Mishaps, Maimings, and Midterms!
Teresa Montez wore an extremely smug expression of satisfaction as she made her way out of the HCP combat area. Six weeks of challenges since the initial combat rankings, six successful defenses of her eleventh rank in the program. Today's success against Ken Kaufman had shown the petite hispanic woman that some of the students in the HCP really did not seem to study what their opponents were capable of. A reflector like Ken would have been a hellish matchup for Lisa, the diminutive asian girl who currently held the tenth rank, as her ability set centered entirely around elemental attacks. Teresa had simply teleported across the room to her opponent, then teleported the heavily built man approximately fifteen feet into the air and let him fall. After letting him hit the ground she merely inquired if he wanted to go again. He had declined.
Settling into the lounge area leading out of the underground facility Teresa was quite proud to note that her match had been so brief she hadn't even required a shower afterwards. On the negative side she probably had quite a bit of time to kill waiting for the other matches to finish so that she could get to work with her team on the Ethics project. The Dean had made it clear that there was no official midterm in Ethics of Heroism, however in the test taking spirit their ongoing presentation projects would get quite a bit more time midterms week, with each class session for the five day period devoted to two groups presenting and defending their case before the class. Thinking of her group's composition brought a brief frown to the hispanic girl's face. It was a bit more of a challenge to determine how your group would react as if they were Heroes in the field when half the group represented an ability that had yet to be IN the field officially. As if summoned by her thoughts she noted the jaunty approach of a short, bespectacled redhead wearing an impressive grin.
"23!" Tara Warren greeted Teresa with a cheer as she declared her successful improvement in rank, catching the slightly smaller girl completely off guard with a glomping hug followed by a short involuntary dance that finally drew laughter from Teresa as it helped to restore her earlier mood.
"I suppose we should go meet up with Ty and Liam and get our studying on," Teresa managed to direct the still overexcited and energetic Tara towards the elevator as they headed up. Ty's three roommates in his townhouse style dorm had all ended up with groups that preferred to use the formal studying areas in the HCP facilities, which left his residence as the default meeting place for their group.
As the two girls made their way to the row of townhouses converted to student residences Teresa noted that her energetic companion was scanning their vicinity rapidly and constantly with a look of earnest suspicion on her face. The hispanic girl almost laughed aloud at the intense concentration her companion was putting into watching for the attacks that the announcement last week had warned about. Teresa found herself doubting that anyone would be stupid enough to continue with such a practice once the student body had become aware of it, and judging by the amount of extra campus security plainly visible as well as small roving groups of would be good samaritans, What is it about Texas and forming volunteer vigilante groups to hunt for trouble? she was personally saving all of her paranoia for any trips she had to make off campus.
The two girls arrived to find the door propped open and the boys already waiting inside. The two men welcomed the rest of their group into the common area, a cooler loaded with various beverages had been pulled over to the coffee table to prevent the need for fridge runs. Also occupying the table were a pair of laptops displaying the information provided by the class and several folders full of printed pages likely pulled from the internet for a general background of the area.
Teresa was a bit surprised to see this level of in depth preparation going on. She had assumed that her group in particular wouldn't have a hard time figuring out what their scenario would ultimately end up being. "Do you guys really think we need all the background? Providence, four and a half years ago, I think it's pretty obvious we're going to get some variation of the Rampage for our scenario."
"Ty and I talked about that a bit before you guys got here, and it's definitely possible, but we both think that might be a bit too easy," the 6'1" British student spoke with a remarkably soft voice for the size he seemed to project. "We think it might be a good idea to look for some subtler events that happened about the same time."
"C'mon Liam, what else could have happened in Rhode Island that was Hero worthy in the same time frame? It would be an incredible coincidence that a team would get formed with the only two Tech Brilliance Supers in the class with that time and place and not get the scenario that helped get their ability classed as an actual Super ability." Teresa had been looking forward to a brief, relaxing session where she had hoped to mostly brainstorm how two 'Heroes' would react in the field when their power was only officially three years old and there was literally no existing Hero to use as a template.
"Actually I think Ty and Liam might be onto something here," Tara spoke next, bringing a sinking feeling to Teresa that she was definitely going to be stuck in full on studying for most of her Saturday now. "The Dean's given out... five warnings now? On how we shouldn't try to look too far past the information we're given to try and predict our scenarios. Come to think of it, a LOT of the time periods she gave out this time are very close to an easy to recall major event." Tara seemed to gain more confidence in her stance as she continued speaking. "I think the whole point here is to try and trip us up a bit."
"Also, even if it does turn out that we get some version of the 'Rhode Island Robot Rampage,' that's one that we know pretty well how it went down so it's not like we're going to lose anything other than an afternoon doing a bit more in depth research." With all three of her teammates aligned against her Teresa accepted that any chance of a mostly relaxing Saturday had vanished. And with Sunday booked solid studying for all of her ACTUAL midterms, it seemed unlikely she was going to get much of a weekend. The sacrifices that must be made in college.
A massive crash followed by the rapid echoes of repeated ricochets throughout the large room was slowly drowned out by a truly prodigious display of profanity that eventually faded into silence. Scott Jameson stared at the large target one hundred feet away, standing completely unscathed and mocking his attempts to expand his ability. He could easily pitch a heavy weight that far, probably with sufficient mass and speed to take out the reinforced metal plate with the bullseye painted on it. "Dear Lord, why can't you let this be as easy as Ty makes it sound when he explains it to me? Hell, I'd settle for as easy as it looks in that stupid Japanese comic that gave him the idea."
Scott was attempting to add a genuine ranged element to his ridiculously short ranged power. Ty had worked on the math with him, and everything indicated that it SHOULD work. He had more than enough juice to pull it off. The problem seemed to be that his power didn't work quite like any of the other Supers who'd had similar abilities, at least ones that any reference material was available on anyways. To simplify the explanation Scott usually described his power as making or controlling a magnetic field, but this had proven inaccurate, as his scientifically inclined friend had proven after trying to discern the reason why Scott's power refused to offer any measurable affect at a range of more than eight and one half inches from the surface of his skin. Within that range Scott could exert magnetic forces capable of lifting several tons, but at nine inches he couldn't mess with the needle on a compass. As it turned out, Scott wasn't creating magnetic fields, although there were minute fields present in what he was doing. Scott was actually creating and controlling thousands of incredibly tiny magnetic singularities.
That difference, he had discovered, was likely why his power's range was so short, and why what he was doing was so difficult to control. Scott Jameson was attempting to use his ability to make a rail gun. Other magnetic control Supers had managed something close enough to what Scott was trying to do to demonstrate the definite real world effectiveness of such a technique, but the only Hero who had responded to Scott's inquiry through a public 'Ask Your Hero!' email had described the process as something like creating a magnetic sling shot, using one field to hold the projectile in place while pulling another field on it towards his target until he reached the desired tension and letting go with the first field. Ty had taken Scott's ability and crunched the math to come up with a different solution that would work for his friend's variation of this power. Because his ability created minute singularities instead of wide reaching fields, he needed to form what Ty insisted on referring to as a 'Collapsing Cascade Singularity Series' which would accelerate a projectile hundreds of times with perfectly timed singularity collapses millimeters apart. In Scott's opinion his friend had watched FAR too much Sci Fi for his explanations to make any sense. Ty was completely certain that all Scott needed to do was learn to visualize the sort of timing needed since it was far too fast to consciously control. His evidence being Scott already used 'mental constructs' like that to use his power at rates that the conscious mind couldn't work at, something he did when he used his ability to power a shop saw or a dremel at the necessary RPMs to function properly, but which Scott found completely mystifying as a concept.
"I can make a saw blade or a grinder spin like that because I can see it. I can picture it. I have no idea how the hell a real 'rail gun' works. How can I form a 'mental construct' of something when I don't know what it is? Lord, please make Ty make more sense the next time we talk about this. You've got to owe me one by now."
In spite of his repeated failures to date Scott picked up the next magnetic slug in the stack and prepared another attempt at actually hitting the target. His classes were easy, his Ethic project group was meeting tomorrow, and as far as Scott was concerned he had all the hours left in the day to try and figure this one out. Maybe this would be the day that the hours would finally be enough.
"This is a bad idea Glen," the two well shrouded figures stopped near the edge of campus as the taller man in the back spoke.
"This is $5000 each to prank some stupid Super kids Ian. You wanna give the money back?" the shorter, heavier lead man turned an angry glare on his partner as he spoke.
"If it's just a prank why we gotta bring guns man?" Ian had thought the idea completely brilliant when the posting had popped up on an electronic bulletin board. Six hours of time elapsed in sobriety later were starting to make the taller man question the wisdom of trying to scare wannabe Heroes on camera for money.
"We need something to make the little bastards jump and do their shit if we want to get paid. I didn't hear you come up with no better ideas. You want out, gimme your phone and I'll take all the money when I get back," Glen had been dealing with his friend's colder growing feet for the past hour. This had to be the easiest money he'd ever made that didn't involve running the border. What the hell were some spoiled college brats gonna pull, Supers or not?
"Fuck that idea man, this thing cost three hundred bucks." Ian curled his hands protectively over the new smart phone that was the lynchpin of the two men's plan.
"Then shut up and lets go. We just gotta spot one of the kids they got photos of, I'll fire a couple into the dirt, you upload that shit and we can take the rest of the month off!"
"Gentlemen, I am pleased to inform you that I am restraining you until the local authorities can arrive to arrest you," Both men spun rapidly as a new, female voice came from almost directly behind Ian. In his haste the taller man actually toppled from his feet, dropping the expensive phone next to him as he landed heavily. "If you attempt to resist I will-" the extremely tall hooded woman seemed to blur out of existence as Glen frantically drew his gun and fired in the direction of the apparition. Ian screamed as a hot shell casing landed on his face as he struggled to find his feet.
"You should drop that right now before you give me an excuse to really hurt you." The voice was soft, and spoken directly into the panicked gunman's ear.
With a somewhat less than inspiring battle cry Glen spun to try and bring the .38 to bear on his impossible opponent, only to have his hand intercepted halfway through its arc by a beastial looking hand, complete with fur and claws.
"You really aren't that bright are you?"
Glen struggled to pull his hand free, but his opponent's grip was literally inhuman. With his free hand he produced a straight bladed knife from his belt, eyes wild as he tried to slash at the tall woman's face.
As the knife came forward Glen saw moonlight reflecting off a set of enormous teeth, now visible before him as his opponent smiled hugely at the small man. Then the beastial paw gripping his right hand and firearm squeezed, crushing the hand, and the gun in an impossible grip. Glen felt the knife drop from his fingers moments before the wave of agony traveling up his arm caused the world to fade out.
Dani Reyes watched the first man's eyes roll back in his head as he lost consciousness and released the mangled amalgamation of hand and pistol, noting the blood staining her own hand with disgust. Ever alert she stepped to her left quicker than the average eye could follow as another gunshot sounded behind her from the location of the clumsier of the two men. Someone more familiar with the animated Weapons Instructor would likely have recognized the expression on her face as disdain for the stupidity of the second man. From his position on the ground looking up at the massive shifted catform in front of him, it looked like nothing other than murderous rage.
Screaming and closing his eyes, Ian squeezed off another shot, then felt the gun rip out of his hand leaving a terrible ache and shooting pain coming from his index finger. Opening his eyes he say the huge figure standing over him holding the snatched gun in hand, an expression far more akin to surprise painted across her inhuman features now. Looking down at his hand, the shocked man noted that the pain in his finger seemed impossible, the finger was no longer there.
Dani sighed as the man on the ground began to sob mindlessly as he cradled his maimed hand, examining the gun she held to see the results of her incredibly swift grab versus the second shooter's terrified white knuckle grip on his weapon. Sure enough, his trigger finger was still present, hanging loosely from the metal guard. Dani produced a small plastic bag from one of the many pockets on her outfit and carefully deposited the severed digit inside.
Miguel Trujillo dragged his feet heavily as he made his way to his second midterm of the day. Getting crushed by that stupid redhead without any real powers had absolutely destroyed his focus over the weekend. The remarkably average looking hispanic man hadn't realized how much it had affected him until he'd arrived at his early morning Psych class to take a midterm that he hadn't even begun to understand before the end of class was signaled. Fortunately Psych had already had plenty of busywork assignments over the first several weeks that he felt his score was sufficiently padded that even the absolute bomb he felt he had just dropped wouldn't drag him down below a passing grade.
The class he was heading towards now was a different story. Differential Calculus was not one of his stronger classes, but having done well enough on the entrance exam to test into the highest level required math course for his degree he had opted to get it out of the way early. Now he realized he was marching in to take what would probably be his most hellish midterm of the week, and he hadn't even so much as cracked the textbook in review all weekend. Too busy drowning his sorrows over a fight he shouldn't have lost.
If he failed this test as badly as he thought he'd just managed in Psych, it was going to obliterate his grade beyond any hope of recovery. Professor Veeter didn't believe in giving out busy work, and none of the quizzes were graded. There were four tests all year that determined your entire grade, and Miguel had only managed to pull a 77% on the first one. If he failed here he was going to get cut out of the HCP until next year.
Can't believe I was so stupid. Can't believe I fucking lost. I've got to get it together, if I can pull a 60 or better I can keep myself afloat. Pull it together Miguel. Arriving in the class nearly late he quickly made his way to an open seat. As the papers were passed around he pulled his from the stack and continued it on down the line, staring intently and the problems on the page. The entire test consisted of six problems. Working his way through the first slowly and methodically, Miguel felt his spirits start to lift. Maybe this wouldn't go as poorly as he had feared. Reaching the second problem, he found himself staring blankly. He couldn't even think of where to start. He remembered that the Professor had spent nearly the whole class time hammering home the mantra.
"The Calculus is easy, it's the Algebra that gets in the way of Calculus that's hard."
Continuing to bore into the page with his gaze, Miguel willed the knowledge he needed to spontaneously appear, but apparently this was not one of his abilities. Going through the rest of the test, he felt himself sink further into the uncomfortable seat. Christ, I just failed my way out of the HCP in a fucking math class.
Not even bothering to finish the test, Miguel left the paper on his desk and rose to begin his preparations. He had some goodbyes to say, and he just hoped all of his friends would still be here to give him a hard time about this when he repeated as an HCP freshman next year.
Michael Karl had a wide smile on his face as he made his way into his Tuesday Ethics of Heroism class. All but one midterm down, and the young telepath was confident he'd nailed all of them. Not only that, but he wasn't rated as skilled enough with his ability to yet require the mandated retesting he had learned that Catalina Blake, his fellow advanced mind student, was destined for. Although he did likely have that to look forward to next year.
The young man quickly made his way to his project group, wondering if today would be the day they were put on the spot or if their suffering would be prolonged as the specter of the dreaded 'Public Speaking' loomed over them. Michael personally didn't mind public speaking, but Alexandra seemed completely lost when she had to speak notably above a whisper and both Ben and Rorie were, frankly, not the people you wanted to present detailed information to a group if there was ANY alternative.
As soon as the Dean arrived Michael began gathering notes and nudging his teammates. The woman was not making any attempt to hide the fact that they were up first and seemed to smile approvingly at his perception and preparation.
"Ms Andrews, Mr Karl, Mr Pelley, and Mr Samuels, you're up." The group quickly finished collecting their material and moved up to the table next to the lectern to face the class and wait to hear the scenario they would be responding too.
"Your planning period was for Tulsa, Oklahoma in the fall of 1987. There had been no confirmed major criminal Super activities in that area, however much of the rest of the state had been suffering from the activities of a biker gang with several Super and Powered members for the past six months." Michael smiled as he had researched the potential scenario exhaustively. The bikers had ended up being little more than a straw man opponent that had folded when they realized their antics had drawn the attention of several real first string Heroes, but several of the minor criminal activities could have very easily escalated. Michael eagerly wondered which of the many scenarios would play out as the Dean continued, her mind now carefully focused to avoid giving out hints.
"As your team has been requested to provide a presence in the area assuming the Bikes of Wrath may escalate their activity and presence, you receive an emergency request through the DVA. A bank in the neighboring town of Sandsprings is in the process of being robbed by a small team of Super or Powered individuals. The local police have cut off the criminals from escape, but several officers are down and the criminals have thirty one hostages in the bank. Your team is approximately five minutes away and you are already at deployment ready status. Please explain how you will resolve the situation."
Michael found himself frozen as the Dean had changed the entire scenario on him. He couldn't recall having seen anything in the dispatch papers concerning a bank robbery, especially one that close to their supposed deployment. He hadn't been actively looking for one since the Bikers hadn't robbed any banks, but still. "I'm sorry Alexandra I didn't catch that." The Dean's voice pulled him out of his thoughts as he realized that Alexandra was actually asking questions.
In a slightly louder voice the petite girl asked again. "How many Supers and Powereds are in the bank, and what are the abilities of the Supers please." Michael couldn't decide to laugh at the absurd question or weep at their chances. He knew this wasn't a normally graded class but bombing the ongoing class project during the 'midterms special' was probably not going to do the four any favors. The Dean's response was predictable.
"That information wasn't available in the dispatch request. Just that four or five criminals have hostages, and an unknown number of them have powers."
"Dean Jilles, once we are within two miles of the bank I would know how many Supers and Powereds are present, and a general understanding of what the Supers' abilities are."
Dean Jilles' expression showed a bit of disbelief, but both her and Michael could clearly tell the girl felt she was being completely honest. When no answer was forthcoming the girl sighed impatiently and closed her eyes. She immediately began rattling off abilities and approximate distances while pointing in different directions. Beginning with identifying the powers of every student in the room, then additional powers as she pointed through the walls and floors, finally concluding with, "...and there are five Powereds on campus, but I can't feel what their abilities are." The entire class sat stunned for several seconds before the Dean found her voice again.
"Ms Andrews, you're a mimic if I recall correctly. You can accurately identify and copy a power from that far off?"
"No ma'am, I can only effectively copy powers from someone within about 500 yards unless I've had a lot of time to get adjusted to them. The further away they are when I lock on the less time I can hold onto the power before I have to let it go also."
From there Michael felt a massive relief as the hazardous scenario suddenly turned easy. They had an advanced mind to pinpoint the location of the criminals, of which it turned out there were a total of four, all Supers, and most importantly for their team, all were grouped together to try and figure out their escape plan, none of them had any kind of enhanced resilience, and one of them was a short range teleporter with a decent amount of carrying capacity. Delivering Ben to the group in a single surprise strike to win the day definitely carried their team. Michael was happy as the simulated after-action cross examination focused mostly on Alexandra and her innovative use of her power to gather critical intel on their opponents. He noted that the girl had no trouble responding to any of the questions, and adjusted his mental opinion of the small girl quite a bit. She spoke quietly, and didn't seem to like speaking at all. But there was no trace of hesitation or shyness as she answered the direct questions. Maybe the quiet girl wasn't nearly as lacking in social skills as many in the class, including the somewhat chagrined male telepath, had assumed.
Alexandra felt herself begin to sweat somewhat nervously as she had been pulled aside in Gym today in order to take on what Coach Rachd had referred to as "Special Training." With a rather evil looking grin.
Alexandra hadn't trained in the super weight rooms previously, and was surprised to see that this one, while reinforced like the other she had passed through on the way here, contained only a single massive piece of equipment that she couldn't begin to figure out. Fortunately the petite blonde didn't have long to wait as the Coach quickly brought in the class's number one ranked student. Alexandra's eyes widened as she realized that the coach intended for her, ranked in the bottom ten in the class, to train one on one with the girl that was likely the physically strongest person in the entire school, upperclassmen and Instructors included.
"Alright ladies, you two are going to be training buddies for a few days. Andrews, your job is to try and come as close to copying all of Jacobson's power as you can manage. Based on what you've said the longer you work with someone the longer you can copy them and the closer you can get to the real thing. Jacobson! This is going to be one of your few chances this year to work with someone that you probably won't break by accident. Make sure she's got her juice turned on before you do anything though. I expect you ladies to have a long and productive workout." With that explanation out of the way, the coach immediately stalked back towards the rest of the freshman, yelling at those training in the neighboring super weight room before he had even cleared the door.
"Call me Ames please," Alexandra looked up, and then up some more as the 6'2" skinny frame towering a foot over her own petite frame offered a hand and a friendly smile. "You're Alexandra, right?"
"Alex please. It's going to be... good to work with you Ames." Alexandra wasn't sure if it was the right word as she shook the proffered hand. She was more than a little worried to try working directly with the power standing in the room looking at her innocently.
"Am I making you uncomfortable or anything? I'm sorry if..."
"Please don't do that," the much smaller blonde managed to control her tone enough to not snap at the taller student, but exasperation was plain in her voice. "Everyone assumes I'm shy, or I don't like people, or that I've got stunted social skills or something. I'm just quiet okay? I don't always talk to hear the sound of my voice, and I don't like being loud unless I have to be."
"Actually I was asking because your hands are shaking."
Alexandra looked down to see that Amelia was indeed correct. Her hands were shaking violently and she clenched them tightly as closed her eyes and tried to relax. After a few moments she felt her heart rate go down and managed to unclench her fists without any further tremors. "Well that was definitely a bit bitchy of me wasn't it?"
"I actually kind of understand. I had a lot of people making assumptions about how I felt for a while... I kind of didn't have a great childhood and people kept seeming to think it should mess with me more than it did. So I get being upset when people keep responding to something that's not there." Alexandra found herself having trouble picturing the tall confident girl having any kind of problem like that, but her tone seemed to speak of familiarity with the subject matter. "I would like to know why you were shaking before we start. If it's not personal."
Alexandra began pacing slowly as she pondered how to explain. She hated when people wanted her to explain how her power worked, it almost always made people feel like they were supposed to pity her, and she hated that.
"You know I'm a mimic right?" Amelia nodded and Alexandra continued. "When there's people with powers around, well you heard me do the presentation in Ethics right? I can see these lines of energy when I close my eyes. If I focus on them hard enough I can tell a little bit about what they do. Except with Powereds, where the line is there, but like the edges are broken? It's like it's there but I know it won't work for me." She took another deep steadying breath before continuing. "The stronger the person's ability is, the brighter their line looks. I never ran into any lines that were all that bright back home, but a few of the ones here are so intense they scare me a little."
"I'm one of those lines?"
"Yea, you and a couple others in our class. Coach Rachd is pretty damned bright too, but not like you are. There's a couple others that I'm guessing are the other Instructors, or the upperclassmen, or both, that are scary bright too." Another pause as Alexandra stopped her pacing and turned to face Amelia directly. "When I copy someone's power, it's like I reach out in my mind and grab a hold of it with an invisible hand. Grabbing onto that power line burns the hand though, and the brighter it is the harder it is to hold on. It hurts a lot like getting electrocuted."
Amelia's eyes went wide at the smaller girl's statement. "You mean you basically have to suffer through the equivalent of frying your hand with electricity in order to use your power?"
"That is one way of putting it yes. Once I let go of someone's power I can't see their line anymore for awhile. Usually about an hour. It also takes a few minutes before I can feel my mental 'hands' good enough to try and grab another one. You're smiling now, why are you smiling? No one smiles when I have to explain this shit." Alexandra was a bit confused by the tall girl's apparent lack of sympathy. Usually people were trying to comfort the petite girl and tell her she didn't have to go through this if it hurt her.
"You really want to be a Hero?"
"I hate this training as much as anything I've ever done in my life. But I promised, and you can't break a promise." There was more steel in the tiny girl's voice than Amelia could ever remember hearing before.
"Then you should try and train with Louise after we're done. She probably has some pointers on how to last longer while electrocuting yourself. Now turn on the pain and lets see if you can lift half as much as I can!"
Alexandra found herself laughing. She'd finally found someone that didn't question her unusual dedication, or offer her pity she didn't want. And all things considered, the Louise thing might be a good idea. The tiny girls should stick together afterall.
The small girl managed to lift almost three quarters of the weight Amelia was working herself at before the end of the class. When told that she had just pressed a hydraulic stack with twenty four tons of resistance, Alexandra nearly fainted with shock. Then, in a rare burst of deviousness, she decided to ask for a small favor.
"Ames, could you come to my ranking challenge next week?"