“Welcome students,” Professor Karim booms out from stage. He’s wearing a deep navy suit that compliments his brown skin well. His voice commands attention from the couple dozen students in attendance, a number I have a hard time believing justifies the large auditorium we’re in. Our student body can’t even fill a tenth of the number of seats available. Many of the students sit on their own but I spot a few duos and trios of people who either already knew each other or had just met before the assembly started.
I can feel the swirl of emotions, excitement, anxiety, hope, confusion. There are enough people that it’s hard to distinguish individual’s thoughts but not enough for it to become white noise. It’s uncomfortable, other people’s feelings poking and prodding my mind without providing any useful information. I try to shut it out, and proceed to an empty seat, putting on a smile.
I sit between two girls. Less chance of picking up on unwanted attractions that way. Not zero, but less. It’s something I’m sadly used to, but it’s a lot easier to deal with one on one or in a large crowd. In this mid-sized cacophony it bothers me more and it’s hard enough to deal with. The haughty girl a few seats to my right gives me an annoyed glare while I feel a flash of amazed admiration from the small girl with glasses to my right. Dang it. They both recognize me and are feeling stereotypical responses. I’d hoped that here… well, it doesn’t matter. I keep my head up and don’t let it show that it bothers me.
If I don’t focus on it their feelings can be lost in the background noise, though before they’re lost I realize a lot of the confusion in the room is from the girl in glasses. She has absolutely no idea why she’s here. I file away that tidbit to ponder later and put all my concentration on Professor Karim, hanging on his words as if my life depends on it. For all I know it might.
“Rock, paper, scissors… tornado,” Professor Karim says. “Powers can be a lot like that game. Most of the time, the strength of an individual’s abilities depends entirely on context. It can be shorn up by equipment or by working with a team, or it can be undone entirely by some asshole with an esoteric ability that just happens to by-pass all of their defenses. Probably that asshole is on a specialized military unit of some sort.
“But if you’re here, it means two things. The first is that you are or have the potential to be the strongest of whatever power type you have. Most of you have highly versatile abilities, multiple powers, strong power resistance or some combination thereof. Wherever you start now, we will train you to use your powers, we will teach you to shore up your weaknesses and, most importantly, we will show you how to kill.”
Whatever whispers there were died down at hearing that. It wasn’t a surprise, we all know what we’re here to become. But I can feel the true weight of the seriousness of our chosen profession start to take hold in my classmates. Professor Karim continued.
“We will show you how to kill the monsters of this world, how to fight them to a stand-still if they’re too strong, even for a few seconds, so that help might arrive before your opponent can wipe out a city, a country, or the world itself. We will show you how to hunt the monsters beneath the notice of the strongest, yet are too much for the Heroes to handle or too crafty for militaries to find. We will show you these things because the second reason you are here is that you have the psychological profiles necessary to do what must be done and not break down under it.
“Look to your left, then look to your right. This is your new family. Almost certainly, these people will be with you when you graduate. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have what it takes to be strong enough, whatever your opinions of yourself are now. There are many programs that take a scatter shot approach and see who can cut it. This is not one of them. Whether you directly applied to this program or not you have all undergone extensive psychological testing and will receive mandatory therapy at least once a week as long as you choose to participate in this program and continuing on once you start in the field.
“Some of you don’t know how to use your powers yet, and that’s ok because we know what you can do and will teach you. Some of you can’t use your powers in real life unless absolutely necessary because of the toll to yourself or others, and that’s ok because we will teach you in mental simulations later this year. Some of you won’t trust your classmates enough at first to really show what you can do, and that’s ok because trust should be earned, though I promise you your classmates will earn it. Some of you are going to do amazingly well in the preliminary ranking matches and think it means anything, and that’s ok because it’ll be good for you to learn some damn humility when half the people in the bottom third of your class end up passing you. I warn people of this every year and there’s always a few who don’t listen.
“This training will not be easy. For most of you it will not be fun. But someday it could mean the difference between our species surviving another day or going extinct,” Professor Karim pauses and takes a sip from a glass of water. He drains the glass and I see it disintegrate into sand in his hand and flow behind him. “Opinions about The Butler are divisive, but it is generally recognized that he has stopped Apocalypse class threats on roughly three dozen occasions. What is less known is that our operatives contained the threat on at least one third of those occasions long enough for him to arrive on the scene with limited collateral damage. Collectively, our agents have resolved on their own an additional eighty Extinction level threats. Not bad, given our rigorous selection criteria means there have been slightly fewer than five hundred members of our group over the last twenty-five years.
“So welcome, my students, to your new lives at the Aftermath Academy. Welcome to your new lives as Executioners.”