Second String Supers: Sophomore Siege: Chapter 5 2

Chapter 5:
Team Building Exercises

Alexandra watched with a dispassionate expression as the nearly untouched meal slid off the tray and into the garbage bin, before turning to walk quickly out of the dining hall. Internally she was practically gibbering in terror at the prospect of what awaited her down in the HCP rooms below; tonight was the night when the top seven picked their teams. In front of the whole class, with a mandated oral supporting statement of why each teammate was picked. How am I going to do this without insulting everyone I don’t pick? What if the people I pick don’t WANT to be on my team? Maybe I can get someone to challenge me for my rank real quick and throw the match.

“There will be no ranking challenges allowed until next week, as the format has changed. So sadly that plan is out, Ms Andrews.” The voice from directly behind the blonde girl caused her to literally jump and emit a brief high pitched sound, before recognition caught up.

“Dean Jilles, I, I mean… It’s not…” Alexandra found herself stuttering her way rapidly nowhere and managed to cut off the stream of useless words as she turned to face the even shorter woman behind her.

“Every one of your fellow captains is also occupying an emotional state somewhere between nervous and terrified, if that helps any.” The Dean reached past the embarrassedly blushing girl to trigger the concealed button for the HCP elevator. “Part of the reason we give you the whole week to stew over this is to see how you respond to the emotional upheaval. If we let you choose your teams on the first day back, most of the nerves are avoided as you instead focus on the moment.”

“Then why do it this way?” The petite mimic managed to find her voice again as she stepped into the elevator alongside the older woman.

The Dean seemed to ponder the question during the elevators rapid descent into the HCP levels, before answering just as the doors opened. “For fun, mostly.” Alexandra was left gaping in surprise at the irreverent response, Kathryn smiled at her shocked expression before departing the elevator.

Several seconds later the doors opened again, and Alexandra emerged looking a fair bit more confident than she had earlier. The small bit of confidence lasted almost five minutes, when she entered the auditorium where the team selections would be made. In addition to the sophomore class, it seemed that all the Overton upperclassmen had decided to observe the process as well. I wonder if they’ll still make me be captain if I pass out in front of everyone…

The massive black girl sat anxiously on the edge of her seat as the seven sophomore captains were ordered up onto the stage to begin picking teams. A corner in the back of Tasha’s mind found itself marveling that the HCP had managed to condense the same anxiety found in an elementary school gym class and distill a far purer form. The muscular girl knew that it was extremely difficult for healers to progress all the way to the rank of Hero. As incredibly useful as the ability was, unless there was some form of offensive or controlling bent to a particular brand of healing (or in some cases an unrelated secondary ability) it usually was not considered a Hero level ability.

Tasha watched the small blonde mimic step to the mic for the first selection, surprising none of the sophomores by choosing Catalina first. With the mimic and the super-telepath on the same team, it would grant them a HUGE advantage over the others in being able to obtain and distribute information in real time. Not to mention preventing any of the other teams from having such an accurate method of spying.

Kyle stepped up second and was met with a few surprised looks when he selected Sean Tannen. Tasha quickly grasped the point the asian boy made as he supported his choice; putting an illusionist with someone that can manipulate the battlefield is a powerful combination. Rorie came up next and selected Beulah, forcing a nearly classwide cringe at the mental picture of the large Samoan rapidly being teleported around while lobbing energy blasts. Gerard followed suit by choosing Teresa, locking down the second teleporter with only the supporting argument of, “She’s the highest combat rank that’s available.”

The first round concluded with Erin selecting Scott, Collin picking Aaron, and Amelia choosing Michael. Tasha took a deep breath as the selected students settled in behind their captains up on the stage. It’s alright, you didn’t expect to go in the first round. None of the healers got picked first, everyone up there probably has a strategy and with a four man team they mig-…

“Tasha Johnson.” The muscular young woman’s train of thought derailed abruptly as she realized that Alexandra had just called her name. The momentary confusion abated into shock as she realized that her name had been called from the microphone, meaning…

“Me?” It was impressive that someone as physically large as Tasha could still manage such a small voice as she responded to the blonde girl on stage.

“Yes you, Tasha. Come up here.” Behind the girl at the mic Tasha could see her roommate smiling and waving her up encouragingly, finally breaking the sense of shock enough for her to make it up onto the stage.

The tall healer found herself still floating a bit off center, not even realizing that the selection process had made its way around again until the seat next to her was suddenly occupied by a heavily tattooed, petite form. Lisa smiled at her teammates before looking out to scan the remaining six sophomores. “Who do you think is going to be last?” The asian girl whispered to the other three next to her.

“Doesn’t really matter, since last picked gets the consolation prize of being on Ames’ team.” Tasha looked over to her team captain and was surprised at the transformation she seemed to have undergone. The larger girl hadn’t even realized how nervous the mimic had looked until now when she’d finally relaxed again.

”Tara will be last picked.” The auburn haired girl’s tone showed no hint of uncertainty. As the selections continued, it seemed she would be proven right as well when Collin stepped forward and only Barry and Tara remained.

“I feel bad for her. I was terrified that it was going to be me down there getting picked la-…” Tasha’s whisper was interrupted as Collin selected Barry and Amelia let out a shout of triumph, not even bothering to approach the microphone as she called for Tara to come up on the stage. Most of the assembled students found themselves laughing at the top ranked sophomore’s enthusiasm, or possibly the stunned look on the last picked red head.

”She’s not faking that by the way. Ames really did want Tara on her team from the beginning.” The declaration from Catalina was met by silence from the other three as they tried to contemplate what plan the super strong girl could possibly have that needed TWO Technological Brilliance Supers.

“Well it’s good she got what she wanted.” The blonde captain was the first to break out of the contemplation. “And so did I. We’ve got a solid team, artillery, intelligence, variable, and the secret weapon.” Alexandra pointed at Lisa, Catalina, herself, and finally Tasha as she spoke, drawing a hugely surprised look from the muscular healer.

“Wait, I’M the secret weapon?”

As the first Saturday of the school year arrived, it saw a great deal of activity in the underground HCP training areas at Overton. Many of the newly minted four person teams had arrived to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and work out together to get a better feel for their teammates. At least one team, however, had chosen a more relaxed environment for the day.

“So, I am officially confused as to what you were thinking, Captain.” The white haired girl leaned forward to snag a slice of pizza from the open box on the kitchen table as she spoke. “Unless this team is some kind of ego trip for you to prove you can take on anything and to spite the rank drop you only picked from the bottom half of the rankings.”

“Not ONLY the bottom half of the rankings.” Scott chimed in defensively in rebuttal of Eloise’s statement, though internally he had to admit that fourteenth of twenty eight was probably close enough.

“Well this would be a pretty silly way to go about it then.” Erin leaned back in the most comfortable chair in the room, claimed as ‘captain’s prerogative,’ and examined the three members of her team. “For starters, I seriously doubt you’ll stay in the bottom half of the rankings now that you’re officially in Ranged Combat and have some real leeway in what kind of equipment you can cart around. And Scott finally got his ‘rail gun’ thing working over the summer, and if THAT isn’t the most powerful offense in the class then someone is seriously holding back.”

“What about me?” Zach Snyder, the fourth member of the team, sounded more than a little upset at his apparent exclusion from Erin’s speech.

“Zach, you have a great ability. I sincerely hope that working with the three most tactically trained students in our class will finally get you to think about using it as something other than just a blunt instrument for violence.”

The lightly built youth snorted in response. “You three are supposed to be the most tactically trained in our class? Based on what?”

“My mom was Spec Ops back in England. I’ve been doing the same drills as an SAS recruit since I was about nine. Also completed all of the information drills, wargames, and tactical studies so if this whole thing falls through I can probably head over there and get an Officer’s commission in six months or so. I also, you may remember, led the Combat Class against Force Ops in the special exercise freshman year.” Scott turned to Eloise after he answered, prompting the white haired girl to go next.

“Dad was a SEAL, mom’s a survivalist nut. I grew up alternating between military drills and training to survive the whatever-apocolypse. I love ’em both, but as hardcore into this stuff as I am, those two make me look like an extreme left wing anti everything-to-do-with-violence-in-all-forms. I’ve done actual life or death survival training since I was twelve, and obviously I’m not dead yet.”

“I was raised by my uncle, he’s a Colonel in Force Ops these days. I grew up on military bases, and always thought I’d go into the same field as him. Trained with experienced military veterans around the world since I was five. Then I got bit by the Hero bug and ended up here instead.” There was a bit of a playful glare directed at Scott as the tall girl finished her speech.

“And this still hasn’t done much to answer my initial issue. Still confused.” Eloise jumped back into the conversation before Zach could manage to continue with the argument he seemed about to unleash. “I mean it’s great that we probably have more tactics training than the rest of the class combined, and I can see how denying the other teams that expertise can help, but we seem to not be a very synergistic grouping.”

“This wasn’t about synergy, it was about skewing to one area of strength as hard as I could with whomever was available in each round. I was worried that Scott was going to get himself snapped up in the first pick or two with him showing off at Ranged Combat earlier this week.” The sandy haired boy responded by making a rude gesture at the team captain as he acquired another piece of pizza for himself. “You were second on the list because of your expertise and WHAT it’s in. And, no offense, Zach you were the best option of the three remaining for what I was looking for.”

“And what is you master plan, Erin?” Zach didn’t seem much mollified by the the taller girl’s ‘best of what’s left’ description, and the dark haired boy seemed still to be mostly reacting to the perceived unfairness rather than thinking.

“Ranged Combat, Zach.” The petite girl had hit on the answer as soon as Erin had mentioned Scott’s performance from earlier in the week, and her tone showed a fair amount of condescension towards her teammate for not seeing it himself. “With Scott’s power and my training plus arsenal, the two of us represent about the largest concentration of long ranged firepower in our class, excluding Rorie who was out by virtue of ALSO being a captain.”

Zach seemed about to yell at Eloise, when he stopped himself and looked back at Erin instead. “Alright, so you wanted to build a team skewed heavily to favor one area. So the plan is to just overwhelm at range? And how will you be playing into that plan oh fearless leader? Or did you forget that since you didn’t pick Ranged Combat you probably won’t be able to get any real long range weapons checked out for matches and testing?”

Erin smiled in response to the smaller boy’s litany of rhetorical questions, before deftly snatching up the last slice of pizza. “We all learned some new things over the summer, Zach. Now quit whining and let’s talk some strategy.”

Ty looked down at the extremely nervous redhead standing next to him as the team called another break from cataloging the extensive collection of tech he and Tara had brought. This time it had been Michael needing to call a stop in order to attempt to process all the information presented by the pair of Tech Brilliance Supers rounding out team one.

“Relax, Tara. Seriously, we’ve got Ames on the team. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.” The large black youth was relatively sure that the source of the smaller girl’s nervousness centered far more on being last choice than anything to do with which team that had put her on.

“I know I’m on Amelia’s team, but only because no one wanted me. What if I end up dragging the whole team down?”

“You have the same ability as I do, so if the team ends up getting dragged down by that then I figure it will be on BOTH of us. Besides, did our captain look at all disappointed to be ‘stuck’ with you?”

Tara found the rest of her negative argument dying in her throat as her overactive intellect again attempted to analyze Amelia’s response to the final addition to her team. “She could have been faking.” Even the redhead had to admit her voice carried no certainty at all in the possibility.

“Let’s ask her.” Ty’s response and subsequent quick escort of the smaller girl caught her completely by surprise, and before she could manage a protest Tara found herself maneuvered over to where Amelia and Michael seemed to be attempting to decipher the information given by the two Techs into something resembling english. “Hey Ames! Tara wants to know why you wanted both the Techies on your team.”

Tara’s eyes went wide at the cheerfully shouted question, but before she could think of any way to react the skinny blonde turned to face the two of them.

“Versatility.” There was no hesitation or consideration before Amelia answered. “I’m our team’s blunt instrument. Michael here is no Cat, but he can provide locations and a little bit of early warning. You two are my versatility. There’s no possible way to get a collection of powers onto a team of four that can cover EVERY possible selection arrayed against us, so I wanted the powers that could MAKE something depending on what we’re up against.”

“But, I mean you already had Ty… Wouldn’t you have preferred to get someone else and have a better base to choose from?” The redhead sounded absolutely certain of her own lack of worth as she asked the question.

“Nope. You and Ty have different specializations. I get both of you, I have the broadest range of options possible.” The immediate confidence with which the team captain answered seemed finally to begin dispelling the smaller girl’s self doubt. “Now, I think Michael and I have most of the last bit figured out, let’s get back to it. Though this time, could you guys PLEASE try to use normal words when you explain what your stuff does?”

“So… Do we actually have any strategies or are you just hoping that a higher average ranking than most of the other teams will carry us through?” Susan Owens shifted back to her human form as she directed the question to her team captain, having just completed another series of ‘group exercises’ that the blond youth seemed to have pulled directly from a crappy management seminar.

“You think that combat isn’t going to play a notable role in the team exercises? Were you HERE for the freshman year?” Gerard’s response came with not quite enough sarcasm to cover a note of defensive uncertainty.

“Of course there will be combat. Dani would never have gotten that excited if there wasn’t going to be a lot of combat.” The hispanic teleporter leaned against a wall and swept her arm wide to gesture at all her team members as she continued. “But ranking won’t do it alone. Erin and I proved that pretty well during last year’s final when we both messed up each other’s plans instead of cooperating and both of us dropped ranks over it.”

“The girls have a point, Gerard.” The captain flinched as the blond healer joined the discussion, all seemingly arrayed against him. “I mean, you literally picked your entire team with the justifications of, ‘highest rank available, highest rank available, only healer left.’” Antoin dropped to a seated position near where Teresa was lounging against the wall. “So what’s the actual strategy, boss?”

“The strategy is… mostly what we’re here to talk about today.” Gerard’s shoulders slumped into a somewhat defeated posture and he let out a deep sigh before continuing. “I spent all last night and this morning trying to come up with anything better than, ‘All out blitz with Teresa dropping us into position.’ The problem is, that works against maybe two or three of the other six teams. We can’t blitz Collin or Ames because they’re too powerful to take head on. We can’t blitz against Alex’s team because Cat will see us coming a day in advance. And odds are against us being able to blitz Rorie because Beulah teleports faster than you do, Teresa. No offense.”

“No offense taken, she is MUCH faster at it than I am. Her range is getting a lot better too for that matter.” The dark haired girl acknowledged her relative shortcomings with brutal, cheerful honesty. “My advantage is that I can teleport things without going WITH them. That means if we’re willing to split up we can deploy faster than any of the other teams, and I can potentially take the most problematic opponents out of play.”

“You’re talking about teleporting Collin or Ames out of a fight. Won’t they just come back?” The red haired girl sounded a bit torn over the idea. Part of her wanted to go head to head with the other two Strongman types in her class. But her practical side knew, at least for the present, that she was vastly outmatched by either of the top two ranking students.

“Assuming we’re using the simulation room, or other rooms like it, she doesn’t HAVE to keep them in the same room.” The healer smiled as he considered the idea. “She could put them off in one of the lecture rooms, or the far side combat rooms, or just about anywhere in the facility.”

Gerard wore a look of surprise as the conversation seemed to take off without him, but his expression quickly changed to one of satisfaction as he settled down to contribute bits and pieces to the conversation as his own expertise became relevant. The book was right, sometimes the best way to lead is to get out of the way and let the people who know what they’re doing, do it.

“But what about me?” Three members of Team 5 closed their eyes and rubbed at their temples in unison as the smallest member once again broke into the strategy discussion.

“Louise, we’ve talked about this. A LOT. You’re going to be our reserve.” Beulah moved behind the smaller girl as she spoke, trying to radiate calm as she did so.

“That doesn’t make sense though! I’ve got enough juice to take out anyone except Ames! And probably Collin. And maybe Alex if she’s copying Ames…” Louise trailed off as she seemed to realize she wasn’t doing her case any huge favors.

“Louise, we are not trying to exclude you from our tactics.” Ramón knelt down to make eye contact with the much shorter girl as he spoke. “But there is no benefit to Be bringing you along with Rorie for explosive hit and run strikes, and the only way you could keep up with me is if I carried you. I would be happy to carry a friend if needed, but both of us would only be hindered by this.”

“Don’t think of yourself as being left behind.” The heavily built team captain chimed in to encourage the hispanic girl. “You’re our ace in the hole, and with Be on our team you’re never going to be more than a couple seconds away from the action if we need you.”

“It still sucks. You guys are going to get to have all the fun.” Louise found herself unable to come up with a logical rebuttal, and opted to pout instead. “If I’m not part of the battle plan, then how am I going to perform well enough to advance to next year?”

Ramón responded first, by laughing loudly at the question, drawing questioning looks from all three of his teammates. “My small friend, we will be going up against Supers that have shown the power, skill, and deviousness needed to advance to the second year of the HCP. The battle plans will likely not survive for more than a few seconds, and you will get all the chances you desire and more to try yourself in battle.”

Rorie and Beulah offered the muscular Mexican a pair of matching sour looks at his assessment of how long their plans would last, but both managed to hide their expression quickly upon seeing Louise’s face light up at the prospect. “Promise?”

“So how’s the case coming, Hank?” The petite asian woman slid into the booth opposite the massive African American as she spoke, examining her surroundings with a look of satisfaction as she greeted the PI. The restaurant chosen for this meeting was FAR higher class than the diner she had ambushed the man in originally.

“You’ve been mined. Hard.” The large man slid a small thumb drive across the table as he spoke, his voice pitched low so as not to carry.

“You may have to be a little less vague than that.” Hai casually palmed the drive and allowed for a pause as a waitress approached to take her order before turning her attention back to the man across from her. “Mined?”

“Data mining. Some seriously heavy duty project targeting your University.”

The dark haired woman looked doubtful. “I admit that there are ways to dig through public records to get details about the… program, but something like this would have tripped some serious red flags, Hank. We’d know.”

“Not your program specifically. Your entire University.” Another pause in the conversation came as a basket of breadsticks was dropped off at the table and summarily devoured by the huge private investigator. “This is the level of stuff you don’t see very often. I can’t link it all, but what you have on that drive is files showing more than 70% of Overton’s student population and their families being ‘shuffled’ into other ongoing investigations that are just close enough to look relevant at a glance. If they got that high, it’s best to just assume they got the full course.”

Hai looked shocked for a moment as she processed the scope of what Henry was describing. “Hank, there are almost thirty thousand students at Overton.”

“Yep. 28,891 to be exact.” The number was stated calmly, but the man’s expression showed more than a hint of anxiety at the sheer scope of what he’d found.

“How did this link back to your investigation of the PI flood we’ve been having?”

Henry chuckled in response. “That’s the bit of good news in this. Simple, sloppy planning. The parts of the machine are so big that whomever is manipulating them can’t keep track of them all. Corporate PIs that know each other than all end up in the same place end up hanging out. A few of them get talking and realize that it’s a bit of a coincidence: They’re seeing college kids from families who’ve been investigated by their firms for random stuff over the summer. You know the saying, once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is conspiracy. When it got to four times in two weeks, I had Darcy do some digging.” The conversation paused again as drinks and meals arrived, Henry’s order requiring it’s own separate server to bring to the table as the large man had apparently ordered four separate entrees.

“So Darcy started doing some pattern checks, and algorithms, and a WHOLE bunch of other shit that I do not understand at all. And she sent me that.” A gesture with a fork indicated the closed hand holding the thumbdrive.

“How could someone have done all that without us finding out sooner?”

“Scale and scope, and automation.” Seeing the questioning look from the petite Hero across from him, Henry elaborated. “Darcy explained it to me like this, most systems like this that keep an eye out for someone digging where they aren’t supposed to are automated. No one is really babysitting the thing 24/7. So a flag gets tripped because someone whose records you want not looked at TOO in depth starts getting looked at, but the system traces it back and finds those records are being looked at as part of a set including hundreds or even thousands of other records. The system has basic covers in place, and it assumes from the scope of the inquiry that the important records are not being specifically targeted, and so no flags, alarms, or flares go up.”

Hai sighed and leaned back away from her untouched meal. “So we’ve just found a major vulnerability in our system. And if they were good enough to find it, they’ll probably be able to get a pretty complete list of our program’s roster from the raw data they pulled.”

“And we haven’t actually gotten to the bad news yet.” The dark haired woman’s attention immediately riveted on the huge man across from her, as he delayed long enough to finish half of one of his dishes. “All those investigators aren’t the only professionals who are suddenly finding themselves vacationing in East Texas with seemingly nothing to do. I’ve spotted a few fixers and cleaners I know drifting in for brief meetups and then right back out again without any work being done. Considering how good some of these guys are, if I’m seeing any of them with a casual look then there’s a lot more I’m not.”

“You think… what exactly?”

“Someone, somewhere, plans to do something drastic at some point. And they’ve set the playing field up with so many moving parts that I don’t know how to tell when, where, or who to watch for.”

The Control Instructor sat and contemplated this information in silence as the PI worked his way rapidly through enough food for five people, pushing her own plate in his direction in response to a plaintive look as she found her own appetite had deserted her.

“Best guess, Hank. What’s going to go down when it happens?”

“If it was me running a set up like this?” At the smaller woman’s earnest nod the large man leaned away from the food to consider the question, running his hands through the wild shock of hair on his head as he did so.

“Whatever it is, it’s not set yet. The only reason I would build a rotation this big is if I didn’t know what was going to be needed whenever it’s needed, and wanted to be able to get anything done on short notice.”

“How do you stop something like that? When it’s not even planned out yet?”

“You pray that when it happens, you have the right person in the right place at the right time.”

Second String Supers: Sophomore Siege: Chapter 4
Second String Supers: Sophomore Siege: Teams!

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2 thoughts on “Second String Supers: Sophomore Siege: Chapter 5

  • Tucson Jerry

    I love the teams you set up. They are so well thought out. Also, the conspiracy has been successfully fleshed out to our heroes. Now we get to see how clever they really are.