Chapter – XIV
When Dean Smith let the class out, some of the brighter students wondered what the next shoe to fall would be. But was the minority of the class, most were just happy to have escaped their first HCP class without having to do any work and only a simple question for home work. Most of those same students were remembering physical education in their various high schools and found themselves looking to their first HCP Gym class.
Perhaps it was fate, or more likely a bit of covert social engineering by the HCP staff, that saw Tom Porter, one of the more extroverted freshmen, exit the lecture hall and walk the corridors to the gymnasium next to Danielle Malone.
“Hi, Danielle, right?” he said, sticking his hand out to the girl walking quietly alone in the crowd. Tom wasn’t expecting much, just a return of his greeting and maybe a shake of his hand. What he got, however was a sharp yelp of surprise and a reflexive forearm to his ribs that felt like he got hit with a baseball bat.
“Oh my God!” Danielle yelped “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to do that, you surprised me! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Tom weezed, holding his aching side. Nothing was broken, but he was expecting a lovely bruise in the morning. “Is that how you normally say hello?”
“Oh no, no! I’m so, so sorry. I guess I’m just a bit on edge.” She responded.
“It’s alright, I think.” Tom just hoped they wouldn’t have to do too much heavy breathing in gym. “I’m Tom, by the way.”
“Hi, I’m Danielle.” She said with a small, still embarrassed, smile and took the offered hand. Her grip was surprisingly firm, and her hand was definitely cool.
“So, Dean Smith says you’re auditing the HCP? I didn’t even know that was possible.”
“It normally isn’t, but I was…” Her voice trailed off for a second or two before continuing “I had an accident over the summer, and everybody wanted to make sure I’m really okay and kinda ease me in.”
Tom was sorely tempted to ask what kind of accident it was that could have let her get into the notoriously selective HCP, but keep her out of combat, but something in her demeanor told him he shouldn’t broach the subject. Instead he just said “Oh, okay. That makes sense. Besides, we have our whole college careers ahead of us to take stupid risks.”
It wasn’t too far to the gym, and Tom could already hear the coaches shouting at the freshmen. “But hey,” Tom said “if you need anything, just let me know. And if you want to hang out, my roommates are pretty cool.”
“Thanks! Get me your number after class.” She said.
This was Alex Marshall’s favorite day of the year. Seeing better than sixty fresh-faced young supers, many of whom were convinced of their own invincibility, come trotting in into the gym was like seeing Santa wiggle his fat ass down the chimney and personally give you your presents on Christmas morning. And Coach Marshall just couldn’t wait to tear the wrapping of each and every one of them and find out what he had gotten this year.
He allowed himself one last, brief, smile and contented sigh before setting to the task of building a foundation that would let some of these freshmen get something out of their HCP careers. Not to mention hopefully keep the double-handful that would ultimately graduate from getting themselves killed.
And with that thought, he put on his game face and set to work.
“MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! Let’s go! Line up, feet on the marks on the floor!” Coach Marshall’s strident bellows echoed through the gym. Along the line Coach Helen was roughly jostling the students into position.
Before long the mass of confused freshmen was neatly lined up in a two perpendicular rows, one for the boys, the other for the girls. Pacing between the lines, Coach Alex calmly assessed this year’s crop of students. “Well, since you were all kind enough to join us, allow me to be the first to welcome you to your very first PE class.”
“Eyes front!” Coach Helen, who was prowling around the edges, barked at the tattooed Christina Ross. She rolled here eyes with a half sneer, but brought her gaze back to Coach Alex.
“Since the girls haven’t met me yet, my name is Alex Marshall. You will call me Coach Alex.” As he finished his introduction, Coach Helen arrived at his side. This was definitely not their first year making this speech, and they had their timing down.
“And for the young men, I am Coach Helen.” The shorter pale-haired woman announced. “While Coach Alex will be taking care of the boys, I will be taking the girls through their PE classes.”
“I’m sure you are all wondering how you did in your combat rankings.” Coach Alex said, resuming his part of the introductions “Want to know how I’m sure? Easy, it’s the same damn thing every year. Well, if you will look up at the wall over there, you will see the rankings.” Coach Alex pointed up at a large digital scoreboard hanging on one wall of the gym.
I’m dead last? Max asked himself There has to be some mistake. How can I be behind Peter when he gave up? I’ll have to ask Coach Alex about that after class.
“These rankings will become very important for all of you.” Rather than Coach Alex, it was Coach Helen. “More importantly than letting you know how much ass you can kick in relation to your classmates, your ranking and performance will determine whether you will take Close Combat, taught by Coach Alex, or will join me for Alternative Training.”
“A-K-A, the pussy squad” Christina said in a stage whisper.
“Ross! Drop and give me 50! NOW!” Coach Alex bellowed. The girl was talented, but he did not envy Helen having to deal with her every day.
“As I was saying,” Coach Helen continued “the top five in combat ranking for each sex will be automatically enrolled in close combat, while the bottom five will be automatically enrolled in alternative training. Also, those of you who can’t cut it, will be cut from the program.” Coach Helen let that last hang in the air. Around her students nearly gave themselves whiplash as they looked from her to the rankings and back again. Breaths were sucked in and eyes widened as students experienced their first taste of fear. That wasn’t her concern though, Dean Smith would be the one to walk them through the realities of life in the HCP on Monday.
“I’m sure some of you are wondering how you can raise your combat ranks before the semester break.” Coach Alex said, once again taking over. “Well, you’re in luck. You are all entitled to challenge students of your sex for their ranking spot. You can only challenge other students within three of their own ranking. Don’t get too excited though, nobody below the top five can issue an official ranking challenge to any student in the top five. I should also mention that fighting in challenge matches does figure in your final grades.”
Some of the students once again looked up the board, sizing up their own ranking and weighing their options for matches. About this time, Christina had finished her push-ups and stood back up.
“But that’s all for another day. Now you get to enjoy your first HCP workout. Don’t worry kiddies, it won’t be anything to extreme. Just a little calisthenics.” Coach Alex couldn’t help the Cheshire grin from spreading over his face.
Robin had never run so much in her entire life. Possibly put together. If any student thought that Coach Helen would be any nicer than Coach Alex, that notion was quickly corrected. Their warm-up was a one-mile jog around the quarter mile track that went around the edge of the gym, and it only got worse from there. After the jog, they ran sprints, the students lining up four at a time and sent racing down the track. Between the sprints, rather than being allowed to rest, they did sit-ups, push-ups, jumping squats, and something called a ‘burpee’ that Coach Helen must have read about in a medieval torture manual.
They were allowed breaks, short things where the torturees tried to down cups of cool water while gasping for breath. They coaches never let their charges stop moving long enough to actually rest or recover. Just long enough for their heavy limbs to feel heavier. And every time they stopped for water, the gym would change. Agility drills, rings, cargo nets, and all manner of obstacles appeared out of shifting sections in the floor while the students were given a brief respite.
By the time Coach Helen blew her whistle twice and ordered the students to take two laps around the track at a walk as a cool down, an exhausted Robin was trying to decide if her regenerative abilities were a blessing for letting her get through the workout, or a curse for not letting her pass out like some students she saw.
“Congratulations. You weren’t as pathetic as you could have been.” Coach Helen said as she walked between exhausted girls stretching on the gym floor. And it was true, too. Only a few students were exhausted to the point where they couldn’t continue. She saw several drop from Alex’s group as well. Doubtless they would be dropping out of the HCP. “After you get finished stretching, pick yourselves up off the floor and hit the showers. And enjoy your weekend. I’m expecting to see you all for another little workout right after Dean Smith’s class on Monday.”
It was a testament to what the students had just endured that none of them, not even Christina Ross, could utter more than a groan at the thought of having to go through it all over again.