Chapter Three – Mud
Karissa Brashmoore had never been quite so filthy in all of her sixteen years. She suspected even birth had been cleaner than she was right now. Despite the class having lined up with lightning speed after Coach M’s threat, she’d still caused a torrential downpour whilst the class was running its nth lap of the field. This had caused said field to go from a large rectangle of bare grass to a quagmire of mud and puddles.
Coach Barkley had instructed them to run in two groups split by gender and had bluntly told them that anyone who fell back into the other group wouldn’t be given a chance to shower before they were out. Needless to say, so far no one had fallen back that far, though there had been a couple of close calls for one particularly hefty girl at the back of her group.
For once, Kris was glad for her parent’s strict training regime. She’d thought they’d been exaggerating just how gruelling the physical training in an HCP would be, but if this was what they’d be doing daily, she was glad for the regular five mile runs with her father now.
Several times throughout the day she’d contemplated using her powers to wash away the physical weariness plaguing her muscles, but she wasn’t entirely confident she could use them without one of the coaches noticing.
Kris staggered to her feet from where she’d been lying prone on the ground doing push ups. Glancing down at her clothes, she shuddered at the state of them. What had grandma been thinking when she ordered that Kris go through the UK Hero Certification Programme. She was an American citizen by birth and had fully planned on going for one of the five US programmes, ideally Lander. But no, American schooling just wasn’t up to the Brashmoore standards. She had to go to the exact same school her parents had gone to. That every Brashmoore had gone to since the school was founded by one of her long dead relatives’ eons ago.
“Line up and stand to attention!” The students all wearily made their way to form something that barely qualified for the description of line. Some of the others looked like they were about to pass out at any moment, including some of the physically enhanced kids who were all wearing strange looking harnesses provided from the small hut. From the look of some of the dents made by those students, Kris guessed they were far heavier than they appeared.
“Well kiddies, that wasn’t all that terrible!” Coaches Barkley and M looked dry as a bone and stood in one of the few dry patches of earth. Although they didn’t look it, they’d been keeping up with the students with no apparent exertion of effort on their parts.
“It is now oh’ seventeen hundred hours! Tomorrow, we expect you here bright and early first thing at oh’ six hundred and we’ll get to do this all over again!”
“What!” Kris looked over her shoulder and spotted the boy who’d shouted out before the start of gym. He was also covered head to toe in filth and looked about ready to collapse in a heap. “You’ve got to be shitting us. It’s Sunday tomorrow and you expect us to do this again! You can’t expect us to do this every day!”
Internally Kris winced. What on earth was this idiot thinking? Not only had he back talked the instructors earlier and been shown how stupid he was then, now he was doing it a second time? As subtly as she could, Kris began edging away from the idiot.
“Mr Andrews, clearly you don’t remember the lesson from earlier.” Coach M stalked over to where the muddy boy stood and loomed over him. “You don’t get to question us. For all intents and purposes, we are god. And what god says, goes. In this case, god is telling you that you’ll be here, bright and early, or you’ll be gone. Understood?”
The Andrews boy clenched his fists and for a second Kris thought he was going to try and hit the coach. But instead he let out a breath and glared right back at the fiery haired woman.
“Yes,” he said, petulance colouring his tone.
“Yes what, Newb?”
The boy took another deep breath. “Yes Coach M. I understand.”
“Better,” and with that, the Coach turned her back on the boy and began to stride back to the front of the group. Before she made it three steps a beam or bright red light beamed from the boy’s eyes right at the Coach. A wall of dense cloud and ice suddenly appeared between the Coach and the boy, stopping the laser from reaching the woman.
Ever so slowly Coach M turned to face the now cowering boy.
“Well well, looks like Mr Andrews thinks he’s ready to try and take on the big leagues.” She turned her head to face Coach Barkley, a gleam in her vibrant eyes. “What say you Mick? Shall we commence with tomorrows lesson a little bit early?”
Coach Barkley’s grin was possibly one of the most terrifying things Kris had ever seen. He looked like a small child who’s Christmas had come early, if that child were the spawn of Satan.
“Oh I think Mr Andrews has just volunteered the class for an accelerated course M.” Together the two coaches stood in front of the class once more, matching grins now covering their faces.
“Normally we would leave this part of your training until after combat rankings, but I think after Mr Andrews’s little display, it would benefit you all to see just who it is you’re all dealing with, in case any more of you have questions about our teaching methods.” Coach M turned to Coach Barkley with a raised brow. “Shall we take them in groups, or all at once?”
“Oh I think between the two of us we can take them in say, what? Thirty seconds?”
“I’ll time us.” Turning back to the class, Coach M’s grin disappeared to be replaced by a stern glower. “Listen up! You have twenty seconds to get ready before Coach Barkley and myself come at you. Powers are now allowed.”
“What do you mean get ready?” Kris wanted to punch that boy. Couldn’t he shut up! She moved backwards, trying to put some distance between herself and the coaches. Around her some of the other students also began to move away, a couple began the process of shifting.
Closing her own eyes, Kris summoned her own powers and felt the fatigue of the day quickly wash away. She opened her eyes just in time to see the grin return to Coach M’s face.
“Why Mr Andrews, we’re going to attack you all in five, four, three, two…”
At the coaches’ announcement to get ready, Amelia hesitated. They couldn’t seriously be planning on attacking them could they? What if they got hurt? She reached up to the seal of her blindfold, but couldn’t quite bring herself to take it off, she didn’t want to risk using her powers on her teachers.
It was this hesitation that cost Amelia any chance she may have had of surviving the initial cull. One moment she was standing debating removing the blindfold, the next she was on the ground her head ringing her. Around her she could just make out the groans of the others around her above the noise of what could only be explosions.
Ash glanced round the field, around him, roughly two thirds of the class were lying dazed on their backs. Half had been struck by the barrage of lightning bolts that had originated from where Coach M stood, the other half had been felled by a blur of motion that could only have been Coach Barkley.
Ash had been spared the barrage by the barrier he’d hastily erected around himself. Unsurprisingly Bruce had managed to dodge his own lightning bolt and Anya now had her sword floating in front of her, this one made of electricity suggesting she’d used it to absorb the bolt. On the other side of the field, Ash watched as Coach Barkley caught up to Neil and quickly bashed him on the head, sending him swiftly to the earth.
“Not bad, but let’s see you dodge this.” Coach M slowly began to rise up from the ground and around the group the wind began pick up whilst the temperature plummeted. Bruce spun around just in time to dodge an icicle, however he wasn’t fast enough to avoid the second one that came from the left.
Anya’s face was screwed up in concentration as her blade spun around her knocking each and every icicle away from her, however when a stalagmite of blue ice pierced the blade, pinning it in place, Anya had nothing to help block the remaining barrage from knocking into her.
Ash watched as a human figure made of what appeared to have been glass charged the instructor, only to be tackled by the blurred form of Coach Barkley. He struggled briefly as the form seemed to melt, but once it reformed he bashed it hard on the head with his fist, causing cracks to appear, and knocking the shifter unconscious.
All while this had been happening, the temperature around Ash steadily began to drop. He realised that even though his barrier might keep him safe from physical attacks, he wasn’t immune to the effects of the cold now seeping into his bones.
Whilst he fought to remain conscious he watched as the others around him were swiftly dispatched of. In a matter of seconds however he found himself collapsing to the ground with all the others.
Later that evening Mick Barkley sat in his office looking over the files of the new sixth formers. After the through beating they’d received, two had decided to drop out, including the loudmouth blaster, Thomas Andrews. Mick wasn’t particularly sad to see him go. Like all the kids, he had potential, but someone who couldn’t face their own impotency when confronted with someone way out of their league, just wasn’t cut out for HCP life. He picked up the files of the two kids and filed them away, just in case they decided to reapply next year.
A knock came from his door and he looked to see Susanne Marsterson standing in the doorway.
“So what do you think?” She asked “Any of them future Jacks?”
Mick scoffed at the thought. “None of them are anywhere near that level yet, though a few have promise like we thought. Lloyd’s barrier was far tougher than we initially estimated, and Anya’s sword work was good enough to knock your icicles off course.”
“Given who her mother is and the training she’s already received, that’s unsurprising.”
Mick nodded in agreement, glancing once more at Anya Collins’s file. He picked up another one and threw it towards Susanne.
“I’m a bit concerned about that one’s hesitancy. I get why she didn’t use her powers, but if we can’t get her to at least try, she’s not going to make it past Christmas break.”
Susanne nodded glancing through the pages of Amelia’s folder. “You know what the Dean said. Miss Edwards isn’t looking to become a hero, she’s just got a point to make and we’re here to help her make it.”
“I don’t like that she’s using the programme that way, nor that the Dean is actually allowing it.” Micks scowled, “You saw how she reacted when Miss Brahsmoore tried to use her power on her? Fear and panic like that will only cause her to fail out of the programme. And that’s if we’re lucky! She may not have a lot of control or willingness to use her power, but when she does, she could be pretty god damn dangerous!”
Susanne walked over to Mick and put a hand on his shoulder. “Remember, we have safeguards in place to stop her if things get out of hand. And we specifically roomed her with Molly Jenkins in case she thinks of doing anything.”
“I’m still not happy about it.”
“I’m not asking you to be happy with it Mick.”
Both the coaches spun around and saw Dean Finch in the doorway, her expression inscrutable.
“Miss Edwards is here on my say so and you will treat her like you would any other student. Whilst Miss Edwards’ power is dangerous, I am confident that the girl is no threat to the programme.”
“Even if the girl’s power isn’t a threat, that doesn’t mean she isn’t. If she does make it through the programme and makes her status public… we’d be facing the greatest social upheaval since Captain Starlight revealed Supers to the world. Are we truly going to allow that to happen? Imagine the response if this gets out!”
“But it won’t get out Mr Barkley, nor can we yet say whether Miss Edwards will or won’t succeed in the programme.” The Dean’s tone had gone icy cold as she stared down the concerned man. “If I see any form of discrimination being made against Miss Edwards because of her nature, you will be out of this school faster than you blink.”
Mick Barkley shrank a little at the Dean’s words and nodded. Susanne, looked between the two and sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. She didn’t like the situation any more than Mick did, but she’d seen that look in the Dean’s eyes before. Sarah Finch had a plan, a big one, and it all revolved around Amelia Edwards.