Chapter Nine – Friday
It was the night after the ranking matches. In the girls’ common room laughter sounded, most of the dorm had turned out to see how the Lower Sixth matches had gone, both here at St M’s and Brashmoore and up North within the other HCPs. Outside it was dark, the sun having set hours ago and the autumn chill was starting to set in.
“And that concludes the third round matches ladies and gentleman! We’ve seen the fighters, we’ve seen the thinkers, but what about the winners? Don’t we want to see them too?”
On screen stood the ever smiling and enigmatic presenter Felix O’Reilly. He was wearing a casual navy blue suit and black leather shoes that shined almost as brightly as his whitened smile. His usual audience was briefly flashed across the TV to show their loud cheering and the few banners already proclaiming people’s favourites.
Bf6 for the WIN one such banner read whilst another a few rows over was waved proudly declaring its owners love for ‘F18’.
The camera returned to look at Felix who was now seated on a large red sofa. Opposite him sat two people, a well-dressed looking woman in a cream suit and heels and a larger gentleman wearing jeans and sneakers.
“Well viewers, we would love to show off this year’s final combat battles, but there’s a slight problem! All but one of those battles involved anonymous students!” Felix’s declaration was met by groans from the audience. In the large common room Anya sat in, all the students glanced towards the corner of the room occupied solely by Amelia Edwards, top ranked student of the Southern HCP.
“I know, I know,” sympathised the TV show host. “We were all waiting to see who would come out on top. But this just confirms that there have to be some real powerhouses amongst these kids this year! All but the final match at Edinburgh College are currently classified and, according to the publically released rankings, almost every top spot has been taken by an anon! This could be the most exciting year group since Highlander graduated in 1994!”
The grumblings and mutterings from the audience were quickly replaced by more energetic cheers at this pronouncement. Everyone knew Highlander, one of the most prolific Heroes in the UK, whose main jurisdiction was in Glasgow. He’d graduated from Edinburgh College an anonymous student who’d never been knocked from the top spot. He became one of the UK’s most loved Hero’s after The Union Jack.
“And now, without much further ado, I give you the final ranking match for the top spot at Edinburgh College!”
The cheers from the speakers faded as the view cut to a familiar looking plain white room. All HCP’s used standardised combat cells made from Tech Super devised reinforced materials. Anya’s mother had told her stories of how, before the HCPs started earning the revenue they were now, these matches were held in underground bunkers left over from WWI and II. The schools had needed areas to contain the young Supers, ones that could stand up to the punishment they’d receive from the would-be Heroes in training.
In the blank room stood a teenaged boy and girl. Anya recalled it was only at St Mary’s and Brashmoore that students were segregated by gender for first year rankings and regular classes. The boy had the symbols ‘E7’ floating above his head, whilst the girl had ‘E22’, Edinburgh students 7 and 22. The labels didn’t show gender like they would for a student at St Mary’s. Both students wore the dark blue uniforms of their school, a single white stripe on their collar denoting their year group. All three HCPs used a similar system, though Fairford Academy Students wore dark green and Anya’s own work out uniform was black. The uniforms were another Tech genius invention, allowing them to survive most things short of disintegration or molten lava.
On the screen, Anya noted how both the students held themselves in ready stances, suggesting they’d both had some form of martial arts training. Her thoughts were derailed as a buzzer sounded and both teens charged towards the other. As he ran the boy’s appearance changed, his small stature quickly growing until he towered above his opponent. The boy’s skin had turned a dark grey and from the appearance of a large spiked tail, Anya guessed he’d developed scales. The jet of fire he released seemed rather showy though.
The other combatant, who’d been shown more frequently in the recaps than her opponent, Anya knew was a powerful advanced mind whose preferred method of fighting, whilst unconventional for someone with such strong telekinesis, certainly appeared to be effective. Rather than fire telekinetic blasts at her opponent from a safe distance, she used her ability to greatly enhance the force of the kicks and punches she delivered.
The two fighters began trading blows, the reptilian boy’s scaly armour absorbing most of the telekinetic’s blows, whilst the advanced mind pulled of a series of reckless attacks and flawless dodges no doubt taking full advantage of her telepathy. Anya watched both students and quickly came to the conclusion that despite the martial arts training both had received, the girl didn’t really need her telepathy to block her opponent’s sloppy moves.
The minutes ticked by, the older students murmuring in groups about how the top ranked students were stacking up to their own year group. On screen the fight dragged on, neither opponent gaining much ground. The boy quickly realised he couldn’t safely use his fiery breath at such close range whilst the girl’s own blows just weren’t strong enough to break the scaly hide.
E22, having concluded that, unless she changed tactics fast, the battle would simply become a test of stamina, jumped back away from her opponent. From the angle of the camera, Anya couldn’t see her expression, but the sudden shimmering wave of force that blew the giant reptile back into the reinforced concrete wall seemed to have taken a lot out of the smaller girl. She was down on one knee breathing heavily, her light, honey coloured hair, slick with perspiration.
There was a tense silence as the room waited to see if the boy would manage to get back up. In the top left hand corner of the screen a small counter began clicking down from 10 showing how long until the boy was ruled as being unconscious.
From where the boy had been blasted into the wall, the dust started to clear.
Through the haze they could see the boy’s prone form, still in its larger shifted state.
Movement. The boy struggled up from the floor, leaning heavily against the shattered concrete.
2. The timer froze then disappeared.
The telekinetic, seeing her all-out blitz hadn’t worked shakily got to her own feet. One of the other Lower Sixth girls in the room with Anya whispered to her friend, “Why doesn’t she give up?”
Anya knew why. You don’t come this far just to give in. That was why her own final ranking match still rankled. Why couldn’t she remember what had happened? Why had she surrendered so quickly? She seen the time after and realised the match hadn’t lasted more than a minute. What had that other girl done to her? She became distracted once more, puzzling over and over again the events of her final match.
A sudden gasp from some of the rooms other occupants caused Anya to look up once more at the TV. The reptilian shifter was now pinned against the wall once more, though not by a telekinetic hold. It appeared that after the initial impact made by the shifter, some of the reinforcing steel beams within the wall had been warped or broken enough by the impact for the telekinetic to wrestle them free with her power. She now had them embedded in the concrete, sticking out from the wall like giant nails. Nails with which she was crucifying her opponent.
The shifter’s alien scream sent a shiver down Anya’s spine and several of the other girls flinched backwards at the sound of his pain. The reptile flailed against the spikes puncturing his flesh, but even if he’d been able to push himself forward off of them, the girl had used her power to bend the bloodied protruding ends to the sides, making it impossible for the shifter to tear himself free without essentially severing his limbs.
For several seconds, the common room was silent apart from the tortured screams of the boy on the screen. Anya seriously wondered how long he could last, why the staff hadn’t yet concluded the clearly finished match. Her rational mind knew that the match would go on until a combatant surrendered or fell unconscious, but the emotional side of her just wanted the shifter’s obvious suffering to be over.
After a few more agonising seconds the timer in the top of the screen reset to ten and began counting down, signalling that Edinburgh’s HCP staff clearly felt these circumstances warranted an exception. The time seemed to crawl by as the crucified boy continued to writhe and screech.
Finally, above the boy’s awful screams, a buzzer sounded, signalling the end of the match. The newly crowned winner made no move to free or help down her beaten opponent. Instead she turned to the camera, whose angle the audience was watching from, and grinned.
“Jesus H. Christ,” muttered an older student. “That girl is fucking twisted.”
Next to her another older girl nodded. From the two stipes on her collar, Anya observed that they were both Upper Sixth.
“She could have just knocked that boy out once she’d pinned him. Who the hell just leaves a person strung up like that?”
“Thank god our year’s not got any overly powerful psychos like that one.”
On screen the view had flicked away from the match recording to show the shows beaming host and his two guests once more.
“Well chaps,” he grinned, “Looks like Edinburgh’s got quite the powerhouse this year!” More cheers from the crowd, all of them happy to have their bloodlust finally sated.
“Now let’s ask tonight’s special guests for their opinions on this year’s initial matches. Tonight we have joining us the lovely Cherish Du’pree and Mr Ben Harris. Cherish owns and runs the company that handles all of the betting that takes place regarding how well these students perform whilst Ben is an ex-teacher from Fairford.
“Miss Du’pree, why don’t you start us with your company’s current stance on the state of this year’s Lower Sixth intake.”
The well-dressed woman on screen began babbling on about statistics and odds, but Anya tuned it out, instead getting up from her seat and heading to bed. School would start in earnest and she really didn’t want to be tired.
Friday morning dawned bright and early for Ash Lloyd, his body zinging from the excitement of knowing that the day had finally arrived. Rolling out of bed he quickly got himself ready for the day of lessons ahead. From his roommate’s bed, Ash heard muffled complaints about people with ‘no sense of what a decent time to get up in the morning was’. He chuckled. Even a grumpy Derek couldn’t dampen his spirits today.
Leaving the main dormitory building, Ash crunched his way up the yellow stone path to the refectory. The large white building looked out over the forest that covered a large portion of Brashmoore’s grounds. Early on they’d been warned not to go into the woods by both teasing older students, and, altogether more serious, teachers. Though nothing had been confirmed, Ash suspected the forest would be where some future test would be held.
Inside the warm building, Ash picked up a plate of cooked breakfast before making his way over to one of the few other occupied tables in the room.
“Morning Tom,” He greeted, smiling cheerfully at the shorter lad.
Tom nodded back, his eyes focused on the plate of bacon and eggs in front of him. Sitting on one of the empty plastic chairs, Ash joined him in focusing on the food and together the boys ate in silence. Ash would be the first to admit that, despite its less than stellar dinner options, the Brashmoore’s refectory sure knew how to deliver a full English.
Around them the room filled as more sleepy teenagers filed into the airy room. Slowly the sounds of knives and forks scraping on plates was drowned out by the chatter of several groups of boys. Eventually even Derek found his way into the room, grabbing a plate of hot food and making his way, stumbling, to where the other two boys sat.
“I can put up with the school work, I can put up with the awful dinners, and I can even put up with the coaches’ tortuous idea of a ‘workout’. What I can’t put up with is this god awful time they expect us to get up and out of bed for.” And with that summary of his current state of mind, Derek allowed his head to fall onto the table with a loud Thump.
“Well g’day to you too mate,” greeted Tom, his attempts to mimic Derek’s accent mangled to the point where it was unrecognisable.
A mumbled groan was all the response Derek gave the other boy and Ash chuckled at his friend’s reaction to an 8am start.
“It’s not that bad Derek,” Ash smiled. “Besides I don’t know why you guys aren’t more excited.”
Derek lifted his head a few inches off of the laminated top of the table to fix a bleary eye on Ash.
“Why,” he muttered, “would I possible be excited?”
“Well firstly, it is a Friday,” Ash pointed out.
“A statement negated by the fact we still have Gym tomorrow afternoon.”
“True,” Ash acquiesced, “But, today we can finally issue challenges.”
Tom blinked, sitting up a bit straighter.
“Blimey I’d forgotten that was today.”
Ash nodded his smile turning into a full on grin. Derek just groaned louder, banging his head once more onto the table.
“Alright kiddies!” Bellowed Coach Barkley, the pure volume of his words causing the few unfortunates near the front to flinch back. “Today’s the day we get to see which of you have the balls to take on your fellow students!”
Susanne Marsterson, grinning next to her fellow instructor, began reminding the students of the rules for challenging their fellows. She wondered which, if any, of them would actually put forward challenges and how many of those would actually be well thought out as opposed to reckless grabs for a higher ranking.
“And for those of you worrying that you won’t be able to advance by taking on your chums in single combat, we’re now taking this opportunity to tell you that, on October 30th you’ll have your first exam of the year. There will be a further two exams, one in February and the third, your final exam, in June. These exams will involve a little bit more than just you all whaling on each other.”
“Though don’t get us wrong,” cut in Coach Barkley, “There’s nothing more the public and us teachers love than seeing you beat the living shit out of each other.”
“Very true,” agreed Coach M, her smile ever so slightly more evil than before. “But these exams will involve a bit more than just physical violence. They will test your reasoning skills and your ability to think under pressure, as well as your prowess at beating each other up.”
“But we’ll let you know a bit more nearer the time,” added Coach Barkley. “For now we’ll open the floor up to see which of you have the balls to challenge each other. Any last questions?”
A hand shot up from the back of the group. Squinting, Susanne made out the surprisingly eager face of Ash Lloyd.
“Yes Mr Lloyd?”
“Can challengers also pick the time, or is that up to the challenged party to decide?”
Susanne tried to recall Mr Lloyd’s abilities. As the bottom ranked male the question seemed a bit desperate at first, as though he were clutching at straws, but upon remembering how the boy’s power worked, Coach M understood just how important this question was to the young man.
“I suppose that’ll be up to whoever you challenge Mr Lloyd,” answered Coach Barkley, his expression carefully blank so as not to alert the other students to the significance of the question. This effort on his part was nullified somewhat by the wide grin that spread across Ash’s features.
“In that case I challenge Luke Smith. If he’s willing I’d like to have the fight this coming Sunday.”
At the sound of his name, the fourth ranked male, 6th ranked student, looked up, his expression a bit startled. He wasn’t the only surprised student. Of all the students standing in the middle of that cold muddy field only three others didn’t looked shocked. In fact a tall lanky youth Susanne recalled being one Bruce Golding, directed a thumbs up at Ash.
“I thought only the top five could challenge each other!” exclaimed one of the other boys in the back. Susanne quickly labelled him as Eli Mason, a blaster who was ranked 17th overall.
“That’s true,” Coach Barkley responded, “If you’re not in the top or bottom five. But,” he paused, and evil smirk on his face, “If you’ll recall our earlier explanation of the rules, you’d realise that those students in the bottom five of each gender have the right to challenge any student of any rank of gender. We don’t phrase it quite so clearly, so I commend young Mr Lloyd on spotting that loophole.” He gave Ash a respectful nod, which Ash returned, clearly pleased he had understood the rules correctly after all.
“Are you happy with those terms Mr Smith?” Coach M asked bringing the group’s focus to the matter at hand, an eyebrow raised to the challengee as if daring Luke to say otherwise.
The squat, pudgy boy gulped, glancing once more at the determined look on the bottom most ranked male’s face. He fidgeted nervously with his uniform before giving a quick nod.
“Umm I guess, sure”.
“Then it’s settled!” cried Coach Barkley. “We’ll organise a time and cell for your usage this Sunday. After gym tomorrow either I or Coach M will let you know exactly what time to arrive.”
“Does anyone else wish to make a challenge?” Coach M asked to the cluster of teens, not really expecting anything else this early on.
The group murmured, each student glancing at their neighbours wondering who, if anyone, might go next.
“I’d like to make a challenge Coach.” This voice came from a large cluster of red faced girls and Susanne quickly zeroed in on the raised hand of Bethany Parks. She narrowed her eyes at the blonde girl, alerts sounding in her head. She’d been told by Sarah to watch out for this particular student, though why hadn’t been explained. Even if the Dean hadn’t told her to watch Miss Parks, the girl’s unusual showing in Monday’s rankings had her squarely on Susanne’s ‘Too be watched’ list.
“Do you have someone in mind Miss Parks?” Asked the coach, her voice wary.
“Well since my fellow last ranked student seems determined to rise through the ranks, I wouldn’t want to be left behind.” The cocky grin and sweet tone irritated Susanne far more than it should have. Schooling her expression she cocked an eyebrow.
“A name Miss Parks?” she prompted.
“Karissa Brashmoore, third ranked female.”
It took Kris a moment to process the name the red eyed girl had announced. Did she really mean her? Due to the Bethany’s refusal to fight during the ranking matches, her power was completely unknown. Even Amelia and Max, the two anonymous students, had had small details of their powers leaked by the students they’d beaten, although all the girls could say about Amelia was that her power was linked to her constantly covered eyes.
Does she really think she can beat me? Half the school is convinced she’s either a really deluded pacifist or a human who managed to trick her way onto the programme. Admittedly the last theory was quickly debunked by Bethany’s roommate who said the girl’s eyes really were that shade of blood red as opposed to contacts. Apparently they even glowed.
“… -shmoore? Miss Brashmoore?”
Kris’s head whipped back round to where Coach M and Coach Barkley stood watching her, waiting expectantly. She scrambled trying to remember the question.
“I asked if you have a preferred time, Miss Brashmoore,” Coach M repeated, her expression stony.
Kris gulped before shaking her head quickly.
“N-No I don’t mind. Whenever works fine for me.”
Coach M nodded. “Fine then, we’ll have the match straight after Mr Smith and Mr Lloyd’s. You’ll both be informed of the time sometime tomorrow.”
Kris let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. She glanced again at the red eyed girl but she was looking towards the front of the group where both coaches stood. Could this girl really beat her? Kris really hoped not.
If she did beat me, she thought, a chill settling in her stomach, Grandma would kill me.