Settling in for the Long Haul
Lisa found herself dragging ever slower as she approached the Student Union building. Even after three weeks her tutor refused to acknowledge that the rainbow haired freshman did not, in fact, require a tutor in order to get through such stunning subjects as ‘Intro to Classical Literature’ or even ‘Trig 1 with Pre-Calc.’ Lisa accepted that she was stuck with the tutoring program as a result of her well and truly fucked up high school transcript capped by her dropping out and getting a GED instead. She accepted that the existence of the program was like unto a gift from God in that it gave her the chance to enter the HCP at Overton, where she felt she was thriving. And it took a little bit more of her willpower every single day to not incinerate the pompous grad student that had been assigned as her tutor.
Jackson Dreis, and don’t even consider calling him Jack, had to be the most pretentious, irritating, conglomeration of all things hipster that Lisa could conceive of existing. The only way in which Jackson broke from that mold was in that he was actually studying for his Master’s in economics, a strikingly non-hipster area of study if the internet hadn’t led Lisa astray.
As usual Jackson had managed to occupy far larger of a study area than he needed to with only a single student to tutor. Likely at least in part due to the slightly too loud to be polite in a public space music projecting from the tablet on the table in front of him. It was some weird not quite pop soundy music with way too many odd instruments and a singer that couldn’t seem to figure out the beat or the melody.Please let him remember to turn the damned thing off himself this time, please please please… And for a change her plea seemed to be answered as she placed her pack on the table and the lanky grad student swiped a finger across the tablet screen to kill the volume, and looked up at her through oversized horn rimmed glasses that Lisa was relatively certain had originally been marketed to women. In the 70’s.
“You’re late Ms Shiang.”
“It’s ‘Shang’ Jackson. One syllable is not that challenging and,” she made a production of turning to look at the large wall clock not even fifteen feet away. It read 7:27. “If you would like me to come back in four minutes, THEN I will be late. Can we please just admit that we hate each other and get this over with until tomorrow?”
“Very well then Ms Shang, let’s review what you SHOULD have learned in your Classic Lit class by now…” God this was going to be a long two hours.
Jon was sweating profusely as he finally signaled he needed a break from the training session. He and his roommate had been making a daily ritual of hitting the combat rooms for at least an hour after Sean finished with his mandatory tutoring program each evening. Jon was still disappointed with himself, but his roommate was borderline depressed. Jon had made solid progress in figuring out the nuances of his ability. He could now make projections that didn’t shatter the instant any real force was applied to them, as well as nearly doubling the number of projections he could maintain at once, even if he still couldn’t increase the complexity or move them in any way other than attaching them to his hands. Sean was still trying to break through his initial barrier of not having the resource his power needed to be effective in the environment where the students were being graded on their abilities.
The two men had actually driven out to the middle of nowhere the third weekend of the term, worn disguises, and Jon had gotten to see what the heavyset brown haired youth could actually do. There had been nothing but some scrub brush and a few cacti to work with, but the results had been amazing. Even in most urban areas, Sean would have enough to work with to be a fantastic Hero anywhere outdoors. In a completely sterile combat room his ability was a bit less than stellar.
Even as Jon rested against the wall, looking at the remains of the various seedlings and plant life that had been thrown against his own ability, Sean continued trying to master his power in a way to force the plants he brought with him to mature into something he could use at full effect. Fully grown potted plants of various types were also littered around the room, but with such a small starting size to work from Sean’s ability hadn’t proven much more effective with them. He needed a way to carry more than he was currently capable of, or to make a serious break through with his ability. As things stood Jon felt it was quite likely that his roommate wouldn’t be seeing the second semester in the HCP.
Louise Garcia was having a great time. After a little over a month in the HCP training and she was no longer having to propel her body around the track or through the weightlifting exercises using her electrical powers, and as a result of learning all sorts of new and fascinating ways to make her body move after it was supposed to stop, she had dozens of new tricks to surprise her fellow students in combat training. Her classes had all been startlingly easy, even considering she had intentionally picked a course load that was as easy as she could manage and still meet both University and HCP requirements. So good was Louise’s mood, that she didn’t notice a slim white man in a grey hoodie following her through the Union building with a not too discretely held camera phone trained on her.
Fortunately for the tiny hispanic girl, some other people paid a lot better attention to their surroundings. Catalina Blake was lounging in the Union building after completing her last class of the day and killing time before Ethics with one of her preferred pass-times, people watching. At first the telepath was simply moderately amused at the image of the man following the small Latina with a camera and very little focus on the world around him, but something quickly set her to a more alert mood. The man was recording Louise with the expectation that something bad was about to happen, though she couldn’t tell what.
Louise was continuing to jaunt obliviously through the Union when she heard a quiet, familiar voice in her head. “Louise, don’t freak out, it’s Cat. There’s a guy following you with a camera, something weird is going on.” Louise started a bit at the unexpected voice but managed to keep her composure and continue as if she still hadn’t a care in the world. “On your right, the guy in the blue jacket has a taser!”
Louise calmly noted the approach of the blue jacketed man. Cap pulled low over his eyes, brisk pace, and both hands tucked into the oversized jacket pockets were not quite enough to conceal an extra bulge. Louise sincerely hoped the telepath was accurate in her assessment of the concealed weapon, although it struck her as more than a coincidence that two men would be randomly targeting possibly the only girl on campus who wouldn’t be much more than inconvenienced by a taser. “Something tells me it’s more than a prank, do you want me to do something?” It was really disconcerting to hear someone in your head other than yourself.
Louise carefully tried to focus her thought, assuming the telepath would hear her. This is going to hurt a bit, but I’m going to mess up someone’s plan to get me thrown out. Just promise to make sure the one in the jacket gets it worse than I do and that neither of them get away. And with that, the blue jacket had closed the distance to her and produced a stun gun from his pocket.
Louise gasped dramatically and started an ear piercing scream as the crackling sound emanated from the weapon as the man pressed the trigger and jammed the taser into her neck. Louise unleashed her own electrical current inside her body at the same time, accomplishing two things: The taser sparked even louder and began smoking a bit, and Louise’s entire body convulsed spastically as she passed out on the floor.
Both men froze as people around them began yelling and the girl hit the floor. They quickly turned to flee but the blue jacketed man with the taser still in hand turned to walk directly into the metal chair that an enraged looking auburn haired hispanic girl smashed into his face with bone breaking force.
The grey hoodie made it about ten steps before a pair of large male students tackled him to the floor, and judging by the gasping cries he gave out once held they had been none to gentle in wrenching his arms around behind his back and prying the phone out of his fingers to place to the side.
More students gathered around Catalina as she knelt beside the tiny crumpled form of Louise, burn marks clearly visible on her neck and breathing shallowly. “Campus security is on its way. PHIL! If that guy in the coat gets up, break his legs.” The man who knelt down next to Catalina was an upperclassmen who gently pulled her away from her stricken friend and began a quick, but very professional examination of the unconscious girl. “I’m Steven, pre-med. Your friend is out, but she doesn’t seem to be having trouble breathing and her pulse is good. I don’t see any signs of trauma from the fall but there’s an ambulance on the way. Is she a friend of yours?”
Catalina found that she didn’t have to act in order to manage to visibly shake as she looked down at her friend. It was nearly unbelievable that the tiny girl had realized the entire set up had likely been intended to expose an HCP student, and had actually further injured herself in order to foil that plan. Nearly unbelievable because all the HCP students were by now familiar with the fact that Louise’s many unconventional answers to the problems she faced rarely indicated that the girl would shy away from any level of physical agony to accomplish her goal. Catalina forced herself to take a deep breath before ‘speaking’ in order to not give herself away with a non-shaken voice coming from a trembling mouth. “I have some classes with her, mostly I know her through a mutual friend.” Turning to look as the man in the blue jacket began to stir it was again not at all an act when she reached for the discarded chair and moved to strike the man again, only to have several onlookers intercept her, and a truly huge man that she assumed was Phil squatted down over the injured man.
“You are in a world of trouble little man. Now my friend Steven, he thinks I should break your legs if you try to get up. Me, I’m just going to hold you down and let the Latina take another go at you. So you want to lie on the floor and bleed or you want to see what’s behind door number two?”
The man on the floor groaned softly, but made no move to get up. Campus security arrived shortly thereafter to take the two men into custody, with paramedics arriving shortly after that to pick up Louise. Once the officials had dispersed, Catalina thanked everyone who had come to the rescue, and received an impromptu standing ovation from the gathered students for her own actions involving a metal chair and the man’s face. She finally made her way free of the crowd, saying she had to inform Louise’s other friends and then likely visit her at the hospital.
Catalina strode quickly and determinedly towards the nearest entrance to the underground facilities. She needed to speak with the Dean prior to the next class beginning. There were too many little things that had been concerning her and they had finally added up to something that she had to bring to someone with the authority to do something about it. As she headed through the foyer she saw a second ambulance pulling in to the parking lot and driving to meet the campus security officers. Promise kept Louise.
Dean Jilles managed to make it all the way through her Ethics of Heroism lecture without giving away any of the turmoil of emotions she was feeling after her discussion with the young telepath that preceded it. She had contacted James to inform him that Louise would likely be absent for a couple of days and had a perfectly valid reason, and she had requested an emergency meeting of all the instructors, save James who would monitor the freshman class, as well as contacting Mirror and asking the Oversight Hero to join them.
Fortunately the Overton advanced discipline Instructors were wise enough to have at least one assistant each that could handle their upper classmen students while they were pulled away to attend emergency meetings. Mirror was the most surprised to receive the summons, but she had responded just as quickly as Kathryn’s staff.
“Thank you all for coming so quickly. I’ll get this started immediately. One of our freshman students was attacked in the Student Union today. In spite of the attack in a public place the girl managed to both maintain her identity as well as take steps to insure that her assailants were caught. She’s been taken to the East Texas Medical Center for monitoring, though she will likely be released tomorrow.” There were several surprised expressions around the room, though lacking on Laurence and Elena as the elder telepath had likely gleaned the whole situation on the way in and the Subtlety Instructor tended to be well aware of events on campus lately. “The men arrested in the incident match the descriptions given in two other assaults on HCP students that have occurred in the past few weeks. The other two assaults both involved solitary students off campus whom were nearly run down by a car. Both students were Shifters, and both noted after evading the car that one of the men had been recording the event on a cameraphone. Today’s assault involved tasering a young woman who’s ability is electrical generation.” She allowed the meaning to sink in a bit before continuing. “Someone is still very much trying to get Overton HCP students outed for SI infractions, and since the ‘legitimate’ avenue of using the news media has been shut down, they have apparently crossed into far more illegal means.”
The Dean turned to Mirror as she spoke next. “Deanne, you must be aware by now that this whole Oversight mess is a giant political power play. I need to know if anyone on that committee could be directly involved with attacks on my students.” The Hero started a bit at the use of her given name, but realizing that she was surrounded entirely by current and retired Heroes who were already aware of her identity she recovered quickly.
“Raines is the only person on that committee who’s not genuinely investigating anything. Don’t get me wrong, no one from the AG’s office is stupid enough to think this is a legit thing, but they also accept that it’s their job and they are doing it. Raines, however, is so paranoid about telepaths being around that he is never out of sight of one of my static doubles, so every where he goes and every thing he does, I get a report on it at the end of the day.”
“What about the new PA, Jeremy wasn’t it?” the question came from Hai Nguyen, the Instructor thankful to have had to spend the least amount of time dealing with ANY of the Oversight Committee so far.
“Jeremy Kreid is still working his ass off to do his boss’s job for him AND to keep him from doing anything too politically damaging to the rest of the family’s political careers. My guess is that whoever is fucking with your students traces back to whoever started this thing in the first place.” Deanne’s response drew some generally agreeing responses from the assembled group.
“Thank you very much for your honest assessments Deanne, although I’m not certain they are completely accurate.” Mirror’s expression showed brief surprise again, but Kathryn continued quickly. “Your static doubles do an excellent job in making things difficult for most advanced minds to read anyone in their immediate vicinity. Sufficiently experienced telepaths can of course read through the noise if they don’t mind the headache.”
“Have you and Laurence actually been snooping on that little rat? I apologize for all the migraines that must have caused you Kathy,” but the Dean shook her head at Deanne’s assumption.
“No, I actually should have put more emphasis when I said ‘most advanced minds have difficulty.’ Apparently one of the exceptions to that particular facet of your abilities is attending Overton as a freshman. Catalina Blake is entirely unaware that your duplicate that has been trailing around with Raines everywhere he goes is meant to make reading the man’s mind difficult. She doesn’t notice the static at all.” Everyone around the table briefly froze and stared at the Dean in disbelief as she continued. “She hasn’t been making a major point of poking around in his head, but that girl is well aware that he’s here entirely for political reasons and that he hopes, sincerely and frequently, to still be here when ‘the HCP at Overton comes apart.'”
“I’m going to dismember him all over the facility,” the cheerful singsong Dani Reyes spoke in turned slightly guttural towards the end as the athletic Weapons Instructor’s baggy clothes seemed to tighten and her average height expanded rapidly into a towering six and a half foot tall form. The bright red cheetah like shifter gave an impressively toothy grin as she stood. “Anyone want to come with me?”
“Dani, you can’t kill politicians for being politicians. No matter how much you want to, now please sit down. I do have some excellent news for you” Dani reluctantly returned to her seat at the Dean’s prompting but did not revert to her human appearance. “No matter what horrible little fantasies Raines is entertaining about our failure, Deanne can testify that he is not directly involved. That means officially this is an orchestrated outside attack against our facility, and we are permitted to respond accordingly.” Everyone perked up quite a bit at that.
“Laurence and I will step up on scanning the campus for aggressors. Hai and Elena will coordinate to drastically increase our above ground monitoring. Talk to the Walker’s. I will be wholly unsurprised if they have anticipated this need and have already made arrangements. Dani, you’re on collection duty. Anyone that comes onto this campus with an apparent intent to cause mayhem is yours.” The extremely toothy grin reappeared. “When Dani is unavailable, it’ll be James on collection. Please let your colleague know about the changes in schedule as soon as we’re done here. Also it’s time to let the students in on part of the secret. Someone is targeting HCP students, after this meeting we’re making a formal announcement that someone is targeting them, apparently for the purpose of forcing them out of the program. With their guard up it will hopefully hinder any further attempts quite a bit.”
Ty made his way back to the townhouse shared with his three friends in a bit of a daze. The announcement that someone was targeting students in an attempt to force them out of the program had been one of the more surreal moments of his college experiences to date. He found himself paying much closer attention to the people around him as he walked than he could ever remember doing.
Reaching the sanctuary of his taken over garage-lab the heavy set young man sat for quite some time staring at his equipment. The reminder that someone was trying to force students to fail the program had also served as a somewhat poignant reminder to Ty that he likely needed to step up his performance quickly so that he could show off something fantastic by the end of the first term if he wanted to make it in the program long enough to have a CHANCE to be targeted by some nebulous outside group. He set his shoulders and got to work at his design table. His upcoming midterms were all looking to be ridiculously easy, so that was a solid chunk of studying time he could devote to something more useful, like making sure he passed in the one class that really mattered to him.
“What is this? Mace?” Wilma Perez examined the small silver can her roommate offered her like it was going to bite her. The buxom Latina gave her redheaded roommate a confused look. “Of all the things I might need, mace is probably not on the list Tara.”
“You heard what the Dean said in the announcement, students are getting assaulted to try and make us break our SI requirements. If you poison someone unconscious be touching them and someone else is recording, you’ll get failed out of the program! But anyone can carry a can of mace!” Tara’s pleading look finally got the hispanic woman to accept the small can. “I’ve already made up enough to give out to most of the class. And it’s not just mace,” the changed expression on the plump girl’s face could only be described as ‘mad scientist.’
“I really don’t think any more students will get dropped for SI’s if they’re attacked. The staff knows about it now.”
“But the staff has an official Oversight Committee all the way from D.C. watching everything they do. There are only a few situations where an SI infraction can be reasonably excused, and if there’s a hundred videos of a student on YouTube using their powers on campus, it’s not gonna matter what the circumstances are. Best you can hope for is that another HCP will be able to accept you next year.”
“Oh just take the mace Wilma,” Iris entered the conversation as she breezed through the common room and into the kitchen. “Just don’t ask her what’s in it, she gets a really weird look in her eye and the explanation takes like an hour.”
“It was only forty minutes, tops!”
“I rest my case.” All three girls managed to giggle a bit at that. Wilma pocketed the tiny silver can, and Tara retreated back to her lab to work on, whatever it was she worked on.
“So with the inconsequential material out of the way, do we have time for the important conversation?” Iris ignored the withering look Wilma shot towards the stack of snack food she carried into the common room with her and plopped down into one of the chairs.
“What important conversation would that be? Midterms?”
“Nah. Midterms are easy. Halloween is only the week after that though! We’ve gotta coordinate before we hit the campus parties if we want to find the right hookups.”
Antoin felt insanely nervous as he stood outside his roommate’s door. He was running into an issue that he’d never expected to at college, in spite of all the claims that it was the time when everyone experimented with EVERYTHING. Antoin Montaine had finally managed to admit to himself that he found his smaller asian roommate attractive. Add in that Kyle’s shifted form was quite literally a personal wet dream of Antoin’s come to life, and he was stuck with a quandary he’d never expected to have. How the hell did a guy ask another guy out?
He sighed, then took several deep breaths before knocking. Time to find out.
Antoin stepped through the door and closed it softly behind him. He’d made certain that their other two housemates were out before he’d worked himself up to attempting this, although now that he was here he had no idea how to start.
“Man you look like you’re about to have a stroke. Are you still trying to figure out how to ask me out?” Antoin literally fell over at Kyle’s question, triggering a round of deep laughter from the smaller man as the larger attempted to extricate himself from the unmade bed he had landed on.
“How the hell did you know?”
“The walls in this place are super thin, and Ramón likes to eavesdrop on his next door roommate apparently. You know you talk to yourself when you’re nervous?” Kyle was still smiling hugely, and Antoin mostly wanted to find a cave in the wilderness somewhere and hide in it for the rest of his life.
“So, uhm, would you like to go out for dinner or a movie or something this weekend?”
And with that installment we have well and truly exceeded sixty thousand words. DANCE WITH ME!
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