Chapter 23

                “Let’s see, no one has had more than seven years between hostings, so there’s no automatic choice,” Dean Blaine said, skimming through the digital document displayed on his tablet. “Which means West Private has gone the longest without hosting. Maggie, you get to pick the game, and I’ll ask you to please not go with something as long as Risk again. Some of us would like to get at least a little sleep this weekend.”

                When Intramurals had first started, the schools hosted on a simple rotating schedule that gave every institution the burden of putting it together and the advantage of an extra student. It hadn’t taken long for someone to point out the flaw in that system: namely that it was predictable. Anything that could be anticipated was dangerous, because someone with a bit of inside knowledge could leverage that information maliciously. After all, if one knew where Intramurals were taking place, they could mount an attack to try and take out an entire crop of the most promising Heroes. Dean Blaine had considered the practice of randomly changing schools something of overkill, until last year.

                The system that was put in place was a simple one: every year the deans played a game, and the winner would host Intramurals at their school. Whichever school had gone the longest without hosting got to pick the contest, to give them an advantage, and if any HCP went more than seven years without hosting they were automatically selected for that year. It wasn’t entirely fair, but it was as close as they could manage while still keeping things somewhat unpredictable.

                “Actually, Blaine, the others and I had a talk about this already, and I don’t think a game is really necessary.” Dean Margaret Silva momentarily shed her peaceful, relaxed demeanor as the topic turned serious. When meeting her, many students often took their dean to be something of a wispy pushover. That impression was spectacularly short-lived, as there were few more dangerous or more merciless on the battlefield than Dean Silva.

                “Oh? We haven’t had a consensus in over a decade. What’s the occasion?” Technically, all the deans could skip the game if they felt there was good reason to host at a certain school. Generally, these occasions were reserved for celebrating milestones or highly unusual events. Seeing as Dean Blaine had been warned of no such things, he had a sneaking suspicion what they were building toward. Best to let them actually say it though, no point in seeming presumptuous.

                “The occasion is that some insane bastards attacked one of our schools.” Dean Jackson didn’t sound measurably angrier as he spoke, though anyone with a sense of self-preservation could practically hear the violence radiating from his voice. “They declared war on us, tried to drag down the very names of Heroes and the HCP. It was a message, and we want to send one right back.”

                “What Herbert’s trying to say is that since Lander was the one attacked last year, we think you should host Intramurals again,” Dean Bishop said. “We want everyone, from the DVA to whatever pathetic pieces of shit might be spying on our schools, to know that we’re not afraid. More than that, that we have complete trust in you, and in Lander’s security.”

                “That is… forgive me, I’m finding myself lacking for words,” Dean Blaine stammered. “The sentiment, and your support, mean more to me than I likely have the skill to articulate. But are you sure you want to do this? We did just host last year, and giving us the fourth student two years in a row seems an unfair advantage, especially just to send a message to such a limited audience.”

                “The audience is bigger than you might realize,” Dean Fox said. For once, the teasing manner was gone, in its place the shrewd mind of one of the Hero world’s most dangerous telepaths.  Wesley Fox was the only Subtlety Hero in the history of the HCP to gain a position as dean, likely because he was as powerful with a bit of information as he was with his telekinesis, which was extremely. “And like they said, it isn’t so much about Lander as it is the program as a whole. It’s important they know we stand beside one another. Things are still in turmoil above our heads; solidarity is one of the most potent weapons we can wield.”

                Dean Blaine, as any intelligent person would, listened well to Wesley’s counsel. He’d hoped that Senator Malcolm’s sacrifice would be enough to assure them safety, however until a successor was officially chosen they had no measure of true security. The Hero Certification Program had always existed in a precarious position, balanced delicately between the DVA, the schools that hosted them, and the Heroes who ran them. If one side pushed for more power, the others would have to yield or push back, and if the latter was chosen then the whole thing might come tumbling down. Some manner of facility would still exist in the end, but it wouldn’t be the HCP as they knew and loved it.

                “I see. We show that we, as the deans, are united, and it makes it less likely that the DVA will try to shove one of us out.” Though Dean Blaine spoke in generalities, he knew they were all perfectly aware of who the most likely to get fired was. After all, none of the others had allowed a deadly attack to befall their campus.

                “Wesley wanted to mail them a shoebox full of dogshit, but we felt like this was a better way to go,” Margaret added.

                “What on earth would a shoebox of dogshit have accomplished?” Dean Blaine asked, turning to the dark-skinned man with the immaculate mustache.

                Dean Fox gave a half-hearted shrug, his ever-present smirk back in its usual spot. “It would have made me laugh. Especially if someone actually tried to make a thing out of it. Can you imagine one of those stuffy suits showing up to a boardroom, shoebox of dog turds stuffed under his arm as evidence, demanding to know who kept sending him palates of shit?”

                “Palettes?” Dean Blaine raised an eyebrow and squinted slightly, just as he would if he were questioning a student.

                “We got bored waiting for you, the original idea kind of snowballed,” Dean Bishop admitted.

                Dean Blaine coughed into his hand to mask a sudden onset of very undignified chuckling, fooling precisely zero other people at the table. Once he’d finally composed himself, he made a few taps on his tablet before speaking. “I want you all to know that I appreciate this gesture. I consider hosting Intramurals one year after the attack as spitting in the eye of every member of the Sons of Progress who hoped to drag us down, and I know you all feel the same. Please know that I will do everything in my power to protect you, and, more importantly, your students. Does anyone have anything else to add before we close this agenda item?”

                “Yeah, you’d best all get your students as well-trained as possible,” Dean Bishop said. “Because I’ve got some real shitkickers in my line-up this year.”

                “Bring it on,” Dean Fox replied. “We’re not short on contenders at Korman either.”

                “Must have been something in the water way back when; because my class isn’t exactly full of pushovers,” Dean Silva added.

                Dean Jackson didn’t contribute to the bluster, which wasn’t much of a surprise. He preferred to let his actions, or those of his students, do their own speaking. It was an attitude that Dean Blaine admired, even if he hadn’t always adhered to it himself. Still, as he closed out the agenda item and brought up their next one, a small smile made its way onto his normally stoic face.

                He really hoped the other deans weren’t just blowing smoke about their classes being strong. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even stand a chance against whichever students Lander brought to the table.