Vigilance Headquarters was home to many scientific marvels: weaponry from alien civilizations, safely stored here where they could do not harm; healing devices capable of curing the common cold, but at a terrible, terrible cost; artificial intelligences possessed of knowledge that would shatter a human mind.

It also possessed the greatest home entertainment center in the world – and right now, the state-of-the-art dynamic holographic projector was presenting their latest recruit’s most recent mission in all of its glory… or lack thereof.

The Iconic Man groaned as the display showed Atmeros, the recruit in question, being set on fire by the Hellbeast, and then being drilled into the pavement. Despite the flame inficting only superficial damage, Atmeros had lost all control of the situation as soon as his suit ignited, and could only flail wildly in defense as the Hellbeast manhandled him, and eventually left him for dead.

The rookie had survived, of course, and was recovering right now in their medical bay… but his first performance in the field was a thoroughly pitiful display. Lady Titanium was still shaking her head in disappointment. The Onyx Flashlight was struggling – and largely failing – to keep from laughing.

The problem was, it wasn’t just disappointing – it was confounding. Atmeros had joined them only a week before, after outperforming every other candidate applying to join Vigilance, the premier superhero team in the world. He had even gone beyond the usual successes, though, and in a private demonstration with the team, had singlehandedly disabled their five heaviest hitters in under a minute. There were gods that couldn’t pull that off. Atmeros had not just the standard superhuman boosts – strength, speed, durability – but also energy manipulation powers that could take out some of the most dangerous beings alive.

And then, against the Hellbeast – a mindless brute of a man that even the lowliest vigilante should be able to handle – Atmeros had had his ass handed to him.

“Ah’d ask what went wrong,” drawled the Onyx Flashlight, “but ah think the answer’s easy – everythang.”

Lady Titanium simply sighed. “I know it is different for everyone, their first time in the field – but with his powers there are countless ways he could have taken down his foe. Perhaps his success in the trials was a fluke – a lucky moment, but nothing that we can rely upon.”

“No, I don’t believe that,” their leader said. The Iconic Man was studying the recording, trying to puzzle out what had gone so horribly wrong. “We know he has the capabilities there. The question is why he didn’t use them? It would have guessed pyrophobia – but he was struggling even before the flames. Why?”

“Maybe just fear in general,” she replied. “Fear of dying. When he fought us in the trials, he knew we would pull our punches, that we wouldn’t strike to kill. But in public, where a foe would gladly see him dead – it was too much, knowing he could die, and so he froze.”

Halfway through her comments, something clicked. He suddenly switched the recording back to the day of the trials, watching Atmeros facing off against Vigilance and taking them out with carefully honed manuevers and tactics. “That’s it! Not the fear… but the knowledge! Look at how he fought us – every move rehearsed, every use of his powers plotted out in advance. He came into the trials knowing who he would face, and prepared accordingly. But out in the field, without a plan of action, he was easy game for even the lowliest of thugs.”

“Hmm. You might be right.”

The Iconic Man smiled. “Of course I am. And this is definitely good news. Sure, it means he won’t be able to go out on patrol without practicing in the simulation room against every villain in the book. But that’s no big loss – we have plenty of powerhouses on the team. What we don’t have is someone with his greatest asset, one even he didn’t realize – a tactician. And if his planning capabilities are able to make such a difference in his own performance in these two situations, just imagine how much of a boost it will mean for the rest of us.”