Isaac switched to another card, frowning for a moment as he paused.
“With that said, it’s time to talk about this year. In the past we’ve done extended training in the summer, but only for students who are already enrolled. From now on, this will be new students’ introductions to the program.
“Additionally, in the past, the Stapledon program would pay for any college or university in the United States, we are now limiting that to specific universities or colleges within a certain distance of those universities. That still represents a wide selection of educational institutions.
“The reason for this is that we’ll be instituting daily training, and don’t want anyone to have to travel too far.
“We’ve made arrangements to teleport those of you operating under the previous agreement to your nearest training sessions, but if you are interested in transferring to a more conveniently located school, we’ll facilitate that.”
Isaac stopped and took a breath, looking out at all of us, and then back to the card in his hand.
“Well, I have only a few more things to say and then we’ll be able to eat. First, this is the most diverse group of Stapledon students we’ve ever had. We have, of course, the program’s core group, supers of various origins who have begun to fight crime on their own. We also have the descendants of known heroes who want additional training outside their families. Beyond those two groups we now have all of you who would not have had powers, but for the power impregnator. Some of you come out of the military’s program, others are descendants of heroes, still others didn’t know what you could do till you tried power juice, and the final group of you were unknowingly products of the Cabal’s breeding program.”
I’d almost stopped paying attention when he started listing all the ways we were different from each other, but when he mentioned the Cabal he had my complete attention.
I wasn’t the only one. Students started muttering to each other. A few turned around to stare at the crowd as if they could identify Cabal descendants by sight.
For all I knew, that wasn’t impossible, but it wasn’t likely.
Isaac cleared his throat. “However you qualified to be part of the Stapledon program, we’re happy to have you here. We will not put up with any kind of mistreatment of fellow students. At best, you’ll be on probation if you do. At worst, you’ll be kicked out of the program. We have had incidents before, but so far no one has been kicked out. Don’t be the first.”
I didn’t know what Sean was thinking at the moment (and I didn’t ask Daniel), but I remembered when we’d been one of those incidents. I still occasionally wondered whether I could have won that fight. I had better martial arts training on my side, but he’d had magnetic powers and a vending machine.
It hadn’t mattered. Half the floor had shown up to defend me, and anyway near the end of the year we’d come to a slightly better place. His sister had gotten hurt fighting aliens in Grand Lake, and I’d arranged that a healer got sent to help her.
I hadn’t seen him much since then, but even if he hadn’t been friendly, he hadn’t been actively unfriendly.
Isaac grinned at everyone, putting the notecards into his jacket pocket.
“I don’t have anything left to say about that issue. I can’t think that it’s much different from any other school you’ve ever attended. Now then, stay focused, and let’s make this a good year.”
He began to step back from the podium, but then stopped, and said, “And also, let’s eat. People will dismiss you to go through the buffet by table.”
At that point, after all the talk about the Cabal, their breeding program, bullying, and superpowers, we were in the more typical position of being part of a large group of people moving through a buffet line.
With four tables of food to line up at, it wasn’t terribly slow, but it wasn’t quick even though we were close to the front.
Haley and I found ourselves standing next to Jaclyn.
“Remember fighting the Cabal?” She shook her head slowly. “Most of them weren’t much more powerful than your average hero, but remember their reserves? They were out of our league and their powers hadn’t been fully activated. They were still using power juice.”
I nodded. “Yeah, and it wasn’t even the new formulation. I think they may have been using the old, less effective version. I could be wrong about that. Anyway, their descendants have to have been run through the power impregnator if they’re here.”
Jaclyn shivered. “You know how hard we worked to stop the Cabal’s soldiers from doing that. This is going to be interesting.”
“Yeah,” I said, glancing out into the crowd of people lining up at the buffet tables. A number of them were big enough that I could imagine they were descended from the Cabal.
“I can see why it might seem like a good idea. If they haven’t been indoctrinated already, you could pull them into Stapledon, pretty much destroy the Cabal breeding program by taking them out of their hometowns, and get a bunch of heavy hitters all at once.”
Jaclyn nodded. “That’s what I was thinking. Here’s something to consider. Where do they go after Stapledon? My bet would be government service or maybe one of the Defender units. Now think about the fact that toughest of them were practically immortal. Whatever they decide to do, they’ll be doing it for a long time.”
Haley looked out at the crowd and bit her lip before talking. “Isaac did say they didn’t know they were part of the breeding program. Maybe they’ll be normal people—just for a really long time.”