New Directions and Old Destinations
The assembled freshman Combat class awaited the arrival of their substitute Instructor for the final time. The sense of dread in the room was palpable enough to choke an unwary person wandering in. Every student in the room stared as the large clock on the wall counted down to the beginning of the end. Dani Reyes had nearly drowned the entire freshman class on her first day. She had sent her Combat students through the obstacle course the second day, an obstacle course only a couple of the freshmen knew existed, with the sophomore Ranged Combat specializing students invited to rain destruction down on their heads as they attempted to complete the course under the exuberant Coach's insane required time. On day three the Combat students had their first introduction to the highly animated Latina's power, as she had Shifted into a towering anthrocized cheetah form and proceeded to beat the entire class senseless for the entire four hour session with varyingly sized hammers. Even the freakishly durable Amelia found herself flinching in the presence of the smallest versions of those tools encountered for over a week following that experience.
On the fourth day the class had been put through another grueling endurance training, this time Dani's version of king of the hill. It had started with the highest ranked student in the class taking an open space in the simulation room, surrounded on all sides by buildings and other forms of cover. Then students attacked from where ever they could one by one by rank. The extra caveat was that the students that fell were pulled out of the danger area and given only the minimum healing needed to be stable and functioning, and then thrown back into the mix as soon as their turn came up. By the end of the period, even the most durable of the class had been unable to stand up to a single surprise attack and the 'King' rotated constantly.
Now as the final seconds before Dani Reyes' final day with the Combat class ticked down, the most nightmarish of scenarios played out in the minds of all the students watching the clock. Scenarios that would have been deemed unimaginable under Coach Rachd, scenarios that violated several laws and many international treaties. Scenarios that all began as every class so far had, and were confirmed in the terrified minds of the students as the substitute Instructor once again strode into the fitness center, cheerfully smiling and waving to the waiting students. Place the bubbly hispanic redhead next to the muscular angry bald man that was the students' normal coach, and any person on the street would have picked Rachd to be the scary one. A week ago every one of the Combat class would have agreed with that assessment. Today every student would have pointed directly at Dani, possibly accompanied by whimpering or prayer.
"All right class, it's time for a little return to normalcy to get you ready for Jim's return next week. I've found a set of pairings for full power matchups that's listed as 'default,' so we'll be doing that today." The collective sigh of relief was loud enough that it should have created a noticeable breeze in the sealed chamber. "However," and just like that, the fear returned, "instead of rotating you through different match ups I will simply be touring the various combat rooms while you fight and offering you some one on one pointers." That definitely didn't SOUND bad. The students nodded in cautious acceptance as they collectively sought a catch somewhere in Dani's stated plan and couldn't find one. Very cautious acceptance, because most of the students hadn't seen the catch coming with the obstacle course. Or the first endurance game. Or the SECOND endurance game...
Lisa Shang and Rorie Samuels had barely completed a polite greeting and squared off against each other when the Shifted form of Coach Reyes entered their combat room. Both students froze involuntarily, but the feline Shifter waved at both to continue. Slightly rattled, the two students still managed a pretty impressive display of firepower for their audience of one.
After a brief exchange, the short rainbow haired girl failed to properly anticipate one of Rorie's explosive orbs and the air blast sent to prematurely detonate it merely gave the crackling energy ball an interesting top spin that put it a few feet off course. Still more than close enough for the concussive blast to send Lisa off her feet and leave her seeing stars for a few moments.
As the asian girl pulled herself to her feet the two opponents found themselves pausing as the Instructor began to applaud. Once Dani noted that she had both students' attention she quickly beckoned the recently defeated girl over.
"All your blasts seem to be about the same shape and spread. Differing strength, but weak or strong force behind it, you always seem to get the same cone shape. I want you to try keeping your lips pursed closely together to try and effect a narrower stream. Also try it with your lips pulled all the way back to see if you can make an extra wide shot." Lisa found herself staring blankly at the towering red furred Instructor for a long moment before she managed to nod weakly. In the five days the class had dealt with Dani, never once had the animated woman offered such a simple, serious demeanor while she spoke.
Without waiting for further confirmation the cheetah-woman darted to stand next to the suddenly startled Samoan faster than he could track her movement. "All right Mr Samuels, we're going to try a little experiment real quick." Rorie attempted to swallow a nervous lump in his throat and failed miserably. "Turn to face the wall please, arms out to the sides and relaxed." The heavily built man did as instructed, the blind obedience in no way reducing the youth's anxiety.
"Now, you can form those energy orbs in each hand, correct? At the same time?" Rorie felt even more nervous as the unpredictable woman was now practically whispering in his ear as she leaned forward. And getting a different set of feelings as his mind quickly surmised which part of the Instructor's anatomy it had to be that was brushing lightly against his back. "Go for low power right now, about as low as you can manage and still have a little bit of bang to it." The tall man's pulse quickened as the low voice continued to whisper instructions into his ear, but he followed them quickly. "Good, now... WATCH THIS!"
Without warning the long arms of Dani's 6'6" Shifted form grasped the young man's wrists and forced him to clap the two explosive orbs he was still holding together. Directly in front of him.
It was several long seconds before Rorie managed to pry his eyes open to confirm why he wasn't, apparently, deceased as yet. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open as he took in the scene before him. The wall roughly twenty feet away had an almost perfectly circular crater drilled into it at about the Samoan's chest level. Less than a foot in diameter, but at least three feet into the wall.
"Oh good, I was hoping that would work. I worked with a Hero years ago who had a power that was almost EXACTLY like yours, and that was a trick he figured out he could do on the job. Shaped charges for a wider variety of effectiveness than just lobbing explosives into the general area he needed to hit." The heavily built youth managed to turn his still slack jawed expression towards the mad woman that had just risked both their lives on a guess.
"Well, that's all the pointers I have for you two. Off I go!"
Scott was picking himself up from the floor after one of Zach's near invisible flails had slipped through his guard to send him tumbling from his feet, when the door opened to reveal the Shifted form of their substitute Combat coach. Oh Sweet Lord why did you have to send her to me. There are twelve other students in other rooms you could have kept her busy with.
"Gentleman, I actually just need a moment of Mr Jameson's time. You've been improving your versatility on your own quite effectively Mr Snider." Zach barely managed to restrain himself from a victory jig as he quickly darted from the room after acknowledging the Instructor's statement.
"All right Magnet Boy, what the fuck?" Scott found himself confused, both by the sudden nickname, and the rapid shift in demeanor to something he hadn't previously experienced from the red haired turned red furred woman: Anger.
"Do you even know why you're sorry, Magnet Boy? Do you know how awesome your power is? Do you know how hard I voted to accept you to this program because I've never once gotten to seen a magnetic manipulator up close? Do you have any idea how frustrating it can be to watch you muddle along, sandbagging your ability?" The short sandy haired boy found himself attempting to shrink through the floor in response to Dani's tirade.
"I'm getting better though! I can manage almost twice as many orbits as when I got here, and my precis-..."
"Do you really not see it? After all the times you've stopped and given advice to the other students?" Apparently the agitated woman took the confused expression as an affirmative to her question. "Oh. OH! You're one of those guys that SUCKS at introspection! Like you can do it, but you just get all emo and mopey instead of seeing all the stuff you should be doing!"
The small youth found himself glowering at the Instructor's assessment of him, but that faded as he honestly couldn't say she was wrong. "So what am I missing?"
"No no no. If I just do it that simple then you will NEVER learn on your own. Let's see, I need to figure out some of the right ways to do this." The once again cheerfully excited woman began to pace rapidly. So rapidly that the unaugmented eyes watching her began to complain to the brain behind them that there were now SEVERAL cheetah women walking back and forth at incredible speed just a few feet away. "Got it! How much can you lift with your power?"
"I haven't really gotten any stronger with it in the past few years. Assuming the material is decently magnetic I can manage about four to four and a half tons at once."
"Sorry?" Scott nearly fell over at the sudden presence of the very feral face directly in front of him singing out the response loudly.
"You beat Ms Owens in a match a few weeks ago. Restrained and held down, unable to move. Right?"
"Do you know how much weight Susan Owens can lift while shifted?"
"You need to go to the super weight room. The lifting bar and that whole portion of the machine is all highly magnetic, exactly so it can be used to gauge powers like yours."
"No, silly. After class. What else..." More incredibly rapid pacing followed. "Got it! Float up all the little metally bits you use while fighting."
Scott was probably more confused than he could ever remember being. Possibly more confused than all the times he had mistakenly asked Ty to explain something to him, COMBINED. Fortunately this did not seem to impede his ability to follow orders at all.
"Now why don't you have anything over here?" Dani placed her hand, or possibly paw, about three feet directly in front of Scott.
"I can only manipulate things up to eight and a half inches. I don't se-..."
"Can I reach you from here?"
"From where I'm standing right now, without moving my feet. Can I touch you?"
"Um..." Scott found himself considering the question more carefully than he had any differential equation or mandatory essay he'd been presented with in his entire scholastic career. "No, I don't thin-..." The short youth was suddenly cut off as a thin blade swatted him on the tip of the nose. "Where the hell were you hiding that??" The sandy haired boy stared in shock at the long rapier like weapon the Instructor had produced.
"Not important. Focus! Why could I touch you?"
"Well, you're holding onto something that reaches longer than your arms do."
"And..." But it was another blank stare that met the woman's leading question for several long moments before she gave up. "Wow, you really are dense." Another glare was completely ignored as Dani pressed on. "Am I holding onto the end that touched you?"
"But I'm still controlling it?"
"Well obviously yes."
"So I ask you again: Why do you not have any metally bits out to about here?" The blade waved to indicate the same area, about three feet in front of the student. "Or even farther?" A student who's eyes suddenly lit up with comprehension.
Without hesitation, several of the metal bits orbiting the young man moved together and began to fuse into a single long rod that extended away from him to a length of roughly six feet before he seemed satisfied. The impromptu pole began to swish rapidly back and forth, easily directed by the magnetic manipulator.
"Scott." The short youth looked up at the Instructor at the completely serious tone and usage of his given name. "For the love of God, you really need to start having your friends help you plan out new uses for your power. You kinda suck at it." And with the sandy haired student left sputtering in a mixture of indignation and laughter, the red furred woman turned and strode quickly from the room.
The blonde speedster faced off against the dark haired teleporter in a match that seemed destined to end in eternal stalemate. Teresa was intelligent enough to keep forcing her opponent to constantly turn in order to face her while keeping a great deal of debris rapidly moving at random to restrict Iris' from her top speeds. Iris in her turn was easily able to navigate the hazards her opponent created with little real difficulty, and had reflexes more than capable of dealing with Teresa's few direct attempts at attack, but the tall blonde could not come up with a means of carrying the offense directly into the teleporter without risking her own blinking journey accompanied with rapid acceleration into a hard surface.
"Have either of you hit each other yet?"
The sudden question, loudly asked from the center of the room in a cheerful voice by a woman that neither of the girls saw enter the room resulted in a brief round of chaos. Iris tripped over a bouncing piece of debris that Teresa had recently accelerated into another floor hazard, and the distracted teleporter failed to get her feet properly under her as she materialized for another run at her opponent and also ended up on the floor.
"And that one doesn't count." Dani's second statement drew surprised giggles from both girls.
"We're too evenly matched Dani. I can't get any offense on Iris, and she can't hit me without me getting her back just as good on defense." The raven haired hispanic girl attempted to explain the situation as she pulled herself to her feet.
"That's about the size of it. I think I could probably take Teresa out in one shot, but if I land it I'm probably going to get accelerated into the floor at a pretty high speed. I had enough of high speed impacts with hard surfaces during the one week of Alternative switch." Iris leapt back in startlement as the Instructor was suddenly right in front of her.
"You're a speedster Ms Todd. As a speedster myself, I can tell you that you might as well learn to love rapid stops involving solid surfaces, because they will make up far too large a portion of your life for the foreseeable future if you continue in the HCP." The blonde girl blinked a few times in shock at the suddenly serious demeanor of the Instructor. "More importantly, why aren't you using anything else?"
"What else?" This drew a sigh from the Shifted woman.
"Ms Montez has filled this room with mobile obstacles and projectiles; several of which seem to have been teleported out of the walls directly, which is impressive; in an attempt to slow you down. Why aren't you using that?"
"Using my being slowed down?"
Dani responded by reaching down and snagging one of the rolling chunks of concrete and flinging it into the wall with a great deal of force. "Just because your opponent used it first doesn't make it off limits Ms Todd." The older speedster seemed about to turn to the teleporter, before facing her younger counterpart again. "You're the one that was trying to do the wall running, right?"
"I'm Dani, remember Ms Todd?" Iris blushed at having her automatic reply pointed out. "Let me guess, you're a fan of Light Step and Friction?"
"I am. You can guess that by my trying to do wall running?"
"Considering those two are the only famous speedsters that can pull it off consistently, it really isn't hard. As far as you know, you don't have any secondary abilities?"
"Skip the wall running. Trust me, it looks awesome when they do it, but even as fast as you and I are, it's almost impossible. Light Step can do it because she's got this weird 'zero inertia zero momentum' field effect when she speeds up. It's why she always goes in with restraints instead of hitting people. Friction controls friction as a secondary ability. He can get more traction on a vertical surface than we can on a flat one." Iris stared at her Instructor in shock to hear the secrets of the two Heroes she had been attempting to model her own style after revealed. "You need to learn to use momentum and whatever's handy in a fight. Come back to the wall stuff if you develop an interesting secondary, or after you break the sound barrier." The second condition, spoken so matter of factly by the obviously faster speedster, caused Iris to stammer a bit with her reply.
"Y-you really think I can go mach speed?"
"You're only off by about sixty miles per hour at your top speed now, and you can still handle the air density just fine without gear. Less than a ten percent increase, you'll probably start running into the barrier next year and break it towards the end or early on in third year."
The tall blonde found herself stunned by the casual proclamation of the towering Shifted woman. Too stunned to manage any further questions as the Instructor's attention finally turned to the other woman in the room.
"Ms Montez, may I ask where your own creative tactics were?"
"I'm just going to ask you to come out with it Dani. I was holding my own against a girl that, according to you, can manage 90% of mach speed on foot. What was I doing wrong?"
"You were landing on the floor."
"I was..." Teresa trailed off as a light dawned in her eyes.
"Exactly. You can appear mid air. You can push off the walls or ceilings immediately after you pop back into existence. You don't have the other teleporting girl's speed at rapid rip/replace so you have to make up for it. Appear in places where humans can't normally be. Always remember that even when dealing with Supers, 'up' is almost always the last direction anyone checks."
The black haired Latina was practically kicking herself at how obvious the tactic was. She'd even watched Beulah employ it in the class midterm multiple times and it had never occurred to her to copy it.
"Well, both of you look like you're finally thinking. I'm off to see if anyone else needs my help before the end of the period, but I expect to see some blood on BOTH of you in the next half hour!"
The two girls turned to face off once again as the catlike Instructor zipped out of the room. Both wore very serious, yet smiling expressions.
"All right, at least we got the being stupid out of the way while Rachd wasn't here to yell at us. Ready Iris?"
"I think I learned more in this week with Dani than I did over the rest of the year. I have got to figure out what she normally teaches and get into that class. Bring it on, Teresa!"
Kathryn Jilles glared up at the large muscular man who stood on the other side of her desk. "You sent Dani to deliver your notice for leave, James. What the hell was that?"
"I already had Laurence in my head that morning Kathy. I couldn't have anyone else poking around in there after I made my decision. I needed to do it without any startling insights, or heartfelt advice. Dani was the easiest to distract by dangling the freshmen in front of her." The petite woman found herself laughing aloud at the mental image the bald Combat instructor projected with those thoughts, a picture of him holding a collection of students on strings while the catlike Weapons Instructor batted at them playfully.
"Well, let's have it then." A thick packet of papers was drawn from the duffel at Rachd's side and placed on the desk in front of the Dean. The packet was given a cursory flip through with only the final few pages suffering any real scrutiny. "Well, congratulations on your reinstatement. Now come along quickly, we have a staff meeting in the conference room."
James showed no surprise or objection to the announcement of the sudden meeting, and his long stride quickly devoured the distance to the designated room. When the door opened the Combat Instructor halted as if he'd run into a solid barrier of some sort, taking in the view of what lay in the room before him.
"SUPRISE! WELCOME BACK!" Most of the staff offered welcoming waves and friendly smiles. Dani Reyes, of course, offered screaming volume and an enthusiastic hug. In her shifted form she would likely have crushed any of the other Instructors, but fortunately James' powers were complimentary to surviving being glomped by a giant cat person moving at over a hundred miles per hour.
It was a long moment after the initial shock wore off that the muscular man noted the additional peculiarity. All of his fellow Instructors were decked out in their Hero costumes.
Dani was wearing the incredibly odd clash of martial arts uniforms from at least five different countries that she had somehow turned into the single cohesive ourfit that marked the semi-famous speedster and infamous punster, Kitty Style. Hai Nguyen was wearing the relatively muted body armor in red and white concentric rings of Motionless. Anthony and Elena were matched in black, although the style of the two outfits for Overwatch and Vanishing Act were radically different. Even Laurence had donned his strange collection of robes and sashes in green, brown, gold, and white that left him with an appearance that made Rachd imagine someone had smashed a Celtic Druid and a Catholic Bishop into each other until the two merged. James offered a questioning look at the older man as he realized he had no idea what the British Hero's moniker had been.
"Adeptus. It was a bit of a conceit, but also an inherited identity." James nodded in understanding and began to make a beeline for the cold beer being held in his direction by the Ranged Combat Instructor, when he found himself stopped cold again.
Standing proudly on the other side of the conference table was a tailor's mannequin wearing an exact replica of the Close Combat Instructor's old costume. He knew it was a replica, because he'd destroyed every last one of his original costumes almost five years ago. "No. Fuck no, even. I am not wearing that rusted piece of shit. I have no idea why I ever thought it was a good look." The costume that stared back at him was constructed with a large amount of apparent scrap metal in the design. Large rounded pieces of alloy far denser than normal steel with rusted patches applied for effect rather than by nature. With his head tucked and his arms held in front of him he remembered he had looked somewhat like his moniker.
"Come on James. They're making me wear this purple clown suit, you can put on the rusted scrap and dance around for us a bit. Consider it your punishment for leaving with no notice." The gathered Instructors cheered again as Dean Jilles appeared wearing a bodysuit in varying shades of purple and lavender with strange golden scribbles criss-crossing the entirety. The outfit was completed with a rich purple half cape bearing more golden scribbles. "I think a lot of us look back at our costumes and sigh. What the hell were we thinking?"
"Speak for yourselves, mine is AWESOME!" There was a round of laughter as Dani punctuated her declaration with a back flip onto the table, miraculously not spilling a single drink present there.
"All right, if the great and powerful Trance wills it, I suppose the Wrecking Ball can put in a brief appearance. We're going to need stronger drinks to get me in that thing though."