Chapter 23

Finn chuckled as his roommates pressed against his back, crowding the observation platform to see down into the combat cell below. Of course, they had monitors behind them that could zoom in on the action far more comfortably. Still, even he had to admit there was something about actually laying eyes on the fight below.

Especially when that fight involved his girlfriend.

The concrete cell below was one of the standard variety, about fifty yards in diameter of solid steel-reinforced concrete with a triple reinforced steel door. Inside, the stone was a uniform grey without any usefully defining features. It helped focus attention on the combatants while not giving anyone much to work with beyond what they brought in.

Amara English faced off against Nicole Cassidy. Both girls looked fantastic in their taut black freshmen uniforms. While theoretically the same uniform the boys wore, Finn had to admit they looked much better on the ladies. The fit looked better too, as the black fabric seemed tailored for the body type that HCP Gym training was rapidly forging out of its participants. Even Finn noticed a small layer of belly fat had melted away in the month since they'd started here.

Nicole looked deliberately bored as she tossed her shoulder-length blue hair back out of her face, not bothering to bind it out of the way. Amara was a bit smaller, more compact with shorter brown hair and better complexion. Unlike Nicole, her expression was rapt with interest, her body poised for movement.

"Begin," spoke a voice over the intercom.

Instantly, Amara transformed. The effect was hard to see due to the polarized viewing glass turning an almost opaque black against the flood of light inside the cell. Dimly, Finn could see his girlfriend wreathed in a blinding torrent. She looked like the sun blazing in the sky for even her dark hair and tanned skin seemed bleached white by the light cascading out of her in all directions.

The other girl threw an arm up to cover her eyes and shook her head. Then she cried out in pain as Amara pointed a finger at her and promptly focused her light emission into a single concentrated point like a laser. Smoke rose from Nicole's uniform and the strong girl hurled herself in Amara's direction, fists swinging. Just one of those connecting would probably end the match.

Amara scampered to the right and focused another laser beam, burning Nicole down her whole right flank. The other girl twisted out of the way, rolled across the ground to extinguish any flames started by the blast, then rolled to her feet with tears streaking down her cheeks. Amara looked like she'd been struck at the sight of pain she'd inflicted. Then Nicole grinned through her watering eyes.

"I can see you."

Finn clenched his fists as he saw Amara yelp and run backwards until her back hit a wall. Nicole charged. Another laser beam cut into her chest but she plowed on, unrelenting. Terrified, Amara threw her arms over her head to brace for the hit. Finn and his roommates mutually swore as panicking was a certain way to lose a fight.

Then the polarized glass flared to completely opaque.

Students gathered around the glass, trying to peer through the darkened viewing window. Someone called out behind them, yelling "Get Dr. Amherst!" Finn turned around and saw a small crowd of HCP students across the class years transfixed by the viewing monitors. He traded looks with Nate and joined the Lambert Acres crew in front of one of the monitors.

Inside, he could see the combat cell filled with a thin haze of smoke. Amara stood on the other side of the room, seemingly confused and turning around to see where Nicole had gone. The strong girl lay crumbled along the other wall, the one she'd originally had Amara pinned against.

When Amara approached her, Nicole fell over, revealing a fist sized hole bored clean through her chest.

"Oh God, what happened?" Nate looked like he might get sick.

"Amara went speed of light on her," Alley said, nodding and looking impressed. "Turned herself into one giant laser and cut through her opponent before turning back. That's a hell of an ability. You know how rare it is for elemental manipulators to hit total conversion?"

"That could have been me," Jia said, looking so stunned Finn thought she was the one who'd been punched through by the human laser beam.

"Let's go to the infirmary, make sure she's okay," Finn said. He pointed up at the monitors just as Nicole vanished in a twinkle of teleported light. Amara promptly opened the door and ran out after her.

The Lambert Acres crew crowded into a lift and took it down to the infirmary.

This was a part of the HCP most of them had only passing familiarity with. Finn himself had yet to be that badly hurt in his matches except by Flynn Smith, who fixed him the same way he'd unfixed him. Jia was naturally immune to damage. Nate had been knocked out by choking, not otherwise damaged. And Alley was...

Finn peered at his roommate. The tall blonde wasn't quite six feet so she was still shorter than him. He'd learned a few of her subtle tells, though. Alley rubbed her left knuckles with her right thumb when she was anxious. He watched her do it now.

Without turning to look at him, she lifted one hand and flipped him off.

Grinning, he was thankful the ride wasn't long. The doors opened, admitting them to a long high corridor with curtained off alcoves set along its length. Triage from combat trials took place here, with the rare long-term cases handled in private rooms at the end of the hall. At the moment, there was some activity around one of the curtained area as three student healers yelled about treatment options, drawing a fourth woman hurrying down the hall to meet them.

When Finn and his friends arrived, so had Doctor Sarah Amherst. His immediate reaction was surprise, shared by his colleagues. Despite the shared last name, Finn hadn't expected the resemblance to be so striking. Not quite identical but so close most people would think them sisters since the good Doctor hardly looked much over thirty.

"Hey Mom," Alley said.

"Alley, hi." Dr. Amherst looked equally surprised. Then she recovered at once. "Excuse me, I have a patient."

"No worries. You still have a good three minutes to work with."

Flashing her daughter a grateful smile, Dr. Amherst pushed past her three attending healers, all of whom had freaked out. Apparently removing a heart and chunk of spine, along with a good portion of someone's chest was a bit more than their abilities were up for. Dr. Amherst brushed their concerns to the side with a wave of her hand and placed the other hand on Nicole's pale unmoving head.

A thump more felt than heard filled the air. Like one of those really really old camera flashes that ignited and sent up a column of smoke. No smoke this time, just a brief heaviness to the air that passed at once.

And Nicole sat up, whole and intact. Even her uniform was fixed, save the several places Amara had torched her. The strong blue-haired girl brushed herself off and peered around the room.

"What happened with the match? Did I miss it?"

"What's the last thing you remember?" asked one of the student healers.

"I was charging at Amara." Nicole slid off the table and hopped down, wincing a little. "Hey, since you're here, mind if you patch up my arm and side?"

"Good, that's good," Dr. Amherst said. "You can watch your recorded performance at your leisure. In the meantime, I'll leave you in the capable hands of my assistants."

The good Doctor started towards her daughter when Alley held up a hand. The message 'stop' could only have been clearer if Alley had actually taped a sheet of paper with the word 'stop' on her palm. Her expression alone showed a flat refusal for conversation.

Finn spotted Amara at last and made his way over to her, glad for the excuse to avoid that landmine of a conversation. He put an arm around her shoulders as she settled into his embrace, needing the comfort. Despite Nicole's survival, his girlfriend looked deeply rattled. He murmured something consoling in her ear until she at last relaxed.

"I've never done that before," Amara said, sounding a bit numb.

"And now that you have, it's terrific. Really it is," Finn said as her eyes challenged his. "If you can figure out how to consciously control it, you'll never need a car again. Imagine, being able to travel anywhere on earth in a second. Same with the moon, I think."


"Babe, if you can steer, you just became the world's greatest teleporter. People will be lining up for your number. I mean, the High Five Club might start challenging me for the right to ask you out."

Amara punched him in the arm, but it was playful and done with a smile. Finn kissed her temple and hugged her affectionately. All would be well after all. He looked up and spotted the Lambert Acres crew waiting impatiently for their chance to congratulate the girl nestled in his arms. Finn nodded gravely, signaling the time was now right.

Jia gave Amara a congratulatory hug and a friendly compliment. Nate shook her hand, then staggered a little when Amara surprised him by insisting on a hug. Unsurprisingly, Alley made a spectacle of herself when she said something about a West Chestfield High shake which made much more sense to Finn's girlfriend than to him. The two ladies promptly executed a sequence of seemingly choreographed dance steps? Whatever that was, it ended in something resembling a handshake. Amara laughed the whole time which made the display very much worthwhile.

"Pretty impressive show out there," Joe Shaw said.

Finn turned his head towards his fellow High Five Clubber and raised an eyebrow. Joe had dark brown hair, a bit of decorous stubble on his face and otherwise wore the black uniform of a freshman ready to fight. Given the timing, it didn't seem hard to imagine who.

"Amara? Yeah, she's alright. Like I told her, just stay light on her feet. Didn't expect her to take me quite so literally."

"She seems to have a sunny disposition."

Finn snickered. "We could go on all day. Or we could say 'sod it, let's have a match', shall we? I don't need to be Alley to spot how you've watched my girl and, now that she's shown that she's a top-shelf Super, you want her. Only it'll look wrong if you challenge me since I'm under you."

"Gotta say, Finn, you might be the smartest guy in the rankings," Joe said. "You missed one thing though. I'm curious, seriously deeply curious how a low-end telekinetic climbed all the way into the High Five Club. I mean, you can't even pick up more than...what, a hundred pounds?"

"Ish. Hundred poundsish."

"Whatever. How about it, 'mate'?"

Finn just grinned at Joe's mocking of British slang. Instead, he whistled over a student healer and notified the student referees. By the time he and Joe made their way into a combat cell, the upstairs view screens were crowded. Top five matches always drew a lot of spectacle.

Up there, the Lambert Acres crew crowded the glass. Jia and Nate were down in front, faces pressed against the glass to watch. Julie and Amara stood over them with Alley just behind them. Finn narrowed his eyes as he noticed the tall blonde was apparently taking the opportunity to look down Amara's unbuttoned uniform top. He lifted one hand and made a flicking motion with his fingers. Alley blinked from behind the glass and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Looking his way, she just laughed when he wagged a finger at her in reproach.

"You done showboating, Finnetic?" Joe Shaw asked, his tone mocking as he took a spot about twenty feet distant.

"Just seeing to my fans, Cole Slaw." Finn grinned as the other guy stopped smiling at the nickname that rhymed so closely.

"Begin," called out the student referee over the intercom.

Joe charged forward and made it about ten feet before his hands went to his throat. Shocked, the guy ranked third made a valiant effort to chase Finn around the arena. Meanwhile, Finn just chuckled and kept up a good jog, avoiding any direct blows and ducking away from any attack.

"That's the problem with you American Supers," Finn said as Joe came after him. "Everything has to be big. Super-size this. Extra-large that. You look at someone who can't lift more than a hundred pounds and you think 'he's knackered, what can he possibly do'? Only the human body's far more frail than that, my good man. Now, this fight was a bit dodgy, I'll grant it. Kinetic Absorption? Even telekinetic energy, you just turn into power. Normally, I'd have just depressed the major arteries in your neck, blocking blood flow to the brain until you passed out but you can absorb that. Same if I did something nasty like, oh, rupture your eyes or your eardrums."

Joe glared at him, already grey in the face. Then the broad-shouldered student fell to his knees and toppled over. Finn slowed down and watched Joe try crawling towards him, shaking his head at the pitiful attempt.

"You made me work for it, I'll give you that. I can't even paralyze your lungs. But I can freeze the air in them. Now, air's slippery and keeps trying to squirm out but all I need is a throat-tight seal and you...pass...out, there it is."

Indeed, Joe had stopped crawling and the 'match in progress' light flicked off. Finn just held up his hands and smiled up at the viewing glass. As his roommates cheered him on, he pressed his index and middle finger to his lips, kissed them and blew Amara a kiss.

He should take her out tonight somewhere. Finn started to make plans before he snapped his fingers in recollection. That's right.

It was Family Weekend at West Private University.