The Training Grounds were quite impressive, to say the least. They were largely located outdoors and consisted of several five-hundred-meter radius rings lined with towering metal walls that served as arenas.
The walls were made of thickly reinforced metal, but their design was sleek and futuristic with blinking lights of various colors dotted around their surface, indicating the status of various moving pieces of tech within the walls.
Aldrich stared at the arenas while standing in a single file line with the rest of the Frame students. They were, as expected, separated from the rest of the main student body, but a cursory glance gave Aldrich an estimate that there were approximately two hundred or so 'normal' students.
In terms of numbers, Blackwater was small as most decently ranked hero academies operated with student bodies numbering well over a thousand, with only the highest tier academies like Shield and Invictus having small student bodies due to a difficulty to get in.
Most likely, Aldrich figured that Blackwater had so few students because they lacked funding for being too low tier. At the same time, he could not shake off the sense that something was wrong.
The arenas were built with state-of-the-art technology with many of them capable of terraforming simulated combat terrain. Some of them had built in obstacles and battle drones undergoing auto-repair and maintenance beneath them, ready to surface whenever the arenas were activated.
A low tier academy like Blackwater should not have been capable of funding any of this.
"Listen closely!" came a thunderous voice that Aldrich recognized as belonging to officer Fletcher. The officer had his arms behind his back as he shouted at the neatly ordered crowd of students. "Because I won't say this again! We already know your powers and your AC count."
Aldrich noted this. Blackwater had a record of every single student's ability and their Alter Cell (AC count). Meant that it was possible to pull up student profiles and figure out who was dangerous and who was not provided Aldrich could get into the system somehow.
AC count was especially important because it determined how capable an Alter's power was to respond to training and growth. High AC counts also granted natural amounts of superhuman strength, durability, speed, and a minor healing factor regardless of whether the power it granted affected those traits or not.
"But cell count and a bullet point summary of your powers doesn't mean sh*t out there where you'll be fighting for your fucking lives against Variants or other Alters. Combat is where we really determine your worth. Where you really use those powers you were born with.
Today's evaluation will test your ability to fight!"
A slight murmur ran through the crowd of students as they heard this. Some were nervous. Some were happy to fight.
Every single Frame student other than Aldrich, however, gulped down a ball of nervousness because how the hell were they going to fight superpowered students when they had not even taken a single class yet on how to use their Frames?
Hell, they had not even seen their Frames yet.
"Where you place in this evaluation will determine which class you are put in!" continued officer Fletcher. "And believe me, what class you are in will be the difference between living like kings and ants!
Classes range from A to B to C to D to F. If you're in A, then good, you're worth the food and space your sorry asses are taking up here. Below that, though, you better train real fuckin' hard!
Depending on which class you're placed in, you'll get access to more of our equipment, direct training, more credits for treatment at the infirmary, and authorized days off to the nearby town to do whatever the fuck you want.
Hell, if you manage to place in class A, we'll even give you a monthly stipend for you ungrateful little sh*ts to spend on whatever you want."
Officer Fletcher turned and walked up to a control panel standing outside of the nearest arena. He put his palm on the screen, and it turned on with bright green lights, analyzing his handprint.
A holographic projection of a keypad and several screens detailing functions for the arena lit upwards, and he began to fiddle with them, causing the arena to creak and groan as several large mechanisms started to rev up and whir in its walls and underground.
"Now then, on to the details of this combat evaluation. It's going to be real simple: a good old free for all fucking beatdown!" Officer Fletcher grinned, showing a rare sign of emotion in anticipation of seeing violence. "There are two hundred of you, and I will split you into four equal groups across four arenas.
The arenas will run an algorithm based on all your recorded power profiles and cell counts to assign what it determines to be the 'fairest' groups, but again, this evaluation is your chance to prove that you're worth more than your basic cell count."
"Excuse me, sir!" said Adam.
Aldrich sighed and shook his head, knowing that Adam was going to be taking some more abuse.
All heads turned to Adam, at the insane man who was willing to speak up when nobody else did.
"What about us?" said Adam as he motioned to the Frame students. "We have no cell count or power profile. How do we fit into this?"
Officer Fletcher cracked his neck and walked up to Adam. Adam looked straight into the officer's eyes as the academy superior stared him down.
"Someone's already fucked you up, huh kid?" said officer Fletcher as he noted Adam's bandaged nose. "Well, I won't mess with your face, at the very least, though, got to say, there isn't much to save there."
The officer put his hand on Adam's shoulder, seemingly at first in a nice gesture, but then Adam started to scream in pain as the officer's hand glowed a bright white, encasing itself in searing hot heat that sizzled through Adam's uniform and melted into his flesh.
Adam knelt into the ground, clutching at his smoking shoulder while gritting his teeth to prevent himself from crying out more. Aldrich just shook his head at Adam while the other Frame students cringed and looked away in palpable fear.
"None of your powerless fucks are to ever, I repeat, EVER, talk to me unless prompted. Let this idiot be a lesson to you all," said officer Fletcher. "But I'm feeling generous today, so I'll answer his question.
Your Frames are inside the arena you will be assigned to. You can pilot them when the fighting begins."
"But…but how do we use them?" said Adam, still managing to speak up even as Aldrich desperately wanted to tell him to just shut the hell up for once.
This time, the officer did not further abuse Adam, being evidently bored of it, and shrugged. "Fuck if I know. It's up to you powerless pieces of trash to figure that one out."
With that, officer Fletcher turned around and strolled back to his control panel, pressing a few more holographic buttons to bring up a large projected board full of student names. Beside the student names were green circles and numbers ranging from 1 to 4.
Officer Fletcher pointed at the board. "Look for your name and report to the corresponding arena number beside it! The arena will constantly scan for your bio-signatures to determine whether you are capable of fighting or not.
Once you're knocked out or deemed incapable of continuing to fight, that green circle will turn red and you will be transported out by drones!
How long you last, how many hits you dish out, how many hits you take, and footage analysis of what strategies you use will all accumulate points to determine your class position! A leaderboard will be projected showing who has the most points, and at the end of ninety minutes, the fighting stops and the leaderboard finalizes!
Now get to it, maggots!"