Monday, as the freshmen finished their first two hours of gym, the combat class began heading toward the stairs while the alternative class moved to the empty side of the room. This had been their pattern since the new system began, so it was a surprise when Coach George moved between himself and the doorway to the stairwell, instead waving the students back.
“Not today, you little eager beavers,” Coach George said. “Line up with the alternative class.”
The students exchanged a few confused glances, but by this point Coach George’s most important lesson (Do what you’re freaking told and shut up) was starting to stick. They jogged over and lined up alongside the rest of the class.
“Today we’ll be introducing you to another kind of training, this one useful to Supers of all types,” Coach Persephone said once everyone was in place. “We’re going to work on ranged techniques. Expect to do this about once a week, though the exact day will be changed as George and I deem necessary.”
“Now,” Coach George said, stepping forward and taking over. “Some of you have powers that lend themselves to ranged attacks, some of you have powers that will lend themselves to it with a little teaching, and some of you have jack shit in that department. We’ll be splitting you into three-man teams based of which of these groups you fall into and getting you going in shooting range rooms. We won’t be supervising much, because this part is really simple. There will be targets. You will shoot said targets. New targets will lower, rinse and repeat until we come for you. Get into your teams as I call your names.”
The class barely had time to glance at their friends before Coach George’s barking voice filled the air.
“Smith, Griffen, Riley!”
Mary, Alex, and Adam all hustled toward the area and stood in a trio.
“Reynolds, Dixon, Wells!”
“Campbell, Reid, Weaver!”
And so it went until everyone had been crammed into a three-man unit, after which the coaches led them down the stairwell to a new level. This one looked like nothing so much as a honeycomb of rooms. At each room a team was deposited with the same instruction: “Find the weapon that works best for you, shoot as many targets as you can, don’t stop until we come get you. You’re being watched.”
The rooms were stocked like a riot control officer’s wet dream. All variety of pistols loaded with rubber bullets, shotguns equipped with beanbag rounds, even a net cannon leaning in the corner. There were weapons of more lethal force as well, everything from throwing knives to hatchets. Most curious were the items that seemed to have no place in these rooms at all, like the sack of steel ball bearings or the roll of cloth bandages.
As for the targets, they amounted to what seemed like a very in-depth, well-funded carnie game. The targets popped out periodically from a shifting spectrum of cardboard buildings that acted as cover. The lights would pulse when a shooting session had commenced, alternating between blinding flashes and utter darkness. There would be minute-long breaks between these periods when reloading was expected to occur. The situation as a whole was frustrating, annoying, and left most of the students with a headache that would persist for the remainder of the day. The exercise bore fruit, though, as some discovered they had talent in this new form of battle, while others were finally able to showcase the skills they’d already developed.
* * *
“Booyah!” Allen yelled, a bolt of green energy leaping forth from his hand and exploding against the cardboard cutout of a shadowy villain. Small burning chunks rained down on where the poor target had once stood, the only remnants of an inanimate object taken before its time.
“Not bad,” Amber admitted, stepping up to the front. “But still amateur hour. Watch how it’s done.” Amber closed her eyes and raised both hands, her middle fingers pressed against her thumbs. Her lips pursed and a low, almost undetectable whistle leaked out. The lights could flash all they wanted; Amber didn’t need her eyes to make these shots.
From Vince’s perspective, what happened next was inexplicable. Amber was still for a moment, then she began snapping her fingers on both hands. With each snap another target, often barely emerged from its cover, would explode into pieces. The lights stopped flashing after a mere twenty seconds of this, presumably because the system had to load more cutouts for them to shoot at.
“Wow,” Vince said. He’d assumed he would be paired with other Supers sporting ranged abilities, but he hadn’t imagined he’d see anything like that.
“Respectable,” Allen said grudgingly.
“Thank you, thank you,” Amber said, opening her eyes and taking a few bows. She then glanced back at the wreckage that remained from her assault. “Sorry about that, Vince, didn’t mean to hog your turn.”
“I think it’ll be okay,” Vince said. “I’m sure there’s plenty more where that came from. I have to ask, how did you do that?”
“Ranged is sort of my thing,” Amber said excitedly. “I control sound waves, and those can be deadly, even over a distance.”
“Hang on,” Allen said, stepping up. “You’re telling you did all that with sound? I call bullshit, I didn’t even hear anything.”
“Of course you didn’t hear anything, Dumb-dumb,” Amber said. “When I snapped my fingers, it generated a sound wave. I amplified and focused that wave on whatever target I wanted to blow up.”
“Then we should have a really loud noise if you were amplifying it,” Allen pointed out.
This time it was Vince who corrected him.
“Sounds don’t work that way. What we perceive as ‘hearing’ is a wave coming in contact with our ear drum. If she was sending the whole wave to an individual spot then there wouldn’t have been anything left to reach us.”
“Very good, Vince,” Amber said. “You hit it right on the head.”
“I still don’t think I get it,” Allen said.
The lights began to flash once more.
“I can explain after class,” Amber offered graciously. “Right now I think it’s Vince’s turn to blow some shit up.”
“Um, thanks,” Vince said uncertainly. He had drained quite a few lighters recently, but he had a suspicion that if he didn’t finally use the electricity Coach George had mandated, he would be lectured about it at very loud volumes. Besides, this actually was a good learning opportunity. Up until now he’d just been absorbing from the battery, then recharging it at the end of class since powers had been off limits during close combat. Vince already knew how to shoot fire; today he could see how good he was with lightning.
Vince stepped up to the center area where the others had shot from. The lights started pulsing and shadowy targets began to emerge and retract. Vince took a deep breath. Fire was wild, always aching to be let out. Shooting it wasn’t hard, all you really had to do was take aim and let it run free. He figured electricity was pretty similar in a lot of ways, so his best bet was to try the same methods he’d developed for fire.
Vince focused on one of the center targets and raised his right hand. What happened next was pieced together by the remaining film footage, accounts from Amber and Allen, and analysis of what remained from the shooting area.
The consensus was that Vince raised his hand, and what sprang from it was something that resembled a tree made of light. The initial bolt of lightning got halfway to its target before several other bolts arced off it, heading in different directions. From those more bolts arced off, and so on and so on. This all happened in less than half a second, so to the mundane eye it merely appeared as if Vince had conjured a massive blast of lighting going in nearly all forward directions (it was exceptionally fortunate that Amber and Allen were behind him) that struck simultaneously the target, the cardboard buildings, the walls, and nearly every instrument that moved the cutouts, arcing through their wiring and into the power grid for the room.
In the localized power outage that followed, dimly lit by the burning remains of a few cardboard husks, it was agreed on all accounts that only a single word was spoken in response, and that it was spoken by Vincent Reynolds.