Chapter 23

Chapter 23:
Class vs Class


"Good afternoon class. You all have a new group assignment forthcoming, so please rearrange yourselves, Alternative training to the left and Combat to the right please." The freshman class registered a bit of surprise at Dean Jilles news that a new Ethics group project was apparently being dictated by their training breakdowns, but none of the students voiced questions or objections as the reorganized as requested.

"Overton's HCP has received a special request for a joint training exercise from the US Army's Force Ops division. For those of you unfamiliar with the designation, Force Ops is where ninety percent of Supers that join the armed forces end up." Many students sat up straighter at this bit of information. "Each of your groups will be conducting a raid against one of the two outposts that groups of Force Ops cadets and recruits are setting up inside simulation room 1A as we speak. There will be multiple objectives at each location, and each group will be responsible for performing their own reconnaissance and planning for your raids." All the students now demonstrated utterly rapt expressions as the Dean continued her explanation. "You will not learn which of the two locations your group will be tasked with raiding until you are being sent in for the simulated raid. No, not even the telepaths, because we're going to determine it randomly the day of. Your teams will have recon permission on alternating days for the next two weeks, and keep in mind that those soldiers are looking for you, and any members of your team that are captured or disabled during recon missions will be unavailable for your actual raid. Does anyone have any questions over the basic premise before we go into specifics?"

"How often do things like this happen in the HCP?" The petite woman behind the lectern cast a long suffering glance to the side of the room where Oversight Investigator Bert Rivera had blurted out a question before any of the students managed one.

"I suppose it's my fault for not specifying that I was asking the STUDENTS if they had any questions Mr Rivera. However, since your question is actually relevant, I will only gently remind you to remain silent during my class." The average brown haired man sank back into his seat and tried to make himself look as unobtrusive as possible. "To answer, it's not particularly uncommon for Force Ops to make requests like this from the various HCPs, and the reverse also happens from time to time. Without having a hard reference I would estimate such requests happen every other year or so, but very rarely to the same program consecutively. Do any of the STUDENTS have any more questions?"

There was some smothered laughter around the room in response to the Dean's continued emphasis of the word 'student' as she spoke, but no additional questions seemed forthcoming.

"All right then class, please listen carefully or take notes as I would prefer NOT to have to go over this information again until we run debriefs for each team after they make their attempts."




James Rachd observed his students as most sat heavily or leaned against walls for support as the muscular Combat Instructor finally called a break to the accelerated training. The bald man offered a savage grin to any of the freshmen wanting to glance in his direction. Today's training schedule had been greatly accelerated, shorter matches with no breaks in between rotating the students against each other much more quickly than they had become accustomed to. Rachd found himself proud that none of his students had dropped at the accelerated three hour pace. The tall coach also found more than a bit of sadistic pleasure in seeing the students learn that they were not in nearly as excellent of condition as most had believed themselves to be.

"Everyone up to the main observation lounge, NOW!" There were surprised sounds from all around the room at the coach's command. Based off the wall display there was still an hour left before the end of the gym period. No questions were asked in spite of the startlement as they made their way to the designated room.

Already awaiting the arrival of the Combat students was arrayed the entirety of Alternative training, apparently hustled into the room at a much higher speed judging by the winded looks several of the waiting students wore as the newcomers arrived.

"Congratulations on being the HCP class selected to host a joint exercise with Force Ops. IF YOU FUCK THIS UP YOU WILL SPEND EVERY LAST SECOND OF YOUR TIME HERE REGRETING IT!" Even Coach Martinez winced a bit at the volume the bald Combat Instructor managed to reach. Ignoring the flinching students, several of the closest now rubbing at their ears and casting dark looks at the man, Rachd picked up the small remote from the table in front of him and switched on the large monitor. The large display showed two separate viewpoints, split horizontally on the screen. "Please note the two groups that are fortifying different areas in the simulation room. They are located on opposite sides of the urban area approximately twelve blocks apart, or a little over one mile." The class quickly turned their combined attention to the screen. A few seemed already trying for a headcount, but the views were from quite a distance away and both encampments were centered in simulated derelict buildings. One group at a pair of small warehouses or box stores of some kind, the other in a small business park.

"As you can see your opponents are organizing quickly, and are well armed. In addition to the dye rounds loaded into the assault rifles you can see on the monitor, every one of those men and women is a Super of some kind. There are twenty at each site." There were several soft groans at the revelation that each of the HCP groups would be outnumbered, and a hand shot up and started waving for the Instructor's attention at the mention of 'assault rifles.'

"Yes Ms James, you will be permitted to carry a simulated firearm matching the types being wielded by your opponents in this exercise, you may put your hand down." The look of glee on the short white haired girl's face could have outshone the sun had she been on the surface. "And yes, any student that can demonstrate marksman level proficiency with a carbine or handgun can acquire a similar weapon for THIS exercise only." There were a few looks of interest from the other students, but most of the attention had drifted towards the ecstatic expression on the normally reserved Eloise.

"One last requirement." Rachd accompanied his statement by kicking a box into the center of the room from its place of concealment under the table in front of him. "The trainees in that room are not cleared to know the identities of active HCP students, just as you students are not cleared to know their identities. All of them are concealing their features with their standard gear for this exercise. You students will wear these while in the simulation room." The box was quickly opened and a pile of full face grey masks was revealed. "Exceptions to going masked are Gauge, Sawara, and Owens. Casse and James, you can exempt yourselves if you want, but show enough features to be identified and it will count as an SI infraction."

Several of the students began pushing forward to try and reach the box, but it seemed at least one of those present had better ideas as small stacks of masks began to lift out seemingly under their own power and array themselves around the tables in the room. "Please ask myself or Coach Rachd if you have any questions about the possibility of your mask interfering with the use of your ability in any way. There are a decent variety of styles available so accommodations should be simple." The hispanic Instructor was not surprised to see Lisa Shang make a beeline for her as soon as she finished her statement.

"First up was randomly determined, and Combat will have the first shot at recon starting tomorrow at 12:01am. Both teams are welcome to use the aerial view from here in order to make any plans based on the terrain layout, but if you attempt to zoom in on either site your entire team will be docked a significant amount of points." The large coach surveyed his students a final time before adding. "Blake! Karl! It should go without saying, you two are likely to know some identities, masked or not. Revealing that information to anyone will make your continuations in this program extremely unlikely." The two telepaths nodded in acknowledgement of the statement.

After giving the students a few moments to finish finding masks of appropriate sizes and desired styles, the Alternative Instructor spoke again. "What the hell are all of you standing around for? Get back to your assigned training areas for the remainder of gym!" The two coaches shared a grin as both groups of students jumped, then filed out of the room at a run to return to the fitness areas.




"All right, we're all here, so, who's got a plan?" The question was finally asked by Amelia Jacobson, as the Combat class had all arrived for their after hours meeting in the lecture hall nearly ten minutes ago with no words aside from greetings and small talk yet exchanged. A thick silence met the question as all eyes turned towards the highest ranked student in the Combat class. "Wait, no. Not me, I am not the person you want planning this. Pass!"

"Perhaps we should start at an obvious place my friends," the tall Mexican lounged at the edge of the stage near the lectern as he spoke, "do any of us have any relevant experience for an exercise like this?" A deeper silence seemed to descend as a single hand went up in the group of fourteen students.

"Seriously? The shrimp is the only one wh-... OW!" Barry's disbelieving response was cut short as the tiny Louise gave a solid punch to the skinny man's kidney, silencing whatever else he had to say.

"Go ahead Scott, Barry's done being an idiot for now." The petite girl smiled and waved at the short sandy haired boy as many in the class laughed at Barry's misfortune.

"All right, well..." Scott paused as all eyes centered on him. "Most of my training from when I was a kid was based off of special forces training programs, though not for the same military. I also had to sit through a lot of stories about training, chain of command, operations planning, all that stuff."

"Are we seriously considering putting Scott in charge of this? He barely made it into Combat training in the first place." The objection this time came from the well groomed blond man. "Some old stories and an old training routine are not goi-..."

"Do you have any better experience to bring to the table, Gerard?" Lisa interrupted the taller man sitting next to her. "Does anyone here have any ACTUAL objections? Let it be noted that several of the guys are fucking idiots and don't want to listen to someone shorter or lower ranked than they are, but does anyone have a REAL reason why Scott shouldn't be doing our strategy?" The rainbow haired girl paused a moment to see if anyone would speak up. "Because seriously, we're just going in circles and no one else is acting like they want the job."

There was silence for a long moment before Ramón spoke next. "Well then my friends, it seems that Scott will be the one in charge of our strategy for this exercise. Please do not screw up and get us all captured my friend!" Sitting upright long enough to offer a dramatic bow in the direction of the much shorter man, the tall hispanic immediately returned to lounging on the stage.

"Well, it's simple for now. We're on recon duty starting in about two and a half hours. We're gonna have a lot harder time doing reconnaissance than the Alternativ-..."

"What gives them such an advantage?" There were several exasperated sighs at Zach's interruption.

"Because, Zach, they have a teleporter and TWO telepaths. One of those telepaths specializes in borrowing audio and video directly from other people's brains. They can have the entire place mapped out with a complete list of the defensive plans ALREADY." Scott's volume and tone indicated that the short man was beginning to grow quite tired of the interruptions. "Now, we've got a teleporter of our own, a speedster, and Alex." The petite blonde blushed a bit when called out by name. "Alex, can you mimic Cat well enough to get information the same way she can?"

The short blonde girl considered the question for several moments before responding. "I don't think I can get anywhere near as much information. I can't copy anything close to her maximum range and her focus is utterly inhuman to get as much input as she does without collapsing into a ball of insanity."

"Work on it as much as you can. We're not going to get as complete a layout as the other group will, but we can get a lot more by eavesdropping than we can by just sending in Iris and Teresa to scout."

"So that's our plan? Iris and I do all the work while Alex sees what she can learn?" Teresa's tone was a bit condescending as she addressed the question to the group's newly appointed strategist, but at least the lightly built hispanic woman had waited for Scott to finish speaking first.

"Step one is getting information. Sending Ames, Collin, and Susan in to wreck the place isn't going to be useful at this point. We need to see what they're up to before we can start messing with it." Scott completely missed, or more likely ignored, the tone of the Latina teleporter's question.

"We get to mess with them? I thought that we couldn't do the raid until the end of the exercise?" The suggestion of mischief brought some extra animation to the extra petite hispanic girl's features.

"I looked over everything Dean Jilles gave us for the detailed review, and everything else that Coach Rachd went over with us afterwards. We can't engage them with the intent to reduce their manpower before the actual exercise, which the Lord knows is our largest disadvantage because they CAN capture our recon people. Nothing says anywhere that we can't sabotage their equipment, mess with their comfort level, and overall make them less ready for the actual engagement than we will be."

"Where do we start?" The tall braided blonde throwing her obvious support behind her roommate seemed to quell another round of objections from coming out from the class.

"Teresa, Iris, and Ramón," the muscular Mexican youth sat up from the stage as his name was called, a bit of surprise on his features. "Figure out a few good times tomorrow when all three of you are available for recon. Iris goes in for a look and gets out when she's spotted. I want Teresa on standby to blink her out of there if they have anyone fast enough to keep up with Iris. Assuming they don't have anyone that can manage that speed, Ramón gets to sneak in for a look. You aren't nearly as fast as Iris is big man, but you can keep pace with freeway traffic. So we find out if they have anyone that can catch you. Teresa is your exit route once again." All three designated students nodded in response to the proposed assignments. "Alex, try to be on hand with Cat's powers copied for as much of these initial probes as you can. That way we can hopefully learn if the soldiers are holding anything back for later. Any questions?"

"When do we get to the sabotage part?" Louise's expression was decidedly bloodthirsty as she posed her question.

"After we figure out what they have for us to sabotage. Now everyone wish our recon team luck, and let's get out of here."




"Remind us again why you're in charge, Erin?" The tall girl sighed loudly as Michael Karl asked a new variation of the same question for the sixth time since the Alternative students had arrived in the observation lounge for their team meeting.

"I'm not in charge Michael, I'm just putting a plan forward because I have trained for things like this in the past. If anyone else wants to put their plan forward, I'm sure we all welcome the extra input." Erin's continued patient reasoning was cut off by a more direct approach.

"Shut up Michael. You don't have any better ideas and you can't actually find anything wrong with Erin's, so stop complaining or go back topside and complain where you won't be bothering the rest of us."

"Yes, several of us would like to hear what the highest ranked student in our class has to say without the string of interruptions. Please continue, Erin." Tasha positioned herself directly behind the much smaller complaining telepath as she spoke, cracking her knuckles suggestively as she did so.

"So, like I was saying, we need to form some specialist teams. Cat's already given us a huge advantage in recon, but we need to get an up close view of some of the surrounding area. I'm proposing myself, Eloise, Kyle, and Beulah for scouting. For now we're just going to identify the best ways to approach and get out during the actual raid." Erin looked at each of the three students she named as she did so, noting that all seemed to be paying excellent attention. "Additionally we need to start training for the actual event, so we should figure out teams for that. My suggestion is to specialize. Ben, Sean, and Michael would make our strongest offense team. Myself, Eloise, and Kyle can do infiltration to try and start from inside their lines. Ty, Tara, and Jon would be containment team, they can work to isolate our opponents and provide escort for our three healers; Kaori, Antoin, and Tasha who would make up our recovery team." Erin considered the remaining students carefully before continuing. "Aaron, I think we should try to find a hard to reach place where Beulah can insert you before things get hectic. You don't need line of sight for your ability, right?" The blond man nodded in response. "So if we can get you inserted a bit ahead of our actual raid, or just as our combat team starts making some noise, you can probably mess with all their reactionary plans enough to give us more of an advantage." Erin turned her attention to the last two students in the Alternative class. "Be, you're obviously our transport. You can do up to two at a time now?"

"I can transport three people across short distances, but not too many times in a row." Erin's face lit up at that bit of news.

"That is truly awesome. Our plan just got about a hundred times more effective if we can reposition entire teams, even if only a couple of times. So Be is our transport once we're in there. And Cat, you're going to be mission control."

The auburn haired telepath blinked a couple times in surprise. "I'm going to be what?"

"You're going to be our control. You can monitor every one of us AND every one of our opponents from outside the combat area. You can direct our teams, let people know where backup is needed, where ambushes are waiting, and if anyone on the other side starts moving objectives. You can direct Be to be maximally effective, and you give us the best chance of a clean sweep at this."

"But you're in charge, Erin. I don't know how to do this stuff, shouldn't I-..."

"I'm making a plan, and I'm welcoming anyone that wants to put their own input on that plan-..."

"Nah, we're good. Carry on!" There were laughs around the room at Ty's interruption.

"As I was saying. But in order for my plan to work we are going to need to be in communication almost constantly. The Combat class has a huge advantage here. They could probably just throw Ames, Collin, and Susan at the biggest concentration of opponents and everyone else takes the day off and have a shot at winning. We don't have that kind of overwhelming force, so we need to be smart, and we need to be in constant contact with each other. You can do that better than any radio system in the world."

"But I won't get to be in the fight!"

"We'll get you trained up on an M4 and you can play sniper from outside the combat area while you direct us all to victory. Will that make you feel better?"

There was more laughter at the auburn haired girl's enthusiastic nod of acceptance at the suggestion.




"Who the hell brought Force Ops in here Jeremy!" Walter Raines was not doing a good job of suppressing his rage as he paced back and forth inside the HCP office the two men were assigned. "We need this class to FAIL. Someone is bringing in evaluation padding for those students, FIND OUT WHO!"

Jeremy Kreid sighed as his boss began knocking small objects off the desk, venting more of his anger in petty destruction. "Mr Raines, the entire request was initiated from someone relatively high up in the Army. Possibly the Force Ops commanding General. There's no way any of our political contacts could have intercepted this. Please calm down. Isn't this, after all, a great opportunity for the class to fail? All our initial findings indicate that the Overton class is comprised mostly of those that couldn't make it in the more rigorous programs."

"And Force Ops recruits are comprised heavily of those that couldn't make it into HCP training AT ALL!" The taller assistant winced at the greasy haired man's volume. "Overton may be the second string of the HCP, but Force Ops is the god damned PRACTICE squad!"

"Be that as it may, sir, there's nothing we can do to interfere with the exercise. Whomever initiated it is outside of our sphere of influence, and none of our investigators are even cleared for unrestricted observation because the Force Ops teams are NOT covered under our clearances to investigate."


"There's only another ten days before the exercise is complete and the Force Ops recruits withdraw from Overton sir. The Army would have to handle any relevant clearances, and you know for a fact they would stall the process out until they could claim it was no longer relevant and deny the request outright."

Walter finally flung himself into his seat and simply glared at a fixed point somewhere past the wall he was facing. "We can't afford to not have that class fail Jeremy. There's been way too much invested by too many concerned parties for that." The look the smaller man turned towards his assistant showed the first hints of fear peaking through the anger. "If it even looks like we won't be able to accomplish that, we'll both be removed from next year's Committee and our careers will be OVER."

Jeremy absorbed the information presented by Raines for a few moments. The brown haired man was actually a bit surprised that Walter was aware enough of the situation to have surmised the outcome should it appear that Oversight was going to fail its unstated goal of getting Overton's HCP status revoked. "We've made all the arrangements for the final exam, and there's been no indication anywhere that anyone will see it coming. Actual Heroes from more accomplished institutions than this one failed to overcome the scenario we've set up without suffering casualties, even with the mandates for less-lethal weapons being involved, what chance do these kids have?"




It was a relatively somber class that arrived in the Ethics of Heroism lecture hall for Monday's class. Two long weeks of planning and preparation, daily reconnaissance, and specialized additional training for various strike teams had all been tested over the past weekend. Both groups had been stunned to be thrown into combat at the level they had just experienced. Very few of the Force Ops trainees had abilities at the levels of the Overton students, but their tactics and teamwork had been incredible to witness.

"Congratulations class." The freshmen looked up in startlement as Dean Jilles spoke from the doorway as she entered, instead of waiting til she arrived at the lectern. The warm smile on the woman's face was further surprise to most of the students. "After all actions were reviewed in each of your groups' exercises, you should all be proud of yourselves. Far better than many HCP groups have performed in similar drills, I think both training classes get about an A minus on this one."

"A minus? Seriously?" Erin Casse rose to her feet as she spoke. "Alternative lost almost half our team going in there, and we only retrieved thirteen out of fifteen stated objectives. How the hell did we get any kind of A?"

"Your team also neutralized half of a superior combat force, and managed to recover all of your casualties from the battlefield. Considering the disadvantages of attacking an entrenched opponent that knows approximately when the attack is coming, you performed well above expectations."

"What about Combat? We only retrieved ten of fifteen and we still lost four." Scott's question came immediately after the Dean had finished addressing the de facto Alternative team leader.

"The Combat class also neutralized fourteen of twenty adversaries, and forced the remaining group to withdraw rather than allowing them to dig into their remaining fortifications." The petite woman finally reached her lectern and turned to look over the entire class. "Each and every one of you performed to the best of your ability, and beyond what current expectations were. This may have been a bad idea in the long run however." Several of the students saw the trap in the Dean's last statement, but others couldn't resist the bait.

"How is performing above expectation a bad thing?" Iris Todd, the blonde speedster, seemed to realize the answer herself as she spoke but too late to pull the words back into her mouth.

The Dean smiled widely at the class. "Because now that all of you have exceeded our expectations, we know how much harder we get to push you until the end of the year. With that being said, you all have a free period for Ethics today to work on your neglected projects from other classes. Please don't forget to do well on your midterms for your normal classes, after you've all come so far I would truly hate to see any of you fail to remain in the program due to the academic requirements."




"Well done!" The assembled freshman class found themselves startled for a second time in the same afternoon as they had all been directed to meet in the main HCP fitness center for their afternoon gym training. Coach Rachd actually applauded as he entered the room, an extremely rare non-threatening, non-evil smile plastered across his face. "Not perfect, but Force Ops didn't know what hit them. More than good enough to win me the bet!" Looks of surprise switched to ones of comprehension or glares as the students interpreted the coach's statement.

"He was betting with the Force Ops training staff." Coach Martinez made her traditional entrance from thin air in the middle of the room. "It's a tradition, we bet ludicrously expensive bottles of alcohol between the HCP trainers and the Force Ops trainers every few years whenever one of these exercises gets scheduled. Your performance was good enough to win this one for us, so well done indeed!" There was some scattered laughter from the students at the odd praise coming from the instructors.

"Does that mean we get some?"

"No Gauge, it does not. It does mean that all of you get a free day to simply work out for the next four hours and enjoy your victory. We won't start hammering you into the ground again until tomorrow." Surprise flowed back onto the faces of most of the students. Two free periods in a row in the HCP?

"Additionally, we are aware that after your regular course midterms wrap up over the next two weeks many of you are planning to get off campus for spring break. Due to your excellent performance in last weekend's exercise, you are all given tacit permission to cut out on your HCP courses as soon as you finish your regular midterms. No penalties." The entire class, even the two telepaths, stared in shock as Coach Martinez made the announcement. The Combat students quickly swiveled questioning looks towards the tall, muscular coach in charge of their training.

"Yeah, what Elena said. But remember I am going to test you all the very first day you get back!" Most of the tail end of Rachd's statement was drowned out by the spontaneous cheering that erupted from the assembled students when hispanic coach's declaration was confirmed. The celebration lasted several minutes before the Combat Instructor shouted over the din once more. "NOW EVERYONE GET BACK TO TRAINING!"