Chapter 15

Chapter 15:
Seek, Subdue, Survive


"Welcome to your first real test of the year kids!" The thirty five assembled HCP freshmen responded to the cheerful sadism in James Rachd's tone with a blank look that they had all received a great deal of practice with over the semester. Rachd grinned widely at the lack of grumbling or any other signs of distraction from his class. The kids were learning their lessons well. His smile dropped away quickly as a thirty sixth form entered the observation room and made its way to the back of the group of students.

"Todd, what the fuck do you think you're doing here?" the bandaged form that had just entered the room flinched slightly at being called out, but did not immediately respond as the sea of black uniformed forms parted and several of her classmates began to voice their own amazement at her arrival.

It took a few attempts at speaking before Rachd bellowed for the rest of the students to be silent and Iris's quiet voice could be heard in the room. She barely managed to get above a whisper in volume, and her voice sounded raspy and dry as she spoke. "I'm here for the test Coach Rachd."

"You are medically excused from this exam as a result of that incredibly fucking stupid challenge match you were involved in yesterday." the bandaged speedster didn't attempt to respond again as the Coach continued, "Less than twenty four hours ago you were almost burned to death because your boyfriend couldn't handle getting his ass kicked by a girl, and because YOU were too stupid to just win the match instead of taunting the asshole. The Doc tells me you've got at least another day of sessions with healers to recover from the kind of internal damage you took, so I will ask you again, What the fuck do you think you're doing here?"

"I signed up to train to be a Hero Coach. Heroes don't get time off because they aren't at their best. I'm here, I can still move, and I'm still faster than anyone else in this class. After the test I'll go back to the infirmary." The last of the girl's statement came out just as a harried looking Dr Saxena arrived through in the observation lounge, having apparently followed the speedster as fast as he could when she fled his care.

"Young lady you do not need to prove anything right now. You have suffici-..." the Doctor was cut off by a loud question from the front of the room, though not the voice any of the students expected to be asking it.

"Can she make it through the test Doctor?" Elena Martinez had arrived with her usual abruptness and posed the question calmly, but loud enough to carry over the crowded room. "Is her condition stable enough that she can make it through without dying in there?" Iris showed no reaction to her Coach's implication that she might be risking her life.

"She's not in that bad a shape anymore Professor Martinez, but she will hardly be performing to anything near her full capabilities."

"Then if she wants to do it, she gets to do it." It was a very different tone of voice with which James Rachd re-entered the conversation. "Her scores were good enough prior to this that she could afford to miss it without getting cut. Doesn't matter how bad of shape she's in, if she's not gonna die in my test, then she's going to get a better score out of it than she would lying in the infirmary." Raj Saxena held eye contact with the muscular coach for a long moment before nodding slightly and moving to occupy one of the observation consoles in the room.

"All right then! Now that our little class drama is out of the way, I would like to introduce all of you to your HCP midterm exam!" the giant monitor behind the coach came on and many of the students blinked in surprise as they seemed to be looking at a small abandoned office building of some kind, apparently somewhere not near Overton as the vegetation was entirely wrong for the area and judging by the light it was late evening instead of early morning wherever they were seeing. "Some of you appear to be a bit confused by our chosen venue, so I'll allow Elena to explain that part before we get into the particulars of the exam."

The hispanic woman made her way to the large monitor control and made a few adjustments. The picture panned around quite a bit and the students were able to see that the sky appeared somehow off in the image and the street layout as well didn't seem quite right. "What you are looking at is not, in fact, an abandoned block in some small city somewhere in the country, but this is Overton HCP's SR - 1A, the simulation room where the freshman class takes its midterm and final examination. The building and its immediate surroundings are the locale of the midterm examination, the chamber itself is approximately four square miles of terrain," Elena paused and smiled as the announcement was met with several gasps of disbelief. "All the buildings have been carefully constructed and aged to mimic exactly what they are representing, a run-down urban area of the kind that you might expect to encounter real combat in should you successfully graduate from this program."

"Now that the simple bit's out of the way, here's how this test goes kids, so LISTEN UP!" The bald muscular man was definitely enjoying himself as the students' attention was jerked back and forth while their credulity was taxed trying to understand how such a massive simulated environment could exist underground. "We are going to test you all by playing a simple game that we at Overton like to call Seek, Subdue, Survive. There are three objective items concealed inside that building you see on the monitor, to make things easy for you they are all in the shape of shiny metal briefcases. That is what you are seeking. If you manage to collect one of those objectives and make it back to your entry point, you automatically pass the freshman midterm with a sufficient grade to keep you in the HCP." There was a great deal of excitement at that announcement. Nearly a dozen students in the class had received a not-so gentle reminder from the Coach within the past week that their performance between their physical training and assessments in the Ethics class currently had them below the cutoff line they needed to rise above in order to return for the second semester.

"The second bit is Subdue, and that's what you are all fully encouraged to do in there. There will be a pack of wrist restraints waiting for each of you at your assigned entry points into the simulation room. Successfully restraining any of your classmates with those restraints, or in any other way you can manage, will eliminate that person from continuing in the exam. For those of you that do not manage to successfully Seek, this will be a very large portion of your grade on this exam." There was some more shuffling among the students at this point, and several tentatively raised their hands but were dismissed with a wave from Rachd as he continued. "And no, simply cuffing an active student who can break out of the restraints in any number of ways is meaningless. You have to keep your target restrained for a full ten seconds, or render them unconscious, in order to eliminate them." The room settled a bit, with the two teleporters in the class wearing almost comic expressions of depression.

"The final piece of the game is Survive. The longer you last, the higher your score. You have to remain within one block of the objective building for your survival time to add to your score for this test, but believe me when I say that the last students standing generally score just as high as the powerhouses taking out the highest number of students and the lucky ones that manage to sneak off with an objective." Silence in the room now as each individual began to plan how they would approach the exam to best fit their abilities.

"And finally, as an added bonus for your examinations, the building and the area immediately surrounding it will be significantly booby trapped," this statement immediately affixed all attention in the room back to the smaller female coach as she continued the explanation. "None of these traps are particularly dangerous, however some of them might even cause our stronger students to struggle to free themselves in less than ten seconds, and others are simply meant to inconvenience anyone that stumbles into them with chemical sprays or brief sonic blasts to disorient you and alert your fellow students as to your current location." Elena smiled as several of the students realized the significance of her emphasis on the ten seconds to free oneself. "And yes, if you find yourself disabled by one of our traps for more than ten seconds, you will be eliminated the same as if another student had restrained you. Does anyone have any questions before you are assigned your entry points and we get this exam underway?" There was a long pause filled with some quiet murmurs from a few students before a male voice near the back rose loud enough to be heard clearly.

"All the plants around the building, are those real?" both coaches wore slightly surprised expressions at the question posed by a heavy set brown haired man near the back of the room. It was Coach Rachd who collected himself first to answer.

"Tannen right?" at a nod from the boy the Coach's expression shifted to one of comprehension as he continued. "Everything in any of the simulation rooms is as real as it can be. All the plants are the real thing." At the mention of the man's name Coach Martinez also seemed to understand the point of the odd question and offered a nod and small smile to the young man.

Nearly every student remaining still held a look of confusion at the strange question and answer session. The two who did not were a thin blond man who was smiling and shaking his head, and Sean Tannen who had asked the question, who took in the confused expressions around him and began to laugh deeply.

It took a few minutes and two prompts from Coach Rachd before Sean managed to get himself composed once again, and the field of students offered no further questions when pressed again by their two coaches.

"Alright then," the monitor behind Coach Rachd switched over to display a list of names and numbers identifying all the students in the room. "Everyone get your number and report to your assigned entry point. The test will last for a period of four hours or until there is only one student left standing. We start in five minutes."




It was a truly bizarre experience to step into a brightly lit sterile metal elevator and find oneself deposited in the middle of a poorly maintained piece of parkland at dusk. Liam Mathews took in his surroundings quickly as he shifted into his small reptilian form and decided he had sufficient cover to wait things out for a bit. Not knowing how closely the students would be emerging from their entry points into the testing room meant that even with his altered form's ability to fly, dashing ahead this early in the game might reveal himself to one of those with sufficient ranged capabilities to eliminate him before the contest had really started.

Wishing that his tiny draconic form had enhanced senses of hearing or vision instead of simply smell, Liam closed his eyes and focused on that one sense as his most likely to determine if he was alone in the small wooded area. He was quickly glad that he had opted NOT to burst immediately from his cover as he quickly identified five other students nearby. Three were generic enough that Liam couldn't identify them by scent alone, but one was a powerful beastial odor that informed him that one of the highest ranked women in the class, the powerful ursine shifter, was very nearby, and a strange scent that he was only familiar with as he had encountered the man in his initial combat trials told him that the recently number six ranked Samoan was also present.

The transformed British youth remained as still as he could manage and focused all of his attention on his surroundings by scent and sound. There was little discernible movement, he apparently was not the only one that had decided to take the lay of the land before moving on towards the objective. Liam found himself calculating whether he could get high enough fast enough to avoid Rorie's explosive projectiles, and hoping that none of the unidentified students would have the ability to attack or pursue him effectively. He was one of several students that was riding dangerously close to the cutoff line, and he knew that he needed an impressive performance in this test if he wanted to return to Overton for his second semester.

As he decided that it was worth taking the chance, Liam rose to flex his wings only to find that his feet had somehow become snared in the vegetation at his feet. From somewhere near to his right came a sound like tearing wood and a guttural roar indicating he was not the only one to suddenly find himself snared in the local plant life. As if the sound had been some sort of signal the entire park seemed to burst into motion all at once, yells coming from all directions as trees leaned down to engulf those near them with branches become suddenly alive and animated. Liam slashed at the encircling plants with his small claws and tried to burn a path around him with the incredibly intense beam of energy his breath could create on command. For a moment he seemed to have pulled free and leapt to the air in triumph, only to find some sort of vine had managed to ensnare his wings as he fell back to the ground to be overwhelmed by the freakishly violent plant life. Son of a bitch. That's why the heavy kid wanted to know if the plants were real... Liam felt his line of thought derail quickly as a more important realization materialized in his mind. This was probably not the level of performance he had needed to make the cut.

To his side came the continued sounds of struggle and screams of anger from the ursine shifter. Liam managed to pull himself around far enough to view the mighty woman's attempts to free herself, and was somewhat shocked to see the amount of damage she had done both to her surroundings and apparently to herself in an attempt to get free. It was all for naught however, as eventually even the powerful and high ranking Marilyn succumbed to the weight of plants pulling her to the ground. As she was fully restrained Liam found himself shocked to see her revert to her human form in what appeared to be a last attempt to pull free of the vegetation as her size changed and she attempted to leap away from the plants, only to be caught once again and firmly held to the ground. The draconic shifter found himself surprised again as the black haired woman broke down into wracking sobs and began to wail as if in agony. Liam couldn't understand why the high ranked girl was so devastated by the loss, he couldn't imagine that she'd been riding anywhere near the cutoff line that he himself had probably just fallen under. The young man felt a great deal of relief as Coach Martinez appeared and began swiftly removing the restrained students from the testing room.

Liam was the last to be retrieved from the mass of animate plants to be deposited in front of the men's locker room to clean himself up. He found himself dragging his feet quite a bit as he made his way into one of the shower stall and stood under the cascading water, still fully dressed. The image of the powerful woman's breakdown was a haunting one for him to carry, and he almost found himself looking forward to the expected mental cleansing that would come for him as he was removed from this year's HCP. As he slowly stripped out of his now soaked uniform, he began to consider if he truly had what it took to return to try again the following year.




Eloise James smiled to herself as she ghosted through the abandoned office building. Judging from the layout it had likely been modeled after a moderately sized city government building. She had passed through what appeared to be courtrooms, a small lockup facility adjoining to them, several offices of radically different sizes, and a veritable maze of interconnecting halls. Eloise had also passed through several of what she assumed were the traps mentioned by Coach Martinez during the class's briefing before the test had commenced. The short white haired girl hadn't even paused in passing through the devices. She was completely invisible to the normal spectrum of light and nearly intangible to anything material in her current state. The combination of her two abilities left her almost unable to perceive her surroundings, save for truly solid objects, which created the odd sensation as she moved through the building that it was completely barren of all furnishing or decoration.

With the speeds the insubstantial girl could propel herself to and her gamble that the traps would not be triggered by her ghostly passage she had made it into the courthouse well ahead of any of the other students, and was working on what she considered to be the perfect extra credit project. Her relatively vast arsenal of weapons had been almost completely disallowed in the freshman level training so far, which left Eloise ranked far lower than the girl believed she deserved. Armed with only a tactical baton and a stun gun she found herself frequently overwhelmed by her classmates whose abilities were better suited for direct conflict. Coming into the exam she knew she was close to not being able to continue in the HCP. She smiled to herself as she made her way quickly towards the entrance she had used to gain access to the building, looking down at the three briefcases she carried with her. If one is a guaranteed passing grade, I wonder what bringing all three in will do for me. But almost as if summoned by her thought, the invisible girl suddenly found her path out blocked.

Before Eloise stood the only person in the class that could both somehow see her while she was in her present state, as well as standing out like a beacon even against the shroud that seemed to engulf the world as the white haired girl made herself less substantial. The recently risen class champion, Erin Casse, stood blocking Eloise's path from the building and to her continuing in the program.

The two women faced off uncertainly for a long moment, both not quite sure how to proceed in the strange testing scenario they found themselves in. It was Eloise who quietly spoke first.

"How did you get past all the traps so quickly?"

Erin grinned and tapped next to her right eye with one hand. "Extremely wide spectrum vision. It's easy to see the parts that don't belong. As easy for me as seeing invisible people. You?"

"I don't reflect enough of anything for motion sensors to pick me up like this and I'm too light for almost any kind of displacement trigger."

"Are you trying to take all three objectives in one go?"

Eloise smiled back at the powerful woman in front of her. "I figured I could use the extra credit. Instead, I think I have another use for it." With a quick motion Eloise separated one of the three cases from the strap she used to carry them and tossed it to the other girl before ducking quickly into a side passage and moving as quickly as she could. One extra objective for extra credit would be enough for her needs, and she doubted that Erin would bother pursuing her with an objective in her lap and no need to pad her score. The lack of rapid footfalls behind her proved her assessment accurate. Now she just needed to find an alternate exit, and she was home free.




Beulah found herself staring in shock from her vantage point, having just witnessed some of the most powerful students in the class vanquished in minutes by animated plant life. She found her shock deepening as she watched the last ranked student in the class emerge from the now devastated park area and head calmly towards the building that was the class's objective. And that has to be the best incentive in the world to never underestimate ANYONE that makes it into the HCP.

Even having just witnessed the complete defeat of five other students by the heavy set brown haired man's impressive ability, Beulah found herself smiling at the opportunity presented. She realized that ten minutes ago she wouldn't have considered bothering taking on the last place student, as she doubted it would have much of an impact on her grade. Now that he'd taken out two of the top ten students, as well as three others all ranked significantly higher than he, she assumed that likely his rank would be less relevant if she could disable him. Also she assumed that it would be difficult to ensnare her with animated plant life if there wasn't any around.

A course of action decided upon the dark haired middle eastern girl took a few steadying breaths before popping out of existence. Her leap had been perfectly on target as she appeared directly behind the brown haired youth, almost close enough to touch. Before he could react she wrapped her arms quickly around him and both vanished, only to appear just shy of the massive room's ceiling to begin plummeting back towards the ground. Sean found himself screaming in shock as the girl holding him simply smiled and waited for him to run out of breath.

"This is the part where you surrender and let me put these cuffs on you," the girl blinked from behind the falling man to appear in front of him, yelling to be heard over the rushing of air. Not feeling like leaving anything to chance she reach forward to grab him once again and reset their fall, smiling at the look on his face as he realized her plan.

"You can't let me hit the ground, that would get you disqualified at this height!"

"I can't let you fall all the way to the ground, but I can drop you from pretty high up that you'd definitely survive the fall from. I simply am offering you a less painful alternative."

The look of consideration that flashed across Sean's features didn't last long. As their fall was fully reset for the second time he held his hands out with the wrists together. "After taking out five in less than five minutes, I figure that's got to be enough to pass."

Beulah smiled in response and tightened the zip cuff around the young man's wrists before teleporting them smoothly to the ground just outside the area designated for the test. She waited until Coach Martinez materialized, then blinked away again. Sean met the Coach's questioning look with a shrug.

"I was going to lose that one anyways, might as well not get both my legs broken for pride while I'm at it."

"And if your earlier performance wasn't enough, what then?"

"Then at least I failed after genuinely getting a chance to show the HCP what Sean Tannen was capable of."




The corridor suddenly erupted with an extremely odd *FWOOSH* noise and a pair of startled cries as a massive wave of foam engulfed two battling students in the narrow hallway. Ty Rodins smiled at his handiwork as he quickly moved away from the scene of his latest ambush.

There were far fewer students left in the simulation room as had originally entered, of this Ty was absolutely certain. The large black youth had found his entry point to be in the basement of a small commercial building of some kind about two blocks away from the objective building. The heavy set man had quickly discarded the idea of trying to locate one of the three major objectives himself as a way to get eliminated far too quickly. He was currently riding below the cut off line for the class, and he needed an impressive performance in order to make it into his second semester with the Overton HCP. As tempting as obtaining a briefcase that granted an automatic pass to the next term might have been, it was also in Ty's highly analytic mind a very obvious trap.

The strongest and fastest students would make their way quickly into the building to battle for the primary objective, and Ty knew that it would take careful planning, preparation, and most likely the element of surprise in order for any of his tricks to be able to take down some of the combat specialists in his class. He had gone all out in designing new tools for himself in the past two months. The poncho-like outer garment he wore was based off the polymer outfit he had designed for Erin to wear and provided the Tech based Super with a certain level of reactive camouflage. Though no where near as effective as his girlfriend's ability, it was sufficient to allow him to approach occupied combatants in order to ambush them. The last pair made the second such group Ty had caught by surprise, bringing his total of subdued classmates to four.

A concussive blast from outside the building Ty was currently using as a hunting nest quickly drew his attention to the street on the far side. Moving carefully to the window Ty found himself a little awestruck at the matchup occurring just a few hundred feet away. Amelia was facing off against two other students that appeared to have teamed up in an effort to fell the currently second ranked powerhouse. Ty recognized Ramón immediately but the name of the well groomed blond blasting away at his roommate with some kind of force attack escaped him at the moment. It appeared to be a surprisingly even match as Ramón was fast enough to avoid Amelia's incredible power for the most part, and his ally was assisting by keeping her off balance with blasts of concussive force when it seemed she was about to close the distance.

Ty was so engrossed in the combat unfolding before him that he failed to notice the quiet approach of rapid footsteps behind him until he felt a hand on the back of his neck.

"I would really rather you just let me cuff you, but I can probably manage to break a few ribs if that will help to convince you." The raspy whisper could only be coming from the class's fastest student.

"Hi Iris. How's the burns holding up?" Ty freely offered his right hand to the girl as he spoke, not feeling the need to suffer major internal injuries in a fist fight he stood no chance of winning. Even as injured as she was Iris was so much faster than the much heavier black youth that it wouldn't have served any purpose save perhaps to assuage his ego at the loss. Ty had better plans than being beaten.

"I hurt all over if that's what you're wondering. Think you can take me?" there was the barest hint of the playful personality the tall blond girl was well known for among her classmates in her question. Ty found it was easy to picture the smile the girl would likely have been wearing had her face not still been largely concealed with bandages.

"I don't think I can beat you, but tell you what," faster than even Iris could react there was another massive *FWOOSH* that echoed through the room. The girl shrieked briefly in shock as she was fully engulfed in a surge of white foam that rapidly hardened, but seemed to not impede her breathing at all as it completely immobilized her. Ty's continued speech was hugely muffled, but he managed to pitch his voice high enough for her to understand him. "We'll call it a draw."

In spite of the embarrassment of being caught off guard by her opponent, Iris found herself laughing.




Amelia was not having a great time of things in the freshman midterm so far. Her first encounter had been dealt with quickly. Coming out of the building her entry point had deposited her in she had quite literally run into a moderately tall hispanic girl with long unruly brown hair. Recognizing the nearly invulnerable Alvera as her first opponent the skinny blond had struck quickly and precisely, grabbing the smaller girl and depositing her halfway through the nearest wall. It was a tactic that would have killed most of her classmates. For Alvera, it simply left her stuck in a wall that she didn't have the strength to free herself from. The trapped girl had done a marvelous job in cursing at Amelia in two different languages as the taller girl had continued on towards the objective building.

The second ranked freshman student found herself delayed multiple times by traps blocking her first attempted entrances. Not willing to risk getting disqualified by a course hazard so early and remembering well the warning Coach Martinez had provided that the trap need not actually incapacitate her, it simply had to restrain her for ten seconds.

While continuing to explore around the building for a clear path inside, Amelia was ambushed by a familiar opponent, her current boxing instructor Ramón. The tall girl had thought she'd managed to gain the upper hand in the fight and was working to corner her faster but physically weaker opponent when she had been blown off her feet by an unseen force. Amelia had managed to roll and come to her feet quickly to find herself facing off against Gerard Finne, a face she recognized from the initial combat trials at the start of the year. All three combatants paused for a moment as looks were exchanged, and with a wordless nod Amelia had found herself facing off against two cooperating opponents.

Now the powerful woman was trying to find a way to either end the conflict quickly or escape and perhaps try her luck later in a one on one matchup. Every time she forced her way through another one of the blond man's kinetic barriers there was a massive concussive blast that had to be audible throughout the entire chamber, and Amelia didn't relish the possibility that any additional newcomers might also decide to join in the battle to bring her down as the more dangerous threat. Unfortunately Ramón's speed made a simple escape impossible, and while she was quite certain she could have handled the muscular Mexican alone, the well groomed blond was able to throw her more than enough off balance that she couldn't pin down her much more maneuverable enemy. The battle looked more and more like it would be an endurance contest, and while that alone might have shifted the advantage eventually in favor of the female fighter, the possibility of others joining in made such a proposition not sit well.

Abruptly over the din of their own combat the near wall of the building directly behind Gerard bowed outwards with an extremely odd *FWOOSH* noise and bits of foam came flying through the long broken windows. Gerard spun to see what was happening behind him, and Ramón looked away from Amelia just long enough for her to get a head start.

The skinny blond girl catapulted towards Gerard, braid whipping behind her as she barely touched the ground with the force she hurled herself forward with kept her mostly airborne. She saw the startled man turn back towards her and bring his hands up in a familiar gesture, and dropped to dig her feet into the pavement to apparently brace for the incoming attack as she had been doing. Instead of holding her position this time though Amelia used her strength to completely reverse her direction. Turning and diving back in a maneuver that would likely have broken both legs and possibly the spine of a normal human attempting it, she smiled widely as she saw that she had caught Ramón completely off guard with her direction change. In spite of his heightened speed and reaction time the man simply didn't have time to completely evade the human bullet that was suddenly hurtling towards him. Amelia only managed to catch his right arm as she flew past his attempted dodge, but with her grip it was more than enough and the taller man came flying along for the remainder of her trajectory with a startled yell.

As she landed she pulled the struggling man into a bear hug and fell on top of him, threading her legs around his as he attempted to find leverage to kick his way free. With enough of a squeeze that it was quite obvious she would not be dislodged Amelia began to shout.

"One! Two! Three! Four!..." Ramón's struggle intensified briefly as he realized the intent to show him subdued for ten seconds, but he gave up and relaxed at the eight count. He had been caught, and he was about to be out of the game, but at least he would go out wrapped up in a lovely woman.

Shortly after Amelia reached ten, Elena Martinez appeared with a smirk to whisk the tall Mexican away, and Amelia came to her feet to see that Gerard was in the process of fleeing the area, likely knowing he would be unable to incapacitate Amelia or keep her at bay without assistance. As she prepared to chase after him a female figure with incredibly long, dark hair appeared next to him and gave a brief wave before both vanished. The vanishing was followed by a loud grunt as Gerard reappeared alone to impact the ground right beside Amelia with significant force.

She briefly considered cuffing the dazed man, but decided against it. He was obviously out for the count and Amelia found no desire to attempt to steal points from one of her classmates.




Scott Jameson found himself fighting a decidedly odd battle inside the remains of a very realistically constructed gas station a couple of blocks away from the large building the test centered around. He knew his opponent, Jon, quite well, as he had thoroughly enjoyed the week he had spent working with the taller man on the Ethics group project when they had been rotated onto the same team. Both men were somewhat familiar with the others' ability, Jon creating hard light constructs, and Scott with his short ranged magnetic singularities. Jon's abilities had improved greatly over the semester, allowing him to create objects capable of withstanding a great deal more force before being destroyed than he could manage originally, though he had yet to master any real moving constructs save those he could wield directly with his own hands. Scott hadn't greatly increased his actual power so far, but his control had grown far more precise than it had been when he had started the school year.

And in that lay the problem the two men found themselves facing. Scott's magnetically controlled metal bands were proving to provide more than sufficient force to break through even Jon's greatly improved constructs, but his lack of range and the speed with which the lanky blond was able to produce more obstructions rendered the two men into an odd stalemate. Neither seemed able to mount an offense capable of truly breaching the other's defense, and both were becoming quickly tired by the unending struggle for an advantage.

Seeking a means to end the match, Scott charged recklessly forward, focusing on rapidly and powerfully manipulating the dense metal rings orbiting his body into a virtual blender of defense, hoping he could close the gap before Jon could slip something through. Once he was close enough Scott had no doubt that he'd be able to get some form of restraint onto his opponent.

Equally eager to see the fight end, Jon stood his ground and threw a creative series of obstacles into the smaller man's path, seeking some angle where he could trip up the short brown haired youth and gain that brief advantage he felt he needed to end the fight.

As Scott drew to within almost an arm's length of his taller opponent, both men were startled as they were impacted from above by a displaced ceiling panel, followed by a cheerfully screaming hispanic girl. Outstretched fingers and toes barely managed to brush into both men who suddenly went rigid from a different sort of shock. Louise Garcia landed heavily as Jon fell and Scott staggered, the smaller boy's body was naturally heavily shielded against his own magnetic forces and as a result he was somewhat more resistant to electrical shock than the average person. Since the tiny girl managed to grab his ankle before he could recover this was quickly rendered a moot point as he could only cope with so much additional current running through his body, and he collapsed as well.

Louise quickly rose to dance a bit of a jig, looking down at her two felled opponents gleefully, and completely failing to keep her distance from the not quite unconscious man she had just brought down. She received quite a shock of her own as she suddenly felt a heavy metallic weight clasp onto her leg, looking down in surprise to see that while Scott was still unmoving, one of his many metal bands had caught hold of her leg. Acting quickly Louise bent to render Scott fully unconscious before he could regain more control, only to slam face first into a flickering slab of light that appeared in her path.

The petite black haired Latina gasped as she lost her balance and fell backwards, and felt a second band snap into place around her other leg as another construct of light appeared to pin her arms to the floor.

"Let me go! Come on guys, this isn't fair! I beat you, you can't take me out like this!" both men were still unable to move properly, but they managed to exchange a smile from their downed positions as they waited for the good natured complaints to end with the arrival of Coach Martinez to whisk them away. Looking down at the three incapacitated students, the coach couldn't quite suppress a giggle as she directed the men to desist with their active restraints and quickly blinked the three out one by one to be treated for moderately severe electrocutions or simply to shower up.

Elena Martinez made a note to get a still picture of the three students incapacitating each other printed up for her own collection. It was definitely a unique moment in her time as an HCP instructor.




The elegant winged form wove quickly around another massive gout of fire before seeming to split into three identical beings and scatter to different corners of the rooftop. Kyle Sawara hovered silently in his previous position as he waited to see which direction his opponent would take this time. The stocky Chinese girl did not waste any time in sucking in a deep breath and unleashing a massive blast of air as she spun to attempt to take out all three illusions in one go. Kyle dropped silently towards the girl as she turned away, but again something seemed to give away his approach as his opponent dove away from his attack at the last moment and came up facing him again.

Lisa Shang was finding this battle increasingly frustrating. Fighting a flying illusionist was definitely not an easy task. She was rapidly coming to understand how Kyle had obtained the fourth rank in the freshman class and not lost his high perch in several challenges. The tenth ranked girl was beginning to grow winded, definitely not a good sign when her ability was linked almost exclusively to her control of her breath. She almost wept when the figure in front of her again faded out as the scenery around her blurred in another illusion. Not wanting to continue testing her reflexes in the open against her far more maneuverable opponent Lisa decided to take the less predictable option, and sprinted towards the edge of the roof.

Kyle thought he was going to have a heart attack when he saw his petite opponent leap off the six story building they were currently battling atop. Before he could do anything in response however he heard another massive exhalation of air and realized the girl's plan. Make your own air cushion to land on. Smart. Kyle considered chasing the girl down, with his wings it wouldn't be much of a challenge, but that was most likely what his opponent wanted. Change the venue to an area that more suited her style of combat than the wide open area that fully suited Kyle. The brief internal debate was interrupted however by the sudden presence of an invisible force clasping down on the shifted man's form and pushing him to his knees.

Looking about Kyle quickly saw the face of one Michael Karl watching him from a neighboring window with an look of intense concentration on his face. The telekinetic field holding him down must be difficult for the black haired man to maintain at this range, but he only needed it to last for a few more seconds. Thinking quickly, Kyle produced the best distraction he could think of, an image of himself breaking free from the psychic restraint and leaping into the air towards Michael's window. Sure enough, the image of his power failing him was enough to provoke the reality to follow suit, and Kyle quickly slipped off the building and out of sight before the telepath could realize his error and reassert his hold.

As Kyle glided away from the building he again considered his options. The objectives had obviously been recovered already. He had examined the entire building as thoroughly as he could without blundering straight into the traps, and there were plenty of signs of other students having been present already, and no trace of any shiny metal anything. So now it was decision time, play the game for survival, or play the game for subdual?

As the illusionist flew over another small building she noted the skinny form of Barry Jeung skulking between the buildings. With a smile on his shifted, sensuous lips, Kyle decided to go with the more entertaining of his two options, and dove.




"So how does our final wrap up look for the semester James?" Kathryn Jilles and the Overton HCP Instructors were gathered around a familiar conference table once again to discuss the outcome of the freshman midterm trial.

"We had those early drops for academics or just plain stupid giving up in a couple of cases. We also had Coulton's expulsion for trying to barbecue Todd during their challenge match instead of just taking his loss like a man. Jansen had a psych washout, and of the dozen students that were informed going into the test that they needed so step up and perform, a suprising number actually managed to do so. It looks like thirty students have survived the first semester at Overton this year."

"Sorry to correct you James, but it's only going to be twenty nine," there was some surprise around the table as Laurence Vree joined the converstaion. The Focus Instructor rarely had a great deal to do with the freshman class aside from his standard duty of clouding out the memories of the program from those who failed to progress in it. "Marilyn Simmons is suffering from something close to a psychotic break. In all likelihood Lane tells me she will recover from it and will be fully able to make another run at the program in the future if that turns out to be the lady's desire."

"What the hell Larry? You couldn't have brought this to me sooner?" James Rachd was a bit upset at not having been in the loop for information about one of his current favorite students suddenly being unable to continue. "And why the hell are you the one giving this report? Where's Lane?"

"To answer both your questions, I'm giving this report because Lane has just finished his evaluation of Ms Simmons." It took a moment for the expressions of comprehension going around the table to reach Rachd's face.

"So what the hell happened?"

"From what little he could determine in such a short examination and interview, Lane believes that the poor girl has been placed under a truly insane amount of pressure from her parents to become the best of the best at any cost. Her entire routine was set at a hellish intensity and when that proved insufficient for her to obtain the top position in the class, the girl started to slowly implode. Rapid elimination from the midterm examination appears to have been the bit more than she could handle, and for a brief period she broke down."

"There's a bit more that you aren't sharing with us Lane," it was Dani Reyes that spoke this time, again drawing some small surprise from the gathered instructors. "You have a look in your eye that I am familiar with. Why do you want to hurt someone Laurence?"

"I have no reason to believe a psychiatrist as experienced and skilled as Lane Bertram would be incorrect in any of his assessments, especially when factoring in his ability to read emotional state. The amount of pressure that young lady's parents have heaped upon her is most likely an attempt to make up for their own perceived shortcomings, and as a result Ms Simmons is incredibly competent but emotionally stunted and unable to see how incredibly talented she actually is since she continues to fail to live up to the impossible expectation set by her parents. Were I licensed to be a Hero in this country in an official capacity I would be sorely tempted to dig my old uniform out of storage and travel up North to correct those two with every asset at my disposal."

"So twenty nine then? Any other surprise drops or additions to the roster?" the Dean looked around to see if anyone else had any such revelations, but none seemed forthcoming. "Very good then. I believe this makes the first time in all the years I've been at Overton both as an Instructor and Dean that we have found ourselves with more than enough freshmen to fill the sophomore roster as we approach the home stretch." There were nods of agreement from around the table.

"It would seem a celebration is in order for this new milestone of Overton's HCP." Anthony Banning spoke with a wide grin, as he produced a duffle bag from beside his chair that made several distinctive clinking sounds as he placed it on the table. "I've got everyone's favorite, so let's make this a hell of a toast before we adjourn." Bottles were passed around to various looks of eagerness, amusement, and resignation on the part of the Control Instructor.

"To the best potential class Overton has had the honor of hosting in over a decade. Cheers!"