The reaction in the viewing room was overall impressed, although no one seemed particularly shocked by the outcome. Even for those who hadn’t already known Chad’s history, the moment he announced himself as “Intra” most were able to put the pieces together. For the son of a former Hero, especially one coming from Lander’s rumored Class of Nightmares, winning the first match was almost expected. There were a few whispers about the display he’d put on among the other classes, however. The blinding speed he’d shown off for a few seconds was the sort of display that left an impression, and many a student was trying to puzzle out how they’d overcome such a technique.
For her part, Alice was pretty wowed by the showing that Brenda had given. The way her clones had worked in unison was marvelous to watch, and spoke to an incredible level of control and coordination. Julia had never even come close to showing that amount of skill, if she had then there was a very real chance she’d still be enrolled at the HCP, if not fighting at Intramurals. From a technical perspective, it was fascinating, but Alice was also taking a real-world lesson from the fight: knowing someone’s power didn’t mean she’d be aware of everything they could do with it. That was important to keep in mind, even more so as the matches went on and the other students showed their stuff. There was always the potential for a hidden angle, an ace held up a sleeve until the finals. She couldn’t afford to let herself to be caught off guard, not if she wanted to show them all what Subtlety students were capable of.
Victor had just finished drawing the location for the second match, a rainy mock-parking lot, when Alice felt a brief tap on her shoulder. She spun around to find Dean Blaine looking down at her. “You’re in our number two slot, which means you’ll be fighting next against a representative from Overton. Time to head down to the prep room.”
Unbidden, Alice’s eyes darted to the screen, where she knew another fight would soon be taking place. Much as she wanted to stay and collect information, this was part of the challenge. Besides, there were bound to be whispers after the fight, just like people were mumbling about Chad, so she’d probably be able to pick up a little if she kept her ears open.
“I’m against Overton, huh? Anything I should know about their school in general?”
Dean Blaine carefully lifted his eyebrows with practiced grace. “Are you actually trying to pump me for information?”
“Not specifics. Just wondering if there are any rumors. Like how I’d bet most of the other students know the nickname our class got saddled with.”
With a shake of his head, Dean Blaine pointed to the hallway door. “There are days when your relation to Sean is more pronounced than others, and I’m not sure I mean that as a compliment.”
“That’s okay; I’m going to choose to take it as one.” She gave a small wave and then turned toward the door. “Don’t worry; I’ll make sure you’ve got good news to pass along to him. I bet being stuck in the gym is driving him crazy.”
* * *
“Everything looks good.” Dr. Moran was checking Chad over, despite his assurances that he was healed and fine, while two more people in crisp white uniforms did the same. Mary stood off to the side, doing her best to stay out of the way as Chad was carefully, clinically, evaluated.
A woman with dark hair and eyes that were a tad too blue to be mistaken as normal pressed her hand against Chad’s forehead. “No lingering psychic trauma that I can sense, although to be honest I’m not getting much of anything from him at all.”
“Chad’s brain doesn’t work on the same frequency as most of ours; his thoughts and feelings don’t broadcast.” Mary threw the information out quickly and concisely, retreating to her corner as soon as it was done. Perhaps she could have been more involved in the procedure, but she was still getting comfortable in her new role as Dr. Moran’s student and didn’t want to overstep any bounds so soon.
The woman closed her eyes and strained for a few seconds longer before giving up and lowering her hand. “Seems to be accurate. Dr. Hass, would you like to weigh in?”
Dr. Haas, the only other male in the room, hunkered down to stare into Chad’s eyes. They stayed locked like that for nearly ten seconds before Dr. Haas looked away. “He’s fine, Dr. Villegas. Doesn’t look shaken at all. Can’t say I’m surprised after a mere tussle like that. This one has seen far worse.”
“I don’t love that we can’t do a proper mental screening, but if Dr. Haas says he’s okay then I’m willing to go with it. Dr. Moran, how about you? He’s from your school, you know the student better than the rest of us.”
“If anyone is interested, I do feel fine.” Chad didn’t seem like he expected anyone to care much about his opinion, he was just tossing it out for the sake of trying.
Dr. Moran finished looking over Chad’s back and shoulders before giving a firm nod. “I’m interested, Chad. You tend to be very skilled at self-analysis, and I agree with Dr. Haas, you’ve seen far worse battles than that match. Judgement on both physical and mental stability is that Chad Taylor has fully healed and is ready to continue.” Reaching over, she grabbed the coat of Chad’s uniform and tossed it to him. “Go ahead and get ready, I’m sure you’ll want to watch the other matches until it’s your turn again.”
Doing as he was told, Chad slipped his shirt and coat back on, then headed out the nearest door, giving Mary a brief smile as he made his way out. Once he was gone, another door opened, this one showing more people in white, as well as a woman still half-dressed in battle armor.
“Miss Sellers, if you're done being healed we can proceed with your examination,” Dr. Villegas called.
Brenda trudged her way in, no longer in pain yet far from fully-recovered from her bout. “Do I even need one? It’s not like I’m going to be fighting anymore today.” There was no mistaking the bitterness in her voice for anything else, though Mary tried hard to pretend she didn’t notice.
“Of course you need one, keeping up with your health after a battle is very much a part of being a Hero,” Dr. Villegas told her. “All of this, today’s events, are just a game played for fun and bragging rights. Learning to take your post-battle check-ups seriously, on the other hand, is an important lesson we expect you to take with you into the Hero world.”
“If I even make the cut. I really thought I had a shot at going all the way, but I couldn’t even get past my first opponent. I’ll be lucky to graduate after that showing.”
Dr. Moran stepped slightly forward, getting the attention of the room. “Mary, correct me if I’m wrong, but during the time you were enrolled in the HCP you were widely considered to be the second-strongest in the class after Chad, correct?”
“I didn’t pay much attention to rankings, but I was usually around there,” Mary confirmed.
“And how many times did you defeat Chad Taylor?”
“Not once. In fact, I don’t think I even lasted as long as Brenda did.” That part probably wasn’t completely true, but Mary could see what Dr. Moran was doing. “He’s been at the top of the class since freshman year, and with good reason. There’s no shame at all in losing to Chad.”
Brenda was staring at them both as she hopped up onto the examination table. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“It is just a fact, do with it what you will,” Dr. Moran replied.
Despite the tough words, Mary could hear Brenda’s thoughts taking on a lighter tone already, and she scratched down a few notes. There was a lot more to dealing with Heroes than just patching their wounds, and Mary was determined to learn as much as she could. One day, she’d be the person they were leaning on in moments much tougher than this, and she’d damn well better be ready for it.