Surviving the First Week
Three classes and less than one full day into her college career, Catalina Blake found herself outside of Dean Kathryn Jilles office, wondering if she had made the greatest mistake of her short life. After nearly five solid minutes of staring at the door trying to work up the nerve to actually knock before the Dean's office hours ended and both would be due in the 'Ethics of Heroism' class Catalina had made it nearly halfway across the sitting area towards the door.
Will you please just open the door and walk into my office so you can stop giving me a migraine with your nerves? The nervous Freshman actually stumbled sideways into the wall in surprise as she picked up the fully coherent thought directed at her. I may not be projective like you are but I can tell when you're listening. Please come in. NOW.
The young woman flushed a bit at the mental reprimand, then steeled her legs for the remaining three steps, marched forward, and finally made it through the door into a rather small office containing neat stacks of file folders on every available flat surface and one somewhat amused looking Dean sitting behind the desk. The Dean motioned for her to take one of the two unoccupied chairs across the desk from her, and waited for Catalina to seat herself.
"Now, what could possibly have happened on the first day that has an HCP student so tightly strung I thought the mental pressure was going to give me a nosebleed?" the Dean's tone was polite, and her demeanor was professional but casual. Her visitor seemed to fold a little farther into the chair at the reminder that her presence and procrastination had caused the Dean discomfort.
"I have a concern about... Ethics I suppose actually," the Dean was still finding the younger telepath's ability to project her voice mentally somewhat unsettling, though she did find the young girl to have a lovely 'speaking' voice.
After another long few moments it was Dean Jilles who decided the silence needed to be filled again. "I've often found that even with telepaths things tend to be clearer and easier to discuss when the content of a topic is actually discussed Ms Blake," Catalina blushed a little deeper from embarrassment before rejoining the conversation.
"You know how I'm a telepath and I kind of 'borrow' visual and aural input from other minds around me, and I never thought it would really cause problems and I don't even think about it most of the time, but in class I'm noticing that everything that's being discussed I'm getting from everyone, and I know there's not a lot on the first day, but I think I'm already two chapters ahead in my literature class and I haven't even opened the textbook yet!"
Kathryn smiled at the nearly frantic young woman as she began to ramble. A notable downside to telepathic projection, she noted as the rambling continued, the speaker does not in fact have to pause for breath at any point in the conversation. After letting the girl chase her own thoughts in circles for a few more moments Dean Jilles interrupted her student the simplest way she could think of, a quick telekinetic flick to the nose was more than sufficient to derail the mental babbling so that a spoken word could finally be inserted again. "Your concern is understandable, and you should take it as a very good sign that your ethics are firmly intact if you're worried about having an unfair advantage in classes on day one. Here's what you need to remember though: you are a Super. You will have a lot of unfair advantages over a lot of people in your life, no matter what you choose to do. For a telepath as powerful and active as you are standard procedure at Overton has always been that you will attend and test normally with your classes, but that you will also complete a separate mid term and final in a 'quiet room' to insure that you have actually absorbed the relevant material and aren't just borrowing it from your classmates and instructors while they are handy." Catalina's changing expression almost caused the Dean to burst out laughing as she watched it traverse from nervous, to hopeful, to happy, and finally to something somewhere close to disappointment as she realized she would have to effectively take every major test in her college career twice.
"So this is normal, well, Super normal anyways?"
"As far as the HCP is concerned certain abilities, with regards to a student's academic career, are simply exceptional studying aides. As long as steps are taken to insure that the student is not attempting to actively cheat with them. Hence taking different tests over the same material for telepaths, and a few other precautions for other abilities."
Catalina was definitely curious as to what other precautions and other abilities could be referring to, however she was quite happy enough with the answers she had already received and did not want to push the Dean further after already nearly ruining things with her long entrance. "Thank you very much for your time Dean Jilles, and I'm sorry again for any discomfort my mental state caused. I'll try to remember to get things over with quickly next time!"
"I imagine you won't be the only student that gives me a headache this week Ms Blake. It's part of the job description. Now I believe it is time for your next class," Dean Jilles stood as she spoke, and the door opened seemingly of it's own volition. "And time for my next class as well. I'll see you in the auditorium Ms Blake."
"Yes Dean. And thanks again!" and with that the younger telepath darted out of the office and jogged down the hallway towards the HCP lecture rooms.
Kathryn smiled again. It had taken four days of class before she had brought a similar concern to Dean Fillion all those years ago.
"I'm telling you man, he's gone. It wasn't even into the first day, Presley was just GONE this morning when I got up. And now his stuff's getting packed up by University staff. How the hell are we supposed to make it in this program if we're getting picked off before we've even had on class?" The obviously agitated speaker was drawing a bit of a crowd from the students who had arrived early to their first official class in the Overton HCP. A few looked dismissive but most were rapidly becoming as worried as the speaker.
"They wouldn't kick us out before day one, unless something came up suddenly that the background missed the first time around my friend. You should stay calm, or at least ask the Dean before you panic!" the second speaker was a tall heavily muscled hispanic man, and seemed by far the most relaxed of the growing knot of students.
"Fuck you Ramón! You think I'm going to ask the Dean of the HCP why they kicked out my roommate in the middle of the night before the year officially started? I'm not stupid enough to get my own ass thrown out, you ask her!" the notably shorter white speaker was beginning to lose control of his volume, and spitting more than a little as he half yelled his rebuttal.
"Whatever you say Shane, but please let me know if you would like me to do the fucking or the asking first," he waggled his eyebrows suggestively at the suddenly retreating and even further panicked first speaker. "The asking I think can be done as soon as the Dean gets here, but proper time for the other..."
"You, but, NO! Fuck..." Shane was rapidly reaching the point of being unable to speak. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Ramón was not suffering a similar problem.
"Ah, a change of heart. No fucking then, as you say. This is probably for the best as I must admit I have no experience with the men in that department. Ah, but class is about to begin, so the asking I can still do. To our seats Freshmen!" and with that Ramón bounded away from the group towards a desk with his name on it, and most of the others quickly followed suit, the situation mostly defused thanks to the large Mexican.
A few moments after the last stragglers found their way in but not yet to their assigned seating, Dean Jilles entered the small auditorium style lecture hall and took her position behind the lectern, patiently waiting for the last few students to find their seats before beginning.
"Welcome all to your first official HCP course of the year. I'm sure that right now many of you are not looking forward to Ethics of Heroism, as it truly does sound like a dreadful bore of a class. I think it will end up being a favorite HCP course for many of you this first year, I will inquire tomorrow," the almost predatory smile on the Dean's face had most of the students in the front row squirming somewhat uncomfortably in their seats. "On to another issue that needs to be addressed before it grows out of control, and you can put your hand down Mr Carrera it is in fact that issue, and yes I can read your mind, that's what they pay me for." Ramón's unflappable demeanor seemed unaffected by this statement as he dropped his hand with a shrug.
"Many of you are concerned with your former classmate, Mr Presley Anders, Mr Lynton's former roommate. Please allow me to quell your fears that the HCP is washing out students prior to any evaluations. Mr Anders was unfortunately forced to leave the program and the University due to a family emergency and will not be rejoining our class this year. He has indicated a desire to reapply to next year's HCP class and in all likelihood will be reaccepted without issue, so those of you who make the cut for Sophomore year will be able to see Mr Anders and ask him personally all the questions that many of you are considering asking me, and that I will not be answering." Many students in the group that had been flocking around Shane Lynton slumped back into their seats and dropped half-raised hands in response to the closing portion of the Dean's statement.
"Now that THAT matter is settled, let's move on to our actual class. This is Ethics of Heroism, a course where you will study, discuss, and debate many of the choices made or not made by real world Heroes in actual field situations. The objective of this course is to teach you about how a Hero has to react in a situation that they frequently have only seconds to analyze, and hopefully in doing so to instill some of the values you will need to make the correct choices when it comes to be your time to be the Hero in the field deciding between life or death in a split second."
Ty could say with some certainty that he had enjoyed Ethics of Heroism. He had thought the class would be boring, but even in the very first lecture they had gone into some of the more famous recent Hero activities that had made national headlines. And the class had gotten to see all the information that the media didn't have or wouldn't display that influenced why some of those Heroes made the choices they did. Ty found it exhilarating and terrifying to think that someday he might be the one that had to make a decision that could cost or save thousands of people's lives, including his own, in less time than it normally took to answer a phone call. As the end of the Freshman's first Gym period was finally within sight, he was also completely certain that Ethics of Heroism was his favorite HCP class. 'Gym,' he was now absolutely certain, was simply some archaic and long dead language's term meaning 'Eternal Suffering.' He nearly collapsed on the running track as Coach Rachd finally called out the sweet, blessed words he had been waiting for over an hour to hear.
"Run's over, walk cool for five and then GET OVER HERE!" Even the Coach's drill instructor shouts sounded like an angelic chorus with the right words at the right time.
He found himself walking next to his much smaller friend, Scott, as they continued their trek around the track, though he was pretty certain Scott had lapped him at some point during the actual run. "I'm really... Really glad... that you... talked me into... Erin training... two years ago." the tall, somewhat heavy black youth shook sweat soaked dreads out his eyes, noting that the damned things were staying flat against his head for probably the first time since he'd decided on the style. "I thought that girl... was insane when she... put me through all that," Ty was finding himself becoming more annoyed that his much smaller friend didn't seem to be having nearly as difficult a time as he was. "And how the hell... are you not breathing hard?"
"I was breathing plenty hard Ty," Scott was actually able to get full sentences out without needing to pause for breath. "However in spite of all the extra smarts the good Lord stuck in your skull, he gave ME the common sense to wait until I've caught my breath before starting a conversation with my friends." Ty glared, but Scott only smiled. "If you want unfair, Erin is the one that was NEVER breathing hard," as he pointed Ty looked over to see their other friend, today sporting very plain looking brown hair, approaching them along with their fourth roommate, Amelia. "And Ames doesn't even look like she's so much as sweated a drop. So please complain to them about breathing, while I get some water and recover the way mere mortals must."
"Water sounds good," Ty agreed as the two headed over to one of the fountains alongside the track for a quick drink before the Coach's shout reminded them all that there was an appointed meeting they were apparently late for.
"Congratulations boys and girls, most of you made it through your first session in my Gym! That means that tomorrow I should be able to ramp things up to almost a real workout for y'all!" Coach Rachd's grin was stuck firmly somewhere between sadistic and lunatic. "For those of you who were unable to keep track, you have already lost Mr John Leedes, who decided he needed to show off for the first hour and a half and apparently was not bright enough to realize that he still had two more hours to go after that! Additionally we have bid farewell to Ms Judy Bryant, that would be the redhead who collapsed on the track just thirty short minutes ago and couldn't get up. To whichever pair of you now have single occupancy rooms, an additional congratulations!" Most of the students were openly glaring at the Coach now, his mocking tone stirring up quite a bit of rage in the mostly exhausted students. Ty was one such student briefly, and considered saying something before Erin caught him with a look and shook her head.
At about that time Ty's normally very active brain started working again and he realized that the point of the Coach's speech really was to make them all angry. United in anger against a common enemy, the Coach himself. It was a pretty elementary training technique, but having finally been on the receiving end Ty could see why it was used. It worked. Possibly too well.
"You don't have to be an asshole about it," the voice was quiet, but contained no trace of fear or hesitation. It was a voice Ty had become very familiar with over the last few days. He closed his eyes hoping he was wrong, but when he opened them he saw Amelia standing at the front of the group, calmly matching Coach Rachd's glare with her own and not backing down at all. The stare lasted for several long seconds as no one else in the gym hardly dared to breathe, before it ended unexpectedly.
Coach Rachd started laughing. A deep, genuine laugh not at all like the barking, mocking laugh that was all the class had heard from the man so far. "It's the first day and we already have a darling princess who thinks she can take on the system? You're adorable sweetie."
"You're still being an asshole. If you can't do something as simple as teach physical fitness to college age adults without being such an asshole maybe you should look for a career better suited to your talents." James Rachd stopped laughing as he realized the girl was really not backing down. Ty shared a quick look with Erin and Scott. From their expressions both the others were fairly certain at this point that their four person residence was about to have a vacancy.
"Come out to the center of the track then princess. If you don't like my style then you can step up or get the fuck out of my program." Coach Rachd turned and moved about halfway down the track from where the students were gathered. When he turned the expression on his face registered some surprise as Amelia had calmly followed him. Even now she showed no sign of hesitation.
"I may not know how to fight yet, but that doesn't mean I have to just let you be an asshole," Amelia raised her hands in an almost parody of an actual fighting stance. It was painfully obvious to most of the assembled students, and more so to the two Coach's, that the girl had absolutely no training.
"Hey Martinez! This one's one of the strong types right? I can actually hit her and she probably won't break?"
"Yes James, she's a Strength Super, like you," Rachd glared a bit at the last two word from Elena Martinez, but turned to smile at Amelia quickly. "Well princess, at least you're not the fragile type."
Without any further preamble, and with a speed that very few of the students in the room could follow, Coach Rachd lunged forward and landed a vicious cross straight through Amelia's attempt at a guard. His expression shifted quickly to one of complete disbelief as the girl staggered, but did not go down, and in fact stepped quickly back towards him to throw an awkward punch of her own. Rachd deflected the punch and hid a grimace of pain as he realized that this girl was in fact probably stronger than he was. That would definitely be a bruise later, but he ignored it and threw a second punch, this time holding very little back. Amelia was not braced this time and was launched close to seventy feet to impact the nearest reinforced concrete wall with enough force to break several chunks free and set most of the class ducking for cover reflexively from the massive impact.
"Well now that we've worked THAT out is there anyone el..." Coach Rachd cut off again and calmly intercepted a pair of heavy chunks of concrete thrown at him with incredible force. He had to admit, he was genuinely impressed the girl was standing. Her face was bleeding a bit now, but she was still on her feet and coming towards him again. He shook his head as he began to laugh again. Confusing his opponent enough that she stopped.
"What's your name girl?" there was still some laughter evident in the Coach's tone as he gave his opponent a much more critical examination.
"Well Jacobson, congratulations. You are the most impressive Freshman to walk into this room in the four years it's been mine. You've earned the right to be called by name prior to combat rankings making me care. But you're also wrong. I do have to be an asshole in this gym. I have to be one of the biggest assholes in the world every God damned day because if I don't, you won't improve enough. If you don't improve enough you'll either wash out of this program, or you'll somehow skate through without being ready, and you will go out into the world as a Hero and You. Will. Die. I will push you to your limits and well beyond, and I cannot do that in the time allotted to me by being a nice guy. It would be great if the world worked like that, but it doesn't. For today only though, I apologize to my class. It was wrong of me to mock the girl that tried until she collapsed. Don't expect anything regarding the asshole who wore himself out showboating and then argued about needing more breaks until Coach Martinez hauled his ass out of the room." The class was stunned. Everyone had been expecting to see an immediate expulsion, noat to hear the Coach defend his actions to them. Amelia seemed to consider a moment before she nodded, then returned to sit with the group.
"Alright everyone, that's the end of day one! Remember, I will make this harder every day. You will get better faster than I make it harder, or you will not last in this program." His expression as he examined the students became hardened once again. "The bar to impress me this year has just been set VERY fucking high. I sincerely doubt any of you will make it over that bar, but if you stop trying I will throw you out the door myself. Dismissed!"
Amelia was surprised as she stood to almost run into the only woman in the class taller than her, a heavily muscled black woman who reached for her face without warning, followed by an unfamiliar soothing sensation. "That was the most bad ass thing I have ever seen girl. I thought you were DEAD when you hit that wall and you just came right back up swinging. Absolutely hard core!" Amelia remained confused for a moment before the hand came away and she realized she could see clearly and that her face no longer hurt. Her brain finally associated all the facts. The girl was the giant healer from orientation. "And damn, you weren't even hurt that bad by all that were you? That hardly took anything to fix. Amelia right? I'm Tasha." The taller woman offered her hand which Amelia accepted and shook.
"Thanks for the pick me up Tasha, although I think that was a lot more stupid than 'hard core' to be honest. And please, call me Ames," Amelia was finally reviewing the events logically and was more than a little shocked she hadn't ended up expelled for starting a fight with her Coach on the first day.
"Didn't you do any research on these programs Ames? Most of the combat crap is challenge based, and if you beat the instructor it's pretty much an automatic pass for the whole year at least. Although you might want to work on your, ya know, style?" Tasha seemed hesitant to bring it up, but Amelia was well aware that her fighting style at present could best be described as 'non-existent.'
"I'm planning on working on it after the rankings. Somehow I doubt I'll get as much enthusiasm before then, and I'd rather see where I stand now so I can get a better idea of how much I improve from being here."
"Sounds like you have all this figured out girl. I'm mostly making it up as I go. If no one else will help you out look me up. I'm not gonna hold much of a candle to what you can do but I can probably at least show you how to fight less like an awkward white girl. No offense."
Amelia laughed. "I'll keep that in mind, although one of my housemates said she could run me through the basics after I told them I didn't know anything about fighting. We'll see how that goes first. Shorter walk."
Jon Glenn sighed loudly as he and most of the Freshman class made their way towards their second day of Gym. He was going to have to apologize to his father for not believing the General when he told his only son that if he was worried about all the mandatory training the Army would have stuck him in, he was going to truly hate life in the HCP. Jon, of course, had believed his father was only trying to convince him that the HCP was the greater of two evils so that he would choose the Army instead. While it was an activity he had a great deal of practice at, Jon still hated having to admit that his father was right, but he knew it would drive him insane if he just tried to ignore it. I can always call after class. I'll be too burned out to care when he gets that really smug tone in his voice.
The skinny blonde youth was also still having trouble grasping exactly how harsh the pass/fail rating of the HCP could be. Not even two full days into the program, and already 4 of the 63 students had been cut. One was technically not a wash out as he had left the program for a family emergency, two had failed to make it through even a single Gym session with Coach Rachd, and one more had failed out today. A flier that had been gliding around the quad like he didn't have a care in the world, washed out of the program for failing to take the 'Secret Identity' portion of the program seriously. And in all likelihood that number would go up before the end of another Gym period if Rachd was being honest about ramping up the training schedule at all from the previous session.
The class gathered quickly in the main track room, expecting to be quickly directed by Coach Rachd to the various smaller weight rooms to be put through another round of, for those without physically enhancing abilities, grueling circuit and strength training. Instead Coach Martinez simply materialized in the middle of the group of students just as the large digital display on the wall clicked over to the specified start time.
"Everyone hit the track and start running! Cutoff pace yesterday was a nice sedate seven miles per hour, barely more than a leisurely jog. Of course yesterday you had to do all the heavy lifting first, so the cutoff pace will be something to get your blood going a bit faster today. You've all got a minute to get a head start, and you really don't want me to pass you. Now GO!" Coach Martinez's voice was much less harsh, hell she sounded absolutely pleasant compared to Coach Rachd, but when parsing for content it became quickly obvious that the 'nice' Coach wasn't necessarily going to be any easier running the show.
True to her speech, exactly one minute after she finished speaking she headed onto the half-mile track and started off at a solid running pace. Jon had been maintaining what he'd thought was just a bit faster than yesterday, but either Coach Martinez wasn't as good a gauge of her own speed as she was at tracking exact times, or this was really going to be a much faster run. Jon and several of the other students switched over to a sprinting pace long enough to get almost exactly half a lap ahead of their Coach, then dropped speed to try and match her pace as she was now much easier to keep track of.
After about ten minutes Jon felt he had settled into the run well. Coach Martinez was pushing them to just short of a five minute mile pace based on his estimate of lap count and watching the digital clock as it was visible. He noted that a large amount of the Freshman seemed to be doing much better today than they had during the first Gym session. Jon knew he himself fell into that group as a result of taking five consecutive days off from his workout routine while packing and moving onto campus. He assumed that those who were likewise bouncing back had similar experiences, the harsh first day's training had caught several a bit unprepared after taking a break but most seemed to be rising to the challenge. Most, but not all. Jon noted that there were already three students, two male and one female, having difficulty with the pace set by the Coach. The two young men, one a short stocky ginger and the other a very average looking black youth save for a massive afro, were already showing signs that this class was a losing battle for them. Falling behind the pack, then trying desperately to run back up to the group and stay ahead, only to fall behind a little more each time. The girl, a very petite dark haired Latina, was still pacing the group but her gasping alone was louder than the rest of the pack combined. Jon knew that even if any of those three made it through the unknown length of the run they were unlikely to survive the full period if they were already flagging.
Jon pushed the thoughts of sympathy aside for the time being. He'd just reminded himself that the length of this run truly was unknown, and he needed to focus his energy on making sure that he didn't join those who already seemed destined to fail.
"And BREAK!" the vast majority of the Freshman class promptly collapsed as Elena Martinez called a halt to the 75 minute hell run she had just put them through. "Everyone get on your feet and start walking cool or you're not going to be able to move when we start the next phase up. You have ten minutes to cool down and get loose, get some water, then you'll be assigned to rotating drill rooms for cardio, strength, or flexibility training." All things considered, Elena was pleased that she'd only lost two more students so far. It was not an uncommon sight to have already trimmed seven or eight of the least prepared students by this point. Outside of physical training, she and James did not agree on a great many things. Fortunately this was the one thing they needed to agree on, and no Oversight Committee could ever fault their physical training program for being too lax.
As she observed how the students grouped up and supported each other through the cool downs she noted two more that were unlikely to last until the end of class. One was the incredibly petite hispanic girl she had been certain was going to fall at some point during the run. The other was a willowy blonde girl that had seemed to be doing fine, right up until the end, and she was now requiring a friend's assistance to even manage to try and walk through her cool down. Looks like we might yet make that eight student mark by the end of the day. Elena always hoped to see those that washed out of the Freshman program return the next year properly prepared. Unfortunately it was not many an eighteen year old ego that could handle failing that quickly and learn anything from the experience, and Elena knew that it was unlikely those that failed so soon would ever make it back.
"And fuck ALL OF YOU that thought I was going down!" the triumphant cheer from the tiny sweat-soaked hispanic girl drew some chuckles from the assembled Freshman class as Coach Martinez had finally called a halt to the rotating training and an end to the second day of Gym for the class. Elena Martinez was one of those chuckling as she watched the small girl perform a brief victory dance with what little energy she had left.
Louise Garcia completed her brief celebration before starting off in the direction of the locker room and promptly falling over her own feet. Fortunately she caught herself before face planting into the hard floor. "Ow. Little help here?" A slender Japanese girl knelt down beside her and shook her head.
"Lay still a second and I can probably give you enough of a pick-me-up to get to the showers. I'm Kaori by the way."
"Name's Louise, and if you're a healer I'll be fine if you can just turn down the pain for a bit."
"What the hell did you do to yourself?" Kaori was shocked as the feedback from her ability was showing hundreds of small internal injuries. "How could you possibly have pushed yourself that hard? You're almost falling apart!"
"I do the electricity thing. Everything in the body can be moved with the right application of the right kind of current, so when the normal muscles fail me, I have a back up plan. I'll drag myself to the healer's offices if you can just patch me enough to get on my feet."
By this point Coach Martinez had noted the downed girl and the examination, and had approached close enough to hear Louise's last explanation.
"You did what!?"
Both girls jumped a bit as the Coach drew nearer, and the rest of the class that had not already dispersed did so quickly upon noting the apparent confrontation between the coach and the two girls.
"As I was telling my new friend here, my ability is electrical generation, so when my muscles started to give out on me I just kind of puppeted things along with some carefully controlled application of my ability. I already checked the books, using our abilities to make it through the physical training isn't cheating, otherwise the Super Physical ones wouldn't be allowed in."
Elena rocked back in shock at the girl's statement. It took some serious control to effectively maneuver a human body with electrical current. Her lack of being burned to death was likely a result of some level of immunity to her own power. But pushing herself on past the point where her body had tried to shut down took some incredible willpower, or some serious levels of crazy. Or both.
Taking the instructor's continued silence as an indication that she needed to continue, Louise started speaking again, "I'll be fine after I get some rest, the healers put me back together after yesterday's class just fine and the doctor in charge back there told me: 'That's the craziest thing I can recall any of our students ever attempting. On the other hand, your plan seems to be working, and it does seem to be getting you into shape faster than would otherwise be possible so I will wish you the best of luck.' Then he went on a bit about what to do in certain 'worst case scenarios' where I did too much damage to myself, and made me promise to see him after every session until I could make it through without using my powers like this."
Coach Martinez sighed. "You are correct as far as I can tell in that you aren't breaking any rules, and if Doctor Saxena is already aware of your interesting solution to your current physical shortcomings than I suppose that is all there is to it." Turning to Kaori she continued, "I'll get her down to the doctor miss, you can head back to shower up and find something for dinner if you like."
"Thanks Coach, but I'm supposed to start the whole 'healer trainee' thing next week anyway. I might as well introduce myself now and make sure that Louise here doesn't manage to do anything else insane on the way there."
"I'm right here and can still hear just fine you know."
"I imagine she does know Louise, that's probably why she felt the need to explicitly warn you against doing more insane things," and with that Elena let the two girls stagger out of the gym, bickering cheerfully as they meandered in the direction of the healing center. Elena's expression took on a more serious look before she flickered out of the room. She figured she would arrive far enough ahead of the slow moving pair to have a few words about the sort of 'advice' the good doctor seemed to be giving students these days.
"Raines. Out. NOW." Dean Jilles and Walter Raines looked up to where the Dean's office door had opened abruptly to see James Rachd occupying the doorway with an unreadable expression on his face. Kathryn was honestly quite happy for the interruption, but she would need to speak with James regarding his workplace decorum.
Before she could say anything however, Raines took it upon himself to attempt to address the situation. "Now Mr Rachd, as I'm sure you're aware Oversight should have access to all goings on at Overton for the duration, now if you would like to try and rephrase your request more politel..."
"I am completely aware of what Oversight does and does not have access to Raines. Apparently a great deal more than YOU are since your 'all goings on' line is complete bullshit. On to the matter at hand though, this is a simple one: I have a higher security clearance than you, or anyone else on your damned Oversight Committee. Dean Jilles has a similarly high level of clearance. With that being said, Out. NOW." Rachd accompanied his second demand by moving into the office and physically lifting the smaller man from his chair and facing him towards the door.
For just a moment it looked like Raines was going to protest further, but the expression on the Combat Instructor's face apparently changed his mind and he finished his exit under his own power, quickly followed by one of Mirror's duplicates that hadn't left his side since the Oversight Committee had arrived. Dean Jilles was surprised when Rachd followed the political appointee to the outer waiting room door and firmly closed and locked it, a process he repeated as he returned to her inner office as well.
"All right James, you seem to think this is important and I won't pretend that I'm unhappy about you escorting that idiot out of my office while you're the only audience for what would have to be an incredible display of acting ability. What's on your mind that's more important than crushing our new class through your sadistic program to see who fails out?" As Kathryn spoke she depressed several completely ordinary looking bit of inlay on her desk, resulting in the entire room being blanketed in an barely perceptible buzzing hum.
"Elena had plenty of fun yesterday and I'm sure she'll be doing fine again today. Someone's fucking with our program Kathy." James attempted to pace around the small office briefly, realized the lack of space, and dropped heavily into the chair that had been recently vacated by Raines.
"Yes James, we had several meetings about that. And the incredibly annoying little man you just threw out of my office..." the Dean wasn't really in the mood to rehash the whole issue with the Close Combat Instructor again, the man had been going endlessly at the issue like there was still some quick fix available if she would just find it. Her mood worsened further as she was interrupted mid condescension.
"Someone disabled the safeties on all of the High-Mag weight machines in the gym." James kept a level tone, though the expression on his face contained a great deal of rage. "Additionally they found some interesting ways to fuck with the system for anyone going above a 3000 pound lift." Kathryn's expression quickly became as serious as her colleague's at the statement that someone was actively working inside the HCP facilities against them. "I'm also reasonably certain that someone is going out of there way to shaft the Freshman on the whole 'Secret Identity' thing. We've lost six to SI infractions in three days. Normally we don't lose that many over the entire school year. One of them was a complete moron, but at least four of the others were caught and outed in local press with some very sophisticated surveillance." The Dean was already aware of the much higher than normal SI infractions for the Freshman class, it had actually been the topic Raines had come to discuss with her. Or more accurately, the subject that Raines had come to use as the centerpiece for a speech about how her HCP's standards must have fallen on very hard times.
"You're absolutely certain that the weight machines aren't simply suffering from an unusual malfunction? You do keep telling me you want to replace all the High-Mags because they're unreliable and need to be calibrated all the time."
"All the machines were calibrated Saturday. The safeties on all eight of them are GONE. Additionally the field generators in the damned things all do something creative and moderately destructive if you push them one pound over three thousand." Rachd's expression shifted to something almost pleasant and he smiled as a though occurred to him. "And now I'm almost appreciative of the sabotage because it means we can get rid of the damned things. Gutting them and replacing everything that's tampered with would cost more than new machines."
"And how do you propose we make a budget modification to replace nearly two million dollars worth of equipment in the middle of an Oversight investigation? Everyone involved may actually know that it's most likely one of the damned Oversight people themselves that did the damage, but unless we can prove that there's no way this plays without making us look less than competent."
The large man simply shrugged as he stood up. "The political spin is your job boss. I'm just letting you know what needs to be done. Elena is looking into why some local reporters are suddenly so interested in catching Supers in action at Overton, and Dani and Hai are going to be setting some crazy new shit up around the physical training center and a few other places of interest to make sure that no one can touch anything or go anywhere, access or not, without it being recorded about a dozen ways." With that James turned and headed towards the door, the background hum paused briefly while the door was opened, then resumed once it was closed.
Dean Jilles sat back from her desk a moment to consider the situation before alighting upon an obvious solution. A quick tapping of a different random series of spots along the surface of her desk and the hum faded out completely this time, as the Dean picked up her phone and dialed.
"Riley, with regards to that donation you were planning for the new HCP equipment, would you be free for an early dinner meeting to discuss the particulars?" The man had promised to help with anything Kathryn needed after all.
David Matters leaned heavily against the wall as he caught his breath and looked around the gym. Day four of the HCP was completed, and he could hardly believe he was still standing. In fact for the first time no one had failed to make the cut for the day. Since the workouts hadn't been reduced it was a good sign in his mind. Those that were still here probably had what it took to clear the basic physical hurdle to be in the HCP at least. The relatively scrawny young man was more than a little proud to find out that he would be counted in that group.
"Everyone off your asses and get over here!" David sighed and headed in the direction of the class drill sergeant. Though he smiled a bit again as he realized that no one had actually been off their feet this time.
"Congratulations children, you've finally made it through a day without anyone falling on their face and being unable to continue. We'll pretend that's progress for now." The man had to get off on people wanting to kill him. It was the only explanation that made sense to David. "Just five short days ago at orientation there were 63 of you. 13 lucky souls have managed to get dropped from our program, leaving a nice even 50. Any bets on how many of you will still be here after the combat rankings?" This question drew even harsher glares from some, and a few startled looks from others, including David. Combat rankings involved more cuts? What was the safety line there? Smiling at the looks of fear interspersed with those of rage around him, the Coach continued after a long pause. "You can untwist your panties children, WE aren't going to be cutting any of you for your combat performance against your peers. I personally don't care if you finish at 50th out of 50, because no matter how many or few we throw into this, someone will be first and someone will be last. On the other hand I have yet to see a class where some of the students didn't drop out after their first taste of real Super on Super combat. Saturday will be the day when all of you TRULY find out if you have any chance at surviving in this program. With that in mind, we do have something extra special planned for Friday's class, so look forward to it kids! DISMISSED!" As he strode from the room, nearly all the expressions following him showed more concern than anger now. After everything they'd already gone through, what the hell else were they going to put them through the day before the rankings?
Erin was surprised as she made her from her bedroom towards the common area and the small workout room set up in the townhouse/dormitory she currently called home to see that she was not the only resident awake at 4am. Making her way into the larger common room she noted some bizarre Japanese cartoon playing on the flat screen and leapt to the obvious conclusion.
"Dammit Ty do you really think an all night cartoon marathon is a good way to prep for whatever they're throwing at us today?" Erin was a bit more surprised when the head that popped up over the couch to look back at her came attached to a long dark blond braid and much paler skin than her long time friend.
"Sorry Erin, wrong guess. I think both the boys are still unconscious. I don't sleep as much as most people though. Why are you up so early?" Amelia sounded far more awake and alert than should be allowed at four in the morning.
"This is when I do my normal workout. I don't sleep as much as most people do either, but that's more training than physique I guess. I'm surprised I don't see you more often if you're up this early?" Erin headed off of the main room to collect several of her free weights before returning.
"Normally I just read in my room. I'm not used to having a lot of things that I'm allowed to touch around all the time and the novelty was nice." Noting her roommate's confused expression she added nervously, "I had some problems learning to control my strength when I was younger. For quite awhile actually, I didn't have a real great childhood to be honest." Erin noted hesitation in her roommate's tone for the first time since she'd met her, and simply nodded in acknowledgement of the explanation.
"I can imagine an ability as huge as yours must have had an adjustment period," the two lapsed into silence for a time, the Erin's slightly strained breathing from her workout and the cheerful Japanese characters on the TV screen providing a strange, but pleasant background noise.
"If you don't mind me asking Erin, what is your actual ability? All I know is you're stronger than normal but not strong like me, you seem to have incredible endurance but I don't know if that's just from ridiculous all night training," Erin giggled a bit as Amelia gestured at the collection of weights that she had brought out into the common room with her, "and that you can change your hair and eye color whenever you want to."
Erin finished her current set of lifts before setting down the weights and stretching, a contemplative look on her face. "I believe the current commonly accepted term for my ability type is 'Super Freak.'" Erin noted her roommate's expression showed complete non-comprehension. "Not familiar with that one? You must not have had to deal with too much media exposure growing up. I believe the current politically correct term is 'non-standard supernormal physical anatomy.'"
"Wait, like the supers that have horns or claws and stuff like that but without shifting?" Amelia finally showed some recognition at the more scientific terminology. "Are you messing with me? I mean the non-standard colorations are pretty common but I don't think getting to change them at will woul- YEEP!" Amelia actually tumbled off the couch as her roommate's entire body went from appearing like a perfectly normal, though very tall and athletically fit, caucasian woman to some sort of near transparent specter with gossamer white hair. As she fell to the floor the specter began to laugh at her with Erin's voice.
"Wow, OK, so that's what I get for not believing my roommate. That's not a Shift? That's what you really look like?" Amelia's startlement over her friend's rapid change in appearance past, she actually found the partially transparent look to be a rather stunning one. Erin's body seemed to re-solidify before her eyes as her coloration returned to a normal human tone, though her hair had apparently decided to be a deep shade of purple now. "So... I'm confused? How do you do that?"
"My natural body is almost completely transparent to the normal spectrum of light while in a relaxed state. I can consciously control how my body refracts and distorts light, and most of the rest of the EM spectrum as a fun bonus, and after a few years of practice I could manage a pretty normal opaque skin tone. I can also perceive in a much wider spectrum than the normal visual light range. I mess with my hair color because it's fun, and it's something I don't have to take seriously." As she spoke Erin's skin color shifted seemingly at random, then her entire body seemed to distort radically in an effect that Amelia found truly disconcerting, and a little bit disorienting as she tried to see past the optical effect and realized that Erin was apparently standing completely still, simply making her location appear to shift and distort with her ability.
"Ok, that's a neat trick. How do you get around your clothes not doing the same light distorty thing though?" Amelia blushed almost as soon as the words were out, realizing the most obvious answer to that question, and pressed on quickly, "Or how does that make you stronger than normal if all you're doing is bending light?"
Erin giggled again at Amelia's blush. "In answer to your first question, not the first answer either of us thought of. Originally coming here I was going to go with option B, just getting a very small form fitting sport bikini and use that, but Ty came up with some crazy polymer material that does similar light distortion to what I can do. It took some getting used to making it do what I wanted since it doesn't work exactly the same as I do, but it's a better solution than option A or B, it's actually opaque until I mess with it and it covers more than the legal requisites." Both girls laughed again and Amelia's blush faded most of the way. "As for why I'm stronger than a normal human, whatever weird way my body is put together to make it transparent left me with a lot more flexibility, and I'm a lot more resilient than an average person. The result of that extra resilience is that I don't have the same muscle density limitations as a normal person. I have to work out for every pound I can lift, but as long as I keep pushing, I keep getting stronger. It's a lot slower building up than Super strength, but I'm already up to being able to dead lift about four times my body weight. I'll never catch up to someone like you, but I should be strong enough to handle things when it counts."
The conversation seemed to have reached a natural break at that point, and Erin continued with her training while Amelia turned back to her cartoons. Erin found herself increasingly bothered by her roommate's earlier nervousness and the evasive reference to her childhood had struck a bit of a nerve. Erin had only really gone into detail about her own childhood with her two closest friends, Scott and Ty, shortly after deciding that she would become a Hero with those two. Something told her that whatever was lurking in Amelia's past was even worse than what she'd gone through. Erin also knew that if she hadn't told someone about her own past by now she would probably have gone quite messily insane from the pressure of keeping everything bottled up. Amelia needed someone to open up to, and Erin could only think of one way to build that kind of connection.
"My parents wanted their kid to be a Super, more than anything," Amelia turned as her roommate began speaking in a very quiet voice. Erin was not really looking at her, or seem to be speaking to Amelia at all, but the tone of voice told the taller girl that her friend was sharing something that did not come easily. It was a tone she was intimately familiar with. "They both came from big Super families. No Heroes, but my grandparents on my father's side practically started the whole Corporate Sponsored Super Humans thing that turned into PEER and a few of the other big money making programs, and mother's side all went for various celebrity gigs. They were the black sheep of their respective families. Father was a normal, and mother was a Powered, but a harmless type. The families both had money, but my parents wanted power to go with it. So they came up with the brilliant idea to have the perfect Super child to raise as the perfect Super Hero to use to get them into politics, corporate connections, everything they could want. Instead they got me." Erin paused for a moment to move onto a different sized weight set in a different position.
"Mother actually went to one of those quack clinics, only a REALLY expensive one, that would guarantee inheritance of powers in utero. There's even a chance that all the insane treatments are the reason I came out a Super Freak instead of a normal Super or anything else for that matter. See that was a problem for my parents. Not many Freak-types can make it in the Hero business. Secret identities and fitting into society and all that, but I was normal sized and shaped, just not normal colored. So as rapidly as they could bribe their way around normal child safety laws to do it, I was started on training to determine what my powers were and how I would help them fulfill their dream." Amelia noted that though Erin's voice hadn't wavered or showed any real sign of emotion, tears fell gently from her cheeks as she continued. "But all I could do was bend light. After all of four years, their daughter was a failure. So they threw me away." Erin choked a bit on the last sentence and Amelia's grip on the armrest would require another patch to the rather worn furniture in the future.
"Father drove me and a bag of clothes out to the Force Ops base at Fort Meade. My uncle was in Force Ops, and really the only family member that had more than a passing acquaintance with responsibility. Father got Uncle Dominik's current address from base housing, but my Uncle was on a training exercise and wouldn't be back until the next morning. So my parents drove me out to the officer's housing where Uncle Dominik's home was, unloaded me on the curb and pinned a Permanent Guardianship form, a five line note, and a check to my shirt and told me to wait there until my Uncle came to pick me up. Then they left. I cried and slept on the curb that night. Some MP's found me, they brought me into the Fort admin building and someone called my Uncle in from the field. The first time I met my Uncle I was terrified of him. He looked like he was about to kill someone, I'd never realized anyone could look that angry." Had Erin been facing towards her friend at this point in her story she likely would have recognized the expression. "But then when he talked to me he turned into the nicest man I'd ever met. And he held me all night until I cried myself to sleep. Then the next day, he told me that he was being stationed overseas with his unit, and I cried some more because I thought he was going to throw me away too." Erin paused her story again and took several breaths before continuing.
"He kept trying to shush me, but I wouldn't let him and I cried until I couldn't anymore. And that's when he finally managed to tell me that I needed to get cleaned up so we could go shopping because the clothes in my bag were all too small and I was going to need something to wear on the flight over. I still can't remember another time when I was so happy. My Uncle was going to take me with him, he wasn't going to throw me away. That's when I decided that I wanted to be just like Uncle Dominik, and I started pestering him for six months straight until he finally gave in and started training me to be like him." Erin smiled for the first time since starting her story. "And I kept training to follow in my Uncle's footsteps for the next nine years. That's how we found out that I can train right past the normal human limits. Then we finally came back to the US, and he enrolled me at East Coast Diplomatic Academy. It's where really famous politicians and Supers stick their kids to keep them properly babysat and to make sure no one kidnaps them. And I met Scott and Ty, and had friends my own age for the first time that I could remember. And Scott with his crazy obsession over becoming a Hero. No matter how much people made fun of him for it, he never wavered even a little bit. Ty was right there with him, although at first he was just going to be Scott's supply guy since they hadn't classified 'Mad Science' as a Super ability yet. And as I hung out with that crazy optimistic kid I felt like I wanted something more than following in my Uncle's foot steps for the first time that I could remember." Erin actually giggled a bit at her own story at this point, though there was still evidence of the earlier tears on her face. "I was so scared when I went to tell my Uncle that I wanted to be a Hero instead of joining Force Ops like him, but he just smiled and hugged me and told me he always knew I could be something more than what he had managed. He was happy for me no matter what my dream was. And then I ended up following my two best friends into the HCP in Texas, and I met a super skinny girl that can bench press pickup trucks and watches silly cartoons at four in the morning." Amelia giggled along with Erin at the conclusion of her story. Signs of the tears she had shed listening to her friend quickly wiped away.
As Erin finished her workout and started gathering her equipment to put away she noticed Amelia offering her a bottled water from over the couch, the tall girl facing away and looking at the TV again as her arm was extended towards Erin. As Erin took the bottle and twisted the cap free her friend began speaking in a familiarly quiet and emotionless voice. "On Christmas morning when I was four, I almost killed my big sister..." Erin quietly made her way to one of the chairs and sat down listen to her newest friend's story.
Scott stretched his shoulders as he made his way with a group of other students from the Ethics of Heroism lecture room down towards the physical training center. It had been a weird morning. When he and Ty woke up they had found Amelia and Erin dozing in the common room, both barely dressed with the cartoon channel on in the background and Erin's weights all over the floor. When awoken both pretended nothing was out of the ordinary and went about the morning as if nothing had happened, but they kept sharing meaningful looks. Scott's instincts were somewhat divided on those looks. On the one hand everything he could observe told him that those looks had nothing to do with him, they were some new connection the two girls shared. On the other hand, history and high school had taught him to be wary any time females in his vicinity seemed to be sharing knowledge he was not privy to.
As all the students made their way into the gym a bit ahead of schedule he was surprised to see Coach Martinez materialize before the digital clock indicated the exact second at which class was to begin. "Welcome to Friday, Freshman! In celebration of your first Friday, and in light of the combat rankings being held tomorrow, today is a free day! There are only two requirements, you must work out in some way for the entire duration of the class period, and all students that wish to use any type of supplemental equipment for the matches needs to see myself or Coach Rachd by the end of our office hours, that's within the next five hours for those of you staring at the clock and trying to do math, to get approval. Enjoy your relaxation day, and look forward to tomorrow!" With that Coach Martinez vanished, leaving the Freshman class to stand looking dumbfounded at the spot where she had stood.
Scott shrugged and headed onto the track at a brisk pace. He noticed a few students doing celebratory dances, but most were either headed to the equipment, the track, of towards the two offices. It was amazing how much of an impact just four days of training with the two Coaches had made on the work ethic of the Freshman class. Or perhaps they had simply fostered such a deep seated paranoia that no one really believed in the possibility of such a 'Free Day' in the world of Coach Rachd. Scott figured he would get his normal workout in before heading off to see the Coach's about getting all of his extra metal approved for tomorrow.
"Dear Lord, please let me get into see Coach Martinez instead of Coach Rachd. I would truly by grateful of that sign that you intend to fuck with my life just a little less severely." Several students close enough to hear Scott's quiet prayer laughed, although a few of them decided that similar prayers were in order as well. Scott let his mind wander as he continued to pound his way around the track. He wondered what the hell Amelia and Erin had been up to last night, and if he and Ty should be making a run for it or pretending nothing had changed. He wondered if his dorm-mates wanted to head off campus tonight to celebrate surviving the first week together. Mostly though he wondered what kind of powers he was going to have to face in the rankings tomorrow.