The Masks We Wear
Chapter 4: Laughing in the face of combat
Once again Sam returned to the observation room, this time Ray walked right up to him as himself. There were only two other men standing in the room. Those who lost a fight and were conscious were in a different room seeing the wins and losses come through in real time. The rest were in the infirmary.
Sam glanced over at the displays noting that the second series of men’s matches were still underway with four matches still ongoing. The women’s first set of matches had finished and Jaqueline Ramos had finally beaten Kim Nash in eighty-seven minutes. None of the current women’s matches had finished yet, explaining the general emptiness of the room.
“Wow half still going on,” he said, clapping Ray on the back to congratulate him. “I thought mine took a while.”
“Yeah, it did, but each set will probably take longer at this point. Theoretically those who survive each fight are better fighters.”
“Maybe, or maybe they just overmatched their last opponent.”
“That can happen too. Pretty much anyone can overpower me now.”
“Did your fight take longer?”
Ray laughed, “Yeah, fifteen seconds this time.”
“Damn,” Sam whispered, “so the Dean Blaine thing worked again?”
“No, I didn’t do that this time. I figured it wouldn’t play true the dean coming in during the second set of matches to say a super who won their first match suddenly chickened out.”
“So what did you do?” he asked drawing in closer so the other two couldn’t hear.
“Kinda what I did to you before,” he said with a smile. “I walked in five foot two, curvy, D-cups, and flowing blond hair. Then I did the ‘oops, I must be in the wrong room… is this 5F?’ and batted my eyelashes at him.”
“Nope, dumb ass didn’t even realize they hadn’t called the new girls matches yet. What is it about gorgeous blonds that make guys IQs drop at least fifty points?”
Sam laughed and thought back to a few gorgeous blonds he knew while he was in the ULCL. “I don’t know Ray but they truly do.”
Ray joined him in the laughter, the other two men in the room staring interestedly. “Ray,” Sam started again, “just so you know if I ever come in to find you morphed that way and staring at yourself in the mirror, you are going to need to find a new roommate.”
Ray looked at him puzzled for a second then Sam put a hand on his hip and posed. He activated his power and made a close fitting form around him with the over pronounced curves and chest of a woman out of a Playboy centerfold. Then he burst out laughing dropping the energy form bending over grabbing at his sides to try to hold in the laughter.
Ray followed suit, Sam could only imagine the mental image Ray must have of him walking in to find a morphed Ray standing in front of the mirror as the blond girl… naked.
“Sam,” he said between fits of laughter, “don’t worry, there is only so far I will go with it.”
“I don’t know Ray… You seemed awfully interested in getting me to play seven minutes in heaven with you a little while ago. I’m sorry Ray, you’re just not my type.”
For a few seconds, the two of them just stared at each other until they both fell over laughing, actually rolling on the floor.
“You gotta stop this, Sam,” Ray said gasping, “I’m gonna pee myself.”
“Well, if you do, will you be a pointer or a setter?” Sam quipped back.
“Damn it, you gotta stop,” Ray begged, a look of strain coming across his face.
“Oh,” he sighed, “I guess that’s enough revenge for now. You better go find a men’s room before you have a real embarrassing moment.”
As the two of them stopped laughing the other two men in the room walked over to them with a tentative pace, giving them adequate time to wave them off. Sam glanced at them, not recognizing either, and waved them over. ‘They are our competition, I guess we could be all standoffish and keep to ourselves but everyone knows what my powers are anyway and Ray is smart enough to keep his under wraps for now’.
“Hi guys,” Sam started, “I’m Sam.”
“Marvin,” said the first of the two. He was a big man, built like a wrestler, with a solidity to him, brown hair and eyes, nothing to really make him stand out in a crowd. He didn’t exactly carry himself like a strong man but the similarities were unmistakable. Sam was betting on enhanced durability.
“Clay,” said the second. He was skinny, only about five foot six inches, and definitely was no strong man. Sam paused, unable to guess what his powers might be. He did recognize the name though, one of the two really long men’s matches in the first round was Clay Newton vs. Marc Simmons. Remembering matches was something Sam did really well.
“Ray,” added Sam’s roommate, “and I need to find a bathroom. If you guys will excuse me for a minute?” He went to the door a bit hurriedly in that stiff walk men use when trying not to lose control before they get to the urinal.
“That’s actually real fellas,” Sam explained, “he wasn’t trying to avoid you, he was laughing so hard he almost peed himself a minute ago.”
“That’s funny,” laughed Marvin, “not the typical problem you think of a super hero in training having.”
“No,” agreed Clay, “though every now and then you hear a story of some hero with a poor costume design embarrassing themselves.”
Sam and Marvin looked at Clay who asked “Don’t you remember? The day Blue Pain became known as Yellow Stain?” He suddenly crossed his legs and covered his crotch with his hands with a look of feigned shock on his face. Then the three of them burst out laughing again. “It was such a disgrace he actually retired… or at least changed names and cities. A lot of people think Bruise was Blue Pain but no one could ever prove it, and Bruise was an intern it would be rough for a hero with five years under him to go be an intern again just to hide a name change.”
“I remember that,” Sam said, “I suppose it could have been worse.”
“How?” asked Clay.
“He could have become known as Brown Stain,” he answered completely deadpan, until Clay and Marvin’s laughter broke his stern façade and he laughed right along with them.
‘Maybe Ray has something with his drive to make sure I’m accepted as one of the group’, thought Sam, ‘I certainly never expected to fall over laughing, multiple times during the combat trials’.
Slowing their breathing once more the three of them looked over when the door opened again. This time it was one of the girls in the class entering, she was short, only about five foot two, thin with a waif like quality to her, a doll’s face with large violet eyes framed by a wealth of glossy black hair. She was the same girl Dean Blaine had gone after in class over SI infractions. She looked over and seeing no one else in the room approached the three of them.
“Afternoon boys,” she said looking at each of them in turn. “I’m Kerry, I know you’re Sam,” she said looking at him, “everyone knows you’re Sam.” She turned to the other two and looked at them expectantly.
“Marvin,” said the big man with confidence.
“Umm… uh… Clay,” stammered the skinny boy, his face coloring slightly. It was obvious to everyone that he didn’t have the foggiest idea how to talk to women, a sly smile started to creep up on Kerry’s face.
“So I take it we are still waiting for everyone else to finish their second fight?” she asked.
“My roommate, Ray, is done too, he had to go to the bathroom.”
“Correction,” said Ray, reentering the room, “he finished going to the bathroom.” He walked up to Kerry, took her hand bowed over it and planted an exaggerated kiss on it. “Ray Rios, at your service most beautiful lady.”
“Uh huh,” she replied, glancing back over at Clay who was blushing a bit more and fidgeting in place.
“You’re the first of the women to finish I guess,” said Sam trying to break the tension.
“Yeah, I beat Jacqui Ramos, she went from having one of the longest fights to having the shortest. Twelve seconds, she’s in the infirmary now.”
“Wow,” said Marvin, “what did you do to her?”
“Tsk tsk,” she replied, “now you should know it’s poor etiquette to ask someone about their powers in the midst of combat rankings.”
“Oh… well sure, but you’re on the women’s side, we won’t be fighting, I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
“One of the other women could walk in any second, I don’t want them overhearing anything about my powers.” She looked almost prideful for a second or two and added, “I’ll tell you this, Jacqui’s intangibility didn’t protect her from it one bit.”
‘Intangibility’, thought Sam, ‘well that could certainly make for a long fight and it explained why her first round was so long. I wonder what Kerry’s power is that it could take out an intangible person so quickly’.
“So, umm, listen guys,’ started Sam hesitantly, ‘I’ve been thinking about classes after the rankings are done. I haven’t really gotten to talk to anyone in the program outside of Ray here. From what I understand we are gonna be run ragged but beyond that, the people who really do well in the program put in a hell of a lot of training outside of class. I’m wondering if any of you want to think about a sparring group? Help each other get better, try to learn more about our powers and how they work against others, the HCP equivalent of a study group.”
They all looked at each other, even Ray; Sam hadn’t told his roommate about this idea. Marvin was the first to speak.
“Sam, um it sounds good, but we don’t even know what any of us can actually do. Well we all know what you do. We might not be the best group for training based on our powers.”
“It doesn’t matter so much Marvin, obviously we were all good enough to make it to third round, that’s half way through the rankings. Clearly we all have the drive to get as far ahead as possible. Everyone will need to learn to deal with all sorts of powers. We can start now and there is nothing to say we can’t invite others in, though I wouldn’t want it to get to big. This just gives us a core group of five. That’s a pretty good number to start.”
“I don’t know,” added Kerry, “from what I hear and read there is a certain amount of sandbagging that happens in HCP so that you can always pull something out later when you really need it. Once we are fighting each other so we can up our ranks we may want that advantage.”
“Sure but what’s a bigger advantage, learning how to really deal with a variety of powers or holding back in case we need to fight one of the group. Actually that gives one way to easily expand the group a bit, invite roommates. I already know what Ray does, I’m sure you know what your roommates all do. It’s hard to hide powers from people you live with, that would expand it to eight assuming you two,” he pointed to Clay and Marvin, “don’t room together.”
“I’m game,” said Clay, “I think I can learn a lot from you Sam, probably from the others here too. I for one want to learn how some of you guys can disable your opponents so quickly and learn to defend against that kind of rapid attack. My first fight took forever.”
“Yeah, but what if I don’t want you to learn how to defend against me?” replied Kerry. “I want to be number one and keeping quiet about what I do and not letting people figure out my weaknesses is part of that.”
“Kerry,” interrupted Ray, “without saying too much, my power is all about people not knowing how to react to it. That said I think this is a great idea,” he looked over at Sam, “and not just because my roommate will beat the shit out of me if I don’t support him in this.”
They all laughed at that and Sam shook a fist at Ray with a snarl on his face.
“At some point,” continued Ray, “if we do become heroes, people will be out there analyzing every last exploit, every use of our powers. Fan sites will track us, Powernet will rate us, and the latest issue of Cape Life will do an exposé of how we use our powers in the bedroom. We better get used to our enemies often knowing more about us than we know about them and we may as well learn to deal with it now.”
“How we use our powers in the bedroom?” inquired Kerry with a lilt to her voice and an arch to her eyebrow.
“Oh come on Kerry,” chided Ray as he gestured at Sam, “you never wondered if our boy here can make that nine foot tall suit of his anatomically correct?”
Kerry looked at him and then blushed furiously, Sam blushed as well, remembering a few requests some women had made of him in the past.
Ray looked at them and burst out laughing again. “Well I can tell you he can add boobs to the thing. I assume male accoutrements aren’t going to be beyond him.” He stared at Sam with a serious look in his eyes. “If you fail out Sam, you could always get a job as a super powered gigolo.” He kept that serious expression on his face for all of five seconds, then all of them burst out laughing once more, the blushes fading from both Kerry and Sam.
The laughter and the blushing were good; it kept him grounded as being one of them. Ray is as good or better at reading a crowd as he was. Probably better in small groups, an arena full was more Sam’s style.
They returned to considering Sam’s request to form a sparring group. All of them thought about it in silence for a few minutes, another man and woman walked in during their deliberations but, seeing the strain that was apparent in them, chose to chat by themselves in the corner.
Sam took a second to glance at the boards and realized that those two must be Tony Graves and Natasha Hill.
“Alright,” said Kerry breaking the silence and drawing Sam’s attention back away from the screens. “I’ll do it. I’ll even ask my roommate to join in. Her powers are different and it would be good to have her in the group. She’s fighting now but I’ll invite her after ranking is complete.”
“OK, I might as well make it all of us,” added Marvin. “I’ll grab my roommate too, it might make him feel better since he was my last opponent,” he chuckled and the others grinned.
“I already said I was in,” added Clay, “and I’ll ask my roommate, he’s an advanced mind.”
“You shouldn’t have told us,” chided Kerry, “not during rankings.”
“Yeah, well, about that, you see that guy in the corner who walked in a minute ago, that was his last opponent so I don’t think it’s going to matter much.”
“Oh. Never mind then.”
Sam was feeling good. He was getting a group of, well if not friends, colleagues maybe. He had similar in the ULCL and it helped. He was about to add more when four more people entered the room, three men and a woman.
“That’s all the men,” he said, “and everyone turned to the boards.”
New matches were being displayed for the men’s side. Sam was glad to see he didn’t need to fight Ray, Marvin, or Clay. Ray and Marvin were going to fight each other instead. He looked over at them and said, “good luck guys,” as he headed out to find combat cell 5F thinking about the fact that, among the men, Tony Graves had come back to the room immediately after he had and wondering what his power is.