Dean Jackson watched carefully as the students maneuvered to find their seats. At the top of the auditorium, the seniors in their pristinely white uniforms were relaxed yet vigilant. Several of them were RAs this year, and so were still watching the younger students with a careful eye.
Below them, the grey uniforms depicting juniors and sophomores covered the middle seats. Many of these students were just as excited for the new year as the freshmen but contained it with an appropriate amount of wariness. They knew to expect the unexpected. Today being just one example.
Lastly, the new students covered the remaining seats in a field of black uniforms. Apprehension and energy in equal parts could be literally felt emanating from this section of the room.
How many years had he stood in this spot, and how many times had he seen this sight? And yet, Herbert Jackson knew that no orientation could ever quite give as much information as it should. How can one describe the sense of pride at seeing so much potential before them, yet feel such fear that these faces would disappear before they were ready?
The old Ghost of the Battlefield felt his ridiculous nickname was all the more appropriate today. He could truly imagine the years creeping upon him. Maybe a decade more, maybe less, before he hung up his hat. Sighing, he turned his mind from such thoughts and refocused on the task at hand.
Time would move on, and life would continue to happen. In a program called the HCP, young men and women would find out who they truly were, and the price their dreams would cost.
Ethan stared around him at the mass of students. At first glance, there had to be anywhere from 50 to 70 freshmen sitting in the seats nearby. It was a tad overwhelming, if only because of how many fewer upperclassmen were also in the room. Around 15 seniors? That was insane! The drop out rate… he shook his head in worry. As he pondered this new information Ethan settled into his preselected spot, feeling the cold wood of the seat against his back. Barely a moment passed before he caught a quiet cough near him. Turning, his eyebrows raised in surprise as a very familiar figure settled into the seat beside him.
Laughing softly, the exotic girl from the day before gave him a grin. “Honestly, your face looks hilarious that way.” She paused to copy his expression. Head crooked to one side, eyebrows raised high, tongue slightly out and a vague stare upon her features. She was absolutely adorable.
That same feeling of breathlessness hit Ethan in the chest, his heart speeding up and his skin flushing in embarrassment. He visibly shrugged and gave her a small smile in return, but the only thought currently running through his head was… “This is the most gorgeous creature I have ever seen. Why… why did she have to be in the HCP?!?”
Brushing her snowy braid over a shoulder, the girl held out a hand. “So, Mr. Impatient. We have not officially met. My name is Rachelle.”
Returning her handshake, Ethan finally felt his mind jumping back on track. “Eh, right. Sorry, I honestly didn’t expect to see you here. I’m Ethan.”
“A pleasure Ethan. And honestly, I’m a little disappointed you didn’t guess that I was a super. Most people do, you know, because of the…” Her hand motioned towards her eyes, which were once again in a state of subtle fluctuating colors.
Ethan shrugged again. “I don’t like to presume. I’ve met a lot of people who just like to appear unusual for the sake of it.”
Rachelle seemed to ponder that, before nodding. “It does seem fairly common here at the university, doesn’t it. Ah well, that much easier for me to blend in.” She opened her mouth to speak again but was interrupted by a powerful voice from the front of the classroom.
“Welcome Students of Sizemore Tech! For those of you wondering why we’ve required all students to be here today, it’s just a bit of housekeeping. Don’t get too worried. Yet.” His opening statement was met with a flurry of worried murmuring from the freshmen, curious glances from the sophomore and junior classes, and several open grins from the seniors.
“Now, as many of you might know Sizemore Tech was recently granted the appropriate grants and funding to increase the size of their on-campus dorms. Those staying in the Stangel and Randolph Hall dorm buildings are the first to do so, and I hope the improved conditions show the school’s desire to correct the issues the facilities have had in previous years. That being said, these new renovations have also provided the HCP with an excellent opportunity to change up transportation from the aboveground campus to the HCP below. The details can be found in the packets in front of you.”
Dean Jackson paused for a moment as the sound of people pulling out papers carried across the auditorium. “Later, I expect you to read such details on your OWN time.” The sounds froze, as people looked guiltily in his direction. “For the moment, I simply want the Senior RAs to raise their hands.”
Ten white-uniformed students raised their hands at top of the seats. “Please take notice of these individuals. For the first year of our new accommodations, they have been approved to watch over separate floors. They should have led you here this morning. If you have any immediate questions concerning your housing situation, or if any emergencies might arise, they are your first point of contact.”
“For those of you still in separate dorms or townhouses, please understand that more student flats are being built but for now the top five floors of both buildings are all the HCP has.” He held up a key badge and ID. “Please keep in mind that all our students and faculty are still required to carry a combination biometric pass key and enhanced Sizemore ID badge at all times in order to access the underground facilities. A variety of elevators are situated throughout the campus for your use, but since last year it has been deemed necessary to change the locations of several of these. You’ll find the details in the packets as stated before.”
He glanced around the room, making sure to make eye contact with many of the students. “If any other pertinent details arrive on this situation you will be notified accordingly.” Clapping his hands together, he hid a grin as several of the students jumped at the sudden noise.
“With that being done, all upperclassmen are dismissed to their appropriate positions. If you happen to have the rest of the day off, I would enjoy it if possible. Your new classes start tomorrow.”
He nodded as all the other students filed out, and once the door had finally closed on the last one, he turned back to the wide-eyed freshmen.
“And now ladies and gentlemen, allow me to welcome you officially into the Sizemore HCP program. I am Dean Jackson, head of the faculty and your professor of Ethics this year.”
It was at this point that something almost imperceptible began to emanate from the square-shouldered dean on stage. To the advanced minds in the class, any stray thoughts they had might have picked up on faded into a dense silence. The entire class felt themselves being weighed and judged, and most couldn’t help but feel as if they fell short.
His voice filled the room, a gravelly roll that seemed deep and unstoppable. “You, the freshmen class of Sizemore’s Hero Certification Program, are about to be tested. I admire your dedication to a goal that will likely kill you.”
The dean continued. “Do not mistake my words. Your time here at Sizemore will be far more challenging than you expect. Those more astute might have noticed the size difference of continuing classes. Each year, there will be fewer spots open in each class, and by graduation, only ten of you will remain.”
Gasps emanated from many of the students as they turned to look at the seventy-odd people surrounding them. Dean Jackson was pleased to see a few faces unmoved by his declaration. They were the ones he would keep an eye on.
“The statistics say that once graduated, at least one of you will die on the job in the first two years. Less than half of those ten will survive to retirement.” By now most of the freshmen looked sick, and that was the point. He hated seeing a person struggle for years to accomplish something they didn’t really want in the first place. Better they dropped out now and succeeded in a career they could make mean something.
But he wasn’t finished. “For those few of you that remain, dedicated to your dreams of being a hero, let me warn you now. This journey will consume you. Everything you are will be dedicated to this life, and the gratitude of the masses might not be enough to cover the pain. But that’s not the point, is it?”
He breathed deeply, allowing a moment of respite from his overwhelming presence.
“You see… if this seems to be an effort on my part to discourage you, well… you’re not wrong. But now let me tell you why I’m here. During my third year as a hero, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and so saved a number of lives from a collapsing building. Many of the rescuees thanked me that day, but the one I remember most was a young boy. He wasn’t crying, though his parents were among the dead. He wasn’t mad, though his life was forever changed. No, he simply walked up, shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘“Thank you for saving me.”’ That’s it. That’s why I’m still a hero.”
Looking down at the crowd of freshmen, many with a tear in their eye, Dean Jackson nodded solemnly. Now they understood.
“If you decide to remain, it must be for more than just fame and fortune. Find something deep within yourselves that calls for a better world, and then make that come to pass.”
Rubin was amazed. In just a few short sentences, the dean had torn down the freshmen’s expectations and then reconfirmed why many of them were here in the first place. No wonder his dad had demanded he attend Sizemore. Dean Jackson was a legend for a reason, and Rubin couldn’t wait to find out what awaited him this year.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long. As the Dean’s short speech wrapped up, he made a rapping motion on the podium, and two people wearing gym clothes entered from the side door near the stage. They both moved up to stand beside the dean and remained there with solemn expressions.
On the right stood a tall and well-built man, with a shock of blond hair excellently styled. His blue eyes covered the students in front of him, and Rubin felt he could feel a twinkle of humor emanating from the man’s visage.
To the left was an equally tall woman, auburn hair wrapped in a tight bun behind her head. She was extremely athletic, amazonian even, with curves in all the right places and lightly tanned skin. As Rubin scanned her form, he almost shivered. Yep, no humor there. She was all business.
Dean Jackson motioned towards both of them. “Freshman. Along with myself, these two individuals will be your 1st-year instructors here at Sizemore. I will allow them to introduce themselves.”
He stepped back, and the blond-haired man stepped forward. “Greetings students. My name is Adrian Steels. You can call me Coach Steels. I will be your alternate instructor this year. For those of you wondering what that means, allow me to explain. I’m sure there are a few of you whose abilities are less conducive to pure combat. You’ll be working with me to explore how those powers might be better used in a hero capacity. More will be explained when the time comes.”
Adrian then stepped back and the woman took his place at the podium. Her voice was steel wrapped in silk, sultry and predatory all at once. “You will call me Coach Langston. I will be your Close Combat instructor. While Coach Steels will teach you how to think with your power, I will teach you how to beat up other people with it. Our goal will be to tear you down physically, then build you back from the ground up. For most of you, we will not succeed. For some, we might just make Heros out of you.”