New Trainings and Special Guest Stars
The room echoed with the gasps and panting of exhausted students as Coach Rachd's 'Welcome Back' gym class was finally called to a halt. Even most of the physically enhanced students had been handicapped in some way to insure that they were struggling to finish the sadistic four hour session long before it ended. There was a notable change in the way the gym class had gone today however; students that had dropped partway through were simply pulled to their feet and thrust back into the training. It appeared, for now at least, that failure to keep up with a single physical training session was no longer grounds for an immediate trip out of the program.
"And let that be a reminder to all of you, just because it's called a break doesn't mean you get to slack off." The coach's statement was met with the usual collection of glares from the class, but no arguments. The muscular man's smile widened as he continued, "Now that we have your reintroduction out of the way, it looks like it's finally time to explain how the second half of the year goes." This definitely drew the full attention of every one of the freshmen in the room.
"From this point on your class is splitting into two groups. Combat training and Alternative training. Now just because only one training is named 'Combat' does not mean you should get your hopes up. You will be introduced to entirely new levels of pain and exertion before this semester is over no matter where you land in this split. The real difference is going to be how much extra shit you're going to have to learn if you want to pass Alternative."
"To give a little more detail," Coach Martinez had materialized and smoothly interrupted Rachd's speech as if it were something she practiced frequently. "Combat training will be literally that. You will be honing all of your skills exclusively as they pertain to fighting. This includes your powers as well as all of your mundane abilities. Alternative training will still receive a great deal of combat-oriented instruction, but there will be a larger emphasis placed on problem solving and game theory that does not revolve entirely around how effectively you can batter a problem into submission."
"So here's the break down, top ten ranked students are on the wall to my left. MOVE!" The Close Combat Instructor added the final command when the students didn't immediately reassemble as instructed. "Bottom ten ranks, on the wall to my right." This time there was no need for any additional commands as the designated students scrambled to follow the instruction. "For anyone slow on the uptake, the top and bottom of the class make up the traditional cores for Combat," Rachd pointed to his left as he named the training, "and Alternative," pointing to the right to accompany the key word this time. "For the rest of you we have assigned you based on our assessment of your abilities."
Elena Martinez stepped in front of James Rachd as she produced a short list from one of her pockets. "Ramón Carerra, Combat. Susan Owens, Combat. Zach Snider, Combat. Iris Todd, Combat. Jon Glenn, Alternative. Barry Jeung, Combat. Tara Warren, Alternative. Louise Garcia, Combat. Michael Karl, Alternative." With that the nine students not already in a group were sorted. "Now I'm sure a few of you think that you belong in the training opposite the one you ended up in. Now is your chance to remedy that. Combat students! If you believe your skills are better suited for Alternative training, step forward."
There was absolutely no sign of surprise when Aaron Sexton and Kyle Sawara immediately stepped forward. Aaron's ability was difficult to fight against, but at the same time was definitely not a direct confrontation style ability. Kyle was an illusionist. An illusionist with some decent physical enhancements in his Shifted form, but again not the sort of ability set that lent itself well to head on conflict. There was a quiet murmur of surprise when Ben Pelley also stepped forward, but it was drowned in a completely silent shock that descended when the current number one ranked student joined him.
The coaches seemed not completely immune to the surprise either as the two exchanged a long glance before the smaller hispanic woman again resumed speaking. "Mr Sexton, why do you feel that you are more suited for Alternative training?"
"My ability disorients and distracts. It causes fatigue and hallucinations. It is not an ability that will defeat opponents directly and it is neither amazingly fast acting nor easy to control. I believe that my most realistic chances at success, in addition to my best learning opportunities, lie in the Alternative training for the remainder of this year." Elena blinked in surprise. Someone had obviously coached the wavy haired blond boy on exactly how this process worked. His answer was practically a textbook response for what the instructors looked for in a student moving from Combat to Alternative.
"Accepted then, please move over to the right. Mr Sawara, same question."
"I turn into a sex symbol that can fly and throw out a ton of very realistic illusions. I rely mostly on luck in a fight against the heaviest combat abilities. I need to learn a greater array of ways to use my ability, not just increase the depth of my skill at hitting people." Smiling, Elena waved the lanky asian youth to the Alternative side of the room.
"Mr Pelley, I'm sure you can understand why we were a little surprised to see you trying to get out of Combat training. Care to explain?"
"I'm not here to play a backup role Coach. I'm strong, but with Ames, Susan, and Collin in this class I'm like the backup for the backup Strongman. I need to learn how to do more than just walk forward and hit things, because we've already got enough depth at that position in this class."
"That is a surprisingly well thought out answer. Have you considered that even if you aren't the strongest you could still excel in Combat training?"
"I didn't join the HCP because I wanted something easy. And making it through the first year because I was strong enough to not get bumped off isn't what I'm looking for either."
"Very well Mr Pelley, you're accepted for Alternative training."
"CASSE! Why the fuck are you stepping away from that wall?" Coach Rachd had apparently decided to take over the process for questioning the current top ranked freshman.
"I'm a low level physical Super with the ability to significantly distort light and to see in a wider spectrum at once than almost any piece of high end scientific equipment in the world. It was skill, not ability, that put me in the top position for the present. I am likely the only student in this class that has extensive experience facing other persons with abilities prior to arriving at Overton. I've spent the past fourteen years receiving some of the best combat tutelage in the world, the sort that no amount of money can buy. I already know Combat, I need to know more than that if I'm going to continue in this program once my classmates have had the opportunity to narrow the gap that exists between us in terms of skill and experience." Erin's response left both coaches silent for a time as they appeared to be giving the matter deep consideration. Finally Coach Rachd jerked his thumb to indicate the wall to his right, and Erin moved to join the rest of the Alternative training group.
As the two coaches surveyed the current state of the class the Latina coach found herself unable to contain a grin directed at her muscular counterpart. It was extremely uncommon for Alternative training to find itself with notably more students than Combat in her experience in the HCP. From Rachd's sour expression, he seemed to have noted the discrepancy with a predictably opposing reaction.
"All right, now the fun part! Alternatives, do any of you think you should have ended up in Combat training? Think carefully before stepping forward, you're going to have more than just a question if you want to cross over to the other side of the room."
With no hesitation Scott Jameson stepped forward. A moment later he was joined by Alexandra Andrews. Erin's defection from Combat to Alternative had shocked the class silent. Seeing the petite Alexandra, a girl that made no secret of her dislike for Coach Rachd's training, seeking a transfer into Combat training sparked a wild chorus of startled conversation. Rachd quickly bellowed the students back into silence.
"All right Mr Jameson, Ms Andrews. This is pretty simple. Call out someone in the Combat training right now, and you will have a match immediately. If you win, you can join your opponent in Combat training. If you lose your grade in the program will suffer a bit and you will be stuck with Alternative training." Elena examined the expressions of both students intently, looking for signs of hesitance and seeing none. "Mr Jameson, who would you like to challenge?"
Scott's gaze slid slowly along the line of assembled Combat students as he carefully considered his response. Only one shot to move into the Combat course. "I challenge Barry."
"Mr Jeung, Mr Jameson, please move to combat room 1A and resolve your match exactly as a ranking challenge." Both students quickly moved towards the exit, the challenged Barry shooting a glare at the shorter man as they exited the room.
"Ms Andrews, who would you like to challenge?"
Alexandra Andrews looked up and down the line of Combat students before dropping her gaze to the floor. "I feel bad challenging someone like this. Like it's saying I think that the one person I call out is worse than I am."
"Do you want to withdraw your intent to switch trainings?"
"No Coach, um... You pick. Anyone except Amelia." The room was literally silent enough to have heard a pin drop in the wake of the petite blonde's statement.
"You... All right. It's unusual but I can't think of anything that prevents it. Mr Gauge, please accompany Ms Andrews to combat room 1B and resolve your match exactly like a ranking challenge." Collin shrugged and moved off towards the designated room with Alexandra trailing behind.
Several of the students that had been fighting to hold in laughter slipped a bit and a few muffled chuckles and giggles could be heard in the room.
"Finne, Shang, Samuels, Karl, and Sexton, you all owe me one hundred push ups. NOW!" The five students called out quickly stifled their remaining laughter, and the imposed penalty for slipping was more than sufficient to allow a few others to completely fight down the same urge.
"It seems some of you think you should be laughing at Andrews for thinking she could take anyone on the Combat side of the class. What you should be doing is waiting to console Gauge when he gets back after having his ass handed to him by the second smallest person in the class." The only sounds in the room now were the rhythmic grunts from the five students quietly counting through their sets of push ups. "Andrews can mimic any student in this class, and probably any student in the upper classes as well, or any of the Instructors. She was assigned to Alternative because we thought it would be a better fit for her personality, not because she can't fight." Rachd's expression broke into a truly evil grin as he continued. "If that girl has finally decided she wants to step up, she'll be in the top five ranks in less than a month."
The tiny hispanic girl was practically skipping as she made her way to the HCP elevators for the second day of the Spring term. She had made it through the first semester, she had been selected for Combat training, AND she had managed a 3.8 GPA in her normal classes so far at Overton. Of course Louise expected her regular course work to get harder at some point when she finally settled on a major, but that was a problem to worry about next year.
As she approached the Ethics lecture hall Louise noted that there seemed to be significantly more pre-class chatter than normal. Entering the class the petite girl discovered the most likely reason why. It seemed that the class had a guest of some sort today; a tall woman wearing very stylized biker leathers stood behind and to the right of the lectern already occupied by Dean Jilles.
Louise found herself slowing as she approached her usual seat to examine the mystery woman in more detail. Tall, brown and red leathers, patches, and all those scars... Oh My God, oh my god, ohmygodomigod... The suddenly excited Latina barely managed to settle into her seat as her mind clicked through to the only person she could think of that fit the woman's description AND might have reason to be present at an HCP course. Oh my god and I was the president of the Southwest fan club for almost all of high school. Oh god what if she already recognizes me from the pictures on the website...
Fortunately Louise's frantic train of thought was derailed by the voice of Dean Jilles as the class began. "As everyone has no doubt noticed, the Overton HCP is hosting a special guest, and one not at all like our other 'special' guests this time." There were some smiles and a few chuckles at the emphasis the Dean put on the second 'special.' "For those of you who haven't already recognized our high profile guest lecturer, I would like to introduce all of you to the Hero, Lady Mayhem."
"Technically it's just Mayhem. Everyone wants to add a 'Lady' or some bullshit to differentiate between me and dad. But since he's retired these days, I would prefer the name without any titles or identifiers attached." The sharper students in the class noted that while it had been the Dean who mistakenly added the extra title to the Hero's name, her speech was addressed to the class in front of her.
Louise was simply trying to not hyperventilate as she attempted to work out how to ask one of her idols for an autograph. Preferably without disrupting the class or coming across as some kind of lunatic. Step one, calm the fuck down girl. Breathe the normal way.
"Judging from a glance around the room, I have a few fans in here. If you want something signed or have a question that's not about whatever we end up discussing, just bring it up at the end of the class." Well that was one concern covered for the petite hispanic girl. Now to move onto the important work of making sure she remembered how to breathe properly before she passed out.
"I'll be here for the whole week, and we'll be talking about what it means to really be a Hero out in the world." The scarred visage turned as the woman made eye contact with each student in the room in turn. "For the record, I'm not going to have any advice on how to 'build your Heroic brand,' or spinning shit for the media. There are Heroes that are into that, and they can have that whole fucking piece of our world. I'm out there to stop people that ordinary law enforcement can't stop and to save lives that mundane means can't save. I don't give a damn about the glory or the credit, and I truly could not give any fewer fucks than I currently do as to what the media thinks of me." A sardonic smile crossed the Hero's face as she continued. "And that is why I am standing in a classroom right now. The Department of Variant Human Affairs has decided that I need a mandatory break and some grounding before I can get my ass back into the field. Essentially I've got some community service hours assigned because I was a bitch." There were a few uneasy chuckles from the room as some students tried to determine if the woman behind the lectern was joking or not. Louise sat at the edge of her seat and stared in rapt fascination, hanging on every word.
"So before we dive into the lecture I made up on my way down here today, does anyone have any questions?"
There was a long pause before a single hand went up. "Christ you're a big girl. What's your question?"
Tasha Johnson opted not to stand as she was called on, figuring she was more than visible enough in her seated position. "Why do you have all the scars?"
"Wow, you really fuck with the stereotypes don't you? You're a healer?" Tasha looked surprised but nodded in response. "It's always the healers that ask about the scars. It's pretty simple really, I get hurt doing what I do, and I do not always have time to track down one of the uber healers that can fix me up without leaving scars. It's been a while since the last time I had a chance to get a cosmetic healer, so I look like this. You volunteering to fix me up?"
The muscular black woman considered the question before shaking her head. "I can heal most injuries without leaving much of a scar, but I don't think I could fix scar tissue that's already healed."
"Well the thought is appreciated, though to be honest I believe that Overton HCP's head doctor has offered to get me looking like my driver's license photo again. Any other questions before we start?" Another hand went up in response, prompting the Hero on the stage to turn to the seated Dean behind her. "What the hell are you people feeding the girls here?" Without waiting for a response from the now smiling Dean, Mayhem pointed at the raised hand "Tall and skinny, what's your question?"
"What's your ability that leaves you where you have to get hurt like that all the time?" Amelia's question seemed to be another one the scarred woman was very familiar with.
"And let me guess again, physical enhancement with a lot of extra durability?" Amelia nodded in response, though without the surprise Tasha had shown when the lecturer had guessed her ability. "It's funny how it's always the same type of Super that asks me the same questions whenever I have to do shit like this.
"The answer to your question is two parts. I'm classed as a controller or manipulator type. There's a lot of scientific shit used to describe what exactly I control and manipulate, but I prefer to simplify it to motion. Pretty neat power right?" There were nods around the room in response to the question, although a few students held expressions indicating they didn't quite understand what Mayhem's ability actually was. "A little better explanation to the slow kids I'm seeing out there," glares replaced some of the confused expressions at that, "I can accelerate or decelerate objects or myself and make things easier or harder to move. The thing is, right now I have just about enough power to fake it as a moderate super physique type, or maybe knock some shit off your desks." Small items rolled off of random desks around the class room. Most were caught by attentive students, but there was some cursing as the less perceptive had to scramble to recover items. "The reason I get so messed up all the time is because that's how I get a boost. It's inherited in all three generations of my family to carry the same Hero name. All our powers have been different, but they all get the same boost. The closer we are to death, the more powerful our abilities become." There was a pause as this bit of data was allowed to sink in. "Makes me a real bitch to take on, because you've basically got to take me out in one shot, because that which does not kill me will make me a truly terrifying and vengeful force of nature." The Hero examined the once more silent room before continuing again. "Anyone else have a question before we start the lecture?" No hands went up this time.
"Okay then, jumping into my first guest lecture in awhile." Another pause while the tall woman looked around at the assembled students. "You are all fucking idiots for trying out for a job where you will be expected to go out every single day and face some of the most horrific manners of death imaginable." The class as a whole sat stupefied at Mayhem's opening statement. "Dean Jilles here is a fucking idiot AND a heartless sociopath. The former because she went out and did the job that all of you think you want for a period of seventeen years, and the latter because she is now in the HCP training impressionable young people to venture forth into that same hell." There were uncertain expressions around the room as the freshmen attempted to determine if this was some sort of joke or a real lecture. Notable in not sharing any visible uncertainty were Kathryn Jilles and Catalina Blake. The Dean held a perfectly calm and serene expression, seemingly unperturbed by the speech. The much younger telepath seemed on the verge of bursting into hysterical laughter.
"And last of all in this room I am the biggest fucking idiot of all, and COMPLETELY insane. Because I have gone out and done this hellish job that all of you are here to train for, and I am counting each and every damned hour until I can get out of this place and get back to work." There was another pause as the scarred woman reached beneath the lectern to produce a small stack of papers. "Now that we have a proper premise set down to build from, let's go through some examples of how well classroom ethics will work when you're staring down a psychopath that can flay you to the fucking bone by looking at you hard."
Tara Warren rechecked her collection of vials, syringes, and canisters for the fifth time as she stood alongside fourteen other students in the HCP fitness center. A few of the others were demonstrating nerves similar to the level being experienced by the bespectacled redhead, but most of the students present seemed far more eager than anxious to be here. Fortunately the long wait finally ended as Elena Martinez materialized at the exact indicated start time for the Gym period.
"Welcome to your first Alternative training class." The coach wore a small smile as she examined her students. "In this course you are going to learn a lot of things about yourself and your ability. You are going to learn that the direct approach is frequently not the best approach. You are going to learn that there are more ways to neutralize a threat than you would imagine possible right now. And you are going to learn that your powers are capable of accomplishing a far greater variety of end results than you currently believe." The smile widened. "You are also all going to be put through a training regimen every bit as taxing as the Combat students are going through. With that in mind you have the next twenty two minutes to complete a four mile run. Anyone that does not complete their run will continue running for the entire duration of the following exercise. Begin." Fortunately after an entire semester of HCP physical fitness training with both coaches, none of the freshmen hesitated to begin the assigned run.
Twenty one minutes and eighteen seconds later the last of the fifteen students had regrouped in front of Coach Martinez. Tara was pleased that she had come in almost thirty seconds ahead of the last finisher. The hispanic coach gave the group until the full allotted time had expired as an opportunity to catch their breath before she began speaking again.
"Who here can tell me what my ability is?" There was hesitation among most of the group as the students saw such an easy question as a likely trap. Two hands shot up right away however. "Who here that is NOT telepathic can tell me what my ability is?" Catalina and Michael reluctantly lowered their hands. Seeing continued hesitance around her, Tara finally decided to raise her own hand.
"You can teleport and something else. Either some kind of telepresence so you can observe things at a distance before teleporting there, or some variation on invisibility." The coach's expression held a pleasantly surprised look as Tara finished her answer.
"Actually Ms Warren it isn't 'or.' Both additional abilities you surmised are correct. I am primarily a teleporter, however the way my power works allows me to view the area I am transiting into prior to arriving. Additionally while exiting a teleport I can remain relatively insubstantial and invisible for a couple of minutes with sufficient focus." All the remaining students save for Erin and the two telepaths looked surprised at the confirmation of the instructor's additional abilities. "At a glance it would be easy to come to the conclusion that my ability set does not translate well into combat scenarios." There were nods of agreement from most of the students at that. "Which is why it is now time to disabuse you all of that idiotic notion. Please spread out. In thirty seconds, I am going to take on all of you at once. If there's any remaining doubt, I'm sure James will let me repeat the demonstration with his students as well."
Tara found herself staring blankly at the coach, along with eleven other students, not quite comprehending what the smiling Latina had just said. The top ranked combat student immediately moved away from the group and began stripping her outer uniform as she became nearly invisible. The two telepaths assumed ready stances without hesitation.
By the end of the combat, almost three full minutes later, Tara was quite thankful that Coach Martinez had given her students a solid thirty seconds to prepare for the fight. If she had simply initiated combat without the long delay things might have ended embarrassingly fast for the fifteen students.
James Rachd had to give the three remaining students credit. Some of the kids this year can really take a hit. The tall muscular man grinned as the two shifters and the skinny blond girl pulled themselves up to come at the coach again. Owens can take a hit almost as well as Gauge can, but she's about at her limit. Easily sidestepping Amelia's reckless charge, Rachd made a similar dash at the skeletal marionette that was currently the twelfth ranked student in the freshman class. His first punch was mostly deflected by a flailing limb, but the four follow ups hammered the grinning skull-like face into the wall with sufficient force that the transformed girl finally lost consciousness. Without bothering to look the bald coach threw a spinning backhand that perfectly intercepted his only human appearing opponent and sent her tumbling across the floor. The force with which Amelia landed and rolled tore large chunks from the reinforced room as Collin Gauge attempted to use the momentary distraction to land a hit of his own.
The crystalline shifter partially succeeded. Rachd rolled mostly out of the way of the incoming fist but Collin managed to clip the side of his head just enough to knock the Coach slightly off balance. Then the extended arm was caught in a grip notably more powerful than his own and he was pulled forward into a powerful stomp that almost completely removed his right leg.
Facing off against his final opponent in the Combat training class the older bald man finally met the braided girl's charge head on. Rachd's speed and experience allowed him to easily duck inside of the powerful woman's punch to land a blow to her sternum with all the force he could put into it. Amelia sailed into the far wall of the room to impact with a deafening crash. This time the tall girl did not rise again after she collapsed trying to suck air back into a body that would not cooperate with her attempt.
Seeing that the entire class was down Rachd clicked off the timer on the wall, leaving the large digital display up for all to see as a group of upperclassman healers made their rounds to put the freshmen back together again. The display read two minutes, nineteen seconds.
"Get off your asses and get over here when the healers are done with you!" There were groans, but the battered students made their way quickly to group around the Combat instructor. "Now who can tell me what all of you did wrong?"
"We got in a fight with someone way stronger than us?" As he spoke, Rorie Samuels was nursing his recently unbroken arm as he carefully flexed each finger to make sure everything still worked.
"Not even close to a right answer Samuels. Ten laps, double time. GO!" The final command was unnecessary as the large Samoan had started off at a solid run as soon as Rachd had finished the word 'laps.'
"We fought stupid. We did not make a plan to fight together." The coach nodded in response to the answer given by the tall Mexican. Ramón had actually landed a couple of solid shots on the instructor with his speed before the older man had put him out.
"Correct. I gave you sixty seconds to prepare for this fight, and not one of you said a word during that period. Had any of you been bright enough to coordinate even the tiniest bit, you might have managed to land more than a couple of love taps on me while I beat all your asses into the ground.
"Here's how most days are going to work! I am going to pair you off with someone, and you are going to fight until I tell you to do something else. Some days you will be instructed to fight without using your abilities, some days there will be no holds barred." Rachd raised his voice to continue over the objections suddenly being brought up by several students at once. "And I am well aware that some of you don't effectively have a 'power off' mode, so don't get your panties all twisted children, you won't have to make a powerless go of it against one of the class powerhouses." There were looks of relief around the room at this announcement.
"Gauge, since your better half doesn't get fixed by anything but time, you are useless as shit with only one leg. Your special instructions for Combat training are to fight until you are maimed, then move on to strength training with whatever limbs you have left." Collin nodded and immediately jogged off in the direction of the super weight room. "Jacobson, you are a god damned super freak, so you will be facing off against Owens AND Carerra at the same time. When Gauge isn't broken he will also be training with you. You lot will cycle so that it's always two vs Blondie. Use one of the alternate rooms because I will be very fucking disappointed if I don't see some collateral damage from your matchup every day." The three designated students grouped and immediately headed for the neighboring combat room.
"The rest of you are going to be experiencing your first 'no powers' day. On any no power day you will be fighting in close proximity at all times. The monitoring equipment will flag you if you move more than ten feet from your opponent for any reason. If you get flagged three times in one session you will stay for an extra hour of physical conditioning at the end. If you get flagged more than three times you will wish with all your heart and soul that you had never heard of the HCP." Rachd grinned in response to all the nervous looks now directed at him. "And I expect that you will be hitting each other within ten seconds of me calling your pair! Snider, Montez, PAIR UP! ..."