“And what, Mr Carerra, do you call this?” The condescension laden question from the irate, bespectacled professor was accompanied by a paper being slammed onto the desk in front of the muscular young man.
After a FAR too intense review of the paper in question, Ramòn looked back up to meet the older man's gaze with a deeply serious expression. “It looks like a C+ to me, Professor Bale.” Several other students in the lecture hall snickered at the Mexican student's absolute deadpan tone, drawing a flurry of furious glaring from the professor as he attempted to locate the sources.
“And do you think that is ACCEPTABLE, Mr Carerra?” The rest of the class had averted their faces from the confrontation, allowing the belligerent little man to return his attention to his intended target.
“Yes.” The one word response, spoken without hesitation, actually rocked the grey haired man back a step. The professor took a moment to gather himself, obviously not sure how to deal with a student that wasn't quivering in his seat.
“Think you're special, Mr Carerra?” The muscular young man couldn't quite suppress a smile in response to the first rhetorical question. “You think your physique and your charm can get you through everything? Well not my class. You might as well give up now, bec-...” The professor broke off in mid-sentence as the much larger student suddenly stood to loom over him, still maintaining eye contact. “Now you get BACK in your se-...”
“Good bye, Professor Bale.” And with that, Ramòn grabbed his bag from behind his desk and turned to stride out of the classroom.
“GET BACK HERE MR CARERRA!” The square rimmed spectacles fell from the furious little man's face as he practically frothed the words out.
The dark haired man turned back and smiled at the professor, a completely cheerful expression seemingly out of place in the current situation. “We are not in high school anymore, Professor. If you say you will not let me pass your class, I have no reason to be in this room. Thank you for letting me know on the first day of the second week, I should have no trouble dropping your class and finding a replacement Humanities credit.” And with that, the muscular youth strode out of the room.
A few moments later, the rest of the students stood and followed him, smiling and waving in response to the furious professor as the short statured man grew more and more panicked with each abandonment. The discussion the exiting students began finally caused the grey haired man to shut up as he slumped into one of the vacated chairs.
“God I hope that prick doesn't have tenure. Let's see him explain why a few dozen paying students all dropped his course on the same day.”
The Japanese girl felt herself snapping back to attention as she realized her partner had FINALLY stopped speaking. Blushing slightly at how completely she had zoned out, Kaori breathed out a sigh of relief when she looked down and saw that her body had continued taking notes on auto pilot while her brain had fled from the onslaught.
“...and please compile your interview notes from today and have a standard biographical article to present as if your partner was a person of note appearing at one of the five events we selected at the start of class.” The class barely acknowledged the journalism professor as they all scampered to escape the constantly long-running class in search of lunch.
“So, like I was saying during the interview,” Kaori looked up in surprise to see her bubbly bleached blonde partner following her, apparently intent on continuing the unending stream of chatter that had marked her portion of the exercise as 'interviewee,' “you should TOTALLY come check out the cheer squad with me. You're like, SUPER athletic looking, and you're hot. You'd make a great cheerleader!”
“It's not really my thing, Missi.” God, even her NAME is a cheerleader stereotype.
“Oh, but you should still try it at least once! I didn't think I'd like it before I went out back in high school, and it turned out to be one of the best things I ever did! I'm super good at it, and I could introduce you to everyone so you wouldn't have to be nervous! It'll be GREAT!” The shorter asian girl realized the blonde was steering her away from the townhouse dorms where she'd originally been heading to meet her friends for lunch, and towards the Athletics Center.
“Missi, seriously I'm flattered, but it's not for me. And I'm kinda supposed to meet my friends, so...” The black haired girl attempted to break free from the gentle but surprisingly solid grip of the taller girl and continue on her original path.
“OH! I'm sorry, I didn't know you ha-... YOU CAN INVITE THEM TOO!” Kaori winced at Missi's sudden excited increase in volume. “I mean, odds are if someone that looks like you is hanging out with them at least one of your friends will ALSO be great cheer material! And this way, you'll get your friends there for moral support while you try out!”
Oh God, it's turned from meeting them to trying out for the squad. Please, someone, anyone, SAVE ME! Kaori managed to keep a relatively genuine looking smile plastered on her face as she resorted to an actual Aikido technique to slip out of the taller girl's grip in an attempt to save herself, noticing as she did so that she accidentally knocked the blonde's cell phone into the grass as Missi had attempted to pull it from her pocket. Most likely to inform the cheer hive that she has successfully captured another to be assimilated.
Instead of reaching to pick up the dropped item as Kaori expected, the blonde girl started checking her pockets. At first casually, then frantically, before turning to the smaller girl with a wide-eyed look of abject terror on her face. “OH MY GOD, I LOST MY PHONE! WHAT IF SOMEONE IS TEXTING ME!” And with that the cheerleader took off back along the trail she and Kaori had come, heading back towards the classroom and frantically looking about for the shiny pink device that wasn't more than three feet from the supremely confused asian girl.
”One rescue, as requested. You owe me one.” Kaori jumped slightly at the unexpected voice in her head, then began to giggle almost uncontrollably as she hurried away from the scene before Missi doubled back again. Thanks Cat!
“Well Mr Gauge, this is definitely an... unusual request.” The short, slightly overweight man leaned back in his chair as he spoke, completely failing to keep a heavy note of condescension out of his voice.
“I don't see what's unusual about it Mr Timms. One of the requirements of my acceptance at Overton was that I would be unable to remain 'undeclared' after my first year. Is it really that unusual for a sophomore to submit their choice of major?” The heavily muscled youth balanced somewhat gingerly on the too small chair across from his Academic Counselor, giving no outward signs that he had detected anything untoward from the older man.
“Well, that's true. Many students do in fact declare a major early in their second year if they were undeclared the first. However your circumstance is slightly different, and your choice of major may not be... best.” The counselor wiped a few beads of sweat from his receding hairline as he spoke. For some unknown reason the tiny office wasn't air conditioned and the late summer in Eastern Texas made the small area stifling. “Have you considered the possible ramifications of this choice, young man?”
Collin suppressed a sigh at the obviously leading question, and attempted to divine the quickest route to the end of the conversation so he could escape the miserable little sweat box his counselor called an office. “I'm reasonably certain you're referring to the special academic program I was accepted under last year, the same program that mandates I select a major by the end of this week. I may have had trouble with my grades in High School, Mr Timms, but if you'd look at my freshman transcript you'd see that I pulled a 3.5 GPA last year. I'm absolutely certain I can do this.”
“Earth Sciences is a very demanding program, Mr Gauge. And that you ALSO wish to declare as a Mathematics minor, you can probably understand my hesitation.” An attempt at a conciliatory plastered itself across Timms face. “After all it is not in my job description to set our students up for failure. Perhaps if we could find something that would make for a good transitional area so you could SEE what you're get-...”
“I'm not interested in a transitional major, Mr Timms.” There was a very noticeable edge to the younger man's voice as he interrupted the counselor. “I'm declaring my major for Earth Sciences, and I either need you to sign that paper or I need to make an appointment with whomever is next on the chain above you so I can get them to do it instead.”
The portly man's eyes narrowed as he displayed his first genuine expression since Collin had sat down across from him. “You want to play it like that? Fine. Mr Gauge, I congratulate you on your new major.” The slip of paper was signed with a rather extravagant flourish and slid back across the desk to the student. “And I hope you enjoy the LOVELY schedule I will insure is put together for you.”
Collin laughed aloud at the final 'threat' from the Academic Counselor. The man couldn't possibly know that an attempt to seriously butcher the schedule of an HCP student would be simply ignored by the computer. Ignoring the surprised look from the balding man at his sudden laughter, Collin stood and snatched the paper off the desk. “Thank you very much for your time, Mr Timms.” And with that, he fled the oppressively hot room before the older man could get another word out.
Having reached the cooler air of the hall, Collin paused for a moment to collect himself, only to start in surprise when a familiar voice came from his side. “Earth Sciences? Really?”
The muscular youth looked over and up at his far more muscular girlfriend to see Tasha grinning down at him. “Yes, really.” With that, Collin strode off in search of the administrative offices to hand off the slip of paper.
The much taller woman followed a few steps behind her boyfriend, calmly waiting for him to complete his task and elaborate on the very short answer. After a few minutes and a walk that had taken the pair almost all the way back across campus to the residences, Tasha's patience broke down. “So WHY Earth Science? Did the whole 'Dr Who' thing last Halloween cause some kind of chain reaction and now you must embrace some deep inner nerd?” A look of feigned panic came over her face. “Are the muscles going to go away? I don't know if I could keep you if you lose the muscles.”
Collin tried to keep a serious expression, but found himself chuckling at the look on Tasha's face as she pretended to panic over the extremely unlikely scenario. “Let's head inside for lunch and I'll explain it.” The tall girl nodded in immediate acceptance. Requests like this usually meant: 'It's about the HCP, we can't talk about it in the open.'
Upon arriving at Collin's shared townhouse dorm, Tasha quickly entered the kitchen and began pulling ingredients from the fridge to make sandwiches. “So, talk.” The words were punctuated by a plate containing a very thick creation of dark bread and meat being plopped down in front of the red haired boy.
“I need to understand my power better.” Collin interrupted himself to take a bite of the sandwich, smirking at the frustrated look his girlfriend was giving him at the extremely incomplete answer.
“And you have all these wonderful classes in a billion dollar facility below ground where they SPECIFICALLY teach you that stuff. Seriously Collin, you are jumping into the intensive end of the normal majors. Most of us are Journalism, or Communications if we're feeling REALLY lazy. I know you're smart enough, but with the kind of workload are you sure you can keep the academic standard?” Tasha's frustration gave way quickly to her obvious concern, causing Collin to drop his food back onto the plate and offer a more serious look.
“Do you know how I got so much stronger over the summer? It all started from that one week of Alternative Training last year. I decided to try and alter my size and shape when I shifted as my week-long Alternative project.” Tasha nodded along, remembering her own abrupt transition for a week of Combat Training and shuddering slightly at the memory. “It was only a little bit back then, but I started to notice that as I shifted I could see kind of how the whole crystal form fit together. At first I tried to change what I could see, but it just didn't do anything. Eventually I figured out that I needed to go deeper. In order to change how I shift, I'm rearranging the crystal form at an extremely small scale.”
“How small scale are you talking about? Because your form's pretty noticeably different than it was last year.” Tasha's interruption drew a contemplative look from Collin, and the muscular young man took another bite of his sandwich as he considered.
“I don't really know, something like what would be the cell level for organics I'm guessing. It's not like I have to consciously build the whole thing from that level, it's more like changing some patterns around and my ability does the rest on its own.”
“And Earth Sciences?”
“Once I figured out a little of how the new part of my ability worked, I started experimenting. But it was just random guesswork, and I didn't really get anywhere. Then I tried looking up a bunch of stuff on natural crystal formations and tried to apply some of that.” Collin smiled as he continued. “It worked. Kind of. I had a starting point now, but there wasn't a lot I could learn on my own with some internet articles. So I need to really understand HOW mineral and crystals form. How they work, what makes them stronger or harder, everything. That's a Geology major, or here at Overton...”
“Earth Sciences.” Tasha nodded in understanding. “So you think that this will help you get a better handle on your power?”
“I don't know how much, but yeah, I do. It's not like natural crystals are known for moving on their own power so I might run into a wall pretty quickly in that respect, but I'll take any advantage I can get.”
“So you have a bunch of other forms now too?” The heavily muscled girl's face now bore an expression of intense curiosity, drawing a chuckle from her redheaded boyfriend.
“I'll show you a couple of the really weird ones later. I might have one that even Ames can't break.”
“Then why the hell didn't you use that one when you fought your match?”
Another laugh. “Because I can't actually MOVE in that form.”
After a brief shared laugh, the two opted in unspoken agreement to finish their hastily prepared lunch in silence. After the dishes were rinsed and deposited in the sink, Tasha was the next to speak. “Promise me... promise that you can do this. That you can keep up without falling behind if you do this with your major.”
Collin looked up at the taller girl and noted the worry she was trying to mask. His answer was accompanied by a confident grin. “I won't be a straight A student, but I promise. You're stuck with me until you come to your senses, Tasha.”
The heavily muscled girl laughed, and hugged her smaller boyfriend in response. “Alright then, until I come to my senses it is.”
“This is amazing.” The heavily built Samoan leaned back against the worn cushions behind him and stared wide eyed at his surroundings as he spoke, drawing a giggle from the smaller brunette curled up against him.
“You're missing the movie to admire the room. If you're not going to look at the screen, it should be because you're distracted by my beauty.” Vividly green eyes caught Rorie's brown orbs, and the large youth let out a laugh of his own.
“I am distracted by your beauty. ALL of this is you!” A waving gesture encompassed the massive room surrounding the couple, as they appeared to be the only occupants of a full size IMAX theater. “Your ability is amazing Jessica.”
The brunette blushed, and turned to look back at the movie playing on a 50' screen in front of her. “I'm not that amazing. I didn't make captain.”
Rorie hugged the girl closer to him as he turned he split his own attention between the screen and the attractive bundle in his arms. “Captain or not, you breezed your way into the third year of the HCP. And if you can do this,” another hand wave at the room around them, “I somehow doubt you're going to have much trouble being one of those final ten next year.”
Jessica blushed again at the compliment, and seemed about to say something when a knock from somewhere behind the pair interrupted her. With a sigh, the theater fell away to reveal the well-lived features of a large college dorm room. “Didn't you tell your roommate he needed to be elsewhere tonight?”
“That I did.” Rorie stood as he answered the rhetorical question and made his way to the door. The large man ground his teeth slightly in frustration as he peered through the peephole to see who was disturbing his evening, before pasting a neutral expression on his face and opening the door. “What can I do for you, Pete?”
Peeking over the couch Jessica saw a tall, skinny youth standing in the doorway wearing a sour expression as he looked up at the slightly taller Samoan. “You can turn your shitty movie down, Rorie. You're practically rattling the walls. SOME of us came to college for the education, not to try and bang the upperclassman bimbos.”
Both HCP students winced slightly at the realization that Jessica's illusion had apparently amplified the sounds in the room well past what was intended, but the neighboring student's last statement was met with a death glare from the brunette on the couch and an incredibly calm look from the large dark haired youth in the doorway. “Sorry about the noise, Pete. We'll make sure to turn it way down so we don't bother you.” There was no trace of anything except polite deference in Rorie's tone, drawing a smirk from the other man.
Pete was cut off mid-gloat with a strangled gasp as the much more heavily built man in front of him reached up with startling speed and caught him by the throat. “And Pete, you are never going to say another word about my girlfriend again. Nod if you understand me.” The much skinnier youth responded by clawing and slapping frantically at the larger student, but Rorie simply responded by gripping a little tighter and shaking the other man. “Understand?”
Pete finally nodded his acknowledgment, and the Samoan released his grip to allow his neighbor to stagger back several steps. “Good night, Pete.” Without waiting to see how the still gasping youth responded, Rorie simply closed the door and returned to his seat. “So once more, with less volume if you'd be so kind.” The waiting brunette offered a radiant smile and quick kiss as the room faded away and the theater returned.
“That's what they train us for.”
“Are there any other major items we need to resolve before we move on to planning the first round of team exercises for the Sophomore and Senior classes?” Kathryn Jilles scanned around the six other faces at the table out of habit. She knew before asking the question what was going to be brought up, but the telepath had found that even in the world of Heroes things went more smoothly when you allowed people to present their own cases.
Her gaze landed on the Focus Instructor before the elderly man could begin his prepared statement, and met his wry smile with one of her own as the two telepaths' eyes met. “As you are already aware, I feel it important to bring up what I still feel is a glaring oversight in the process for students selecting their disciplines here at Overton. A student that could excel beyond all past precedents is choosing to ignore a path that wou-...”
“Oh God.” The gravelly voice of the Close Combat Instructor interrupted the older man, though judging from the white haired professor's expression the interruption hadn't been at all unexpected. “Are you still bitching about Blake not picking your course, Laurence? It's DONE man, move on.”
“Yes James. I am, in fact, still SPEAKING in regards to one of the most gifted telepaths in this program, hell in ANY program, choosing NOT to follow the path most likely to bring her ability to it's fullest potential.”
“Laurence, the Overton HCP has always allowed the students to select which disciplines they will pursue as they continue their training. And you have to admit, some of the most successful graduates from this program did so after making selections that, at the time, the faculty disapproved of.” The petite Dean had already had this conversation with the older telepath, and expected it to recur at least two or three more times before the Brit gave up. “We've already gone outside the normal boundary in having Ms Blake come in to discuss the matter, and unless you can honestly tell me you feel that she had any doubts regarding her decision then I'm going to have to insist the matter become officially closed.”
Laurence met the calm gaze of the Dean with a steely expression, before dropping eye contact and bowing his head slightly to concede the point. “I will be the one on record this time saying our student is making a mistake then. And I must sincerely hope that Ms Blake proves to be the next graduate who shatters expectations in spite of that.”
“I wouldn't worry too much about her prospects, Laurence.” Elena Martinez joined the conversation wearing a supremely contented expression. Her second year Subtlety class was the largest it had been in her nine years as an HCP Instructor, and having the top ranked student of that class select her discipline had won her a tidy sum in the office pool. “Catalina Blake is, if unleashed on the world TODAY, one of the most terrifyingly effective Subtlety Supers I have ever encountered. And that's after a SINGLE official class in my discipline. In three years...” The hispanic Instructor actually shivered slightly in excitement.
“Moving on from Ms Blake then, are there any other points that need to be brought up?”
“What do you want me to do with Thompson?” The Close Combat Instructor wore a harder expression than even his normal look as he asked the question.
“He's the one we're getting as a Senior after he washed out of West two years ago, right?” Dani Reyes' normally animated expression was a mask of boredom and impatience as she eagerly wanted to move away from old business and onto the much anticipated fun of building the new team exercises for the year. “Call me crazy but... Train him?”
“Do you have any specific concerns, James?” The Dean seemed to ignore the input from the red haired Weapons Instructor as she turned to face Rachd.
“He washed out because he blew up at his own teammates during his Junior final and nearly killed one of them because he thought they were holding him back. The only reason he's listed as completing his third year and was eligible to reapply instead of a flat out expulsion is because his mom is Fortuna and his dad is an assistant director at the DVA. I don't like getting saddled with a problem case because his family kept him from getting expelled.”
“His family's clout may have gotten him a 'fail to advance' in place of expulsion, but the only way he got back in is on his own merit.” The Ranged Combat Instructor decided to weigh in on the issue, his tone and expression mostly similar to Dani's as Anthony also seemed interesting in moving the discussion along. “With a psych blackmark that big on his file, the kid must have SERIOUSLY improved himself where he needed it in order to make it past the review boards. Just train him like you would any others.”
“There's something else?” The Dean's tone barely managed to hold the inflection to indicate a question instead of a statement, and the Close Combat Instructor nodded in response.
“I haven't had to deal with a Senior transfer before. How the hell do I evaluate the kid for placement? He's a combat major, personal body control type, but all I've got to go on is a damned file.”
“James, since when have you felt the need to ASK before putting a student through whatever hell you deem necessary?” The Weapon's Instructor wore a shocked expression as she asked the question of her colleague.
“Since the kid's connected, and we have our government appointed babysitters watching our program and hoping we fail, I figured I'd try something new.”
The Dean actually laughed at the deadpan response from the muscular bald man. “I'll write up something official looking for you to put in the file. Just make sure you don't kill Mr Thompson. Now, if we could move on to planning the first rounds of team exercises for the year...”