Pros and Cons
“I'm starting to think our government babysitter's aren't such a bad thing.” The offhand comment from James Rachd as the HCP faculty found their weekly meeting drew looks of pure incredulity from the other six in the room. The red headed Weapon's Instructor actually missed her chair as the surprise statement from the Combat Instructor seemed to echo in the suddenly silent room.
“Well, that's a bit of a reversal.” Even the telepathic Focus Instructor looked like he'd been caught off guard, and the similarly skilled Dean seemed still unable to formulate a response.
“Oh, it's still complete bullshit. Their entire case for being here is idiotic, and I'm still wholly and enthusiastically in favor of finding out who pulled the strings to start this crap and break their limbs off one at a time.” The muscular bald man wore a smirk as he looked around at his recovering colleagues. “But it would seem there are some benefits to putting a class under the microscope like this.”
The Subtlety Instructor laughed softly, having finally caught on to Rachd's point. “You're talking about all the extra training those kids took on themselves over the summer.”
“Not just over the summer. Can anyone at this table say they've seen an HCP class push themselves this hard, for this long?”
The question drew a few thoughtful looks from the other Instructors, though it was Anthony Banning who next entered the conversation. “Anyone else finding they have to accelerate the curriculum for this year's sophomores just a bit? It's only the third week and I've already got my whole group working on the third year exercises. They're all keeping up.”
“I thought it was just because they liked me so much after getting to work with me last year.” Dani Reyes had regained both her chair and her composure. “But yeah, they are DEFINITELY going above and beyond. Would it be unethical for us to make a fake Oversight group to try and get the rest of the students more motivated?”
“Extremely.” The petite Dean wore a smile as she responded, but her tone was serious. “Not only unethical, but it would likely lose its effect quickly. This is the only class in the history of the Hero Certification Program that has had to endure the added scrutiny.”
“Not to mention the implied insult from a bunch of government paper-pushers.” The tall Ranged Combat Instructor leaned back in his chair as he spoke. “The Oversight Committee being attached to that class is basically saying, 'So, we think that you all are going to prove to be so incompetent as Supers that a study of your class will allow the closure of this extremely prestigious program that you all worked so hard to get into into.'”
“They're officially evaluating the program, not just looking to shut it down.”
“Even if they didn't have a single telepath in their class, Laurence, I don't think we would have admitted those kids to the HCP if they were dumb enough to believe the official line. Especially after last year's fiasco with Raines and not-Raines.”
The white haired professor nodded in acknowledgment of Anthony's point. “At least that fiasco resulted in the Oversight Chair getting an upgrade.”
“Speaking of, how is Mr Weaver doing?” Elena's question seemed to be directed towards the two telepaths. “Nothing in his background screamed of incompetence and nepotism the way Walter's checkups did, and unlike his predecessor the new Chair seems more than able to stay the hell out of the way in our facility.”
“Harold Weaver is an almost purely political creature.” The Dean's response was accompanied by an expression of distaste. “However he is extremely competent. So far he's mostly trying to get caught up on everything he would already know if he were here last year, and building some pretty impressive dossiers on both students and staff here. He seems to know that the powers that put him here expect to see us fail, but I'm certain that he would discard them in an instant if he saw a way to gain greater political capital by our program's success.”
“The closest to an overt move against us he's made so far is some casual investigation into the logistics of getting a student transferred from one HCP to another.” The Focus Instructor's addition to the Dean's information evoked contemplative expressions on the other professor's.
“Who's he trying to transfer?” The tone of the Combat Instructor's question indicated he was fairly certain he already knew the answer.
“Can he do that?” The Weapons Instructor's tone was extremely plaintive as she directed her question to the Dean. “Could he get her transferred? Even if she's not taking my discipline, the entire University is WAY more epic with that girl here.”
Kathryn smiled reassuringly in response to the worried look on Dani's face. “It's technically possible, but barring some extremely unfortunate circumstances that Mr Weaver is too intelligent to try and manufacture himself, it would require the approval of the HCP Dean's at both schools, as well as the consent of the student being transferred. I have no reason to believe that Ms Jacobson is unhappy at Overton, so the situation becomes even less likely.
“Now unless anyone has any additional surprise statements to work through today?” The petite woman looked directly at the Combat Instructor who had started the conversation, but the muscular man simply shrugged and shook his head in response. “Then I believe the first ACTUAL item on our agenda today is Hai's progress on the data mining discovery.”
The Control Instructor sighed deeply as attention at the table turned to her. “Are you sure we can't have James say something else completely out of character and distract us all for a bit longer? Maybe another week or so and I'll have less bad news to share.”
“Do you really think a week of distractions would help, Hai?”
A second sigh from the petite asian woman. “No, no it would not. So here's the summary; the entire Overton student population was cycled very covertly into a massive data mining operation. At the level the various unrelated investigations went to on all parties involved, unless the persons pulling the strings suddenly developed a severe case of incompetence, an unknown group has a complete roster for the Overton HCP.”
“What's the DVA doing about this? Or hell, this should qualify to get either NSA or FBI cyber divisions involved, shouldn't it?” The questions from the Subtlety Instructor were met by a less than encouraging expression on Hai Nguyen's face.
“DVA is investigating, but has almost zero resources allocated to actually backtracking anything. Everyone seems focused entirely on getting upgraded procedures in place to prevent it from happening again, instead of worrying about it having already happened.”
“Methinkst someone is pulling some more strings behind the scenes.” Laurence Vree steepled his fingers in front of his face as he spoke. “A breach like this should be receiving a tremendous amount of attention, not a simple attempt to repair the barn after the livestock has all fled.”
“The official word, or at least the official word that my contacts have passed down to me, is that since the most recent traces of the data mining took place in early July, we're 'obviously' looking at some sort of test run. The powers that be seem to think that since no one has acted on the information for a couple of months, they have no intention to do so.
“In happier news, the Walkers still hire some of the best and brightest and THEY are very interested in finding out whomever is behind all this. After the anonymous bounty sites last year trying to get random people to attack HCP students to out them on SI infractions, we've got a couple dedicated tech people in both the government and on the private side making sure that something similar doesn't crop up again now that our enemies have a more accurate list.”
“I don't suppose there's any BETTER good news than that?” The red haired professor sounded despondent as she spoke. “Isn't there someone we can just go hit?”
“You should be careful what you wish for, Dani.” The response from the dark haired Subtlety Instructor perked up her colleague's attention a bit. “Rights of Humanity has officially arrived this week, which means in all likelihood the HLM is also here. With any luck you'll get to beat up some violent supremacists by the end of the month.”
Most of the HCP staff seemed less than pleased at Elena's announcement, but the red haired Weapons Instructor wore an expression best described as 'predatory.'
The heavyset blond man sighed and adjusted his to better block the midday sun as he approached the throng surrounding the administration building. A quick hand signal had a pair of campus security officers flanking him, and Riley Walker began to push his way through the crowd towards the makeshift podium that had been set up in front of the steps of his building.
“And look, already they send their tools in the guise of law and order to stop us from gathering peacefully here!” The rich, charismatic voice of the brown haired man behind the podium carried easily across the crowd without need for any mechanical enhancement. Riley simply smiled widely in response to the 'introduction' and removed his hat to wave to the crowd in greeting.
“A bit of a misunderstanding on your part, my good man!” The University President's own well trained voice carried just as easily over the crowd, and seemed genuinely cheerful to those listening. “No tools of 'THEM,'” the mocking emphasis the blond man put onto the word actually drew a few brief chuckles from the edges of the throng, “just a University President making sure the rules are being followed. I'm afraid that this is not an appropriate place for your little rally, Mr...?”
The man behind the podium smiled in response to the well practiced lines from Riley, but the expression didn't manage to make it all the way to his eyes. “Clarence Dane. And you must be Overton's President, Mr Riley Walker?” Clarence was slightly taller than Riley as he stepped down from the podium to offer a handshake, but the University President was by far the larger of the two men.
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr Dane. Won't you join me inside for a moment?” The blond man met his adversary's offered handshake with a grip that briefly threatened to crush the thinner man's hand, before releasing with a brief smirk.
“And already we move to a blatant attempt to silence the free speech of a simple gathering!” Dane's attempt to play to the crowd met with a thunderous response from those packed closest to the podium, a group that the University President quickly noted seemed to contain no local faces.
Not even competent enough to fire up a crowd without seeding the hell out of it. Riley resisted the urge to shake his head as he waited for a lull in the noise to reenter the fray. His wait was further prolonged when one of the younger members of the crowd pushed his way up to the heavy man and began a tirade of his own.
“You should be ashamed of yourself, Mr Walker! You bring us in to an institute of learning, and all the while you have HUNDREDS of the most dangerous creatures in the world running about, hiding in plain sight among us? What are you doing to insure the safety of the Human students while you're pandering to the Super freaks underground?”
After only a moment's thought, during which the crowd quieted enough to hear what the official University response would be, Riley came to a rapid decision on how to handle this particularly poorly planned land mine. I need to remember to buy Janette something appropriately apologetic for all the extra work I'm about to heap on her.
“What's your name, son?” The jovial response to the accusation seemed to put the seemingly enraged student off balance.
“Um, Fred Redding.”
“Well Mr Redding, allow me to put you completely at ease. As you do not feel completely safe attending a University that also hosts one of the most prestigious programs in the world, we will remedy that situation with haste!” Producing his phone from an inside pocket the large man set off an extremely rapid series of brief messages as he spoke. “And that should do it, Mr Redding. You are no longer enrolled at Overton University. As this was in regards to a concern for your safety I've ensured that you will receive a complete refund for your tuition, housing costs, and even text books. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.” The blond man smiled at the dumbstruck expression on the much younger man's face as he turned back to Clarence Dane, completely ignoring the sudden babbling behind him as Fred Redding realized he was likely looking forward to some uncomfortable talks with his parents as to why he was no longer a student.
“And in regards to your concerns over the freedom of speech, you greatly misunderstand me sir!” Riley was falling into a proper political rally kind of rhythm now and had continued the conversation before his opponent could recover from the sudden and decisive manner in which an obvious plant had been dealt with. “I would never seek to stop you from SPEAKING on any subject, however this particular locale,” a sweeping gesture emphasized the fact that half the crowd was actually standing in the parking lot, “is not the best environment for such speech. If you would accompany me to my office, I'm sure that we have several open lecture halls, or even our stadium, that would better suit your little gathering than blocking the doors to my building while forcing your people to stand in the road.” Before the brown haired man could formulate a response, Riley had strode forward to clasp an arm around the thinner man's shoulders. “I know that the bureaucracy is tedious, but the rules must be obeyed after all!”
Clarence managed to plaster a triumphant expression onto his face as Riley led him into the building, even pumping his fist into the air in a sign of victory. Once through the doors his expression changed drastically.
“Get your hands off of me, Walker.”
“Nothing would please me more, Mr Dane.” The University President released the taller man and strode ahead of him after mock-dusting off the sleeve of his jacket. The two men walked in silence all the way to the large corner office where Riley dropped into a plush chair behind an oversized desk and offered the other man an expectant look.
“You really think you can stand in the way of a movement like this one with petty rules and regulations?”
“Actually I'm pretty sure that all the rules and regulations do is make level the playing field for your side, Mr Dane. After all, this wouldn't be much of a challenge if I DIDN'T have to follow the rules.” The smile returned to the blond man's face as the less than subtle threat seemed to startle the brown haired visitor. “Now,” Riley produced a large leather bound binder with the word 'SCHEDULE' embroidered across the front, “let's pick some proper times and places for you to have your little get togethers while you insist on polluting my campus with your 'cause.' Stick to the rules, Mr Dane, and as an added bonus I will do my personal best to insure that those students you are so worried about don't cause you any direct trouble.”
“You keep those freaks away from me and my people, or I'll-...”
“You'll do what? This is my campus, Mr Dane. And if you and your people step out of line, I will personally make sure that you regret it for a VERY long time.”
“Have a good night, Mr Daye!” The overweight brunette girl giggled at the mock scowl the deli owner threw her way as she again overemphasized the natural pun her boss's name allowed for, and waved a gloved hand at the man. Settling a backpack across her shoulders, the young woman turned to start the long walk back to the Overton campus.
Everything about Andrea Chandler screamed 'Art Student!' From clothes and glasses all carrying small inky looking smudges everywhere, to her hair style and the fact that the over-packed bag she was carrying was nearly bleeding art supplies onto the street as she walked. In Andrea's three years attending Overton University, two of which working nights at the very deli she had just left, it had never once occurred to her that the streets of the small town might be somewhat less than safe after dark. The heavyset girl didn't even notice the pair of large men following her until she was grabbed by the shoulders and shoved down an alley.
“Hey, what th-...” The startled exclamation was cut off as the man who pushed her followed up with a vicious kick to her stomach, dropping the girl the rest of the way to the ground and further from the lights of the street.
“Please... I don't... you can have...” Gasping for breath, Andrea managed to peel her wallet out of the back pouch of her bag and throw it in the direction of the two masked men.
The man who had kicked glanced down at the object, but his partner simply stepped past and delivered a solid stomp to the downed girl's chest, forcing the air from her lungs again as she whimpered in pain. “Don't want your money, freak. You don't belong here.”
The look of confusion that briefly mingled with the pain on the brunette's face seemed to further enrage the man, as he reached down abruptly and ripped her flannel open, exposing the somewhat faded T-shirt beneath it.
'You Think Your Life Sucks? I'm POWERED. I Win.' The white letters on the darker material actually glowed faintly, as did the humorous depiction beneath of a man with his head on fire.
“You wearing it for fun, or because you're proud to be a freak?”
The harsh tone of the question caused the girl on the ground to shake briefly, before her expression resolved into a look of desperate determination. Before either of the two men could assault her again, the girl whipped her bag up and threw it forward, using the distraction to tear off the mismatched gloves she wore. Seeing the strange movement the two men froze, suddenly hesitant to approach the Powered girl as she pulled herself to her feet.
“I'm not dangerous. I don't do anything amazing or powerful. Just this.” A hand pressed against the alley wall and dragged downward left a rainbow of random colors in its wake, and the confidence of the attackers seemed to return.
“It doesn't go away though. On skin it goes at least as deep as a tattoo. So come and hurt me some more. All I have to do is get a hand on you and you will the easiest fuckers to identify EVER. Looking forward to prison?” The heavyset young woman's voice remained steady, and challenging. Even as every other part of her body trembled. Every part except the two hands that the masked men were now watching warily.
“Get out of Overton, freak.” With that parting wit, the two men quickly fled the alley, turning in separate directions as the hit the street.
Andrea slumped back to her knees, gasping again in pain as the motion jarred her likely broken ribs. Without taking her eyes off the alley entrance where the two men had disappeared, a trembling hand made its way into her pocket to retrieve the practically antique fliphone that resided there. The brunette began sobbing softly as the three digits were dialed, and the voice on the other end of the line assured her that help was on the way.
Jeremy Phelps laid flat on his perch atop the dorm roof overlooking the parking lot, and fought with all of his will not to cry. The lanky youth had worked as hard as he could for the past five years, training as much as his schedule would allow, making sure his grades were as high as they could be, and absorbing every bit of knowledge he could find about the world of Heroes. All in preparation for this year, and his application to the HCP.
The dark haired boy had actually fainted when he'd opened the letter from Overton and discovered it was his acceptance letter. He'd crossed the impossible hurdle and made it into the program. Jeremy had assumed, somewhat naively, that once he'd made it into the program it was simply a matter of applying himself to the same level he had for the past half-decade and he would graduate a Hero as a matter of course. The Dean's shocking blunt speech regarding the actual advancement numbers of students through the HCP had come as a horrific shock to Jeremy, and many of his fellow freshmen as well.
Then had come the week of grueling physical training, and the lanky youth had celebrated that his own intense regimen had paid off. Five of his classmates had been unable to keep pace through the first week. But then had come the Ranking Tournament. With several years of practical martial arts training under his belt and physical conditioning near the top of his class for those without physical powers, Jeremy had been confident he would place highly. Instead he was eliminated in back to back matches, totaling less than a minute between them. Attempting to rally, the dark haired youth had powered into the second week of training and set to redeem his last ranked position by challenging the full five ranks ahead. The challenge match had lasted far longer than his ranking matches, but at the end of it Jeremy awoke in the infirmary, still hanging onto the bottom rung of his class.
A commotion in the parking lot below jarred the lanky Super out of his depressed introspection long enough to right himself and peer off the roof. Down in the parking lot a group of three well built men were pushing a fourth smaller, heavier boy around between them. The object that had drawn their derision seemed to be the younger boy's multicolored hairstyle, and the official Shutterbug Fanclub shirt he was wearing. All three attackers wore matching white shirts with the letters 'ROH' emblazoned front and back in large black font. The despondent Super's expression hardened as he considered his options. The best thing to do is call Campus Security, but they could take awhile to get here. Ah fuck, the blond has got a razor, they're threatening to shave him in the fucking parking lot.
Humiliating assault aside, the presence of the shimmering blade in the altercation kicked things up to a different level in Jeremy's mind. He no longer had time to call and wait on the authorities, even if blondie was a trained barber it was unlikely he could shave a resisting man without seriously injuring him. Before he had consciously realized it, the lanky man found himself sliding quickly off the roof and down to the sidewalk. The three bullies had yet to notice his approach, so Jeremy prompted them. “HEY! BACK THE FUCK OFF!”
All four men turned startled expressions towards the abrupt shout, and Jeremy wished desperately at that moment that his voice had been deep enough to make it truly intimidating. He was taller than his opponents, but they were all much heavier than he was.
The victimized boy turned to try and flee as the distraction presented itself, but one of the three was quick enough to trip him as he ran, leaving him sprawled on the asphalt instead.
“You think you're some kind of Hero man? Fuck off.” The blond with the razor made a cutting motion towards Jeremy, before all three moved to converge back on the hapless youth on the ground.
Fuck it, I wasn't going to make it anyways. At least this way I get to go out on my terms. “HEY!” The second shout drew attention once again, but this time the dark haired boy accompanied it with a rapid approach. “You want to hate on Supers?”
The closest of the three moved to block Jeremy approach with a mocking grin and a looping punch. The thinner man stepped easily inside the slow moving strike and flipped his opponent onto the ground, following the throw up with a gentle palm strike to the man's chest. At first the disoriented attacker simply growled and attempted to pull himself to his feet, but as he found himself unable to do so his movements became more and more panicked. “What the fuck did you do to me?”
At this point the other two men had abandoned their torment of the overweight boy and turned startled expressions on the newcomer, as he smiled at them and stepped over the pinned man. “If you hate Supers so much, here's your chance. Instead of the fanboy, you get to fight the real thing.”
The blond with the razor lunged forward with an expression holding more fear than rage, slashing wildly in an attempt to force the taller man back. Jeremy evaded the first wild swing and kicked his foot forward just enough to tap the other man's shoe. During the blond's next swing, he overbalanced and fell, his ankle cracking with a wet *SNAP* as one of his feet stayed perfectly glued to the ground, and the weight of his fall did the rest.
Looking up to see where the other man had gone, Jeremy saw him fleeing desperately across the parking lot and looking back to the scene of the fight with terror written across his features. So intent on looking back at the Super behind him, he didn't think to check for hazards in front of him.
The dark haired Super winced as he saw the large fleeing man clotheslined by an even larger man that came running out from between a pair of cars. Before the suddenly downed man could begin to recover, his large assailant dropped a knee into his back and pinned his arms. Across the distance Jeremy clearly heard the growling voice of the larger man. “Try to get up and I break them both. Got it?”
“Nice moves, sir.” Jeremy started as another man seemed to materialize next to him. “Glad to see that the tradition of Overton students helping each other in need is being continued. I'm Steven, that's Phil.” A gesture indicated that the extremely large man was most likely the one known as Phil.
“Jeremy, nice to meet you.”
“That is an awesome trick, but if you don't mind my asking... Why?”
The lanky youth understood the real meaning behind the vague question asked. The Secret Identity program was as much a part of the orientation for the normal students at Overton as it was for the HCP students, it was simply more important for the latter group. “I couldn't just let them do what they were doing.” Jeremy flushed slightly at his own heavily edited response, deciding that he didn't really need to unburden his other troubles onto a random stranger in the parking lot.
“You broke my fucking ankle you FREAK!” The spittle laden shout from the downed blond attacker drew the attention of both students to the incapacitated man.
Steven stepped forward with a smile on his face, and looked down at the large man's ankle. “Sir, I'm a pre-med student. I can assure you that at this angle nothing is broken. Badly sprained and possibly dislocated, but you didn't fall hard enough to break anything.”
“Oh... thanks...?” The confused inflection from the man on the ground was met with a continued smile from the brown haired youth leaning over him.
“Now THIS,” a lightning fast kicking motion forward accompanied by a soft *CRACK* and a hoarse scream from the man on the ground, “is a BROKEN ankle.”
Jeremy found himself smiling along with his fellow 'good Samaritan' as he finally noted the approach of the dark blue uniforms of Campus Security in the distance.
“You fucking bastard, YOU broke my ankle!”
“Nah man.” Jeremy surprised himself with the level of dead calm he managed with his voice. “You did that when you fell down. Trust me.” The last two words came out with such force that the blond man actually gulped nervously in response, then nodded.
Turning to begin the statement taking process with Campus Security, Jeremy played back through the encounter in his mind and came to a conclusion. I think I'm going to apply for the SI exemption ruling and see if one of the other programs will take me. Maybe I DO have what it takes to be a Hero after all.
“And do you know why you're here, Ms Blake?” The question from the petite woman behind the desk was so laden with sarcasm that the auburn haired girl it was directed at didn't even bother acknowledging it. A few seconds past as the Dean locked eyes with the younger telepath before she spoke again. “There have been a large number of incidents on campus this past week, and a great many of them have been resolved in a most peculiar manner.”
”What manner is that, Dean Jilles?”
The dark haired woman scowled slightly as she attempted to read more than the projected words and ran into a perfect mirror of her OWN thoughts being projected back at her. As a method to prevent other Advanced Minds from reading your thoughts went, the Dean had to admit that this one was brilliant. “When did you come up with the idea of drowning out another Advanced Mind like that?” The conversation momentarily derailed as the curiosity of a woman who had instructed in the HCP for many years pushed its way to the fore.
”It was actually something that Michael mentioned when we were practicing towards the end of last year. He said that reading other Advanced Minds was always annoying because you'll pick up a little bit of feedback of your own mind while you're 'in there.' He said that me being a projective made it worse for him. I thought about it for awhile and decided to see how much 'worse' I could make it.”
“Back to the matter at hand then. Over the course of the week Campus Security has reported eleven cases, and the Overton Sheriff’s office three of their own, where an officer on duty would suddenly hear a whisper in their head directing them somewhere nearby, and they proceeded to arrive just in time to apprehend a criminal in the act. Seems odd, no?”
”I don't know about odd, Dean Jilles. With all the attacks from that stupid hate group, and fourteen of those incidents were prevented by this. It seems like an incredibly good thing to me!” The mental tone projected held nothing but cheerful enthusiasm, and Kathryn dropped her face into her hands to hide the smile that crept out unbidden before remembering that trying to hide any tells from the girl sitting across from her was likely pointless.
“And you don't know where this whisper that's tipping off these officers is coming from?”
”Well developed law enforcement instincts? Or possibly Angels!”
”All student in the HCP are entitled to complete freedom of Religious Belief.”
The verbatim quote from the HCP orientation packet drew a sigh from the Dean as she attempted again to gain any detail from the mind sitting across from her. She caught glimpses, but nothing useful, before continuing. “If this discussion were to go off the record, what would be your opinion of a Super in the HCP using their abilities to deliver those tips?”
”Off the record? I would probably consider it EXCELLENT practice for any Advanced Mind thinking about using their ability as a Hero. Possibly even strenuous enough to make up for that Advanced Mind not selecting the Focus discipline, and enough to get the professor of that discipline to stop bringing up the subject.” The mental tone held no trace of anything except pure sincerity, save for the almost sing-song portion at the end which drew genuine laughter from the petite woman.
“You can head back to your classes, Ms Blake. And I'll talk to Laurence again.”