Chapter – XXIV
“Have you found anything yet?” Tom asked Max.
After finishing up whatever classes they had in the afternoon, the group of friends had scattered around Sizemore Tech’s campus looking for some sign of a party. It was a delicate line for them to walk. On one hand they were looking for a party that would be fun enough to lift Cat’s spirits, but on the other hand they had to find a party that was safe enough to suit Peter.
“No, I didn’t see any fliers or anything” Max answered. Having been an outcast in a small town, Max didn’t really have much of a social life or the related skills. So Tom and Robin had simply sent him to the student center in the vain hope that somebody would have bothered with actually putting a sign or flier up to advertise a party.
Robin had gone to the student center as well, but she had opted to whip out her phone, take advantge of the free wi-fi, and scour social media She had found some parties being hosted by a couple of the frats. which had been tempting. However, a quick word to a sophomore sitting close bye revealed that they were the kind ofparties that revolved around getting pledges and freshmen girls drunk and naked.
While Robin thought that Cat might enjoy seeing Tom, Max, and her brother shitfaced, there was no way that Robin was going to put her friend in position to be taken advantage of by some frat douche-nozzle. So she texted Tom to let him know that she had struck out so far.
For Tom’s part, he had done what he does best. Talked a lot, said little, and paid attention. He had learned a long time ago that people seldom pay attention to short guys, and had learned far more than people thought. He had heard a lot about plans to go out to bars that night, and a couple humorously fragmented memories from Thirsty Thursday the night before.
“Yeah, me neither” Tom said “a lot of people are going out tonight, but it sounds like it’s all to bars, and we don’t have fake ID’s”
“That’s probably for the best.” Max said “What kind of heroes in training would we be if we started breaking the law as soon as we got on campus?”
Drunk, happy, and probably laid ones Tom thought to himself, though he only responded with a half-hearted shrug. “Maybe Erik is having better luck with the bros?”
Even though he wasn’t, strictly speaking, a meathead, Erik had been nominated to be the one to head to the campus gym to see if any of the guys getting their swole on before going out knew of any parties. Despite his affable good nature, Erik’s already imposing physique would fit in and command the kind of respect in a gym that Tom’s height or Max and Robin’s slightly pudgy physiques simply wouldn’t.
However, they hadn’t heard back from him yet, but the way the search was going, Tom wasn’t holding out much hope. He pretty much resigned himself to simply hoping that Erik just wouldn’t get too excited and throw a dumbbell through the roof, or whatever it was super-strong guys did in the gym. Fitting in with all the gym rats and bros was one thing, getting them kicked out of the program was quite another.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” a voice asked from behind them.
“Oh, hey Mike.” Max said, turning to see their RA walking up the tower with a backpack slung over one shoulder. “Peter’s sister, Catherine… She had a bad day today. We thought we’d try to find a party to try and cheer her up.”
“I heard about that.” Mike said “It must have been some show if Professor Marshall ended class early so you can go watch. Why does she need cheering up?”
“We haven’t gotten to talk to her yet, but we’ve seen her lose when we’re gaming. And well, she doesn’t take it very well. She needs to keep extra controlers on hand.”
Mike had no choice but to chuckle at the the thought of any sibling of Peter’s smashing a controler. Peter was so quiet and reserved, the image of the sister he was so close to destroying something like a video game controler in a temper tantrum was just surreal.
“I hate to break it to you, but getting your ass kicked is pretty much to be expected around here. Everybody loses eventually, and usually pretty often. She’s going to have to learn how to take it in stride.” Or she won’t last the year. Mike finished to himself. No point in adding insult to injury. He also decided to not mention that as the sophomore class’ number one ranked fighter, he was much less acustomed to losing than his opponents. But he was still at least familiar with the conecpt.
“You don’t have to tell me that, I’ve been in the infirmary more than anyone else.”
“Yep, Max takes losing to an art form… What do you guys say we take this upstairs, away from prying ears?”
“Good point” Mike said, and the three went inside.
“See you guys in a bit” Max said as he disappeared into the stairwell.
“I don’t know if I should be asking an authority figure this,” Tom said to Mike once the two were in the elevator “Do you know of any parties going on this weeked?”
Mike pursed his lips and was thoughtful for a long minute. He knew exactly what the freshmen were going through. Their first time away from home and they were thrown into an alien world and pitted against each other in combat, then tortured in gym class. But all that seaparated them from their peers in the above-ground university. Mike keenly remembered how he and his class struggled to forge friendships amongst themselves. It was tough to make friends with people you were in direct competition with, people who might be beating you to a bloody pulp later that day.
But at least they all had something in common. It was damn near impossible for HCP students to maintain normal social lives outside of the Program.
Mike probably shouldn’t do what he was about to do, but what the hell?
“As it so happens, a couple friends from my class got a place just off campus. We were going to have a housewarming party this weekend. I’ll make a couple calls and see if I can bring you guys. No promises though, it’s not up to me.”
“Awesome! Thanks! If you can’t get us in, don’t worry about it. We’ll just do something around the dorm, but getting out and meeting other people in the HCP would be great. I think it’s just what Cat needs.”
“Don’t thank me yet. Like I said, I’ve got a couple calls to make first, but I’ll let you know.”
The elevator door opened and the two young supers proceeded to their rooms. They both had calls to make and texts to send.
Helen had gone back to her own office after talking to Alex. She wanted to do a preliminary review of the tape from the day’s fight and she still had to take some meetings with students from the other three years. She had just finished up her last scheduled meeting for the day and was settling in to watch the tape when there was a gentle, but solid, knock on her office door.
Helen wasn’t expecting any visitors, the other professors would call first and all the students would either back above ground or squeezing in some pre-dinner training. So when she opened the door, she did so in such a way that her other hand was hidden from view.
Old habits died hard.
“I’m sorry Coach Helen, did I come at a bad time?” Danielle said from the other side.
“No, I’m sorry. I just wasn’t expecting any more company today.” Helen said, her weapon sublimating unseen back into the air. “Please come in.”
With that she turned to head back to her desk. Danielle’s visit wasn’t exactly a surprise. The young woman had dropped by her office a couple times after their meeting in the cafeteria. Helen had been an only child and never had the time, or the courage, to try to have a family. So having Danielle stop by every once in a while for advice or just to talk was surprisingly not horrible.
“So, what’s on your mind?” Helen asked. She was pretty sure that Danielle hadn’t just dropped bye to shoot the shit.
“I was wondering how Cat was doing.” Danielle said. “She’s nice and I’m really hoping that she’s okay. I just can’t go in the infirmary to check on her.”
“Catherine is fine. Doctor Miles released her about an hour ago, after she and her brother both got some rest. But I think we both know that that isn’t the real reason why you’re here. What’s really on your mind.?”
“Well…” She started, obviously uncomfortable with what she was about to ask. “I was just wondering, do you think Dean Smith would let me start going above ground?”
“What brings this on? Is it that Porter boy?” Helen asked, her tone light.
“No! Well, yes. Sorta. I don’t know…” Danielle said, obviously flustered. “It’s just… I heard him and his friends talking about going out tonight and trying to find a party to cheer up. I was just wondering why I can’t go out too.”
A soft, sad, smile came unbidden Helen’s face. “Dean Smith just wants to play it safe. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“I know, I know… I guess I’m just getting lonely, or restless or something. I really appreciate everything you’ve all done for me. It just doesn’t feel fair that I can’t have any fun.”
Helen wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with this. She had always been content to train. But then, she had grown up with her powers and made the decision that she wanted to be a hero long before she enrolled in the HCP.
“If you want, I’ll set you up so you can run through some obstical courses tomorrow.” Coache Helen offered.
“I guess. I’ll stop bye tomorrow after breakfast.” Danielle’s said, the wind seemingly falling out of her sails with a sigh.
Danielle left Coach Helen’s office and walked down the hall to head back to her room. A wild thought danced through her head and she reached into the pocket of her uniorm pants and drew out her cell phone. She contemplated the sleek glass and metal device in her hand for a moment before turning the screen on and slecting one of the few names in her phone book.
After a few rings she said “Hey, Tom? It’s Danielle. I heard you guys were looking to go out this weekend. Have you found anything? … Really!? … Do you think they’d mind if I tagged along? … Would you mind stoppind down here quick tomorrow morning? Great! I’ll see you then.”
Danielle ended the call and slipped the phone back into her pocket. What was college for except making a couple bad decisions? Life owed her more than a couple.