“Good morning to you all,” Dean Blaine greeted, his strong voice rebounding off the gym’s walls and crashing into the twenty-seven students clustered before him. Gathered around them were their six professors, standing at strategic points as though they were anticipating a sudden stampede toward the exit. It had happened before.
“Today is the final team match of your sophomore year, and it will also serve as the examination for entrance into the junior class. Of those gathered today, at best only twenty will be returning. I encourage you to do your best, for the sake of yourself and those who share a team number with you. After today teams will cease to exist; however, I hope you will all remember this experience, and understand the importance of trusting, depending on, and working with other Supers. It is our greatest advantage over the criminal element, and one we should utilize at every opportunity. Captains, raise your hands!”
Four hands went up, some higher than others, but all without an instant of hesitation. Chad’s outstretched fingers were the tallest, and if any lingering worries or neurosis from last week’s revelation remained in him they were certainly not discernible in the blonde boy’s steely gaze. Four of the professors, Stone, Hill, Cole, and Fletcher, moved through the crowd and deposited an object in each of the raised hands.
“Your instructors are currently handing you each a single orb with your team number inscribed in it. That orb will remain in your possession until the match begins,” Dean Blaine continued. “Once we start, you are free to give it to anyone on your team that you see fit. You will all be dropped at various locations in the arena. Your goal is to get that orb to a depository at its center. Finding it will not be difficult, I assure you of that much.”
The captains were turning the orbs around in their hands, examining them. Each was cold and metallic, with a single digit carved into the smooth surface.
“There will be no traps or obstacles, save for the natural terrain, blocking you from the goal. The challenge you will face is much greater. It is each other. The depository will be indeed easy to find; however, it will also only be open for five minutes, occurring exactly two hours after the match begins. Any orbs not placed inside before the deadline will not be counted. Additionally, placing any ball in the depository will gain your team five points, whether it belongs to you or another team.”
There was a murmur of understanding that rippled through them. Dean Blaine greatly preferred the students he dealt with once they reached this point. They’d been through enough that hand-holding during explanations was required far less often.
“I see you already understand what that means. I would like to remind you that your professors and I will be watching, and that use of intentionally deadly force will lead to a student’s immediate disqualification. Such a ruling would not bode well for their evaluation on entrance into next year’s class. Keep it civil, and do your best. You have five minutes before we leave for the arena.”
The crowd, already gathered close to their teams, immediately split off to separate corners of the gym. It wouldn’t stop people like Chad and Amber from overhearing their words, or Alex and Mary from listening to their thoughts, but it was still an ingrained habit to create distance when discussing sensitive issues.
“Seven card stud?” Mary asked Nick as soon as Team One had all arrived in the southwestern section of the gym.
Nick scratched his head. “That might be for the best. Optimum coverage and all.” They’d developed a few terms for their strategies the night before in preparation of being overheard. Without knowing what they were facing, it was better to have at least a couple of pre-arranged strategies in their hip pocket. Seven card stud was all of them going off on their own, five card draw was five respective teams, Roy, Alice, and Alex all going off on their own. Hearts would have meant they defaulted to the same pairs as the first match, and Fifty-Two Pickup meant they were fucked and had to think of something on the fly.
It took Nick a minute to figure out who had said that, he was so unaccustomed to hearing the voice speak without prompting. Camille was staring up at him - in fairness she’d have had to stare up to look any of her team in the eye - with an uncompromising gaze.
“Don’t like that one?”
“I don’t. I think it spreads us too thin. We’re better with at least a few pairs.”
“I see,” Nick said, resisting the urge to tug down his sunglasses and meet her stare. “There are dangers to that plan, too. Are you fully prepared for everything that it might entail?”
“Completely.” If there was any doubt or fear in her, Nick couldn’t find it. Still, it never hurt to double check. He glanced over at Mary, who gave him a firm nod. If between himself and a telepath they couldn’t sense any hesitation in her to do what was necessary, then it either wasn’t there or she had a tremendous career ahead of her in espionage.
“Fine; Camille raises a relevant concern. We don’t want to get caught with our pants down on this one. Five card draw.”
“Who holds the orb?” Vince asked.
“We’ll figure that out once we’re in the arena, or at least far enough from people who can overhear us,” Mary informed him. “Our team is the only one that can keep the element of surprise, so I have no intention of wasting it.”
“Nicely said,” Nick concurred. “Okay, folks, that hits the high points, the rest is self-explanatory. Mary will figure out who has the orbs. Hunt for those people, avoid everyone else. Oh, and one more thing.” He leaned in, inciting them to do the same. It wouldn’t do anything to damper those who could hear them, but it would put emphasis on his words. That was what mattered right now. He scanned the team as he spoke, but made sure to let his concealed gaze fall on Alice, Vince, and Camille especially.
“This is our last team match. Hold nothing back. Leave everything out there. All the games, and dances, and careful tricks we’ve used through the year have officially come to an end. Give it everything you’ve got, and let the chips fall where they may.”