Chapter Two – Greetings
Amelia sat in a seat to one side of the Assembly hall. Her roommate, Molly, had kindly helped her find a seat in the row reserved for the lower sixth, before heading off to join her own year a few rows behind.
Amelia was truly grateful that the school had had a nullifier already in training at the school. Though she’d been prepared for the reality of having to have her own room, she’d been saddened by the thought of missing out on the experience. Thankfully, Molly’s year had an odd number and the girl was more than willing to share a space with the blindfolded girl.
As Amelia waited for everyone else to file into the hall, she listened to the gently babbling conversations around. As of yet, no one else in her year had sat next to her, but she wasn’t surprised by this. After all, her obvious disability was very out of place amongst these powerful teens.
Suddenly Amelia felt a shift in the air around her and something landed right on her blindfold. She jerked in surprise as she moved to brush whatever it was out of her face, but before her hand could dislodge it, the thing melted, well, melted. No not melted, it wasn’t a liquid, but it was now somehow through the layers of her blindfold and seeping into her skin.
She stood up, panic rising inside her as the thing flowed into her face, warm inside her. Her hands clutched at her blindfold, but she couldn’t risk tearing it off. She began to hyperventilate, fear squeezing at her insides.
What was it? Was is a Super, or some new strange aspect of her power? She had to get out of there, run and never look back.
“Miss Brashmoore!” Came a loud and angry voice. “What in heavens do you think you’re doing?!”
A hand grasped Amelia’s shoulder and calm seemed to radiate out from where this new person touched her. An arm came around a hugged Amelia as the fear slowly ebbed away, replace by this new calm feeling.
“Hush child, it’s alright.” The voice, like the feeling, was calm and quiet, helping to soothe away the last of Amelia’s panic. She took a deep shuddery breath and with slowly sat back down again.
In the background, Amelia could hear the loud voice angrily berating someone, she suspected the Super whose power she’d been experiencing.
“Amelia? I’m Dr Sol. What happened just then was one of the, rather enthusiastic new healers testing out their abilities. Miss Brashmoore is a powerful Super and rather zealous when using her powers. She probably thought she could help you, though we both know her powers couldn’t do anything. Coach Barkley is the one you can hear shouting.” The woman’s voice had an accent to it that Amelia couldn’t quite place but she was grateful for the doctor’s kind words, glad to know that the staff were handling the incident, and even more relieved to know it wasn’t some new part of her power acting up.
“… And this goes for the rest of you newbs! No unauthorised or unsupervised use of powers on anyone but yourselves without express permission from a member of staff and from your target.” The barking voice of the coach grew at this last point, reaching the entire room. She winced at the fury she heard underlying those words, glad she couldn’t see the matching expression.
“Miss Brashmoore,” Said Dr Sol, “I believe Amelia has calmed enough, you can come apologise.”
Anya watched her new roommate as the expressions on her face rapidly shifted from concentration, to confusion, to panic and finally to downright fear. Coach Barkley was a man Anya had known for several years. In fact she knew all the members of staff who worked at the schools. However none of them had ever shown an inkling that they could ever appear so furious.
The Coach’s face was bright red and contorted in a scowl. He loomed over Kris as she quivered before him, a giant of a man at nearly seven feet, it didn’t take much for him to loom over anyone. Anya didn’t have much sympathy for the girl however. How stupid was she that she thought it was a good idea to use her powers like that? Not only had she shown off to the entire school exactly what she could do, she’d managed to terrify the poor blind girl in the process.
Anya rolled her eyes internally, wondering if it was too soon for students to start being cut yet. Around her, the rest of the new students began to edge away from the screaming giant.
“… And this goes for the rest of you newbs! No unauthorised or unsupervised use of powers on anyone but yourselves without express permission from a member of staff and from your target.” Coach Barkley glared around the rest of the room as he finished his tirade. Anya felt the urge to shrink herself as she met the man’s gaze, but she held firm, meeting the stare head on. She wasn’t sure, but that might have been a glimpse of approval she spotted in her former mentor’s eyes.
Kris, now looking suitably cowed, ran over to where the blind girl, Amelia, sat with Dr Sol. She began to apologise profusely, looking back and forth between the doctor and Amelia.
Around Anya the now sobered group of sixteen year olds slowly moved towards the remaining seats. Gazing around at the assembled body of students, Anya noted that the further back you went, the older the students got until you reached the smallest grouping of ten towards the back.
A few more minutes passed as students seated themselves and then a silence fell over the room. Anya turned back to look at the front. There on a small stage stood a group of four people. One was clearly Coach Barkley, the man’s impressive frame towering over the rest of the group, his expression still fairly hostile as his dark eyes glared at the arrayed students. From the row behind her Anya could over hear the whispers of a member of the Upper Sixth.
“Can’t believe the idiocy of that newb, Coach B is seriously pissed.”
“Markson! Now is not the time for chatting!” The reprimand came not from Coach ‘B’ but from one of the other figures at the front. The shout came instead from a wiry woman whose hair, whilst short, was a vivid orange, even more extraordinary than Anya’s own red strands.
“Good afternoon.” The greeting came from the woman standing between Coach Barkley and the orange haired woman. The third speaker wore her black and grey hair in a bob, her dark suit impressively well-tailored. Whilst she was dwarfed by the giant next to her, this woman had an aura of calm and command about her. It was an aura Anya was familiar with.
“My name is Dean Sarah Finch. For those of you who are new to the school, you may address me as Dean or Madam Dean. To our older students, I welcome and congratulate you on making it another year here at St Mary’s and Brashmoore.”
“I would like to start of the new school year with a few opening rema-“
The Dean was cut off from finishing her speech as the doors to the room burst open and three boys ran in, red faced and frantic. Anya shook her head in disapproval only to pause as she realised one of the three was Ash. What the hell was the idiot doing running so late!
“Ah! Misters Lloyd, Zammit and Reese. How kind of you to join us. And how kind of you to volunteer to stay behind after dinner today and tomorrow to assist with clean up!” The Dean smiled magnanimously at the three flushed youths as the made their way to the remaining seats.
“As I was saying before these three gentlemen finally arrived, I’d like to start with a few opening remarks. First, a gentle reminder that the unauthorized usage of powers without permission or supervision is expressly forbidden, especially off campus. This does only apply during the school term, however I would be remiss if I did not remind you that public usage of powers during the holidays is strongly discouraged.”
Anya, and the rest of the student body all glanced at Kris who shrunk just a little bit further into her seat.
“Secondly, for those of you who don’t already know, the HCP’s of the United Kingdom tend to run the programmes slightly differently than they do elsewhere in the world. Most notably the fact that we do not have a secret identity policy and that instead of hiding everything in the shadows, we televise all matches and some of the challenges you will face throughout your years here. Unlike the rest of the world, here in the UK HCP’s receive very limited government funding, instead gaining our revenue through donations from our alumni, and revenue from the promotion of your exploits. It is this publication of events that not only allows us to operate as a facility of higher learning, but to also allow each of you to attend here for very minimal fees.”
“Please be aware however that, whilst most of you will be televised, there are some students who opt for privacy, meaning none of what they do will be shown to the public if it can be helped. In the lower sixth we have two such students.”
Anya straightened in surprise. Two. Two students who’d invoked the privacy privilege in her year. It was practically unheard of. The cost of attending would be well in the six figures for just one year, let alone all five. Anya glanced once more at the room, trying to guess just who would want, or would be able to pay for such extravagance, and, more importantly, why.
“Now, for those of you not in the Lower sixth, please proceed to your designated classrooms where you will be introduced into the course material for the year. Seniors, you will have to wait whilst I wrap up with the Lower sixth, but I will be with you shortly.”
With that roughly two thirds of the room filed out until only the Lower sixth remained seated, facing the foursome at the front. The Dean moved to stand closer to the students and began speaking once more.
“Congratulations. You have all been given a chance to prove to the world that you have the chance to take up the mantle of Hero. This is however, only the first step on what will be a long and difficult path. In fact, the only reason your group is not already down by four is that we like to allow for mistakes here. Tardiness and misuse of powers. Both mistakes have been made, and all of you would be wise to observe that, if made again, you will be out.”
The students sat up. Talk of being cut for mere mistakes? That was enough to straighten anyone’s spine.
“Now before I leave to meet with the seniors, I’d like to introduce you all to your instructors for the next two years. On my left is Coach Barkley, to my right are Dr Sol and Coach Marsterson. They will be the ones in charge of your primary care for the next two years. We also have the wonderful Dr Sol, who I’m sure will explain her role in just a moment. In the Upper sixth you will be introduced to some of the other teachers we have on staff, but for right now, they are too busy and, frankly, it’s just not worth anyone’s time for you to meet them.”
Some of the students, boys mostly Anya noted, looked rather affronted at this dismissal of their worth, though Anya knew the assessment was both fair and accurate. Right now none of them, even her, were worth distracting the other professors.
“I will now leave you to the tender care of these fine instructors. I will see you all for the ranking matches at the start of Monday.” And with that final remark, the Dean exited out the same door the older students had left by.
“All right, Newbs! Eyes on me, front and centre!”
Ash jumped slightly at the loud instructions blasted forth from the giant man on stage. Coach Barkley glared around the room as if assessing the students, searching for signs of weakness or fear.
“As the Dean said, my name is Coach Barkley. I’m the one they put in charge of Physical Education. In other words I have to whoop all your asses into something resembling a good physical condition. First rule! When in my gym, unless told otherwise there will be no use of powers. For those of you whose powers are permanent, congratulations! You’ll be spending your time completing my specialty training!”
For once Ash was glad none of his powers were particularly physically based. The orange haired instructor stepped forward next. Like the dean, in comparison to Coach Berkley, the woman didn’t need physical bulk to come across as impressive. Whereas the Dean had a calm and quiet confidence to her though, Coach Marsterson’s impressiveness came from her appearance of superiority. Here was a woman who could kick your ass from Southampton to Scotland. And she knew it.
“I am Coach Marsterson though if you like you may call me Coach M. Whilst Coach Barkley here is in charge of making your bodies physically capable of handling the strain of being a Hero, my job is to help your powers grow. I will be pushing you constantly to improve and innovate with your powers, to help you come up with and hone new techniques.”
The final member of staff stepped forward at this point. The elderly woman wore a white lab coat over a knitted jumper and had a pair of spectacles perched on the brim of her nose. She surveyed the room, nodding to herself.
“Hello children.” The woman’s voice was soft and had a Spanish accent. “My name is Doctor Alba Sol. You may use any combination of that to address me however you like. Hopefully only a handful of you will ever spend much time with me as I am the head of medical for both schools. If anyone here has a talent for healing, you will be seeing me this afternoon so that we can assess your skills and get you familiar with the extra classes you will be taking in the infirmary.”
Ash glanced around the room and spotted a couple of the students were sitting up a bit straighter for the doctor’s speech. He guessed these were the Healers trying to make it through the HCP this year. He took note of their faces, it certainly couldn’t hurt to know who could heal him in a pinch. He was taken aback when he spotted that Derek had focused on the doctor too. Did his weird summon have some kind of healing ability? He didn’t think warriors were big on healing.
Ash mentally shrugged and turned his attention back to the stage where Coach Barkley had moved back to the front of the trio.
“Now that we’ve gotten those pleasantries out of the way, let’s get started on timetabling! As you are all still in sixth form, you are required to attend at least three classes with the intention of getting your A Levels. Luckily for you, your HCP training counts as a fourth A Level, though if you fail out the credit will be turned into a PE A Level. For the next two years the subjects you’ve chosen combined with the physical fitness training we’ll put you through will make up the majority of your education.”
“In your second year, some of the HCP training time will go to exploring the other aspects of Hero training that becomes available when you reach university level. But that is a long way off for all of you right now.”
“Before we can start assessing your current level of abilities,” piped up Coach M, “we need to assure ourselves that all of you are worth the effort.”
Ash was confused now. Hadn’t everyone had to pass a standard IQ and physical fitness test? Surely they were all qualified enough for training.
“Whilst you all passed the entry tests, now we get to push you further to see if you improved like you were advised to. The HCP is no place for slackers. If you aren’t prepared to train, and train hard, both in and out of term time, you’re not going to last long.” The predatory smile on Coach M’s face caused bubbles of worry to start roiling around in Ash’s stomach. He’d done a bit of training with his friends over the summer, but he hadn’t worked that hard…
“Everyone, out of your seats and into the gym!” Coach Barkley shouted. “Girls on the left, boys on the right! Move it!”
Ash scrambled to get out of his seat and hurried after the coaches who began to march towards the large double doors he’d burst through earlier. Behind him he could hear the scrape of chairs as the other students raced to follow.
Once they were outside in the early September sunshine the coaches began a slow jog headed away from the buildings that made up the girl’s campus. Ash wondered why they’d be heading away from the campus to get to the gym. He noted they were going the same way he, Derek and the other boy had come, meaning they were headed to the boy’s campus. Ash tried to remember if there’d been any large buildings on their way over, but all he could recall was a small building that had looked like it had seen better days. Maybe they were headed to the Gym at the boy’s campus.
Slowly but surely, the instructors began to jog faster, causing the students to have to increase their own paces to keep up. Ash glanced around and saw Anya a few feet to his left jogging casually as if she did this every day. To his right he spotted the kids that obviously were the ones with increased physical capabilities. He knew this because they were slowly passing him as his own stamina levels began to fail. He’d thought he was in pretty decent shape, but judging from the number of students who’d already surpassed his early lead from being sat at the front, he clearly wasn’t as fit as he’d thought.
Eventually they reached the hut Ash had recalled from where they’d gone past it on their rush to the assembly. At this point they were all sprinting hard and Ash was surprised when the coaches came of a complete stop in front of the small building.
Around him the other students came to a stop as they looked around the empty fields on either side of them in confusion. Was this some kind of trick?
“Dude,” Ash looked around to see Neil was standing next to him, looking slightly worried. He’d been in the pack of physically enhanced students so he didn’t even appear winded. “Dude, what’s going on? I could have sworn they said we were headed to the Gym?”
“That’s what I heard,” Ash replied.
Ash turned back to the two coaches who stood looking at the students, arms folded, and glaring.
“I believe,” said Coach M, “that we told you, girls line up on the left, boys on the right!”
“Hey Lady, you also said we’d be going to the Gym!” The retort came from a stocky boy in the back. He was red faced from the run and had a sneer covering his face. “This is a field, not a gym!”
“As Mr Andrews has so astutely put it, this is a field. However, in his great observations, Mr Andrews has failed to see that this is also your gym.” Coach M turned her gaze on the sneering boy and Ash watched as his expression was replaced with one of confusion, an expression mirrored on every student’s faces.
“What Coach M means kiddy winks, is that until we say otherwise, or until you prove to us you’re worth it, this field is where you will be training. We don’t feel your worthy of using our gym yet, so until you’re ready, you’ll be training out here among the glorious elements!” Coach Barkley’s expression could only be described as evil as the realisation hit them.
Whilst the weather in September wasn’t that bad, autumn had already made her presence known in the early morning chill and changing leaves. It wouldn’t stay sunny for much longer, which meant cold, wind and rain.
“You’re all especially lucky that Coach M here is an Atmokinetic! She’ll be helping to provide you with the best weather possible to challenge you in your training sessions!”
AS if to emphasis the point Coach M raised her left hand skyward and Ash watched as clouds began to fill the once clear blue sky. In the distance thunder rumbled and a few heavy drops of rain began to fall to the ground.
“Unless you’d all like to start this lesson in soaking wet clothes, I suggested you line up like we asked. Move!”
The class moved.