Chapter 36

                Roy slammed his bat through the guarding arms of a large Sim, cracking them apart and sending it flying to the ground. Before it could recover, he was on it, delivering careful, methodically escalating blows, until the light in its eyes finally died out. He hoped it was knocked out, not dead, but even with the escalation of attacks it was impossible to be sure. Damn thing had been tough though, so he was just thankful to have it out of the fight. Leaping up from his beaten foe, Roy’s eyes swept the battlefield for another opponent. What he found, however, was that there was no more battlefield.

                No, now it was just a group of his classmates standing over neutralized Sims. Chad was on top of the last one that was still moving, and with a flick of the bone-blade jutting from his arm that movement came to a halt. The Sim fell, leaving them in a sudden, somewhat eerie silence. It was cut mercifully short as Dean Blaine’s voice crackled in their ear.

                “Congratulations, everyone. Your trial has been completed. Every gang member was defeated, and all of the civilians were either moved out of harm’s way, or lost. In the coming week, you will have one on one meetings with your professors to discuss your actions in today’s trial. Everything you did, both the wise choices and the mistakes, will be analyzed so that you can learn from them. And let me be clear, everyone here made mistakes; such is the unavoidable nature of the chaos of Hero work. However, allow me to address your overall effectiveness as a unit, just as a DVA rep would if you were a team of actual Heroes responding to this incident.”

                Roy’s stomach tightened and a wave of fear washed over him. Diving headfirst into a brawl of robots with simulated super powers, sure, that he could handle with no problem. But the possibility of hearing that they’d screwed the pooch, that they sucked at the job they’d been training so hard to do for so long, now that genuinely terrified him.

                “For your first priority, protecting the civilians, you did an exemplary job,” Dean Blaine continued.  “Only one life was lost, when a Sim charged through an occupied building. That is, of course, tragic, but given the scale of potential destruction it is far less than what could have happened. In so far as property damage went, while much was done before your arrival, you only directly caused around five hundred thousand dollars’ worth, assuming these were real homes and businesses instead of props.”

                The eyes of several students went wide at that number. Had Dean Blaine just said they only did a half million in theoretical damage? How much did it take to actually get scolded? Roy was more surprised that they’d kept the total so low. Growing up with connections to the Hero world, he had a better sense of just how much fights, especially ones in the middle of a city, could really cost to fix. There was a reason insurance companies wanted the absolute best out of Heroes.

                “And finally, the Sims’ lives. There were forty-eight Sims spread out across the battlefield. In total, you managed to neutralize them all, but in the process of doing so nine were killed. I will offer no personal commentary on that number, those who took the lives will be discussing it in your meetings. I will only say that while some of you will need to use this as a learning opportunity, others will not see such incidents classified as mistakes. We do not try and hide from you the ugly truth that, sometimes, doing this work means kill or be killed. Learning when you have reached that point is one of the most important aspects of being a Hero. I will also add that nine out of forty-eight is a little under a twenty percent casualty rate, and in situations like this the DVA considers anything under thirty percent to be acceptable. Thus, were you a group of actual Heroes, you would walk away from this incident without citations on any of the criteria. That’s as close to a passing grade as we get outside of the HCP, so congratulations.”

                A heavy weight fell from Roy’s shoulders at the word ‘passing’, which was weird since that was usually Hershel’s jam. All around him, the rest of the class seemed similarly relieved though. They’d done it. In their first taste of what actual Hero work would be sort of like, they’d managed to not completely screw things up. Granted, Dean Blaine didn’t sound like he was about to blast them with confetti or hand out trophies, but they’d shown basic aptitude for their future career, and that felt good.

                “Everyone should head to the north of town, that’s where a lift will be waiting. You’ll have a chance to shower and change into fresh uniforms before meeting the Heroes that were watching your fight. Before you go though, let me caution you all, lest today’s success fill you with false confidence,” Dean Blaine said, his voice turning somehow more serious than before. “This is not like other years, where you see such trials two or three times in total. As you were told, these are coming at the end of every month, and today’s was as much a calibration test as it was an introductory lesson. It is the purpose of this school to push you, to test you in ways you didn’t imagine possible, and to see how you grow. Every time you succeed, we will make the next trial harder, to see if you can overcome the bar. Or, failing that, if you can grow more powerful in the wake of failing. This was the easiest it will ever be. I urge you to prepare for much, much harder obstacles to come.”

                The speech didn’t exactly kill off the cheerful mood that had filled the students, they’d heard too many doom and gloom warnings to be powerfully effected by them. Still, the smiles grew a little dimmer as everyone began making their way north. It wasn’t that Dean Blaine’s words surprised them, in fact, it was the opposite. They already knew that it was going to get harder. Every trial a little more dangerous, the choices they made more split-second, with larger consequences.

                And, hardest of all, was the fact that they all knew only ten spots awaited a class of eighteen at graduation. Sooner or later, one of the trials was likely going to pit them against each other, and just like that the people who’d they’d been fighting shoulder to shoulder with, trusting with their lives, would become their enemies.