Prologue 1

Arrowsmith, Illinois.

"Those governmental bureaucratic ASS-holes!" Yelled a man in, what appeared to be, his early 40s.

"Calm down, dear." Suggested the 'Calm-Voice-Of-Reason' (aka his wife).

"I saved that teller's life and what do I get? Fined! FINED!?" Ranted the man, unhindered by 'calm' or 'reason.' "A pat on the head and a, 'Be grateful that a fine is all you're getting.' I'll show those sanctimonious jerks!"

"Calm down, Daniel!" The Calm-Voice-Of-Reason was now in the transitional state to becoming the Calm-Voice-Of-You-Will-Shut-Up-And-Listen-To-Me.

"I'll enroll in the Hero Certification Program and THEN we'll see who 'could have gotten hurt!'" Mocked the man, the complete derision in his tone making it plain what his feelings on the subject were.

And with that statement the man had chosen his fate. For this man was in no mood to tolerate anything that the universe threw at him to block his way, and his pride was such that it wouldn't permit him to back down once he had made-up his mind.

"Don't be a damn fool!" The Calm-Voice-Of-You-Will-Shut-Up-And-Listen-To-Me was losing its calm. "You wouldn't last 3 days in the HCP competing against kids a third your age!"

"Age and experience count, woman! I could make it all the way to the top." Argued the man.

To be fair a goodly portion of it was stubbornness and the inflexibility that comes with age, but underlying that was a genuine spark of... call it curiosity. Or perhaps it would be more honest to say a mixture of curiosity and fear with a dash of anxiety thrown in for kicks. Was he over the hill? A man of his actual age should be getting close to retirement and making plans to enjoy his golden years. He should be more inclined towards a rocker than to combat training. Could he still compete on an equal footing at 60 years of age?

The 'woman' in question stood up and faced her husband squarely. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as she measured the man standing before her.

Light slanting through the kitchen windows bathed the man in the warmth of the evening sun. Of an average height at 5'10", her husband cut a handsome figure in work jeans scuffed with dirt, a tucked in button-down flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows, and a pair of leather gloves in his back pocket. Who would have thought that a man who was basically a walking fire elemental would have a green thumb?

He was not as lean and hard as he had once been when the two had first met 43 years ago, but he had not gone to fat either. Short red hair without any hint of gray waved and flickered like fire on top of a symmetrical face with a nose that was perhaps a bit too long and hazel eyes as hard as stone. She had seen those eyes express every degree of intent and reflection, she knew those eyes, and she could read them now. He would not be swayed. "Why couldn't you buy a Ferrari like everyone else?" Lillian Silvers, MD, sighed.

Daniel Silvers was confused by the last remark, but he knew his wife just as well as she knew him. As such, he knew that he had won at least part of the argument, though which part was still unclear.

"Good. I'll find the online entrance applications for Sizemore Tech in Chicag-." Daniel started.

"No." Rejected the Calm-Voice-Of-Absolute-Authority.

"No?" Questioned the man. Cautiously.

"No. Korman University. Jasmine Everill is one of my old Residents and part of the faculty at Korman. Since you are dead set on entering the HCP I will accompany you to New York."

"What? Lill, No! It's one thing for me to go get pounded to scrap every day but I will not allow you to come to harm! Not while I have anything to say of it." The man braced himself for one of their epic 'arguments,' the kind that generally required reconstruction of the house afterwards.

"I'll have to get Tomas and Jillian to take over my patients for a time. Find a condo near the University." She added to a growing mental list. "I hear the leaves in upstate New York in the autumn are absolutely enchanting. There's a lot to do. Well dear, don't just stand there gaping like a fish. Move!"

The man did not move for a good while.

"Lill, please." said the man, voice low and intent. That was all the man said, all that needed to be said.

"Oh, Daniel dear." Said the woman with a smile. "I'm not going to NY to enroll in the HCP. I'm going with you to put your fool backside back together when you come limping home each night."

Daniel Silvers studied his wife in turn. A 5'7" brunette with a toned musculature and perfect figure, the spill of her dark brown hair fell way past the small of her back, framing a kindly face of heart stopping beauty. Appearing to be in her mid 30's, ostensibly in the prime of life, but in actuality she was was a good 3 years older than him. Sex in heels and a lab coat, as he one to know; but still, her beauty was ultimately left in the dust by her intellect. A versatile healer (top of her class at Johns Hopkins University) she had a breadth and depth of knowledge in her chosen profession that was very seldom matched and a mastery that was surpassed by a number she could count on one hand. Add in an astounding business sense and it all bundled, to him, the perfect woman/wife. Though he supposed the most astounding thing was that she still loved him even after 40 years of marriage.

"Lill, I don't-" Began Daniel, but was cut off as Lillian Silvers' eyes began glowing a brilliant vermilion and the trained reflexes of 40 years of marriage kicked in all at once.

"Yes, dear."

Prologue 2

80 miles outside Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska

Sub-zero temperatures, frozen winter hell-scape, arctic tundra, hellish wind chill, lighting storms in blizzards to make you think an angry god was venting it's pent-up fury. Hell in all it's violent ferocity truly had frozen over. But not today. Today was a day for stillness and silence, and of course the nigh omni present bitter cold. Nothing stirred as a gentle breeze blew across the fields of snow and ice, except for a silver and cotton-candy-blue haired bombshell that is. In army fatigue short-shorts, pink sports bra, hiking boots, cotton-candy pink lipstick and almond shaped mismatched eyes, a sort of Lara Croft meets Candy Rocker meets color blindness. This oddity in the middle of the wilderness was aiming an extremely odd looking, and extremely large, rifle at something well beyond human sight down range.


A rifle shot shattered the stillness. A massive casing was ejected and a new round chambered with an absent flick of the shooter's fingers. After a long five count a 2' x 2' target 3.47 miles down range shivered as a custom 20mm round punched cleanly through it and kept right on going to penetrate the snow and bury itself in the frozen earth. The round hit high and to the right on the target, quite a ways from the center circle. There is a pause while the marksman readjusts.


The spent round is again ejected and a new one slides into place. Again a solid five seconds pass before another hole appears in the target at almost the exact same distance away from the center circle though down and to the left. The target is shuddering now as if physically pained. Perhaps it's not having a good day. Another pause, another readjustment.

Before the rife can speak once more the Imperial March sounds from the snowmobile behind her. Without moving anything but her right hand Katranna Graham carefully reaches up and activated a throat mike connected via bluetooth to the Sat-Phone on the machine behind her.

"What's up, mom?"

"How's target practice going, honey?"

"So So. Though I am out to almost 56-hundred meters. Not to rush this along, or anything mom, but I've not hit the bulls-eye yet and there's a storm coming in. What's up?"

"Weeeell, now I'm temped to make you wait until you come home."

*sighing eye roll*

"But I've got a very thick letter in my hand from Korman University, it came in by Teleporter earlier today along with your father's scotch. Izumi's letter should have showed up too."

Katranna felt a squeal begin in her stomach and fight to get out. "Be home in a flash!"

Pause. Deep breath. Readjust.


5.3 seconds later the bullet hit the target dead center from 5584.5 meters away.

Katranna Graham surged upright, leaping a distance of 6 and a half feet off the ground and allowed herself a single air-punch of victory before she started breaking down the bi-pod; policing her brass, of which there was an astounding number and weight; and storing supplies and unspent ammunition. When all was packed away and secured down she brushed off the snow and dirt, shouldered her odd looking long rifle and strode to her ride. As she started the snowmobile she didn't even notice the temperature gauge was holding steady at -20° C.

In the air 50 miles outside Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska

Izumi Ryoko was having fun and justifying it by... well, she wasn't really justifying it at all. Wasn't really any need to. Teleporting felt soooooo nice after all, the exhilarating rush was akin to an ecstasy high. The 5'5" eighteen year old with an asian cast to her features and long autumn colored hair, heavy thermal gear and round tinted airman's goggles was currently flying through the air at tendentious speeds. Izumi felt more alive up here than at almost any time when she was on the ground. Most would probably be afraid of smashing into the ground, but not Izumi; whenever she fell too low she would simply teleport herself higher, ramp her velocity up, then let go and enjoy. It was so intoxicating; but she needed to find Kat and tell her the amazing news about Korman, which was her reason for coming out here on the advent of storm after all.

After some time sailing through the air, doing loop-d-loops and barrel-rolls, she saw Kat skimming across the rugged terrain at breakneck speeds on her suped-up snowmobile. Bleeding momentum Izumi appeared on the track ahead of Kat, but off to one side just to be prudent. Izumi still remembered her last incident with a high-speed 'mobile, and it wasn't a pleasant memory. Pushing that thought to one side Izumi cocked a hip and stuck out her thumb in the universal hitchhiker's sign.

"Hey, Yo, Ba-by!"

Kat, startled by the familiar voice, slowed her ride, and scanned the trail ahead to see her girlfriend standing off to one side of the trail. The wide grin that appeared on Kat's visage was answered in kind by Izumi.

"Iz!" Kat brought her 'mobile to a halt, but jumped off before it had stopped moving, green and gold mismatched eyes aglow in the failing light. Jumping and grabbing Izumi, Katranna Graham bore her to the ground and proceeded to greet her girlfriend in an extremely enthusiastic fashion. Being teleported high into the sky did add a little something extra to the greeting too; Iz so did love to make Kat squeal.

When both sets of feet were firmly on the ground again they set off toward town to see if Kat had made it into Korman, the thundersnow blizzard roaring in the distance and gaining.

Prologue 3

Arrowsmith, Illinois

Daniel Silvers was not having a fun day, in fact he probably would have considered it in the top 15 most not fun days of his long life. Being insulted by administrative dipsticks in ever increasingly polite language, or being blown off as a prankster or a crazy old man who was off his medication was somewhat aggravating. Upon occasion (3 times) he had devolved into incoherent cursing while holding a phone that was very suddenly and indefinitely put on hold.

{Authors note: I know it's not accurate... or really of any importance at all... but when I picture Daniel cursing incoherently I think of Sydney from Grrl Power, page #32. Cheers to Dave for coming up with some insanely awesome incoherent cursing. Cheers!}

"Any luck, dear?" Queried his wife, her smug smile made all the more obvious for her attempt to hide it in a coffee cup. Instead of answering he set the phone receiver into it's cradle with great precision and care before picking it back up and winding the old rotary dialer to call the Korman admissions office once more.

"Korman University admissions office, this is Candis speaking." by some quirk it was the first person he had talked to when this whole marathon had started.

"Hi, Candis." Daniel replied in his most reasonable tones. "This is Daniel Silvers again. No, you CANNOT put me on hold, this is NOT a prank, I'm NOT just some crazy old man, I WOULD like to be admitted to the Hero Certification Program at Korman University and I am NOT going away until I get an acceptance letter. So either you help me or I catch the next plan out and I take it up directly with the HCP Dean. Now are you going to help me or do I have to come down there in person?"

"What time shall I tell the Dean you will be stopping by?" Was the polite response.


Korman University, NY, New York.

Duncan Steels, Dean of the HCP at Korman, was relaxing in his office and enjoying one of those vanishingly rare peaceful times in the middle of his usual 30hr work day/never ending crisis when a knock came at his door. With out opening his eyes or taking his feet off his desk he turned his head and yelled in the direction of the door.

"It's open!"

"Dean, I have a prob-. Oh, um. Would you like me to come back later?" Charles Anderson, the Head of Admissions asked.

"No, Charles, I'm just resting my eyes. Speak."

"Um, OK." Dean Steels was new to his position and many of the staff had not yet gotten used to his casual and sometimes abrupt manner. "I'm here to bring to your attention a potentially ugly situation. A man by the name of Daniel Silvers is requesting admittance to the HCP."

"Yeah? So what's the problem, you don't want to admit him?" Steels asked in a mild tone.

"No" was the curt reply.

"So find a way within the rules. His academics aren't up to par. His background check isn't clean. We have enough of the damn things, surely there must be something to sink him on."

"While he's no advance mind type he held his own in the academic testing, especially in the applied sciences, his background was clean as a whistle and none of the other rules can be bent to fit."

"So what's wrong with him that you don't want him here?"

"He's 60." That last comment finally got Dean Steels to open his eyes and put his feet on the ground.

"He's 60?" Steels wasn't sure he heard right.


"He's 60. And He wants to join the HCP?"


Dean Steels spent a long moment considering and then with a shrug leaned back in his chair with his hands laced behind his head and lifted his boots back up onto his desk. "O.k. If he wants his shot, we'll let him have it; if he can't handle the program he'll most likely wash out within the first day and the problem will take care of itself. But just to satisfy my own curiosity set up a meeting with Mr. Silvers. I want to see this guy for myself."

"He's already on his way." Charles replied with some chagrin. "One of my employees apparently thought it was a good idea to be flippant and goad him into coming here in person. She has already been talked to about this. He told her he would be taking the first plane out and will be here, at your office, at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Then my curiously will be satisfied that much sooner. I shall have to have my secretary clear my schedule."

"I don't think you have a secretary anymore, Dean Steels. She stormed out screaming 'I quit' as I came in, I also think there was something about inhumane work hours and a sexual harassment suit. It was all very garbled and, though I hesitate to add it, somewhat demonic as well."

"Ah, well then I can sleep in tomorrow. A new secretary will show up sooner or later, I may as well enjoy it while I can."

"...Sure, Dean Steels. Well. I have many demands on my time these days so I'll leave you to it." The Head of Admissions turned to the door.

"Oh, and Charles?" The Head of Admissions looked back as he was opening the door. "Thank you for informing me."

"Your welcome, Dean Steels, though I was only doing my job." and then he closed the door.

"Yeah." Was the sigh to the empty room.

Prologue 4

Undisclosed location somewhere in NY.

It had been a long night of blood, tears and supers; with money and favors changing hands on the outcome of each fight, sometimes on the outcome of each flurry of punches. The gathering was a degenerate den of money, power and dealers of all sorts of illegal merchandise assembled to watch the oldest gladiator sport, a bare knuckles anything goes fight.

Two rounds had ended with The Fox getting the worst of it but still managing to get in a few solid shots of her own. The Fox had been patient and clever making her opponent expend great quantities of energy and finally her patience was paying off as her opponent was wearing himself out and the crowd roared as The Fox moved into her opponent with very accurate jabs and straights, hooks and elbows. The man reeled a small amount to the left after a spinning back elbow clipped his temple and The Fox, thinking the fight was hers grabbed her adversary by the back of the head and, with great glee, applied her knee to his face; again, and again, and again. Her foe managed to block the last knee by the simple expedients of picking up the petite Russian and smashing her in to the concrete floor hard enough to crack it, knocking the wind out of The Fox momentarily. He knew The Fox was a canny and ruthless fighter, he'd seen it, and knew better than to give her any room to recover. Falling on his downed opponent he drove in heavy punches designed to do as much damage as possible before the round ended.

The Proprietor (no names on the job in case the Law showed up) of this little venue tonight looked around his kingdom and smiled, the money from this one show alone would see him living large for at least a year, people sure did love to see Supers beating on each other. The fight before had ended with one woman unconscious on the ground after being smashed face-first into the concrete floor 5 times by the other combatant, if that had happened to any other supers fighting tonight their head would've shattered like an egg by the third strike if not before. Now there was 5 roughly oval divots in the floor he'd have to have fixed, but that was alright, he'd be rolling in green before the night was out.

The Proprietor's gaze fell on the current fight and he frowned, the man in the ring was a new comer but was skilled and he was laying out a beating on The Fox so that made him alright in his book. The Proprietor did NOT like The Fox. She though she was too good for him, the prissy little bitch. Sooner or later she'd slip and he'd show her, in a vary painful way, that he was not a man to be trifled with. He glared out at the combatants and a thought came to him. He felt a cruel smile tug at his lips as he watched 'The Ice Bitch' finally get the treatment she deserved. The Proprietor hands moved without looking away from the satisfying sight and reset the round-buzzer to add an extra 3 minuets to the round; nobody would notice and the crowd was eating it up.

The Fox, blocking and defending herself as best she could, was waiting for the timer to buzz. She didn't know how long she had been down here eating shots that would have killed an average human. It has to buzz soon, oh dear god, it HAS to buzz soon. Her opponent landed a sold shot to her sternum. Something cracked. She couldn't get any breath! The man stopped hitting her and stood.

Thank god, the round must have ended.

The ringing in her ears was loud and the mob of screaming people drowned out all other sound as she painfully stood to stumble half-blind over to the old wooden the stool in her corner, trying to Regen as much damage as possible.

When she looked up to lock eyes with her opponent she was surprised to see he was nowhere in the ring. Looking around she found him striding through the mass of people toward the Proprietor's box, a set look on his face. The Proprietor with his little rat face and greasy hair looked puzzled and vaguely alarmed.

The hall quieted as the watching spectators realized there was a new drama unfolding before them. The man reached in to the box and grabbed the Proprietor around the neck in one hand and the round-buzzer in the other. The Proprietor struggled, beating at the man with his unimpressive fists, yelling and threatening but it did him no good as the man closed off his airway and begin retracting his arms. Dragging the Proprietor out of his box the man marched back through the milling throng with a happy smile on his face. He dragged the Proprietor to the ring and threw him over the thick dock chain to skid and roll across the concrete floor. The man set the buzzer down on his stool as he stepped over the chain; it had a little under two and a half minuets on the clock. The man then proceeded to beat the Proprietor to within an inch of his life, the crowd cheering all the way. The Fox's favorite part was when the man wound up his right leg and soccer kicked the Proprietor straight in the groin.

The buzzer rang, the man stopped, dragged the Proprietor back to his box, sat him in his chair and then came back to the ring.

With a jaunty smile he asked. "Round 4?"


"Ok, THAT was awesome. I've been wanting to do that for a long time"

Veronika Fox congratulated the man sometime later after the healer, a down and out drunk that had had a way too minor healing ability in Fox's opinion, patched both of the combatants up.

The man had just slipped on his boots and was in the process of tying them "It's all about the timing." He explained with a shrug. "The situation required that someone to kick the shit out of the Proprietor, and as no one else was doing it..." A shrug. "It was the correct response; I didn't kill him and I stopped when the clock ran out, so all's well. Fucker messed with the timer and you just don't do that, I don't care if it is a pit-fight. If you have a clock, you have a clock, and that's the end of it."

"Well, it was a good fight, even if I did lose. What your name, fella. Think I'd spar with you some, you have some interesting moves."

"No names, remember. But if you want to fight, come to Korman. I'll find you." No-name stood and walked to the rust begrimed and dented door with an absent wave over the shoulder. "Later."

"Korman, huh?" Veronika asked the empty room after the man had gone.


9 days later the entire pit-fighting origination was raided. There were mass arrests including the many of New York's wealthy and powerful in attendance. From weapons dealers and bookies to a senator and the clean up crew, all of them fell under the hammer of law and most of the trials didn't last too long either with harsh punishments enacted evenly across the board. Only two people escaped the net of justice. One was the Crime Boss of the ring, the so called Proprietor, who disappeared a week before with not even a trace or single dirty dollar left behind. Second was one lone and mysterious fighter, The Fox. As fate would have it everything known of or speculated about the mysterious pit-fighter was shuffled off into a box and promptly lost, never to be seen again.

Prologue 5

Korman University, HCP Dean's Office.

Daniel Silvers was being escorted to the HCP Dean's Office by one Candis Delacroix from Korman's admissions office; in brief she was in her late 20s, Caucasian, 5'10", slim with black hair tied into a bun, she wore square black glasses, black culottes and a white button down blouse. And she was also extremely irritated. Apparently the weight of the Dean of Admissions displeasure had fallen on the unfortunate Candis and most of the admissions' staff for embarrassing him in front of the new HCP Dean which was why Candis had been delegated as Daniel's guide.

The trip down to the Dean's Office was long, winding, and fraught with an icy silence with maybe two dozen words being exchanged between them. Just as Daniel was beginning to wonder if Candis was leading him around in circles he noticed a door unlike any he'd seen so far in this tour. Tall floor-to-ceiling French-doors stood open about 20ft down the hall, made from what appeared to be two solid slabs of frosted stained-glass six inches thick. As Daniel got closer he noticed that the doors colors slowly shifted and blended before separating again, it was at once both hypnotic and peaceful, and also slightly disturbing.

As Candis came to an abrupt stop by the glass doors she turned to face her charge. "Here you are Mr. Silvers, Dean Steel's office with 5min to spare. If you should require a guide after your meeting don't hesitate to call my extension and I will be at your service for as long as you need. Have a pleasant day." and with that she stalked off down the hall. As Daniel turned to the open doorway he noticed that she had entirely failed to provide her extension for him to call if needed and shook his head in resignation. Kids these days, and then because he was going to be a collage student again, You need to be still lady, chill out!Laughing openly at the absurdity of his own thoughts Daniel walked into the deans office.

Looking around Daniel found the office to be a generic outer office with a secretary, he was in fact a little taken aback by how generic it was give the ostentatious gate (the word 'door' didn't quite fit that aperture) that led to it. To tell the truth the only remarkable thing about the office was the secretary. He had bean around a long time and had seen his fair share of the so called "super freaks", though even he had only talked to a few, so while finding one here was a little startling he waved it away as nothing special and went to announce himself. Dressed in a bright red silk kimono with golden foxes embroidered everywhere in all manner of play, including two going at it like rabbits across her chest, with a black eye patch covering her left eye she was the most colorful thing in room (in every sense of the word), but it was the ears the stuck out (quite literately) on top of her head. Daniel noticed too a full set of business clothing hanging behind the desk on a hanger, the outfit was utterly professional and said in a rather blazing way "I'm a sophisticated and classy aide-de-camp not just some air-head of a secretary who is just here to look pretty" (40 years of listening to Lillian mutter about what an outfit 'said' had endowed him with a fair understanding of the subtle and not so subtle messages one can send with the proper ensemble). But however professional the clothes were they did no good on a hanger behind their owner. He decided not to ask.

Walking up to the secretary, who was typing away at a furious pace behind a large and extremely heavy looking desk, he expected to be greeted by a fake but professional smile and a question as to his appointment time; what he got was ignored, ignored with extreme prejudice. After a brief interval of watching her slam the keyboard with a viciousness that 'said' that she most dearly wanted a legitimate target, ANY target really, on which to vent her hatred Daniel took his fate in his own hands, cleared his throat and announced, "Hello, Ms. I'm Daniel Sil-"

"Door." Interrupting him the secretary pointed to a plain wood door to the right and went right back to slamming/typing without even looking up. Her voice was honey poured over gravel, wrapped in velvet and smoke and it sent a shiver down his spine.

Daniel waited a beat for anything else and when nothing was forthcoming turned and walked to the door. Knocking he waited for an acknowledgement and entered. The Inner office was very spars with only a few appliances and no personal touches what so ever. A 90in wide screen TV set was in to the right wall, and facing it across the room was a hi-tech computer/desk with a fully integrated holographic interface and voice command (Daniel had drooled over the one that was featured in last months Tomorrow's Science Today magazine and that unit was probably at least an order of magnitude inferior to this one) + 2 chairs (one on ether side of the desk), and a cot that was shoved up against the far wall with a full size fridge in the far left corner that was actually labeled "Beer Fridge", other than that the room was bare. The man working behind the holograms was INTENSE, there was no better way to describe him. Whatever he did he did with the whole of his being, and because of that what he did was more REAL then real, more present and lasting, with effects magnified far beyond their scope. His physical shape and profile was pushed aside by his sheer intensity and Daniel couldn't make out anything about the man. Then all of a sudden the intensity shut itself off, the computer's holograms dissolved and the man diminished to just a man again, About 6'3" or so, built, in his early 30s, his red hair was cut short, and he wore black fatigues and a fitted dark forest-green shirt.

"Daniel Silvers." Stated Duncan Steels, Dean of the Korman HCP by way of greeting; he didn't get up or offer his hand. Waving a hand to the only other chair in the room he commanded "Come, Mr. Silvers. Sit. We have much to discuss."

Daniel sat in the offered chair before beginning on opening speech he had practiced on the plane. "Thank you, Dean Steels, for allowing me this inertvi-" Daniel began but was cut off mid-word when the Dean let loose a loud bark of a laugh.

"I did not ALLOW you anything, I merely gave way to the inevitable. From what I've been told you are not one to yield to a little adversity, I'm sure you would have found your way here one way or another. And besides, I was curious see what kind of grandpa would want to sign up for the HCP." Dean Steels paused for a time looking Daniel over. "I only have one relevant question for you Mr. Silvers, and how you answer it will determine whether you are accepted into the HCP. If you attempt lie to me I'll quash your application like a tiny bug. Got it?" Steels waited for a nod from Daniel before he continued. "Why do you want to enter the HCP?"

Daniel was silent for some time. Not because he didn't have an answer, Daniel was well aware of own reasons for doing this. No, Daniel was silent because the answer sounded so odd him, even on inside his own head. But Dean Steels had been straightforward with his question and so disserved a straightforward answer. "I wish to test myself and see if I'm still relevant; see if I can still pull my weight in a young mans world. I suppose that you could say that this is my midlife crisis."

Dean Steels said was astounded; flabbergasted even. Then with another big bark of a laugh he got up and went over to the Beer Fridge. "Want a drink?"

"Thank you Dean Steels, but no." was Daniel's reply. "I'm not much of a drinker and it IS a bit early in the day."

Steels was back from the Beer Fridge with two large brown bottles and a large sheaf of papers. Twisting the caps off the bottles with an absent minded flick of a wrist he set the stack of papers and a bottle down in front of Daniel before taking a swig from his own beverage and dropping back into his chair with a contented sigh.

Daniel was surprised at the thickness of the papers as he tilted the stack in his hands and began to read. He got as far as the word 'Congratulations' that was hidden at the end of the second paragraph before realizing what it was and starting over from the top.

"It's no fun to drink alone, my friend. Perhaps you'd help me out. Old Tilman's is a fine brew, it'd be a shame to waste it."

With a half absent shrug Daniel took a sip from the bottle, his eyes never leaving the words on the paper, then did a double take as the taste hit his palate. "You know, that might be the best damn brew I've ever tasted. Certainly it's in the top 3." He said before taking a another bigger drink. "Damn that's good."

"Yeah, a buddy of mine makes it in small batches over on the West Coast. Costs a small fortune to buy even with the friends-and-family-discount but it's well worth it. "

Dean Steels set his feet up on the desk and studied Daniel. "All the information you need for the coming school year is in those papers but in brief I'm willing to let you take a shot at the HCP because well, quite frankly that's what I'm all about. It's scatter-shot, my friend. Throw everything including the kitchen sink at the wall and see what sticks. I've made some drastic changes around here, one of which is letting anyone who wants a shot at the HCP to take it, so you wont be the only older student in the ranks this year but you'll most definitely be the be the oldest. Another change I've instituted is that the starting freshmen HCP class will be twice as big as a normal freshmen class, around 140 students all told. But I expect that number to decrease rather dramatically within the first week. This year at Korman we're not offering a ramp-up period, you will come to us in top physical shape and stay above the cut off line or be shipped out; that's not something we're suppose to teach you, that's something your suppose to do on your own anyway. Any questions so far?"

"Well, three so far. What's the name of that buddy of yours? What the hell is you front door made of? And Why was your secretary dressed like that?"

Dean Steels burst out laughing

The Silvers' Condo, NY New York, 3hrs later.

"So how was the meeting dear? And could you hand me that box with the dishes please? Thank you."

Lillian and Daniel were busy unpacking the pile of boxes the movers had brought along with them and the pile was starting to get noticeably smaller.

"It was interesting anyway." Daniel answered. "The man managed to dump a great deal of information on me in only 45 minuets. There's a lot of work to do to get ready for the school year. Oh, and I found a very fine brew that even you will like. It's called Old Tilman's."

Prologue 6

Mountain Home, Idaho.

Opaline's marriage had been falling apart steadily over the last eight years as she and Terrell gradually grew apart. She had become fascinated with the world and life of a Hero and Terrell had sunk his roots ever deeper into the mundane. Lack of understanding on both sides had led to heated discussions at first as each tried explain their reasons, thoughts and feelings to the other and when that had failed to bridge the gap of understanding they had fallen to open arguments and then they'd just stopped talking about it all together, preferring to avoid the subject. They'd tried what seemed like every marriage counseling technique on the market, even the whole series of Men Are From Mars tapes, but neither Terrell nor Opaline would budge. Opaline had wanted more than anything to make Terrell understand her fascination with the Hero world but the more she was drawn toward that life the more she became a stranger to her own family, or more accurately, to her husband.

Everything had been balanced on a pin for several years until she had gotten word that Korman's HCP had thrown it's doors wide open, accepting any and all comers so long as they could pass a standard academics test to get into the university proper. It was to good of an opportunity let go.

And it also was the breaking point of her marriage.


33 year old stay at home mom Opaline Talwar had wanted to have one last night of relative peace with her Babies (six year old Labron and eight year old Aadrika) and her husband Terrell before having to catch a plane to NY in the morning, instead she got served with divorce papers by a lawyer as her husband took her Babies to his mother's.

"Terrell, you can't do this! Not this! They're my Babies! Terrell!!" Opaline shrieked past the lawyer's blocking force of two Elmore County Sheriffs. Terrell didn't even look at her as he grabbed the two kids as they'd run by him, carrying them under his arms he moved quickly out the door and out to an old blue pickup-truck in the drive way.

Hearing the calls of "Momy!" from her Babies galvanized Opaline and, turning on her heel, she'd sprinted out the kitchen door and around the side of the house to where the garden gate stood. More that half blinded by the lack of light she hadn't even slowed as she left the lighted kitchen but instead she'd sped up, dodging patio chairs, toys, and potted plants unerringly in the dark; running full tilt she'd stepped onto a large over turned clay potter, up to the top step of the step latter used to refill the bird feeder and hurdled the five foot gate using a hand to guide her up and over. She'd hit the ground running on the other side and continued to round the house hoping to see her children before Terrell could leave with them. Abruptly she skipped off to the side into the small vegetable garden to avoid a third Sheriff who had been waiting for her. Twisting even before the Sheriff had lunged at her Opaline desperately sought any opening around this huge boulder of a man who had cut off the side walkway. Turning slightly Opaline took two running strides up the side of the wall of her house and pushed off, passing over the Sheriff's bent head and shoulders to roll off his back and land hard on the ground. Scrabbling up to her feet she tried to continue to run but she wasn't fast enough off the ground and the Sheriff caught her around the shoulders and arms as she sprang up.

Struggling in the grasp of the large Sheriff she'd screamed "Terrell! Terrell, please!" Terrell continued to ignore her as he opened the drivers-side door of the old pickup truck and drove off with Aadrika and Labron. Watching the truck drive off Opaline could no longer keep her feet and, the Sheriff letting her down gently, she'd dropped to her knees in the damp grass dry-heaving.

After a time the Sheriff picked her up in his arms and quietly spoke, "Come on, ma'am. Let's get you inside."


Opaline, left in an empty house with nothing but tears and heartache, tried to find some reason to go on. Something, Anything. She was torn, she didn't know what to do. Numb inside and out she went from one room in the house to the next trying and failing to find some hint of image or knowledge of her Babies.

Opaline had become unique in all the world now that her grandmother was gone and her daughter Aadrika had yet to show the ability to see beyond the Vale. As Opaline was the only precognitive on the planet, the only legitimate Oracle, it was in her power to See beyond the Vale Of Time, the 'Talent' as her mother was want to call had been a power of her mother's line stretching back to the days before recorded history but now it was of no help to her at all.

At last, weary and sick, she curled up on Aadrika's bed and simply hurt. As she slipped her hand under her daughter's pillow she encountered a folded piece of paper. Pulling it out Opaline unfolded it and read the four sentences hastily scrawled in colored marker.

I love you! We will miss you when you go to the HCP. Come back soon. LOVE YOU MOMMY!

Opaline broke down and wept great gasping sobs. After a time the tears subsided and she fell into a dreamless sleep. Her last thoughts before dropping off were that she had to get up early to make her flight, her Babies would be disappointed in her if she didn't. Mommy's going to be a Hero, Babies. Mommy will drive back the Monsters in the Dark so you never need be afraid again. Mommy loves you, Babies!

Korman University, Student Housing C-2.

Opaline walked down a crowded hallway lugging an old fashioned army duffle bag thinking with a inward chuckle I suppose I always HAVE packed light.As she looked for the door with her room number on it, her solid 6'6" frame helped out a great deal in seeing over the crowds. She had been told that she would be rooming with three other woman in what amounted to a teeny tiny 4 bedroom apartment with only one small bathroom (Opaline had winced when she had heard that) and no kitchen. She had also been told that if she wanted to switch housing accommodations for any reason she would need to do so by the end of the week otherwise she was 'shit out of luck'. Dodging the chaotic crowds of college students in the midst of moving everything from TVs and gaming systems to potted plants, kitchen appliances and furniture up to their Dorms with grace was only slightly more trying than walking down an empty street for Opaline, though she did have to duck under a couch once that was being shouldered by two burly men. Opaline felt a curious sense of dislocation after she realized that for all their bulk the two men were actually boys and had the faces to prove it.

"Careful, lady! I don't want to run over no senior citizens." was called out as she strode under the couch and down the hall.

Opaline's sense of dislocation was added to by the fact that everybody's youthful faces and bodies stood out once she had noticed it once and that most everyone as far as the eye could see was 18 or 19 years old. Opaline had a good 15 years on some of these kids, It made her feel old, flabby and out of place. Not a good way to start out emotionally, but it's not like I had expected anything else. I'll just have to teach these puppies a thing or two about being a 'senior citizen'.

Spying her room number above an open door up ahead and to the right Opaline started off that way. Getting to the door she found three young women already in the common room and mostly unpacked, one was busy assembling a fancy glass TV stand while a large 60" flat screen leaned up against the wall, the other two were hanging curtains that were apparently made from the same fluttering snow-camo ambush-patchwork you sometimes see in sniper movies, a large pile of Chinese food containers sat on a nearby table sending their delicious aroma in to the air. Speaking to the room at large she addressed the three "Hi, I'm Opaline Talwar. I'm your fourth roommate."

***** 4 hours earlier *****

Veronika Fox, aka "Vee", had noticed that her two new roommates were very in to each other... like VERY very in to each other, and would most likely never sleep alone. She also noticed that the taller of the two love-birds apparently had absolutely no sense of color coordination but was rocking a killer cotton-candy-pink lipstick and green camo short shorts. Vee took a moment to think through the implications of these two living under the same roof as her and then set about tracing load bearing walls, those being thicker than others, to figure out which bedroom she would need. Turned out that the one that she would need was the one that Katranna "Call me Kat!" had claimed and so set about evicting her from the room with the simple and tactical expedience of moving all of her things into the room before Kat could and then deflecting the conversation/whining that followed. Bribery was judiciously applied to smooth over ruffled feelings and a suggestion that the couple make their home in the two adjoining rooms on the other side of the common-room was offered. Vee was being helpful  .

Izumi Ryoko, "Iz", above the protests of her roommates that it wasn't necessary, applied some form of mental Judo and/or Jedi-Mind-Trick in a move somewhat akin to fly-fishing and availed herself of the crush of male students and volunteered/commandeered/seduced three extremely fine male specimens to move the furniture into the correct placement as according to Feng Shui or some other mystical formula Vee didn't understand. It took about a hour to get everything just right and by the end Vee was inwardly salivating with a need for food.

As payment to the three Iz had apparently decided to go with tradition and after giving each a full-on kiss she released them back into the wild and jumped on Kat bearing her down to the couch for a makeout session that left at least one of the guys bug-eyed before Vee shoved them out the door, male complaints sounding all the way along with entreaties for phone numbers. As Vee was herding the last, and most reluctant, of the three out she had a sudden thought, went back and picked up the small, exceedingly lopsided and flimsy TV stand and pushed it at the poor guy; "Here, find somewhere to toss this." before turning him around and pushing him out the door with a hand to the back, ignoring his plaintive "Toss it where?".

It's a cold and unforgiving world, little Beefcake. Get used to it. She thought as she watched him struggle though the press. Now I have some shopping to do! Vee smiled as she went to get the keys to her heavily customized V-Rod Special. "Hay, Lipstick! You got a car?"

****** back to present *******

"Hi, I'm Opaline Talwar. I'm your fourth roommate...."

Prologue 7

Lillian Silvers clinic, NYC.

"And... TIME!" Lillian Silvers shouted at her husband. Daniel had been running flat out for an hour around the small quarter mile track under his wife's NY clinic and had even managed to keep to a 5 minute mile time though by the 30min mark he had begun to loose his physical coherency as his short red hair which had always waved and flickered like flames had had in fact become flame. By the 45min mark Daniel's body had a transparency to it that was decidedly creepy as you could actually see Elemental Fire trying to conform itself to the shape of a man with skin, bone, muscles and internal organs; but still Daniel had ran on, and at the end he wasn't even a 'he' anymore but living Fire in the basic shape of Daniel Silvers.

As Daniel heard the time-call his shape stopped moving around the track and strode over to his wife, his form flickering wildly. Lillian always had loved seeing her husband like this and a small shiver ran down her spine as his glowing white eyes lit on her body. Maybe later tonight...

"Time for weight training, dear. You've been slipping lately and you need to be in top form for the first day of class. Head over to the bonfire and recharge. After your done with the weights we'll call it a day. And remember we have dinner reservations with Jasmine at 9."

"Yes, Ma'am!" The Elemental in front of her even saluted before heading over to the weights. Lillian momentarily reflected that as Daniel didn't have a mouth or vocal cords in this form the sound of his voice always took her somewhat aback. The sound of Fire should not be auto-tuned like that. Lillian shook her head and went over to the lift in the far corner her mind already making a list of tasks that needed to be done before she started closing the building down early.

On The Way To Dinner, Somewhere In NYC. Wife Refuses To Me Tell Where.

As Daniel pulled the car up to the front doors of the restaurant he understood why Lill had made him were the pinstripe Brioni suit and Testoni's Moro monk-strap loafers that she had gotten him for Christmas 3 years ago. They apparently they had dinner reservations at Gabriella's, THE MOST ostentatious upscale restaurant to be found in NYC... or the continental US.

As Daniel shifted the car into park and set the emergency brake a trio of sharply dressed valets stepped forward to help the Silvers' out of the car. As the sole female in the group helped Lillian out of the passenger side door and onto her feet the taller of two men held the door for Daniel as he got out while the last shorter man, not wanting to crowed the arriving VIP guests, stood off a little distance to the side.

Walking around the car Daniel gave his wife a brief but passionate kiss and offered her his arm with a suave little bow. Lill Looked magnificent in the newest Manolo Blahnik 5in heels and Shimmer-Cloth dress. The shifting colors of the Shimmer-cloth, continuously moving in slow rippling patterns, could hypnotize the observer all by itself but Daniel was only interested in the woman inside the dress. And the heels. The heels can stay on too. To drag his mind out of the gutter Daniel thought of how much the dress had cost. THAT was a splash of ice cold water. It had cost as much as his suite and shoes combined and then some, he shivered internally at the amount that their bank account had decreased by when he had it commissioned last year as a Valentine present.

Lill, accepting his arm, laughed and returned the kiss before they turned and strolled over to the chauffeur who had remained a little off to the side and the woman who had joined him after assisting Lillian on to her feet. Never having been comfortable in such overblown clothing Daniel still managed to carried it off well; strolling, with Lill on his arm, over to the waiting attendants with a practiced poise that had taken him YEARS to learn. Give me a sturdy pair of blue jeans, flannel shirt and work boots any day. But, 'Needs must went the devil drives'... or one's wife.

"Welcome to the Celestial Gardens, Mr. and Mrs. Silvers. If you would be so kind as to follow us?" Queried the waiting attendant as the taller man, still by the car, gently set his hand on the roof of the vehicle and disappeared in a warping of the air. Setting off the two led Daniel and Lillian into a massive front lobby where they were met by an older gentlemen that had the unmistakable air of a majordomo; you could tell as he had his head shoved so far up his ass that there was little to no chance of it ever being removed without the assistance of industrial excavation equipment and maybe a couple of the train-sized drills they use to bore out subway tunnels.

"Mr. Silvers, Mrs. Silvers. Welcome to the Celestial Gardens. My name is Travis Myers. I will be your servitor this evening. This way if you please, we're ready for you. Jasmine Everill has already arrived and is awaiting you on the top floor." The man even sounded British.

As they traversed the lobby on the way to the extremely ornate lifts they passed by fantastical sculptures of marble, onyx, jade and opal. Off to their right was a white marble sundial with two Ancient Greeks in flowing robes standing proudly in the middle of the dial'. In the prime of life the two Greeks stood back to back, man to woman, their shoulders thrown back and heads raised in the epitome of nobility, power and grace. As they passed the massive sundial their eyes where drawn to a 15ftX30ft dragon carved out of one solid mass of opal. I didn't think there was that much opal in the entire world. With the 30ft wingspan it looked very real, real enough to come alive and breath fire.

"The decor here is amazing, Mr. Myers." Lillian commented absently As they were setting off toward the open sided lift that would take them up to the top floor.

"Yes, it is glorious isn't it? Every item and material in and of this building is unique and priceless, constructed by teams of artisan supers." Myers beamed at Lillian as he warmed to his subject. "But as impressive as the lobby is you should see some of the mid-level floors Mrs. Sivers! Forest glades; trees, bushes, and wildlife; all with something stunning and unique about them. Living trees with growing metallic leaves of gold, silver or bronze. Bushes with gemstones of an identical color and shape to the berries and nuts inlaid into the in branches to sparkle. Moon-Gardens and Wildflower Fields! On the 60th floor there is a tree where if you eat it's plum sized fruit it will make your lips, eyes and fingernails glow. The effect lasts for only about an hour or so but isn't it marvelous what modern science can achieve? The Misses, god rest her soul, would have loved this place. Ah, well. Here we are."

As Myers had been waxing poetic they had arrived at the lifts and the door swung open. Bowing his two VIP's into the lift his manner changed again, shifting back into his 'servitor mode'. The ride up was quiet.

As the lift doors slid open Daniel didn't notice any huge statues or fancy trees or even a stray flower which was weird, just a shiny black floor and spacious rectangular table with a whiter-than-white tablecloth and three vary comfortable looking chairs stationed around it with a diamond chandelier floating over head on invisible wires. The large open room was nothing compared to the lobby or what Myers had described so why was this room the Top Floor? As Daniel stepped out of the lift he got his answer and also found out why it was called the 'Celestial' Garden. Stepping on to the black floor he glanced down and an overwhelming sense of vertigo hit him as he was looking down at a void with nothing between his feet and him falling into the blackness between stars. Mastering himself with an effort of will Daniel forced himself to look, acknowledge and accept what his eyes and mind where telling him and ignore his stomach. Of coarse it's not outer space, you would already be dead if it were. It's an illusion. A very, very incredibly good one but still only an illusion.

"Oh, Daniel. It's beautiful!" Lillian whispered. She had stepped forward off the lift when he did but while he had looked down she was looking up. And as Daniel turned his eyes to fallow hers he found himself gazing upward at the entire Milky-Way Galaxy as it ponderously turned in a ancient, ancient dance out among the blackness.

"Yes, it is, isn't it? I never tire of looking at it myself." A new voice materialize from beside the table and Jasmine Everill stepped forward dramatically and then ran to hug her old friend and teacher. "It so good to see you again Lill! What's it been? Five years and you haven't aged a day! But then again, you wouldn't would you? And Daniel, you keeping this old granny out of trouble?" Jasmine absently reached out an arm and pulled Daniel in to a crushing hug with the other two before squealing. "Group Hug!!"

Most of the air having been squeezed from his lunges Daniel whispered, "Jasmine! I can't breath!"

Jasmine instantly let go at Daniel's rasped plea and then had to gently grip Lillian around the arms again as she was a little light headed from lack of air. "I'm sorry, old friend. I work around some of the strongest people around and I've gotten used to them being a great deal tougher than an average person, it won't happen again. Come let's sit down and eat. And Daniel, off campus it's Jazz. I expect you to remember that."

Lill found her voice as they were lowering her into one of the plush high backed chairs around the table and she immediately tore in to Jazz using The-Calm-Voice-Of-Reason-That-Is-Extremely-Annoyed, "Jasmine, I swear, I don't know how you manage to treat ANYONE without injuring them further. You could have smothered me you Ox. Did I not teach you any control while you were my Resident? Well?"

As the tirade continued Jazz looked ever more despondent as she took her seat on the other side of the table until at last she murmured "Yes, Ma'am." she was saved by the arrival of the first course of food... maybe feast was a better term.

As plates, silverware and numerous platters of delicacies where set down gently on the table Daniel took a moment to study Jazz as he took his own seat. He had known Jasmine years ago but only through Lillian and never all that well, they had exchanged a few words now and again at the odd social gathering, work dinner or party but that was about it. She appeared much the same now as she did then; with the natural tan of her South American heritage she was small, maybe 5foot even, thin and strong way beyond the bounds of her exceedingly feminine frame. She was a little older maybe, and had perhaps a few more lines under her eyes, but that little-girl spark and mischievous glint in her eye that he had marked in the past had not dimmed in the slightest but was there in full measure.

"So Jazz, how did you come to be working at Korman?" Daniel asked in an effort to get the conversation rolling in a safe direction while he still had the opportunity.

As the servers disappeared Travis Myers stepped forward, having acquired a long black cape from somewhere, and Daniel gave a start having forgotten about the man. "Miss. Everill, Mrs. Silvers, Mr. Silvers. Welcome to The Celestial Garden." He announced with in a full bodied voice and a flourish of his cape. It seemed to echo from star to star and made you aware of the void under foot and the immense and majestic sight above. "I will be your Servitor this evening. Would everyone care for a drink?" ...

Chapter 1

HCP Underground Facility, Korman University, NYC. Day 1.

The first day of the Fall Quarter had been a hectic day for everyone on campus, including one Daniel Silvers, and it wasn't half over yet.

After getting up at 4:30am Daniel was out the door around 6 and arrived on campus, after a 45min cab ride, just in time to pick up his various student ID, authorization cards, and full biometric data imprints before heading off to his first class of the day.

Over the years Daniel had become accustomed to knowing what he was about on a day-to-day basis; the order of tasks that needed to be accomplished, the time allocated to them and the correcting responses to all the myriad things that could and would go wrong had become routine in his life and required little actual thought. But this new environment had him severely off his stride, he couldn't remember the last time he'd actually had to take NOTES in a classroom. Maybe I should have spent more time acclimating to school life than on physical training.

After a math class that left his head stuffed full of numbers it was 12:17 exactly and time to head underground for the HCP introduction ceremony and his first HCP class. Since Daniel didn't live in the dorms on campus he made his way to the concealed lift in back of, as far as Daniel could make out, a random conference room on the second floor of the science building. Stepping off the lift Daniel found himself in a wide hallway decorated with 50 or so different colored, ruler straight stripes all along the floor and walls.

"I guess those are guiding lines." Daniel muttered

A high pitched voice sounded from right behind him, "Right you are Mr D." Daniel jumped 3 feet in the air. Whirling around he saw a blond haired young woman doubled over in gales of gut busting laughter behind him. After a bit the blond straightened and wiped her eyes and held out a business card sized piece of paper.

"Oh! Ye Gods and Little Fishes'! I LOVE doing that! Names' Christa. Here's your number card. Follow the green line till' the end and have a seat. Don't dawdle, the Freshmen Intro is about to start."

Unsure how to respond Daniel took the paper square and glimpsed at it. It was as Christa the blond had said and had the number 140 printed on it and nothing else. Then a sudden though occurred to him.

"Hay, how did you know my..." he looked up and Christa was simply gone. "name?"

Well, you wanted to be in the HCP didn't you? With a shake of his head Daniel stared down the hall following the slim green line and in no time at all caught up with the tail end of the rest of the freshmen class as they filed into a large open lecture hall with a dais and podium at the front. Three people were sitting behind the podium in standard stackable conference chairs talking to each other in low voices.

Glancing around as he entered Daniel noticed that the students had congregated into 3 distinct groups. On the left side of the room, and by far the largest group, were traditional students; in different clothes and styles, yes, but instantly recognizable as yuppie collage kids. In the middle were a smaller group of older, more distinguished individuals in professional wear; slacks and skirts, dress shirts and blouses, ties and scarves. The last group on the right was made up of a very few lean hard eyed souls who had planted their backs firmly against the wall and left themselves plenty of personal space. Seeing a open seat in the back of the second group Daniel took a seat as a familiar shape stepped behind the podium.

"OK. Quiet down. Quiet down." clearing his throat he continued. "Welcome Freshmen, to the Hero Certification Program. To save a bunch of time and to avoid a lot of boring chit chat later my name is Duncan Steels, I'm the Head Dean of Korman's HCP as well as one of your three freshmen combat coaches. You can call me Dean Steels or Coach. And You... are all Fresh-Meat." Dean Steels announced with a wide evil smile. "There are one hundred and forty seven of you here in this Class and by the end of the day I'm expecting that number to drop by a full third. By the end of tomorrow it will drop by another third. Hopefully these next two days will serve to jettison those of you who thought you could just skate on by with your untrained abilities and charming personality. This Program is expecting more of you than that and you will give it everything you are if you wish to stay.

This first testing will also determine you rankings; note your number card. At each testing site you will insert your card into the reader and at the end of the session you will receive your new ranking. I promise you the testing WILL be brutal, some of you may even be seriously injured. But not to worry," the smile became further twisted, sending a shiver down the spines of some of the students. "This school has some excellent doctors." Clapping his hands sharply the Dean barked out, "Now! As your schedules say that your Ethics class starts in three days you will be here, right here, until you are finished with the days allotment of testing or you ring one of the bells that are being set up inside the testing areas. Note: if you ring the bell you are signaling that you give up. Anyone who rings the bell WILL be sent packing, there are no second chances. That is very important so I will say it again."

"There. Are. No. Second. Chances." Dean Steels paused and looked out at the students, his expression grim.

"Now I will introduce to you your second combat coach, Coach Elizabeth Walker." A woman on the right of Steels stood and walked over to the podium. She was half Dean Steels height and had an angular body, she had a green Mohawk and was dressed out in punk rocker chic in black leather with multiple piercings and tattoos, one of which was an Eye of Horus tattooed in the middle of her forehead . The heavily reinforced spiked collar and the vambraces on her arms stood out as items that had seen combat, worn and dented as they were.

"Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen." her voice was surprisingly sweet. "I'm Coach Walker and it will be my job in the year to come to remake you. Your Mind, Your Will must be reforged and tempered if you are to survive the stresses of combat. I will push you to your braking point again and again. You will learn your limits and you will surpass them. Thank you."

As Coach Walker stepped back to her seat you could have heard a pin drop in the hall it was so silent. Daniel took a look around the room to see how everyone was taking it. The group of teens off to his right were looking a little bit shell shocked, some among them were pale with fear and looked about to be sick. Though a group about half way to the front looked especially determined. They stood out even more so to Daniel because there was an older woman had chosen to sit with them instead. The older rank and file around him seemed to be pretty even keeled about it all, maybe a little grimmer, but even keeled all the same. We all knew what we were getting into and we stepped into this with our eyes open. No illusions for us.

Surprisingly the small group of hard eyed men and woman showed no outward sign of anxiety or fear, just a natural wariness and calculating eyes.

Dean Steels Stepped back to the podium. "Thank you Coach Walker. And now your third and final Combat Coach, the leader of our Healers' Cadre, Professor Jasmine Everill."

Daniel was stunned; Jazz was to be one of their combat coaches?

"Welcome, Freshmen. You may call me Coach or Healer Everill. I will be responsible for your auxiliary and non-standard training. That means that while Dean Silvers teaches you how to fight head-on and Coach Walker retrains your emotional reflexes, I will be teaching you new ways of thinking, new ways of using your abilities and rudimentary tactics. Those who fight must also think. Thank you."

Dean Steels stepped up to the podium as Jasmine paced back to her seat. "And Now lets see who survives the day. Along the wall outside there will be a purple stripe, please follow it to the first testing area. And don't forget to hit the locker rooms on the way."

There was a general hubbub as the students got up grabbed their gear and made their way to the door.

Daniel was one of the first out the door and so was one of the first to the testing area which consisted of a half mile circler track and lots of weight machines. Now this was familiar ground. At the door entrance was a card slot on one side and a brass bell with a baseball bat next to it. After everyone was gathered Coaches Walker and Everill told everyone to put their card into the slot and start running.

"You MUST keep a five minuet mile time or you will be shipped out!"

--------3 hours later---------

Daniel was exhausted and running on empty. After the hour run they had done an hour of power lifting and then an hour of using their powers full blast and now Coach Walker had stuffed him into a huge white room with a bell by the door, which had slammed shut the moment he had cleared the door way, and a red button on a pedestal in the middle of the room. As Daniel looked around he realized that the floor, walls and ceiling were made of white tiles roughly 2feet by 2feet across.

"Push The Button." The mechanical came from some overhead speaker.

"It can't be that easy." Daniel muttered and as he hesitated the voice came again.

"Push The Button."

With a shrug Daniel took a single step and that's when the room changed as tiles shifted elevation, some dropping twenty feet down and others climbing 5, 10 feet up. There was still a clear path to the button though.

"I knew I wasn't going to be that easy." and that's when the bottom of the room began to quickly flood with water.

"Push The Button."

------outside Mach-Test Room 15-------

Jazz, who had seen Daniel walking into MT-15 10 minuets ago, went over to Coach Walker who was leaning against the door to the MT room with her eyes closed.

"How's he doing in there?"

"He's putting on quite the performance, I must say. But he's doing well over all. And Lord but that man knows a hell of a lot of cuss words. Oh my! I think I'm going to write that one down."

"I'll go call Lillian and tell her she can pick him up in two hours." Jazz sounded morose. "Hopefully she wont scold me again."

"Best of luck, Girlfriend. I've herd Lillian Silvers can be more ornery than Kodiak Grizzly with a sore paw.