Chapter – XXXV
It was Thursday afternoon and Danielle was making a half-hearted attempt at studying for her American History midterm after the weekend. It was a “Gen Ed” class that colleges insisted freshmen take, the kind that focused on names and dates, rather than the story of history. And it was that dry approach to plastering over the cracks in the average freshman’s education while most of them went on to other majors that made grinding through the textbook so hard for Danielle.
After her parents passed away, Danielle was raised by her grandfather, and the veteran turned senator had a profound respect for history. It was something he passed on to Danielle, taking her to historic sites and museums whenever he had the chance. As a result, she couldn’t help but find this bland high school like approach to history difficult to stomach, but the teacher was adamant that getting the facts right was the most important part. It was an on-line test and they could use their books, but the strict time limit made looking things up a chancy proposition. So she tried to keep her mind on studying.
But it kept wandering back to tomorrow’s match between Max and John. Danielle had gotten pretty friendly with Tom and his friends since the night of the party. She couldn’t say that she was really close with any of them yet; the truth about how she came to be at Sizemore was a pretty big hurdle, and she wasn’t comfortable extending that trust yet. She wasn’t exactly comfortable with it herself yet. Nothing major had happened since they set the date for the match, although the two had avoided each other in their HCP classes. In gym they had orbited each other like two big dogs who weren’t yet if they were going to fight or not. Predictably, John had postured and claimed to be selling tickets to the match, but hadn’t made any moves toward Max. It helped that Erik’s massive presence was a constant deterrent to any extra-curricular activities.
For his part, Max wasn’t doing much. If anything, he was quieter than usual, apparently throwing his full focus
So when someone knocked on her door, Danielle had to hold back a sigh of relief as she marked her place in the damnable textbook before getting up to see who was visiting her.
Opening the door she found Coach Helen standing in the hall on the other side. Quickly glancing down at her phone to check the time, Danielle said “Coach Helen! What are you doing here? Training isn’t for half an hour.”
Helen let first part of Danielle’s greeting slide. She was jumpy and didn’t always think things through when she was surprised. She was getting better about it as she got more comfortable in her situation, but the people who spent the most time around her had learned to accommodate it.
“I thought we’d do today’s training here, and get started a little early.” Helen said, adding “ You’re not doing anything important, are you?”
“Nope! No, no!” Danielle quickly answered, seizing on the opportunity to push her studying off until some later time. “Please, come in.” She said, moving aside to allow the professor into the room. She walked over to the desk and set the bag she had been carrying down.
“What’s that?” she asked, looking curiously at the bag.
“A little training aid. Dean Smith told me what you said to him after class, and we agreed that maybe you’re actually trying too hard, putting too much stress on yourself. So I decided to come over here, where you’ll be more comfortable. And also try something else to help you relax.” As she said that, she reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of amber liquid and a pair of glasses.
“Bourbon.” Coach Helen answered the unasked question.
“But… Is that legal?” Danielle asked
“Yes and no. Ordinarily it would be considered contributing to the delinquency of a minor and I’d probably lose my job if anyone important found out. However, there are a lot of things we do here that aren’t strictly legal for normal college students. Normal classes don’t usually carry the risk of compound fractures,” she said, then added after a beat “although a Poli-sci class might. But also, your own legal status is a bit sticky. You were publically declared dead in the hospital attack, and your new body is a whole different can of worms.”
After getting setting the contents of the bag on the desk, Coach Helen motioned for Danielle to sit and poured her two fingers worth in one of the glasses. The young woman accepted it and sniffed at it hesitantly, her nose wrinkling at the smell.
“Go on, drink.” she said, then decided to lead by example and raised the glass in a small toast before taking a sip. Danielle followed suite, blinking her eyes in surprise at the taste and feel of the bourbon sliding down her throat.
“First time you’ve ever had hard liquor, I take it? It’s actually pretty good stuff, nice and smoothe.” Coach Helen said with a small laugh at her reaction, then added “He doesn’t know it yet, but Coach Alex contributed to your training. He won’t be happy when he sees the I.O.U. I left for him, but that’s not your problem.”
Danielle blinked a few times, took another sip and asked “This is supposed to be smoothe?”
“How about some ice?” Helen asked, and held her hand out, palm up. As Danielle watched, she felt a small flash of heat brush against her and a piece of ice the shape of a large snowflake formed in her palm which she gently dropped the ice in Danielle’s drink.
Absent mindedly swirling the drink in her glass Danielle asked “I’m sorry if this is rude, but how did you learn how to do that? Did you always know how?”
“No, every super has to learn for themselves what they can do and how their power can be used. When I was a little girl, I could make water go where I wanted, but that was about it.”
“So how did you learn to make ice and stuff?”
“That…” Helen’s eyes focused off somewhere in the middle distance before a laugh escaped her lips “That isn’t something I’ve thought about in a while. It’s actually kinda stupid.” She took a sip of her drink, motioning for Danielle to do so as well. After she took a drink herself, Helen continued “When I was a girl I could move water around pretty easily. Silly things like making it run up-hill, popping boys’ water balloons in their hands, making it jump from cup to cup. It’s probably pretty amazing if you really think about it, but to me it wasn’t any big deal. It was enough to get me in the HCP, but I was getting my ass handed to me in the combat trials. During winter break my second year we took a trip up to a ski resort on one of the mountains upstate. Anyway, some drunk guys ambushed two of us in the parking lot and started chucking snowballs at us. I think they were hoping we would be so impressed that we’d jump in bed or something. But on reflex I melted the snowballs in mid-air.” Helen stopped and took another sip of her drink, and then refilled Danielle’s glass.
“You should have seen the looks on those asshole’s faces when I returned the favor” she said with a laugh. “But it took me forever to learn how to do it on my own though. I had to learn how water behaved, how to visualize the molecules slowing down and crystallizing. And that, Danielle, is what we have to figure out with you. We know you can do it, we just have to figure out the mechanism.”
“Oh. Okay, I guess. I just have one question… If you were getting your butt kicked so bad in the ranking trials, how did you manage to get to second year?” Danielle was obviously a novice drinker and made no attempt to pace herself. She was already starting to show the signs of a buzz setting in. In fact, if anything, it was coming on a little fast. Helen made a mental note to mention it to Dr. Miles.
“Oh, that.” Helen answered with a small smirk “we weren’t allowed to bring any weapons or containers into the cells, just like the first day, so I just jumped in the shower before my match and went in soaking wet. Do you know how many pounds of water your uniform and hair can soak up? Makes a nifty hammer in a pinch.”
“So… So you hit them with your uniform?” Danielle asked, wide-eyed.
“What!? No! I pulled the water out and threw it at the other girls as hard as I could. You hit water going fast enough, it’s like hitting concrete. I just reversed it” She answered.
“Oohh” Danielle said, exaggerating the word. “I was picturing your uniform flying off and hitting people in the face.”
“Okay, I think that’s enough booze for now.” Helen said leaning forward and taking Danielle’s glass, which had drained even faster the second time around. “Now it’s your turn. When you blocked Johnson’s snot rocket, what were you thinking?”
“I don’t think I was thinking of anything.” Danielle said “I didn’t want it to hit me in the face, and I just knew my hand would stop it.”
“Okay, here’s what I want you to do, close your eyes, and hold your hand up.” Helen said, “Concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth. Breathe in, breathe out. Okay, now I want you to picture your hand. Your skin, bones, muscles, blood vessels, okay?”
“Okay, I think got it.” Danielle said.
“Now I want you picture the nano-bots that make them up and picture them rearranging into a new shape.” Helen said, her voice calm yet insistent. “Don’t think, know, that this is what your hand should be.”
As she watched, Danielle’s hand shifted from a normal, if pale, color to a lustrous chrome. Then her fingers melted together, forming into a ball roughly the size of Danielle’s clenched fist. Slowly at first, a rough approximation of the snowflake Helen had produced earlier took shape. Before long Helen could feel a wide grin stretching her face. She was one of the rare people who loved combat, testing herself against some of the most powerful supers in the world, and stopping the most sadistic. But the thrill of battle simply couldn’t compare to the deep satisfaction she got when a student made a landmark achievement.
“Danielle, open your eyes.” She said softly, the glowing pride she felt highlighting the words.
The young woman’s eyes opened, and she immediately squealed like a much younger girl on Christmas morning. “Ohmygod!Ohmygod!Ohmygod! I did it! I really did it! I really have powers!” She turned her wrist, fascinated as the pale skin transitioned to the almost liquid chrome of the giant-sized snowflake, it’s facets catching and reflecting the room.
“Congratulations Dani!” Helen said. “I think we might have figured this out.”
“Yes ma’am!” Danielle said, her voice bubbling with excitement. Then her face fell as a thought belatedly wormed its way through the elation and alcohol. “How do I change my hand back?”
“Good question.” Helen replied, thinking furiously. “Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. again. Now think about your hand, and clear your mind. Just relax and let things go back to how they should be.” Though she would never admit it, she was relieved to see the snowflake on the end of Danielle’s arm flow back into a ball and reform back into a perfectly normal appearing hand. When she opened her eyes, Danielle breathed a sigh of relief.
“Now that we know you can do it consciously, I want you to practice every day.” Helen said “What I want you to practice before bed every night. Just like we did today, take your time, relax and clear your mind, then focus on believing what should happen. It might not happen right away every time, and we’ll keep meeting in my office once a week, understood?”
“Yes ma’am” Danielle repeated, nodding crisply.
“Good, now come on, let’s get some food and water in you. I can’t have a student wandering around here drunk, and you don’t want to be hungover tomorrow.”