The whispering was everywhere, but that was to be expected after a tragedy. Everyone had their own idea about what happened until the record got set straight. This one was easy to get the facts on because it had happened on live TV, but that didn’t stop the speculation. Why was the biggest question. Why did a notorious criminal who’d just broken out of prison go back to that prison and facilitate a jailbreak? Then, why did she go and get into a fight with Mr. Morningstar and kill him? Isla didn’t have any idea why any of it happened, but that didn’t stop the whispers.
The people above ground were speculative and general. None were directed at her. People were just wondering out loud – sometimes with puffy, red eyes and mascara smudges – why someone would kill their city’s Hero team leader. Mr. Morningstar was well liked in Orlando, and he’d been a staple of the community for over thirty years.
Below ground, in the corridors of the HCP, things were different. The questions were still the same, but the whispers had a focus. Word had spread through the students about her and Seth. It had been blown out of proportion and was flat out wrong in most circumstances, but the rumor mill was churning away, and once that started there was no going back. So, when Isla was making her way from her Ethics class to physical training there were whispers and sideways glances in her direction.
No one came right out and said anything but the implication was there…until she reached the locker room.
“So, I heard you’re banging the guy whose ex-girlfriend killed a Hero.” Martina, the resident strongwoman with a supermodel’s looks and body, broke the tension.
Isla turned around and looked right in the taller girl’s eyes. “You heard wrong.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the locker room.
Martina wasn’t exactly a bully. It was hard to be a bully when everyone in the room had superpowers and was training to fight, but she did throw her weight around. A lot of that weight was in her boobs, and even Super girls were still girls. Insecurities about looks affected them as much, if not more, than normal humans.
“Come on, Perko, give us the details.” Martina’s smile was aggressive. She wanted the scoop on this.
“There isn’t much to tell.” Isla shrugged and continued pulling on her black uniform. “I’ve talked to Seth Abney a couple of times and run into him around campus. It’s easier than you’d think. He’s a good guy that’s been put in a shitty situation. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He just hung out with the wrong person.”
Another round of whispers filled the room before Martina’s glare silenced them. “That’s not what I heard.”
“I really don’t care what you heard. That’s all that I know.” Isla zipped up her uniform and headed for the door.
“I heard he let that girl down here into the HCP, and since she’s a teleporter she could appear here at any second if she wanted to. I heard from another sophomore that Abney is a drunk. I heard he knew Wraith was a villain and was still boning her regularly. I heard…”
Isla was sick and tired of hearing what Martina heard. She knew Seth better than any of these stupid bitches and she was sick and tired of people shitting on him all the time. It was that constant barrage of crap that was keeping him down in the first place. If people would give him a hand, or just lay off him, she was sure he’d be back on his feet in no time at all.
Isla always had a motherly instinct, and it had nothing to do with wanting to have children. She was usually the only Super in the orphanage and that brought with it a lot of crap. Kids could be real assholes sometimes, so she had to protect her friends. She wouldn’t say that was where all of her fighting experience came from, but that was certainly where it started.
Her vision tinged pinkish-blue as her aura activated and she turned to face Martina. The other girl’s reaction was a smug smile. Getting that kind of physical reaction out of Isla was what she was looking for. She didn’t care though. She was just pissed, and she caught the slight hesitation on Martina’s face.
The strongwoman was ranked seventh in the class after the initial combat rankings, but that was still four places behind Isla, and Isla knew that.
“Hey relax, Perko,” she held up her hands in a non-threatening manner. “I’m just telling you what I heard. Don’t get bent out of shape.”
Isla looked around and knew the other girl had won. Every other girl in the room was looking at her like she had three heads. She’d overreacted, overplayed her hand, and now everyone who was on the fence about her and Seth knew there was something up. It was even more frustrating that there wasn’t anything between her and Seth. This would be entirely different if they were an item, but right now she was standing up for a friend, not a boyfriend.
The thought only made her more irritated. She dismissed the aura. The normal peaceful feeling that overcame her when she activated her power was noticeably absent this time, but she didn’t think about it. She pushed through the doors of the locker room and into the gym. She knocked out her pull-ups with gusto. She had a lot of pent up energy and she needed an outlet. Thankfully, this was the place to do it.
“What’s eating at you, Perko?” Coach Meyers looked worn out. There were dark circles under her eyes and she didn’t have that overbearing presence at the moment.
“Nothing,” she lied. The coach sat there waiting for more, but Isla didn’t elaborate.
“Fine, hit the track. If you don’t want to talk about it then work it out of your system.”
She was more than willing to comply. She hit the track at a steady jog and did a mile waiting for the rest of the class. When they exited the locker room, all the girls were gathered around Martina and talking rapidly.
<It’s high school all over again.> She groaned as she slowed down to join the class.
“You good?” Aiden Murphey asked her. She’d talked with the big, tattooed guy a few times before.
“Fine.” She repeated the answer she’d given Coach Meyers.
Unlike the Alternative Instructor, Aiden didn’t pry. He didn’t have time.
“You know the drill, people. Five miles, GO!” Coach McMillian shouted.
Isla took a second look at the instructor’s worn down looks before she was buffeted by nearly fifty students jockeying for position on the track. She focused on that task.
<One thing at a time.>
Thanks to her strength, Martina easily pulled ahead, but that gave Isla a goal to chase.
It ended up being her fastest five-mile run ever.
Becca zipped through the halls to get where she needed to go fast. Anika was right behind her. The still-unclassified Super was getting faster and faster. She could crack a hundred miles an hour now, but that was nothing compared to the natural speedster. Becca could consistently run faster than the speed of sound. She wasn’t anywhere near the proficiency of Coach McMillian, but maybe one day she would be.
The rubber of her shoes screeched as she pumped the breaks and left a bit of a black streak on the normally spotless floors. By the time the class let out she was waiting by the door with her hands on her hips and a forceful look on her face.
A shadow fell over her as Mason squeezed through the door. It was funny to see the defensive step backward he took when he saw Becca standing there.
“Hey, Becca, just…” he tried to get a few words in.
“Move!” She waved her hand in a shooing motion. She would never be able to move the strongman with force, but she could use her personality just as effectively.
With a sight, Mason stepped aside and Seth stepped out. He didn’t seem concerned in the slightest, and didn’t give Becca more than a passing glance before trying to move off to the side.
“Oh no you don’t.” The blue-haired speedster easily got in front of him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“My next class, just like you should be doing.” Seth’s face was expressionless.
Becca’s nostrils flared in genuine anger, but she got control of herself. “I will. I just wanted to make sure my friend was ok. You know my friend, Seth. His apartment burned down. I didn’t hear about it until an hour ago when some freshmen were talking about it.” Her face flushed and she started talking faster. “I mean, friends usually tell friends when something as bad as a fire happens, because friends are there for each other. For example, they would give their friend a place to say if…I don’t know…there was an apartment fire. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe my views on friendship are different, but I’d tell my friends if something bad happened. How about you, Mason? Would you tell your friends if something like that happened?”
“Becca.” Mason looked back and forth between her and Seth. “I really don’t think…”
“That’s the problem with men. You don’t think!” She yelled the last bit and only calmed down when Anika placed her hand on her shoulder.
“You were kind of a douche, Seth.” She summed it up succinctly. “Make sure you at least give your friends a heads-up with what’s going on with you every couple of days so we don’t come looking.”
“Fine. Can I go?”
Becca was clearly not talking to him anymore, so Mason took over. “Yeah. See you later, buddy.”
As Seth walked away, Becca turned her anger on the big strongman. Words came out with machine-gun-like velocity and were impossible to understand. He got the gist though.
“We need to be patient with him.” Mason stood by what he believed despite the onslaught. “If we start piling on him, we’re going to push him away and who knows what will happen.”
“I tell you what will happen. We’ll knock some sense into that thick skull of his.” Becca was sulking now that her anger was spent.
“It’s more likely we’ll push him away and lose him forever. You don’t want that do you?” Mason gave her a patient look.
“No,” Becca sighed, but Anika remained silent.
Mason knew Becca’s girlfriend didn’t care about what Seth’s self-destructive behaviors caused. As long as it didn’t blow back on her or Becca she was ok with whatever he did. In terms of friendship, Mason was pretty sure Seth had lost hers when his girlfriend kidnapped her.
“We’ve all got class and then team practice. I’ll try and get more info from him, but I’ve got to do it slowly and carefully. I’ll talk to you at dinner.” Mason gave the two women a final smile before lumbering away.
Anika squeezed Becca’s shoulder comfortingly as Mason walked away. She might not care for Seth all that much anymore, but she cared about her girlfriend’s feelings, and didn’t like to see her hurting.
“It’ll be ok,” she tried to comfort Becca.
Becca just took a deep breath, sighed, took Anika’s hand in hers, and led the way down the hall toward their next class.
Seth walked away simmering. The last thing he wanted to deal with was Becca butting into his life. It felt like the closer his friend got to Anika the farther she’d drifted from him in the last few months. Intellectually, he acknowledged that he wasn’t pulling his weight in the friendship, but coupled with everything else it still felt like she was jumping ship with everyone else.
<Stop stepping on my dick.> He mentally mumbled as he traversed the corridors to his next class.
He wasn’t looking forward to it. With everything that had happened he hadn’t done his assignment. He wouldn’t get yelled at. That’s not how Professor Livingston worked, but she would give him twice as much work next time. She’d keep piling it on until he either caught up or quit because that was how real life was. The shit didn’t stop flowing because you were having a bad day.
<At least Mason was cool about it.> The strongman had sat down next to him in class, asked if everything was ok, accepted his answer, and then left the topic alone.
They’d talked about more important things. Like the upcoming funeral for Mr. Morningstar – the Dean would be giving out more information soon if anyone wanted to attend. They’d keep a low profile and not tip everyone off that future Heroes were in the house, but a lot of the students still wanted to show their respect for the dead leader.
Seth wasn’t sure if he was going or not. What was he going to say? <Sorry that my ex kicked your ass and shot you in the fucking face.> There wasn’t really any good way to think about it, and thinking about it sent the dagger of pain into his heart again.
He was angry. He was so monumentally pissed off, and it had nothing to do with Becca. It was the scalding sting of betrayal that bubbled into rage. Lilly hadn’t just broken her promise to him, but she hadn’t even lasted a day, <and it was on national TV!> He felt his temper start to spike so he took some deep breaths and thought about something else. It was tough. There wasn’t much else on his mind today.
“Mr. Abney.” Dean Ditmar appeared out of nowhere. It made Seth jump until he noticed that they’d just passed a t-intersection and the Dean merely veered to his side. “If you would follow me please.”
The Dean’s tone was polite but firm, which meant this shouldn’t be mistaken for anything less than an order. Seth was going with the Dean whether he liked it or not.
“Sure.” Seth tried not to let his unease creep into his voice, but it was hard not to. Since the Dean didn’t directly teach them anymore, a trip to his office was never a good sign. It felt like he was being called to the Headmaster’s office for sneaking into the girls’ dormitory.
“Please sit.” Nothing in the office had changed from the last time Seth had been in it, but this time it was just the two of them. “Would you like coffee, soda or water?” The Dean offered.
The caffeine from the coffee could have helped with the perpetual hangover Seth seemed to be dealing with during the weekdays, but he didn’t want to be any more dehydrated than he was before team practice later.
The Dean dutifully handed him a chilled bottle from a mini-fridge before taking a seat behind his desk. There were stacks of paper nearly a foot tall waiting for him to review, but he placed them aside to look directly at Seth. He did pull out one folder and set it between them.
“Seth,” he began gravely, “I’ve been forwarded the police report and charges against you from the Orlando PD.”
“That was fast,” the words slipped out before Seth could stop them. “I mean…I’m surprised they are that concerned about a little misunderstanding. I’m taking care of the issue,” he attempted to recover.
“I’m well aware of your lawyer’s efforts and the agreement reached with the victim,” the way the Dean said victim didn’t bode well for the rest of the conversation. “But it’s not the outcome I’m worried about. It’s why it happened in the first place.”
“I honestly don’t know.” Seth replied truthfully. “One second I was on the couch watching the TV, and the next I was in the hallway and the guy was on the ground in front of me. I smelled smoke, picked him up, and ran for the exit.”
“Those instincts to save the man were good, but he wouldn’t have needed saving in the first place if you hadn’t beaten him.” The Dean’s eyes were hard and locked on Seth when the click of the door opening behind them broke the tense moment.
“Professor Livingston.” The Dean smiled as he broke eye contact. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”
“Of course,” the Focus Professor looked tired but she didn’t act that way. “What can I do?”
“With Mr. Abney’s consent I would like you to search his mind for the missing pieces of his memory. As a Super, our greatest talent of all is the ability to control our powers. That is what separates us from the Powereds, and what allows us to be the Heroes society needs to protect the innocent. We need to figure out why and how you lost control.” It was a logical and straightforward request, but it immediately set off alarm bells in Seth’s mind.
Professor Livingston must have felt something, because she turned to look at him with a frown.
“No need to read my mind.” Seth shrugged and tried to play it all off like it was nothing. “I was pissed about Liz,” he was careful to use her old name, “and I was pissed about everything that happened. I just lost control and lashed out. There’s nothing more to it.”
He didn’t think they’d buy it, and he was right.
“I’d still like Professor Livingston to take a look,” the Dean insisted.
“I’d rather not.” Seth committed to his refusal. There was too much shit in his mind that could get him in even deeper shit. He couldn’t risk it.
“No.” Seth said a little more forcefully. “You need my consent to fumble about in my head and I’m not giving it to you. Do I need to call my lawyer?”
The Dean sat back and regarded Seth with steady eyes. “That will not be necessary, Seth.” The use of his first name should have been the first warning side. “But until we have a better idea of the cause and effect that triggered this outburst, I cannot allow you to continue to train with your fellow classmates. Until the HCP’s investigation is concluded you will be put on probation.”
<What the fuck does that mean?!>
“You will continue to train on your own, and have complete access to HCP facilities. You will continue to attend class, but any exercises that involve the use of your ability will not be allowed unless you are alone and an instructor is present.”
“How am I supposed to participate in the team events?”
“You will not.” The response cut Seth to the bone. “My primary responsibility is the safety of this school and its students. Until we know for certain what happened I will not put them or this facility in danger. You are very powerful, Seth, and you could do a lot of damage if you lose control like that again.”
<The fucker is railroading me. He’s benching me until he gets someone to root around in my head.> Seth saw what was happening, and he had begrudging respect for the Dean. <He even played the safety of the students card.> After the attack on Lander no lawyer was going to try and fight that type of injunction. The Dean had successfully maneuvered Seth into a corner, and for him there was only one option.
“Fine.” Seth agreed and got to his feet. “May I go? I’m late for class.” Since it was Professor Livingston’s class, it wasn’t a big deal.
“One last thing.” The Dean held up his hand to forestall Seth getting up and storming out. “Any violation of this probation will result in you being expelled from the HCP. Your memory will be wiped and you will more than likely be asked to leave West Private University. Am I clear?”
“Crystal,” Seth replied as he got to his feet. “Should I tell the class you’ll be a little late?” He asked Professor Livingston since she wasn’t moving to leave.
“Tell them I’ll be there in a minute.” She continued to study him, but there wasn’t any tingling sensation in his mind that said she was violating the law by digging for information without his consent.
“Ok.” He opened the door, and put something solid between himself and the two older Supers.
<Not sure how this day could get any worse?>
A few hours later he’d figure out it could when he got back above ground, checked his phone, and saw he had a voicemail from a blocked number. The only person who’d be calling him from a blocked number was a certain teleporter who he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to talk to again. Even if he wanted to it would have to wait. His DVA tail was waiting for him in the lobby of the student’s center. He didn’t have a home to go home to since the fire damage was still being repaired, so he called an Uber and headed to a hotel. He didn’t feel like crashing on anybody’s sofa tonight.
If you like my writing can pick up The Harbinger Tales and Two Worlds: Rags & Riches. They’re on sale and you can get The Harbinger Tales for free on Kindle Unlimited. Book 2 of The Harbinger Tales should be back from the editor soon, and i hope to have it out in around a month. More details to come.
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