Echos: Chapter – III
Author’s Note: My apologies for missing a week. Life got in the way, but I won’t make this a habit. And as always, questions, comments, suggestions, and constructive criticisms are encouraged.
Max managed to survive the evening out with Erik and his parents. There were a couple of almost incidents, but Erik’s dad – who’s name turned out to be Joe – was able to keep things under control. They got home to find both Tom and Peter in the suite and pleasantries were exchanged, though not for long as everyone was exhausted, and in one case tele-lagged.
Six o’clock came entirely too soon for Tom’s liking. But he still dragged himself out of bed when his alarm went off beside him. He wanted first crack at the shower, and their acceptance letter told them that their escorts to the HCP orientation would be at their suite promptly at eight-thirty. He got out his clothes for the day and shower caddy and headed into one of the two bathrooms.
Two and a half hours, a shower, and a bowl of instant oatmeal later, Tom was looking at the clock above the TV in their common room, and as the clock changed from 8:29 to 8:30, they were greeted by the sound of knuckles rapping on their suite door. “Damn, they weren’t kidding” he muttered to himself.
“Alright guys, sounds like it’s time to go!” he called out to his suitemates. The other three filed out of the bedrooms in various states of dryness. None of them knew what to expect, so they were all dressed functionally in variations of the theme of sneakers and basketball shorts and tee shirts.
Max opened the door to find an older student with inhumanly vivid green eyes, which stood out in stark contrast to his dark skin and gray uniform, standing on the other side.
“Good morning” he said pleasantly “if you’ll follow me, we’ll be on our way down to orientation.” Without another word he turned on his heel and walked to the elevators, and pressed the call button for one. After they all stepped inside, their escort turned to the fourth freshman, who by process of elimination had to be Peter, and said to him “Please press the buttons for floors eight, three, and sixteen”
“Okay…” Peter said uncertainly, then followed the instructions. “If you don’t mind my asking, what was that for?”
Those unnerving eyes turned toward Peter, and their escort said “That’s part of the code to access the HCP levels. I suggest you remember those numbers, by the way, they’re never written down.”
“Eight, three, sixteen… Eight, three, sixteen… Eight, three, sixteen.” Erik was heard muttering to himself again and again.
“The rest of it is that it will only work if somebody from your floor uses it from the thirtieth floor. The buttons are coded to your biometrics. Finger prints, DNA, things like that. Even if you know the code, you couldn’t access the HCP levels from the twenty-ninth floor.”
“Oh. Isn’t that a bit complicated?” Peter asked.
Their escort arched an eyebrow “We take security seriously. How many super criminals, or even regular criminals, do you think would like to attack one of the training grounds for new heroes? Or worse, access our data banks?”
“When you put it that way, I guess it’s not really going overboard.” Erik said, somehow managing to look sheepish. “Is this the only way we can get down to the HCP levels?”
“Yes and no. There are several access points spread throughout the campus, but this is the only spot you yourself can access. That wouldn’t stop you from getting a ride down, elsewhere. Though if the elevator’s sensors detect unidentified passengers, they won’t go below the ground floor. So don’t even try to bring some hottie down to impress her.” That last part was delivered with a wry grin. After all, it hadn’t been all that long since he was a freshmen, and somebody tried it every year.
“Are you part of the HCP staff? You don’t look like a professor.” Max asked as the floor counter entered the single digits.
“And what does an HCP professor look like?” their escort countered. “Never make an assumption here. Not only does it make an ass of umption, and he hates that, but it is a great way to land in the infirmary. But to answer your question, no, I’m not on the staff, I’m a sophomore. The top five men and women get to be RA’s, resident assistants, for the freshman class. And since I’m going to be your RA, my name is Michael White, but you can call me Mike.”
“Oh, sorry. Wait, what do you mean about top five?”
“Never mind that, what do you mean about infirmary?” Tom asked
“Don’t worry about that. We’re almost to the auditorium, and Dean Smith will cover all of that in your orientation.” Their Mike said. “And besides, you’ll be finding out first hand soon enough”
With that the doors opened into a new world.
The doors opened with a pleasant chime and the freshmen, along with their sophomore escort, stepped out into a hallway that lead to the HCP’s lobby. The lobby was a stark contrast to the residential tower. Instead of utilitarian linoleum, concrete, and stucco, this hallway had polished marble floors with inlayed geometric shapes. The walls of a similar substance and were lit by wall sconces shaped like halves of step pyramids. The indirect light form the sconces couldn’t have filled the huge lobby, yet somehow everything was lit to perfection.
Mike broke the freshmen out of their reverie “I know, it’s a lot to take in the first time you see it. The auditorium is through the second door on the left. And don’t worry, I’ll be here when the Dean is finished.
The auditorium was set up like an amphitheater, with a stage in front of a semi-circular cluster of stepped seats. Unlike the lobby, the auditorium appeared to largely be made of dark blue felt, and was clearly designed for sound to carry to every seat without echoing. As Max, Tim, Erik, and Peter entered the auditorium, they saw other freshmen already seated.
Looking at all the empty seats, Erik asked the question that was on each of their minds “So where are we supposed to sit?”
Tom skipped down a couple stairs and looked at a seat before coming back up. “Down here, I think. The seats all have tags with names and room numbers on them. It looks like we have assigned seats”
The four continued down until they found four seats together with their names on it. Settling in, they waited for the rest of their fellow students to arrive and the orientation to begin. After a short wait all the seats with tags on them were filled and a man in a black pinstriped suit walked out to the podium in the middle of the stage. His round rimmed glasses flashed, catching a light as he turned to address his audience.
“Good morning to you all, and welcome to your first day in the Hero Certification Program. Hopefully the first of many. My name is John Smith, though to you, my name is Dean Smith.” The dean spoke with the easy confidence of somebody who had made this speech countless times before. “Before we go further, I would like to be the first to congratulate all of you on your acceptance into Sizemore’s HCP. Though this is only the first step on the path to becoming a Hero, it is a significant accomplishment nonetheless, and one you all should be proud of.”
The dean paused a moment for a sip of water before continuing. “Next, I would like to tell you all what is expected of you from this point forward. First and foremost, you will all be expected to maintain a secret identity above ground. It is well known that Sizemore hosts a Hero Certification Program, but to the world at large, you are simply college students. Failure to maintain your secret identities above ground will reflect extremely poorly on your fitness to continue in the HCP. Likewise, you are all expected to maintain a least a 2.0 grade point average in your regular classes. Finally, your freshman HCP curriculum will consist of two classes: Ethics Of Heroism, and Gym.” Several hands raised throughout the deans speech, and more raised at this.
The dean paused his speech for another sip of water. “I’m sorry, due to time constraints, you will all have to remain in the dark about some of the specifics of the HCP for a little while longer. However, I will be happy to answer all of them tomorrow morning at your first class.” Continuing on the dean said “underneath everyone’s seat is a package. In that package is your first HCP uniform. They are each measured to fit you, and another four will be waiting for you in your rooms after we are done. Now, take your uniforms and please exit the auditorium. Your RA’s will be waiting for you outside to escort you to the locker rooms, and from there to the combat cells.”
The dean’s reserved face split into a slender smile as finished his speech “It’s time for your freshman ranking battles.”