The Masks We Wear
Chapter 14: Beat Down, Shake Up
Ethics on Thursday proved a bit more interesting than the last gym class had.
Sam arrived and took his assigned seat between Jenny and Manny. The class slowly filed in until all the seats were full except four, the three who were sent packing after gym two days ago and Nate Anderson, who he never had the chance to get to know.
Just as the clock on the wall hit 1 PM the door on the back of the stage opened and Dean Blaine walked in. Jenny leaned over to Sam and said, “He always arrives just as the clock ticks to one. I’m pretty sure he’s just waiting behind the door until the exact moment.”
Sam chuckled at that, the image of Dean Blaine pacing in a room behind the stage watching the clock like a hawk, waiting for it to tick down so he could enter the classroom.
“Good afternoon, class,” he began. “I’m happy to see so many of you still here.” Sam noticed Dean Blaine slipping into his rehearsed speech pattern yet again, “I’m sure some of you are wondering how we will be discussing such a complicated and tangled topic as ethics and how it pertains to Supers. We’re going to start by defining who Supers are. And that, my students, begins with an understanding of where they come from. Can anyone tell me who the first officially-documented Super is, and in what year they revealed themselves?”
He leaned over to Jenny and said “I wonder how many times Dean Blaine has asked the same question to the HCP freshmen?”
“I don’t know,” answered Jenny, “but it’s the exact way he started this class last year.”
“Ahh, Mr. Fink,” said Dean Blaine, “I assume you have the answer to share with the class?”
“Umm…” Sam stammered, but began to recover, “the first Super… well that was Captain Starlight wasn’t it?”
“Are you asking me a question?”
“No sir, it was Captain Starlight, and it was late fifties or early sixties, I can’t recall exactly when.”
“Does anyone remember more details?”
“It was nineteen fifty nine,” Kellie’s voice came from across the room, “his powers apparently surfaced when he was serving as a pilot during the Korean Conflict. According to the most popular biography, he used them secretly to aid the war effort and apparently wanted to continue to do so when he returned home, so he came out to the government along with other supers he met during the war.”
“Very good Miss Hart, that was a succinct summary. Now could you venture to guess what important events came about as a result of Captain Starlight’s revelation to the government?”
“Well Dean Blaine,” Kellie continued, “supers were revealed publically, laws were made to protect them and the normal people, various incidents occurred that eventually led to the creation of the DVA, the HCP, Force Ops, and several other programs and agencies.”
“So, was he the first of his kind then?” Dean Blaine looked around the room before his gaze settled on another student. “How about you Mr. French?”“Hart
“Unlikely sir,” the young man replied.
“Well we have no reason to think he was, nothing special to indicate he had a trigger event that was somehow related to all other supers gaining their powers. It’s highly likely there were others. There are all sorts of rumors that legends and religious figures were all really supers.”
“Yes, a popular theory that causes many controversies and conflicts. Can you possibly state the most obvious one,” his gaze changed to one of the women in the class, “Ms. Franklin?”
“Well the biggest one I know of is the theory that orthodox religions are really based on the actions of supers. The flood was caused by an Armageddon level hydrokinetic, Noah had control over animals and a precognitive predicted it for him. Telepaths were the causes of god speaking to people. The Greek, Norse, Egyptian, and other pantheons of gods were all just groups of supers. Name any religious event or figure and it can be explained as a super. I won’t go into more details of any specific worship to respect others beliefs.”
“So noted, and very considerate of you.”
“Dean Blaine,” Ray’s voice came from near the front, Sam looked down and saw his hand raised.
“Yes, Mr. Rios?”
“I have a problem with the theory on the prior existence of supers.”
“Well if they were out there, where were they?”
“Perhaps you would like to give more detail to your question?”
“Sure, I get the idea that the Greek gods might have been supers, ancient religious figures, etcetera. In olden days record keeping wasn’t so good. History easily became legend. But in modern times, at least since say the founding of America, we have good recorded history. We also have many tragedies which should have triggered the exposure of hidden supers. I have trouble believing that there could have been supers on either side during the Holocaust and none of them revealed themselves.”
“Ahh, you bring up the counter controversy. If there were supers, if religions were indeed founded by supers, where is the evidence for their existence? It’s the main defense used by modern religions to support their scriptures and beliefs.”
“The answer is, we don’t know. We have two opposing theories. Number one, supers were there all along and the proof is in legends which are easily explained as the actions of supers. Number two, supers emerged around nineteen fifty or so and the proof is that’s when we started seeing them.”
“So which is more likely?”
“Again we don’t know. Proponents of the first can’t explain why supers weren’t seen in modern times until Captain Starlight. Proponents of the second can’t explain why they suddenly appeared during the fifties and seem to be getting more common. Even if you argue that every single super in the world stayed hidden for their own safety, a notion which is preposterous in and of itself, you couldn’t say the same for powereds, who have no control over their powers. For that matter even supers whose powers emerge in early childhood wouldn’t have the self-control to avoid exposure.”
“So, you’re saying, it seems more likely powers are a relatively new phenomenon. Still I would ask the question why?”
“Proponents of the recent origin theory claim there must have been a trigger event, but none has been found. They argue the radiation from the use of nuclear weapons in World War II led to changes in our DNA but there has been no proof that our abilities are genetic and, in the days of Captain Starlight, they started appearing in adults not children like they do now. All the studies on supers and powereds have yet to show genes which map to the existence of powers.”
The entire class seemed pensive and Dean Blaine gave them a moment to think about it before continuing.
“Alright, origins of supers aside, Ms. Wilkerson, what can you tell me about the creation of the DVA and the laws governing the actions of supers?”
Gym followed ethics and again they were worked to exhaustion.
Sam was used to heavy workouts but still this was a step beyond what he was used to. Once more, everyone kept up and no one was removed from the class. Professor Fletcher was less vocal at the end of this class simply dismissing them. Sam expected Ray to gather the group up and tell them where and when they were meeting but he hightailed it out of class as soon as they were dismissed. He couldn’t even catch him in the locker room, he skipped the showers and headed above ground as fast as he could.
When Sam was done with his shower, Kerry and Kellie approached him to ask when they were meeting next.
“I’m not sure,” Sam told them, “I expected Ray to organize it but he took off before I could even speak to him.”
“Is something up?” Kellie asked.
“I don’t know, this is odd even for Ray.”
“Well you have our cells, call us with the plan. We’ll be waiting,” added Kerry.
Sam took the elevator up to their dorm, figuring to catch Ray there but he wasn’t there either. It was clear he had been there, his street clothes he was wearing this morning were thrown on the bed, as well as a wet towel. But as for Ray himself, he was gone.
He sat down to study and pulled out the notes Mitchell had sent him to see what he missed in class yesterday. Mitchell took very complete notes but also put some of his own speculations and cross references to articles and websites in the file.
“Damn,” Sam said aloud, “having a multi-track brain must really be nice. That guy is going to end up a billionaire.”
Sam continued to study and it was only when he was starting to get hungry that he realized how much time had passed and still no Ray. He was just thinking about calling some of the others and grabbing some dinner when…”
‘Sam’, someone said and he spun around to see who was in his room only to find no one there.
‘Sam’, the voice repeated, ‘it’s Dennis, I’m speaking to you in your mind’.
He should have realized it but it had been years since a telepath had communicated with him in this manner. A wave of sadness came over him as he thought about Coach, now dead in the rubble of a small Midwest town.
‘Sam, try to keep your emotions clear, it makes speaking to you at a distance much harder. I’m sorry about your friend.’
‘Dennis’, Sam thought back to him, ‘why are you calling me this way anyhow? You have my cell’.
‘Ray’s orders’, a wave of amusement came across with that last statement.
‘You’ve been talking to Ray? Where is he? I’ve been trying to find him for hours. Not only is he not answering his phone, he left it here, when I called him I heard it ringing in the pile of clothes he left on his bed’.
‘All I know is he came up to me disguised as a complete stranger and yelled at me mentally until I realized who he was. Then he told me to contact everyone by telepathy and tell them to meet at seven tonight at fourteen-thirty-six Buckingham Road. It’s about a mile off campus, he said everyone should leave their phones and other electronics behind, except for Doug who should bring his personal gear. He said don’t go to the internet to get directions, which is why I’m about to send you a map’.
Suddenly Sam didn’t just know the address Ray wanted them to meet him at, he actually had an image of a map solidly in his mind.
‘Neat trick Dennis’.
‘Thanks, see you at seven’.
And just as suddenly as the voice was there, it was gone. Sam looked at the clock, it was half past six already. He changed into sweats and headed out to meet his team. As his stomach growled he figured he probably shouldn’t have a full stomach for this anyhow. He did stop along the way and grab a few granola bars and bottles of water.
He arrived at the address early, it was only a mile away and in gym they had them keeping up an eight mile an hour pace already. The night was turning foggy and it made the area, which was mostly industrial buildings and warehouses, a bit surreal.
The particular address which Sam was sent to was a fairly dilapidated warehouse. There was a steel door set in the wall next to the large sliding metal door of a dock for trucks to load and unload goods. He knocked on the door which boomed as he did so.
The door opened and Ray was standing there with the others behind him. “Come on in Sam.”
“Thanks, what the hell is this Ray?”
“Welcome to headquarters… well such as it is,” and Ray waved his arm at the inside of the building gesturing grandly.
The building was one large room with a metal staircase leading up to a large office room set above them main floor with windows to observe what went on below. Other than scattered pieces of broken crates, dust, and other assorted trash the room was completely empty.
“And why, pray tell, do we need a headquarters?” Sam asked.
“And while you’re answering that, you can answer these too. What’s with the secrecy? Why no phones or using the internet to find our way here?” that was from Kerry.
“Well the answer to all of the questions is the same. I want our training to be relatively secret. The HCP is a little too well wired for my tastes. I want all discussion about it to be telepathic for now, no phones, no GPS, nothing to give us away. This will be where we plan and practice, I rented it on the cheap. It’s been empty for six years, probably just someone’s tax loss. I paid in cash so I’m guessing the landlord figures I’m going to use it to hold raves and he isn’t reporting it as being rented to keep deducting it.”
“Still,” said Sam, “renting this can’t be cheap.”
“It’s fine, I’d rather spend the money to rent it then have everything we do recorded and examined. We’re still going to have to do some things at the school, when we need healers, when we are doing heavy fighting practice, but for ordinary meetings and simple experimentation with our powers this place should suffice. We aren’t really the lay waste to the city type of group, not a Manhattan class among us and barely a Demolition, at least for now.”
“I don’t know Ray,” added Marvin, “my powers can be pretty destructive.”
“Sure,” Ray agreed, “you and Sam are our two Demolition class members, but we probably have the least experimentation to do with your powers, at least here. Straight forward powers like yours are easy to deal with. Kerry and Kellie, Dennis, Sam, and Clay have a great deal more to play with.”
“What about you and Doug?” asked Sam.
“I’ve been experimenting with my powers for years, and I will keep doing so. I’ll listen to any suggestions any of you have for me to try. I expect that of everyone here. Any crazy idea any of us have for one of the others we tell them and they listen and at least consider it.”
“What about me?” asked Doug.
“You’re more difficult. Technical brilliance is so dynamic and so different from person to person that it’s hard to guess what you may be capable of. In theory, every single technical brilliance super is Armageddon class. Doomsday machines abound.”
“So how does the group help me improve?”
“By suggesting things to build that help the group.”
“What good will that do?”
“Well, first it will give you new ideas to focus on, brilliance is useless without something to focus on. Second, it will help the group as you come up with new and improved gadgets and gizmos. What would Bond be without Q?”
“Sexy…” answered Kerry, “Especially the Daniel Craig version.”
“Yeah OK, your hormones aside, I hope you get my point?”
“OK,” Doug took back the conversation, “even if I build you guys awesome stuff and you suggest to me new stuff that helps me too, they aren’t going to let us use it.”
“No, not always, but there will be times it’s allowed. The rules on this are actually quite clear. And I quote, ‘Advanced technology is allowed in official matches within the HCP at the discretion of the professor in charge of the course it is to be used in or the Dean of the HCP provided it was designed and built by a member of the class of the student who is to use it’. So while we may not always be given the OK, there will be opportunity to use your creations.”
“How is it I didn’t know that?” asked Doug, “I mean they approved me to bring my gauntlet into the ranking matches,” Doug pulled a backpack off and held it in front of him to show everyone. “But I never thought to try and bring more in with me.”
“As a general rule they only allow so much into the matches,” Ray said, “there is a girl in the junior class who wears power armor though, and she didn’t even design it herself. It is designed around her powers.”
“Damn Ray,” Doug said shaking his head, “where are you getting all this information?”
“Here and there… here and there,” Ray replied mysteriously.
“I thought,” asked Kerry, “that we are supposed to trust each other?”
“That’s true,” replied Ray, “but in this case, the more I tell you about my various sources of information, the more likely they are to dry up. This isn’t about trust, it’s about conservation of resources.”
“Sounds like an excuse.”
“Trust me,” said Ray with a smile.
“Listen,” Sam said, “I haven’t known Ray much longer than the rest of you but I’ve come to trust him. If he says this is about a need then I believe him.”
“Thanks Sam, I appreciate the vote of confidence. Doug, what we need you to do first is security for this building. Nothing aggressive, just detection and silent alarm. We aren’t going to have anything here worth stealing but we will need to know if people are snooping around.”
“Simple enough, I can have something in place this weekend.”
“Good, because that’s when the heavy duty planning sessions will start. I have some ideas for the fight on Monday and we are going to need to practice, practice, practice.”
“What about tonight?”
“Tonight, well that’s easy,” Ray led the way up the stairs to the office, all the normal desks and filing cabinets you would expect to see here were gone. In their place was a refrigerator, a microwave, a large table with a Texas hold-em poker cloth on it, a smaller side table loaded down with food, several couches and comfortable chairs, a sixty inch flat screen and entertainment cents, and a pool table. “Tonight we relax and get to know each other better. I know I stopped a bunch of you from getting dinner tonight…” he gestured to the room and all its contents, “well this is to make up for it. We also have plenty of things to help with our relaxation.”
“Ray, how the hell can you afford all this?” asked Sam.
“Most of it I had already, I just didn’t have room for it in our small dorm room. Now I have a place to put it all rather than leave it in a storage locker somewhere. Some extra security on this room would be appreciated Doug.”
“Sure thing,” replied Doug as he helped himself to a plate of food and a beer.
“So Doug,” Ray continued, “why don’t you tell us about your first inventions?”
Outside the warehouse, the fog began to dissipate and soft footsteps could be heard walking away from the warehouse heading in the general direction of Lander.
The next day brought them back to normal classes and then gym in the afternoon. Again everyone survived but they all kept a close watch on Professor Fletcher as they ran, he wasn’t just their teacher now, he was an enemy.
At the end of class he dismissed them without even mentioning the fight on Monday. He did have a fairly evil leer on his face as he watched them leaving though.
As he was leaving gym, Dennis’ voice sounded in his head. ‘Ray says take the night off, see your girlfriend or something, Doug apparently needs some time to get things set up tonight. We are all supposed to meet at seven sharp tomorrow. He says make sure you don’t eat too much beforehand’.
Sam sighed inwardly, he never could tell what was what with Ray. Still he had barely spoken to Jacqui since Wednesday and he thought Ray’s suggestion was an excellent one. He looked around and spotted Jacqui walking with the healer, John Davis.
“Jacqui,” he called out and she and John stopped in their progress towards the exit.
“Hey stranger,” she said as he approached.
“Stranger than most at least,” he winked as he said it gaining a chuckle.
“This is John,” she introduced her companion, “John, this is Sam, I don’t think the two of you have met formally.”
“Hi John,” Sam said and offered his hand.
“Hi Sam,” he stammered as he shook Sam’s hand. “This is an honor, I’m a huge fan. Your fight against Adam Smasher… ‘Smash versus Smasher’ was… well it was just amazing.”
Sam paused a moment. He was used to fans, and even used to fans gushing at him. It had been a while though and it hadn’t happened within the HCP before this.
“Uhh… thanks, that was a good fight. Jacqui,” he shifted the conversation, which was usually the best way to deal with overly enthusiastic fans, “are you free tonight? I was hoping we could get together for dinner?”
“I’m sorry Sam, we have practice. But I’ll be free late, I’ll probably be in need of a massage.”
“Hmm… that sounds even better. Where do you want to meet?”
“Well that’s a good question, maybe we can get Ray and Vicki together tonight they can have one room and we could have the other.” John who was still standing with them, cleared his throat, mumbled a quick ‘excuse me’ and stepped away.
“Oops.” Jacqui continued. “I think we embarrassed him. I think he has a bit of a crush on me too so him seeing us together probably will nip that in the bud.”
“Not going to keep a string of guys around to worship at your feet?”
She laughed, “First off, if I ever inspire worship it won’t be at my feet… my toes aren’t that nice. Second, why would I want that? I haven’t gotten tired of you yet. And,” she said dropping her voice to a whisper, “John is nice enough but I don’t think he has any experience with women. I’m not into teaching just now.”
“Are you sure? With his power, he could probably go on and on and on. You know like the bunny clapping his cymbals forever…”
She punched him in the arm. “You have a dirty mind Mr. Fink.”
“And you love it Ms. Ramos.”
“Yeah, I do. Just keep it focused on you and me, no need to expand it outward.”
“Sorry, one of the risks of living with Ray. He turns everything into a joke of some kind.”
“Yeah, that boy’s brain is definitely twisted into shapes I’ve never seen before. You should have seen him in our logic class, he can distort anything.”
“So,” Sam said, changing the subject, “how’s your team doing?”
“Good, I think. How about yours?”
“Good, though not quite what I was expecting when I put it together. I figured we would mostly be sparing, some group fights, things like that, but so far…”
“Let me guess, you are letting Ray run the show?”
“Yeah, figures doesn’t it?”
“Makes good sense actually. Like I said, twisted. So much of what we do here isn’t going to be what we think it is. Who better to help a team do the same?”
“Yeah, who is running your team?”
“No one exactly, we are actually listening a lot to Jenny. She was here last year after all, stayed through most of the year. She knows a decent amount about Professor Fletcher and his style.”
“So you thinking you guys can beat him?”
“Jenny said it would take a miracle.”
“Yeah, Ray doesn’t think a miracle would help.”
She leaned in close to Sam and whispered in his ear. “We can always try supercharging,” then she kissed his cheek and headed off to grab John again. As the left the gym she yelled back at him, “see you tonight, I’ll give you a call.”
Monday came faster than anyone thought it would. Sam was tired from the weekend but despite what Ray had to say he had hopes that they would beat Professor Fletcher. He had been the underdog in quite a few fights before and had managed to pull out the victory. The group went down to the HCP facility early, they had some last minute preparatory work to do but they were as ready as they were going to be.
When the time came for gym class they entered with excitement, others entered with trepidation, still others near panic. None of the fear surprised Sam, after all, they were about to face a fully trained hero. Not just a hero, one so good he was chosen to teach the next generation of heroes. One powerful enough that he was confident he could defeat their entire class all at once, who probably was used to defeating the entire class all at once.
‘Maybe I should be having a bit more fear and a bit less excitement’, he thought to himself.
With all their preparatory work done ,the group gathered together inside the gym. They weren’t all right next to each other but split up. Kerry, Clay and Dennis were with Sam and were ready to act. Doug and Marvin stood together mimicking many pairs of roommates in their class. Kellie stood alone, as did Ray, Sam still wasn’t sure that was a good idea but Ray had insisted.
Sam looked around and saw that Jacqui’s group was split up as well with Jacqui, Jenny, and Dixie standing alone and the rest grouped together. He had actually been able to spend the last three nights with Jacqui and they were putting Leo’s supercharged theory to the test, if nothing else it put them in a better mood for the upcoming fight. Though, as Professor Fletcher had suggested, he could have done with a bit more sleep.
They never discussed what each of their groups was doing. They weren’t training together and secrets of powers and training techniques were held sacrosanct at this school. They each respected the others privacy in this area. Besides, he was somehow sure that Ray knew exactly what Jacqui’s group was doing and would tell them if he felt they needed to know.
Precisely at the start of class, Professor Fletcher came out of the small side room he and Professor Pendleton used as an office when they ran the class and stopped, he was facing the students who were spread out on the half of the gym away from the office.
“Anyone who needs to shift, do so now,” he said without preamble. “In ten seconds this battle begins.”
“The most important thing in this fight is going to be surviving the initial assault,” Ray said standing at a white board he had placed in the practice area of their warehouse. He had told them all to report at seven Saturday morning and all of them were here, a bit bleary eyed perhaps but here.
“Fletcher’s mastery of electricity makes him incredibly dangerous and the most obvious way to deal with a large group of supers is to start with a wide area burst of lightning to take everyone he can down at once. Most of us can’t stand up to that. Sam should be able to, if he isn’t focusing on you. Marvin you are great against purely physical attacks but if I’m right you don’t have any defense against electricity do you?”
“No,” answered Marvin, “fire won’t burn me, though it will make me uncomfortable, cold doesn’t give me frostbite, and I won’t get electrical burns, but electricity will still leave me a twitching mess on the ground.”
“Yeah I thought so. Kerry, for defense you are a normal human, as are you Dennis. Clay you could get away but you would probably need to freeze time and completely leave the area. Getting away isn’t a help here. A speedster running away or a teleporter blinking out of the area wouldn’t be considered a win for them, this isn’t a ‘survive at all costs’ scenario. It’s a knockdown, drag out brawl.”
“So what should we do?” asked Kerry.
“I’m getting to that, give me a chance.”
“Doug, can you make some gear to manipulate the electricity?”
“Well sure, electricity powers everything. I just need to know what you want.”
“Good. Kellie you are fast, maneuverable, and strong, you won’t be able to stop him but you should be able to deal with his attacks to an extent and slow him down.”
“OK,” she said hesitantly, “I guess so,” she was obviously trying to use that incredible brain of hers to figure out where Ray was going with this.
“How about you Ray?” Sam asked, “You’re only human when it comes to electricity.”
“Sure am,” he winked at Sam and moved on with the discussion.
Professor Fletcher knew he wouldn’t have the complete surprise he had last year when he first fought the entire second year class, or even when he took on anyone who wanted to challenge him during the second semester in the first year class. Jenny Parsons was in that first year class the previous year and if nothing else she had seen him use his powers when he took on the members of the class who were too smart for their own good. He didn’t expect them to be completely secret this year, and he didn’t care. The surprise factor only added so much to the first attack but still he was waiting to see how the class would handle it. There were already two groups formed in the class and one included Jenny with her foreknowledge and the other included Ray Rios, who had to be one of the biggest wildcards he had ever seen.
As his clock ticked off the seconds to the start of class, he entered the gymnasium. The students were in a loose collection on the far side of the gym, no one ever wanted to be close to his and Sean’s office.
“Anyone who needs to shift, do so now,” he said without preamble. “In ten seconds this battle begins.”
There was a stir of activity as several of the class did shift and others were taken completely by surprise. Ten seconds later, on the dot, he unleashed hell. Jags of lightning arced across the room seeking out every single student, his lightning storm was one of the most powerful area attacks he was aware of among all supers and he was only using the mildest form of it, to incapacitate, not kill. If he wanted to, he could turn even this highly reinforced room to slag.
With that knowledge he was even more impressed when the air cleared and there were still sixteen people standing. Immediately after that, Jacqui Ramos rose up through the floor to bring the number to seventeen and John Davis was holding Bethany Schultz and brought her back to consciousness bringing the total to eighteen, nearly half the class. His best estimate, if left on their own, was that no more than five or six would still be conscious at this point. ‘Teamwork changes everything’ he thought to himself as he threw himself into the attack.
As soon as Fletcher gave the ten second warning both Sam and Jacqui’s group sprang into action. Fletcher automatically got the first attack, he was the one initiating combat here but they were ready to survive it. Sam had Kerry, Clay, and Dennis with him and immediately brought up his energy form. But instead of simply surrounding him like a larger version of himself, he made it into a dome surrounding the others as well extending its protection to them.
It was Ray’s idea of course, similar to what he had done to the suit in his match against Muscle Malone, altered its shape, this time he didn’t simply make it taller or thinner, this time he changed it completely. It wasn’t easy. Ray had him practicing this all weekend and had some contraption of Doug’s shooting electrical blasts at him until he was sure it would stop it and protect those he had with him. He probably couldn’t have made it any larger, and the four of them in the dome were somewhat smashed together, but they should survive the first blast.
Doug and Marvin were depending on some of Doug’s tech. For Doug it was simple, his gauntlet already functioned to ground him for working with high voltage by anchoring what was essentially a lightning rod to the ground, he just had to beef it up significantly. For Marvin, Ray’s idea was masterful. He was essentially wearing a reverse generator. To make electricity a generator generally had to have something metallic spinning between magnets, it could be powered by combustion, by a waterfall, or by steam but it essentially turned kinetic energy into electricity. The vest Doug made for Marvin used electricity that hit it and turned it into kinetic energy which in turn powered Marvin up. A good bolt from Doug’s projector significantly increased Marvin’s durability and strength.
Kellie was depending on her reaction time to keep herself airborne and ungrounded when the bolts came through and thus unaffected. He had no idea what Ray was planning for himself but he was sure he had something in mind.
So it was no surprise to Sam when his entire team was still standing when the lightning storm ended. He was surprised to see so many others. Jacqui and Jenny were masterful in their plan. Most of them couldn’t stand the lightning either so they took an offense and made it into a defense. While Jacqui phased into the floor and Jenny used her speed to avoid the lightning, Dixie had apparently taken on the properties of rubber; she was already stretching toward Professor Fletcher almost before the lightning stopped. Bethany had turned all the others in their group to stone with her power which made them unaffected by the sudden bursts of electricity. She herself was left unprotected but when she passed out the others reverted to flesh and John brought her back to consciousness. It was something he would have suspected Ray of coming up with if he thought Ray was helping their group.
Just two others were left standing; Leo Mack he noted was unconscious and drooling on the ground. He saw Natasha Hill with a skin tight force field of some sort around her, and the last one standing was a girl he hadn’t met, he knew her name was Grace but had no idea what her power was. He had to get Ray to brief their group on all the other students’ powers one of these days.
“Very impre…” Fletcher started to say but was interrupted as he came under attack.
Kerry Powell stepped forward and tried to use her power on him, and at the same time Clay Newton suddenly appeared behind him with a weapon in hand.
Marvin and Sam both ran at him, and Kellie, Dixie, Marc, Gwynne, Grace and Jenny all converged on him. Before any of them could reach him, suddenly he was gone.
“Nice try, and smart to attack and try and take me out as fast as possible,” Professor Fletcher said as he suddenly was standing next to Kerry, “but right now, I only look human, I don’t have a single actual organ inside me for you to target.” He reached out, laid a hand on her shoulder and she suddenly collapsed as the smell of ozone wafted from around them. While he was there he also sent a small bolt at Dennis who, without Sam’s protection, hit the ground hard.
Both Jenny and Kellie were suddenly there attacking him, and Sam had barely moved away turned back to face him clad in his normal energy form. Natasha had hurled herself through the air and landed next to Sam, she was surrounded by a skin tight field very different from the one Sam wore. She gestured to him that the two of them should attack together. Oddly he focused on Kellie first who was flipping about around him trying to avoid making contact with the ground for any length of time. The sheer number of bodies trying to attack him at once actually made it more difficult for any of them to do anything without hurting one of the others.
“Your reflexes,” Professor Fletcher was saying to Kellie as he faced her, “are probably better than any speedster I’ve seen though you aren’t a speedster. Of course neither am I.” Suddenly he was standing where Kellie was going to have to land, and as she did he threw a series of punches that she tried to block but for the first time in her life found herself coming up short. Her blocks were a fraction of a second off, not quite in time to stop the Professor and, in a few short seconds, she was falling unconscious to the ground.
Jenny was trying to attack at the same time but Fletcher was impossibly fast and managed to block all her blows at the same time as he was attacking Kellie. Then, able to focus directly on Jenny he hit her with a bolt of electricity which since it was meant for her and her alone she had no chance to avoid.
He then turned to face Sam and Natasha who hadn’t yet had an opportunity to actually attack and smiled. “Your powers might be able to handle mine eventually, but today isn’t eventually.” With that he became a veritable cloud of lightning focused entirely on Sam and Natasha and not even three seconds later he reformed standing over their bodies which were lying on the ground with no energy surrounding them.
“Mind you,” he said glancing around and realizing he still had a few seconds before the others would reach him, “while it was a good idea for Kellie to try to avoid being grounded and it certainly protected her from the initial…”
Before he could finish Clay was suddenly behind him and fired the strange weapon he was holding. Professor Fletcher was struck by what was essentially a rocket propelled bean bag, designed to render him unconscious. It hit him square in the back of the head and went right through him. Before Clay could react, the professor reached behind him and caught Clay by his extended arm. There was a large spark and suddenly Clay was hanging limply from Professor Fletcher’s grip.
“As I was saying it protected Kellie from the initial assault but you should all realize, I’m not trying to kill you. If I were planning to end your lives, the amperage of the attacks would be significantly higher and then it wouldn’t matter if you were in mid-air and not grounded, the heat from the strike would burn you from the inside out.”
He looked around the room, there were still thirteen students standing. “Well let’s see,” he considered and noticed John Davis making his way toward some of the other unconscious students. Professor Fletcher moved and was suddenly next to John and grabbing his shoulder. “We’ll have none of that John,” he said as he began to pump electricity into the healer. It took a fair amount of power to knock him out as his self-healing kicked in to keep him conscious. John couldn’t keep up though, none of them could. They didn’t have the long experience with their powers that he had, they hadn’t yet found the deep pools of power to tap into and expand how much they could do. He could see that, given time, this group of students was going to become very strong indeed.
“Why isn’t this working,” shouted Bethany suddenly in frustration. Professor Fletcher appeared next to her next which brought him close to Marvin, Doug, and Marc as well. “It isn’t working because as Kerry and Clay learned, their powers and devices don’t work on a person whose body is actually made up of electricity. You can’t turn energy to stone with your power, it only works on normal organic bodies so…” he grabbed her shoulder. She too passed out and fell to the ground.
Marvin came at him next, he was empowered from the lightning that already struck him and he came at him like a freight train. Professor Fletcher saw the vest and knew what it had to be for. “Intelligent design Doug,” he said as Doug came up right behind Marvin spinning wires coming out from the electronic gauntlet he wore on his left hand. “Of course like so many others have learned here today, it can only take so much juice.”
With that Fletcher threw a larger, sustained blast at Marvin who first looked happy as he suddenly gained more strength from the turbines running in the vest. Then the vest began to hum loudly, then whine, and suddenly it exploded against Marvin’s chest throwing him across the room.
“Too much of a good thing,” the Professor Fletcher added as another, smaller bolt hit Marvin’s sprawling body square in the chest leaving him seizing on the ground.
Just as he was finishing with Marvin, the wires from Doug’s gauntlet encircled him. He looked at Doug and dropped suddenly to one knee as if he could no longer stand.
“Yes! exclaimed Doug as he fiddled with something on his gauntlet. Doug looked up from his hand again suddenly to see Professor Fletcher looking right at him and smiling. He used one leg to suddenly propel himself at Doug and came up head-butting him directly on his chin. There was a loud crack as Doug’s jaw snapped and he passed out.
“Once there were no attackers with a significant ranged attack,” the professor said to Doug’s unconscious body, “it was safe for me to turn human again and there was nothing for your glove to drain.”
As the professor was delivering his monologue, Marc Simmons came up behind him. His arms looked like sledge hammers and he swung one directly for the professor’s head. Professor Fletcher neatly dodged out of the way, despite still being wrapped in wires, and the hammer went sailing over his head knocking Marc, who was expecting to land a blow, off balance. It was clear from the way Marc turned his fall into a roll that he had significant training but none of that helped him when another bolt of lightning struck him mid-roll and sent him sprawling.
Pulling the wires off him, Fletcher turned and surveyed the room.
“Let’s see now,” he mused aloud, “we have Mr. Rios, our shape shifter, Ms. Ramos, our intangible woman,” he looked up as he was suddenly engulfed in shadow, “ahh yes, Ms. Snyder, our tree-shifter,” he added as she swung two fist-like branches at him.
Again he easily dodged. “Now wood, is a natural insulator,” he said, “but we’ve all seen what happens to a lightning struck oak,” and suddenly he released a burst as large as the one he struck Marvin with. There was a cracking noise and all at once the tree was gone and Vicki Snyder fell to the ground screaming. The professor knew that when her tree form took too much damage she reverted back to human, he was glad she wasn’t split down the middle when she did so.
“Hmm, we still have Ms. Summers,” he said as he appeared directly behind her, the voice made her turn and she lashed out with her hand trying to grab the professor. Before she even finished her spin he was behind her again saying, “uh-uh, no touching,” and a small bolt leapt from his hand to render her unconscious like everyone else.
Dixie Marsh has used this time to get close and she suddenly leapt at the professor her body expanding and flattening into a sheet as she did. She surrounded him and began to constrict. “I’ve got you professor, I’m made entirely of rubber, there’s nothing you can do to me,” and then she screamed.
Her body began to unwind itself from around him as it reverted to normal and fell to the ground. “Sorry people have tried that trick before. Rubber is a great insulator, but it has a melting point, any insulator has a maximum number of amps it’s good for, I can make more than you can hold.”
He looked around the room at the three remaining students. Ray, Jacqui, and Grace. Grace was standing in a stance that appeared to be a variant of Krav Maga, she probably had the most defense against his specific powers. Jacqui was semi-transparent in her intangible state, she looked like she was trying to figure out what she could do to him, assuming she was safe and untouchable. Ray was just standing there, he wasn’t really sure what he had in mind and he was the wildcard here, whatever it was probably was only minimally related to his powers.
He started moving toward Ray but then switched suddenly and was face to face with Jacqui. “You probably think you’re safe in your intangible state. But,” he added as small arcs of electricity began to move up and down his skin, “the thing about intangibility is you are still there, just very diffuse. Objects pass through you, even energy passes through you, but find the right frequency, strength, amplitude,” the arcs began to move along his body faster, the color shifted slightly, and suddenly there was a surge from Professor Fletcher to Jacqui and she screamed in pain, becoming solid again. “And all of a sudden it interacts with the intangible form.” He looked down at her struggling to stay conscious, “in time we can work on you learning to cycle the state of your intangibility to be less vulnerable to cycling energy, but not today.” Another small bolt hit her and she lost the consciousness she had been striving to hold on to.
Now Professor Fletcher started walking toward Grace. “I’m sure you think your power will protect you,” he said to her as he slowly closed the distance between them. “You are, after all, an energy void, no energy can target you if you don’t want it to. It’s a very versatile power,” he complimented her, “some of the advantages of a power nullifier but not nearly as broad, but also not limited to powers. You could pick up a downed live high voltage wire and not have any issue. And that will indeed protect you from my powers.”
Suddenly the remaining distance between them was closed and he threw a devastating uppercut right through her guard, she didn’t even see him coming. She was knocked back trying to get her guard back up. “Of course I don’t just use electricity, I take on its properties, speed is one of the easiest to use.” Then he launches a series of devastating blows, he wasn’t as fast as when he fought Kellie or Jenny, he didn’t have to be. He made sure Grace saw the flaw in her plan before he knocked her senseless.
And then he turned to Ray.
“Hiya teach,” Ray said smiling.
“Mr. Rios,” he replied as he walked toward him waiting for some trick, “I would prefer you call me professor. You may earn the right to call me coach, but teach gets you two hundred extra pushups after the healers are done with you.”
Professor Fletcher didn’t want to draw this out. He flashed across the room and grabbed Ray’s shoulder as he had with so many others. He hadn’t even taken on a defensive stance. He probably knew how hopeless the fight would be. As soon as he had his grip he started to pump out the voltage.
Before the fight, Sam’s group had an appointment with Dean Blaine. Exactly on time they knocked on his door and his voice called out for them to enter.
“Good afternoon Dean Blaine,” Sam spoke for the eight of them.
“Good afternoon Sam, everyone, what can I do for you? I assume it has something to do with Professor Fletcher’s upcoming demonstration.”
“It does indeed. We wanted to get approval for some equipment we want to use.”
“Do you now?” he asked arching one eyebrow. “Why come to me? It’s Professor Fletcher’s class, ask him for approval, or Professor Pendleton if you must.”
“We want some semblance of a surprise. Professor Fletcher threw out a challenge to us. Beat him, or survive his attacks. He clearly thinks we can’t and he’s probably right but we want every chance possible.”
“Hmm, I don’t see why I should give you any advantage over your classmates.”
Sam was prepared for that argument. “Creativity in dealing with a threat is a hallmark of heroes isn’t it?”
“And we aren’t asking for special treatment, anyone else could ask for approval to bring items in. We just happen to have Doug to build us neat toys.”
“Advanced weaponry is generally not allowed, and certainly not lethal weaponry.”
“Isn’t the rule of the HCP to allow approval for advanced technology as long as it was designed and built by themselves or a classmate?”
“We aren’t asking for anything deadly, in fact the only weapon we want to bring in a specifically non-lethal.”
“Alright, show me what you want to bring in. And don’t bother with Mr. Holt’s gauntlet, it was already approved. What is new?”
They showed him Marvin’s vest and Clay’s beanbag gun, Ray didn’t think anyone else needed anything, while Sam had favored loading them up with any gadget Doug could think of.
After looking at the two items Dean Blaine said, “Clearly you have learned what Professor Fletcher’s powers are. I’m not sure I should approve items made specifically to combat him and his unique power set.”
“He would want you to,” added Ray suddenly.
“What do you mean?”
“Professor Fletcher wants to prove how far we have to go. He wants to show us, not just the eight of us but the whole class, just how much a fully trained super can do. So much so, that he is taking on nearly fifty supers at the same time.”
“Correct, so why should I allow you to stack the deck and undermine that?”
“Not approving it would undermine everything Professor Fletcher is trying to do with this display of force. If you don’t approve this, what do you think will happen when that information gets to the rest of the class? Most of us will still remember the beating we took, but the worst of the group, asses like Leo Mack, will figure you didn’t approve it because you didn’t want Professor Fletcher to lose. It would undo everything in the part of the class which needs the lesson most.”
“Hmm, very well,” Dean Blaine said after some consideration, “knowing Professor Fletcher as I do, I am not at all worried about these items. You have my approval.”
“Guys,” added Ray as the others turned to leave, “I’ll meet you in the gym. I have one more thing I need to talk to Dean Blaine about.”
“More secrets Ray?” asked Kerry.
“I know how much you love secrets, this is nothing that affects the rest of the group though.”
The seven of them left Dean Blaine’s office closing the door behind them.
“What is it Ray, do you have a death ray you want to bring in? Do you want to simulate blackmailing Professor Fletcher with information you’ve managed to gather? Track down his loved ones? There must be something going through that devious mind of yours.”
“Nothing so melodramatic Dean Blaine, I just want to get one more item approved.”
“Why didn’t you just ask with the others?”
“Like Kerry said, it’s a secret.”
“You know I’m not going to approve outside tech.”
“No worries, this is simple stuff, I bought this from Amazon. Here, let me just show you…”
Ray stood there as Professor Fletcher pumped the volts into him. He just stood there unaffected. He was the last of his class standing and for some reason the electricity wasn’t affecting him. Undeterred, Professor Fletcher pulled back his fist to simply pound Ray into unconsciousness.
“I surrender,” Ray said raising his hands above his head.
“You surrender? What are you pulling here Rios?”
Ray looked around at the others all still unconscious on the floor. No one else was in the room now, though he was sure Professor Pendleton at least was watching the monitors, probably Dean Blaine and maybe even the other professors as well.
“I’m not pulling anything. I don’t stand a chance at beating you. You are probably among the top tier of supers in terms of sheer ability; at least a strong demolition class energy manipulator, if not Manhattan class. I’m just a shape shifter. I just wanted to be able to say a few things.”
“Go ahead and say it,” he growled, clearly a bit annoyed.
“You accomplished your goal here. You showed the class who was top dog, I already knew it, I told them we didn’t stand a chance against you but simply wanted to give a good showing. Well I wanted to give a good showing too and I don’t do that by beating people up.”
Ray’s form suddenly wavered and he was no longer wearing his uniform but was encased in a high voltage worker’s suit, completely insulated.
“Do you mind if I take this thing off, it’s god damned hot in here,” he said as he pulled the hood off and let it hang behind him.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to win if we could, it would only undermine the training. We need the training, it’s effective, and it makes heroes. Why the hell would I undermine that?”
Ray continued to strip off the suit and wadded it up into a ball.
“I just wanted to show you what I could do in a manner that didn’t undermine it. You needed a decisive win; you needed to absolutely level the entire class, even our champions. Well you did that. And none of them are going to ever know I wasn’t floored with them, because if I didn’t surrender right when I did, I would have been. But as I said, I needed to show you what I could do, and more importantly what they could do,” he gestured toward the unconscious bodies. “They couldn’t beat you but they are already thinking strategically and working in teams. This year isn’t going to be like any other before it.”
Professor Fletcher stood there staring at Ray Rios, he opened his mouth to speak several times but before he could say anything, the two of them were interrupted by a third voice.
“You, with me now!” ordered the clear, calm, but completely pissed off voice of Sean Pendleton.