Majors for Heroes
“Alright kids, I think that's enough welcoming back for now. We do have some business to take care of.” The cheerful tones of the petite redhead behind the lectern carried easily over the celebratory noises surrounding the returned Amelia, and the sophomores settled themselves into seats with surprising quickness. Possibly memories of the last occasion when Dani Reyes was in charge of their class spurred them to follow instruction quickly and without complaints.
“That's better. All of you met me last year, but in case I was too forgettable on that occasion I'm Professor Reyes, though I prefer to be informal and just go by Dani.” The speaker gave a bow with an elegant flourish as she reintroduced herself to the class, noting the combination of smirks and shocked expressions at the idea that she might be a 'forgettable' instructor. “Now the large dark skinned gentleman on my left is Professor Anthony Banning, the distinguished gentleman from the United Kingdom on my right is Professor Laurence Vree, and the only other lady on the stand with me is Professor Hai Nguyen.
“A few of you look like you've already figured this out, but for everyone else's benefit; we're the Overton discipline Instructors. Well, four of six of the discipline Instructors, but you've already met Coach Rachd and Professor Martinez, and you should know that they're busy scaring the fresh meat right now. Anyways, where was I... DISCIPLINES! Right, so this year each of you is going to be selecting three disciplines as your HCP 'majors' and your training schedule will be modified depending on which ones you choose. Next year you will select one major to drop so that you can focus on the other two more heavily. During your final year, you will select one discipline to be reduced to your Hero 'minor' and most of your training that year will focus on your one remaining major. Did I get that out right? Any questions yet?”
“Why only three?” Erin Casse asked without bothering to raise a hand first, and several others who had done so nodded their agreement with the question.
“The short answer? Time. Three HCP discipline classes plus other HCP coursework + normal college class load is going to be an average of twelve hours per day spent in classes or training of some kind. Factor in homework and the fact that MOST of you need food and sleep, and there just isn't room for a fourth discipline.”
“The other answer that my colleague has neglected in her response,” the older white haired man entered the discussion smoothly at the end of Dani's statement, making no effort at all to hide the fact that this part of the speech was apparently well-rehearsed, “is that while several forms of popular entertainment would posit that a Hero need be well rounded and capable of displaying a dizzying variety of skill and ability, the reality is that it simply doesn't work very well. Trust me when I say that exhaustive research has been done in multiple countries, and the end results show a heavy favoring of training Supers with gradually narrowing focus as opposed to the reverse. The more disparate disciplines we attempt to train you in, the slower you will progress in all of them. Three is the compromise selected so that trainees will have an opportunity to see a wider range of training before becoming more narrowly focused.” Professor Vree scanned the assembled students with a piercing look, an expression that seemed to be daring one of the students to challenge his statement.
”But you don't believe that yourself. At least, not completely. Why do you really think the limit is there?” The soft voice echoed clearly in everyone's mind, and drew a smile from the assembled professors on the stage.
“Because the powers that be want Supers to be conveniently labeled, and Heroes even more conveniently so. Make no mistake, this standardization of training produces some of the greatest Supers in the world, but the limits imposed on the HCP are largely artificial, comprised of either financial complaints or built by those who want their information served to them in easily categorized bundles.”
“Any other questions? No? Good, then on to the more detailed introductions we go!” Dani was practically bouncing behind the lectern as she redirected the discussion back on script.
“I teach the Weapons discipline here at Overton. That's primarily martial and melee focused weapons for those who are curious. The important thing with weapons is to remember that they are only tools, and can't carry you to victory on their own power. I will train you to make the weapons you may carry, find, or improvise into perfect extensions of yourself so that you can accomplish feats that would not be possible without them.” There was a pause as the animated woman suddenly adopted a deadly serious expression. “I will warn anyone considering this major right now, my course is considered the harshest of all six disciplines at Overton. Of the four years I've been an Instructor here, only two students have managed to graduate with a Weapons major, out of eleven that have made it to my fourth year course.” There was little surprise from the sophomores at the first warning, having experience Dani's teaching style for a week already in their freshman year. The numbers that accompanied the second generated more than a few shocked expressions. The redhead moved away from the lectern and claimed the seat vacated by Professor Vree as the class was still digesting the information presented.
“As my esteemed colleague has already stated, I am Professor Laurence Vree. It is my pleasure to finally formally meet all of you, and I must extend my apologies that your time here at Overton is forced to be that of a specimen under a microscope.
“I teach the Focus discipline here at Overton, and I can see by the many blank stares and minds looking back at me that a great deal of you do not know what that is.” The smile offered by the elderly Brit managed to make the statement teasing without mockery or condescension. “Since we'll have plenty of time for the long version later, the short is thus: Focus is the discipline of turning inward to draw power and precision from within. It is the discipline most likely to reveal if you have been harboring any secondary abilities that have flown under the radar in the past, and it is most often confused as being the sole province of those with mental powers. Being as my own specialties are in the fields of telepathy and telekinesis, I may not be the best example to dissuade that belief, yet I will assure you that it is NOT an accurate depiction of all Focus majors.”
“Can you actually name a Hero that came out of Focus that isn't a mental power?” The question came from Aaron Sexton, one of the few students in the class wearing the look of someone who was already familiar with the topics being discussed. “Or to make it a challenge since there's ALWAYS one exception to prove the rule, let's make it three.”
Professor Vree matched the challenging smile worn by the blond youth with victorious smirk. “Yes, I think three should be simple enough. Soundbarrier, Giga Step, and Deific.” Looks of surprise were again evident among the students, as the professor named off a pair of speedsters and a strongman.
“Back on topic, Focus is the most widely attended discipline early on as trainees attempt to learn the actual extent of their abilities. It is usually the least populated of the six disciplines during the fourth year as it is far more useful for most Supers as a springboard into their actual field of excellence, as excellence in pure Focus is easily as demanding as Professor Reyes' Weapons course.” There was some quiet murmuring from the crowd as Professor Vree finished his statement, but when no questions appeared forthcoming he relinquished the lectern to the smallest of the professors.
“Like Dani said, I'm Professor Nguyen. I teach the Control discipline here at Overton. Control is the flip-side of Focus, it instructs on looking outward at the environment around you and using every piece of it to your advantage and your opponent's detriment.” The petite asian woman spoke in an emotionless, measured tone that carried quite clearly to all the students in the room. “Like Focus, Control is also a popular choice early on as the emphasis on spatial awareness and tactical understanding of your environment is a benefit regardless of your powers and abilities. Also like Focus, very few have what it takes to remain in this discipline through their fourth year in the HCP.” Professor Nguyen retired from the lectern as soon as she finished speaking, apparently not interested in seeing if the students had any questions for her.
The last of the four professors took his place at the lectern, and spent a long moment examining the sophomore class before he began speaking. “I prefer Tony to Professor Banning, but either one works. As I managed to draw the short straw today, I'm stuck explaining both my own discipline as well as those taught by Coach Rachd and Professor Martinez. Fortunately, two of those three disciplines are fairly simple to explain. My class is Ranged Combat. It is exactly what it sounds like; learning to engage and neutralize targets at range. I don't restrict in any way the tools and weapons that you can utilize in pursuing this discipline, but keep in mind that every second you need to spend setting up a weapon or trying to use a range finder will negatively impact your score. We are training you to face real world life or death challenges, and seconds matter both for Heroes and the people they are trying to protect.” The tall black man pauses and waits to see if there are any questions, looking specifically in the direction of one Eloise James as he does so. The white haired girl seems content with the information given however, and the professor moves on.
“And so that brings us to our absent pair. You've all met them already, and you'll get chances to ask them for specific details about their disciplines as you like during this first week of classes. Coach Rachd is Overton's Close Combat Instructor, a class that may be even more self explanatory than my own discipline. As should be obvious with the HCP having a separate discipline for Weapons, Close Combat focuses solely on combat with your powers and your bare hands. It is also traditionally the most heavily attended discipline in the HCP.
“Professor Martinez is our Subtlety discipline Instructor, the hardest of the six disciplines to properly define. The short version is that Subtlety is where the sneaks and spies go. It's the focus of Heroes that do most of their work outside the public spotlight and receive the fewest accolades for their efforts, while more often than not putting them in greater danger and saving more lives than the most powerful of the famous front line Heroes. Subtlety is also often maligned as the discipline that turns good Heroes rogue, so if you choose to go down that path you'll need to prove yourself far more than most of your peers and still expect sidelong glances and suspicion. Any questions?”
“When do we pick?” The tall blonde speedster that posed the question sounded eager to begin, the tone seeming to infect a portion of the class around her as thoughts turned from the abstract information presented to the reality of training in the classes described.
“That's the fun part!” Dani bounced up to her feet and came to the front of the stage in response to the question from Iris Todd, interrupting Anthony and earning a playful scowl from the taller man. “Rachd doesn't care who wants to be in Close Combat because he says everyone should be regardless. So the rest of us each get you for one day this week. For FIVE whole hours, we get to put you through the paces of our chosen disciplines, and then on Friday you guys choose your three initial majors, and then we set up your teams for the rest of the sophomore training!”
“Teams?” The question came from several directions at once as the class tried to catch up to the rapid speaking rate from the animated Weapons Instructor.
“Oh, right, we need to cover that part too. On Friday after everyone submits their major requests and gets approved, the top seven ranked students get to pick their teams for all the collaborative training events this year! Heroes are expected to work in teams, and this is where we start training you for that!” The redhead looks out excitedly over the students to watch the various expressions that form as they process this new bit of information. “And the best part of all, we get to have a bit of a show right now today because your class's top rank is currently undecided!” The shocked silence that met this statement was nearly palpable.
“There were a great many issues that resolved simultaneously with your class final last year that affected things more than a bit. Between the performances of some students during those events, and performance during the actual finals, many of you are aware that your class combat rankings were changed.” The petite Control Instructor stepped up to take over the explanation from Dani is the Weapons Instructor seemed to reach a level of excitement where speaking intelligibly was becoming difficult. “We haven't yet posted the revised rankings due to the lack of clarity on who holds the top rank, so in order to allow you the full week to consider how you wish to build your teams we are announcing the top seven today.
“Alexandra Andrews, you now hold the seventh rank in this class. Congratulations on making the largest ranking jump in Overton HCP history.” There was some brief applause for the suddenly blushing mimic, most enthusiastically coming from her roommate Beulah, at the news of her vastly revised rank. “Kyle Sawara, you hold sixth rank. Rorie Samuels, you hold fifth rank. Gerard Finne, you hold fourth rank. Erin Casse, you hold third rank.” As Professor Nguyen stopped speaking the class quickly realized the most likely pair for the undecided top two spots, and all attention turned towards those two students even as the excitable Weapons Instructor found control over her voice again.
“Amelia Jacobson and Collin Gauge, you will be competing to determine who holds first and second rank in your class. Please report immediately to the combat rooms for a match!”
“You sure you're ready for this?” The muscular red haired youth's tone carried a genuine note of concern as he faced off against the taller, skinny blonde in the barren concrete room.
“I seem to recall breaking limbs off of you on more than one occasion last year. This was just my turn for the experience. Bring out your better half and let's do this.” There was no hint of worry in Amelia's voice, only the calm confidence that most of the class had come to associate with the incredibly powerful girl over the freshman year.
“Not exactly the same thing, Ames. And I've had some time for a bit of extra training since then. I still can't talk while I'm shifted, so it's tapout or shift back if I'm giving up.” There was a slight inflection at the end of Collin's statement indicating a question not directly asked.
“Since I'm not made of rocks it's unconsciousness or verbal submission for me.” Amelia's expression turns from her normal smile to one of consideration for a moment before she laughs. “You know, it's only been three months since we were last in here beating on each other. It feels like a lot longer somehow.”
“Just waiting for you to step up into my weight class Collin.” The blonde smiled widely as her opponent responded by shifting into a hulking crystal form. Collin had apparently been serious about getting in extra training over the summer. No longer was his shifted state a rough, vaguely humanoid shape with mismatched hands and an unfinished look, but now the jet black crystal more closely resembled a rough statue of a massive man wearing heavy armor. The massive form that had replaced Collin raised its right fist towards its opponent in a salute. Amelia smiled and returned the gesture in kind. Then the buzzer signaling the start of the match sounded.
Neither combatant wasted any time, both lunging forward with enough force to leave deep cracks in the reinforced concrete floor beneath them. Amelia rocketed across the distance faster than Collin, but her jaw dropped in shock as her large opponent deftly evaded her opening lunge and responded with a spinning backhand. The blonde girl had only a split second to brace herself before the heavy black fist crashed into her face with a deafeningly loud impact. Amelia's head snapped back, but she retreated only a half step before resetting her feet and bringing her smiling gaze back to bear on her opponent, causing her featureless crystalline foe to actually retreat several steps in surprise.
The tall girl's nose bled heavily, and from the deformed shape was likely broken, yet the incredible impact hadn't been enough to take her off her feet. “What? Did you think that being down an arm would keep me from training in the off season?” Amelia followed up her statement by immediately lunging into Collin, closing the gap too quickly this time for him to avoid and sending the much larger shifter flying the length of the room to impact the wall with thunderous force. “You definitely got faster though, I've got to give you credit for tha-...” The girl stopped speaking as her opponent pulled itself from the rubble, seemingly undamaged by the incredibly powerful hit. “Huh. Looks like this is going to be interesting then.”
Amelia spoke no more as Collin came charging back towards her, instead bringing her arms up into a defensive posture and examining his movements carefully. During their training matches freshman year, the shifted form had been bulky and slow relative to the other Super strength students at Overton, and it was hugely apparent that the shifter had worked extensively to correct that deficit. Where before the blonde girl could easily avoid the heavy crystal fists, she now found herself blocking the heavy blows more often than she could slip around them. Even more impressive to Amelia was Collin's new found resilience. He had always been incredibly durable, but not sufficiently so to stack up against Amelia's impossible strength. Now he was sent smashing into the floor, walls, and even the ceiling on one occasion, and simply came back for more. Fine cracks were visible in the 'armor' that Collin's shifted form now resembled, but the powerful young woman found time and again that the crystal no longer broke in large chunks, but instead very small sections flaked away to reveal yet more layers beneath, undamaged.
Amelia drew a deep breath as she sent her larger opponent crashing into the far wall once again, and inspected the mounting bruises on her arms. Her entire upper body felt battered, and it had been difficult to breathe through her nose since the first hit of the fight had caught her completely off guard. Blood also dripped occasionally from a small cut somewhere on her forehead, and she angrily wiped it away as Collin emerged from under another pile of rubble to reengage. The signs of damage on the shifted form were also present, if you knew what to look for, but it was far harder to tell how serious the damage was to the inhuman form.
“Come on then, Collin. You want to be number one, you're going to have to earn it.”
The crowd in the observation room sat in rapt awe at the battle playing out before them. Even training extensively in the months of summer, none of the students really had the opportunity to truly go all out. Seeing the two strongest in their class clash again and again, it was startling to many to see how much more powerful they had become over the short three month break. And many wondered if they had managed to improve in kind.
“How is she standing her ground like that? He should be sending her into the wall the same way she does to him.” Iris Todd's voice broke the silence with the question as yet another of Collin's charges was absorbed by his smaller opponent, with the counter sending him airborne for nearly thirty feet. “I mean I know she's stronger, but he still hits like a damned truck. How does she just stand there and take it?”
“She's bracing against the ground. Look at the area where she's standing when Collin lands a hit. The floor shattering like that is because she's literally pushing her feet into the concrete in order to have something to push off of.” Erin's attention did not waver from the screen in front of her as she absently answered the speedster's question.
“She should still be getting knocked off her feet.”
“She's negating the energy from the hits.” Attention swung towards the quiet, petite blonde who entered the conversation. “Her other power, the energy blocker. It doesn't work as well against physical impacts, but once the kinetic energy transfers she just dissipates it.”
“She can do that?” The question came from Susan Owens at barely above a whisper. “How can you tell?”
“Because I can feel what other people's powers are.” Alexandra looked away from the screen for a moment to meet the red headed girl's surprised look, before turning back to the screen. “Collin's a lot stronger than he was last year, but Ames is going to win.”
“Collin's a lot more skilled though. How can you be so sure?”
The blonde mimic didn't answer, and attention gravitated back towards the monitor. The action continued much as it had, with Collin coming in fast to land a few solid hits before Amelia again launched him away with her vastly superior strength, but each exchange seemed to wear far more on the flesh and blood girl than the crystalline shifter.
Minutes dragged on as the match continued, the blonde girl seemingly being worn down a piece at a time. Several gasps of surprise filled the room as Amelia sent her opponent flying away from her once again, but this time the skinny blonde staggered and dropped to one knee and took in several deep breaths. It seemed as if Alexandra's prediction had proven false, as Collin once again charged towards his now downed opponent, everyone in the room watched in silence for the upcoming end of the match. But instead of waiting for the shifter to reach her this time, Amelia changed tactics.
The powerful girl lunged forward with incredible speed, far surpassing her initial dash at the start of the fight. The shifter was caught off guard by the rush and Amelia tackled him back across the room where both of them slammed into the wall. The blonde did not relinquish her grip on her opponent this time, and the view on the screen became blurred as a dense cloud of dust and debris was kicked up by the repeated slams of the heavy crystal form into the wall. The massive impacts actually caused a faint tremor to be felt all the way to the observation room.
Collin fought back against Amelia's onslaught as best he could, but the smaller girl had completely cornered him. He couldn't maneuver, and even though now able to land unblocked strikes against his opponent, he couldn't brace himself to put his full strength into the blows.
The incredible barrage continued, and the monitors displayed only a dusty haze now too thick for even the highly advanced cameras in the combat room to penetrate. Suddenly the screen flickered, and the image of an empty combat chamber appeared. There was some confused murmuring from the audience, before a laughing voice called out. “Now that is a great fight my friends! They hit each other so hard, it broke the computer that was only watching!” Laughter accompanied this statement, but cut off when interrupted by a gravelly voice from the back of the room.
“The computer isn't broken, it's following the action.” The students turned in surprise to see all six of the Overton discipline Instructors seated at the back table and watching the monitors. “Keep watching, you'll want to remember this part.” There was a strange mixture of emotions in the muscular Combat Instructor's tone that the assembled students couldn't identify, but the force with which he spoke immediately turned all attention back to the screen.
“Wait, is that... Is the wall cracking?”
“That's impossible, the rooms are twenty feet apart. Even those two couldn't mana-...” The voices trailed off into silence as the wall displayed on the massive monitor exploded outwards, and the black crystal form of Collin flew into the room to slide and bounce along the floor.
Massive damage was now clearly visible on the shifter's body, with huge pieces of its armored form now missing. The black form struggled to regain its feet as the skinny silhouette of its opponent appeared, then walked out of the cloud of dust and collapsing rubble that it had emerged from moments before. Amelia was now a nearly uniform dark grey, so caked with concrete dust that she appeared almost made of stone herself. As the powerful woman strode calmly across the room towards her opponent, Collin's attempt to stand failed when his left leg cracked under his own weight and sent him falling to his back to look up at his opponent. As Amelia reached him, the shifter reverted back to flesh and blood. Collin's completely clean and unscathed human form showing in stark relief on the monitor against Amelia's battered and dirty appearance. The tall girl stopped, nodded, then offered her defeated foe a smile and a hand up.
With the fight concluded, all eyes in the observation room turned towards the blonde mimic as Alexandra smiled. “Like I said, Ames wins.”