Chapter 43

                Alice strolled into the meeting room where Professor Pendleton was already waiting, feet propped on the desk and romance novel in hand. He glanced over to acknowledge her arrival, but held a finger up instructing her to wait, then turned the page.

                “Rodrigo being too swarthy to put down?”

                “Professing his admiration for the countess in a truly touching scene,” Professor Pendleton replied. “But you’ve already spoken and ruined the spell, so I’ll have to start over once you leave.” He slipped a bookmark between the pages and placed the book in a drawer, simultaneously pulling out a file that he flipped open on the desk.

                “Right then, time for your exam evaluation. So far as combat goes, there wasn’t much in the way of notes to give. You used your power well, controlling the battlefield to make it easier on the other students and only destroying limbs when necessary. You did a good job keeping the battles quick and contained, which helped minimize the civilian bots that were destroyed. Overall, we were impressed by the way you took charge and handled the situation. That said, you had two key failings in the exam, and I’m sure you already know what one of them is.”

                “We’re the ones who allowed a Sim to crush a building and kill a civilian.” Alice could still remember the Sim breaking away, trying to jump Rich from his side. Unfortunately, that path took it through a one-story house which it turned to rubble. In that moment, she’d had a hunch they’d lost an innocent, and Dean Blaine’s announcement had only served to confirm it.

                “Bullseye,” Professor Pendleton said. “If you want to take charge like that, manipulating the battlefield, then you have to be good enough to account for unexpected movements. As you know, you direct your training this year, so I’d recommend putting an emphasis on strategic positioning and mock battles. Don’t just expect the unexpected, become a damn oracle. See what an opponent will do before they even know it. This one is easy to shrug off; it was just a robot after all. But when the time comes that you make a mistake and a real life is lost, it won’t be nearly so easy to deal with. The better you are at what you do, the longer you delay that event.”

                “Understood.” Thinking back now, Alice could see a half-dozen ways she could have halted the Sim before it hit that house, but that was all afterthought. She had to see these options in the moment, or she may as well not pick up on them at all.

                “Had a feeling you would.” Professor Pendleton flipped a page in the file, even though he barely even needed to glance at it to know what was contained there. “Your other mistake was not checking up on Mary’s team after your first fight ended. At that very moment, they were about to be flanked by a second unit of Sims. They won, obviously, but it was a much harder battle than it would have been if you and Shane had stopped by.

                “Hang on, I’ll own the dead civilian robot, that’s on me and I accept it, but I don’t consider trusting my teammates to handle their own work to be a mistake,” Alice said. “I knew Mary was strong enough to get the job done, and I had faith in her judgment to call for backup if she needed it.”

                “Which is a point that will definitely get brought up on Mary’s evaluation,” Professor Pendleton agreed. “But for now we’re talking about you. At the time you made the call to go hunt Sims, both of the active fights were being dealt with. The Sims who were posted throughout the city didn’t pose an immediate threat to anyone, yet you still decided to run off without so much as checking on your nearby friend. Even if you didn’t fly to her, which would have taken moments, you could have radioed in. Yes, Mary and the others won that fight, but it cost time and collateral damage that was unnecessary. If you’d spared half a minute, that wouldn’t have been the case, and they could have gone to assist with the bigger battle.”

                “So I’m supposed to spend every battle babysitting my teammates?” Alice asked.

                “No one’s saying that. But you do need to learn to communicate.” Professor Pendleton tapped the file in front of him like he was trying to punch through it with just a finger. “Do you know why one of the first things the Sons of Progress did was try to take out our communications? It wasn’t just so that we couldn’t call for back up; it was an attempt to keep us from talking to each other. As a Subtlety major, you know the value of information. That value doesn’t vanish on a battlefield, if anything it increases. Communication, strategy, and allocation of assets can make all the difference in combat. The more you know, the more powerful you are.”

                Alice met his eyes for several seconds before finally allowing her head to dip slightly. “I guess you might have a small point. In the next one, I’ll try to be better about talking to everyone.”

                “With a team, you’ll often create a verbal shorthand so that you can rapidly relay information between yourselves with only a few words,” Professor Pendleton said. “Might be something to read up on, especially if you can get the rest of the class on board. Anyway, aside from those screw-ups, you handled yourself well. Use the mistakes to learn and improve, so that you can make a set of fresh ones in the next trial. Oh, and speaking of improvement, I got word that your special Subtlety training tool should be ready by Thursday, so be braced for something new.”

                “You’ve sure got me curious.” Alice paused, waiting for the professor to continue. When she was met with silence, she decided to broach the looming topic herself. “But for now, let’s hit the big question: what are the new combat rankings? You definitely assessed us off of this, right?”

                “That we did,” Professor Pendleton said. “However, you might have noticed that not everyone saw much time in battle. Seeing as we have these senior trials monthly, it made more sense to do a cumulative evaluation. The new rankings will be released at the start of next semester, just in time for you all to start debating who to send to Intramurals.”

                “Come on, not even a hint?” Alice opened her green eyes wide and put on her best charming smile.

                Professor Pendleton’s response was to lean back in his chair once more, pulling the romance novel out and flipping through the pages. “Here’s a hint: you’re training to be a Subtlety Hero. If you want information, dig for it.”

                “How did I know you were going to say that?” Alice rose from her seat and headed for the door, but before she took the knob Professor Pendleton called to her.

                “I’ll say just this much: if you keep performing like you did last Friday, I’d be shocked if we didn’t see a Subtlety major hit the top five. And that’s a pretty rare occurrence, so I think I might like to witness it.”

                Alice smiled and opened the door. “Then I guess I have training to do.”