Chapter 4

                The uniform hung in her locker just like the ones in all the years previous. In terms of cut, there were slight differences, as her body was still growing and changing from year to year, but these were relatively minor alterations. On the whole, it was indistinguishable from the uniforms she’d donned previously. Except, of course, for its color.

                “I honestly wasn’t sure the day would ever come that I’d wear a white one.” Alice slowly pulled the uniform out of her locker, cradling it as if it were made of glass, instead of incredibly durable woven fibers. HCP uniforms were built to take punishment, a necessity to keep them from being replaced after nearly every class. Around her, the other senior women in the combination showers and changing room were taking out their own uniforms as well. Three years they’d all been working toward this, and now that the moment had arrived no one was entirely sure how to feel about it. All they knew was that the uniforms felt heavier than they’d expected.

                “It’s weird, right?” Violet added. “I mean, since getting here we’ve always looked at the people in the white uniforms as the all-stars, the people who definitely had their shit together. Sort of figured by the time I got my hands on one I’d feel a little more sure of myself.”

                “Perhaps we only saw them as confident due to our own insecurities,” Mary said. “Try and remember how it felt being a freshman. As uncertain as you are about what this year holds, is it even remotely close to that feeling?”

                Britney Ferguson chuckled to herself and she began to remove the uniform jacket from the pants. “Holy shit no. I thought I was going to be out on my ass before the first day was over. Much as I love my power, I was shocked they allowed a girl with just invisibility into the program.”

                “Oh, and having the power to sing made me feel like such an unstoppable champion,” Selena Wilkins added.

                “Sound is more powerful than most people think,” Amber Dixon said quickly. “Besides, you two both kicked ass as soon as the first real test came around, so it was real clear from early on you both belonged here.”

                “Maybe it’s just easier to see the strength in others than what lies in ourselves,” Camille Belden said, her voice much louder than it would have been freshman year. While by no means a pushy or aggressive person, Camille no longer forced herself to fade into the background as she once had. Having come to peace with the fact that her life would be living in the public eye, she’d fought her shyness just as hard as she’d pushed against her physical limitations.

                “Or maybe it’s easier because we’ve all kicked the shit out of each other at one point or another, so we know how strong everyone is,” Jill Murray pointed out. Unlike the others, she had moved away from her locker only seconds after snagging her uniform. It was located next to one that now had no owner, but who in previous years had seen a speedy girl with pink streaks in her hair removing uniforms.

                Sasha’s absence hung heavy through the room, felt by all and commented on by none. They knew she was missing, but they’d all mourned her in their months away. This wasn’t the time for more tears. If they wanted her loss to mean something, this was the time to get back to work.

                “Are we going to be overseeing matches?” The thought slipped out of Alice’s mouth as quickly as it popped into her head, but she didn’t mind. Here, she could speak freely amidst others who also knew what it was to wonder about the path ahead. “You know, since we had seniors watching ours first year?”

                “Dean Blaine will probably address it at the assembly,” Britney replied. “But my guess would be yes. There’s a lot of freshmen, and only so many professors. Plus the newbies don’t get to meet any of the teachers outside Professor Fletcher and Professor Pendleton.”

                “Ah yes, the first year coaches.” Jill tilted her head, thinking back to the horrendous, grueling workouts they’d endured at the start of the HCP. “Is it insensitive to say that I’m a little envious Alice and Mary actually got to punch that son of a bitch?”

                “Just a touch,” Mary replied.

                “From what I’ve seen, Professor Fletcher isn’t any nicer, though he does yell less.” Violet finished slipping on the last piece of her uniform and buckled it into place. It fit her just the same as her gray ones had, yet when wrapped around her it felt completely alien. “Much as it sucks, all that training does get results. Any one of us could smoke a freshman workout now.”

                “Which is why we get harder ones.” Alice buckled her jacket into place and ran a hand down the edges of her pants to smooth them out. “Worse every year. I can hardly wait to see what they’ve got in store for us as seniors.”

                “We’ll probably have to just spend all of gym fighting Sims,” Violet speculated. “Or the professors. Oooh, or Sims and the professors, mutated together into some mechanical monstrosity that can breathe fire and eat powers.”

                “Violet and I may have caught the monster movie marathon that was playing last night,” Jill said, more in reply to the strange looks her housemate was getting than to the actual words Violet spoke.

                Mary finished donning her uniform, then did a quick scan to make sure all the others were done as well. Camille was the last, slipping her boots on hurriedly and buckling them tight against her feet.

                “Whatever it might be, I assume we’ll be getting some hints soon. Time to head out for the first assembly of the year. And remember, keep your heads high and walk with confidence. The freshmen are going to be watching us.”

                The other women nodded, they hadn’t needed the reminder but it was nice to have. After everything that had happened to Lander, it was their job to seem as their seniors had: indomitable bastions of power with no fear or doubt. The younger ones needed to see that, needed to believe they could become that.

                Even if it was a false image, it was still an important one.