Though fliers would have been a bit excessive, as the crowd for Friday’s match began gathering one had to wonder if such circulars had indeed been disseminated to the Lander junior class. Nearly every student was in attendance to watch the battle between the top combatant of their class against the senior king of the hill. Word had actually spread, not through advertisement, but rather by simple word of mouth. Shane DeSoto had been particularly talkative, making sure every acquaintance he had, regardless of how casual, was there to see the spectacle. Chad had taken the whole ordeal with his usual level of detachment, giving nods of understanding to those wishing him luck, but otherwise ignoring the fact that other people seemed so interested in his match.
Angela, on the other hand, had taken to it with relish, high-fiving everyone and practicing her victory poses. No one who knew her was particularly surprised, neither by the confidence nor the antics. As the moment drew near and the juniors stared down at her from the viewing area, she hardly seemed like she was about to go into a fight at all. While Chad was stretching and limbering up, she was blowing kisses to the crowd. The few seniors who were scattered among the juniors in the viewing area understood what their younger classmates did not: Angela was not someone whose demeanor was an indicator of how serious she took something. She hadn’t risen to the top of their class through charm or trickery. She’d done it by being undeniably strong.
“This will be a good one,” Violet said, nose all but pressed against the glass. She, Thomas, Vince, Alex, and Will were all bunched together in a space near the south side of the glass. This was a room designed to accommodate large groups, so the viewing window ran the entire length of the ceiling, each wall topped off by a sheet of reinforced clear material that allowed people to peer in. These five had arrived together due to fortuitous scheduling and grabbed a spacious section in which to camp before the crush of people arrived. Normally Camille would have been with them; however, she’d been tasked as the on-site healer, and so was looking on from some unseen location below in case she was needed in a hurry.
“I’m inclined to agree,” Thomas said. “Though I know of Angela’s reputation, I’ve never actually seen her ability in use. Or, at all, come to think of it.”
“It’s not like we have classes with her or anything,” Vince pointed out.
“Maybe there’s still time to find Shane and ask what it is?” Alex suggested.
“Screw that,” Violet said. “I’d rather just wait and see it in action. Must be something really awesome to have made her the number one for all her years here. Maybe she grows really tall.”
“I think that would just give Chad the advantage of speed and maneuverability,” Vince said. “I’d wager its closer to something like yours, one that allows for an extremely powerful defense but also has versatile offensive power.”
“Mine doesn’t stack up well against Chad; making myself ultra-dense slows me too much to hit him. Thomas’s power would have a better shot,” Violet said.
“I confess, I have wanted to test myself against him now that my own skills have matured,” Thomas admitted. “But I think this will be illuminating to see both of them in action. Chad’s fights usually resolve very quickly. Watching him in a protracted battle will be interesting.”
This same conversation, or at least reasonable facsimiles of it, echoed throughout the room, each clustered group discussing the merits of what they knew about each fighter and how they believed they’d stack up in pitted combat. Such interest was not due to overactive self-involvement; rather it was an unnoticed side-effect of years in the HCP. These students were beginning to see everything in terms of a trial, and how they would overcome it. That very mindset is part of why these students still wore the HCP uniforms while others had returned to normal clothes.
Amidst the chatter and speculation, few noticed when Angela switched over to waving and Chad finished his stretches. The two took ready stances on opposite sides of their room, waiting for the signal to begin tearing one another apart.
* * *
“I hope you wore your big girl panties, because when I’m done with you you’ll have shit all over them.”
Chad was surprised, though not truly taken aback, by the sudden words.
Angela let out a long, protracted sigh. “It’s trash-talk. You know, running your mouth, talking shit, getting in the other guy’s head.”
“Ah, you mean a pre-emptive psychological attack meant to undermine my confidence and hinder my performance,” Chad realized. “Cunning. In that case, I intend to defeat you in less time that it takes me to mix a drink.”
“Not great, but at least you’re trying,” Angela complimented. “I’m going to make you cry like a five year old girl who got knocked off her bike on the day her mother left the family.”
“Extensive,” Chad said. “Why the specification of girl, though? Wouldn’t a male cry just as hard in that situation?”
“Just how these things work,” Angela explained. “Calling a dude a girl is emasculating, meant to make him feel weak and inferior.”
“I know far too many strong women for that to be an effective tactic,” Chad replied.
“Well aren’t you a good one,” Angela said. “Fine, I’m going to beat you like a toddler in a wolverine fight.”
“You will feel more distress than if you were trapped on an airplane during its landing approach and suddenly suffered an unstoppable bowel movement.”
“Explain,” Angela demanded.
“During landing approach one is not allowed to leave their seat for any reason. Not even sudden bowel movements that won’t be stopped.”
Angela had to admit, that scenario probably would fill her with a noticeable amount of distress. “Going for the poop joke huh? I’m not surprised. After all, you do suck assholes. Competitively.”
Before Chad could grope around for a reply, the hidden speakers crackled to life.
“Students, prepare yourselves, the match will begin in ten seconds.”
“Did I succeed in undermining your confidence?” Chad asked, lowering his stance slightly and shifting his foot back.
“Not even a little bit,” Angela replied, sliding her own body counterclockwise so that only her side was facing him. She knew Chad was fast; giving him as little target area as possible was going to be key.
“I am glad to hear that,” Chad said. “Fighting anything less than your best effort is a loathsome idea to me.”
“Then boy howdy, are you in for a treat,” Angela shot back, accompanying her statement with a wink. Her eye had barely reopened before the crackle of the speaker filled the room once more.
“Students, begin your match!”