Sabbaticals, Substitutes, Supranyms and Surprising Successes
(I may be taking my love of alliterative chapter titles too far)
It was definitely not something that would make anyone's list for favorite things to wake up to. Dani Reyes stared somewhat blankly at the small television on her kitchen counter, a forgotten bowl of oatmeal cooling and solidifying in front of her, and wept. A new reporter came on with more details from the scene as the same horrible message scrolled repeatedly across the ticker on the bottom of the screen. The Hero known as Adamant Wreathe, killed in the line of duty while evacuating civilians from the site of an apparent terrorist bombing. The red headed hispanic woman finally located the remote and flicked the power off as the scene switched over to a menagerie of talking heads all called in to discuss the possible motives for the attack. Dani didn't need to hear that part. If she listened to the speculation, she might feel the need to do something violent. Adrienne deserved to be remembered better than that.
The normally vibrant Weapons Instructor was unsurprised to hear a knock on her door at such an early hour, even though the campus was still technically dismissed for spring break. The Discipline Instructors rarely left the campus for long even while their students were away, and this was the sort of news that was a little easier to bear when the burden was split. As she opened her door, Dani was a little surprised to see which of her fellow Instructors had come knocking. Standing on her doorstep, fully dressed, alert, and apparently packed for a trip was one James Rachd.
"We've been over this Jim, you can't go off half cocked looking to avenge every one of our students. Come inside, please."
The muscular man shook his head in response. "I already went through that bit with Laurence, trust me Dani, I'm not going out looking for trouble. I'm going to do something I should have done five years ago. I've got an appointment for a full DVA evaluation."
Dani stared almost uncomprehendingly at the man on her doorstep for a long moment before the gears in her head finally clicked into place. "You're leaving Overton?"
"I'm taking a week off to get my credentials properly reinstated. I was too fucking stupid and too fucking emotional to do it back when I should have, and I've just been hiding behind the title of HCP Instructor since then." James paused for a moment before continuing. "You had it worse than I did, and you never missed a single psych eval until you got your cert' back. The Dean, Anthony, Hai, all of them are still fully licensed, they're just inactive. I'm the only one that's not really a Hero right now, and I need to get over myself and fix that."
"Laurence is too fucking British to stoop to going through the US HCP in order to operate over here. He's also in his late 60's. I'm not going to make any more excuses or rationalizations, Dani. This is something I should have done a long time ago."
"So why are you here telling me this? If you're coming back, shouldn't you be talking with Kathryn?"
Rachd smiled, and produced a slip of paper which he handed to the shorter woman. "I need you to be my messenger, because I don't want that woman inside my head before I do this. I have two real reasons to come to you though." The bald man unslung his duffle and reached into the open side flap to produce a very expensive looking bottle. "I don't know why that girl only drank vodka, but it would be wrong to send anything else to the service. I need you to take this for me."
"You have to leave so soon you can't even come to the memorial?"
"I'll honor all my students a hell of a lot better by doing this than sharing another toast and crying. By having the option to go out there and join them again if it comes to that."
"And what was the other reason you're talking to me?"
The smile on the Combat Instructor's face widened. "I need someone to mind the freshmen til I get back."
The freshman class filed out of the Ethics lecture hall with more than a small sense of trepidation. After the winter break Rachd had run the entire class into the ground as a 'gentle' reminder that they needed to stay in top condition even when they were on vacation. No one was particularly looking forward to seeing what the sadistic coach had cooked up for the day after spring break. Particularly after the man had given both permission to skip classes to start their vacations early, and a warning that they would be tested the day they all returned.
It was with growing dread that the class encountered the posting at the entrance to the HCP fitness area, directing both training groups to proceed to the main track area instead of meeting separately. To this point, the Alternative students had been holding out a small amount of hope that they would be spared in some small way. There were no illusions that Coach Martinez was a pushover, but at least there would have been less shouting.
The palpable aura of anxiety vanished quickly to be replaced with surprise when they entered the room to discover Coach Martinez already awaiting them. Standing beside the Alternative Instructor was a second hispanic woman, slightly taller with vibrantly red hair and wearing what appeared to be several layers of extremely loose clothing.
"Good afternoon freshman!" The enthusiastically chipper tone from the unknown second woman further deepened the sense of startlement. "Coach Rachd has taken a short sabbatical to deal with some personal matters. My name is Dani Reyes, you can call me Coach Reyes if you like but I prefer Dani. I'll be training all of you Combat students for the next week until James can get back to it."
There was a collective sigh of relief from the assembled students at this news. Rachd wasn't here, the torment would be put off for another week at least.
"Now everyone from both groups, as is tradition here at Overton we have to make sure that no one was slacking off too much over their breaks." The closest students to the athletic red headed Latina found their anxiety quickly returning at the evil sparkle visible in the animated woman's eyes. "So let's get that out of the way today! Everyone please check the storage lockers on the South wall, you will find a harness set with your name on it. Please help each other get suited up as quickly as possible and meet back here in the center. OH! And Shifters are going to want to Shift for this!"
There were no complaints from any of the students as they formed a relatively orderly group to suit up into the training gear. There was a little surprise from the non-physically augmented students that hadn't had to deal with the extra gear yet, but for them the whole rig only came in between thirty and fifty pounds. Nothing to worry too much about.
Once the class had reassembled at the center of the room the red haired Instructor smiled widely at the group as the Alternative coach next to her vanished, only to reappear a moment later with what appeared to be a large, silvery, metallic ball. Judging by the woman's stance, it was quite a heavy load for her unaugmented physique. Before the students could ask any questions as to the nature of the metallic orb, several loud clanking noises emanated from the area around each of the entrances to the room. This was followed by a chorus of startled shouts as several previously undetected panels in the ceiling fell open and the large room began to flood rapidly.
"All right freshmen!" Dani's tone still sounded genuinely cheerful as she had to yell to be heard over the roaring water. "This is a pretty simple game! The ball here is a specially designed highly magnetic alloy. This allows us to vary how heavy the ball feels with a series of specially designed electro magnets located in the floor beneath you!" A floor where the water level was rapidly passing knee deep. "The objective of this game is to keep the ball above water at all times. You have to accomplish this task for one hour and then class will end! However, each time the ball is submerged for more than ten seconds, or if the ball touches the floor, your game timer will be extended another fifteen minutes!" The class around the red head stared with horrified shock as the rules were explained to them. "Additionally, we will be calling out different student names over the PA during the course of the game. Once a student has been called out the class has one minute to get the ball to that student. Oh and no cheating with your powers on this one! You can use any of your abilities to hold the ball up when it's your turn, but you can't touch the ball with your hands or your powers while it's someone else's turn, once it's passed to them. Any questions?" At this point the water in the room was chest high to the animated Instructor, and the shortest students were already treading water to keep their heads clear.
"How deep does the water get?" The otherworldly whisper echoed from the Shifted form of Susan Owens.
"Wow, you are like the most awesomely scary student EVER! Oh, and not too deep. Only like halfway to the ceiling so, twenty five feet? Thirty tops!" There were more incredulous looks from the class.
"How the hell is Collin going to participate in this? He can't remotely swim while Shifted, never mind the extra weight you stuck on him!" The objection this time came from Amelia.
"The plus side is he shouldn't need to breathe either, so he can just wait on the bottom until it's his turn and then his class can show their teamwork by helping him out!" Dani had to spit out a mouthful of water with the end of her response as the level in the room was passing her chin. "That's all the time we have for questions, Ms Jacobson, you can be the starter for your class, remember to keep the ball above the water as the room fills!" As the substitute Instructor spoke, Coach Martinez lobbed the large ball with no apparent difficulty to the skinny blonde girl before taking hold of her colleague and both women vanished from sight.
"Sweet fucking Lord, SERIOUSLY?"
Kathryn Jilles smiled to herself as she watched her freshman students enter the lecture hall for Ethics of Heroism on their second day back from spring break. Never before in the four years that James Rachd had been an Instructor with her at Overton could she recall a single occasion when a student remembered their sadistic Combat Instructor with fondness or longing. She would have to congratulate Dani later on having accomplished the impossible in only a single day.
"Welcome class, I understand you all had a very productive two and a half hour reintroduction to the HCP's physical training yesterday." If looks alone could do harm, the Dean would have been fatally injured a hundred times over from the response to her flippant statement. "If it's any consolation, I believe you are the first class to complete Dani's game in less than three hours." Judging from the looks still directed her way, it apparently was not.
"Moving back to our own class then, it's an Overton tradition for Ethics of Heroism to have slightly less serious assignments following spring break. It allows the class to focus a bit more on their normal classes as they ramp up towards finals." This drew a change of mood from the assembled students. "And keeping with that tradition, and hoping to imbue a bit of optimism in the HCP class, the first assignment after spring break is always the same, and one that students either truly enjoy, or are driven insane by." Mixed feelings were obvious from the freshman as the Dean continued.
"Today, and for the rest of the week, you will all submit to me your proposal for your Hero identity should you graduate this program." Many of the students blinked in surprise as they attempted to determine if they had misheard the petite woman behind the lectern. "Believe it or not, this is frequently one of the most difficult assignments that the Ethics class takes on. There are several requirements for an appropriate Hero identity that must be considered, but for this first stage in your progression towards that goal we are only going to really focus on two. Firstly, your new moniker has to be something that is meaningful and identifiable to YOU. You don't have to pick a name that clearly spells out your abilities to any adversary you might someday face, although if we're being honest THAT bit of conceit is possibly the most deeply revered of all Hero traditions." There was a scattering of surprised laughter at the Dean's obvious mocking of this choice made by many Heroes.
"Secondly, and this one tends to be the really hard one, you have to come up with an identity that no one else is currently using, or currently has the right to use." Nods met the first part of the statement, mostly looks of confusion the second. "There are many Heroes out there that are still alive and inactive, or semi-retired, or any number of things other than on the front lines every day. Most of the HCP Instructors, for example, are still fully certified as Heroes and retain their Heroic identities even if they haven't used them in years. There are others that have simply gone out of public sight for years, but as they are alive and not stripped of their status, they retain the right to their identity. Believe me, every year I've been Dean of this program we've had at least one strongman Super attempt to adopt the name 'Titan,' and even after several years of the man himself being off the grid, the name is still his.
"Now to get this exercise started, it's customary to ask if any of our students have already researched and selected Heroic monikers for themselves." The black haired woman was not at all surprised to see Erin Casse's hand raise immediately. The girl was the most detailed planner Kathryn had ever encountered. Equally unsurprising were Scott Jameson and Amelia Jacobson in declaring their readiness. The short sandy haired boy had been preparing himself to be a Hero for far too long to not have thought this part through yet, and the calm confidence the tall blonde approached the world with meant that she would have a ready answer to a question like this one, regardless if it would be an appropriate one. The Dean spared a quick mental probe to see if Ty Rodins would be joining his roommates with a declaration and be a full house, as it were, but no sign of readiness was apparent from the heavily built black youth. Of some surprise to Dean Jilles were the raised hands of Collin Gauge and Alexandra Andrews.
After a long pause to make sure that no one else had a submission to put forward the Dean began calling on the students in the order their hands had gone up. "So under which identity will you be gracing the world with as a Hero, Ms Casse?"
Erin stood as she answered the question with a single word. "Kaleidoscope." There were a few smothered laughs at the answer, but the Dean found the name strangely appropriate for the young woman.
"Judging by your level of confidence I'm guessing you can verify that the name isn't already taken?"
"If it is, it's happened quite recently."
"A very acceptable answer. And to those of you giggling about a Hero choosing to name themselves after a toy, I wish you the best of luck in coming up with something suitably profound over the course of the week." Something about the too calm expression on the Dean's face quickly silenced the few students that found such humor in the top ranked student's chosen moniker.
"Mr Jameson, how about you?"
"Decided that you'll carry on that most honored of Hero traditions in full have you?"
"The good Lord knows that everyone out there will know what our powers are in a few months if we're actually worth anything as Heroes. I don't feel that the brief head start will make much difference." The incredibly honest and irreverent response actually startled a chuckle from the petite Dean.
"Very well, and you can also verify that the name is currently unclaimed?"
"It was as of yesterday."
"That's surprisingly specific for someone that shouldn't have known this assignment was coming up." The Dean mock glared at the sandy haired youth as she felt him trying very hard not to think of his telepathic girlfriend before she moved on. "Ms Jacobson, your turn I believe."
"Unchained." The simple response had a heavy weight of emotion behind it that took all three of the telepaths in the room slightly off guard.
"You've put some thought into this as well. Can you verify the name is currently unclaimed?"
"I can Google it in about five minutes if you like." There was laughter from the class at the skinny girl's response.
"A little more in depth than a single search engine please. The HCP database can verify more completely, for all of you, if your name is taken or too close to an existing identity to be automatically approved.
"Mr Gauge, your turn."
"Golem." There were a few surprised looks from the class at Collin's choice.
"That one's taken Collin, there was a Hero that went by that around the east coas-..."
"There was." Collin interrupted his tiny hispanic classmate. "That was my father. He died almost twelve years ago. Mayhem mentioned it while she was here, that names get inherited in families when a Hero retires, or dies. So that's my choice."
"That is correct Mr Gauge, and it would be an excellent name to see carried on."
"You knew him?"
"I met him a few times before I joined the Overton faculty as a Focus Instructor, years ago. Your father was a great Hero." The muscular red haired youth seemed about to say something, but then simply nodded instead of trusting the steadiness of his voice.
"And last of our over prepared students, Ms Andrews."
"Mockery." More surprise from the students at the petite blonde's choice. "It really is pretty perfect for me. It literally mean a 'poor copy.' That's what I do."
"You think your ability is a poor one?"
"I think my ability is to imperfectly copy the abilities of those around me. I then get to attempt to defeat someone with less than one hundred percent of an ability, making a further mockery of the battle. I believe my ability is truly of Heroic quality, Dean Jilles, I just don't see any reason not to call reality how I see it." There was a hint of bitterness in the young girl's response that further startled most of the class. To the telepathic Dean, the widely shared thought wondering why the short blonde mimic was persisting in the HCP while seemingly miserable was nearly tangible.
"You're right Ms Andrews, it is a surprisingly fitting name on closer inspection. I look forward to seeing the talking heads on cable news making their way around that moniker in a few years time." The Dean's casual insult of the news media drew a round of startled laughter from the students, and brought a smile to Alexandra's face.
"Now for all of you that were thinking about how much better you could do this, you have until tomorrow to prove it. For the five that have already stood and made their decision in front of the class, you may treat this as a free period for the rest of the week, contingent upon your submitting a research report demonstrating that your chosen moniker really is currently free." The woman smiled again at the class. "However I encourage you to attend in spite of your offered freedom, because what comes next is why this assignment is so simultaneously loved and hated by the students. This is the part where the class brainstorms by suggesting names for each other!"
The petite Japanese healer twisted her outstretched power viciously to bring her opponent to his knees, gasping with sudden pain and exhaustion. Kaori finally felt she was getting a handle on using her power at a distance greater than touch, and was finding anger a truly great amplifier for the more offensive usages of her abilities that Alternative training had uncovered. Aaron still needed longer to focus in order to bring his aura to bear than the petite asian girl needed to invoke pain at the same range. After their pairing had been announced for a rare round of versus match ups in the Alternative class, the young woman had wasted no time in paying the blond man back for his many spiteful suggestions he had offered as supranyms for his class mates.
"Still think I should go by 'The Asian Band-Aid,' Aaron?"
"Tap, TAP!" The healer finally relented and cut off the flow of power. "Holy shit woman, when did you get so good at that?"
"About the time you decided to piss off half the class with your wonderful suggestions." The black haired girl continued to glare at her still exhausted opponent. "Be glad you aren't on the Combat side. You probably only have to match up with me today, and I don't actually HARM you with what I do."
"No, it just feels like it. Fuck that hurts. Really though, can't you guys take a joke?"
"Tell a joke that isn't racist or sexist."
"Okay, point, but seriou-..." The taller wavy haired youth was cut off by a bright flash, concussive boom, and a brief blast of hot air from the group sparring next to the pair.
Assuming she was needed, Kaori moved rapidly in the direction of the trio of students. The healer quickly realized that it was Erin's group, as the top ranked combatant was still the only one in Alternative that fought other than one on one on the rare combat days. The transparent woman appeared to be the injured party as she was the only one of the three currently downed, but her opponents appeared to be Catalina and Beulah. Neither girl had any abilities that should have created any sort of blast. Finally reaching the tall woman's side, Kaori discovered what the girl's transparent natural complexion had hidden from a distance; Erin was virtually covered in severe burns.
"What the fuck did you guys do to her? How the fu-..." The dumbstruck looks the healer received from the two functional girls were not particularly useful, but her patient interrupted her as the Japanese girl's healing energy took hold.
"Was my fault. Learned something new today."
"You learned how to burn yourself? What the fuck Erin?"
"Thanks for the fix up, need to talk to Coach when you're done."
"Hold still damn it. Give me a minute to do this right or you are going to have all kinds of weird scars." The tall girl relented from her attempt to stand and waited patiently for the healer to finish. "Now tell me what the hell happened?"
"I've been going back to my first Alternative goal. I was always kinda pissed that it never worked the way I thought it should, so I keep working on it a little. While I was fighting Be and Cat, and Cat was trying to mess with my head, something just kinda clicked and I figured it out. Now I have to go talk to Coach Martinez, thanks again Kaori!" This time the freshly healed girl was off faster than the black haired healer could protest, so instead she turned to the two witnesses.
"What exactly was her goal that she just accomplished and why the hell did it burn her?"
"Her first Alternative goal was to completely block light. Not just distort it or try to completely allow it to pass through, but to just absorb it all and not let any of it out. Turn herself into kind of a void."
"And she got that to work? What was that like?"
"It was really REALLY weird. It was like, you could look at her and you could tell where she was standing," Beulah seemed to grope for words before continuing, "but it was... A hole in space. I feel like my brain couldn't cope with not being able to see anything right where she was standing. I don't know how to say it better than that."
"If I couldn't still feel her mind and use her senses, I think I would have freaked right the hell out. Human eyes aren't meant to look at... nothing, like that."
"Okay, so Erin has a freaky new way to use her ability. How did she get burned?"
"Because I forgot one of the really basic rules, especially embarrassing when you consider I'm dating an uber geek." Erin had returned with Coach Martinez in tow.
"She really did it?" The coach asked the question without any shading of belief or disbelief, the tone indicated it was the most basic of confirmations requested.
"She did." Beulah added her agreement with a nod in concert with the telepath's voice.
"So what simple rule did you forget Ms Casse?"
"I forgot that light is still energy. Conservation of energy says that energy can't be destroyed. I was holding all that energy inside myself and not letting it go anywhere, so we found out what happens when I get overfull."
"It was also one hell of a flashbang." Beulah added her observation to the taller girl's.
"Not a very useful one if it leaves you on the floor covered in burns. Learn anything useful Ms Casse?"
"I need to experiment with this and see what happens if I don't push things until I can't hold them anymore. With your permission Coach?"
"You have another twenty minutes of sparring with your partners Ms Casse, then you can spend the rest of the class period working on your new discovery. Everyone back to training!"