Masks We Wear: Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Can’t smash everything

Returning to the observation room, Sam looked at the displays that were set up listing finished and current matches. The first round hadn’t quite ended, there were still two active men’s combats and one active women’s combat. Whoever Al Stanley and Ralph Webber were, their match had already gone thirty minutes. Clay Newton and Marc Simons had gone twenty three minutes. He was glad to notice that despite a power not directly applicable to combat, Ray won his match, in record time it seemed, it clocked in at thirteen seconds.

“God damn! How did he do that?” Sam muttered aloud.

He looked around the room trying to find his roommate but didn’t see him. He hoped that he wasn’t in the infirmary. He must have looked confused because a pretty redhead came over and asked, “Is something wrong? You’re looking around the room like you got separated from your mom in a crowded mall.” She giggled at her own joke. Sam didn’t find it all that funny.

“No, I’m fine. I’m just trying to find my roommate. He won his match according to the monitor but I don’t see him anywhere. I was just about to head over to the infirmary to see if he was there.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it, someone is probably just staking their claim.”

“Excuse me?”

“You don’t know about it?”

“About what?”

“I guess it is more of a thing the girls pass on and the boys snicker about behind their backs. Well, it’s sort of a tradition, some of the girls from the class always look for particularly promising boys from the first round and stake a claim on them.”

When Sam still looked like a poleaxed cow, she shook her head at him and continued. “They watch the monitors and look for impressive wins and grab them before anyone else can. Did your friend win quickly?”

“Yeah,” answered Sam, still confused, “thirteen seconds.”

“Oh I’m sure someone grabbed him then,” she said with a smile. “He’s off in one of the side rooms playing the super equivalent of seven minutes in heaven.”

“He’s what?” Sam asked, his voice rising, causing many heads to turn and stare at him wondering what was going on.

“Don’t be so shocked.” She looked at him predatorily, “you’re Samson Smash right? Not as cute as you were before but still a looker. And definitely promising…” She flashed a wicked grin at him, “How about it, would you like to join me for seven minutes in heaven, super style?”

Sam blushed furiously. “I… that is… ummm.”

“Come on Sam you’ll love it, my power is to induce ecstasy in anyone I touch. You’ll never forget it.”

“I… umm… well that is… see the thing is…”

Suddenly she literally doubled over laughing, her voice deepening as she did so. By the time she was rolling around on the floor, she was no longer a she, she was quite obviously Ray Rios.

If anything Sam blushed even redder. A few laughs came from those immediately around them, who were close enough to have heard and seen everything. One man and woman standing off on the other side of the room turned to them and started laughing loudly as well.

“Ray, I’m going to kill you,” Sam said as he reached for his roommate who he wasn’t sure was actually his friend.

“Relax Sam,” Ray said grabbing Sam’s hand and using it to help himself up. “This was good for you, trust me.”

“In what way was embarrassing the shit out of me, ‘good for me’?”

“Well, after the dean’s speech and your comments earlier, and especially after a nice decisive victory, you were coming across a bit larger than life. People might have loved you or hated you for it but they didn’t see you as one of them. Now you’re just some poor schlub blushing furiously after being embarrassed in front of the entire class. It took you down a notch and made you more human.”

“Great, so I went from schlub to idiot in the space of one practical joke.”

“That’s one way to look at it. Another is you get a free chance to bond with all the others I’m going to pull stuff on over the next few weeks.”

Sam knew he wasn’t going to win this one and he was a veteran of many practical joke wars. In the ULCL they happened all the time. He already had a few ideas for revenge on his roommate. Changing the subject he asked, “So how did you win your fight in thirteen seconds? Are there some physical powers you’ve been hiding from me?”

Ray chuckled. “I’m all about hiding everything from everyone, it’s the very nature of my power.” He came in close to whisper. “No I’m not hiding anything, or not really, but there are a few aspects of my particular type of shape shifting that help in a fight.”

“Ray,” Sam started frustration showing through just a bit, “do I have to use my power in a very public and humiliating demonstration with you now?”

“Alright… alright, just keep it quiet, I want to use this little trick for the rest of the rankings and people finding out about it makes it useless.”

“I swear, I won’t tell anyone.”

“It would be pretty useless against you anyhow, you wouldn’t be stupid enough to fall for it.”


“Alright, I go in already morphed.”


“Into Dean Blaine.”

“What??” Sam exclaimed causing people to once again turn their heads. He pulled Ray up from where he was sitting on the floor and herded him to a relatively empty corner of the room. “What the hell do you mean you go in as Dean Blaine?”

“Just that, I entered before the fight, I told my opponent that his challenger had lost his nerve at the last moment and quit the program and went to shake his hand. When the buzzer sounded I cold cocked him.”

“That worked?”

“That worked. That’s what my power is all about, fooling people. It won’t work on everyone, it depends on surprise and the opponent not being able to take a punch any better than anyone else.”

“Ray man, you are insane. This is going to be one hell of a year living with you.”

The two of them found some seats and grabbed a drink chatting about this and that while waiting for their turn to go again. Just as Sam was about to ask if the redhead Ray was playing was someone real or not, a buzzer sounded indicating the start of the next round was about to commence. Both of the remaining men’s matches had finished with Ralph and Clay each taking victories. The list of the second round of men’s matches filled the screen. He had to report to combat cell 3C and face someone named Dan Sutton. He and the others began to file out when he noticed none of the women were moving. He glanced up at their monitor and was shocked to see that Jaqueline Ramos and Kim Nash’s match had gone for over one hour so far. Shaking his head and wondering what sort of powers they had, he went off to his next match.

Again Sam found himself in a small vestibule but this time the locks disengaged almost as soon as he entered. Even so he took a few moments in the chamber to think about what he might be facing.

He started listing off some of the simpler powers, there were a lot of knocks out there, healers, invisible men and women, stretchies, too many to list. They wouldn’t be much of an issue for him though he was going to need to figure ways to take them out safely and efficiently. The last thing he wanted to do is kill someone by overestimating their ability to take damage.

Energy projectors he should be OK with, most forms of energy couldn’t get through his own energy form. A really strong one… well he’d thought about ways to try and manipulate his form to help deal with that but he hadn’t had much chance to practice it. Advanced minds and other mental powers, he could deal with straight forward ones but a really strong telepath or telekinetic… someone who could scramble his senses… he just wasn’t sure. He hoped he wouldn’t have to face one.

He shook himself out of his reverie and realized he better head in before it registers a forfeit or something. Losing in a fair fight he wouldn’t like but he could deal with. Losing because he didn’t show up… no way. He walked through and into the chamber chiding himself internally for what he took as tardiness.

The room itself was identical to the first combat room he had been in. Idly he wondered how many of these chambers there were and if during years with students who had particularly destructive powers if they ever ran out.

Having entered from the other side, his opponent for the match was already inside. He was leaning up against the wall next to his door, as if trying to keep as much distance as possible between himself and his opponent.

He was a tall skinny man with spiky blond hair and a soul patch. He had the arms of his black shirt rolled up or torn off exposing sleeve tattoos on both arms done as an abstract design in blacks and greys. Nearly seventy feet away Sam couldn’t really make out any details.

Sam couldn’t have explained it but looking at his new opponent he knew he wasn’t a strongman. He didn’t carry himself like someone with super strength or enhanced durability would, he would have to be particularly careful when engaging him not to injure him.

Remembering Ray’s trick that allowed him a rapid win Sam activated his power early. He didn’t want to be caught off guard when the announcer rang the bell. His body rose off the ground floating in the center of the nine foot tall energy form. He looked over at his opponent… his enemy… again to see if he could get a glimpse into what his powers might be and was surprised to see that his arms were writhing in motion under his new visual enhancement. He didn’t so much see power flowing to them as a decrease in energy along his arms, as if even the light that would normally reflect off them was being absorbed.

If this guy was an energy absorber Sam would need to be very careful, without the energy form he was just a normal nineteen year old. Admittedly he was a nineteen year old in fantastic shape trained in physical combat but so were many of his opponents here he had no doubt.

He knew he was going to have to get used to fighting a large variety of opponents. But an absorber was probably his Achilles heel.

Sam was so distracted by the possibility of fighting an absorber that he almost missed the announcer’s voice from nowhere saying, “Introduce yourselves.”

His enemy spoke first, “I’m Dan Sutton,” he said with a smile on his face as he glanced up and down at the energy form.

“Sam Fink.”

“You know I’ve watched you on TV once or twice but damn if that thing isn’t impressive in person.”

“Your tattoos’ are… impressive too.”

“Noticed those did you? Well that’s OK. I’m sure you know you aren’t going face strongmen at every turn in here. They tend to do well in the beginning of the HCP because they are used to fighting, sometimes used to fighting other supers. But my brother says they cap out early.”

“Your brother’s in the HCP?”

“Nah, he’s in his internship, he graduated from West last year.”

Just great’, thought Sam, ‘a legacy student, with a brother no doubt coaching him on how to get through trials and score well. Nothing to do about it, just need to fight as well as I can’.

“Well,” continued Sam out loud, “good luck.”

“Good luck to you too.”

“Begin,” came the announcer’s voice again over the sound system.

Sam, unsure of what his enemy might do, began his typical slow methodical approach. His enemy didn’t move toward him, instead raising those writhing arms and pointing them at him. From each arm the writhing blackness seemed to coalesce at his hands forming a large black sphere which launched through the air at Sam.

Sam dove to the side in a tuck and roll made all the more impressive by his current nine foot size. The two spheres went whizzing by him, making a sucking sound as they passed. They hit the floor right next to where he had been standing revealing that his enemy’s aim at this distance wasn’t perfect.

The orbs stuck where they hit and they began to flatten, the spherical shape slightly deforming as it oozed onto the floor where it struck.

No sooner did he roll to his feet when two more spheres flew towards him. Noticeably smaller but moving faster, he dodged left but got caught by one of them in the thigh. It stuck and started to swell slightly. It reminded Sam of the plastic bubbles he got as a kid, sticky goop that you put on the end of a straw and blew into the straw to inflate them. It even had that same sort of smell, chemical, plastic, with a hint of lighter fluid. He grabbed it instinctively to pull it off but it stuck to his hand. Then with a small amount of panic, he realized he couldn’t pull his hand loose from his thigh.

He was off balance when the next two spheres came rocketing in, these somewhat smaller again and faster moving. Unprepared to dodge, both hit, one on his chest and one on his hip, and both started to inflate immediately.

Sam knew he was in a precarious situation. Without dropping the energy form completely, which would leave him vulnerable, he wasn’t sure how to get rid of the sphere holding his hand down to his thigh. The smell made him wonder if it was flammable but he had no way to set it afire and test the hypothesis.

As he thought about how to get loose, more spheres continued to hurtle at him from his enemy. It seemed the more time Dan had to shoot, the larger and slower the spheres were. The smaller spheres didn’t cover as much but they came in ridiculously fast.

He had to get to Dan before he was immobilized so, ignoring the growing spheres currently stuck to him, he started a lumbering run toward his enemy. The hand stuck to his thigh was really making this difficult. He wasn’t in position to run, he was bent forward with his hand on his thigh, his stride now more like a lurch then a run because of it.

Dan switched tactics again when he saw Sam barreling down on him and started firing the faster but smaller spheres again. Sam was too off balance to dodge well so he simply kept moving forward, absorbing the hits as they came. But these weren’t blows, these weren’t energy blasts, these were solid, or semi-solid, balls of goo. Not all of them hit but each one that did began to inflate and grow. When they came into contact with each other they merged and began to grow even faster. Sam was quickly becoming a mass of black tarry goo.

Sam kept focusing on two things getting close to his enemy and keeping his arm free, he had to keep the arm free so he could do something when he got to him.

The distance closed and Sam became increasingly covered. Dan had only managed to get his foot stuck once and with the momentum he had going it wasn’t enough to hold him to the ground but it did slow him and make the lurch even more unsteady. That foot seemed like it was coated in glue and had to be pulled loose with each step. He got to fifteen feet away and was getting ready to leap for Dan when his enemy changed tactics. Instead of aiming at Sam, he started firing small spheres one after the other at the floor as rapidly as he could, coating it in an expanding pool of the tar-like substance.

This time Sam’s momentum worked against him, he couldn’t stop before hitting the sticky patch and when he did there was enough there that he stuck and stuck hard. His forward motion carried him over and he went down face first and stuck to the floor. His arm was still free and he struggled to keep it free and not push off the ground with it as he normally would to get up.

Dan, the true enemy that he was, didn’t give him any time to deal with it. He moved in to the edge of the pool where he had the best shot and rapidly fired sphere after sphere at Sam. His arm was stuck down his back, which had been clear till this point was covered, everything but his head was coated in a thick layer of expanding tar.

His head was still free and he could easily see Dan standing at the edge, two spheres in hand his arms roiling in black energy waiting to hit him again.

“Surrender now Sam, you can’t move,” Dan said seeming disheartened that it had been so easy. “Even if you could, I can just hit you again. I won’t cover your head because it could be considered lethal force but you can sit here for hours if you want before you face up to the fact that I beat you. They’ll wait and our classmates will be annoyed but that’s up to you.”

Sam redoubled his struggles, “I’m not out of this yet,” he said with defiance in his voice.

“Yes, you are,” replied Dan, “you just won’t admit it. You can’t smash everything Sam. This isn’t some cage match, and I’m not another strongman for you to beat down.”

No you aren’t another strongman to beat down’, Sam agreed in his head, ‘but you forget I’m not just another strong man either. Let’s see what I know now that I can use’, Sam asked himself, still thinking about this fight strategically while giving every impression of losing the struggle.

He can’t throw more than two of those spheres at a time. He needs to aim them. The bigger they are the slower they are and the longer they take to shoot. What else? There must be something here I can use… he turned the thought over again and again in his head. ‘He doesn’t want to use lethal force, so he won’t suffocate me. That wouldn’t be a problem if he could just let me pass out and then free me’. With a sudden realization it came to him. ‘He can’t get rid of the goo, he can only create it. If he could, he would have a whole slew of other attacks and strategies’.

Sam slowed his struggles, making it seem to his enemy that he must be getting ready to give up. “Dan?” he said barely above a whisper as his struggles were dying down.

“Dan?” he repeated softly, ever so softly.

“What?” Dan asked coming closer to be able to hear what Sam was trying to say, now standing right at the edge of the pool.

“I’m not just another strongman either.”

With that, he began to expand the energy form. Usually when he dropped the form he shrank it, absorbing it back into himself. That let him drop slowly to the ground while keeping up the appearance that the form was something that grew out of him rather than simply formed around him. But he didn’t have to do it that way. When he fought Muscle Malone he used new tricks where he reshaped the form. He also dropped it and raised it faster than ever before. Now he used another of those tricks; he expanded the form rapidly till it burst. Normally this was just a dramatic way to drop it, it seemed to explode around him and he dropped to the ground instead of being lowered gently.

Now it was an offensive move as all the goo that had built up on the outside of the form stretched, tore, and then flew outward as the form no longer was there to hold it together. The entire arena was coated with the stuff including Dan, who luckily enough didn’t get any covering his face.

As Sam fell he quickly sheathed himself in the energy form again, this time a much smaller denser version, so he didn’t actually land in whatever goo was on the floor.

He walked over to Dan, each step being like walking on flypaper. He looked at him from a height of only seven feet in this version of the energy form. “See here is a huge difference between our power sets Dan. When I have you immobilized, I can knock you out without employing lethal force.”

With that he flicked him across the temple with his finger and Dan immediately lost consciousness. When he did, all the goo in the room simply vanished.

“Hmm, I wonder if he realizes it all goes away when he loses consciousness. Another fact to put in his file,” Sam said aloud to no one in particular.

‘Winner, Sam Fink,” came the announcement overhead. He turned to exit the room as a healer in grey entered from Dan’s door.

“That’s two,” said Sam aloud. Inside he wondered how many more fights like that he could pull off and how many of his tricks he was going to have to expose this early in the year. ‘If it was in me to do it I might throw a fight and be able to sandbag going forward’, he thought, ‘but that’s just not me’.

Masks We Wear: Chapter 2
Masks We Wear: Chapter 4

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