Kyle Sawara stood in Simulation Room 2’s entrance hall, and tried to force himself to calm down. The Control class had mostly guessed that the sudden addition of a full-class Sunday session would be somehow related to the final, but Kyle had not been as prepared as he’d thought when he learned that he would be the first to run the final course. The Shifter fiddled anxiously with the earpiece given to him by Professor Nguyen. An additional element of ‘realism’ for this test, as all directions to the students would come through the small communicator.
Kyle jerked in surprise as a series of soft chimes filled the room, and he forced himself to grin at how high-strung he was to react so badly to the thirty-second countdown. Alright, I can do this. Control is MY element. Time to really show off what I can do.
The demonic looking Shifter darted through the simulation room’s entrance hatch the second it was open, sprinting for a few seconds to build up some speed before launching himself into the air. Kyle wrapped himself in a layer of illusion that would render him practically invisible as he took off, and headed for the highest vantage point he could spot. The sophomore landed atop a large storage silo about the same time the earpiece gave a crackling sound, followed by the voice of the Control Instructor.
“Hero, there are multiple reports of gang-related Super criminal activity in your area. Your primary mission is to evacuate the civilian workers in your area, and detain as many confirmed criminal Supers as possible. Backup will be reaching you in five minutes.”
Kyle nodded slightly in response to the directions, and began scanning his surroundings in earnest. Almost immediately his attention was drawn to an explosive blast a ways off to his right, followed quickly by simulated screaming. Where are… There, got them. Kyle noted several of the robot mannequins, dressed in almost comically stereotypical ‘gang attire,’ along with other fleeing robots dressed in coveralls.
The Shifter strode to the edge of the silo closest to the first group, noting as he did so that there were at least three other groups of ‘workers’ in the area, though he couldn’t spot any more of the hostile bots yet. He smiled to himself as he knelt at the edge of his perch, hearing a soft surprised sound through the earpiece as he did so. The professor was expecting me to fly out, but that would just be silly.
The aggressive robots suddenly halted their advance as one of the chemical tanks in front of them burst, sending a column of highly corrosive liquid splashing out to block their forward progress. At the same time, a small floating ‘smiley face’ appeared near each of the workers and began giving directions on the clearest route to safety. These directions were reinforced, as the masses of metal tanks, industrial piping, and storage buildings warped and shifted to leave only a single path visible for each of the workers. Kyle allowed the gang bots to retreat and try another path forward while he made sure that all of the civilians were properly following their evacuation instructions, then turned his focus back towards them.
I really hope the professor wasn’t lying about these things following basic self-preservation instincts. The small group of hostiles suddenly found itself blocked again, this time a pipe paralleling suddenly ruptured in several places, halting the group of hostiles again as they found themselves surrounded by a clear fluid. Before the gang could make any new decisions, the fluid erupted into a billowing plume of bluish flame. Kyle nodded his appreciation as he noted the robotic mannequins shift from obviously hostile behavior to huddling together in a group, obviously terrified.
Kyle kept a small corner of his focus on maintaining the illusionary cage keeping the first group contained, and turned expectantly to scan for more hostiles. And… there they are. I knew five ‘criminal supers’ was way too few for Professor Nguyen. This time the incoming group was suddenly cut off as a semi cab crashed through a shipping container and smashed to a stop against the support for a sky-crane, sending the four new gang-attired bots scrambling backwards in surprise. The Shifter forced back a wave of light-headedness as he created another dozen ‘helpers’ to direct the remaining worker bots he could see on the path to safety, and grimaced as he noted that the illusions creating a single safe path for each were not coming together nearly as smoothly as his first attempt.
Kyle took a deep breath, and forced a length of suddenly sweat-drenched hair out of his eyes. The rest of the workers were well out of harm’s way, and still following the instructions that would lead them fully to safely. The Shifter focused his attention back on the second group, debating whether or not he had enough left to keep them contained for the next couple minutes until his ‘backup’ arrived as well. A deep look of exhaustion dominated his face when another scan of his surroundings spotted a THIRD group of potential hostiles. At least I was thorough and already evacuated ALL the civilians. How the hell do I keep all of these guys here for another two minutes though?
Kyle checked to make sure his first group was still contained, and smiled slightly when he saw them still cowering away from the illusionary flames around them. That smile widened wickedly when he noted the paths currently taken by groups two and three, and a wild idea occurred to him.
“So, how did they do?”
Hai looked up from the paperwork strewn across her office desk and offered a grin in response to the Focus Instructor’s question. “Can’t YOU tell ME how it went?”
“I can tell you’re almost insufferably pleased with the results, and since you tend not to share James’ sadistic tendencies I have to conclude that it went well.”
“But you want details, because you must live vicariously through the other Instructors? Jesus, Laurence. Just make up a final exam for your sophomores already.”
The elderly British man snorted dismissively at his petite colleague’s suggestion. “There’s no point in building that kind of evaluation into a strictly mental class this early in their development! How long are you going to require that we have this same conversation every year, Hai?”
“Hmmmm. Probably until you give in and make a final for the Focus students.”
“Right then, annual ritual complete. Anything interesting happen?”
“It’s the HCP, Laurence. Interesting is an EXTREMELY relative term.” The Control Instructor finally raised her hands in surrender as her last statement drew a mock-threatening glare from her friend. “Fine, fine. Couple of fun things to watch for. You have Kyle Sawara in Focus also, right?”
“Correct. He’s growing quite adept at the multitasking exercises.”
“I’m well aware, as I was treated to one hell of a demonstration of that exact ability this morning. But look at this.” A page is found in one of the many files on the desk and flipped towards the Focus Instructor, to be caught midair by a telekinetic tendril and pulled to the older man’s hand.
“Heat sensors on the robots?”
“Heat sensors on the robots that picked up definite heat signatures. Nowhere near as much heat as you’d have coming off a fire the size that Mr Sawara was faking, but…”
“He’s not just an illusionist.”
“AND I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know it yet!” Vree almost fell out of his chair at the last bit of news, drawing a chuckle from the Control Instructor. “We’re planning to let him know after all the individual course finals are wrapped up, and do some testing to see what the limits on this could be. It might never be more than a little bit that will make the illusions feel extra real…”
“Or it might be the beginning of a TRULY exceptional ability. I’ll definitely keep an eye on that in my class. Anyone else catch your notice.”
Hai hefted the massive stack of paperwork on her desk briefly up for emphasis, before letting it slam back down into the hardwood surface. “About half the god-damned class. Go get me some coffee and I’ll tell you all about them.”
“Alright class, here’s the scenario.” The assembled Ranged Combat class listened attentively as they sat in the briefing room attached to SR 1, all eyes firmly locked on their Instructor as he clicked on the monitor behind him to bring up the image of a small office building. “There is a hostage situation in this building. Local law enforcement were in pursuit of what was thought to be an ordinary robbery crew. The police had successfully disabled the suspects’ vehicle, when at least two members of the crew came out on the offensive, demonstrating blaster-type Super abilities. All four suspects then moved on foot to this building, where they secured between fifteen and twenty hostages.
“Heroes were immediately called in at the point where the suspects engaged police with verifiable Super abilities, but the local law enforcement escalated the situation at the beginning of the standoff instead of waiting for backup. Prior to your arrival on scene there are already six confirmed police casualties, and three of the hostages have been executed. Both confirmed Supers are rated as Demolition Class, and could easily take out ALL the remaining hostages and possible neighboring buildings if they are not effectively neutralized. Additionally the local’s attempt to take matters into their own hands has revealed that at least one of the suspects has an ability that allows them to monitor their surroundings remotely, as a breach attempt through a concealed side access was immediately detected, countered, and resulted in the deaths of two officers and two hostages.”
The screen behind the Professor Banning shifted several times as he spoke, showing well detailed shots of the damage done to the getaway van, the police cars, and the side of the building where the disastrous attempt at a breach had been made. The damage seemed to be a pretty even mix of burning and some form of kinetic impact, indicating the most likely energy types for the two confirmed Supers.
“By the time you arrive on scene, the psych assessments of our suspects has taken a precipitous turn, and official DVA recommendation is immediate termination with prejudice in order to prevent further loss of innocent life.” There were several surprised looks around the room at this announcement, which surprised Anthony not at all. “So, your objective: Neutralize all four hostiles any way you see fit, and insure that there are zero additional civilian casualties. Mr Karl, you’ll be going first due to this being a final, and the HCP’s desire that no one have any more advance knowledge about how the scenario plays out than can be avoided. The rest of you,” a metal cup full of wooden sticks was produced from under the desk and placed on the edge closest the students. “Draw a stick, note your number, and that’s your order. Mr Karl, let me know when you’re ready.”
“And… still out there… We… He’s nuts, need to run…” Michael sighed and massaged his temples, wishing he could manage to come just a little bit closer to Catalina’s incredible abilities in the realm of mind-reading. He had to admit, Professor Banning’s solution for allowing the telepath to get extra information was a good one. Four of the juniors were sitting in another briefing room, reading information off of cards that described what might be going through the simulated criminals’ minds during the standoff. The telepathic sophomore had already determined that three out of his four targets were, in fact, Supers; the third having some kind of clairvoyant ability that allowed him to view the area within about a hundred feet of himself as if he were watching rows of security monitors.
I need to take him out first. Quickly, and quietly. But he doesn’t ever come near any of the windows, and I don’t know how thick those walls are. It’s that or… Michael groaned in frustration as he tried to come up with an alternate solution, but his brain didn’t seem able to find a way around it. If I could take out their detector, I could take all four of them alive. But I can’t guarantee I’ll get him through the wall, and Flamey is starting to get REALLY antsy watching the hostages. C’mon, Michael. This isn’t that hard, they’re just robots. The telepath still couldn’t quite convince himself to take the course of action he knew would work. Robots pretending to be criminals. MURDERERS even. I have to man up, or give up.
A flicker of movement from the building where the criminals and their hostages were holed up snapped Michael out of his introspection. He saw the door nearest the police barricades creak open, and heard the simulated voice start screaming its demands at the simulated cops again. That’s Blasty, and inside… “…burn them all, get away in the ashes…”
On a rational level, Michael knew that he was just hearing what another student was reading off a notecard. His rational mind didn’t kick in fast enough to interfere with his course of action this time.
The young Advanced Mind stood from his hiding place and ran towards the front of the building, getting a better line of sight and shortening the distance all at once. The second story window facing him, and between him and a room full of hostages about to be murdered, shattered with a glance. Shards of glass flew together to form two distinct, floating, piles; then each went flying with all the velocity he could impart towards the two largest threats in the building. Screams from the now open window were briefly cut off by a thunderous blast, thrown in the general direction of Michael’s approach but having little accuracy as the attacker was off-balance from trying to dodge the swarm of glass. A quick glance found his attacker leaning out of the heavy door, showing some damage from the Michael’s first attack but obviously still up. No time to waste on him, if the other one is still up everyone up there will be dead in a couple seconds.
The telepath saw a blindingly simple solution, and used it before he could second guess himself. The heavy door slammed shut with enough force to sever the upper third of the robot’s torso, including one arm and its head. Michael’s attention was already back to the window, and he flung himself airborne and through the opening, ready to strike again. But the flame-throwing bot was already down, in pieces actually, as it had no cover to protect it from the storm of high-speed glass.
“Gotta get the hostages…”
“Everyone DOWN!” Michael emphasized his command with a small, telekinetic thunderclap he’d seen Dean Jilles employ, and turned to face the door that he could hear running footsteps from.
Footsteps that stopped just short of the door. That’s the third Super, he can see me in here! Michael blasted the flimsy interior door to pieces and into the hallway behind it, catching a glimpse of a robot with a raised rifle for just an instant before it was taken down by the tumbling door-debris.
A few quick steps and the sophomore had a clear line of sight down the hall, where he could see the last robot standing frozen at the entrance to the stairs, holding a pistol in one hand. A split second later, the pistol twisted out of the bot’s grip with enough force that two of the metallic digits came flying off. The fourth robot collapsed a second later.
Michael stood in the doorway, breathing heavily for several seconds, before the all-clear sounded. He found himself at the simulation room’s exit, not quite remembering the walk over, too caught up in his own thoughts.
“That was a nearly flawless run, Mr Karl. You should be proud.” The telepath looked up at the face of his Ranged Combat Instructor.
“Is it really like that? Do Heroes really have to kill like that, to save people?”
Professor Banning placed a comforting hand on the younger man’s shoulder and steered him the rest of the way out of the simulation room. “Not always, not every time they go out, but yes. Sometimes you have to kill someone to save a lot of people, and the real thing is infinitely harder than anything we can put you through down here. Still want to be a Hero?”
Michael remained silent as his Instructor led him to one of the small briefing rooms, and reminded him to stay there until all of his classmates had finished their own Ranged Combat final.
“Professor?” The Ranged Combat Instructor turned back from the doorway at the questioning tone from his student. “Yes. Yes I do.”
“Why did I pick Close Combat. I HATE Close Combat. Wherever I end up next year, I am NOT taking this course again.” Lisa Shang finished her rant in the privacy of the combat room’s entryway, then turned towards the door with a deep sense of foreboding. “Hate it. So much. Let’s get this over with.”
The rainbow-haired and heavily tattooed Chinese girl finally made her way into the reinforce combat room, feeling herself wilt a little more at the predatory expression on the Close Combat Instructor waiting for her.
“Finally got up the nerve to try and pass my course, Shang?”
“Just so we’re clear, I am NOT holding back when I blast you.” Lisa grimaced when she saw that her ‘threat’ did nothing but produce a wider smile from her Instructor.
With both Supers finally in the room, the countdown chimes began, and the small girl steeled her nerves against the onslaught she was expecting. He’s gonna come at me fast, then he’ll go left, right, or high to dodge the first blast. Which way is it going to be, need to limit him somehow…
The bell to start the match began, and, as she expected, Rachd was immediately racing forward. Lisa’s reaction was nearly as fast, as the tiny girl exhaled a massive blast of air. Lisa pushed herself harder than she’d ever tried to before, trying to stretch her limits to a new level, and was rewarded with the sound of loud cursing as Rachd lost his footing and went tumbling away.
He couldn’t get around it, I have a shot! Lisa cut the air blast off as soon as she saw the tumbling form of her Combat Instructor, and drew in another, deeper, breath. This time the blast was narrowly focused, and so bitterly cold that frost began to form all the way to the corners of the room. Even Lisa, normally unaffected by her own power, had to fight back the urge to shiver as she tried to pin Rachd in the corner with the icy attack.
Unfortunately for Lisa, the muscular Instructor was a veteran of too many fights to be beaten by a quick combination. Rachd leapt straight up to avoid the initial blast of cold, then pushed himself off the wall with a powerful shove that easily evaded her attempt to realign her attack.
Lisa dropped her cold attack, and switched back to another massive air blast, hoping she could pin Rachd in the corner again. Unfortunately for the tattooed sophomore, the Combat Instructor was ready this time, and his feet dug deeply into the reinforced floor to keep the traction he needed.
“You’re not doing it right, Shang. This is CLOSE Combat, not RANGED Combat.”
Lisa froze for a second at the taunt from her Instructor, then realized it wasn’t really a taunt. She WAS trying to fight him at range, and that was definitely not the point of this class.
“Nah, not really. Like I said, I just wanted to blast you at least once without holding anything back.” Lisa smirked confidently from behind her bluff, though she almost lost the expression when the Combat Instructor responded with a roar of laughter.
“So, ready to start for real?”
What the hell. I’m screwed at this program anyways. “Let’s do this.”
Lisa punctuated her statement by sprinting towards her coach, noting a look of mixed surprise and approval on the man’s face as she did so. I don’t think I’ve ever seen approval on that face before. Maybe I’m already light-headed from overusing my power.
The small sophomore had no further time for thoughts as she was nearly on top of the Combat Instructor and needed a plan. When one came to her, she might have hesitated at the ridiculousness of it if she’d had any time to actually think about it. Instead, Lisa simply acted.
Rachd lunged the last few strides to meet the charging girl, predictably attempting to grapple as any grip he achieved would be an instant ending to the fight. Lisa dove towards his hand, instead of away, pinning pretty much all her hope on the Instructor underestimating her. Seeing him correct the angle of his grab as she dove, the edges of her lips turned up in a brief smile.
Lisa pursed her lips and blew out a tiny, but incredibly focused, blast of air that shifted her trajectory in midair from a dive to a high tackle. The sophomore managed to narrowly evade the grasping fingers of her coach, and locker her own hands on his massive arm to spin herself up to head level with him. She saw that same look for just a split second, surprise mixed with approval, before she blasted him directly in the face with the most intense cold she could muster.
Rachd staggered, in involuntary flailing of his arm sent Lisa flying into the ground with enough force to leave her dazed and unable to stand. Not that she didn’t try, but her body simply would not cooperate. What felt like minutes later, but was probably only a few seconds, the small girl felt a powerful hand grip her uniform and haul her up off the floor. Lisa actually giggled, in her mildly concussed state, as she noted the thick layer of ice still engulfing almost half of the Combat Instructor’s face.
“Why is your nose all bleedy, Coach?”
Rachd brought his free hand up and slammed it against the built up ice, dislodging a shower of small shards. “Had to hit myself pretty hard to get all the ice out.” Rather than looking upset at his statement, the Combat Instructor laughed along with his student as he carefully stood her back up.
“So, did I pass?”
“Get your ass out to the healers, and let Johnson know you’ve got a concussion.”
“But did I pass.”
“I’ll give you a solid ‘B,’ Shang. Now move it.”
“I should get an A! I freezed your head!” Lisa tried to point at the head in question, but the room decided to spin around on her instead.
Rachd sighed as he caught the girl. “Jameson broke my hand, and I only gave him a B plus. You get a B.” The muscular man tried to escort the much smaller girl to the exit after she finally nodded her acceptance, but it quickly became obvious that walking was not on Lisa Shang’s current list of abilities.
“JOHNSON! Get your ass in here and do your job!”
“Good afternoon, class.” Laurence Vree noted the many anxious faces watching him as he entered the classroom, and did his best to hide the smirk that wanted to creep onto his face. “Is everyone ready for today’s exercises?”
“I have a question, professor.” Rorie Samuels stood as he spoke, and didn’t bother to wait for more than eye contact from Instructor before he continued. “What, and when, is our final for Focus? We only have one week left before the end of the term, and then there’s something with the labyrinth, but… When is it?”
Vree waited for a moment after Rorie finished speaking, noting most of the class nodding along with the Samoan youth’s questions and a great deal of interest directed towards the professor. “Ah, I believe I neglected to inform you all, but the sophomore Focus major doesn’t include a final exam in the sense that the other disciplines do. Your scores in this class will be based entirely off of your performance throughout the entire semester.”
Waves of disbelief radiated from all around the British professor, along with more than a hint of paranoia, but the white-haired man simply smiled and waited for the next person to speak. He was unsurprised when he saw who it was.
“Professor, quite a while back, you told me that one of the reasons why the Instructors don’t always share things with the students is that we don’t ask.” Aaron Sexton met his Instructor’s gaze as one of the few sophomores in the room not convinced the professor’s speech about finals was some kind of trick.
“That is correct, Mr Sexton.”
“So, I’d like to ask, explicitly and for the record. Did you hold off on telling us there’s no final for this class for this long because no one actually asked, or because you enjoy screwing with us?”
Laurence Vree let out a deep laugh in response to the deadpan question. “The two answers are NOT mutually exclusive, Mr Sexton.”
A few notes of soft laughter joined in from around the room, as a few of the students deciphered the professor’s answer, and Laurence noted a definite drop in the air of distrust in the room. “Now, let this be a lesson to the entire class. Focus is about turning your attention inward to learn more about yourself, your ability, and your capabilities. But sometimes the answers really are right there waiting for you, if you turn your attention outward and ask.” The Focus Instructor’s demeanor turned suddenly serious.
“Even when you’ve graduated, and you’re a full-fledged Hero, never be afraid to ASK when you don’t know something. Here, it will likely only save you some mild embarrassment or time. Out there, it could very well save lives. This one piece of advice might be the most useful thing you take from my course.” The laughter had stopped throughout the room, and the air of distrust and paranoia was completely dispelled.