“Welcome to your first Close Combat class,” Coach Tillman said to everyone, while standing up on the stage in the lecture hall. “During these classes you’ll call me Professor Tillman, and as such, I expect questions, but once your gym period begins it will be business as usual, so don’t waste our time together.
“I wanted to meet today in the lecture hall because I wanted to talk about rank challenges, but all of our other classes will meet on the track,” he said. “Those of you who may have seen the ranking boards or who counted the number of people in the room right now, will see that two students dropped from the HCP after seeing their ranks. What you will also notice on the boards is that their names are not dropped from the board and therefore those under them will not move up a place until you pass them in ranking challenges.
“So for instance Dmitry Orlov was ranked 25th in combat, would anyone like to challenge for his spot?” There was mostly blank stares from the class until a lone hand went up. “Excellent, Arash Kazmi; since Mr. Orlov cannot defend his spot, you have moved to rank 25th in combat, and Dmitry is now 28th. Would anyone like to challenge for 28th spot?” This time without hesitation five hands went up. “Alright, in the case that two or more challenges are made at the same time, the higher rank will get the challenge, so Hector Camacho wins the challenge match. Since only two matches can be taken a week, Orlov is remain at 29th until at least next week,” Professor Tillman said with a smile. “Now the other student, 21st ranked Paul Heston…” Kenny and Sara Hunter both moved up with challenges to Paul.
“Now for the rest of the class, would anyone like to make a challenge?” About half the hands in the class went up. “That’s what I like to see. Write your challenge on a piece a paper and put them on the edge of the stage there, I’ll write up the schedule and inform anyone that has to challenge someone else by tomorrow, otherwise it will be on a piece of paper on the bulletin board.” It usually took a month before the challenges slowed and everyone learned their place, both literally and figuratively.
Professor Tillman gathered up the papers and then led everyone out to the gym. “For this and all of these classes to follow we will be teaching everyone martial arts. There is a bit of a disconnect for trying to teach a class like this, because everyone that is planning to take close combat is likely already partially skilled in it, whereas those who don’t plan on continuing with me usually don’t make an effort to learn such things. But my philosophy is that everyone, no matter what they end up doing in this world can benefit from learning how to fight. So as such I will attempt to find and teach a style that works with your power and your place in the hero world.
“Show of hands, who has a year or more of a fighting discipline?” All but a few hands went up, “three years?” Half the class still had their hands up, “and five years?” This left nine people, including James and Hope, “you nine are now student-teachers. Everyone with three years, you are with me, I want to see what you can do. The rest are with my new student teachers, start with the basics,” Professor Tillman said.
The combat class went well, with Professor Tillman being kind and attentive, answering questions with patients, and then the exact second the regular gym period started his demeanor changed like a crazy person. “Get in line!” his voice billowed through the gym. Everyone was taken aback by the sudden shift, but they didn’t dawdle to get into place. “You think that week of trials was a vacation!?” He then started them doing the most taxing calisthenics he could come up with. He had them doing more sets then anyone but the most in shape could even do and he didn’t allow for water breaks. It took 41 minutes before the first person went down and couldn’t get back up. “Simons! Get him back on his feet!” Coach Tillman yelled.
“Coach the other healers would be better for exhaustion,” Hope said between deep breathes.
“If I wanted one of the others to do it, I would have told them to do it! A hundred push-ups for you questioning my orders!” Hope ran over to the downed boy, touched him, then dropped and started her push-ups. Her power worked by using the body’s own energy, so once her enhancement wore off, they’d feel it twice as badly; which Hope suspected was now the point. The boy got back on his feet quickly and with the boost could now keep up, but he didn’t understand what pushing himself now would cost him later.
Five more people dropped before the second hour was done, and Hope got them all back up. She wanted so bad to warn them what was coming, but the Coach was watching everyone. Ten minutes before the end of gym, Coach Tillman finally called an end to the day and there was a mad dash to get water, or others simply collapsed. “I don’t know where you got it in your head that gym was going to be easy or that you got time off! I can count on one hand the number of freshman I saw in the gym after their trials. If you think you can get by without putting in an ounce of effort outside my lessons, you will be ‘sorely’ mistaken. Tomorrow and every day for the foreseeable future, we will be repeating what you did today.
“And, if I see or hear about anyone getting healing tonight for anything other than a life-threatening injury, you will regret it! Dismissed!” The class began to file out, but Hope stopped them.
“Attention please! Anyone I healed, you’re going to crash hard in the next hour or so, make sure you are prepared for it. Also, you need to get ‘A Lot’ of food in you before you go to sleep. You are literally drained right now.” The class headed out slowly and to a lot of groans.
The next day brought them back to the gym, one student lighter, the boy who’d gone down first yesterday; Larry Feldman. True to his word the coach repeated the same work-out and Hope had to get eight people back up. So that night at home saw all seven sitting on the couches, with no television or other entertainment, they were simply sitting around trying to ignore the pain in every part of their bodies. Even Sam, who could self-heal, seemed stoic. “You think this is normal, or was it something in particular this class did?” Sam asked.
“You mean like does Coach Tillman know our secret?” Jennifer asked.
“Doubt it. I think this is just what they do to get people working harder. It’s true, I never even considered an extra work-out after any of the trials, even after the focus, which required no energy.” Jennifer said.
“You think we should be in the gym right now?” Michael asked.
“What!?” Allison nearly yelled, “I can’t even move.”
“Neither can I, but that was the coach’s problem, maybe he’ll stop the super work-outs if he sees people down there even after everything he puts them through,” Michael said to a room full of angry stares.
“We know you’re right,” James said, “We’re just trying to come up with a good reason why you’re not.” After ten minutes of nobody coming up with anything, they headed out of the house as a group, but they compromised by piling into Michael’s truck, rather than walking the extra mile to the closest HCP lift, and spent the next two hours putting in a ‘relatively’ easy workout before returning home again, but unfortunately, they didn’t see any other members of the freshman class down there, so their sacrificial act may not be enough to placate the coach.
“Welcome to your first subtlety class,” Professor Young said on Wednesday, “Subtlety will be difficult to teach even a small amount of the necessary, material as there are essentially an unlimited number of ways to gather intelligence. The first trial packet had a vast array questions that required generally approaching each task differently, but for each question there was really no set path to reach the end.
“So therefore it can be difficult to gauge who will make the best subtlety agent. Ideally, at least in this day in age, having computer skills is a must; there is a bit a gap here that can be hard for some people to overcome. Just on the computer side, you’ll need to be able to program and hack computers. You’ll need to be able to build and operate the basic technologies of spy craft. You’ll need to be able to sift through gigabytes of data that make up their lives online, and you’ll need to be able to explain all that computer stuff to old senators who demand to know how you obtained your information.
“Then you’ll have the social side of the craft, this involves the ability to talk to and manipulate people for the purpose of information gathering. And this can be things like seduction, effective blackmail, or just exploiting friendships; the unfortunate truth about this path is that you will be forced to betray confidences and share secrets that were not meant to be shared.
“And then third in the practical art of the subtlety major; things like tailing, surveillance, disguises, and…torture. Ideally, I’d like for those considering this class to have a small talent in at least two of those three major categories and then we can see about getting you the skills from the third in the years to come. Of course, you all know the kind of reputation that comes with this major, so the first thing you have to ask is, ‘what am I willing to do to be a hero?’ A subtlety hero will never be in the spotlight, fans and merchandise sales will be small to non-existent, which means so much less money than the big names. You will also be in direct danger more than any of the next two to three members of your team combined, and you will need to be at least loosely affiliated with a team, because you can’t both gather and act on the information yourself. You’ll often find yourself in the lion’s den, either because you infiltrated an organization, or your nearby listening in, or often you’ll be in another country. It is hard, lonely, and thankless work, but ultimately as subtlety hero you will end up saving more lives than those same two or three heroes…
“Oh, and sorry I haven’t been in gym with you, but we try to do a good cop, bad cop kind of thing, and it just wouldn’t work if I just stood around and watched you get punished like that.” This left the class stunned at the admission and angry that he could have helped, but finally got someone to ask the question.
“Why are you telling us this?” a girl near back asked.
“Because this is a classroom and I’m here to teach. One thing I want to teach you is to read people and scenarios. If I hadn’t mentioned it, could anyone in here say they would have questioned my absence and figured out the reason for it. Because I’ll tell you this, if you graduate under the subtlety major, it ‘will be’ a talent you’ll have and use.”
Thursday night the class size was down to 35 students with Wilma Turner and Josie Brown quitting. It wasn’t long before others saw what the seven were doing and caught on, or asked them why they were sticking around after those horrible gym sessions. A short explanation and most people saw the wisdom in their logic, although there was always a huge internal debate when they weighted the pain they were in, and even with the logic of argument several people just flat out refused to be a part of it. So that night 23 of them, including the seven were doing the extra work-out session. It was ridiculous how pathetic those workouts looked, Coach Tillman’s earlier punishment workouts left almost everyone essentially being unable to move at more than a slow walk, and therefore the extra workouts were little more than poor imitations of the real thing, but the point here was never about getting something huge from it. The point was to prove to the coach that they were willing to go to their limits and continue on with almost nothing left, then come back the next day and ask for more.
So on Friday, “welcome class,” Professor Scott said. “Focus is about finding your power within yourself. We know phycology speaking that every super and powered has a brain that is fundamentally different than a normal human and that the point of this class is to ‘focus’ on your mind and your power source and ‘feel’ it out. Once you have mastered meditation, you should be able to ‘see’ how your power acts and works and interacts with the physical world, once you understand those basic principles of your power you can start to shape it, learn how to unlock new facets of it, or simply have such a deep understanding of how it works that you are able to see new methods for application in the field.”
So after a focus class that involved sitting quietly and meditating for an hour, they went to the gym to find both coaches there and they let out a mental sigh of relief. Coach Tillman made no mention of it, but the gym class that day was back to normal, still very difficult, especially with the four days of ‘punishment gym,’ but doable, and nobody passed out. And nobody was stupid enough to not do the extra session they’d been doing.
Everyone in the house but James had made a challenge and he himself had been challenged, so although they wanted to do something to relax after that week, they needed to keep it low-key. They extended an open invitation to the freshman class to come to their place and play some poker. Only a few people accepted, although Jennifer was making some inroads with all the girls with elemental powers and got all four of them to come; Amy the ice elemental, Rosa the water elemental, Kathryn the electric absorber, and Tara the shifter with plant elemental abilities, they joked that they were going to call themselves Elemental Furies, like the Brewster Hero team Elemental Fury, but with ‘furies’ being from Greek and Roman mythology, being female spirits of vengeance and justice. They put a lot of planning into how their team would look, logo design, and team roles, it was fun to think of the possibilities of living in the Hero world. So they spent a few hours relaxing, hanging out, and drinking ‘lightly,’ nobody wanted a hangover tomorrow. Michael even convinced Amy to stay the night.