Poorly Written Political Acts and Cruel Coaches
"As much as I've come to enjoy your company and insights Kathryn, I am really starting to miss the days when we hardly saw each other at all." Riley Walker waved the petite HCP Dean into his office as he spoke, the dark haired woman smiling in response to his welcome.
"Honestly Riley, I must admit more fondness for you than I would have believed possible prior to the events of last summer. And believe me, the nostalgia for the good old days of barely speaking to each other is more than reciprocated." Kathryn Jilles settled into the plush chair across from Overton University's president and waited for her blond host to reveal what he had called this meeting about.
"We've been too complacent Kathryn. No major plays since we found out about the freeze on the outside candidate pool, and we just assumed that our opponents had played their best hand." The slightly overweight man stared off at an unseen point as he spoke, obviously worried even to someone without the telepath's advanced abilities. "Although we may still have had a stroke of luck that will keep us in this game."
"What possible tactics are left to play out short of a suicidal attack? The entire faculty is on alert now, Riley. That coupled with the additional campus security you and your lovely wife have quietly moved in since the 'incidents' in the fall semester have rendered any more direct tactics largely meaningless." Kathryn paused as she attempted to get some hint of what was going through the University President's mind, only to find his thoughts spinning so fast at present to be too disjointed for much use. The resourceful woman did get a direction to go in though. "Politics again? We've been over every section of the HCP Foundation Act dozens of times. Even the legal experts you brought in to study it can't find any new ways to twist things that can't be easily countered now that we've got the resources in place to do so. Would you like me to keep guessing or will you just tell me what it is that has you suddenly worried about our mysterious foes again?"
In response to the Dean's question the slightly overweight blond man produced several folders from the desk drawer on his right and slid them all towards the petite woman's outstretched hands. "We forgot to account for the level at which politicians will slip anything through anywhere they can. All the relevant sections have been highlighted, although I have little doubt at this point that we are going to discover even more little surprises. If I hadn't been so complacent as to forget I even still HAD an independent research project being done on the HCP we wouldn't even have this much now." Riley paused and produced a pair of glasses and a bottle of aged single malt from the same drawer the files had appeared from. The Dean waved off the implied offer as Riley poured himself a drink.
"That top folder contains multiple disjointed references to the various Defense spending bills that were passed back in '82. You'll note from the highlighted portions there were a few special clauses inserted defining rare circumstances where the Department of Defense can intervene with training regimens in the HCP." The blond man paused to take a slow sip of the whiskey before continuing. "Everything in that particular clause is benign, it was mainly someone realizing that the HCP had a great deal of authority with the original act to potentially appropriate military hardware for training purposes, and gave the DOD some ability to restrict that access when needed." The Dean had already found the relevant sections and moved on to the next folder, wondering where the explanation was headed at this point.
"In the second file there's a sub-clause that was slipped into an HCP Budget Appropriations Bill in '87 that, in conjunction with the clause from '82, allows Defense to step into HCP training if there is sufficient reason to suspect that the course of training being followed presents a national security risk. Technically all things that were allowed in the original Act, but because of how it's worded it ties things into the Defense Subcommittee instead of requiring a larger review." The first whiskey drained, another long pause as Riley carefully refilled his glass.
"Can we skip the complete political lesson and come to the point?" The Dean was becoming genuinely worried as more and more of Riley's nerves began to affect her. "This third clause simply allows some distribution of the Defense Subcommittees powers to the Appropriations Committee and to some of the Budgeting Committees under specific circumstances. I'm assuming that the clause allowing Defense to interfere in HCP training ended up mucked into that stack?"
"Quite right. To summarize the remainder: You are probably already aware that there are circumstances where the HCP training course can be suspended or modified within very narrow margins, Instructors can be placed on Administrative Leave, and a number of other items that generally fall to the Dean of the program can in fact be changed from the outside." Another sip of whiskey while the petite woman gathered her thoughts on this revelation.
"How is that relevant to our political adversaries? It requires intervention from the DVA and another HCP Dean in order to enact any of those powers."
"Except my dear Kathryn, politicians are frequently sloppy lawyers. With the correct small committee majorities enacted properly, almost all of those things can happen, if any member of the HCP faculty in question is already the subject of a congressional investigation." It took a moment before the dark haired woman caught up to what the University President was telling her as he enjoyed the lull to finish his second glass.
"The Oversight Committee counts as an investigation. Son of a bitch. And because of all the little connections built in all these clauses," a gesture towards the stack of folders, "then with the correct Senate clearances and closed door votes they can well and truly screw us over. How the hell do we stop that?"
"They can't remove anyone without grounds and an open hearing before Congress, or proof of the commission of a major felony. That would be the dumbest fucking move they could make, so that's not what we expect. What are the best points of the year to try and sabotage the ability of your students to succeed in the program?"
"The midterm and the final exams. Christ, they didn't pull anything at the midterms but..." Kathryn trailed off as she met Riley's gaze and saw nothing there that made her happy.
"There have been two occasions when all the necessary members of the Senate have been in closed door sessions in the correct order to potentially approve something like this. I would like to be optimistic." This time when Riley poured himself another drink the Dean motioned that he should pour her one as well. "This was not an easy trail to find or follow. It might be nothing, but you need to do anything you can to prepare for the possibility that whomever is behind this is going to try and rig your students' final."
Kathryn drained the glass in a single long drink before responding. "There's nothing we can do except what we're already doing. There's some set in stone limits to how dangerous the final exam can be and how long it can last, but if an attempt to fix it is coming all we can do is to keep training those kids as best we can. And hope that they've got what it takes to step up."
"Think they can do it?"
Dean Jilles offered a genuine smile to the University's President for the first time since sitting down. "Our program, and those kids, have been underestimated by whomever started this since before the ball started rolling. Our students will destroy whatever the hell those bastards put in their way."
The freshman Combat class stood in bewildered silence as the wall clock ticked over to indicate the start time for their daily gym session. Instead of Coach Rachd's relentless yelling signaling the training types and pairings for the day, Coach Martinez had materialized in the midst of the group with a wide grin on her face.
"Good afternoon Combat students. Today marks your first complete month of HCP Combat training. In an effort to make sure your training is as well rounded as possible, you will spend this week participating in a series of Alternate training drills instead of your normal Combat program." Somehow the silent shock in the room managed to deepen as the class absorbed the coach's statement. "To start things off with, we're going to have a nice half hour run, and a thinking assignment to work on until the end of that half hour. Every one of you is going to come up with an entirely new way for you to use your ability, in or out of combat." There were a few groans of recognition at the description from those students who had evidently discussed the assignment with the Alternative class who were constantly going through variations of it. "Additionally, for our students in Combat training with notable physical enhancements, you will note in the storage area on the south wall there are training harnesses with your names on them. You will wear your harness during the fitness exercises you go through while you spend this week in the Alternative section. Please begin running, and make sure to maintain at least a five minute pace."
Four students immediately headed towards the closet indicated as the rest of class started onto the track. "Ms Todd, Ms Andrews, you will note that there are harnesses waiting for the two of you as well." The two girls stopped in surprise at this bit of news, but both quickly recovered and joined the others in getting outfitted in the extra gear.
It took a bit of work to get the two Shifters into the specialized harnesses, particularly since Amelia was the only one in the group strong enough to easily maneuver the incredibly heavy gear. After helping the others settle in to their extra weights the skinny blonde attempted to don her own harness and discovered that with the massive weights attached she was cracking the floor without even moving.
"Coach Martinez, I'm not sure if the room can handle me running with this much weight."
"Hmmm, that is a possibility I had considered. Are you already cracking the floor?" At the braided girl's nod the hispanic coach pointed at the connecting passage to the combat rooms. "There's a reinforced track set up in 1A, that should keep you from sinking through the floor while you're running. Make sure to keep your pace up, especially in the smaller room."
Amelia nodded and began making her way gingerly across the floor, actually finding herself struggling slightly to manage the harness she was strapped into.
"Alright class, make sure you keep that pace up and get creative! I only have you for a week so you are not going to be dismissed tonight until you come up with a goal for expanding your ability in a new way." There were a few surprised sounds from the running students which widened the smile on the Instructor's face. "And try to be both realistic and impressive, because this little segment of training will be factoring NOTICEABLY into your final grades for the year."
Most of the Alternative training class had already started a warm up jog around the track in preparation of Coach Martinez's arrival when James Rachd came through the entryway yelling. "Alternatives! On me RIGHT NOW!" Startled, the class still managed to assemble quickly around the Combat Instructor.
"Listen up, for the next week you lot will be participating in Combat training under me while the Combat class works under Coach Martinez. This will be your chance to see how the other half is living, and learn how much of a hit you can really take." Only the two telepaths and the top ranked freshman seemed completely unsurprised by the turn of events. The rest of the class found themselves gaping in shock at the coach's announcement.
"Alright, Casse! Since your physical enhancements don't switch off you get to be special training buddies with Sawara. Sawara, you're stuck with this because training normal you is pointless when Shifted you is going to be doing all the work anyways. Additionally you'll be working with..." the muscular man trailed off momentarily as he consulted a list he produced from a pocket somewhere. "Johnson! Pelley!" The additional pair of students snapped to attention when their names were called. "Johnson, Pelley and Sawara, you will be fighting two on one vs Casse. Rotate to keep two on her at all times except when Johnson is healing. In non-powered training sessions there will be no illusions, no light bending, and Johnson will only provide healing as it is needed to keep the lot of you active. During full power training you can all knock yourselves out, and you may be rotated with other students during that portion. The three of you are in CR B6." Erin immediately headed off at the assignment with the other three trailing close behind.
"Everyone else, for the first day of our new arrangement I want to watch how well you can all handle pain, so this entire four hour segment will be conducted with no abilities. Since we have two healers in the class, the upperclassmen will be getting a bit of a break today. Montaine! Kimura! You two will fight just like everyone else with the only exception being that you AND your opponent will break when a healer is called for. Closest one handles the injury, I expect the other to resume fighting within three seconds." Rachd waited a moment for both healers to acknowledge, then turned his gaze to the class to make sure everyone had heard him. "While you are fighting without abilities you will remain within ten feet of your opponent at all times. If you fail to do so the monitoring equipment will flag you. If you are flagged three times you will stay for an extra hour of physical conditioning at the end of class. Is any of that not clear to any of you?"
One hand tentatively raised itself from the middle of the group. "Aren't you supposed to be some kind of genius Rodins? What part of that was unclear?"
"What happens if someone is flagged more than three times?"
The muscular combat instructor offered a truly sadistic smile in response. "I welcome any of you to find out if you really want to know." There were no further responses from the assembled students. "You have ten seconds to spread out from the group and start hitting each other from when I call your pairing. Blake, Glen, PAIR UP! James, Karl, PAIR UP!..."
It was closing in on an hour after the scheduled end of Combat training, and four students were running a new set of laps as they desperately tried to think of some new way to use their ability outside of their current combat oriented goals. Collin Gauge, Susan Owens, Scott Jameson, and Rorie Samuels all made their way to stand in front of Coach Martinez once again as they completed their run. In deference to the fact that the running at this point was more of an 'incentive' to get the students to think of new ideas instead of being an actual form of training, both Collin and Susan had discarded their weight harnesses and were completing their laps in their normal forms.
"Alright Mr Gauge, shock me with an actual idea this time." The Latina woman's cheerful smile was completely undiminished after nearly five hours with the Combat students.
"My goal is to be able to manipulate the general size and shape of my Shifted from when I transform." The heavily muscled youth forced the entire sentence out in one rapid go between panting to catch his breath.
"Can you actually do that?"
"I have no idea, but every time the crystal form gets broken and reforms it looks different. If it can change shape in response to that then I might be able to work something out consciously."
"What would the final objective of this change be?"
"To have more precise control over my Shifted form to better fit into a variety of environments. Maybe eventually I can specialize to be better suited for speed or durability."
"You really think you can do that?"
"I will damn well try with everything I have, Coach."
"Accepted, hit the showers Mr Gauge." Collin darted for the exit the moment the first word left Elena's lips. The coach smiled as she turned to the next in line.
"Ms Owens, any mental breakthroughs as of yet?"
The somewhat winded redhead shook her head with obvious remorse. "I'm a Shifter coach, it's a single, static form with enhanced physical abilities. I don't think there's any new directions for me to go in. I'm already working as hard as I can to master my movements because the form is awkward. I'm training as hard as I can for strength, speed, and endurance while Shifted. I'm even spending a lot of my off time consulting with martial arts experts online to try and construct a style that makes better use of my inhuman proportions." The coach shook her head in response and started to point in the direction of the track once again when she was interrupted.
"Speed." The short sandy haired youth stepped forward before Susan could be directed to another ten laps. "Shifting speed. It takes longer for you to fully Shift than it does for Collin or Kyle. Work on your shifting speed."
The look that Susan cast at the Alternative Instructor was so pleading that the hispanic woman almost broke out into laughter. She pointed again instead. "Twenty more laps because you didn't come up with it yourself, but accepted as your Alternative goal if you want it."
The redheaded woman nodded enthusiastically in agreement and hugged Scott tightly before moving to begin jogging around the track again.
"Alright Mr Jameson, since you've apparently got ideas to spare now, I'd love to hear what wondrous Alternative goal you've come up with for yourself."
Scott froze under the still cheerful smile presented by the coach. For some reason he always found analyzing other people's abilities easy. He kept running into the same blind spots with his own. As Coach Martinez waited patiently for him to collect himself he started racking his brain to try and jog something loose, anything at all, when finally a hazy memory of a long ago conversation with his best friend floated through his consciousness.
"Fire!" The short youth practically shouted the word, causing his remaining classmate and Instructor to both start back slightly.
"That's... interesting. How would you go about making fire with a magnetic field?"
"Oh, well actually lots of ways, but I'm already working on those. I've almost got a kind of flame thrower technique with rusted filings and aluminum down actually, but that's not what I meant. I just remembered a science special from way back. It was a bit about using a magnetic field to control an active flame. That's what my goal can be. It's potentially useful as a way to get through a burning building, or as a defensive mechanism against someone using fire as a weapon." Dear Lord please let her accept that one. Please I am BEGGIN-...
"It's interesting I will grant. Accepted. And join Ms Owens for the remainder of her run as a reminder that you really shouldn't be supplying other people with plans until you've managed to actually come up with one of your own."
Scott's expression warred briefly between exhaustion and elation, but elation ultimately won as he went to join Susan's jog with a smile on his face.
"And finally Mr Samuels, it seems we are down to you. Have you had any breakthroughs yet?"
"Colors. I'm going to make my energy orbs explode into different colors." The heavily built Samoan sounded like he was about to drop from exhaustion as he responded to the query for his eleventh try of the day
"And what would the end objective of that goal be?"
"Honestly I don't really know if I have a good one. If I can do it, then setting up signals while working with a team is about all I can come up with."
"Have you ever attempted this before?"
"No Coach. I've tried to go all flash and no boom, and all boom and no flash, but it never occurred to me to try and change the color of the flash before now."
"May I ask what brought you to this new idea?"
Coach Martinez did actually laugh at the tall man's exhausted, honest response. "Well creativity is often the bastard child of desperation. Your goal is accepted, now hit the showers and try not to collapse on the way back to your dorm."
The look of relief on the heavily built man's face nearly caused another burst of laughter from the Instructor before he turned to lumber off in the direction of the locker rooms. Turning to watch as the final two students paced out their final laps of the day the hispanic woman reflected that the Combat class had actually done an admirable job with the initial assignment. Considering on the first day of Alternative training two students hadn't managed to come up with a goal even after staying for an extra hour of physical training, the entire Combat class had managed to beat that mark.
Even if only by a little bit. The Latina noted the time on the large wall display and chuckled softly at the thought. This was shaping up to be a much more entertaining week than was usually the result of these switches.
Kyle allowed himself to collapse as the chime signaling the end of the gym period finally sounded. The asian Shifter had an entirely new respect for Amelia Jacobson's performances in her two matches against Erin after having spent four hours in combat with the top ranked student in the freshman class. Even fighting two on one with Tasha having a notable advantage in height, weight, and reach; Ben having vastly superior strength; and Kyle's combat style involving flight and literally having three extra limbs not possessed by normal humans; none of them had landed a single clean hit against their opponent.
Both the muscular black woman and the demonic appearing Shifter had required numerous breaks to be healed from the damage done by Erin's vastly superior hand to hand abilities, even without the aid of any sort of weapons like she'd used when she fought Amelia. While Ben hadn't needed quite so many sessions with Tasha, Erin did acknowledge his extra physical abilities when he was rotated into the combat by wielding a slightly lighter version of her reinforced tactical batons. Erin hadn't required a single healing session, nor had she needed any breaks aside from the ones generated by the relatively frequent pauses as her opponents needed to put themselves back together.
It would have been a truly terrible experience for Kyle, save two things: Tasha's completely boundless optimism that persisted throughout the entire match, and Erin's polite manner as she actually offered genuine, useful instructions to each of her opponents while they were still fighting. Ben had been significantly less helpful in keeping things upbeat, but the man was definitely pouring his all into every effort. It had been humbling to the lanky Japanese boy to learn how badly outmatched all of them were in a straight fight against Erin, and what made it even worse on a personal level was the knowledge that his illusory abilities would not have helped sway the matter. Kyle had learned early on in the school year that the transparent girl's eyesight encompassed such a broad spectrum that she had no difficulty seeing right through even the asian youth's most carefully crafted illusions.
As the four rejoined the rest of the battered and exhausted class for the trek out of the fitness area and towards the lockers they were interrupted by the coach's loud voice.
"Casse! Do those three stand a chance at beating you by the end of the week?"
Kyle watched as Erin froze, a look of surprise and desperation crossing her face as she sought a response. The lanky young man realized that she was looking for a way to answer the question without embarrassing her opponents or lying to the coach. Fortunately the problem resolved itself without her.
"We don't stand a chance Coach!" Tasha's cheerful tone carried clearly in the suddenly quiet room. "Maybe if you give us about a month of this we could start landing solid hits. In a week, not a prayer." Seeing Erin's somewhat uncomfortable look at the larger woman's jovial description of herself and her partners Kyle felt the need to chime in as well.
"I'm not sure if a month would be enough. If Erin's supposed to get as much out of this training as the rest of us you should probably make it three on one instead of just two." Kyle had his own moment of surprise to see that Ben simply nodded in agreement with the assessment without objection.
"Think you can handle all three Casse?" The coach locked a penetrating gaze on the young woman who met it with no further signs of the hesitation she's shown in answering his first question.
"Probably. I'm not going to be able to keep it flawless at three on one though." For a moment Kyle thought the top ranking student was simply trying to be nice to her three intended opponents, but there was no trace of anything in the girl's expression save for a strangely calculating honesty.
"All right, the special training buddies will be fighting three on one for the duration when the rest of the class is doing no ability matches. Think you can handle two on one in the full power matches Casse?"
There was another pause, and the calculating look remained on the tall woman's face as she considered the question before nodding in response. "If I can't then I need the extra practice to improve in any event."
A few of the students directed glares at what they saw as the top ranked student's arrogance, but having spent four hours fighting the young woman, Kyle knew it was simply a statement of fact as Erin saw it. And the black haired young man honestly doubted that any pair in the class would be able to beat Erin, abilities or no.
"Well then, class dismissed!"
"It's lovely to get a chance to see you off campus Janette." Kathryn Jilles was carefully working to enjoy the casual lunch she had been invited to by the better half of the Walkers. Carefully, because she definitely did not want to learn what new hidden conspiracy had been discovered creeping into her program to necessitate such a meeting until AFTER she had finished the meal. The food at this particular little bistro was delicious after all.
"The feeling is mutual Kathryn. We really should try to make time to see each other socially more often. I truly do enjoy your company." The attractive blonde smiled genuinely in response to the brief startled look that flashed across her petite companion's face. "And no, we aren't at the point of having just social calls as yet, but the desire is genuine I assure you."
"Is this going to ruin the remainder of my meal?"
"Oh, quite the contrary this time. I believe the news will inspire both of us to lounge a bit longer and enjoy the dessert menu." Janette could see she had the telepath intrigued now, but the athletic blonde had spent a great deal of time and money learning to keep her thoughts wandering away from a topic for dealing with telepaths.
"Why is it that both you and your husband seem to enjoy forcing me to play guessing games so much?" The mock exasperated tone drew a brief giggle from Janette.
"We've been investing in some advanced education of our own and we both simply wanted to see if the ridiculous prices we were paying for those lessons had borne any fruit." Seeing the Dean's expression harden slightly she quickly continued. "We aren't planning on starting to keep secrets from you, Kathryn, though I will admit that potential exists in the future. As well connected as our adversaries appear to be, we have to consider the possibility that they would simply hire an Advanced Mind to troll the campus looking for information." The petite woman's expression switched back to one of surprise. "Honestly, I think the HCP environments create some interesting holes in your view of the outside world. It's actually a VERY common tactic for major corporations and powerful politicians to employ."
"In that case I am thankful again for your superior expertise in the subject. I will speak with Laurence about stepping up our own scanning to see if anyone has attempted to insert such a person on campus." Janette found herself marveling briefly at the casual way the telepath described scanning the entire Overton campus. In spite of her teasing the Dean about the petite woman's blind spots, it seemed it was still just as easy for Janette to sometimes forget that, in spite of her relative inexperience in the political arena, the woman sitting across the table was truly powerful.
"Well, to not keep you in suspense any longer, I've finally had some success in going around your most directly annoying current problem. Some deals have been brokered with Walter Raines Sr. As a result, Overton should, at the very least, have a less annoying weasel to deal with next year."
The elation that Kathryn felt at the news that Raines was now a much shorter term problem was tempered with the reinforcement that the Oversight process really did intend to span the full four year period. "That is good news Janette. Thank you for your efforts. I hope it didn't cost too much."
"Nothing we weren't willing to spend anyways. We've also managed to get some outrage started up over the Budget Committee twisting some of the regulations around to freeze out the additional candidate pool for Overton, but sadly no real progress on that front." Another wide smile graced the blonde's lips. "You know some of your fellow Deans are truly impressive figures when they are voicing their outrage to a Senate committee. I think a few politicians called recesses so that they could arrange for clean undergarments."
Kathryn chuckled at the mental image, having no difficulty picturing which of her fellow Deans would likely have demonstrated that level of outrage. "It was nice to meet with you to hear some good news for a change. I believe you were correct in your earlier assessments Janette. We really do need to do this more often, and the dessert menu sounds like an excellent idea."