Assembling the Players
The first man to step off the elevator and into the underground Hero Certification Facility wore an expression of absolute confidence. He stood significantly taller than the two men who accompanied him, dressed far more expensively than his companions who couldn't seem to manage nearly the blond leader's level of calm assuredness.
"Mr Weaver, are you sure we're supposed to come down unescorted? The facil-..." The shorter of the two followers, a middle aged and slightly portly hispanic man, was cut off mid objection by the deeper voice of his leader.
"Shut up Juan. Of COURSE we're allowed to be here. We're overseeing this entire facility to see if it will STAY a facility or not." The tall man reached the end of the entry corridor and turned right without hesitation. "Now let's go see if we can't find the Dean and introd-... OOF." The end of the statement was cut off as the blond man came around a second corner to run face first into a waiting wall of muscle.
"Good morning, gentlemen." The somewhat gravelly voice that emerged from the heavily muscled bald man that blocked the hallway came out at a volume that indicated he was far more used to yelling than normal speech. "So glad you could make it down early. Harold Weaver?" The final question was directed at the blond man in front, still a little ruffled from the unexpected collision.
"That is me. You would be James Rachd, I presume?" Harold Weaver offered a blatantly false smile and extended a hand towards the Combat Instructor. "To my left is Daniel Leen, to my right is Juan Ruiz." Each man offered a nervous smile and a small wave as they were introduced.
Rachd completely ignored the hand in front of him but nodded slightly in acknowledgment of the two men's names. "Nice of you to make the time to arrive an hour ahead of schedule Mr Weaver. You'll be coming with me and your two associates will be accompanying Professors Banning and Martinez." As the words were spoken two forms materialized in the hallway behind the three men in suits. The tall form of Anthony Banning lightly gripped the shorter hispanic man's shoulders and led him off down the corridor away from Harold. Elena Martinez simply placed a hand on the back of the man identified as Daniel Leen and both of them vanished.
Anger overtook the look of calm confidence on the blond man's face as he saw his underlings being quickly whisked away by the HCP faculty. "Now see here! I am the newly appointed Oversight Director, and I DEMAND tha-..."
"SHUT UP!" The volume and force of the muscular bald man's shout cut off Harold's tirade mid word and actually rocked the man back a step. "If you were not the new Oversight Director, you would probably be lying in a mangled heap on the floor right now Mr Weaver. Now, you will accompany me, and we will have you scanned by a highly trained telepath to insure that you are exactly who you say you are. After that, you are getting a full biometric imprint so that our automated security will recognize you and let you get where you need to go, and keep you out of where you don't."
"You're joking. You can't FORCE me to undergo anything of the sort! I am not here to dance for your amusement, I am here to determine if your program will still EXIST in three years time. I refuse to submit to either the scan OR the biometric imprint." Weaver crossed his arms confidently over his chest and stared down the larger man in front of him Let's see what you think of THAT you neanderthal.
"That is your choice, Mr Weaver. I will now escort you from the premises. If you prove at all uncooperative, I will break both of your legs and deposit you topside for the authorities to come and collect. You may lead the way." The look on Rachd's face could best be described as 'violent' as he waited to see how the blond politician would react.
"You can't DO th-..."
"I CAN do that, Mr Weaver. The decision by the previous Senate HCP Committee to not require full biometric imprinting for Oversight resulted in a major security breach that cost several Senators their careers. The new Committee has decided NOT to renew that decision. If you refuse both of these steps then you will be removed from your position, and they will have to send us someone else." A wide grin grew across the muscular man's face as he watched the confidence seep out of the other man's expression. "It is still pretty early in the summer break, they'll have PLENTY of time to get your replacement out here."
"This is... Fine. Lead on Mr Rachd."
"It's Professor Rachd, if you don't mind Mr Weaver. Have to maintain the proper decorum when dealing between the HCP and Oversight after all."
The Combat Instructor led the blond politician down several corridors and into the infirmary. Waiting there was a white haired elderly man with a polite smile on his face, a lightly build Indian man wearing a lab coat with a stethoscope hanging from one pocket, and a tall woman in a dress-blue military uniform.
"Professor Vree, I'd like to introduce you to Harold Weaver, he's consented to the telepathic scan so please begin when you're ready. Dr Saxena, if you can set the imager up so we can get the biometrics done as quickly as possible, I'm sure Mr Weaver is anxious to begin his important work." The two men nodded to Rachd in turn as he addressed them, with Weaver offering them each a polite smile and nod, though his expression was becoming somewhat visibly strained as his muscular escort had perfectly timed his own speech to interrupt the politician's attempt to introduce himself.
The military woman in the room stepped forward as the small doctor began entering something onto a nearby console and the white haired man closed his eyes in concentration. "Mr Weaver, Lieutenant Susan Witt. I'm Oversight's liaison with the Department of Defense." The attractive woman with nearly metallic blonde hair leaned in close before continuing. "Make sure any attempts to acquire military hardware or other assets for Oversight purposes goes through ME. Any of the antic perpetrated by your predecessor will NOT be tolerated.” The air around the Lieutenant and the politician grew notably warmer for a moment as the woman stared hard into the blond man's eyes. He was the first to blink, and the heat vanished as if it had never been present.
“Mr Weaver?” The now thoroughly flustered man turned in the direction of Dr Saxena as the shorter man called out to him. “Everything is ready for you. If you can step into this room here and remove your clothing, the imager will be able to get a complete biometric imprint for us to use with our security network. The process should only take about ten seconds once you've disrobed.”
The look on Harold Weaver's face looked as if it was going to be a prelude to an absolute refusal of the doctor's request, but the look fled quickly when a loud cracking noise sounded from directly behind the man as James Rachd casually cracked his knuckles and began rolling his shoulders as if limbering up for some sort of physical activity.
“Of course, Doctor. Only about ten seconds you say? Not too much of an inconvenience at all.” Insufferable bastard Supers. Every one of them. We'll see what the playing field looks like in a few months then
“Yes, I imagine we will at that, Mr Weaver.” The politician nearly tripped over his own feet in shock at the British accented voice that cut into the room. “Incidentally, you've cleared your telepathic scan. You might want to watch what you're thinking a little more carefully while you're in an HCP facility.” The older man's eyes twinkled mischievously as he spoke. “Some of the students, for example, are far more receptive telepaths than even I am, and can be less able to show restraint at times. I'm sure you understand, young people and all that.”
Harold Weaver swallowed hard to try and remove the lump from his throat, before opting to offer a less-than-sincere smile and a nod to the older British gentleman. After stepping into the room indicated by the doctor a few moments prior, the blond politician paused to bring his hands up to his temples in an attempt to massage away a budding migraine. Why the hell did I let the Senate convince me that this would be an EASY assignment?
Sounds of exertion, grunts of exhaustion, and the occasional startled yelp or scream of pain rang throughout the large warehouse. “Tasha, clean up in block 5, double time!”
The shout from the demonic shifter directly below the catwalk drew the attention of the petite blonde above long enough to discern that the Amazonian healer was close enough to handle whatever injury had just resulted. Alexandra Andrews shifted her attention back to the room at large and shifted her focus back to the threads of power around her that she only had to reach out and touch in order to copy the incredible abilities they represented.
Nearly the entirety of the soon to be Sophomore Overton HCP class was gathered in this off-the-beaten-path and likely condemned building. A special summer training initiative that had been put together by the class's two teleporters, and that every student save for four had managed to attend at least once. Ben Pelley, Catalina Blake, Eloise James, and Erin Casse were the only students that hadn't made it out. Ben had been incommunicado since the day after the Freshman final exam. Catalina was helping her family with the farm over the summer and, as the telepath liked to point out, training for her was far more effective the denser the population got. Eloise had simply stated that this type of training simply wasn't going to be what she needed, though the normally somewhat anti-social girl had remembered to thank the group for the offer. Erin had expressed interest, but stated that she had already made rather extensive training plans with her uncle, and didn't want to cancel them or risk over training.
Alexandra shook the distracting thoughts away and continued to focus on her surroundings. Below her and off to her right she could sense a line of power that dealt with the physical manipulation of an object's size and shape. Focusing on it a little harder, not quite touching it, she found she could hear the expected voice of Barry Jeung cursing softly as he attempted to hold his opponent at bay. A little more reaching and she located the much more intense strand nearest to the hard pressed Korean youth, a blazing aura centered around building solidity out of pure light. Almost effortlessly this time the small mimic found she could make out the heavy breathing of Jon Glenn as he swarmed his opponent with an array of hard light constructs. The skinny blond boy had made tremendous improvements over the summer, finally beginning to master the art of actually moving the constructs he created. The added motion caused them to degrade at an extremely rapid pace, but as his focus improved they became more solid, and more precise.
The girl on the catwalk gave another brief start as the timer on her watch beeped rudely at her, the audible reminder that it was already time to seize hold of yet another power. The training the girl had put herself through since first pushing her limits during the disastrous pre-final of the last year was showing some impressive results already. She had already bettered her performance then of four rapid mimics, able to push herself to a fifth now before the strain of holding on became more than she could handle.
As Alexandra scanned the area around her to determine whom her next attempt would be, the air behind her let out a loud crackling noise and a brief rush of wind ruffled her short hair. Strangely, this was the one interruption so far that elicited from the somewhat high-strung girl no startled reaction at all, instead a smile as she turned to face her roommate. A smile that quickly morphed into a look of surprise as there were now TWO dark haired middle-eastern women standing on the catwalk with the blonde.
“Alex, Hi! This is my mom. Mom, this is Alex.” The Israeli girl spoke in answer to the obvious not yet asked question on her roommate's face. “Mom volunteered to come and help with the evening shuttle service today. She said she wanted to meet some of the people her little girl is spending so much time around.” With that introduction and explanation out of the way, Beulah stepped over to the railing to shout down into the warehouse with a shockingly loud voice. “WRAP UP IS IN TEN MINUTES! IF YOU DON'T WANT TO WALK, BE READY BY THEN!”
Alexandra chuckled as the teleporter followed up her yell with an immediate blink down to the floor level to determine who would be first. Considering we're in FAIRBANKS that would be a pretty long walk. The petite girl's amusement at her friend's speeches waned as she realized that the older of the Abbott women seemed to be regarding her with an extremely intense look. A brief scan showed that Beulah's mother seemed to possess EXACTLY the same power as her daughter, to a degree that made it difficult to tell the two women apart by ability alone.
A brief moment after the silence between the two catwalk occupants had reached the 'uncomfortable' stage, the older woman spoke. “You are Alexandra, my Beulah's roommate, yes?” The elder Abbott's voice was almost lyrical, and her accent notably more pronounced than her daughters.
“Yes, that's me. You can call me Alex Mrs-...” The petite girl was cut off abruptly as the woman in front of her blinked across the distance between them and caught her in a nearly crushing hug.
“My name is Dalia, dear Alex. Thank you so much for saving my daughter.” Alexandra froze in shock at the unexpected embrace, and further at the softly spoken words forced out around the appearance of tears in the older woman's eyes. “You were willing to die for my dearest one, and for that I can never repay you.” Dalia relaxed from the embrace and pushed herself back to arm's length to look the younger woman directly in the eye. “Anything you ever need, call me and I will do everything in my power to provide it. ANYTHING.” The words were spoken just as softly as the tearful thanks, but the force behind them left Alexandra with absolutely no doubt that the woman before her was entirely sincere.
“Mrs... Dalia,” the petite blonde corrected herself as the dark haired woman waved a contradicting finger at her attempted bypass of the first name basis, “you're welcome, but it wasn't anything that special. I jus-...”
“You saved my daughter's life at great risk to your own. That is everything.” Dalia placed a business card in the younger woman's hand and pushed the girl's fingers closed. “I have enough resources that I know exactly what happened in that facility on that day, dear Alex. Fully trained Heroes in your country and mine both would have balked at what you threw yourself at on that day. You saved no fewer than four of your classmates without any sign of hesitation, and only by pushing your power so far beyond it's known limits you might well have killed yourself just in the trying. I will have no more of your humility or self-deprecation young lady. You are an amazing person, and it's time you started acting like it.”
Alexandra looked down at the card in her hand, then back up at the woman in front of her radiating both overwhelming gratitude and a steely resolve that indicated to the petite girl she would likely be best off agreeing with her friend's mother. “Thank you, Dalia.” It seemed the safest response.
“You are most welcome, and again I thank you. May I take you somewhere?”
The blonde girl shook her head in response, already having reached out with her mental 'hands' to grasp the intensely bright power in front of her. “I'll see myself out, Dalia. It's good practice for me.” Alexandra flashed a smile at the older Israeli woman as the world around her seemed to shatter and reform, the last image taken with her was that of the dark haired woman smiling widely in response.
Kathryn Jilles found herself hurrying through the halls of her own facility, wondering what on earth had possessed her to post summer office hours. It's all the insanity with the Oversight Committee. Somehow it just never occurred to you that with all the changes in your program that one of the students might ACTUALLY take you up on the offer in the middle of the break. The Dean shook her head a moment. And apparently the stress has you talking to yourself in second person, Kathryn. Get it together!
The face the petite woman wore as she entered the waiting room outside her office showed no indication of any of the internal stress or debate she was going through, most of which vanished quickly in the face of the tightly wound mind awaiting her arrival. “Mr Pelley, what can I do for you on this fine summer day?” A slight emphasis on the word 'summer' spoke volumes as to the Dean's lack of desire to be underground, but the tall muscular youth seemed not to pick up on it. Good lord he's nervous about something.
There was a moment's hesitation as the young man seated in front of the Dean seemed not to know how to begin, but just before she decided an earnest attempt to pry the information out of his brain directly was in order, Ben opted to simply blurt out the entirety of what he came to say. “You have to put Amelia back in the program. I'm dropping out.”
Kathryn rocked back on her heels and allowed the genuine shock she felt to color her expression vividly. In all her years teaching at the HCP she had only twice heard rumors of students dropping out with the stated goal of giving someone else a better or more 'deserved' chance to move on. She had never heard anything, or thought she would, about a student that had successfully placed into the next year of the program attempting to drop out at ALL, much less in an attempt to give his spot to someone else.
“Mr Pelley, what could have possibly brought you to make a decision like this? What made you even think something like this is possible?”
“I researched it. You guys, Overton, you gave Amelia a waiver. She's the top student from our year, but because she was injured she's getting passed over for advancement right now. The waiver says that she basically gets into a second year HCP as soon as she's sufficiently recovered.” The Dean's eyes showed a new layer of surprise that the young man in front of her had learned that much. Looks aside, he was apparently more adept with computer systems than he had ever let on. “The thing is, she's sufficiently recovered right now. She still needs her arm healed, but Ames is ten times stronger than I am, and she could LITERALLY beat me with one arm tied behind her back, or missing as the case may be. She deserves the spot more than I do.”
“Ben,” the petite woman's use of the boy's first name snapped his attention to her more effectively than even the use of her favored telekinetic nose flick could have, “do not for one SECOND think that because another Super is physically stronger than you are, that you don't DESERVE to advance. Ms Jacobson may have been at the top of the Freshman class, but you yourself were ranked 11th out of the 29 at Overton, and 50th out of ALL 140 HCP students that advanced to the second year of the program this year.”
“It's not that, or not just that anyways. Dean... I don't feel like I earned it. I'm strong, that's what I do. I'm pretty good at it, but I can't make myself feel like I'm good enough. Ames, Collin, Susan, they're ALL stronger than I am. They're better than me at my best trait, and even though I tried, I really REALLY tried, I can't shake the feeling that I really am the 'second stringer' that the little Oversight punk kept thinking at us.” Ben smiled at the woman's response to his last statement. “Towards the end of the year, Cat kept us pretty well informed of what the little asshole thought of us. But that's why I have to do this. I don't feel like this version of me, right here and now, deserves to make it any farther in the HCP. Don't get me wrong, I WILL be a Hero someday. But I obviously have some shit I need to work out first. So give my spot to Ames.”
Dean Jilles stood silently for several long moments after Ben finished speaking. The simplest truth of the matter was, he was entirely correct. There was nothing in the HCP curriculum or regulations that would prevent Amelia, still maimed or no, from continuing in the program. There had been students in the past who had been entirely incapable of even BEING healed that had still managed to make it through the program, for all intents and purposes Collin Gauge was one of them as his Shifted form was completely impervious to attempts to heal it, it simply restored itself at a drastically faster pace than a normal person would heal. Finally, the dark haired woman spoke again. “I'll make you a deal, Mr Pelley. I will offer Ms Jacobson the spot in the program for next year, but if she declines than you WILL take it. You are good enough, whether you have figured it out for yourself or not, and I don't think you want to leave us with a shorthanded class with this Oversight bullshit hanging over our heads any more than I want that to happen. Agreed?”
The muscular youth stood and offered his hand in acceptance of the proffered deal. “Deal. Honestly though, you think there's any chance in hell Ames doesn't do it?”
In response, the Dean suddenly found all she was able to do was smile and laugh.
“You stupid BITCH!” The elegantly dressed woman sighed with exasperation at the scream that met her entrance to the small conference room before entering and closing the door behind her,
“Lovely to have you here to visit, Patrick.” The casual greeting offered in a dismissive tone caused the large man to visibly shake as he attempted to control his rage.
“You are going to get us all killed. Were you not LISTENING when Edward told us that we were pulling our resources BACK until those freaks in Overton have a chance to relax?” Patrick managed to keep his volume in the range that wouldn't be easily overheard from outside the room, but the tone threatened terrible violence to the woman standing in front of him.
“Sit down and stop being so damned melodramatic.” The older, dark haired woman's control of her own emotion slipped a bit and the last few words came out as more of an angry hiss. “We are not committing any resources that can trace ANYWHERE near any of us, we aren't directly investigating anyone involved in the HCP, and if you can't manage to hold a civil conversation then I will not be sharing anything that we have learned.”
The final bit of the woman's statement seemed to fully penetrate the larger man's anger as he rocked back a moment with a contemplative expression, before moving to the table and dropping heavily into one of the seats. “You learned something worth this level of unnecessary risk, Joyce?” While still not exactly cordial, the tone of this question at least approached a normal conversational level.
“I have a nearly complete roster of the HCP students at Overton. All four years of active students. I also have a list of the students who did not make the cut for the upcoming year, in case any of them might be useful in the future.”
Patrick's jaw dropped in a momentary look of pure shock before he managed to collect himself. “How could you have possibly gotten that much information without tipping anyone off? Getting a hold of a few files is one thing, but a complete list? Your sources are either lying to you or you're about to walk into a very obvious trap.”
Joyce laughed at her colleague's sudden shift from rage to surprise and paranoia. “You never managed to get more than a file here and there because you always thought far too small. I didn't put a single investigator in Overton to get this information. Life begins far before college after all.”
It took a few moments before the seated man managed to comprehend what the woman in front of him was saying. “You... All of them? You did backgrounds on every student at Overton? How did you manage that without tripping every red flag in existence?” Anger was now completely absent from Patrick's voice, curiosity and envy were the only emotions that could be detected.
“My firms employ hundreds of investigators. In addition to that we make contact with thousands more. Use the right cutouts, apply the correct resources, and one extra suburban family is added to a full background file being assembled for a local development project in the vicinity. A prominent doctor and healer from upper Manhattan and his family are profiled as part of a very in depth malpractice investigation as 'possible associates of interest.' It's not that hard to find a way to connect the people you want to learn about with an ongoing investigation, and no one is good enough to watch that many angles at once.”
“They don't have to watch all of them in order to catch a couple. They're going to realize what you're doing, and when they do you'd better hope your cutouts are as good as you think they are.”
“That's the beauty of doing the investigating NOW, my dear, stupid Patrick. Our adversaries at Overton, and their politically connected allies, are on their highest alert right now. They are going to find dozens, possibly hundreds of little things like my investigations. But since we're not planning on moving forward overtly until they get a chance to relax...”
Patrick laughed as he finally caught a glimpse of Joyce's complete strategy. “Learn now, play later?”
“Of course. That is the best way to handle college after all.”
The auburn haired girl smiled as she approached the door to the large house before her. A cheerful “Come in!” offered from inside the house before the hispanic girl could even knock.
I know how it's possible for ME to do that. How does Scott's mom manage? Still smiling, the young woman pushed the door open and stepped across the threshold before freezing in shock. Whirring to life in front of her was a small digital display, attached to several wires and a lump of something similar to grey clay with a clear glass jar full of jagged metal bits at the forefront. ”Ummm... Mrs Jameson? Plea...-”
“Call me Anne, please, Cat. And you should hurry up, only twenty seconds!” The tall girl felt herself panicking at the bizarrely cheerful voice that interrupted her. Her ability allowed her to confirm beyond any doubt that it was, in fact, Anne Jameson in the other room But that fact seemed at odds with the apparent BOMB sitting in front of her.
As the timer clicked down to read '15' Catalina finally calmed herself enough to notice that there were several pairs of wire cutters and pliers laid out next to the device, and the petite British woman in the other room was currently looking at a disarming manual for homemade explosive devices. The current page open to a schematic remarkably similar to what was currently in front of her.
Using the images she gleaned from Anne's reading, Catalina quickly stepped forward and began to confidently dismantle the device in front of her, smiling again as she calmly clipped the final connection with three seconds still on the timer. Her smile faded as the timer continued unabated, turning for a moment to one of genuine terror as the timer reached zero.
The device in front of the girl, containing no actual explosives, did not detonate in any way. A pair of 'party poppers' loaded with confetti and cleverly hidden in the ceiling above her DID. The girl's shriek was fully audible over the two loud *POP* sounds and she found herself shaking slightly as sparkling confetti rained down on her.
“And that, my dear girl,” the petite older woman had made her way into the foyer just in time to capture a picture of the young woman in mid-terrified-shriek, “is payback for leaving my poor boy all alone with those neanderthals you call 'brothers' for two full days when he went down to visit last month.”
Catalina really wanted to be angry at the blonde woman, but Anne's smile was infectious, and she did raise a good point. ”I'm sorry Ms J-... Anne. It won't happen again.”
“Oh, it can happen again. Scott could still use some toughening up. Just make sure not to abandon him so completely next time, work or not. The poor boy is still absolutely infatuated with you Cat.”
Catalina blushed a bit as she nodded in response. ”So is Sco-...”
“He's out on the south range with Ty, still trying to get that crazy idea of theirs to work. There's a jug of tea in the fridge if you'd be so kind as to carry it out to them. The boys have been out there all morning already.” Anne wandered back into her living room as she finished speaking, surprisingly returning to her study of the explosives manual she had been reading for the prank on Catalina.
The auburn haired girl retrieved the designated bottle and began the trek out from the back of the house. When the Jamesons had moved to the US from Anne's old home in England, the family had purchased two very large neighboring properties and merged them into a single large estate. The vast acreage was required by Scott's mother as she had constructed multiple match-grade shooting ranges of various sizes to practice for her current career as a competitive marksman. The south range was the longest course, with targets set all the way out to 2km from the shooting benches, and was situated furthest from the house.
As Catalina picked up the minds of Scott and Ty, she quickened her pace to a smooth jog to hasten the meeting. Scott was projecting feelings of defeat, Ty of frustration, and the young woman pasted a brilliant smile on her face in an attempt to share some cheer.
Finally reaching the range, Scott met his girlfriend with a warm hug and quick kiss while Ty quickly claimed the jug of cold sweet tea and took a long pull. ”I did bring cups you know.”
“So you did!” Ty grinned as he made the observation, but made no move to acquire one of said cups before taking another, smaller swig directly from the bottle. Catalina giggled and Scott sighed at his friend.
”So no progress yet?”
“Plenty of progress,” Scott's tone was weary and held more than a bit of self recrimination. “As you can see by looking out at the range, I can consistently accelerate a shot to speeds that rival the most powerful rifles in the world. Aiming appears to be an ability that the good Lord has not seen fit to bless me with at this time.”
The field beyond the firing benches seemed to bear this out. Only one of the six visible targets had been struck, and there were deep pockmarks and furrows in the dirt where very high velocity impacts had gone well wide of the mark.
“It's so frustrating.” The larger black man finally passed the jug, now half empty, to his friend as he broke in. “I can see where he's getting it right and which part isn't working yet. It's like I have the perfect image in my head but I can't figure out how to show it to Scott in a way he understands. I'm not even sure that I understand it, I just know it works.”
”Show me.” The request from the telepathic girl seemed to catch Ty off guard for a moment, before he nodded and closed his eyes in concentration. ”Wow. That is... I think I haven't taken anywhere near enough math to know what that is. You're right though, you can see that it works, so I can see that it should. Keep picturing it, I want to try something.”
Scott looked between his girlfriend and friend in alarm for a moment. “Cat, are you sure you should be experim-...” Then the world for all three young people went black.
Cat groaned as she forced her eyes open. Sitting up in alarm as she realized that the sun was no longer directly overhead, but now nearly to the horizon, she found herself clutching her head as it pounded in agony in response to the sudden movement. Pushing the pain aside, the auburn haired girl managed a quick scan of her two companions and discovered that Ty had also recently regained consciousness, and Scott was not far behind.
After waiting a few minutes for everyone to force themselves upright and process that they'd been out for several hours, Catalina offered the first thought that came to mind. ”Umm... Oops? My bad.”
Both boys laughed at the chagrined voice that came into their head as they pulled themselves up, then Scott offered a hand to his girlfriend to help the taller girl to her own feet. “We should probably head back, your mom's going to be pissed at us if she cooks and we miss it.” Ty rubbed his eyes as he spoke, finding that he was still having a little bit of trouble focusing but otherwise feeling little the worse for wear after being knocked out for six hours or so.
Scott started to nod in agreement, before stopping with an odd look on his face, which transitioned quickly to a smile. “I don't think it was your bad at all, Cat.” His two friends watched as the smaller boy turned and went back to the firing bench, picking up one of the last of the magnetic slugs Ty had brought out for target practice today. With a flash of light, a loud *BOOM*, and a rush of pressure that caused the ears of all three to pop painfully; the projectile in Scott's hand vanished and the large center target more than a mile down range exploded in a cloud of wood and paper. Behind the target, visible even in the fading daylight, a large plume of dirt kicked up into the air as the slug tore into the ground with amazing force. The short brown-haired youth smiled widely as he surveyed the scene in front of him, and softly rubbed at his ears.
“Dear Lord, thank you for sending me the greatest girlfriend EVER.”
The tall blonde woman started blankly at the letter she clutched in her hands, having read the words a dozen times and still trying to force them to say something other than what was written. 'Due to overwhelming support from her classmates, including one student voluntarily surrendering his position in the program, Amelia Jacobson is offered the opportunity for immediate reinstatement and advancement to the second year of training with the Overton HCP. Considerations and accommodations will be made until the complete recovery of Amelia Jacobson from injuries suffered during training in the first year of this program. Please contact Overton HCP Dean Kathryn Jilles no later than August 15th if Amelia Jacobson wishes to reenter the program for her second year of training at this time.' There were several more boilerplate clauses, and even a personal letter from the Dean included.
Amanda Jacobson looked past the letter to the large digital wall clock, displaying the time, outside temperature, and date. August 12th. She found her hands involuntarily clenching even tighter around the paper, crumpling it further as she debated how she could possibly proceed from here. She knew, beyond any doubt, that her baby sister would never sit out for the year to finish recovering from her injuries if presented with this opportunity. No one who had watched the video where Amelia had literally leapt into the path of an anti-tank missile and punched it out of the air would ever believe that she would voluntarily step aside.But she almost died. She almost died, and she was perfectly healthy to start with. What if they try something else? She won't back down. After everything she went through I don't think she CAN back down. If it happens again, she'll die this time. And if I don't give her the letter and let her go back, she'll hate me. She'll truly hate me.
Amanda's introspection was interrupted by a very polite knock at her front door. Quickly composing herself to insure that there were no traces left that she had been mere seconds away from another crying fit, the young woman quickly crossed the room to reach the door and click the monitor to see who was on the other side.
The tall blonde felt her heart leap into her throat as she observed the man waiting patiently on her doorstep. Standing at average height, with short carefully maintained pale blond hair and dressed in an all white three piece suit, Amanda knew immediately who the man was, and found elation competing with dread that he had arrived so quickly after she had forwarded an offer to his agents.
Opening the door, the young woman had managed to completely compose herself, leaving no trace of her internal conflict and offering only a very professional greeting as she welcomed the guest into her home. “I'm very glad you could arrive so quickly, I'm sure the demands on your time are very extreme.”
“Even as much in demand as my time may be, when an offer is made including a two and a half million dollar retainer for a simple regeneration procedure, I assure you my attention is captured.” The man's tone was polite but carried a faint note of condescension as he continued. “You are aware that there are hundreds of specialists in this field that would likely cost you FAR less than even ten percent of the retainer you offered? I would hate to turn down such an offer, but I feel I must make that point first.”
In response Amanda acquired a small tablet computer from the nearby table and made several quick taps on the screen. “If you could examine this, please.” The blonde woman's tone was kept carefully neutral, allowing no hint of any emotion to creep into it. She did allow herself a small smile when she saw the man's eyes widen as he read off the list displayed on the screen, and the number of names crossed out with a red 'FAIL' next to them. “I see you are familiar with some of the professionals we have already consulted with.”
“You have apparently brought me an interesting challenge if this many of my... colleagues have tried and failed to assist your sister. The request stated she is a Super, are we dealing with the next Zero or a similar power nullifier? I must warn you, against an ability like that even MY expertise would not be sufficient.”
“Amelia is an extremely powerful Super, originally thought only to possess physical enhancements, primarily strength and resilience. During... training, it was discovered that she has a secondary energy resisting ability that appears so far to have only triggered reflexively when she is injured. Several of the other professionals who have examined her state that due to the extremely serious nature of the injuries she suffered, followed by the incredible amount of energy expended to stabilize her at the time, that her resistive ability is 'locked' until such time as her body can physically recover. Progress has been made, but unless someone can overcome her resistance it will be years before she is completely whole again.” Amanda's stoic expression cracked for just a moment as she continued. “You... you're supposed to be the best there is. Can you heal her?”
“You have indeed brought me a challenge most interesting. And one I am forced to admit, I look forward to far more than providing another rejuvenation treatment for an aging wealthy dilettante who will likely simply squander their newly recovered youth as they did with their first. I accept the challenge, Ms Jacobson. If it is within my power to do so, I will see you sister fully restored.” He offered his hand, and she shook it gratefully.