Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport sat at Dean Blaine’s desk, looking across the sleek mahogany surface at his unapologetic scowl. The lights in Dean Blaine’s office were fluorescent and bright, like a compromise between high beams and lamps. The décor was stark, with little more than a diploma and a few awards adorning the four walls around them. Mr. Transport had a vaguely uncomfortable feeling but was unsure how to place it. Mr. Numbers, on the other hand, had been something of a hellion during his younger days and knew immediately why this sensation was both unenjoyable and familiar. It felt almost exactly as if he was once again fourteen years old and sitting in the principal’s office, trying desperately to figure which crime he had been discovered at.
“When I agreed to host your students,” Dean Blaine began at last. “I did so with the understanding that these were unfortunate children who were being provided with an opportunity to get some measure of control in their otherwise hectic lives. These were Powereds that had been spurned by fate and society alike, yet now that they could actually use their abilities, they wanted to become Heroes and give something back to the world. That was the way your organization pitched them, correct?”
Mr. Numbers cleared his throat. “Well, we aren’t really consulted in matters of marketing and diplomacy, but I will admit that does sound like something our company would say.”
“Regardless of who said it, you two are the representatives that I have at hand, so you are going to have to be answerable for your company as a whole,” Dean Blaine said. “Which brings me to why I called you down here to my office.” He slid a piece of paper onto the smooth polished surface of his desk. “Would one of you like to guess what that is?”
Mr. Transport took the paper first, since he had the longer arms and could reach. “It appears to be a ranking of the freshman female students entering your program,” Mr. Transport said after a quick glance.
“Correct,” Dean Blaine agreed. “Now will you read for me the first name on that list?”
“Mary Smith,” Mr. Transport said. He was very thankful he had worked so hard for long at keeping all emotions, including surprise, out of his voice when needed.
“You nailed it,” Dean Blaine said with a very out-of-place smile. “Now, for the last question. Can you please explain to me how a girl who had almost no control over her abilities until a few months ago managed to wipe the floor with every other freshman we put her up against?”
“In all fairness, just because she won doesn’t mean she wiped the floor with them,” Mr. Numbers jumped in.
“I saw her last fight, which was coincidentally her longest, myself,” Dean Blaine said. “It lasted all of twenty two seconds and was against a girl who transformed into solid steel.”
“How did Mary beat that?” Mr. Numbers asked with genuine interest.
“She forced her opponent halfway through the concrete wall, face first. We were forced to remove the girl before she suffocated,” Dean Blaine explained.
“Given their respective powers, that seems like the best method she had,” Mr. Transport said.
“Oh, the strategy was sound, no one could question that,” Dean Blaine acknowledged. “The problem is that no girl her age should be able to generate that much telekinetic force, let alone one whose abilities have been fully-functioning for only a few months. Forcing a human being made of steel through several inches of concrete at point-blank range is a feat that only those who have been training for decades are able to pull off. There are certified Heroes that couldn’t have managed to accomplish that so effortlessly.”
“So, if I am to understand you, you’re concerned about why Mary is so much stronger than she should be,” Mr. Numbers said carefully. He desperately wished he had his usual calculations running through his head so he could jump ahead of the conversation, but unfortunately around Dean Blaine that was impossible.
“I am concerned that you did more than just help these children!” Dean Blaine exclaimed as he rose from his seat. “I am concerned that perhaps your company, under the guise of feeling sorry for these dregs of the world, decided that they wouldn’t just give the kids control, they would amplify the children’s powers a bit. After all, they’ve already agreed to be guinea pigs, why not run them through every experimental procedure you’ve got?”
From the way the dean was panting and gesturing it was very apparent to both Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport how much harm the dean believed a little extra testing could do.
“I can assure you that is not the case,” Mr. Numbers said. “Even if the doctors and nurses were not heavily monitored during the children’s treatment, which they were, the company has never successfully found a way to amplify a person’s natural abilities, Super or Powered.”
“Until a few months ago I was under the impression that no one had ever found a way to turn Powereds into Supers, so you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical of your assurances on the lack of existing technology,” Dean Blaine said. He did seem a bit pacified, though, at least enough to retake his seat.
“Be that as it may, it is the truth,” Mr. Numbers said. “All our company did was give Mary the ability to control the power she already had. Perhaps it was just that she was born with a very strong ability and is only now learning to use it.”
“It is... possible,” Dean Blaine conceded. “And for the girl’s sake, I hope that’s the truth of it.”
“What do you mean?” Mr. Transport said, a bit more harshness to his voice than he wanted. The dean wouldn’t notice, and Mr. Numbers would scold him for tipping his hand even slightly, but he couldn’t help it. Mr. Transport had been put here to control but also to protect the students in his dorm. Responding with harshness to a perceived threat was a natural reaction. As it turned out, though, it was an unwarranted one.
“I mean that for a girl that young to be that powerful there are only two options... if one discounts the possibility of outside enhancers,” Dean Blaine said, not without some suspicion lingering in his voice.
“Which we are,” Mr. Numbers replied without missing a beat.
“Yes... Anyway, the only ways she could be that strong are if she was born with a tremendous gift or if she put herself through an unimaginably hellish training,” Dean Blaine said.
“What sort of training?” Mr. Transport asked.
“Well, most telekinetics are also telepaths. Something to do with the part of the brain that gets the power,” Dean Blaine said. “Anyway, many of those with the advanced mind ability train up their telekinesis by learning to sharpen their focus. The better they can focus, the more power they can use and the faster it comes. One of the more popular methods of training is to open up their telepathy as much as they can bear and try to function constantly under the barrage of voices. It helps them learn to focus on tasks at hand and blot out the ambient noise that’s always assaulting them.”
“Interesting,” Mr. Numbers said, praying silently that Mr. Transport wasn’t giving anything away on his face. “I had never heard of that.”
“You wouldn’t have,” Dean Blaine said. “It’s really only something you know of if your job is training Supers day in and day out.”
“So, some of the more powerful ones must be able to blot out a lot of noise,” Mr. Numbers said casually. “What’s the most you’ve heard of someone being able to function with?”
“Well, of course I don’t know what all of them do, but the best I’ve personally witnessed was a Hero who could still function while hearing all the thoughts around him in a three mile radius,” Dean Blaine said. “He’s a top notch one, too, can do some amazing things with that brain of his.”
Neither Mr. Transport nor Mr. Numbers responded. At that moment they had glanced at each other and were having another of their standard silent conversations. There wasn’t much to say in the way of details, merely a subtle sense of panic and surprise. Unbeknownst to Dean Blaine, the company Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport worked for had done a similar radius test on Mary in their pre-program evaluation.
Mary’s range was five miles, and she was able to function perfectly normally while listening to all of that in a populated city.
Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport quickly excused themselves.