Chapter 204

                Dean Blaine noted the crowd of Heroes milling about in the viewing room with a mixed attitude. On one hand, he understood why this trial was among the most frequently watched. The other tests could allow students to demonstrate many sides of their abilities, but this one was something special. This one, and the trial where the students first fought human-like Sims, were considered by some to be the only two truly essential viewing experiences for potential mentors. There was an argument to be made there, without question, however Dean Blaine still felt like many of the Heroes showed up to this test for the wrong reasons. Yes, they were going to see a lot about what each student could do, and how they held up when truly pushed, but some were probably here simply because this trial was, without fail, always one hell of a show.

                At least there were a few familiar faces among the crowd. Titan was around as usual, alongside Gale and a muscular man in a costume made of shifter material, probably Granite. There was also a strikingly handsome fellow in a rather mundane outfit who Dean Blaine didn’t recognize, though from the way he was chatting with the other three from Brewster they were clearly all friends. Dean Blaine recognized some Lander graduates as well, even a few who might not have needed to be there. Victor was talking to a small group of younger Heroes about the glory days, which had probably taken no more than minimal requesting from his listeners. As a retired Hero, Victor wasn’t technically eligible to be here from an intern-recruiting perspective, but the SAA and the HCP had a friendly relationship, so they permitted a few scouting viewings every year. While not every student would make the final cut, all of them were impressive to have gotten this far, and Victor would want to be ready and waiting with a generous contract once people dropped out.

                Personally, Dean Blaine wasn’t sure how many recruits Victor would have after this trial. There were a few he worried about more than others, although if they were going to break he would have expected to see it happen sooner. More than anything, he wasn’t sure how this year would play out because it wouldn’t be the same experience for this class. Normally the students had only experienced the training that the HCP provided: dangerous and challenging, yet carefully controlled. This group had seen the real fight already, maybe not up close and personal in all cases, but they’d gotten a taste. A few might still leave when the day was done, but Dean Blaine suspected this group could buck the trend. They knew what they’d come back for after last May, and this was just one more aspect of it.

                Leaving the crowd to mingle, Dean Blaine made his way down to the gym. Normally, he liked to be waiting as the students arrived, however more Heroes meant more logistics to sort out which meant more running around for the dean. If he did leave the position and take Graham up on his offer, he’d feel a great deal of pity for the burden he was putting on poor Professor Baker. Sure, the dean gig always seemed like a great job, right up until one had to actually start dealing with all the tasks that came with the position. And there were so many more than anyone could be properly prepared for. Professor Baker was smart though, and better organized than Dean Blaine, so he had no doubt she’d figure it out just like all her predecessors.

                Assuming he left, anyway. Dean Blaine tried to keep it an uncertainty in his mind, even though he was more and more thinking about it as a forgone conclusion. He finally reached the gym doors and pushed the whole idea from his head, there was no time to dwell on the future when the present had demands of its own. Walking in the gym, Dean Blaine made his way across the floor to where the students had formed their usual half-circle around the professors, all of them waiting for him to start things off. No one else had explained the trial to the students, because no one else was expected to shoulder that burden. Moments like these were the cost of leadership.

                “Last semester you endured what many of you probably considered to be the most difficult of all these tests,” Dean Blaine opened, taking his spot in the middle of the teachers. “When we told you to prioritize the neutralizing of criminal Sims even if it meant losing civilian lives, many of you balked. Good. That’s not supposed to be an easy task, to silence your humanity as you watch innocent people die. But it is, regrettably, an occasional necessity. Lose some to save more. I hate that it’s true, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t have the power to save everyone. No Hero does, no Hero ever has. We do our best to save the most. The DVA’s damage evaluation scale is based around that very principle. Does anyone have any part of that scale they need clarified before today’s trial begins?”

                Several of the students looked tense, however none raised a hand or made a peep. They knew what the scale meant, Dean Blaine had been sure to cover it at length in class. Partly because it was essential to the job, and partly as preparation for this day.

                “What you saw in that trial was a bad scenario. A situation where things had gotten out of control and an entire town was in danger. Today, you don’t face a bad scenario. You face the worst scenario. The situation every Hero prays to never see again. Students of Lander, an Armageddon-level Super has surfaced in the course below. The culprit is surrounded by fellow criminals as well as the civilians of the city. The Armageddon-power involves nuclear chain reactions, and if the Super has ten uninterrupted minutes they will start a reaction that will wipe out the entire world. What’s worse, we have no information on the target’s location beyond the city, and all support has been cut off, including intel. The only people you’ll have to talk to are one another, no other aid will be coming. The DVA has understandably deemed this an emergency of the highest magnitude. No priority is put on civilian lives, and no limits on force have been put in place. You may destroy whatever is needed, kill anyone who gets in your way, and ignore every cry for help if it means catching our Armageddon-Sim. This is a pass or fail test. Either you kill the Sim, or you give them ten minutes and the world ends. Life is precious, and I know you’re all keenly aware of that. However, if this Sim succeeds, every person in every city across the entire world is dead. Keep that thought in your minds when you’re tempted to show mercy or lend aid. I’m not ordering you to kill indiscriminately; I’m just conveying the importance of speed. Win or lose, as a team. Any questions?”

                Dean Blaine was expecting more silence, so he was surprised to see Violet slowly raise her hand. “Yes, Ms. Sullivan?”

                “I was just wondering how classes usually do in this test, if we’re allowed to ask that.” Violet’s voice was steady, even as her hand shook with the barest of tremors. There was nothing wrong with having nerves about the task ahead, he’d have been more concerned if she didn’t.

                “Historically, more classes fail this than pass it,” Dean Blaine replied. “That’s not surprising, since the task is obviously designed to be as difficult as possible. Plus, even in a simulation, pushing down one’s most instinctual morality is extremely difficult, and knowing that speed is more important than lives lost is different than being able to act upon it. Don’t take that as leeway to slack off, however. More Heroes have come for this trial than any of those before, and they’ll be watching each of you closely. How you deal with this test tells them a lot, and pass or fail you will be evaluated for the choices you make in there. Anyone else?”

                This time, the hands stayed down. Dean Blaine motioned for them to begin heading downstairs, then nodded at the professors to get everything in order. It was time to throw this year’s crop of seniors face-first into the fire.