Chapter 78

“This is some kind of trick, right?” Roy asked as the rest of the students stared uncertainly at Coach George.

“Not at all, Daniels. This is part of the learning experience,” Coach George said.

“What exactly are we supposed to learn?” Sasha ventured to ask.

“Respect. Not the kind that makes you say ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’, the kind that lets you trust implicitly that I know what I’m doing. This class will be far more lucrative for you all if you do as I tell you, when I tell you.”

“Of course we will, you’re our teacher,” Jill assured him.

“Some of you will,” Coach George agreed. “Some of you need to really know you should, though. Need to know it in a visceral way, a way that can only come by having the man you’re learning from best you in a fight. I’m not condemning that fact, I’m acknowledging it for what it is and getting it addressed right here and now. Nobody has to fight me, and there won’t be punishment for anyone who does. Just ask yourself this simple question: can you one hundred percent trust the battle instructions of a teacher you haven’t tested firsthand? If so, then fine; if not, then let’s fix that problem.”

There was a brief silence after Coach George finished, broken almost immediately by Roy’s deep, confident voice.

“Oh I have so got dibs on first.”

*          *          *

“The first step is understanding exactly what it is your power does,” Coach Persephone instructed her students. “This is also the last step, because it is a step that never truly becomes accomplished. Trying to define the miraculous is a capital enterprise in futility. Still, we can improve our understanding, and from there we gain strength.”

Nick leaned over and whispered to Alice, “If I cough the words ‘hippie bullshit’ you think anyone will notice?”

“Shush!” Alice snapped at him.

“Nick Campbell,” Coach Persephone said without turning to face him. “Do you have a problem with my instructions?”

“Yeah, look, not to stir the pot or anything, but what about people like me? I mean, hell, I don’t even know how my power works really, let alone have a clue on how to understand it,” Nick told her, stepping forward from the line.

“You manipulate probability,” Coach Persephone said.

“Probabilily,” Nick said, grinning slightly.

“That is somewhat abstract, I’ll give you. If you want my honest advice, though, and not just an opportunity to show the class how you can make a bad joke from a common word, I would tell you experimentation is the key,” Coach Persephone said. “Start trying to do things with your power you haven’t done before. As you find things that work and things that don’t, you will grow closer to understanding the mechanics behind your ability.”

“Ah, great idea. Thanks, teach,” Nick said, retaking his place beside Alice.

“Nick Campbell, walk over here right now,” Coach Persephone told him.

“What’d I do? I asked a question,” Nick began protesting.

“Just walk over here, young man,” she reiterated.

Nick let out an exaggerated sigh and began slowly schlepping toward his teacher. It wasn’t far, maybe thirty feet at the max, and yet he only made it halfway. Once there, Nick proceeded to jerk his head back, twitch slightly, and collapse onto the ground.

*          *          *

“Anyone else?” Coach George asked. Scattered around him were the bruised and often unconscious figures of several freshmen students, Roy, Stella, Michael, and Sasha among them. The ground in the area was now cracked, and in several places there were scorch marks burned into the surface. Most changed of all in the scenery, though, was Coach George himself. Coach George was a shifter it seemed, one of the more common types of Supers, especially of those who specialized in combat. Coach George was a bit extra special, though, for while shifters like Hershel turned into Roy, or the sophomore Ben had turned into a lizardman, Coach George turned into something different.

“So is he technically a robot or a cyborg?” Vince asked Jill, one of the evidently more intelligent students who had opted to decline Coach George’s challenge.

“You’d probably have to ask my brother on that one. I can’t really connect with him the way I do other machines, though, so my money is for cyborg,” Jill replied.

Coach George had shifted into a man of metal, but unlike Stella, he was a more functional model. His eyes seemed to act as scanners, and several times he had blasted a charging student with a weapon from his body. His favorites seemed to be the energy guns that came out of his forearms.

“It looks we’re done here then,” Coach George told them, turning back into his human form. His pants and shirt were ripped and singed in a few places, but the skin he showed had no injury of any kind.

“When we’re done, someone go grab the healer girl to clean up in here, but first I want to say something. Pay attention, those of you on the floor who can still hear. Today was an important lesson: it taught you what failure is, some of you for the first time. For others it was one you’ve had before but could stand a little repeating. I meant what I said, though: I don’t hold it against you that you needed to test my mettle. I did the same thing to my coach when I was in your spot, and my ass wound up on that same floor. So listen close, kiddos, because this is the part that matters. Today I taught you how to lose, so that starting Monday I can teach you how to win. Come ready to hurt and ready to learn. Class dismissed.”

“Well, that was pretty horrifying to watch,” Thomas said, walking over to Vince and Alex.

“Agreed,” Alex said. “I say we hit the showers, go get dinner, and try very hard to forget what we’re coming back to on Monday.”

“I’ll catch up with you guys,” Vince said. “Somebody still needs to go get Camille.”

“I can do that, we’re somewhat friends after all,” Thomas volunteered.

Vince waved him off. “Don’t worry about it. I still owe her a thanks from Halloween anyway.”

“Very well,” Thomas said. “At least she should be free. It’s not like anyone in the alternative training class will need healing.”

*          *          *

“If you’re wondering why you can’t move, it’s because I’ve scrambled the receptors to your nervous system,” Coach Persephone explained to Nick’s twitching, collapsed form. “I’m not targeting any of the automated parts like heart and breathing, so you’ll be fine when I stop. Although, you might be a bit twitchy for a few hours.”

“How are you doing that?” Tiffani Hunt asked from the line.

“As a child, I always seemed to be able to turn people’s moods with ease. Eventually it was diagnosed that I was a Super, though at the time we all believed I had a minor ability to influence people’s minds. In an effort to understand my power, I did exactly what I told Nick here to do: I experimented with new things I’d never tried to before. Most failed, but some didn’t, and eventually I made a fascinating discovery,” Coach Persephone said, walking the rest of the way over to Nick and staring down at him.

“I learned I didn’t have power over the mind, I had the ability to, at will, create, emit, and direct pheromones of all types. At first I was disappointed, thinking the mind power to be more useful. My time at Lander taught me otherwise, though. I learned there are all sorts of things that pheromones influence and control. Did you know there are even some that can disrupt the nervous system?”

Nick made a slight gurgling sound from his place on the floor.

“Your homework over the weekend is to try one new way to use your power. Failure or success is irrelevant, I only demand that you try. Dismissed,” Coach Persephone told them. With that she turned and began heading back toward the exit.

Camille began moving toward Nick’s pitiful form to administer some help, but the sound of her name being called in a familiar voice pulled her attention away rapidly.

“Hey, Camille!” Vince yelled, jogging over from the entrance to the gym.

Camille took very deep, very rapid, very unsuccessful steadying breaths. She’d known this was going to happen eventually. It was unavoidable: he was just the kind of guy who had to thank anyone who’d given him aid.

“Coach George sent me up here,” Vince explained once he reached her. “He did kind of a number of our combat class and a lot of the guys could use some healing. Do you mind?”

Camille shook her head no and began to hurry past him toward where she was needed, but he stepped in front of her before she made it.

“One more thing. I just wanted to say thank you for helping me on Halloween. You guys really pulled me out of a tight spot there, and I don’t know what I would have done without you. So thank you, a lot.”

“No problem,” Camille squeaked, flushing bright red and bustling past him toward the door. To her credit she didn’t break into a full on sprint until she was out of the gym and on her way to the lower floor. Her heart was racing and her breathing was more erratic than a drunken bull runner’s, but she slowly got both back under control. It looked like he didn’t remember, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. It made things easier, though, and that was something.

Upstairs, Vince was quite uncertain how, but he had a strange feeling he’d offended the girl he meant to thank. Added onto the tingle in his brain that there was something familiar about her, Vince had no idea what to make of the small female. Instead he wandered over to the circle of fellow students watching with amusement as Nick slowly regained control of his limbs.