Chapter 4

Alley hit the showers after breakfast, eager to get clean after her morning workout. The blasting water also did wonders to get a certain Chinese girl out of her head. Sun Jia. God, she was hot. From the moment she laid eyes on the petite golden-eyed beauty, Alley knew she was in trouble. When the Major gave them their orders and put them in the same house with each other, she suspected this might be a special kind of torture. Then Jia turned out to be some kind of super heavy, with the potential to be a nightmare in battle.

Pretty much the perfect storm of lesbian Super fantasy.

"Jesus, get a grip already," she told herself as she turned the water down a notch in temperature. "Remember Iris. And Jia's obviously straight. Get a fucking grip and get your head in the fucking game."

Reassured by her personal pep talk, Alley finished up and toweled off. She glanced over her physique in the mirror. Tight. Years of unrelenting exercise coupled with knowing precisely where her limits were had turned Alley Amherst into a model for peak physical perfection. She liked her figure too, though her cleavage had suffered.

Cupping her meager bosom, she frowned into the mirror and said "You can have boobs when you're thirty and ready for kids."

Clothes for today were ordinary college fare, a light t-shirt tucked into stylishly worn-out jeans tucked into black leather boots. She had a fight later today, assuming HCP still started the first day with it, so no point in wearing anything nice. Alley backed up in the bathroom to give herself room, then lifted one leg up until her heel was over her head. Good. She'd stretched enough to stay fast and limber.

Alley took her morning pills, knocked them back with a glass of water and hid the bottle out in the shop where no one else was likely to come. She'd need to find a local supplier soon, though. A pity her roommates would ask questions they didn't really want the answers to. If Nate could do what she thought he could do, she'd never have a problem getting a supply again.

The lift to the HCP complex under West Private was past the living room, beyond the boy's bathroom and just behind the wall of the laundry room. Major Diaz had left instructions on its use but it didn't surprise Alley to see her roommates approach the elevator somewhat nervously. No one understood following directions like an Army girl. She ushered them all in before punching the right buttons to get them on their way.

"How long until we get there?" Finn asked, once the lift started moving.

"About six or seven minutes," Julie Campbell said.

"That's close," Alley murmured. Louder, she said, "Is there a way of making it go faster?"

"Um, that's pretty good since commute time's like 20 minutes just to reach parking," Nate said. When the others in the elevator gave him a funny look, he shrugged in yet another Doctor Who shirt. "What? I Google mapped it. I Google map everything."

"It'd have been nice to get it under five, that's all," Alley said. Oh well. No help for it.

"So, what should we expect?" Finn's accent made everything he said a pleasure to listen to. The boy had a nice evenness to his temperament that Alley appreciated. He was probably the reliable one in the group. Jia was responsible but clearly conflicted over her past. Nate was a bundle of awkward nerves and unlikely to improve in the near future. As for Julie...

"The first day is orientation," Julie said. "I think each of you have been enrolled in college classes relevant to your interests. Those will take place in the university proper, where the normal students go. Only the HCP classes are underground."

"Let me guess," Nate said. "What happens in Fight Club stays in Fight Club?"

Alley grinned. For a closet case with issues, he had a sense of humor. "Yeah, Ginger, keeping your enrollment and your powers secret is part of the program. They fail you out if you blow your cover so don't brag it up. Don't get into fights either. That's a fail too."

Jia frowned. "We can fight in class."

"Correction: We will fight in class. But getting into brawls with anyone outside the HCP, Super or not, will get your ass booted. That includes unsanctioned fights, Sunrise. They're very serious about that. Trust me."

Alley tried to keep her composure. Two years later, you'd think she was good at it by now. Instead, she got concerned looks from everyone. Two years and her morning pills and she still couldn't even think about it without visible pain.

Then Julie cried out and clutched her head.

"Yeah, I could have warned you about that but I didn't," Alley said. "I wanted to see if you peeked. Protip for the future, girlie: Never try to tune your station to my wavelength. We'll both be happier that way."

Whether or not Julie was likeable, Alley knew she should feel angry for the potential violation. Telepaths had been useless against her ever since her abilities manifested, though. Instead, she just felt heartsick. Some days, Alley wished they could read her mind. A little outrage at breaking-and-entering would have distracted her from the unwanted memories the rules stirred up.

At least Alley was back on top of the group. Jia's jawdropping display had everyone eating out of the Chinese girl's hands all morning. Deservedly so! Now everyone watched her, unsure what she could do. And she'd be a liar if she denied she didn't like being top dog.

The truth, though, was they had a mission. This wasn't Freshman Year 2.0. Someone had to keep sight of the objective and, for her money, it'd be her.

Julie recovered and glared sullenly at her for the rest of the ride. No one said anything. Suited Alley just fine. The lift to the HCP campus let them divert to a surface dorm housing Supers, shortcutting their path to the mundane classes. The group got off the elevator and stepped outside to view West Private's campus. It was already hot, go figure.

"Well, I've got psychology," Finn said, holding up his class schedule.

"Mmmm, I have music theory." Alley glanced at Jia, surprised. The Chinese girl ducked her head. "I'm a voice major."

"Cool," Alley said, her mouth suddenly dry at how adorable Jia looked when those black bangs covered that beautiful skin. "What about you, Ginger?"

"Chemistry," Nate said.

"Me too. Let's go. You coming Julie?"

"No," the telepath said, her voice decidedly icy. So much for that friendship. "Mike Cavil's taking over for me. I have my own classes and training to get to. See you tonight, Jia."

The genuine smile exchanged between the two former roommates made Alley feel like a bitch. Then she remembered she was a bitch. This time, Alley smiled. She had to be, if she was going to get through the school year.

A nondescript sophomore fell in behind them the instant Julie peeled off. Alley's suspicions the guy's name was Mike were confirmed when he suddenly grasped his head and yelled like he'd just put an icepick through his brain. A twofer on telepaths today! Things were looking up.

"Alley, do you know where we are?"

"Huh?" She looked at Nate, then peered around her. With one finger, she pointed and said, "That's McAdams. If the map I read is right, we're looking for Bowers which is over...there? Mike, help a girl out."

"Fuck you."

Alley raised an eyebrow and gave him a serious look. "You're going to sulk because you got busted listening where you weren't invited? Fine, help Nate out."

"Do I look like a fucking tour guide?"

"You're going to look like a prison bitch after I knock your teeth out for being an asshole. You were a freshman once. Have a heart, it's his first day in college."

"Yeah, that's Bowers ahead."

"You're a sport, Mike."

They walked on for half a minute before Nate leaned over and said, "Thanks."

Alley raised an eyebrow at him, then settled for a question. "So, you look paler than a virgin in a Marine's locker room. You been up in Alaska all this time or something?"

Nate ducked his head again. He stuck both hands in his pockets and slouched. For a minute, he seemed nothing more than a geek. Just a kid in shabby jeans, a t-shirt for a show no one watched and frumpy red hair that desperately needed to be a few inches shorter or longer to settle into a good look.

"No," he said, as quiet as Jia could be. "House arrest."

"How long?"

"When you guys picked me up, it was the first time I'd left that house since they caught me using my ability when I was fourteen."

"Jesus." Alley wiped her suddenly sweaty palms on her jeans. There but for the grace of God. "Just how strong is it?"

"Well, it's not like I can really test it, you know," Nate said. "I don't even want to. Alley, I don't know what I'm doing here." He leaned close, as if whispering could hide anything from the telepath behind them. "How am I supposed to be a Hero? Me? I mean, what are they going to do to train me? How can they? I'm basically...uh, do you know what I can do?"

"I have a hunch," Alley said. "And I see your point. If you've got the ability I think you do, it's pretty useless unless you use it, at which point everyone freaks out. Of course it's also pretty subtle. It's not like people can just spot its effects and..."

"If you're trying to encourage him, don't," said the telepath behind them.

Mike Cavil was a tall boy, trim brown hair and glasses but packing a surprisingly athletic build. His polo shirt and slacks screamed preppie. His physique shouted HCP training, though there was a deftness that probably came from playing a sport. Mike spotted her look and shifted his feet. Judo stance? Probably Judo. Alley just looked at him and found 109 ways to knock him out in less than thirty seconds.

Smirking, she said, "You're a real downer, Mike."

"Some things need to be kept down. I'm here for a single reason; a continuous scan. The instant he even thinks about activating his ability, I shut him down hard. If there's any justice, they won't lock him up again." Mike glared at the wilting Nate. "They'll just put a bullet in his head."

Alley looked back at her roommate. Anguish, embarrassment and frustration vied for attention on his socially inept face. Beneath it all, she realized Nate believed Mike. Not just what his fate would be, but that he deserved it. Nate actually believed the world might be better off with him dead.

So she turned around and broke Mike's nose.

Alley's knuckles stung slightly as she watched him stagger. One carefully placed foot caught him behind the ankle and toppled him to the ground. Around her, some students spread away from them while others crept closer to witness the fight. Alley ignored the mundanes and put a sneaker on Mike's chest, pressing down until the stunned telepath realized his situation.

"Suck it up Mike. The infirmary can fix you up in a second. But I want something clear. Nate's my friend. Now you know what I do to people who aren't his friend." She lifted her foot off his chest and said, "Pass it on" before walking back to Nate's side.

"Are you nuts?" Nate asked hoarsely. "He's going to report you! Do you want to get kicked out?"

"They knew what they were getting when they accepted my application, Ginger," Alley said, putting an arm around the smaller kid's slender frame. "Now they know I'm not afraid of them. I don't care what the fuck you can do, you deserve a clean slate. And I stick up for my friends."

"I've never really...had a friend."

The words came out of Nate reluctantly. They had the weight of awful sincerity. She flinched and wondered once more if his ability was truly so bad it justified the hell they'd made of his life. Not her call, though. Alley understood and respected the chain of command.

She looked back at Mike as he slowly crawled to his feet. Well, okay. The military chain of command. The vote was still out on West Private's HCP.