Chapter 246

                It wasn’t hard to discern the reason behind the meeting. There were, after all, a limited number of things Dean Blaine would call the specific group of Alice, Chad, Shane, and Vince down to discuss on a Sunday. As a whole, the HCP was usually pretty good about respecting the sanctity of weekends, allowing its students time to recover as well as participate in the normal college lifestyle. These days were important, because they both permitted the students to better hide their identity and allowed them a small sense of normalcy. That shred of regular life would only get tinier the deeper they went into the Hero world, so the staff generally made a point of letting them enjoy as much of it as possible. There were exceptions, however, and this was one of them.

                “While I am not permitted to tell you any details about what the matches will entail, and in fact I don’t have the details to share anyway, we have found that it is easier to bring our students in and explain the overall process for Intramurals ahead of time.” Dean Blaine stood before them in his office, with Professor Baker off to the side taking notes for some reason. The best guess in the room was that maybe he needed to have a witness on hand as proof that he didn’t slip them any additional information that might give them an edge. They all knew Dean Blaine would never do such a thing, but perhaps not every HCP dean had shared his moral conviction.

                “Sixteen students will be participating, three from every school except for the host, who is given a fourth spot to round out the numbers. It will be single, one-on-one matches where the loser is eliminated and the winner moves forward. The slots for each match are already set in terms of which school will be fighting which, we space them out in a way to make sure that several rounds would pass before students from the same school were able to fight one another. At the start of Intramurals, every student will draw one of their school’s slots at random and the bracket will be set.”

                Quietly, Chad raised his hand to get Dean Blaine’s attention. Most expected Dean Blaine to ignore the interruption until he was done, but to their surprise he paused and nodded at Chad.

                “Is single elimination really the best method for such a contest? If we are looking to determine overall skill, this is a poor choice. Someone of considerable ability could be put against a Super whose power is simply perfectly suited to dealing with them, like the classic advanced mind and strongman example.”

                “Most strongmen have to find ways to deal with advanced minds anyway,” Dean Blaine pointed out.

                “True, yet it missed my point. I was saying that if the real goal is to measure overall prowess there should be some checks in place, or at least a loser’s bracket of some sort to allow for redemption. This system has flaws.”

                Dean Blaine didn’t respond quite as quickly this time, mulling over Chad’s words. “Every system has flaws, that’s just the nature of living in an imperfect world. And circling back to the example with the advanced mind and the strongman, you’re the one who missed my point, Chad. Strongmen have to find ways to deal with advanced minds because in the field they could end up in that battle. Any fight can happen, at any time. We’re not doing this to see who is the best in a balanced, fair competition. The goal is for students to prove who among is the best in terms of Hero battles. Those fights aren’t fair, almost ever. Usually we’ll have an upper hand; sometimes the crooks will have the advantage. But you still have to fight on all the same. Being a Hero means sometimes overcoming obstacles that might seem unassailable as much as it means not letting yourself get complacent. The tournament works on the same principle as the real Hero world: you only get one shot to win. Usually if you fail, you’re taken out in a far more permanent fashion.”

                “Ah. So this is a philosophical test more than a purely practical one. Objection withdrawn.” Chad set his hand back in his lap and waited patiently for the talk to resume.

                “As I was saying, once you’ve drawn your slots the field conditions will also be determined at random. You might end up doing battle in a plain combat cell like the ones you’re accustomed to. Just as easily, you could be in a large open area with nothing between you and the enemy, or a mock city such as the one you’ve handled training exercises in. There are also fields like you saw in sophomore year, as well as new terrains that are rocky, cold, wet, and so on. The goal is to keep you on your toes until the very last moment; so that even once you know what a potential opponent can do you’ll still have to formulate a strategy based around the environment. Remember: by its nature Hero work is reactionary; we very rarely get to choose where we do battle. Often it’s a city, but not always. Being able to adapt to new terrain and enemies is very much a part of what makes a successful Hero.”

                Dean Blaine scanned the students to make sure they were taking in the information well. It wasn’t especially complex, but sometimes the sheer pressure of what they were facing could make it difficult to absorb on the first go. This didn’t appear to be the case, however, as every face was looking back without a shred of confusion. The class had done a good job picking these four as their representatives, for their power as much as their ability to stay calm when things got rough. The latter might prove to be more important than the former, depending on what opponents they drew.

                “If any of you have more questions, now is a fine time to ask them.”

                Like a blur, Shane’s hand went up first, and Dean Blaine motioned for him to speak.

                “Sir, what is the soonest we might be able to fight someone from Lander? You said the slots for each school are pre-set, so assuming we all win our matches when could we go up against one another?”

                There wasn’t a question in anyone’s mind who Shane wanted to have a match with. Given the public nature of the contest and his feelings toward the way he’d earned the top spot, this was his best chance for a final, definitive bout against Chad.

                “The semi-finals,” Dean Blaine said. “If you and the other Lander student on your side of the brackets win both of your first two fights, then you would face one another before the final bout. Since the goal is to test our students against new opponents, we’ve structured the contest in a way that keeps you pitted against the other schools for as long as possible.”

                “Two fights,” Shane repeated. He leaned forward in his chair, meeting eyes with Chad. “I can do that. How about you?”

                “My goal is to win the entire competition, so passing the first two fights is a given. However, that’s only true if we end up in exactly the right layout. It’s possible you could keep winning and not see me until the very end.”

                “Fine by me, if that’s what it takes.” Shane grinned at his friend, who returned the gesture with a small smile of his own.

                “Good,” Chad told him. “I hope you can see that resolve through. This won’t feel like a satisfying victory unless I can defeat you to earn it.”