Chapter 91

                “Today, I want to discuss the Damage Potential Scale by which Heroes evaluate threats,” Dean Blaine told them. It was the first Ethics of Heroism class since their trial, one that the students had certainly been dreading. Even though they’d done their best, many had frozen at the sight of human-like Sims, and nearly everyone had failed to rescue at least one civilian. They were surely expecting to be raked over the coals for these mistakes, but Dean Blaine had entered the room quietly and kicked off the lesson without so much as a single harsh word. It should have been a relief. Instead, it only made the bulk of them visibly more anxious.

                “Despite the fact that the terms of the scale are commonly bandied about, they are almost never used appropriately,” Dean Blaine continued. “It’s not exactly a secret, though it also isn’t something we often discuss beyond Hero circles. The first and foremost thing you need to understand is this: the scale is not a measure of a Super’s power. It is a simply a tool you will use in combat to best determine how to respond to situations. In fact, there has never been a successful power-ranking scale devised in the history of Supers. Would anyone care to venture why?”

                Several hands shot up, and after carefully surveying his options Dean Blaine pointed to the one who he felt might offer historical perspective along with an accurate answer.

                “There are several reasons,” Shane replied, lowering his arm. “As we’ve talked about before, new powers and categories are constantly being discovered, some of which would break any system we’d had in place. Additionally, it isn’t as easy as saying one power is better than another. Different powers have different relationships, and there’s no ranking system that’s ever been able to encapsulate that. The longest lasting attempt was the Werker scale in the early sixties, which only made it for five years before it was abandoned as useless.”

                “Very well said, Mr. DeSoto.” Dean Blaine scanned the class. Everyone was hearing the words; however it seemed a few were having difficulty processing exactly what they meant. “Can you provide an example of the types of relationship that would invalidate a power-ranking scale?”

                “Sure. The most classic example is the strongman and the advanced mind, but I’ll add myself in for extra clarity. At this point, I’m not sure my shadows will be able to cut through Roy Daniels’ skin, and for the sake of argument let’s assume that’s the case. So, I fight Roy, and he wins, because I can’t hurt him. Then Roy fights Mary, and he loses because she can simply lift him in the air with telekinesis. That makes it seem like Mary has the strongest power. However, if I were to fight Mary, she’d be unable to stop my shadows and I’d be able to win. Hypothetically, anyway. In that situation, how do you say which power is better? Each was weak and strong to different kinds of Supers. It doesn’t work, and the more abilities you add to the situation the more complicated it gets.”

                “And in only a few minutes, Mr. DeSoto has articulated a truth that it took decades for the DVA to finally reach. Which is why today we’re going to learn the lone scale that has proven useful, and before anyone asks, yes there is a reason I’ve waited until your fourth year to teach it to you. In fact, I specifically waited until this exact session, following your last trial.” Dean Blaine turned from the class and began scrawling on the chalkboard. Moments later he clapped his hands clean of any dust before gesturing to the first words he’d written.

                “NTC Class, short for Non-Threatening Combatant. In the field, you’ll hear them referred to as ‘knocks’ out of slang. This is the lowest tier of the Damage Potential Scale, representing someone who poses no greater threat for damage than a human. You will often find healers and teleporters on this list, though our own Ms. Belden is an exception. The rules for engaging these Supers are to treat them with the same care you would a human, only using lethal force if absolutely necessary and prioritizing saving civilians above all else.”

                A hand went up, and Dean Blaine nodded.

                “Why would we ever need lethal force? You just said they were as weak as humans,” Rich pointed out.

                “Humans can lay bombs, point guns, and do any number of things that require lethal force in response,” Dean Blaine replied. “And thank you, Mr. Weaver, for driving home one of the largest issues new Heroes face. This is a scale assessing damage potential only. An NTC might just as easily have a power that makes them difficult to stop, even one that allows them to be more powerful than you in a fight.”

                “Pretty sure I can take a healer.” Rich’s eyes darted to Camille, and he hastily added, “A normal healer, I mean.”

                “Perhaps that’s true, Mr. Weaver, but not every NTC has that type of ability. Rather than waste class time with this debate, let me simply say this: my power classifies me as a Non-Threatening Combatant.”

                There was no audible gasp through the room; some of the students had already put that much together. Several eyes did go wide as the implications settled in on the slower minds, though, which was why Dean Blaine pointed to the chalkboard again, eager to get the lesson moving once more.

                “After NTC is Standard Class. This is where the vast majority of Supers fall, capable of more damage than humans but not so significant that they require instantly lethal responses. Demolition Class is the next step, representing a Super who could destroy an entire city block in an hour if left unchecked. Here is where the vast majority of strongmen and women will rest, as they have power but not range. Dealing with a Demolition Class is where things begin to shift, as depending on the circumstances you may need to neutralize them as fast as possible, even if it means killing them outright.”

                “That doesn’t seem right,” Vince said, turning red as soon as he realized he’d blurted the thought out rather than thinking it. Since the damage was already done he lowered his head and added, “I think they should have a chance to surrender, at least.”

                “And if you fight one in an empty field, that is your prerogative to offer,” Dean Blaine told him. “However, if a Demolition Class is starting a fight in a downtown neighborhood, where there are whole buildings full of people that will die in a prolonged battle, would you value the criminal’s life higher than theirs?”

                Vince said nothing to that. He liked to think he’d find a way, that he could stop someone without killing them. And maybe he would, one day, but the last trial had shown him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t yet strong enough to manage such a feat. When the time to choose had come, he’d obliterated the criminal Sims rather than see any civilians injured. No, Vince had no right to criticize the scale.

                “Next is Manhattan Class, so named for the project that brought us the atomic bomb. The more astute of you can guess that this signifies someone who, if left unchecked for an hour, would cause destruction on par with an atomic blast,” Dean Blaine continued. “This classification, and the one that follows it, are also the reasons I waited until now to teach this lesson. Because only after seeing what the stakes were like, only after failing to save innocent people, could you perhaps understand why a Hero must respond to a Manhattan Class as they do.”

                Dean Blaine paused, allowing himself a deep breath and bracing for whatever came next. “When you are sent to engage a Manhattan Class, civilian life is shifted to a low, almost non-priority. Your primary goal as a Hero is to stop the criminal as fast as possible. If people die in the process… then they die.”

                The mumbling wasn’t as loud as he’d expected, certainly softer than it had been in previous years. No one yelled, either, which didn’t happen often but was always nice to not deal with. Dean Blaine stared at them, waiting for the whispers to die down, before pressing on.

                “You cannot save everyone. None of us can. Once you accept that, it becomes clear that the best a Hero can do is take the course of action that saves the most people. Some may die in the stopping of a Manhattan Class Super, but far more would perish if the threat wasn’t neutralized. It isn’t a pretty truth; it isn’t one you can take comfort in. Honestly, this fact alone will keep most of you up on more nights than you’ll be able to count. But it is true. Think long and hard about the last trial. About the people you couldn’t save. And understand that, at best, some of those Sims were flirting with Demolition Class. I want you to dwell on this; I want you to turn it over in your head for as long as it takes. Because if you can’t make peace with knowing you’ll be asked to let some die to save the rest, then there is no place for you in the Hero world. I don’t say that to be cruel, simply to let you know what’s really out there.”

                As the class sat in silence, staring ahead while they tried to reconcile what Hero work would demand with what they’d once imagined, Dean Blaine tapped the final words on the chalkboard.

                “Armageddon Class is treated much the same as Manhattan, except that no priority is placed on civilians and your orders will be to kill on sight, no matter what it takes. Even if it costs other Heroes their lives. Armageddon Class, as the name implies, is someone who could theoretically cause the end of humanity, if not the earth itself. No one, not civilians, not Heroes, not you, is more important than stopping that. Be grateful that they come along rarely, because when they do there are always too many funerals. Now, I’m sure you’ve got questions, so let’s-”

                The words were barely out of Dean Blaine’s mouth before almost every hand in the room shot up. This would take a while, and he was fine with that. Better they ask, better they understand, than push themselves into a world they wouldn’t be able to bear.