Chapter Six – Surrender
There was no one in the combat cell when Emma entered the room. A quick glance showed her that the room was as empty as it had appeared on the screens in the waiting room. With any luck she wouldn’t have to head back there after this fight.
As she waited for her opponent to enter the room, Emma bounced up and down on her feet, clenching and unclenching her fingers, trying not to let the nerves get to her. She didn’t think it was working.
The hiss of the automatic door sliding open caused Emma to look up and she saw her opponent enter the room. The girl was someone Emma recognised from Gym class, not one of the ones with physical based abilities. She was grateful for that. Whilst her powers could be impressive, if she came up against an opponent who could break free of them and was physically stronger than she was, the fight wouldn’t last long.
Her opponent raised her hand in greeting. Emma waved back, trying to get a feel for who she was going to face. Number 2 as the screens had told her, had her long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, her bangs were swept to one side. Although she shouldn’t be able to tell at this distance, Emma thought she saw a red glow coming from her opponent’s eyes. Maybe some sign of her powers?
From speakers somewhere above them a slight hiss sounded before the voice of Coach M filled the room.
“Alright Ladies, let’s have a good clean fight. No lethal force and once the bell rings a second time, the fight is over. Get ready…”
Emma tensed, staring fixedly at her opponent. The other girl hadn’t moved, just stood looking in the direction of one of the small cameras in the corners of the room.
“Fight!” the bell sounded and Emma launched her first illusion.
Or at least she would have.
“I surrender!” shouted the other girl almost as soon as the bell stopped ringing.
She paused, wondering if this was some kind of trick. Her opponent however had both hands raised in surrender.
“Number 2,” Came Coach M’s voice over the speaker, “normally you’re supposed to at least try and fight your opponent. Do you really wish to surrender so quickly?”
“Yes Coach, I do.”
Emma blinked, her brows furrowed in confusion. Was this girl seriously throwing in the towel before the fight even got started? How the hell did she expect to advance in the HCP like that?
From above came the sound of the bell once more. Emma remained frozen as her opponent nodded to her once, then turned and left the room leaving Emma standing very confused and almost disappointed.
Zoe entered the combat cell and spotted her opponent standing on the opposite side. Like her, the girl had short dark hair, but whereas Zoe was short and slim, this girl was tall and curvy.
“Hello,” Zoe said, trying not to let the girls larger stature intimidate her. Naturally shy and often smaller than those around her, Zoe was pleased with the fact she’d managed to get the word out without having her voice crack from nerves.
“Hello,” her opponent greeted, her voice cool. Her expression matched her tone and Zoe guessed this fight wouldn’t end with a hugs and handshakes. Steeling herself for the fact that her opponent clearly was serious about this fight, Zoe resolved to at least try and match her opponent in effort. She’d have to give it her all.
“This fight will begin once the bell rings,” came the voice of Coach Barkley from a somewhere above her, “and ends when it sounds again signalling either surrender or one of you being unable to continue. Lethal force will not be tolerated.”
Zoe grimaced once more at the reminder. Whilst her powers weren’t strong and she generally shied away from thoughts of killing, her powers were more effective when applied lethally. She’d spend enough time studying the human body to become familiar with how best to apply what power she had.
Even so, she had a few ideas and plans in place designed to incapacitate her foes without resorting to lethal force. As long as she was close enough to aim precisely she reckoned she could cause enough damage to have them surrender.
“On your marks… Fight!”
A bell sounded.
Zoe ran towards her opponent, her eyes focusing in on the girl’s dark eyes. She readied herself and carefully aimed to spikes of telekinetic power at the girl’s eyes. Just as she was about to strike though the lights went out.
Zoe skidded to a stop and spun around, desperately trying to find a source of light. All around her was darkness. Zoe scanned the area around her with her telepathy and quickly located her opponent. The girl had used the opportunity created by the darkness to move to Zoe’s left and away slightly. From what she could glimpse of the girl’s thoughts, her opponent had no trouble seeing where Zoe stood, head whipping around blindly. In fact, it felt like the darkness was caused by her opponent. Was she a shadow creator of some kind?
“I’d give up now.” Came the other girl’s voice. She sounded almost bored. “You can’t see and if you could use your powers to find and attack me you would have by now. Trust me when I say I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to.”
Zoe’s telepathy, like her telekinesis, was not very strong. In fact it could barely detect the surface thoughts of a person 100 feet away. However it did have its own quirk, and upon hearing the other girls declaration, Zoe knew that she believed what she said to be true.
Raising both her arms, Zoe looked in what she hoped was the direction of the camera.
“I surrender.” She declared, her guts twisting at this admission of failure.
Above her, a bell rang once more and the lights returned. Zoe looked around the cell and saw her opponent looking at her appraisingly.
“I’m a bit surprised. I didn’t expect that to work.”
Zoe shrugged apologetically. “My powers aren’t very helpful if I can’t see, it’d be lethal damage if I tried to use them blind. They also told me that you were telling the truth. I saw no point in extending the fight any longer or causing myself pain.”
Her opponent nodded, her expression thoughtful. Without saying more, Zoe turned towards the door and left the room.
Mia and her opponent entered the room at the same time. Her face lit up as she recognised her roommate Clara. The other girl smiled and waved.
“Looks like we’re going to go head to head!” said Mia, excitement bubbling up inside her.
“Looks like,” agreed Clara. “I’m not going to hold anything back though.”
Mia nodded, “me either.
Both girls adopted ready stances. Mia noted that, like her, Clara had apparently taken some form of martial arts class. Her posture and stance looked vaguely similar to the ready position used by Karate practitioners. Mia’s excitement kept building. Here at last could be the opponent Mia had been waiting for. Someone who’d actually challenge her.
“Girls please remember the usage of lethal combat is prohibited and once the bell has rung you are to stop all combat.” Mia was surprised to hear the voice of Dean Finch over the speakers, but then she supposed that there were quite a few matches taking place. Maybe they needed the extra oversight.
“The match will begin in three, two, one… Go.” A bell sounded and Mia shifted instantly launching herself skyward. Clara looked up in confusion, having, as Mia had hoped, expected her opponent to launch an attack at her from the ground. Now airborne, Mia used her enhanced eyesight to scan her opposition’s body, looking for a sign as to her next move.
“Shifter, I should have guessed. Do you only take on bird forms?” Clara began to circle slowly beneath Mia, never taking her eyes off of her roommate’s new feathered physique. Mia’s bird form looked to be some form of predator with a large wingspan and sharp talons. Clara struggled to think of a way to get to her opponent. Her increased durability would help protect her from the talons, but if Mia was planning on staying in the air, she’d be limited in her options to grab her opponent.
Mia couldn’t physically smile or really communicate when fully shifted, but she could see from the lack of response that Clara’s powers didn’t lend themselves to a ranged attack. Taking aim, Mia angled her falcon body into a dive pulling up at the last minute to claw at Clara with her Talons.
Clara tried to bat the feathery missile off of her, her skin thick enough that the talons didn’t manage to draw blood. Her attempts to grab her opponent failed and Mia used Clara’s own arm to launch herself into the sky once more.
The two combatants watched each other, the girl on the ground with arms raised protectively in front of her vulnerable eyes, the falcon in the air circling above, looking for an opening.
Mia tried her swooping attack again, and briefly contemplated shifting to a bigger bird. The trouble with that option was that she’d have to land and shift to human form first, leaving her open to an attack. That left plan c.
Clara watched and the falcon swooped low and landed before it started to grow. Clara rushed towards the shifting figure, hoping to land a few punches before her opponent shifted and took flight once more.
Her strikes were blocked however by a large wing. Where the falcon had landed and Clara had expected to see Mia, now stood a hybrid of the two. Humanoid in appearance, the figure’s body was covered in a layer of feathers. The eyes were the same brilliant yellow as the falcon, and the shifter’s hands and feet had grown jet black talons. The most striking part of the transformation were the four wings that had sprouted from Mia’s back.
The topmost left was a metallic black and had been the one to block Clara’s strikes. The others were a pure white, speckled brown and the final wing was multi-coloured like a parrots.
“Well you’re certainly full of surprises, aren’t ya.” Clara grimaced, her hand throbbing from where it had made contact with the metallic wing.
“I had hoped to save this form for later,” Mia rasped, her voice lilting and dry. “But I didn’t think I’d be able to beat you as a peregrine.”
“Is that what that bird was?” Asked Clara, following up her question with a series of quick jabs and kicks, trying to gauge her opponent’s defences.
Mia responded by blocking each of her attacks, either with her black wing, or with the clawed hands.
“Peregrine Falcon,” She answered. “My preferred bird for non-lethal combat. You’re a bit too tough though, even for its talons.”
“Lucky me,” hissed Clara as she dodged and blocked Mia’s own barrage of strikes.
Clara noted that despite being larger in her shifted form, Mia’s strength hadn’t increased by much. Her strikes however were designed to make full use of her form’s claws. She kept her hands stiffened and stuck, point first, at any soft area of Clara’s body.
As they began to exchange blows, Clara assessed her options. Mia, like her, knew some martial arts, and had found a way to adapt her skills for combat. She couldn’t be taken down easily with technique. That left brute force.
Jumping backwards, Clara adopted a position similar to that of a professional runner at the starting block. Before Mia could react, Clara poured all her strength into her legs and launched herself towards her opponent, her fists aimed directly at Mia’s torso in a classic Superman style pose.
Mia, seeing Clara launch herself towards her, tried to bring her black wing into position, whilst simultaneously raising her arms in a cross guard. Her opponent was just too fast however, her over powered leap allowing Clara to get inside Mia’s guard and letting her land a solid blow to her opponent’s mid-section.
Mia felt all of the air being pushed out of her body as both she and Clara were thrown towards the wall behind her. The crunching noise that sounded as her back hit the wall, reached her ears just a few seconds before the pain began screaming through her. She wheezed trying to suck air back into her lungs and struggled to get back on her feet.
To one side Clara shakily stood up, her face bloodied from the impact, one arm dangling to one side.
“I’ve not tried that one before,” she admitted, her voice shaking from the pain of her own wounds and the adrenaline coursing through her. “Wasn’t sure if it’d work.”
Mia propped herself against the wall and tried to blink some of the fuzziness from her vision. She watched, dazed, as Clara readied herself for another punch. The blow struck Mia across the face and sent her tumbling to the ground once more. She groaned as fresh pain washed over her.
“Give up Mia and we can get you to a healer. Pretty sure you’ve got some ribs broken.”
Healer, Mia thought, some clarity finally breaching the fog of pain clouding her mind. Don’t need a healer.
Mia straightened her white wing, wincing as the battered limb stretched before wrapping itself around her. She focused her mind and a wave of healing spread through her from the white feathers. As the pain was washed away she unfurled the wing and met Clara’s stunned gaze.
“I’m not done yet,” she rasped, a feral grin showing off her razor sharp teeth.
Clara rolled her shoulders, her own smile matching her roommates. “Guess not,” she agreed before launching herself off of the nearby wall, arms outstretched once more.
Dean Finch, Coach Marsterson and Coach Barkley all stood looking at the monitors watching as the lower sixth fights raged on the screens.
“Miss McGarrett took a while to remember to heal herself,” remarked the Dean. “She’ll need to work on her focus if she wants to make it through any more fights like this one.”
Coach Barkley nodded. “We’ll probably have her in close combat if she can show us that she can use those wings safely. That should help her with thinking through pain.”
“I think she’d be better off in alternative,” Coach M said. “She could have utilised her bird form far more effectively with a little bit more thought.”
“You always think every student should be in alternative,” commented Mick. “Sometimes real growth can only be found from getting hit in the face every day. A few weeks in my class and she’ll be multitasking in no time!”
Susanne rolled her eyes but didn’t bother to start up the argument she and Mick had each and every year. Out of the sixty students that had started, three had dropped out from the initial beating on Saturday, a further six had been cut the following Sunday after they failed to make it through the days physical training, and another four had opted to drop from the programme after they were beaten so quickly in their first matches.
Susanne didn’t enjoy the cutting process as much as she pretended too, it seemed harsh to be so blunt with these kids. But she knew that it was better those that wouldn’t, couldn’t make it face the reality of it now than a few months from now when they would fail the test.
On one of the monitors Susanne watched as Anya Collins took on Number 20, Rachel Dan, a student whose ability let them coat themselves in Vaseline. She didn’t quite know how the girl had expected to make it through the HCP, but like the Dean, had decided the benefit of the doubt should always be applied to those with unorthodox abilities. It wasn’t very surprising however when, forty seconds after the fight started, the girl surrendered, leaving Anya victorious.
“What do you reckon Susanne? Do you think Collins will make it to the top spot?” Susanne looked at Mick whose eyes were glued to the screen showing Anya waiting for her next opponent to finish their match.
She shrugged. “Who knows? She’s had plenty of combat training from her mum, and she’s certainly dedicated. I wouldn’t bet against her at this point.”
“You kidding Sue?!” Exclaimed Mick, turning to look at his colleague. “That girl’s the spitting image of her mother in both looks and powers, there’s no way she won’t make it to the top of the heap.”
The Dean let out a soft noise that Susanne took a second to place. It was only when she faced the Dean she realise it had been laughter. Behind the spectacles, the Dean’s bright blue eyes sparkled and an uncharacteristic smirk graced her usually serene face.
“I wouldn’t be so certain Mick.” She said watching one of the other screens. “I think you’ll find Professor Collin’s daughter has tougher opposition than you might believe.” The Dean reached forward and tapped the screen showing the view from cell B. Looking at the screens Susanne saw Amelia Edwards standing awkwardly in the centre of the room, tying her blindfold back in place whilst her opponent knelt on the ground in front of her.
Lana walked towards the second combat cell, her mind mulling over the details of her first HCP battle. She’d been pleasantly surprised with how her first fight had gone. Once she’d dimmed the lights so to speak, the other girl had quite readily surrendered. She been puzzled at first, when she’d fought others with her powers, those who struggled to fight in the dark had at least tried to swing for her a couple of times. Lana supposed the shorter girl must have some sort of ranged ability that required a line of sight to work.
As the door slid open to admit her, Lana took stock of the room and its contents. Like the previous cell it contained recessed lighting, a few cameras and her opponent.
The girl standing in the centre of the room was apparently one of those supers whose powers caused physical changes that were always present, though unlike brightly coloured hair or eyes, this girl appeared to have two horns protruding from her forehead. Lana ran her mind back over the gym classes and tried to remember if she’d seen the girl with the horns in class. She wasn’t entirely sure, but then she had been distracted by the gruelling exercise regime.
As Lana walked into the room she felt something move around beneath her feet. Looking down she just made out the remains of what looked like pieces of paper. She bent down and picked up a piece of the confetti staring at it in confusion. Where on earth had this come from?
“Don’t worry, the paper won’t harm you, it’s left over from my previous fight.” Lana looked up at the horned girl. Her opponent was peering at her through her dark silky black hair, an apologetic smile on her face.
“I thought outside objects weren’t allowed,” Lana mused, half to herself as she got up and walked over to the other girl.
“Only those made by the Super are allowed apparently, like weapons made by a tech super.” Explained the girl and Lana nodded at the reasoning. It made sense, if tech supers couldn’t use their creations to fight, how else could they get through the programme.
“Ladies,” came the familiar voice of Coach M, “We will begin your match shortly. As you’ll recall, no lethal force is permitted and when the bell rings again, the match is over.”
Lana nodded and readied herself and her powers. She closed her eyes and reached out her mind to the lights overhead. She could feel the familiar glow of the electric bulbs, the light ready to do her bidding.
The bell rang out, shrill in Lana’s ears, but before she could plunge the room into darkness once more Lana felt her body being constricted, bound in place. Startled she looked down only to see the confetti that had littered the room covering her body, layer upon layer of it still building, binding her limbs in place. She began to struggle trying to free herself from the wrappings, but the pieces of paper had combined somehow and were ridiculously strong.
“You won’t get very far by struggling,” Lana looked at her opponent. The girl was still standing in the same place, but know she held what appeared to be a sword made from card. The blade was a matt white and pointedly stiffly towards the ground.
“I thought this stuff was from your last fight,” grunted Lana, still trying to free herself from the confines of the paper bindings.
“It was, I never said that it was my opponent’s paper though.”
Mentally Lana berated herself for not considering that. She ran back over their brief conversation and realised she’d assumed the paper had belonged to someone else. Taking as deep a breath as should could whilst constricted like this, Lana reached out towards the lights above her. The room was plunged into darkness and with her night vision, Lana could see the other girl look around calmly.
“That won’t help you know,” she said calmly. “I can still find you with the paper.”
As if to prove that point, the horned girl made her way towards Lana, her paper sword swinging side to side.
I don’t need to blind you, thought Lana, I just need the light.
With a push of effort Lana forced the light she was absorbing from the bulbs outwards from her palms causing the paper around them to be burned away. As carefully and quickly as she could Lana used the light to burn off the rest of the paper that pinned her down.
\she looked over at the other girl who, blinded by the unexpected blast, stood rubbing her eyes. Lana grinned as she dashed behind the girl trying to stay as quiet as possible whilst she snuck up behind her. Lana’s ability to control how much light she used in her blasts was still too inexact to be used non-lethally, but she could still knock her opponent out the old fashioned way.
Just as she reached up to bash her opponent in the head, Lana found herself nose to tip with the horned girl’s blade. She dodged the swipes the girl made with her blade, trying to spot an opening as her opponent blindly swung the blade at her. Ducking beneath another wild blow, Lana surged up towards her opponent, her fist aimed to connect with her opponents jaw. Before it reached her however, her punch was blocked by yet another sheet of paper.
“Luckily,” panted Lana’s opponent, “I never commit all my resources to one attack.”
Now Lana found herself in a gruelling dance as she simultaneously dodged the paper blade and the razor edges of the paper shield.
“People always underestimate paper, but it’s actually much tougher than people realised. Especially when layered.”
Lana dodged another wild swing only to find herself knocked forward by a sudden blow. She spun around and saw her opponent had used her distraction by the paper weapons to sneak up behind her a hit at her from behind, just as Lana had tried to do.
“How to the hell can you find me?” demanded Lana. She knew her darkness was absolute as she was absorbing every light wave that was being emitted.
In the blackness the other girl smiled, her fist raised to strike Lana again.
“You’re still covered in my paper,” she told her. “I can sense your every movement.”
Lana was hemmed in on three sides, shield to the left, sharpened blade to the left and the horned manipulator in front. She knew she could blast at the two constructs, but this close to her opponent she could just as easily burn her. Ducking low, Lana spun to try and dodge the incoming attacks, but the shield moved faster than she could track, tripping her up and sending her sprawling to the ground. Lana found herself on her back, the sword pressed to her throat, her opponent pinning both her hands to the ground.
“Surrender,” the girl ordered.
Lana’s mind raced as she tried to see another option. She winced as the sword ever so slowly pressed into the skin of her neck, the razor sharp and paper thin blade easily opening her skin.
“Alright!” She yelled. “I surrender.”
The bell rung and Lana stopped absorbing the light. As her night vision switched off, her opponent got to her feet and stood over Lana, hand outstretched.
“Good fight,” said the girl.
“A good fight,” agreed Lana as she ran her hand over the long paper cut across her neck.