Chapter 294

                “The champion of Lander. Not too bad for a young man who walked into his first match with little more than a lighter’s worth of fire and a crippling fear of using his full potential.”

                Vince had just finished being healed, warily noting the dangerous look in Camille’s eyes as she saw his wounds, when Dean Blaine arrived and walked him over to another room. Putting off Camille’s forceful discussion of Vince’s tendency to get injured was only going to make it worse, but this was a reprieve he could hardly turn down. The two of them had walked into a small office and taken seats in cushy chairs before Dean Blaine began talking.

                “I’ve had a lot of time and training to get better. Not to mention some of the best teachers anyone could hope for.” Vince paused, the adrenaline of battle fading from his system and slightly jumbling his thoughts. “Is it strange that part of me feels… bad? The others wanted this so badly. Chad has worked all four years to be here, and Shane was right on his tails. Even Alice had something to prove. It’s hard not to think that they deserve to be standing here more than me, my mindset during the fight was that it didn’t even matter.”

                This time, it was Dean Blaine who paused, considering the question carefully as he chose his reply. “What someone deserves is irrelevant. I’ve seen criminals skate the system for decades with no comeuppance and good people die far before they should have. The world doesn’t care what you deserve; it cares what you can do. Alice, Shane, even Chad, they can’t beat every opponent. Today proved that point better than words ever will. And neither can you, for that matter. There will be enemies you aren’t capable of defeating, Vince. But that’s why Heroes work in teams. From an individual perspective, yes, today we had three losses. If you look at it as Team Lander, on the other hand, we had one member of the group overcome a Super whose ability made him nearly unbeatable for the others.”

                “We’re not a team though, not officially,” Vince pointed out.

                “Not in terms of who is the victor, but you did all still bring home a win for Lander. While I grant you that’s nothing more than a matter of pride, it’s not as though pride is unimportant. I, for example, take great pride in this school. It’s why I’ve worked so hard to run it all these years, and why I care so deeply for the quality of Heroes we send to the world. And given what you said in that cell, it seems as though you have ample pride in Lander too.”

                Vince glanced away, hoping his face didn’t betray the embarrassment by blushing. In the heat of a fight, when he felt like he was alone with his opponent, it was easy to say those sorts of things. He’d almost completely forgotten that the viewing crowd could hear every word he uttered.

                “And there is another matter this impacts too,” Dean Blaine continued, gracefully ignoring Vince’s sudden attack of discomfort. “Vince, you just won Intramurals. A former Powered defeated the best every other HCP could send, and there certainly won’t be anyone claiming that you went up against an easy opponent. You and I know it’s more complex than that, different powers in the tournament could have yielded wholly different results, but the rest of the world will only remember the outcome. Sooner or later, and my money is on sooner, your secret procedure won’t be much of a secret anymore. Rumors have already soaked the Hero community, for those who don’t already know outright, and hard as the DVA works to squash those whispers from seeping online, it’s a losing battle. You need to start giving some thought as to how you want to greet the world after graduation.”

                “Yeah, I know, I need to pick a name.” Vince had really expected at least one other person to still be floundering on that front during Intramurals, the fact that he’d been the only one nameless made it obvious that he had to get on the ball with that, and soon.

                Dean Blaine stared at him, then shook his head. “No, Vince. Let me be clear: barring any major errors in the next few weeks, you are fully expected to graduate. So what I mean is that you need to decide if you’ll greet the country as just another Hero, or as one of the world’s first former Powereds to earn that title. Telling everyone upfront is going to make things much harder on you out of the gate, however, if the secret breaks and you’re named as one of the test subjects then you risk losing any trust built with the public.”

                “That… feels like something I should discuss with my mentor,” Vince said. “It wouldn’t be right to put that kind of scrutiny on Jeremiah without making sure he was okay with it. Probably worth talking over with Lenny too, he made it sound like he had a plan for telling people about us.”

                “Both very good inclinations, and ones you should follow. I am by no means advocating you make this decision right here and now. My only concern is to ensure that you’re aware of the choice and thinking it through. The others will have to make their own decisions in time, but for you there will be more pressure and expectation, at least from other Heroes. You won Intramurals. In every generation of HCP classes, only one student gets to make that claim. It’s the kind of accomplishment that draws attention.”

                For a fleeting moment, Vince wondered if he should have lost that last round. He dismissed the idea almost immediately, it was nonsense. When the news that Powereds could become Supers broke, who won a tournament wasn’t going to be high on anyone’s list of concerns. All he’d done was show that his kind could hang with the natural Supers. That might be important, somewhere down the line. Maybe he could give a sliver of hope to some other Powered kid wandering the streets, dreaming of being a Hero against all odds. If that was true, then no amount of attention or scrutiny was going to make Vince sorry that he’d won. In fact, even the idea of that image set his determination. Unless Lenny or Jeremiah had a good reason not to, Vince would come out of the gate as a former Powered. Humans and Supers already had plenty of their own examples to look toward, Powereds were long overdue for a few as well.

                “I’ll have to make sure I point that attention in good directions.” Vince turned his head back to Dean Blaine, the last vestiges of his embarrassment now fully faded.

                “Of that, Vince, I had no doubt. I would never ask a student to shoulder the kind of burden you’re going to bear, but if someone had to take it, you’re one of the few I would trust to handle such a task.” Dean Blaine got up, and Vince followed his lead. “Now, let’s get back upstairs. I’ve got visitors to deal with, and you have a crowd waiting to cheer for you. Unless you’d like to go see Ms. Belden alone for a few moments first, from the look in her eyes she seemed quite intent on chatting with you.”

                “I’m sure we’ll see her upstairs now that all the healing is done.” Vince nearly stampeded over his own words in the rush to get them out, and even he could see Dean Blaine barely suppressing a smirk. He definitely knew Vince was going to get an earful for all that damage.

                “Well then, let’s not keep her, or any of them, waiting on Lander’s Intramurals champion.”