Chapter – XVII
“Good morning students!” Dean Smith said brightly as the mass of freshemen made their way into the classroom. There weren’t as many of them as there were Friday morning, but then there never were. The first PE workout resulted in cuts and drop-outs every year without fail.
With only a few exceptions the HCP freshmen shuffled into the classroom, some of them doing excellent impersonations of zombies whose existence the dean ccould neither confirm nor deny. A few, however, appeared to be largely recovered from their exertions on Friday. As they took their seats, each student took the time to glance back at the empty chairs lined up in the back of the room.
“I trust you all enjoyed your first taste of the HCP’s physical education program.” He said, after they had all settled into their seats.
“Yeah, what the fu…” Christina Ross started, but the explative was quickly cut off by a sharp look from Dean Smith. “What was that all about! Are you trying to make us quit?” She demanded, though it lacked some of the dramatic punch she might have had without the nonverbal rebuff.
“As a matter of fact, ms. Ross, that is part of what we are trying to accomplish. You see, heros must be conditioned like the most elite athletes. Protracted battles, sometimes with an enemy who has a physique you simply cannot match or perhaps with Nature herself for hours on end, being able to traverse any terrain, and be able to think with a clear head even when exhausted. All of that is crucial to being a hero, and it all demands superb conditioning. Likewise, the training you are put through as freshmen lays the foundation for the skills you will learn next semester, and the years to come.”
The dean paused to gaze at the entire class, though he still addressed Christina
“So if any of you are not willing, or not able, to summon the constitutional fortitude to persevere through a simple workout, then I’m afraid we are all wasting our time. Any other training would be wasted on you, and you would be a deadly liability as a hero.”
“Oh.” Christina said, somewhat lamely as the rest of the class grew eerily quiet. “Well, couldn’t you at least have warned us that it going to both suck and blow?”
“And ruin the surprise?” Dean Smith said with a chuckle “I’m afraid that if you are eventually certified as a hero, you will have had to learn to expect the worst. Now, I believe it’s time to get down to the business at hand, and that would be preparing your minds for the rigors of being a hero. And on that front, should I feel safe in presuming that you all remembered to do the homework assigned at the end of our last class?”
It was only through a lifetime of discipline and controling his reactions that the dean was able to refrain from laughing out loud at the wave of panic that rippled through the class. “In case you were preocupied by your exertions in PE, you were asked to think about what it means, to you personally, to be a hero.”
To the dean’s mild surprise, a hand actually went up without any hesitation. “Mr. Locklear, since you are the first to volunteer, you have the floor.”
“Thank you sir. I believe that a hero should stand to protect those who can’t protect themselves.” Alec said.
“A good starting point, but then I would ask you, what about someone such as a firefighter? Surely running into a burning building to rescue somebody trapped inside is heroic. Particularly if the person running into the flames doesn’t have any extra-human ability to aid or protect them.”
“Of course they would be a hero, sir. But somebody bearing the title of Hero would be the person who runs in to rescue the firefighter when nobody else can.”
“Yeah, that’s kinda what I think too.” Max said, surprising himself by speaking up without bothering to raise his hand. “Being a Hero means that you have powers, but you use them to do what normal people can’t. Like, when things are too dangerous for a normal human.”
“That is certainly a common view on the role of Heros, and in fact the ideal that they were created to uphold. But I suspect there are other views in the class. Anyone?”
John Johnson raised his hand, which Dean Smith acknowledged with a nod of his head.
“I think that being a hero means that you’re an icon. Everyone knows who you are, kids have your poster on the wall and want to grow up to be like you.”
“Indeed. Heros are much more public figures than other emergency responders.” Dean Smith said “Being in the public eye often means being a role model for children to look up to.”
“And you get to make bank off of endorsements, and merchendise, and stuff” Johnson said with a smile.
“Indeed.” Dean Smith said, a slight sigh of exasperation gracing the word. “I won’t deny that there is an element of fame and fortune in being a hero. And it is certainly true that the more successful heros can market themselves and be quite profitable. However, we try not to emphasize that aspect of hero life at this point in the Program. Do we have any other viewpoints?”
To the surprise of many in the class, Christina’s hand went up. The dean steeled himself for whatever the tatooed young woman woman might say, but let no sign of his apprehension show on his face or in his body language.
“Yes, Ms. Ross, what do you believe it means to be a hero?”
“Being a hero means that you are the baddest of the badasses. It means that you are somebody that nobody will mess with, or they’ll regret it.” Pausing for a moment, almost in indecision, she added “It means that you can give super criminals and over-powered psychos that hurt innocent people the ass kicking that is coming to them.”
The last statement was said more softly, without the confrontational bombast her classmates and professors had come to expect. But the drop in volume and tone revealed a quiet fire that made those sitting closer to her, particularly the few who had seen her fight, subconsciously lean away.
Dean Smith looked thoughtful as Christina finished speaking, then adjusted his glasses and replied. “Your phrasing is as crude as ever, Ms. Ross, but you raise a good point. Those of you who graduate from the Hero Certification Program will be spectacularly well trained and impressively powerful. As I alluded to earlier, our training is remarkably harsh. As we’ve already covered, your physical training is grueling. You will also receive training here that will develop your powers and teach you how to apply them in a variety of situations. Yes, you will learn to use them on the battlefield, but you will also learn how to solve problems and deal with the unknown or unexpected.”
The dean paused to take a sip of water before continuing.
“It is also true that one of a Hero’s primary duties is dealing with supers who turn to crime, or feel that the laws enacted by normal humans don’t apply to them. Anything from a kid drunk on their own power robbing a corner store to a gang leader attempting to carve out their own private fiefdom. Or even something as insidious as a telapath uisng their gifts for insider trading. All too often these criminals resort to violence first and a fight is unavoidable. To deal with these threats, a Hero must be, as you put it, the baddest of the badasses.”
Reaching into his pocket, Dean Smith extracted a simple silver pocketwatch, and glanced at the face.
“I do believe that this is an adequate stopping point for today. For those of you who haven’t yet spoken, think about your answers for next class. Since I’m sure most of you are moving a bit more slowly than normal today, I’m going to let you out a bit early so you aren’t late to P. E.” This time there was an audible groan from the class as they were reminded of the horror that awaited them.
Still, one by one they levered themselves out of there desks and willed stiff muscles into motion. Some of the students who hadn’t had some kind of training before coming to the HCP wore visible grimmaces on their faces as they walked toward the door, but they all went.
Only Tom Porter hung back as the rest of the class made its way to the gym. A quick word set his friends on ahead, and Tom waited until the room was empty to address Dean Smith.
“Um, excuse me sir?” he asked
“Yes Tom, what is it?” the dean answered.
“I was wondering if you had some free time. I think I need to talk to you. Its about the ranking matches.”
“Ah. I had wondered if this was coming. I believe I have some available time later in the week, will that suffice?”
“Sure. I mean, I was hoping I could talk to you today, but whenever is soonest is best.”
The Dean Smith let his lips curl in a small smile of understanding and nodded. “Not sleeping well?”
A grunt from Tom confirmed the dean’s suspsicions.
“I thought as much. I’m not sure how much help I can give you, but I can at least help you gain some understanding.”
“Thak you sir. Anything you can do to help, I’ll take.” Tom said.
Dean Smith felt a pang of empathy for the young man. He told him the truth, he could help him understand what he was feeling. But he could only hope that that understanding would allow Tom to really deal with what he experienced before he lost his sanity.