Reviews, Discussions, Dinners, and Introductions
"This is WAY better than pay per view. Seriously. This job might actually end up not sucking nearly as much as we thought it would." Bert Rivera's sentiment was echoed by two of his three colleagues as the four Oversight investigators reviewed the video records of the day's matches.
The large observation lounge currently hosted half of the Oversight Committee as well as all six primary Overton HCP instructors and Dean Jilles. The instructors had already reviewed the matches extensively and were quietly arguing over minor adjustments in the students' combat ranks, with the exception of James Rachd and Dani Reyes, who lounged near the monitors being used by the Oversight group and called out highlights to the two men and two women watching the replays.
"Not to discourage the play by play Mr Rachd, Ms Reyes, but aren't the two of you supposed to be ranking your students right now?" Celia Watkins found herself more nervous than she cared to admit sitting in what amounted to an underground bunker surrounded by people possessing incredible superhuman abilities. She noticed the elderly British Focus Instructor grinning at her as she realized what she'd been thinking in a room with at least two telepaths and found herself blushing with enough embarrassment that she almost missed Dani's reply to her question.
"Jim and I don't agree on a whole lot of things Ms Watkins, but combat rankings are easy. We use a solid tournament system to run these match ups, tournament system says the winner is first, everyone else ranks out by overall record, head to head comparison, same opponent comparison, and strength of schedule." Dani paused for a moment to cheer at the large monitor, something the woman continued to do even after having seen most of the fight replays at least four times now, in addition to having watched as many of them live as possible. "So the two of us don't bother quibbling over the details of the individual matches, we just let the system do what it's supposed to and if the kids think they deserve a better spot, they have the whole year to earn it."
Rachd nodded in agreement, but did not otherwise indicate he was paying attention to anything other than the action on the monitor in front of him.
"What about the students that lose out in the first two matches? Do you just randomly shuffle them into the bottom ranks by strength of schedule?" The questioner this time was Allan Riley, the youngest and most physically active of the AG investigators that comprised the bulk of the Oversight team.
"We don't rank the two and outs until Monday when the ranking board goes up to be perfectly honest." James Rachd still didn't look away from the screen as he answered the younger man's question. "With the notable exception of healers, who themselves made a notable exception this year by not having a single one of the three go straight out of the rankings, the straight outs tend not to stay in the program. Some come back, some don't." All four of the investigators turned somewhat incredulous looks at the Combat Instructor. "The trend goes back with only a few notable breaks all the way to when Dean Hallen switched Overton to a gender integrated double elimination ranking format to account for what he referred to as 'a gross misunderestimation of the capabilities of female Supers and a ridiculous limitation on the progress of students who's entire ability must be evaluated in as little as a single match against a vastly superior opponent.' Turns out most of the kids we get in here haven't ever gone toe to toe with someone else with abilities, hell not a lot of college kids of any variety have ever been in a fight where your opponent beats you unconscious before it's over." James paused to take a sip from his water bottle, and offer the beverage a glare indicating he wished the contents of the bottle were something else, before he continued. "As a result, we get a lot of freshman that were king of the heap back home because they had the powers and no one really messed with them, and they get here and other people with powers stomp them into the ground at the end of the first week of pretty exhaustive physical conditioning, and you don't need to be a psych major or a telepath to figure out that a lot of them discover they don't got what it takes to make it in this program."
There were nods of understanding from the Oversight group at the end of the large Instructor's speech. Overall it was probably a kindness to expose the new students to the harshness of the HCP's requirements early on. It gave them a chance to get out and truly prepare for a second attempt, or to move on to something that they were better suited for before they'd invested too much of their time and selves into it.
"Queue up the sixth round undefeated match Darlene! It's the best!" Dani was eagerly motioning for the Oversight member closest to the controls to hasten her compliance, drawing a brief chuckle from the much older woman.
"Haven't we already reviewed the top rank match four times Dani?" Darlene's question was however accompanied by several quick selections on the keyboard in front of her, bringing the requested match onto the monitor.
"Yea, but we've reviewed all the matches at least twice. And this is the best one by FAR."
"I think that must have been before I managed to get myself sent down here. Who's the participants in the main event?" Bert sat up a bit straighter in his seat to get a better angle at the monitor as he spoke.
"Jacobson and Casse. You'll enjoy it Mr Rivera, it's about the best example you could ask for of the complete skill fighter taking on the raw power fighter." Rachd's position didn't change, but his focus on the monitor seemed to intensify.
"Amelia Jacobson is the tall barefoot girl, Erin Casse is the almost as tall girl that's about to turn transparent." Dani was practically bouncing in her seat with excitement as the replay started.
"Why would one of them be fighting barefoot?" Bert asked as the match started, both fighters closing with incredible speed. "What the hell... Is that girl ripping into the floor with her feet?"
"That would be why she's not wearing shoes Bert." Celia was less enraptured by the fifth replay of the match than the others, and as such had enough presence of mind to pause the action and zoom in close enough that it could be clearly observed that Amelia's feet were actually gouging into the reinforced floor as if it were nothing more than soft turf as she charged her opponent. "Until the girl can get in contact with one of the DVA licensed vendors to make specialized equipment for someone of her strength, she'll just shred straight through them when she flexes her toes hard enough."
"Why can't the camera focus on the other girl?"
"Because her primary ability is EM distortion." The six watching the monitor looked up at the new voice to see Kathryn Jilles had joined the viewing. "Even on the non-standard spectrum feeds, she's still completely distorted, just in new and fascinating ways. Pinning down that girl's precise location if she doesn't want you to represents quite a challenge."
The action continued to unfold as the now seven spectators watched in silence. The hugely distorted girl stayed mostly in extremely close proximity to her incredibly powerful opponent, seeming to effortlessly evade the clumsy grabs and flailing strikes thrown at her. The necessity of such avoidance was abundantly clear to those watching the recording. When Amelia missed at such an angle that she contacted the floor or a wall as the incredibly mobile battle made it's way around the room the area she struck was left shattered to rubble or gouged completely out and flung across the room by the follow through.
Bert finally remembered to breathe again after several minutes of watching the seemingly impossible battle. "She didn't fight like that in any of her other matches. She must really hate that girl."
"Actually they're roommates, and while only recently acquainted they seem to be good friends." All four of the Oversight members turned expressions of patent disbelief towards the Dean as she spoke again, causing the woman to chuckle. "If you watch from the very beginning when both girls first entered the room and turn on the audio they have quite a pleasant conversation before they got started. Ms Casse essentially asked Ms Jacobson to promise that she wouldn't hold back, as she wanted to face the best opponent possible, win or lose. She even gave Ms Jacobson some pointers on how to aim her incredible strength in such a way that a blow would not be instantly lethal, and thus disqualifying."
"She gave her opponent advice at the beginning of the match after asking her to go all out? Is she nuts?"
"She knows her opponent is incredibly strong. She knows her opponent doesn't have any real training. Which is crazier, hoping she goes easy on you and doesn't accidentally splatter your skull all over the room if she does step things up, or her approach?" Rachd looked calmly at Allan as he posed the question in response to the younger man's own query. After considering for a moment, Allan smiled and nodded his agreement with the Combat Instructor's logic.
"How long does this go for?" Bert had noted that the counter in the corner of the screen had just passed the ten minute mark, far longer than most of the matches they had reviewed since his arrival.
"The end of the match comes at 17:44. Almost six minutes short of the new match length record that was set earlier today in fact." Dani had finally stopped bouncing with energy while watching the match, but still seemed about to vibrate through the chair she sat in. The woman had far too much energy.
At the conclusion of the epic match between the two freshman Bert gasped a bit as he realized he'd forgotten to breathe again for awhile at the end. It was almost impossible to wrap his head around the concept that a pair of normal looking eighteen year old girls were capable of the kind of battle those two had just waged against each other. And at the end the two had simply hugged and headed off to the infirmary together as if they hadn't just engaged in combat that had almost destroyed a room that was heavily reinforced specifically to PREVENT fights between Supers within its wall from doing too much collateral damage.
"Is the room repaired or can we still see the damage?"
James Rachd smiled widely as he stood and stretched before answering. "We're going to post the rankings in that room and leave it as is until Winter Break. Should be a great reminder of what those kids have signed themselves up for."
It was quite a bit later than Kathryn would normally choose for dinner, but it was an important meeting with the Walkers as well, and most importantly occurring at a venue where the Oversight Committee wouldn't be present. She smiled slightly as the maitre d' of the expensive restaurant met her at the door to escort her to a private booth already occupied by her co-conspirators.
"Sorry I couldn't get you good news any sooner Kathy, but it turns out that the few companies that make the things we're looking for are a bit shoddy in the customer service department." Riley didn't even bother with the normal pleasantries as the Dean joined him and his wife at their table, though he definitely projected a pleasant demeanor. "Fortunately with a little perseverance, we were able to get through to someone who realized how much money was represented, and things went smoothly from there. Your program's new machines will be delivered Sunday, and I am assured they are top of the line."
"I'm sure James will be happy to hear that we aren't just replacing the Hi-Mags with the same old thing." The conversation paused for a moment as the maitre d' reappeared to take Kathryn's order, before continuing. "And it's nice to see you again as well Janette. Elena tells me that you believe you've solved our problems with someone providing incentives for the local press to try and out our students as Supers?"
"Lovely to see you as well Kathryn, and yes Elena is quite correct. It didn't take much digging but a local news station has received quite a generous cash inflow that quite conveniently traces back to Humanity Forever, I'm sure you've heard of them?"
"It's an anti-Super and Powered extremist group. I believe they went mostly underground after claiming credit for bombing a Powered care clinic in Portland last year."
"The radicals in the group went underground, but they've still managed to keep a small 'legitimate' lobby going the whole time. Sadly the overall picture here goes way past that little groups abilities. They were set up to be the cutout in this I'm afraid. The good news is that the paper trail was plenty wide enough for a very aggressive lawsuit against Frank Tremes and his little local news empire. No one ever remembers to claim the 'anonymous' cash contributions as income, and with a little pressure from a few local interests that are NOT particularly happy about anyone selling the news to extremists, and that particular media outlet is now owned by someone more sympathetic to us and harder to bribe."
"Anyone I know?"
"I believe we have been acquainted Kathryn, so yes." Janette's smile was pure innocence as she finished her happy description of how she had ripped a business away from a rival in less than three days. Kathryn was again thankful that fate had provided her with such effective allies for this particular war she found herself fighting. She knew Elena had no trouble tracking down the source of their SI problems, but the various staff members were extremely limited in how much force they could bring to bear on such an opponent. The Walkers had no such limitations and seemed to be more than adequately armed for such a conflict.
"You and your husband are definitely an efficient pair Janette."
"We all have our specialties Kathryn. Is there any other business to get out of the way before our meal arrives?" Riley's expression remained pleasantly attentive, though Kathryn knew that he did not expect any further serious conversation for the night.
"Actually, I had one additional, somewhat personal question for your wife. I don't suppose I could trouble you for a moment of privacy?" Riley's expression betrayed a very slight amount of surprise, before the heavy man shrugged it away and stood from their booth.
"I believe I will ask for a brief tour of the wines to select the most appropriate vintage for each of our dishes. That should take me about ten minutes?"
"More than enough time I'm sure dear," Janette's face hadn't even betrayed the flutter of surprise that her husband's had shown, but to the telepath it was quite obvious that the calm, collected woman sitting next to her was extremely on guard.
As Riley left Kathryn took a sip of her water before beginning. "Please relax a bit Janette, I'm really only looking to get a personal curiosity satisfied if you don't mind. You don't even have to answer me if you truly don't want to, and I won't even go rummaging in your head for the answer if you ask me not to." Janette relaxed a little, but not so much that Kathryn believed her word was trusted at face value. It truly was amazing that anyone had ever mistaken the incredible woman for nothing more than a vapid dilettante. Then again, at the time that had been the point she supposed.
"Why Amelia?" Kathryn didn't know quite what she expected, but the vast maelstrom of emotion that suddenly engulfed her companion was definitely not on the list.
"She needed help, and Overton needed positive publicity with the people likely to know the whole story from Chicago. What else would there be?"
"Janette, I was honest when I told you that you didn't have to tell me if it's something that makes you too uncomfortable. But please, don't bother lying to the telepath after all the time you've spent thinking about how nice it is not to have to observe all the political niceties with her."
Janette locked her gaze on the older woman at the table with her, and after several seconds seemed as if she was going to invoke the privacy that Kathryn had offered, when suddenly her whole posture seemed to deflate a bit. She leaned her head back against the plush rest behind her, and took a deep steadying breath before she began to speak.
"Did you know I had a younger sister? We were only born a couple of years apart, unlike all of my older siblings. She was my best friend growing up. We always stayed close after we grew up, and she even got married before me and had a daughter. That would be almost twenty years ago now. She got married at eighteen and had a daughter the next year, and she was somehow fantastically happy the whole time despite all of her older sister's cynicism. When her little girl, Janie, was five, she set their house on fire. My sister Kylie, and her husband Tim almost died in the fire. My little niece was a Powered it turned out. A very dangerous one, as she apparently burst into flame whenever she got too excited." Janette paused to take a couple of more breaths before continuing as Kathryn sat riveted, already expecting where the story was leading. "A very convincing man came from a very prestigious institute, claiming that they would be the absolute best chance for little Janie to live any kind of life without having to be afraid for herself and everyone around her. Kylie wanted to keep her daughter, but Tim thought it would be for the best, and of course our parents, Janie's grandparents, wanted such a terrible potential embarrassment out of sight as quickly as possible, so arrangements were made in spite of my sister's protests." There was another pause as Janette took a sip of water and leaned forward to stare at her hands on the table in front of her.
"Could you guess, but I tried to convince my sister it was for the best too? They locked my niece up in a cell, no matter how nice you pretended it was that room was a prison cell. And she never even got to touch her mother or father again from that day on. She wasn't even six years old, and I actually thought that this was the right solution. She lived in that place, not being able to touch anyone or have anything too valuable for seven years. Making it seven years ago this Thanksgiving that the girl finally stopped fighting her depression and killed herself. Tim just seemed to accept it as a natural conclusion, Kylie couldn't handle it. She and her daughter had needed her family and we didn't give either of them any of the help they actually needed. My sister followed after her daughter on New Year's Day." Janette turned to look directly at Kathryn, both women seeing eyes' shining brightly with unshed tears. "Would you like to guess what the name of the man who came to my sister's home to tell her that she had to lock away her only daughter was? When I heard that there was a scandal at Powered Haven as a tiny blip on a news channel, I pulled every resource I had into uncovering what went on there. Francis Leroe had already fled the country by the time Amelia Jacobson and her sister had made the case solid enough that his lawyers couldn't delay the investigation any further. Believe me when I say that it was NOT the hand of fate that delivered him to the Chicago prosecutors office in handcuffs two days after the warrant was filed. His lawyers would have held that girl's life, and all those other lives, up in continuances and stalling tactics for a decade or more. I made sure that none of their bullshit had anything to stick to. I made damned sure that man ended up in the worst prison imaginable for the rest of his natural life, and if anyone ever suggests letting him out I will make damn sure that it does. Not. Happen. Why Amelia?" Janette blinked as a single tear made its way down her cheek before being gently dabbed away with a napkin. "Because I fucked up beyond forgiveness once, and I saw a chance to make just a little bit of it right."
The pair lapsed into silence for a few moments before Janette spoke again. "I saw that in some of the interviews that I technically wasn't supposed to have, that the girl wanted to be a Hero after everything that happened to her. Her life was hell up to that point and she still wanted to spend the rest of it helping people. Please tell me Kathy, does she have a chance? Can she do it?"
Kathryn offered her most genuine smile to the woman who had just bared more of her soul than the Dean would have thought possible a few minutes ago. "She's amazing Janette. She's going to be one of the greatest Heroes ever."
"Jeremy! It's so good that you finally made it. Dealing with some of the people here has been a nightmare without your assistance. Everyone! This is my assistant, Jeremy Kreid!" the assembled Oversight Committee turned to see what had the political appointee of their group so excited to see a very average looking man in a business suit bearing a rather thick file.
"Dammit Raines, this has been discussed, you can't invite your PA to come into the HCP investigation with you because he doesn't have clearance!" Mirror's tone held only a great deal of exasperation, and none of the surprise that the first several days of dealing with the antics of Walter Raines had engendered.
"Apologies Ms Mirror, but the reason I am only just arriving now is that this particular issue was finally resolved. I have significant background in both DVA and HCP Budget Committee business to be considered an asset for the Oversight Committee, and sufficient existing clearances that I have been cleared to work with you. Jeremy Kreid, pleased to make your acquaintance." the last line was offered to the room at large while he extended a hand towards the Hero in front of him.
Instead of shaking it Mirror simply continued to look directly at the man until he fidgeted a little uncomfortably before finally dropping his hand and offering the file instead. "You can verify that all of my clearances have been updated to allow for this transfer, additionally..." his voice dropped off briefly as Raines collected his briefcase and strode quickly towards the exit, a wide grin present on his face. "...additionally I am paid quite well by Walter Raines Senior to keep his son from doing anything exceptionally stupid. I will endeavor to keep this Mr Raines out of your way as much as possible so that you will have fewer distractions in the performance of your duties." the last was said with a somewhat sardonic half-smile on his face.
Mirror accepted the proffered file and reviewed the paperwork quickly, before passing the file to one of the investigators. "Get this officially vetted as quickly as possible, with the holiday tomorrow that likely means Tuesday as the parts of the government that aren't actually WORKING seem to think that things like weekends and holidays are times when they need to be unreachable. Mr Kreid, I will ask politely exactly one time that you remember NOT to attempt entrance to any of the HCP areas until after your clearances have been confirmed and the Overton staff has a chance to get an ID badge made up for you. If you choose to ignore this polite request then in all likelihood terrible things will happen to you, and we will be stuck dealing with Walter on our own again."
"I'm quite happy to have a few days to sort through all of Mr Raines' paperwork until everything is properly settled. I imagine I will be fully occupied with that task for longer than it takes to verify my clearances and acquire appropriate ID's. If you ladies and gentlemen would excuse me?" and after a polite pause to see if anyone spoke up, Jeremy Kreid turned and strode briskly after his employer, or possibly his employer's son.
"If that man can actually keep Raines out of our hair I say we nominate him for sainthood." it was the youngest member of the Oversight Committee that spoke the words, but the eight others present all echoed the sentiment.