“Today, we’re going to discuss an aspect of Supers that is more theory than science. One that a scarce few of you may have experienced, even if you didn’t know it at the time. If I remember correctly, the term used by those who actually study it is Concurrent Effect Dominance, but most of us just call it ‘authority’.” Dean Blaine barely waited until the students were in their seats before launching into the class’s lecture. After getting so many dry discussions from the head of the HCP, it was impossible not to notice that he seemed a bit more energized than normal. Whatever this topic was, he was excited about sharing it with them, which made every one of the seniors both more intrigued, and wary.
“Authority is a hard concept to explain to most people, which is why you very rarely hear it talked about outside of Hero circles.” Dean Blaine walked over to his desk and pulled out two objects, an apple and an orange, setting them both down on the desk’s surface. “In its simplest terms, authority is who, among two Supers, has the more dominant ability. Not more powerful, mind you, more dominant. This is only measurable in scale to other abilities though, since it can’t be seen unless two powers have conflicting functions. For some of you this is already beginning to sound like nonsense, which is why I brought my learning aids out. Now I need two students. Mr. Murray and Ms. Smith will do, please come up here and join me.”
Will and Mary both slid from their seats and approached the dean warily, unsure of what was about to happen. He took Will by the shoulder and led him to the far end of the desk, nearest to the apple. Then Dean Blaine took Mary to the other end, so that she was slightly closer to the orange. Only when both were installed on opposite sides of the desk did Dean Blaine turned back to face the class.
“For this example, we will assign both of our students new powers. Mr. Murray now transforms all fruit within twelve feet of him into apples, and Ms. Smith turns all fruit within twelve feet of her to oranges. As you can see, they are both easily within twelve feet of both fruits on my desk. In this situation, all of my statements cannot be true. The fruits cannot exist simultaneously as both oranges and apples. If they both use their abilities, only one transformation will occur. Does anyone have a guess at which it will be?”
A few tentative hands went up, and Dean Blaine pointed to Violet’s. “Ms. Sullivan, if you please.”
“The one who got there first, right? Will walked over a little before Mary, so if they have the same range then his should turn first, and then she won’t be able to use hers.”
“Why not?” Dean Blaine asked. “She is still within twelve feet of the fruit, and she still possesses her ability. What stops the fruits from being transformed when she draws near?”
“Will’s power,” Violet replied. “His is still going, so that’s what makes them stay apples.”
“You are on the right track, Ms. Sullivan, but took a wrong turn,” Dean Blaine told her. “The truth is, who arrives first is irrelevant in this example. When two conflicting powers are used concurrently, one will always work over the other. That is what I mean when I say that abilities have authority, and that authority exists solely in relation to other powers. What I’ve shown you here isn’t just an example, it’s a test. We would create exactly this situation and send our Supers over to see who had the higher authority. If the fruits turned to apples, then it would be Mr. Murray. Oranges, and its Ms. Smith. Obviously this is a mundane example, but there are times when authority can play a large role in the field, so it’s something you need to be aware of.”
Dean Blaine gestured for Will and Mary to return to their seats, and continued. “Take elemental manipulators, since they were where we first began to formulate the theory of authority. Elemental manipulation is one of the more common powers seen in Supers, which means there is bound to be overlap in confrontations with Heroes and criminals. If two Supers with the power to manipulate water try and take control of the same pool, only one will succeed. Thus, Heroes who have tested themselves against others and know they have a high authority are often called in to cut off those with matching abilities. If we can take control of all the water an elemental user was wielding, then they are functionally human and can be easily apprehended.”
“This seems pretty important,” Alice interrupted. “More than ‘fun theory in senior year’ important, I mean. Shouldn’t we have been learning about this earlier?”
“For multiple reasons, no.” Dean Blaine’s excitement over the topic seemed to bubble out of him as he picked up the apple and gave it a light toss before catching it from mid-air. “First off, as important as authority is when it matters, it very rarely matters. The necessary correspondence in a set of powers happens quite rarely in the field, which is part of why it wasn’t until the last decade or so that this theory began developing. And the vast majority of abilities don’t ever interact in such a way. A strongman is not going to lose their power when fighting another strongman, they test themselves in a much more upfront manner. Authority generally only comes into play with powers that focus on the external world, rather than augmenting the person wielding them.”
The apple rose and fell a few more times, always being snapped from the air by Dean Blaine’s waiting hand. “Secondly, the reason I’ve waited until now to tell you about this is that the concept is not well known, and we like to keep it that way. As much as we’ve learned about Supers and Powereds since their discovery, there is still a tremendous amount that is a complete mystery to us. Any bit of information is an advantage, and one should always be wary when relinquishing an advantage. But you’re all seniors now, and that means you’ve earned the right to more trust than a freshman. I told you there was still a lot to learn, and this is just a small part of it.”
Silence fell over the room, save for the soft smack of Dean Blaine catching the apple as he tossed it about. Finally, it was broken by Jill, whose voice was an unusual mix of excitement and nerves.
“As Heroes, will we be able to test ourselves against other Supers to figure out if we have high authority or not? I depend on a lot of tech for my combat, so I’d need to know early on if some other Super could just take control of my suit.”
“A very fair question,” Dean Blaine replied. “And yes, those of you who have abilities more likely to meet opposition will indeed be able to test yourselves against others with similar powers. In fact, it’s one of the first things we do with new Heroes. Both because it will give you useful information, and because the more established Heroes are always eager to see who has the higher authority.”
“Seems like a bad system,” Rich pointed out. “If they’ve had years of training, won’t they automatically do better?”
“Actually, that brings us to the final major point you need to know regarding authority,” Dean Blaine said. He caught the apple for the last time, and set it down gently beside the orange on his desk. “So far as we’ve been able to tell, it is unaffected by age or experience. Some rookie Heroes have authority that trumps veterans with hundreds of engagements under their belts. Near as we can figure, it’s something innate in Supers, and since the whole concept is still theoretical no one has found a way to train it, yet. You just get what you get, and have to learn to work appropriately.”
There were murmurs through the class, and Dean Blaine did nothing to silence them. This was a hard pill to swallow, especially for people this far along in the HCP journey. They’d spent years training themselves to the bone, and now they’d just learned there was a function to some powers that couldn’t be changed, that they couldn’t trade blood and sweat to improve. It was disheartening, at the least. But that didn’t make it any less real, or reduce the fact that they needed to be aware of it.
As much as senior year was about training, it was also about teaching the harsh truths of the Hero world. And, as he’d already told them, this was just a small part of what was to come.