Daisy walked the sci-fi corridors of the HCP with a stack of folders that nearly reached her chin. It was ideal to place a cup of coffee on, but that was about it. Thankfully, the students parted like the Red Sea around her or there would be problems.
The paperwork was mostly bureaucratic bullshit. She had printed herself the results of the first sophomore team competition to get a better read on what went on. She knew the basic results. Martin’s team had beaten Cook’s team and Goodman’s team had beaten Fisher’s team. Martin had outthought Cook, and Goodman had overpowered Fisher. When Craig set the matches, Daisy had an idea that was how they’d turn out. Now, she was looking at all the data gathered from the fights.
All of the special combat cells and arenas were outfitted with sensors developed by tech genius Supers. They allowed the instructors to do a lot more than just record the fight. These sensors measured the size, shape, and particulars of the exploding orbs Goodman lobbed all over the place. It evaluated how Whitfield ran on water, and how much force was behind each punch thrown by anyone with enhanced strength. It even measured the air displacement when Richardson teleported all over the place.
All of that data could then be measured against baselines taken during freshman year to see how the students were progressing and where they needed assistance in their training based on past trends. The HCP saw each of its students as world class athletes, and it treated their training the same as if they were preparing for the Superbowl or getting ready for the Olympics.
<I sometimes wish I had this.> Daisy’s training had ben radically different.
There was no measurements or quality analysis of Super abilities in the 50s aside from seeing if you could jump over a tall building in a single bound or were faster than a speeding bullet. They didn’t care about that stuff sixty years ago, but they cared about it now.
That was some of the other paperwork in her arms. She’d just completed a basic analysis of the freshman and compared it to the data gathered during their combat trial. Some were showing improvement, others were the same, and a few were actually doing worse than before. Those few wouldn’t make the cut to the second semester if they didn’t get better or didn’t stop overindulging outside the HCP. An HCP student couldn’t act like any other college student and still compete at the level required of them.
The crowds started to thin out. It was the end of the day and not many people were heading toward the infirmary. Dr. Sanderson was usually getting people out of there about now.
Daisy had to peak from behind her folders to see who was addressing her. “Ms. Vann. What can I do for you?”
“What are you doing here?”
Scarlett Vaan was just exiting Dr. Johnson’s office. Daisy knew she had her internship for her doctoral program with the psychologist, but she also knew she ended her day at five. That’s why Daisy’s appointment wasn’t until five-thirty.
“I’m here to see Dr. Johnson.” Daisy hefted the files a bit as an excuse. She might be coming to grips with her emotional health, but she wasn’t about to share that with one of her freshman students.
“I didn’t see you on the schedule.”
Daisy didn’t know if Vaan was prying or just being diligent about her duties with the doctor. Either way, Daisy didn’t have a lot of extra time or energy for it.
“We can’t always fit what needs to be done into a regular schedule, Vaan. Sometimes you have to drop in unexpectedly to get the job done. If you’ll excuse me…” Daisy made a “please move” gesture with her head, and the advanced mind stepped out of her way.
Daisy felt a tickle in her mind and gave the freshman a good wallop of the most annoying sound in the world. The young woman grimaced at the annoying, grating sound and blushed before walking away.
<Kids.> Daisy shook her head, even if Vaan was older than the seniors in the program she was still a kid. <Hell, just about everyone here is a kid compared to me.> She chuckled at her own joke and knocked on Johnson’s door.
“Come on in, Daisy.”
Daisy had been seeing the good doctor at least once a week for the last year, and she could honestly say she’d rarely seen him this tired.
He saw her looking. “I’ve forgotten how much more work it is to have an intern.” He sighed and gestured at the empty chair in front of his desk. “They always have so many questions.”
“How is Vaan doing?” She asked.
Daisy knew a lot about the technical pats of Vaan’s powerful ability. She also knew she threw her combat ranking match for whatever reason. Maybe Dr. Johnson had some insight into that.
“She’s a sponge.” Johnson gave Daisy a smile. “She is very dedicated to learning this craft, and I am thoroughly impressed.”
Daisy could sense a “but” coming.
“But…I would be remiss if I said she was Hero material. Ms. Vaan has the potential to be a great asset to the Hero community, or any community for that matter, but I don’t think she has what it takes to be a Hero.”
“Thanks for the diagnosis, Doc.” Daisy pulled out Vaan’s file from her leaning tower of paperwork and scribbled a few notes.
“But that’s not why you’re here.” Johnson smiled, and accepted a large booklet that Daisy pulled from the middle of the paperwork tower. He looked at it with suspicion. “It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these.”
“Me too, but all of my informational and biographical data sections are already filled out. We’ve just got to do your part.” Daisy couldn’t help but feel a few butterflies in her gut.
She’d been trying for years to get Johnson’s brother in New York to do this very thing for her. He always turned her down. She hated the other Johnson for it, but now she knew he’d been doing her a favor. She wasn’t ready for the responsibility. She could barely get her own shit together. She had a metric fuckton of issues to get through, and this Johnson had helped with that. Being surrounded by good people, old friends, and a bit more understanding of what had happened to her mind had helped her treatment by leaps and bounds. Now, she really and truly felt ready.
Of course, that didn’t mean she was going to like taking the psychological evaluation to recertify her Hero status. Just by looking at the booklet she could tell that her and the Doc were going to be here well into the night.
<The sacrifices I make for this country.> Daisy summoned her mental fortitude and dove into it with Johnson.
The start of the analysis was pretty basic. “In the past six months have you felt anxious, worried or scared about a lot of things in your life?”
“Well…Seif al-Din attacked the city less than six months ago, and I saw some of the best Heroes in the city go up against him and come up short; myself included, so there was a little bit of anxiety and worry going on there.” Daisy’s tone was light and almost joking, but Dr. Johnson was taking copious notes. That was just the way he was.
“Did you feel your worry was out of control?”
“No.” That was something she was sure of. “I was able to keep my head, assess the situation, develop a course of action, and execute.”
“Do you feel restless, agitated, frantic, or tense in regards to what happened?”
“I feel agitated, but I still get a solid eight hours every night. Some things are beyond my control and I’ve learned to live with that.”
“Well that covers my next question about sleep.” Johnson smiled as he jotted down a few more things before turning the page. “It is common for people to have an unexpected wave of anxiety or panic lasting up to fifteen minutes. In the past six months have you had any of the following symptoms: heart pounding, sweating profusely, parts of your body begin to tremble uncontrollably, or having difficulty breathing or swallowing.”
<Not in the last six months.>
“I have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder from my many many many years of services.” Daisy laid it on thick to emphasis she wasn’t your average patient. “I have not had any of those symptoms in the last six months. I’ve made several breakthroughs concerning my condition and my past that have allowed me to manage things.”
“Any pain in your chest, feeling sick to your stomach, dizziness, cold or hot flashes, fear of losing control, going crazy or dying.”
The memories of her getting lost in her own flashbacks came to the front of her mind, but that hadn’t been for a while. Mastermind had eased a lot of those pressures.
“Not in the last six months, but I have had them in the past.”
<Don’t I wish I could say.>
Dr. Johnson had been wondering what had happened since she started feeling better, but the legacy of several Presidential Administrations and a mountain of nondisclosure agreements larger than her student files made her keep her mouth shut.
“I found someone I could relate to. Someone who’d been through something similar. They helped me through our shared experiences.” That was the best she could do, and she hoped Johnson didn’t push it.
Since he was an empath he got the gist of her feelings and didn’t push, although he did write a lot of notes. Things went on like that for a few hours. He’d ask questions from the questionnaire and she’d answer them. She’d elaborate when she could, and give generalities where she couldn’t. She hoped it wasn’t hurting her chances in the evaluation, but no matter what she was feeling there were just some things she couldn’t say.
All things considered it wasn’t that different from one of their regular sessions. She’d come a long way from the days when she used to ruin the poor doctor’s furniture. Both of their salaries were grateful that she’d gotten through that part of the process relatively quickly. It was just a really long session. Daisy checked the clock to see three hours had passed by the time Johnson turned to the last page in the booklet.
“Hmm.” He smiled as he looked down at it. “They still end the questionnaire with the same question.” He looked up at Daisy with a small smile. “Why do you want to be a Hero?”
“I don’t want to be one.” Daisy answered immediately. “I am one. It’s what I’ve been for the last sixty-plus years. Hell, I might even be the longest serving Hero out there, but don’t quote me on that.”
Johnson smiled at that as he scribbled it all down.
“That concludes the questionnaire.” Johnson made a few flourishes at the bottom of the last page – that must have been his signature – before closing the booklet and handing it back to Daisy.
“As you know I don’t make the final rulings on these things, but in my professional opinion you have done remarkable work in the last year. I don’t know all the details, and I probably never will, but whatever it is keep on doing it. Whoever you’ve been healing with stay with them. They’re a good influence on you, and anything that’s a good influence on you is a good thing for this school, state, and whole damn country.”
“Holy shit, Doc. I can’t remember the last time you cursed.” Daisy smiled.
“I’m a therapist, not a saint.” Johnson grinned back. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get home to the wife and kid. They like it when I’m home for dinner, even if it’s a late one.”
<Johnson’s got kids?> It was the first bit of personal information Daisy had ever heard about the good doctor, and she took that as a very good sign.
Not only had she come a long way in her therapy, but she’d come a long way in developing and maintaining the personal relationships in her life. Dr. Johnson was just one of those people she didn’t even know a year ago and now considered a friend.
<Speaking of dinner.> It was her turn to pick up the take-out on the way home.
Topher’s shift didn’t get off until ten, so they’d both be getting home late, and she very much felt like expressing how much she valued their personal relationship tonight.
<Fried chicken and sex. What more can a man ask for?>
If there was something more, Daisy hadn’t come across it in her 88 years.
Cars lined the street going in both directions. Parking in this side-street housing area was normally pretty bad. Students found open spots and parked there for the day when they had class. At night, when they were looking for a party, they parked there too. Despite the cars parked bumper to bumper, Seth still had excellent situational awareness.
<I see you…and you…and you.> He picked out the DVA agents keeping a close eye on him. He even noticed the surveillance van.
It took him a little longer to identify the DVA’s mobile command post, but there was only so many times a utilities van can show up in the same vicinity as you before you take notice.
<I hope you enjoy watching a bunch of underage kids get shitfaced.> Seth grinned as he walked down the street. He’d pregamed enough to have a little buzz already.
The house that was his destination was already vibrating on its foundation and just about bursting at the seams with people. Guys and gals stood on the spacious front porch and chatted while sipping out of red solo cups. Most were in various levels of inebriation, with the most extreme already sucking face and making bad decisions.
If all went well, then Seth would be among them soon.
“S-Man!” The loud and boisterous voice of Butch filed the room. “Now we can start the party.” The big man gave Seth the bro half-hug and pointed him toward the keg. “Liquor is by the bar and the ladies are everywhere.”
They clinked their plastic cups together and Butch walked away to pursue his own goals. Seth had his own mission tonight, as he slipped into the crowd. He talked to the girls that came up to him – a lot of girls – but didn’t seek out any female companionship. He already had enough on his mind when dealing with the fairer sex.
He kept an eye on his surroundings as the night progressed. There were three DVA agents in the party with him. They always had one with a direct line of sight to him while the other two moved through the house to secure better vantage points. It kept Seth on the move and them constantly guessing.
He was just waiting for the right moment.
“Your eyes are so green.”
He was talking to a cute brunette when he saw his chance. “Do you want to go upstairs?”
That could only mean one thing, and the girl looked like she’d been waiting for it.
“Sure.” They walked up the stairs conspiratorially. The girl didn’t want her friends to know she was sneaking off to bone a guy she’d just met. Seth wanted to gain an extra ten seconds on the DVA.
“The room at the end of the hall should be free.” Seth pointed to Butch’s room. The big guy wouldn’t mind if a willing woman found her way into his bed. “I’m gonna hit the bathroom really quick.”
“Hurry back.” The alcohol made her think she looked sexier than she was as she sauntered toward the room.
The moment her back was turned, Seth moved with a purpose. He made it to the bathroom and locked the door. From there he went to the window. It was on the side of the house, so there were less people about to see his crazy stunt. He lowered himself out of the second-story window, fully extended his arms so he had the least amount of distance to drop, and then let go. He summoned a little bit of wind to break his fall, and he rolled with the impact. It jolted him and didn’t feel great, but he didn’t hurt himself like the trial earlier today.
From there he scrambled to his feet and headed toward the fence. He easily hopped it into the property next door – a sorority that was having a pool party.
“Ladies.” He gave the dozens of bikini-clad girls a nod as he proceeded to their back fence readied to jump it.
His goal was to put as much space between him and the DVA as possible. He had a rental car waiting around the block. He just had to get to it.
“Seth?” A familiar voice called form behind him.
Seth stopped with his hands on the top of the fence. His mind told him not to turn around, but his crotch insisted. Seth turned his head to look over his shoulder where Izzy was standing by the pool. Like all the other girls she was in a bikini and holding some mixed drink with little umbrellas in it.
The HCP did wonders for a person’s body – male or female – and he couldn’t help but notice that. Of course, she noticed him noticing, and it was awkward. Their last meeting hadn’t ended well.
“What are you doing here? Are you stalking me now?” The last line was delivered with a hint of a grin on her lips.
“Sorry, just passing through.” Seth made sure to look her in the eyes.
He started to pull himself over the fence. He didn’t have time to wonder why she was at a bikini sorority party.
“Wait!” She called and ran over to him. The running over part made it all the more difficult to leave. “I just wanted to apologize.” She looked appropriately contrite, or as contrite as possible in her current wardrobe. “I pushed you last time and that wasn’t right. You were right that I’m a bit new to this, and I should take your lead a little more.”
Seth really needed to move or this whole diversion bit was going to be pointless, but he felt obligated to respond. “No, it’s my fault. I was an ass, and you didn’t deserve that. You’re actually pretty awesome,” he waved his hands up and down to emphasize her awesome bod, “I’ve just got a lot of shit on my plate.”
“I got it.” She smiled. “I’ll take it easy on you.” The wink she gave Seth really made him want to stay, but he couldn’t put it off any longer.
“See ya.” He vaulted over the fence and merged with another group of partygoers heading for another party on a parallel street.
He walked normally because nothing stood out more than a person running around. Luckily, the group walked right past the rental car he had waiting, so he was able to hop right in and pull out into the suburban streets. He took the long way to get out. He stuck to side streets and avoided anything that looked like a government vehicle or the surveillance van because there was no way they hadn’t noticed he was gone.
Once he was sure no one was following him he got on the highway and headed toward downtown Orlando. He didn’t stay on it long. He got off in a not-so-nice part of town and found a rundown bodega – one he knew didn’t have any video cameras.
The young guy behind the cash register barely even looked up as Seth walked in and got what he needed. He paid in cash and headed back to the rental. He drove to another sketchy location beneath an overpass, parked the car, and opened the bag.
There were half a dozen disposable cell phones with extra sim cards. He ripped open the plastic packaging and plugged the charger into the port with shaking hands. He knew this was a horrible idea, but he had to do it.
He’d considered using the burner phone he’d found in his pocket in the dining hall, but it all seemed too coincidental. He hadn’t seen any flash of darkness to indicate that Liz was the person that slipped it into his pocket. It could be the DVA fucking with him, and trying to get him to incriminate himself. He wasn’t going to fall for their trap, so he got his own phones. He still had the old phone, but it was somewhere secure until he figured everything out.
Once the new phone had enough power he flipped it open and dialed a number he’d memorized once he realized who’d called him. Seth had zero hope of actually talking to Liz when the line connected. He knew she wasn’t dumb enough to keep the phone that the DVA was trying to backtrack to her. Seth also knew she had to have someone working her tech side of things. A person didn’t break out of prison or do all the things she’d done without top-notch tech support. It just wasn’t possible in the world they lived in. Whether it was a Super or a criminal team of hackers didn’t matter. He just hoped she was monitoring the line.
The line rang for a solid few minutes before a returning a “this line is no longer in service” recording, but Seth also heard some weird crackles when it was ringing. He wasn’t a cyber expert, but he knew someone was listening. Either it was Liz or the DVA. Liz he’d answer. The DVA he would just dump the phone.
<That’s why I bought a dozen sim cards, but I need to keep moving.> Seth put the car back into drive and sped away from the underpass.
His eyes kept jumping back and forth from the road to the mirrors in search of anyone tailing him. He didn’t see anything as he pulled into an underground parking garage, parked, and dialed the number again. He got the same result.
He did that six more times before he called it a night. To anyone else it might look like someone was placing random calls and trying to get ahold of someone. He was sure the DVA had tried this approach already, and he had no idea if his would work, but he had one thing the DVA didn’t. Each stop he made was in a place that meant something to him and Liz. They’d done some very rated X things in half of those locations. He made a call from a parking lot of their favorite restaurant, and made the final call from just outside the rebuilt Sprout coffee shop where she was almost kidnapped.
<Holy Shit, she might have been in on that whole thing.> That almost made him regret doing this in the first place.
He sat there the longest trying to figure out if what he was doing was ok. Ultimately, he decided it was. He wasn’t doing anything illegal. He just wanted to talk to her without everyone and their mother listening in.
If Liz was getting the call information, he hoped she’d be able to put all those pieces together.
<This is stupid.> He contradicted himself as he returned the rental and took an cab back to his apartment.
He made sure to stagger to his door when he arrived, because he was sure the DVA was watching his place and radioing in that they’d required him. He went upstairs and quickly chugged some vodka in case they came by. It also helped settle his nerves.
What it didn’t do what erase the image of Izzy in a bikini winking at him.
Half a world away a young technopath recorded and analyzed the incoming calls on the discarded line. He didn’t know what to make of them, so he forwarded the information to the intended recipient.
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