Three o’clock Monday morning, James woke up for the third time that night. The electricity just wouldn’t stay still, it felt like a swarm of bees flying around in his chest and if he focused he could calm it; it wasn’t so bad when he was awake, but as he slept, he’d obviously lose that control and it’d build until it jerked him awake and it took several minutes to calm back down. He’d tried a bunch of things yesterday, he could use his white tendril and electrocute anything he touched with it, but he couldn’t really change the ‘power’ of it. So it had its use for battle, but he didn’t know how powerful it was or what it’d do to an unprotected person, but all that was secondary to just being able to live with it. He needed real help.
The first range class of the year had every student using five different weapons; the goal was for ‘everyone to try as many weapons as possible and make a final choice; whether it be a power or an actual weapon by midterm and that would be what they will use until the end of the year.’ Professor Anderson was extremely knowledgeable about every weapon and always had a trick to impart about their uses. Unlike the other classes so far, there didn’t really seem to be much that could be taught; obviously it took years to really become accurate and skillful with weapons, but really it just required hours upon hours of repeated practice, so it was very straightforward.
Then after a ‘normal’ gym class Coach Tillman told James, Kathryn and Sam to head down to the combat level because Professor Ford wanted to talk with them.
“What do you think this is about?” Kathryn asked when they got on the lifts.
“Me,” James said, “About your electricity. About learning to live with it, and figuring out what kinds of energy I can take from other absorbers.”
“And why do we have to help you?” Kathryn asked, more curious than angry.
“I’m pretty sure it’s required, part of the agreement we all signed. Mimics get to copy powers, telepaths get to read minds; students get to be the test dummies for powers that can only be used on humans. It’s how we learn,” James said.
“Oh,” Kathryn said as the lifts opened and Professor Ford and three other students were standing there.
“Alright, let’s get started.” Professor Ford said, “I’ve already told these three what the plan is. Do you two understand what’s going on?” she asked Sam and Kathryn.
“Yes,” they said.
“Excellent. This is Titus,” she said gesturing to a tall black kid with a shaved head, wearing the grays of the sophomores and juniors. “He absorbs sound. And this is Emily,” pointing to the dark haired girl with orange eyes and gray uniform standing next to him, “she absorb kinetic energy. And finally this is Ethan,” setting her hand on the shoulder of an average looking white guy, with brown hair and a goatee, dressed in the white uniform of a senior, “he can absorb heat.”
“Heat? That doesn’t sound very impressive,” Sam said.
“Perhaps not at first, but you’d change your tune when I take the heat from your body, sending you into hypothermic shock in three seconds, or lower the temperature in a combat cell to fifty degrees below zero, freezing you while releasing heat around my own body to keep me warm,” Ethan said, even though it sounded threatening, he’d said it more like he was just stating a fact.
“Yes,” Professor Ford interrupted, “so, each of you will go into the cell with James and he’ll attempt to take some of your power. He will be standing ten feet away and only be allowed ten seconds of absorption, unless someone would like to volunteer more.”
“He can have all of mine if he can take it. It’s easy to replace and I rarely expel it for my own uses,” Ethan said.
“Thank you, Ethan. Is there anything they need to know James?”
“Oh, yeah, they need to be activating their power source, otherwise I’ll just end up taking normal energy. And I’ve already taken from Kathryn, I won’t need to do it again.”
“Alright, but she’ll still be needed for the second part. Let’s start with Sam.” They headed down into the nearest cell with the others watching from above.
“You ready Sam?”
“Sure, go ahead.” James reached out with his tendril and started to drain, he took one second of normal energy then the other source opened up to him. He loved how Sam’s energy felt so normal to him, there was none of the aggressive nature that the electricity was showing. When he stopped he felt for the power and he could feel all three types in there, it was strange. The cell door opened and Emily walked in, then Sam left and door sealed again. James counted off the ten feet, asked if she was ready and then started to drain.
After five seconds the energy had yet to change and she looked a little tipsy from the drain. So he stopped and sent the energy back into her, “did you activate your power?”
“Yes. I can set it like a force field over my body. Didn’t it work?”
“No, the energy never changed. Can you try something else?”
“Sure.” He then sent his drainer back out and this time she swung down and punched the floor, cracking it, but the energy never changed, so James stopped and returned what he’d taken again.
“Guess I can’t take kinetic energy.” She left and the senior student Ethan came in. He reached out his tendril and started to drain, Ethan was already using his power and James could feel the difference, so he moved closer and took more. Ethan said he could have it all, so that’s what he tried to do, after twenty seconds of standing right next to him and draining he was still taking more.
At first the energy was fine, calmer than the electricity, but more chaotic than Sam’s, but suddenly his body just felt really hot. Like a fever that came on the same instant you opened the oven. His whole body took felt hot, so he stopped and stepped back, the heat was building. It felt like he was on fire. He screamed and fell to his knees; it seemed like minutes, but it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. Then he felt a hand on his neck and Ethan standing over him, taking his extra body heat, a few seconds later and the pain stopped, it was an incredible feeling to regain the sense of himself, so he was able to ask Ethan to stop absorbing.
He felt for the power within him. It was there and there was still a lot of it, but apparently he had an upper limit. Good to know. “Thank you Ethan,” James said, wiping sweat from his brow.
“No problem.” Once Professor Ford made sure he was alright to continue she sent in the final absorber. James counted off his steps, took a steadying breath, and then sent his drainer to Titus. Even though he could hear the pops of sound Titus was making, he again couldn’t feel the unique energy. He returned what he took and tried again, to the same results.
The professor and everyone else came into the cell after that, “thank you Titus and Emily, you can go now,” Professor Ford said.
“Why do you think I couldn’t take their energy like the others?”
“Possibly because you were doing it wrong, but more likely it’s not part of your power set. The same reason Ethan can absorb the heat from the fire, but not the actual flame. Or why some absorber can take multiple forms of energy, but all of those in our program are limited to one. Some powers simply have hard limits that can’t be expanded on. Or perhaps it’s because a normal human body can’t store sound and kinetic energy, but it does have internal heat and electrical impulses, so maybe you can only take what you can use.”
“Makes sense, I guess.”
“For the next part James, I want you to talk with these three, try to understand how their power works and try to replicate the results.”
“Okay, then Kathryn, how do you make your power weak enough to not kill? It feels like all I can do is turn it on and off.”
She seems reluctant, from what she’d said after the combat challenge she wanted to see him fail, but she relented under Professor Ford’s gaze, “I once read something about electricity, where someone compared the volts, watts and amps to water in a pipe. So in my mind I change the size of the pipe, the smaller I make it the less energy can escape and the less deadly it becomes. Beyond that, it’s how I feel it too, the energy wants to get out all the time and I just have to point it in the right direction.”
“Does it feel all wild and make sleep difficult?”
“Oh. I guess I’ll try the pipe thing. Sam?” James turned to him, “How do you put energy into a specific area. To me it just feels like the normal stuff, but it doesn’t make me super human.”
“Um, I don’t know. I just do. I want strength, so I think strength and turn on the energy until I have the right amount. If we’re sticking with the pipe analogy then I guess I have a lever for every aspect and I turn it to the amount I want, but really it’s even more natural than that.”
“Oh,” James focused on strength and then activated Sam’s power, but it was just like normal energy, it worked evenly over his whole body and still didn’t go past optimal human. “Weird. And then I guess you Ethan, how can I fight with heat?”
“Well, I really don’t. Like I said, I usually use the absorption as a weapon. It’s not like fire where I can throw it. I can release it around my body and raise the air temperature, but unless I reabsorb it I’m just as vulnerable to the extra heat as an opponent. If I release it from the ends of my hands I can make grabbling painful for my enemy, but again I can’t go too high or I burn too, and If I’m that close I’d just take their heat. Your best bet would be if you could get the heat away from your body.”
This perked James up, “you mean like this?” and he extended his white tendril and released a wave of heat ten feet away from his body, it felt like a campfire.
“That could work,” Ethan said. “Interesting.”
He asked questions for another fifteen minutes, but without practice and experimentation he didn’t have a good foundation yet. So Professor Ford excused the others and led James to a special combat cell, it was only about twenty foot cubed. “This is a specially insulated room we use for lightning users. This,” she said walking over to a metal plate on the wall, “will measure your energy output. Hit the plate with energy.”
James sent out his white tendril then released a short burst, and a series of lights came on above the plate, three green, five yellow, three red. “The plate measures how much energy you put out,” Professor Ford said. “Yellow is where you need to be to use that attack on a normal durability person. Three reds ‘will’ kill. So practice trying to get it down. Good Luck,” she said then left James alone.
After an hour James had yet to get it down to even two red lights, and he’d yet to try anything with the heat or Sam’s energy. It wasn’t physically tiring, but it was still wearing on him and he was growing very frustrated. Eventually he left the cell and was debating about whether or not it was worth it to hang onto the energy. Ultimately he figured it was too useful to not hang onto it. It might even be enough to help him win against Michael or Drew, who could take a ‘full-powered blast’.
James walked into the house and heard laughter coming from the living room. Allison, Hope, Jennifer and a blonde haired Sandy sat around talking, “oh, hey…Candy. I don’t think we’ve officially met yet,” James said, walking over and putting his hand out to shake hers.
“Nice to meet you James. Heard good things about you,” Candy said in a way that hinted that she was flirting, but James was really bad at reading those kinds of signs.
“If it’s not too much trouble, could I maybe talk with Sandy before you leave?”
“Sure James,” she said with a wink.
“That reminds me,” Jennifer said, “could I have a moment with Andy too?”
“I didn’t know you knew Andy,” Candy said. “What’s it about?”
“Oh…I wanted to see if she’d like to…go on a…date, you know, with…me.” Nobody in the room was tactless enough to blurt out their questions without giving them a few seconds of thought, but finally Hope did.
“I didn’t know you were…gay.”
“Yeah well, I haven’t…done anything that would count as gay before,” Jennifer said taking a few moments to gather her thoughts, she didn’t like all the eyes in the room on her. “I come from a really small town, and if there was another age appropriate girl in my town that was the same way then I didn’t know about it. I even dated guys a few times, but it never felt…right. So when James mentioned Andy was; I thought having someone in the program to talk to and…help me navigate that world; I decided to see what would happen.”
“Huh,” Candy said, “sure, I’ll make sure to give her the time.”
“You think she’ll say yes?” Hope asked in the voice that to James sounded like what a group of girls use to have ‘girl-talk’ because its pitch drives away men. So he retreated, but he wanted to hear the answer, since he had planned on asking Sandy out.
An hour later James was sitting at his desk working on the day’s subtlety question when there was a knock on the door and he told them to come in. Sandy walked in on sat on the bed, looking at James at his desk chair. “Hey,” James said, “how’d it go with Andy?”
“She said yes. They made plans for Friday,” Sandy said. “So what’d you want to talk to me about?”
“Seems kind of awkward now after Andy and Jennifer, but I guess it won’t get any easier. So…would you like to do something with me? I mean like a date?”
“Oh…” Sandy said and the pause went on for what felt like to James way too long, but, “sure. Friday’s taken, and Candy already took Saturday. If you wanted to try for something during the day on Sunday; assuming we’re not challenged, otherwise we might have to wait another week.”
“We can technically turn down challenges,” James said.
“Seems like a bad idea this early in the year. Let’s just plan for Sunday, not make any challenges for that day, and we’ll reschedule our date if we’re challenged. Plus, we’ll see each other every day, maybe we can have lunch together a few times, just informally.”
“I guess it’s as good of plans as we can get with our…unique situations,” James said and then didn’t know how to proceed from there. So he just made sure he had her number and showed her out. Then went to find Jennifer.
James knocked on Jen’s door and was told to enter, “hey Jen. I just wanted to let you know that I asked Sandy out.”
“Oh…oh! That’s…interesting,” Jennifer said. “So we’re dating the same woman?”
James laughed, “first off, a date is not ‘dating,’ and second, they’re not the same woman. But, yeah I get your meaning. Which is why I wanted to come down here and let you know. Under the best circumstances, I can’t imagine it won’t be a little strange. And I figured if we work with each other, it can only make the relationships easier.”
“Alright. Thanks James,” Jennifer said.
“So where are you taking Andy?” he asked.
“What? I don’t know, you think I have to plan it?”
“I don’t want to make it sound crass, but you’re like the guy in this scenario. You did the asking, you do the planning. Right? I’m hardly an expert on dating, let alone lesbian dating, but it sounds right.” James said, “But you know, if you hit a wall you can cheat and ask Candy for help; I know she likes to butt into these kinds of thing and she knows her sister.”
“Okay. You made plans yet?”
“I only asked her ten minutes ago, but I’ve been giving it a little thought. First I got to hope I don’t get a Sunday challenge, Valerie took Kathryn’s spot last week and challenged me for Saturday and I’m pretty sure I won’t have another after that, but with Sandy in 10th she’s a pretty big target. Then, it’s a day date, which makes it easier in some ways and harder in others. Like if this weather stays this nice through the weekend I can get away with a picnic, although with the mid-west weather I’d defiantly make a back-up plan. Luckily we’re only a few miles from downtown Chicago, and if I can’t find something to do on a Sunday afternoon in one of the biggest cities in the country then I didn’t try.”
“That’s…a lot of thought for only putting ten minutes into it.”
“Well, I may have been trying to work up the nerve all week, and I may have done a bunch of research on Chicago sights and restaurants. And I may have been thinking about it before that, but asking out Hope.”
“Hope? Why didn’t you go for that?”
“I talked myself out of it because we’re roommates and we need this program to succeed and throwing a relationship in there seemed like a bad idea. But, also, she’s starting to feel more like a sister every time we hang out.”
“Any suggestions for me?” Jennifer asked, while opening up a web browser and typing in ‘Chicago restaurants’?”
“From what Sandy said, Andy was made as a rebel; a hippy type. I didn’t get into the specifics of that, or if she’s changed too much since then, but I’d stay away from anything too high class or fancy; I don’t think she’s the type. Maybe do something like an alternative vegan coffee shop or something.”
The next day during ethics, Allison was sent out to have a meeting with Professor Scott, the focus instructor.
“Professor?” Allison asked, knocking on her open office door.
“Miss Beckett. One moment,” she said putting a final mark on a paper in front of her. “We need to have a talk about the way you fight.”
“Did I do something wrong?” Allison asked a little panicked.
“You didn’t break any rules, no. This is about your safety.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Not surprising, I’ve been listening; telepathically, to some of your matches, and you don’t have quite the appreciation of the danger you’re in,” Professor Ford said. “You have been using fear very effectively, but what you are not taking into account when dealing with fear is the ‘fight or flight’ response. So far you have been lucky, all your opponents having chosen to flee, or not been powerful enough to cause permanent harm. Have you considered what would happen if you fought the girl who can create a hundred foot blast of fire or the one who can shoot a laser beam from her forehead and they feared deeply for their lives?”
“No,” Allison said cautiously, but took a moment to think about it now.
“I can’t make you stop doing it and you shouldn’t, but the risks are extremely high for you. And I just wanted to make sure you understood that we see that. Also, there was some liability issues in there.”
“Any suggestions?” Allison asked hopefully.
“I would suggest doing whatever you have to do in order to excel in this program, but more specifically I would suggest using a wider variety of emotions, and using the positive ones on those that you thing might strike back violently to fear. Maybe try depression to take away their will to fight. Maybe combine, fear and love, so they will try to protect you from the fear. You need to work on the sensing side of your power, it will let you know how they will react to an attack.”
“Thank you professor,” Allison said, “You’ve given me something to think about.”
“Not a problem. My door is always open if you need some more help.”