“I’m really not sure how comfortable I am with this,” Mary said.
“I’ll tell you, if I were in your shoes I’d feel the same,” Coach George agreed with her. “But this is the guy’s power, and we’re here to train everyone.”
“I’ll be right here the whole time,” Adam pointed out. “And I’ll turn back before we leave, so you can see everything I do and make sure it’s all on the up and up.”
“Still...” Mary said once more. She wasn’t just dragging her feet on this one out of concern of what Adam would do while occupying a duplicate of her body. It also scared her because she didn’t know entirely how his ability worked, and if he would duplicate her as she was now, or how she was before the procedure. Not to mention the fact that giving him access to her telepathy, even briefly, could easily unravel the secret of herself and the other Melbrook students. In short, there were just too many ways this could go wrong.
“Here’s the deal: he’s a boy and you’re a girl, so legally I can’t force you to allow him to mimic you,” Coach George said. “This is part of training mimics and absorbers, though, so try not to let your squeamishness have a negative effect on the learning opportunities of another student.”
“He could mimic me first,” Alex offered. “It doesn’t bother me.”
“Appreciated, Griffen, but we want to start him of learning how to control a... more traditional form of telekinesis,” Coach George said, skirting the issue. Griffen was a fine Super: George wasn’t going to go telling the kid he was a few macaroons short of cookie bouquet just because he needed to perceive his ability in a different light. Coach George was a results man, not one to get bogged down in the details.
“No, it’s okay,” Mary said with a sigh. Yes, it would be taking some significant risks, but she and the others had never really expected their secret would endure all four years. It had simply been nice to enjoy being like everyone else while it lasted. She couldn’t start letting it affect the training of others. They were here to learn how to be Heroes, after all. Every little piece of knowledge furthered that goal and it wasn’t her place to withhold such a thing from another student.
Mary extended her arm slowly. Adam gently took her hand in his and focused for a moment. There was a soft tingle where his skin touched hers, and then Adam began to ripple as his bones and skin shifted. In mere moments, Mary was looking at an exact duplicate of herself, albeit with an oversized uniform since Adam normally had several inches on her.
Adam-Mary’s eyes popped open, revealing identical amber irises, and gave Mary a smile. “I won’t take too long,” Adam-Mary promised.
Hearing her own voice out loud was such an unnerving experience that Mary almost hopped backward. Instead she marshaled herself and regained control. She placed some vacant, training-based thoughts at the forefront of her mind and returned the smile.
“Good luck,” Mary wished her doppelganger.
“With power like yours, I doubt I’ll need it,” replied Adam-Mary.
* * *
“That... that was just awful,” Coach Persephone said as Nick lowered his pistol. “You actually managed to miss everything. By sheer chance alone you should have at least hit a building.”
“Yes, thank you, we get the point. I’m a bad shot,” Nick said, trudging back to the side and tossing his pistol in the pile.
“Bad shot? No, you are beyond a bad shot. You are a statistical anomaly of awful,” Coach Persephone said.
“Maybe he was just nervous,” Rich suggested generously. Gilbert, on the other hand, just beamed a giant smile as Nick was read the riot act. It wasn’t very nice, he’d freely admit that, but Gilbert was still a bit sore at being punched and eliminated by Nick in the mid-term exam.
Coach Persephone raised her eyebrows. “Is that it? Would you like to blame your nerves, Nick?”
Nick shook his head. “Just a bad shot. We can’t all be good at everything.”
Coach Persephone stared at him for a moment longer, then turned her attention to the other two. “Right then. Well, I can only spend so much time with your team before I move onto the next one. Gilbert, wipe that grin off your face and let’s see what you can do.”
“No prob,” Gilbert said. He pulled a revolver from the pile and comfortably twirled it down the length of his finger. “I’ve been shooting since I was ten.”
“I’m far less concerned with how long you’ve been shooting than I am with how much you’ve been hitting,” Coach Persephone said.
* * *
“Not too shabby,” Coach George said as Adam-Mary sent ball bearings through the center of yet another target. “You’re getting the hang of it.”
Adam-Mary had been going for around ten minutes and was getting a healthy competence with telekinesis. He had nowhere near the subtlety or precision a real user could produce, of course, but mentally hurling objects at high speeds was proving to be within his wheelhouse.
“That will do it on the girl,” Coach George announced as the flashing lights stabilized. “Time to try Alex.”
Adam-Mary nodded understanding and shifted back into just Adam.
“That does not stop being creepy, does it?” Alex asked.
“I’ve been told that no, it does not," Adam admitted.
“At least you’re honest,” Alex said with a sigh, holding out his hand.
While Adam took Alex’s hand and began to shift into another person’s form, Mary let out the breath she’d been holding for several minutes. It looked like everything had gone over fine. She’d kept any shocking secret thoughts out of her head and Adam had turned into a perfectly-functioning version of her. As Mary relaxed, she realized just how much effort it was to be on mental guard around someone constantly. She’d experienced this secondhand while listening in on people’s thoughts, but living it for one’s self was a whole other story.
Adam-Alex had finished his new shift and was back in front of the target range. The lights began to pulse, the targets began to move, and then... nothing happened. Adam-Alex looked confused at first, then frustrated, and after a few more seconds a vein began to bulge in his forehead as his face grew redder. The lights eventually stabilized once more to find Adam-Alex staring intently at one of the hatchets, concentrating with all of his might, and finding absolutely zero success in moving it.
“I don’t get it,” Adam-Alex said at last, turning away from the instrument. “I was able to use her power fine, what’s wrong with yours?”
Rather than answer outright, Alex stepped over to Adam-Alex and began whispering in his ear. The words were hurried and soft, but Mary was positive she made out the word “force” somewhere in there.
“You’re joking,” Adam-Alex said, staring at Alex.
Alex shook his head.
Adam-Alex looked over at Coach George, who did nothing more than shrug. The lights began to flicker once more, and Alex stepped away from the central area.
“What do you have to lose?” Alex asked as he resumed his former position.
Adam-Alex kept his eyes trained on Alex for a moment, then, with a ‘what the fuck’ roll of his shoulders, placed his attention back on the hatchet.
Seconds later it whirled through the air, slicing neatly through a nearby target and wedging itself in the wall.
“I’ll be damned,” Adam-Alex said to no one in particular.
* * *
“Again? You missed everything again? At this point I’m forced to assume that you are doing this on purpose,” Coach Persephone said.
“Oh yeah, because you railing on me for sucking is just my idea of an awesome day. Maybe next we can do the thing where you nerve stun me. You know, really put some icing on this cake,” Nick snapped back.
Gilbert and Rich stepped back involuntarily. They’d both done fine on their firing rounds; however, they weren’t entirely convinced that Nick’s poor aim and back talk wouldn’t result in a burst of ass-kicking that would find them twitching as collateral damage.
Coach Persephone felt a great temptation to oblige Nick’s request; however, she had been at this job for a long time and acquired many useful teaching tools. One of those was not beating the students unconscious every time she was provoked. Another was knowing when to take away an actor’s audience.
“Gilbert and Rich, go take a walk. Come back in ten minutes. I want to have a private discussion with Nick about the importance of a positive attitude,” Coach Persephone said.
The words were barely out of her mouth when the other two boys finished bolting through the door. She couldn’t help but smile a bit inwardly. After all these years she could still put the fear of God in her students when needed. Most of them, anyway.
“Okay, Nick,” she said, softening her tone. “Let’s talk, you and I. I understand that you aren’t an exceptional shot, but why aren’t you even trying?”
Nick raised an eyebrow. “How do you know I’m not?”
“Nick, your power is luck. Even if you were to do nothing more than shut your eyes, use your ability, and pull the trigger, you’d likely have at least a decent hit ratio. For you to miss every shot means you’re not even putting forth that minimal amount of effort.”
“Look, and I say this as respectfully as possible, I’m here to learn. And I mean that: I’m here to become as skilled and powerful as I can be. I’m not here to learn how to shoot people, though,” Nick said sincerely.
Coach Persephone found herself genuinely surprised. She’d dealt with all kinds of attitude from Nick since she began working with him, yet she hadn’t found anything like this yet. The boy didn’t want to hurt people, so much so that he was refusing to learn a skill that could be turned toward lethal ends. It was a poor hang-up for a prospective Hero to have, yet it was one she respected all the same.
“Listen, I understand where you’re coming from. There’s a lot of pain and needless death in the world already. It can seem wrong that we’re teaching those of you who are supposed to lessen those things how to kill. It bothered me when I first joined the HCP. What you need to come to terms with is that Heroes are defenders of the innocent from the wicked, and much as we wish otherwise, sometimes the bad guys just refuse to stop until they’re dead. It’s a harsh reality, I know. It’s one you’ll have to deal with eventually, though,” Coach Persephone said, funneling as much understanding as she was capable of into her voice.
Nick cocked his head for a second, then let out something between a sigh and a snort.
“I think we just had a misunderstanding,” he said.
“Oh?” Coach Persephone asked.
The lights began to pulse once more, indicating another firing round was nearly upon them.
Rather than stand with her, Nick walked over to the shooting area. From a nearby bin he drew a pair of medium-sized pistols, one in each hand. He sized up the weapons, testing their weight and balance in the time it took to raise them. What followed next was, unbeknownst to anyone in the room, a near repeat of Amber’s stunt minutes prior. While Nick’s shots didn't take every target, they did hit most of them dead center. The sounds of gunshots echoed off the small wall in a nearly continuous report until both clips were spent.
With a cold detachment and movements slick as an ice cube left on the kitchen counter, Nick finished off the last of his bullets and slid the guns back onto the table. He strode back over to Coach Persephone, whose mouth was slightly ajar.
“I’m not here to learn how to shoot, because I’ve been doing it since I was three. I was taught to be ambidextrous, to fire on the run, and to draw at speeds that made sure mine was the first shot off. Add in the fact that I can dose my rounds with a healthy burst of good luck and you understand why my bullets so often find their target. I was missing because I don’t particularly like to broadcast that fact. It raises too many questions, and I hope you’ll respect my privacy,” Nick said simply. “If you have anything you think you can impart me to on being a better shot, I’ll be glad to listen. Otherwise I’m going to go work on an area where I actually need improvement.”
“Dismissed, for now,” Coach Persephone said, her voice still recovering a bit from the surprise. “For next week's ranged training session we'll be graduating you to a more advanced shooting range.”
Nick gave a nod of understanding and stepped out the door.