looking for blood they just might get it.”

                “That is why it’s our job to teach them better.” Dean Blaine began heading back to his office, Professor Pendleton still following a few steps behind. “Don’t you have your own work to do?”

                “Why? My syllabus hasn’t changed. Besides, you mentioned scotch earlier, and this is our last day not officially on duty as teachers…”

                Dean Blaine rolled his eyes, but made no verbal objection to the idea. Having Sean around helped him take his mind off everything else threatening his sense of sanity. One glass of scotch was a relatively small price to pay for such a luxury.