Michael Karl was feeling slightly less than pleased as he made his way into the large auditorium amidst a sea of black uniformed students. The required orientation for HCP students, required on a weekend no less, had been delayed for almost three hours. Michael sometimes wished his telepathy was more precise as various people had gone through the Freshmen waiting to use the concealed elevators that led down to the underground complex where all HCP courses and events were held. All he knew was that the 'new security protocols' were all fucked up in some interesting ways. At least he was slightly mollified to know that the technicians were having an even worse day than the students. They had apparently been working on this since 4am.
He found himself slightly surprised as the flow of black uniformed bodies around him made their way into the seating and revealed that there was a group of gray uniformed students and a much smaller group in white already occupying the auditorium. From the thoughts projected from that side of the room it was quickly apparent that the Freshman class had not been the only ones losing a huge chunk of their last day of freedom. Also apparent was that most of the upper classmen seemed more than slightly confused as to why they were here at all. A sentiment that Michael found himself echoing internally as he found an empty seat and dropped into. The packet said that this was specifically the Freshman orientation. I wonder why the whole program turned out?
Fortunately the students were not left long in suspense. Shortly after the last of the arriving Freshmen found a seat several professionally attired persons made their way onto the stage facing the assembled Supers. Well, mostly professional attire. The two that stayed towards the stage entrance and well back from the seats that had apparently been placed up there for whoever these people were had dressed in tan colored BDUs instead of suits. Michael tried to get some idea of what was going to happen as a petite woman with shoulder length black hair identified by photo in the Freshman information packet as Dean Kathryn Jilles approached the microphone. His efforts to listen in on the stage met with some strange static that he'd never encountered before. It was like a white noise generator going off in his head. And one of a pair of identical looking women caught his eye as he puzzled over the new sensation and winked at him. Shit. Fortunately the Dean launched into her speech before any repercussions could land in his lap.
"Assembled students of the Overton Hero Certification Program, please allow me to apologize for taking up so much of your last day of summer. I will make this as brief as possible so that you can get back to the important hours of freedom before my program owns your nearly every moment for the next nine months." There was a bit of nervous laughter from some of the Freshmen. None from the older students. "Our first order of business affects the entire enrollment of the HCP, and after it is taken care of all but the Freshmen will be dismissed." That statement got some more interest from the upper classes. "So please allow me to introduce the seven gentlemen and three ladies on the stage behind me." Odd, there were actually four women on stage by Michael's count. "Ladies and gentlemen if you could please stand when I call your names. Bert Rivera, Jessie Green, Sherman Banks, Allan Riley, Rufus Hawkins, Joe Jones, Darlene Neal, and Celia Watkins." Everyone but the man in the most expensive looking suit and the two identical women had stood as their names were called. "These seven upstanding men and women are special investigators for the United States Attorney General's office, here at Overton on a special assignment. The finely dressed specimen directly behind me is Walter Raines, oversight appointee by the Senate HCP Budget Committee. Next to him is a woman a few of our more Alumni obsessed students may have already recognized, and also appointed by the Senate committee, the Hero Mirror." There was a great deal of chatter occurring amongst the assembled students now. Investigators? Oversight? And Mirror, one of the biggest name Heroes in DC was here in Texas?
"If everyone can please settle down so we can get this finished and all of you can get back to whatever you had planned for your final day of freedom," the Dean's voice and its reminder that escape could be at hand sooner rather than later had the desired effect of quickly quieting the assembly. "This is not something the student body needs to be alarmed about. The Budget Committee has simply decided to begin some review processes to see how the HCP is spending its billions of dollars per year allotments and has formed this Oversight Committee to do exactly that. For everyone's piece of mind, for the purposes of the 'Secret Identity' requirements these men and women are treated the same as Overton HCP Instructors. Additionally none of them should approach you at any time that you are not in the underground HCP areas. Please be as courteous to them as you would with any of our other faculty. Oh, and one more small thing." Dean Jilles held up an almost comically large ID badge from the podium in front of her to where the assembled students could see it. "All of our students and faculty are set up with a combination biometric pass key and an enhanced Overton ID badge to allow you access to the underground facilities. Our visiting committee will not have biometric keys due to high level HCP security concerns, so they will all have these badges instead. If any of you students should happen to find a member of the committee 'trapped' in our facilities having misplaced their ID somewhere, please assist them in reaching the nearest faculty member as quickly as possible so that the situation can be remedied." The Dean's expression held nothing but polite sincerity. The looks on the faces of the oversight committee ranged mostly among various degrees of amused expressions with the exception of a surprisingly hostile look from the Senate appointee. There was a round of smothered chuckles and giggles from the assembled students as several realized what the Dean was telling them. Michael found himself smiling as well.
"It is our hope that we can make this process as streamlined and painless as possible and not allow it in any way to interfere with your educations and progress within the program. And I would like to apologize once more to all of our students for the delays this meeting has created. Everyone except the Freshman class, you're dismissed."
After the other three classes had filed out of the room the remaining Freshmen were instructed to seats closer to the front and center of the auditorium. After everyone had finished moving the man and woman dressed in BDUs instead of business suits took up positions on the floor level in front of the stage and podium, directly in front of the Freshman class. Dean Jilles gave the Freshmen another moment to settle into their new seats before she began again.
"Welcome Freshmen, to Overton's HCP. I would like to assure you that we don't normally have problems with punctuality, and apologize again for the wait. Fortunately this meeting won't take that long either, so you should still be free in time for a late lunch!" The Dean's smile seemed to be a genuine one as she addressed the smaller group.
"During your tenure in the HCP it is important to remember three things. Firstly, many of you are not going to have what it takes to be heroes. Of every class that enters the HCP, by the time that class's graduation comes around more than 80% of that class will not have made the cut." This announcement was greeted with a great deal of surprise and more than a little fear became evident in the room. "That is not to say that you won't ever have a second chance if you don't make the cut at any point. Barring direct expulsion from the program you will be invited to re-apply as you continue to improve yourself and your abilities. Several distinguished Heroes did not receive their certification in only four years." The softening of the blow did not seem to notably improve the mood of the room. After another pause to allow the students to process this information, Dean Jilles continued her list.
"Second, you are going to have to work harder than you've ever imagined you were capable of in order to succeed here. Take everything you think you know about limits and forget all of it. Starting tomorrow you will be expected to push yourself to levels beyond what any ordinary person or Super is capable of." Several students were visibly wilting at the content of the Dean's speech.
"Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to learn very quickly that possessing great power is not all there is to becoming a Hero. You will need to be creative, intuitive, and adaptive. You can try to make it through on nothing but brute force, but by far and away the majority of those that I have seen fail out of these programs choose that path. In this very room we have a student who could likely fold a tank in half bare handed, and another whose only Super ability is to make herself unseen and unheard. I will tell you that both of these students right now have the exact same chance of graduating from this program. You're success or failure will depend on far more than how hard you can hit something." The Dean paused again as she let her final point sink in and smiled a little wider at her students as she realized that many of those projecting the worst nerves a moment ago were now much calmer, while several of those previously most confident were now beginning to worry.
"And now that I believe I have sufficiently impressed upon you all the gravity of your choice to enter, and chances of succeeding within, the HCP, allow me to introduce your primary instructors for your Freshmen year. For those of you who have somehow forgotten my name already, I am Dean Jilles and I will be your professor for Ethics of Heroism. The large gentleman forward and to my left is Professor James Rachd, although I understand he prefers 'Coach Rachd.' He will be your primary physical fitness instructor as well as the primary combat instructor for your Freshman year. The distinguished lady forward and to my left is Professor Elena Martinez. She will be the assistant physical fitness instructor and will be the primary instructor this year for those of you who do not have primarily combat oriented abilities. Does anyone have any questions before I turn this meeting over to the two professors?" A few hand went up quickly.
"Ms. Johnson," the Dean pointed at an impressively massive black girl who stood as her name was called.
"What about the healers? The information packet says we have to do some alternate stuff in addition to the physical and combat training. Who do we report to for that?" There were quite a few shocked expressions as students took in the six and a half foot tall muscular woman, all with the same thought in mind. That's a healer?
"Ah, a relevant question. Always excellent. Healers in the program that wish to receive additional credit and training in that area will be reporting to Doctor Saxena following the completion of the combat rankings next Saturday. Any other questions?"
Several more hands went up, this time a Mr. Plankett was called. "We're doing combat ranking the first week?"
"Many of the HCPs actually do their combat ranking matches on the very first DAY Mr Plankett. At Overton we like to delay for the first week so that those truly unprepared for the level of physical exertion required are washed out of the program before we build the ranking system. Anyone else?" The reminder that students were expected to wash out of the program in the very first week seemed to have quieted most of the class. One hand went up again though. "Yes Mr Carrera?"
"So the entire mass of us will be taught by only three instructors, or four if you count the doctor that works with the healing students? That seems to me like not enough."
"As Freshmen you will only be working with a very limited selection of the staff while we ascertain your fundamentals and build up an actual base to improve all of your abilities. Those of you that make it to the Sophomore year will be working in more specialized disciplines with a wider variety of instructors."
"How many of us are going to make it to Sophomore year?" several students looked around to see where the last question had come from to see a young auburn haired hispanic woman standing to address the Dean.
"There are 28 slots in the Sophomore HCP program. Please keep in mind that you will not only be competing for those spots against your own classmates, but there is an additional pool of former students that have previously not made the cut seeking readmission. Anyone else?" No hand went up this time. The mood in the auditorium was decidedly somber as Dean Jilles directed the two professors to take over.
"Alright, LISTEN UP! Pick your asses up and stop feeling sorry for yourselves. You ain't even tried yet and half of you look like you've already failed. Works out pretty good for me as I've got to cut about that much dead weight from my program by the end of the year." James Rachd sounded far more like a drill instructor than a college professor. A point the man was definitely proud of. "As far as all of you are concerned my name is Coach Rachd. I do not accept or appreciate attempts to abbreviate or change that name. Here's the way it's going to break down. You are all scheduled for three and one half hours of 'gym' five days a week. I will tell you up front that if you think you get to skip out on the other two days you will not last long in my program," a few flinches from the crowd at that one.
"For the first week we will not be doing any combat training, we will be running you into the ground to show you how far out of shape most of you are. Everyone in this room who's ability grants them an enhanced physique will likely thank God for that several times before the week is over. Don't worry, we'll get around to busting your limits after Combat Rankings." More nervous shifting, but none of the students had the nerve to so much as mutter and every eye was locked on the Combat Instructor. "After the first week is over and you have been ranked, each gym session will be two hours of physical fitness, one hour of general combat instruction, and one additional half hour of physical fitness. Those of you who will be putting their classmates back together in addition to taking them apart are excused for the final half hour to work with Dr Saxena instead. This is how things will work until the winter break, then things will change again. Questions?" the last word sounded more like a challenge than anything else, but one of the students raised a hand. "Black kid in the middle, what?"
"It's Ben Pelley Coach Ra-"
"The Dean is the telepath kid, I'm not going to bother remembering any of your names until you've been here long enough to impress me. Get to your question."
"Sorry, I was just wondering what happens after the Winter Break?"
Coach Rachd let out a barking laugh as his first response. "I like that you think you're going to be here long enough for it to matter, but the fact is I don't see the point in explaining what's going to change to a room half full of people that won't see that change. Anyone else?" Either all the questions had been answered or no one was quite brave enough to ask Coach Rachd anything else quite so soon. Into the silence Elena Martinez stepped forward.
"For those of you worried about the amount of emphasis the first semester places on combat, relax a little bit before you give yourselves strokes. I am Professor Martinez, you can call me Coach when we're in the gym but I would much prefer to leave that title in that room." There were a couple of nervous laughs as her tone indicated the statement was meant to be humorous, but not many. "While the first semester is focused almost exclusively on combat training and physical fitness we are not going to be evaluating you all on the same scale. We will not be throwing you off the deep end to drown while we watch. If you have a non-combat oriented ability we will work with you to maximize it's usages in combat while prepping for your upcoming alternate training. The Dean and Coach Rachd enjoy scaring the newcomers a bit by letting them know about the expected failure rate, but here's the silver lining: You don't get cut from the program until you fail to measure up on your own. There are 28 Sophomore slots, but that's for each program. You are competing not only against the students in this room, but additional students in four very similar rooms around the country listening to very similar speeches, and a host of others that have already been through what you're about to do at least once. But they are also competing against YOU. Not every single one of you can continue at Overton, but if you are truly as good as most of you thought you were before you got here, you can ALL continue in the HCP," the mood in the room had shifted a bit. No one seemed exceptionally optimistic at the expanded explanation, but it was a light at the end of the tunnel for all of them.
The three HCP Instructors all wore the same expressions they had a moment ago, but all were internally satisfied. There was a level of quiet determination in the room that had been absent before. They now had a properly motivated Freshman class to work with. Dean Jilles stepped back up to the microphone one last time.
"You may all now return to your last day of summer. Additionally the HCP training facilities are now all open for your use." and as the class filed out of the room her smile widened slightly. Almost every student was heading towards the training rooms instead of the elevators. It was a good sign.