Training, Planning, and Home for the Holiday
The nearly empty concrete room echoed with the rhythmic alterations of metal clanking against metal and loud grunts of physical exertion. Marilyn Simmons forced herself to push through more reps today than even her demanding training schedule called for. The ursine shifter literally growled as she forced the bar attached to the massive specially designed hydraulic press to its full extension one last time before allowing it to return to its rest position.
With only the briefest of pauses while she toweled the bench dry the feral looking woman moved quickly to the underground track where she forced herself into a grueling pace faster than a normal human's top sprinting speed. Her current inhuman stature was made even more evident on the course as she dropped to all fours to use her arms for extra stability as she rounded the corners of the track.
Can't get left behind. Won't get left behind. The mantra echoed constantly in the driven girl's mind. She had been disappointed to earn only the seventh highest rank in the class after the initial combat rankings. Remembering the skinny blonde that had overpowered her so effortlessly still brought a surge of shame to the woman. She felt she had managed to further humiliate herself as she had attempted to challenge the skinny asian that shifted into some kind of demonic whore for his rank the first week. Never again would Marilyn underestimate the usage of illusions in combat. Two weeks after that failed attempt she had made another bid to take the fifth spot from the arrogant and far too carefully groomed blonde man who currently held it. Marilyn had been confident that her strength would allow her to overwhelm the man, just as the replay had shown the number one ranked student had beaten him during the initial ranking. The girl had learned again the difference between the level of her strength and that of the current class champion, as the force barriers thrown about by her opponent had leveled her with ease. It had taken quite some time before he had managed to put her out, but the conclusion had been foregone from the opening moments of the match.
Now Marilyn had established an exacting schedule. Her normal class schedule did not begin until 10:30 AM each day, so the girl was up at six so that she could study for four hours before preparing herself for her mundane scholastic endeavors. Ethics of Heroism and HCP Gym finally concluded her classes at 7:00 PM. Half an hour was allocated for her to get a quick meal, then four more hours spent pushing her limits as hard as she could in the HCP Fitness Center. Another shower and six hours of sleep before her schedule began again. Each day on the weekend was another four hours devoted to her mundane classes, and eight solid hours spent in the fitness center. Marilyn felt she had set herself the harshest schedule she could that balanced her need to advance as fast as possible with the equally great need to not fail out of the program for something as moronic as failing to maintain her mundane grades.
Even with all the work she was putting in each and every day, nearly sixty hours in the Gym each week all told, Marilyn felt that she was falling behind her classmates. She truly felt the only reason she had maintained her high rank is that neither Aaron nor Lisa, the ninth and tenth ranked students, demonstrated any desire to advance, and both had proven impossible for all comers to unseat. She had watched as the sixth rank student had fallen to eighth, and then again to eleventh. She felt trapped. Having lost her two attempts to improve her own rank, she couldn't try again until the next semester, and no matter how hard she trained the powerful shifter could not shake the nagging feeling that the only reason she still retained her single digit ranking is that no one in the range able to challenge her cared enough to take the spot away.
Prior to coming to the HCP Marilyn's family had provided some of the best training money could buy. Personal trainers that were former Force Ops, a home gym that had equipment nearly the equal of that used to train the super physique students here at Overton, and a string of special tutors to insure that most of her college courses would be little more than review of things she was already well familiar with. Marilyn had arrived expecting to be the best, but as she pounded another lap around the track she couldn't shake the feeling. She was only still in the program because no one felt it worth the effort to remove her yet.
Zach's face held a confident grin as he swirled his arms in a seemingly random pattern before him and another massive blast of air dissipated into little more than a strong breeze. His opponent, one Mark Jansen, circled above him in frustration as the smaller brown haired student continued to effortlessly defeat his relentless offense.
Finally the moment Zach had been patiently waiting for arrived. In all Mark's previous fights against an opponent capable of withstanding his initial barrage he had taken a stationary position and brought his hands together in front of him. Based on the recorded footage of the tall curly haired flier Zach knew that what came next would be a literal tornado unleashed in the massive room still far too small for such an event. However Zach had no intention to wait for Mark's finale. As soon as the flier's hands came up, his eyes had closed in concentration. That meant he was not watching to evade incoming attacks, as indeed he'd only faced one opponent so far capable of attacking his flying form. Zach would make the second as he made a slashing motion towards his opponent with his left hand, a barely visible distortion in the air trailed from his outstretched fingers to impact the distracted man squarely across the face.
Concentration shattered, Mark let out a cry of pain followed by a scream of terror as he plummeted towards the hard floor. Zach knew that technically at this point he was in the clear. His attack had not been at the level of 'lethal force' proscribed by the HCP's rules. On the other hand the smaller man had no desire to watch one of his classmates splatter his brains all over the combat room.
Zach's second strike was precisely timed and angled as he cleanly struck the falling flier's torso with a corkscrew motion that partially arrested his fall and instead bounced him hard into the nearer wall before he collapsed the last few feet to the floor. Not exactly a clean catch, but much better than face first into the concrete. Zach called out to his downed opponent quickly to give him a chance to respond as both his hands vibrated with anticipatory power in case the air elemental manipulator proved more resilient than planned, but when no response was forthcoming he immediately shouted instead to summon the Overton healing staff to aid the stricken loser of this match.
Zach remained in the room while the arriving student healer managed to put Mark in sufficient order to make the trek to the infirmary more or less under his own power, but the taller man was withdrawn and unspeaking. There was still a look of terror somewhere in the back of his eyes that Zach glimpsed as the man was led away to receive more thorough treatment. I wonder if that's the first time he's actually fallen.
Beulah Abbot wore a very eager, earnest expression as she 'ported across the room to block the exit the moment Dean Jilles had signaled the Ethics class period was over. It was early November and the short haired Israeli girl had a plan to cash in on the upcoming holidays.
"Classmates, if I may have your attention for a moment!" The looks of surprise on many of the faces faded to looks of interest, amusement, or annoyance depending on each students' opinion of the athletic brunette. The look on the Dean's face was definitely favoring the second option as the telepath likely already knew most of the details of the plan about to be hatched in her classroom.
"As you are all aware, the Thanksgiving holiday is coming up in only two short weeks. I have been most distressed to hear that many of my fellow HCP students will be unable to visit family members due to the distances involved in traveling to this University and the increasing expense of air travel." She noted with a slight increase to her smile that more of the expressions had shifted towards 'interest' in the crowd. "I would like to offer those of you unable to visit their loved ones a wonderful opportunity. I have visited the capitol of each and every state in this country, in addition to many other major cities. For a fee FAR less than what an airline would charge you for several hours cramped into an uncomfortable seat I would be happy to arrange near instantaneous travel too and from one of those cities near enough to your families to allow for a simple car trip to take you the rest of the way home."
There was a great deal of interest and excitement in the crowd of faces now, although a few of the disinterested ones began pushing their way past the teleporter to exit the room. Beulah felt that was perfectly acceptable, she didn't really need to waste time speaking to people not interested in what she had to sell after all.
"Please come and speak with me after the Gym period today to determine if I am able to get to a location close enough to suit your travel needs, and for a mere fifty dollars I can have you dropped off at that location Wednesday evening, and picked up to return to campus on Sunday morning. A full Thanksgiving weekend with your families without the hassle of mundane travel. Thank you all for your time!"
In spite of her request to find her after the Gym class had ended, several students immediately mobbed the teleporter in order to try and determine immediate travel arrangements. As far as Beulah was concerned, this was also part of the plan. As was her intention to offer the same service for seventy dollars a person for those returning home over Winter Break. They should update the orientation packet. There are PLENTY of opportunities for part time employment for HCP students if they are willing to think creatively!
Iris Todd watched as the very tall, lean African American man that she'd been more or less dating since the Halloween party slammed his already bleeding fist against the wall in frustration. Roger Colton had just lost his first challenge match of the year and dropped down to the twenty first rank in the class of forty students. He was now officially in the bottom half of the combat ranks.
"These restrictions are complete bullshit. How am I supposed to show how good a fighter I am when every way I can really cut loose is forbidden because someone MIGHT die. We signed up to be fucking Heroes, of COURSE we might die!" The fire projector had not been having the easy time of it he'd expected when he had first decided to enter the HCP. Iris had sympathized with the man at first, after all he was, pun intended, HOT. And she could definitely see how having such an obviously dangerous power could actually be as much of a disadvantage as it was an advantage. But Iris had also watched Rorie Samuels take a power that was in essence the ability to make your own hand grenades out of nothing and dial it down to the point where it could be used to safely disable the non-physically enhanced students. The more time she spent with Roger, the more the speedster was convinced that the man had never bothered to grow up before he came to college. It was like dating back in high school all over again. Something that, while it had been fun at the time, was not really an era that Iris felt the need to relive.
"I've gotta get back up before the end of semester challenge babe. It's gonna be big and there's no way I'm going into that in the bottom half." Iris sighed at Roger's declaration.
"We have no idea what the freshman midterm is Roger. Only that all the sophomores were toying with our heads at the Halloween party about how we were not gonna be ready for it. No one said anything about it mattering what your rank was going into it, just that it could change the rankings up big time when it was over."
"C'mon babe, you've got to be smarter than that," Iris decided right there at the condescending tone that she was dumping the tall man, regardless of his hotness. "No matter how much it shakes the ranks up there's no way it's gonna put someone from the bottom on top. That's just not how shit like this works."
"Well Roger," Iris managed to sound convincingly seductive as she reached up to turn the man's head so that they were eye to eye, "I'm still in the top half of the class. So you could always challenge me for my rank."
"Aw c'mon babe, don't tempt me like that. You know I don't want to end up in the doghouse for messing up my girl," somehow Roger was completely oblivious to the further hardening of the blonde speedster's expression as he spoke. "I'd be froze out all year if I did that to you wouldn't I?"
"Actually Roger, I'll make you a special deal." Iris stood on tiptoe to be able to whisper softly into the tall fire projector's ear. "You beat me in a challenge, and I'll give you what you were asking for on our second date." From this close she felt the man's pulse speed up, as well as a few other predictable reactions. "But if I beat you, then I'll be doing it to you instead." His completely dumbfounded look drew a genuine smile from the shorter girl.
From the look on his face, Roger felt there was no way he could lose this challenge. Especially considering the prize that was being offered for winning.
"We'll set it up on Monday then!"
Iris left Roger to get his hand put back together as she strode out of the complex. Having watched all of the tall man's fights, she was fully confident in how this match was going to end.
"Now where would I go in this town to find a nice ribbed surprise for Roger's going away party..."
Scott was definitely more nervous than he could ever remember being before in his nineteen years of life. He found himself staring, unblinking at his girlfriend, mouth moving but no words coming out. One of the many advantages of dating a telepath.
"Oh come on Scott, it won't be that bad. Your mom sounded like she loved the idea and my family is all dying to meet you!"
Scott tried to muster up surprise that Catalina had already managed to contact his mother to invite her and his uncle Jonathon to spend Thanksgiving dinner with her family in the neighboring town of Kilgore. Scott's mother had, of course, been delighted at the opportunity to meet the girl that her son seemed to be settling down with at a remarkable rate for a freshman in college. Uncle Jonathon had begged out, as he had already made plans to attend a dinner with his new girlfriend's family, but he had volunteered to provide transport for his older sister to and from the Blake home.
"Was it Ty or Erin that gave you my mom's number?" It was the first actual words he'd managed for quite a while, and he felt briefly proud of the accomplishment as it would be the piece of information that told him which roommate he needed to end.
"Neither actually. Your mom called yesterday morning while you were still in the shower. I got the number off your phone and arranged the whole thing with just one text message." Scott was briefly confused as he considered her response.
"Why didn't you just answer the phone and talk to her when she called?"
"I wouldn't have been able to talk to her over the phone silly."
"Well yeah, I know you like the whole 'mindvoice' thing but you could just try it the normal way like the rest of us for a cha..." Scott trailed off as Catalina's expression looked caught somewhere between sadness, horror, and laughter.
"I can't believe I forgot to tell you, I'm so sorry Scott, I wasn't trying to keep it a secret or anything, I just forget sometimes and I like being treated like I'm not really all that different even when I really am different and with being inside other people's heads all the times I forget that they can't get back inside of mine so they don't necessarily know all the things that I haven't remembered..." Having had a couple of weeks of practice with his girlfriend, Scott had learned that when the auburn haired beauty panicked, she tended to ramble infinitely since she wasn't encumbered by mortal considerations like needing to stop for breath. Fortunately he had worked out what he believed was a suitable solution.
The much shorter but still athletically fit young man reached up to grab the taller girl by the back of the head and pull her into a resoundingly deep kiss. The mental train of words actually continued for a few seconds, although the words themselves became slightly less coherent as the enjoyable sensation eroded some of the necessary control the telepath needed to project a steady voice.
After holding the kiss about ten seconds longer than was strictly necessary to defuse the never ending torrent of mental words, Scott finally pulled back to smile at the blissful expression on his girlfriend's face. "Just tell me what the big secret is Cat. It can't possibly be that big of a deal."
The girl took a deep steadying breath, then another as she realized she was still a bit disoriented from the kiss. "Well, the thing is, I can't really talk to someone on the phone because I'm kinda..." Catalina trailed off and looked down nervously. Scott simply waited patiently for her to continue, having faith that it would not be a long wait.
"See, the thing is," another deep breath, "I was born deaf. I'm deaf. Completely deaf, both ears, can't hear a thing." Catalina glanced up to see Scott's expression holding a bit of incredulity.
"But, we talk, I mean you listen to people. You watch TV with us, you comment on things that are going on, how can y-..."
"I can hear whatever people around me can hear. Animals too. I learned how to do it when I was about six. I also pick up almost everything that anyone around me sees, but it's not like it's all consciously there all at once you know? It's like when I'm in a crowded room, anything I'm looking at I can see from every angle, even the angles that I don't have a view of myself, as long as someone can see it. Does that make sense?"
"My girlfriend gets super extra 3D vision?"
Catalina laughed in response. "That's close enough. So really, how do you feel about coming to meet me family?"
"Are they really all as big as you keep telling us they are?"
"Actually dad and some of my brothers are bigger than you guys are picturing when we talk about it."
"In that case I feel absolutely fine. If you'll excuse me I need to phone my mom and tell her to have uncle Jonathon bring some of the heirloom plate armor along when he drops her off so that your brothers don't murder the poor sap who dared to mess with their sister."