Sam had tried to challenge the full three spots to go for Valerie, but she had declined. It was kind of scandalous since it was the first time someone had declined a match for the purpose of hanging onto a rank; others had declined matches so they could keep their weekend free, but this was now impeding Sam from making his historic run to first place. So instead he had to make his challenge to Kathryn right below her, and while he really would have preferred to face Valerie, because electrical attacks could really mess him up. But, while it was a worse match-up, it didn’t affect the number of fights he’d have to have in order to reach Drew; it was this one, plus two more.
The key to beating Kathryn was to be going faster than she could follow. The lightning would travel faster than Sam could ever reach, but she was still limited to human movement and reaction speed. So as soon as the match started he upped his speed and perception and took off sideways. He could watch as she moved her arm up, what looked like super slowly, opened her hand, and then let the energy fly. It was strange watching the world move so slow to seeing how fast the energy raced across the cell, it was very disorienting. He got behind her, slowed down and punched her in the head.
It wasn’t subtle, it wasn’t heroic and it certainly wasn’t gentlemanly, but it was really all he had. He couldn’t drag it out and he couldn’t go for a gentler hold or limb lock, because she’d just electrocute him. She went down and didn’t move, and he was declared the winner; it was his fastest match ever.
He met the others back at the house and wanted to talk with them. “Congratulations Sam,” Jennifer said as she took her seat in the living room. “What’s this about?”
“Nothing too big. Just wanted some advice and to give some people the heads up,” Sam said. “So now my combat rank is 7th. Next up will be either 5th place Jackson, or 4th place James,” he said looking at him. “Any thought on which I should go for?”
James spoke up, “We’ll I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I think you’d have a much tougher time with me than Jackson.”
Hope spoke up to defend her absent friend, “But Jackson will be physically harder. No matter how hard you hit him it is going to take many, many hits to keep him down. For the most part James is average, i.e. one hit in the right spot.”
“Yeah, but Sam is a melee fighter and James has wrecked everyone who has had to touch him,” Michael said, “Of course Sam will have a cushion when dealing with James, since he’d have to drain his stored energy first before finishing him off. He also has those surprise powers stored now, so you’d have to deal with the electricity and him healing himself with your stored energy. With Jackson the match will be very straight forward, sort of like the man himself. James is full of tricks and surprises.”
“That’s a good point,” Sam said. “I’m 90% sure I can beat Jackson…well maybe 84%, but James is…I don’t know, sneaky?”
“Good point,” Tony said.
“Okay, then if I take on Jackson, then next my only option would be fighting Victoria. Any thought on whether I could even break through a field bubble she puts up?”
James answered again since he had the most Super knowledge, “short of working heroes, very few force fields can’t be broke by someone on the high-end strength scale. I mean she’s much more than just the fields, like if she can hold you long enough to suck out the oxygen, or if she can squeeze you tightly enough, then you may not have the leverage you would expect to have. But talking strategy, it’d be like today, she limited to human thought speed, if you’re fast enough and ruthless enough, you may be able to finish it before she can even react. But if I was her I’d have a field up before the match even started and that’d change the whole dynamic.”
“So bottom line, Jackson then Victoria, or James then Michael?” Sam asked.
“Well, I vote for not fighting your friends,” Jen said. “Plus if it’s about predictability, then Michael is more of a wild card than Victoria and James is more unpredictable than Jackson, so I think that’s the better path all around.”
“If I have a vote,” Michael said, “Then I’d rather you skip over me and try to take first, that way I can try to take it from you afterwards.”
Sam laughed at that, and the others mostly agreed Jackson/Victoria was the better way to go. “Alright…I guess that’s mostly settled. Assuming they except, I should be top three after next weekend.”
Dean Allen walked into the conference room with a big smile on his face and sat at the head of the table looking out at his assembled staff.
“Wipe that smile off your face John. It’s a fluke,” Coach Tillman said.
“Oh come on Ben. The first year I put forth seven candidates and I end up with the last group not to have lost a student. I think I deserve a little gloating, in addition to the bottle I believe I win for it. Scotch please.”
“Fine,” he said, almost pouting. “I still would have had seven if you hadn’t dropped my ace in the hole before the first class even began!”
“You know my reasons. He was an ass and didn’t deserve to be here.”
“I’m not saying it was wrong. Only pointing out that I didn’t get a fair shake, plus I still have six.”
“Ha,” Professor Scott said. “Of course you still have six, 90% of the first year is physical conditioning and you only ever pick the strong ones. I would have had a better showing if all my advanced minds didn’t decide to attend different programs; even a legacy telepath chose Overton over Sizemore. What is the deal with that John?” she asked staring him down.
The dean felt the tell-tale signs of a telepathic probe. Obviously, the answers she went looking for didn’t turn up what she was hoping for. It was not a good sign. Sherry Scott had been a career hero, thirty years on the job and she’d kept her telepathy on near constantly to search for danger and it had saved her team more times than she could count, but when she retired and agreed to teach it was on the condition that she would have her telepathy off for everything but official training. So trying to probe a collogue and fellow former hero, meant she was very suspicious. Luckily, Dean Allen had been allowed to bring in Ron Gibson, because Ron had a unique aspect of his power that the Dean could use here.
He’d had Ron give a set of memories that lined up with the lies that he presented in the files. Those memories would override the truth for a few hours, than they’d switch back, it was an extreme measure, but it’d also put this issue to bed for her. He turned on the new memory set and let her listen, “as I recall, Overton offered him a full ride and it’s about a thousand miles closer to his family. It makes sense. As for the…what, other three? I don’t think we were ever in real contention with them. I don’t like to say it about my own program, but we are rarely anyone’s first HCP choice.”
“Still…” Sherry said, “I have no real focus candidates, and I never saw Allison’s file. How’d you get it?”
“You know the stink the DVA made about our small class size. So they let me see files from about a hundred random students who were rejected from one program or another and I got some scholarship money to entice them.”
“All of them were rejected?” Professor Young asked surprised.
“James and Sam had sub-par grades, which led to their issues, Hope and Allison were completely rejected, Tony was accepted to West, but not Lander, similar with Jennifer. Not sure who rejected Michael, but yeah, they were all rejected from one program or another.” None of that was true, the DVA had pulled all criminal related supers before they reached any school, but at the moment Dean Allen believed this was the truth. Although, if a suspicious professor did go looking and asked about any of the seven at the other HCPs, then they’d have a problem.
“Hmmm,” Young said, “strange, but I guess in a way it makes sense, if they know how rare an opportunity they got here it will make them try all the harder. Explains why they were the ones who first started doing the extra work-outs during Ben’s Hell Week.” Coach Tillman begrudgingly agreed, no class had been able to figure it out before the first full week was done; those seven had ruined his fun.
“I agree,” Dean Allen said, “I think it will drive them to greatness. And speaking of greatness how about Sam Johnson’s run up the combat rankings? Scared Ben?”
“No!” He said, a little too forcefully to be convincing, “There is a reason the top five combat ranks haven’t moved once yet. They are very good and now you think your boy can take on three of them. Not going to happen.”
“Wanna bet?” Dean Allen asked putting back on the smile he walked in with.
“Yeah. What’s the bet?”
“Usual stakes. I say he will be first before the end of the semester, but not necessarily that he’ll keep it.”
“Oh, I want in on this,” Kelly Gray said,” I think he can do it too.”
“I say no,” Professor Young said.
“Two for, two against, ladies, you want in on this?” he asked, Professors Scott, Ford and Anderson.
“And he has to beat three of the top five?” Professor Scott asked. “I say that’s not going to happen.” The other two didn’t care.
“Excellent! Alright, on to why we are really here, six weeks after trials. Progress reports?” He looked to his left to where Professors Gray and Anderson were sitting. They looked so much alike it was scary, both of similar height and build, a hero’s build, both had the same hard eyes that came with hero work, although if you met them causally, you wouldn’t say they actually shared enough physical traits, especially with Kelly’s yellow streak running through the middle of her hair, it was more in the way they moved and looked and acted that made you lump them together. The real strange thing about their similarities though was that while they looked about the same age, early twenties, Professor Anderson was actually over sixty years older than Kelly and one of the strangest tales to come out of the hero world.
She’d been around when Captain Starlight had gone to the government and been one of the ones to try and be an early hero, but she was black and a woman in the fifties. It just wasn’t done and the government didn’t support her having a public persona. They just wouldn’t endorse either a woman or an African-American. She’d still been part of the team but didn’t appear at any public events or photo opportunities for almost a decade, when it finally started to change. She’d been an impressive hero for several decades until she met up with a mad scientist; technically a tech genius, but it wasn’t a classification yet. She’d snuck in to his hideout and found a rocket, almost a comically large rocket and discovered it was meant to be fired at Washington D.C.
Without thinking about her own safety she blasted it with enough force that the whole secret lair exploded. Her team rushed in to find her in the rubble, but what they found shocked even them. Anderson had been reverted in age to about four years old and any data that may have shed light on how that would have happened was destroyed and the mad scientist was never found, presumed dead in the rubble. She was still pretty gung-ho about continuing to be a hero, but even if the government would have risked the public seeing a four year old fighting crime, her powers had unfortunately reverted with her age, as in they were too weak to be effective. So she was left weaken and young for what should have been about a decade before she could get back out there. So she half retired and went back to college and started getting some degrees. After a few years it became clear however, that she was not aging normally, that 10 or 15 years was looking more like double that. Once she was ready to get back out there, the world had moved on though and the previous Sizemore dean offered her a teaching position here. Twelve advanced degrees and a lifetime of hero work with some of the originals had made her into the perfect educator.
Next to Anderson sat Professor Gray, or Kelly as she liked to be called, another oddity in the HCP. She’d done her two years of internship and then taken a teaching position at the first opportunity. She became the youngest professor ever and she was sitting with the oldest to ever take the job. It was so strange to spend six years of your life working towards one goal, only to give it up for a teaching gig, but then again if John had had to see what Kelly had during her internship, he might have gotten out too.
Next to Kelly was the control professor, Terry Ford, another member of the old guard. While not as old as Professor Anderson, she did publicly debut about the same time, in the late sixties, when woman were first gaining credibility as heroes. She had the most years on staff and was nearly as old as Professor Anderson. But where Professor Scott had retired and let herself go a bit, Professor was in better shape than professional athletes a third her age. It made her look several decades younger than she was, or it might have been a random side effect of her power.
Across from her was Professor Scott. The mother hen of the group, when she wasn’t angry and paranoid about a conspiracy revolving around her focus students, she was generally warm and friendly, generous with praise and smiles. Next to her was Professor Young. He was the most average looking man you’ll ever meet, so hard to describe, because every modifier would have the word average in it, average height and build, although he was in such good shape it was a wonder how he pulled that off. Unremarkable face, normal nose and dull brown eyes, normal haircut, with a plain brown color. It was sort of chicken and egg, was he such a good Subtlety hero because he’s plain and forgettable, or did he make himself plain because he was such a good Subtlety hero. Then finally there was Ben Tillman.
Where Young was plain, Tillman was bold. A tall man, with the build and height that professional athletes envy. Bald with a generally permanent scowl that added to his no nonsense persona; not that the dean was a barrel of laughs and pranks, but that man was just too much. “So, Ben? You’ve got six, any you thinking not the right fit for close combat or won’t make the cut? And you looking at any of my seven?” The dean asked pulling out files and a notepad.
“Well, unfortunately, Kenny Cartwright ended up dead last in the total rankings and doesn’t seem to be making much effort to move up. His strength is dependent on physical trauma and emotion and I thought it’d scale up faster. I’ve yet to see an upper limit on his strength when we can hurt him enough to get up there, but it’s taking too long and I don’t see him going the distance. But of course on the other end of the spectrum, Pinnacle; number one overall, number one in combat and number one in control, my second ace in the hole. He was built to be a hero, pretty much literally, that persona of his is annoying, but you can’t deny the power or intent. The others are all about where I expected, but excelling at the close combat classes, skilled fighters all.
“As for your batch…obviously Johnson and Gonzales should be in close combat. Reed is very good, but I’m not sure he can go the distance with combat, maybe control now that he’s discovered the absorber aspect of his power.”
“I agree,” Professor Ford said. “His first time on the obstacle course he had zero extra energy and no place to use his power, but his last few times are night and day, he already moved up at the last update and I think he can get a little more. He’s smart and multi-talented, but what about subtlety?”
“Hard to say,” Professor Young said. “He’s good with puzzles, and alright with computers, but he is not up to par in about 70% of necessary skill. He’ll likely hold on to his subtlety rank because he is one of the only people to attempt every question so far, but at this point he’s not subtlety material, plus he’s one of the good ones. So heroic and earnest, you’re going to want him in the spotlight, not the shadows.”
“Any more of mine you thinking about Ben?” Dean Allen asked.
“No. I guess Hope is an extremely talented martial artist, but her power is at best support, and likely not good enough to make the cut anyways. Maybe Tony, because his animal forms are the definition of close combat fighting, but for some reason I don’t see him excelling at it. Allison is a hopeless fighter, but she is powerful, especially once we get her away from combat cells and into ‘real world’ scenarios.
“I want Allison!”
“I want her,” Professor Scott and Young said at the same time.
They’ve worked together for years so it didn’t break down into squabbling, “she is the closest thing we have to a psychic in this class. I can teach her extremely fine control and tricks for making her stronger,” Professor Scott said, making her argument.
“She has the ability to manipulate and control people on a scale I’ve never seen outside of real mind control. And real mind control is rare and easy to counter. Controlling emotions can turn the most loyal person…traitor. I would overlook any other shortcomings in Subtlety just for the masterful way she can manipulate people.”
“But is it really the kind of thing she should be taught?” Professor Scott asked. If the dean had had his real memories at the moments he would be panicking that Young wanted to turn her into her father, but the dean didn’t know any of that at the moment.
“Let’s table the debate for now and assume for the next two year those will be two of the classes she takes, and you can come back to it when and if she is one of the students heading into senior year,” Dean Allen said. “But it is a good chance to move onto you, Phil. How are your subtlety students doing?”
“Those I generally pick are always lacking in the physical fitness department, but I’ve still got four and they are doing alright. Sara Hunter, the technopath is ranked second overall; I’ve never had that before, so it’s kind of nice. Wagner, the tech genius is doing pretty well, as to be expected. Then the illusionist Shawn Cain and invisible girl Hutch are about where I expected them.”
“Good. Kelly?” the dean asked looking at her.
“Well, my original picks are down to three…but that’s just because the application process doesn’t have a section that asked if you have any talent in weapons and I tend to pick the underdogs anyways,” Kelly said.
“Well, of those three, are any weapon’s material?”
“The teleporter is still a candidate, once I can convince him how he should be teleporting in and using those blades,” she said vaguely. All heroes knew exactly what a teleporter could do on a battlefield. “And the speedster, you know I have a soft spot for speedsters,” she smiled. “I should have bone guy and chain boy from close combat training their weapons.”
“You could try to learn their names Kelly, it might help,” the dean said.
“Nah, not until they are truly mine.”
“I agree,” Ben said, “not that they should be yours completely, but those two could definitely benefit from a year or two in weapons to round out their arsenals.”
“What about Hope?” the dean asked, “she’ll need somewhere to go if she makes it to next year and weapons was her highest rank.”
“I’d train her, but weapons, like combat is front line fighting and I’d never send her to the front, which means it can’t be her major. Doesn’t subtlety usually catch these odd ones?”
“Sure, I’d take her if she’d try even a little, but so far I’ve seen nothing that would indicate she could even keep up with a year of my class, let alone graduate with it,” Phil Young said.
“So, nobody can see Hope going the distance?” the dean asked.
“In the focus trial it showed a secondary power,” Professor Scott said, “and if it’s real, that would change everything, but it’s a big ‘if’ at the moment. Although she’s got some time to figure it out.”
“Alright, then how about focus?” the dean asked her.
“Well, like I complained about, I didn’t get many of my first choices, so mine are not all focus material. Victoria the force field girl is well ranked and focus can make them even stronger. My healer can benefit from focus and is about where I’d expect him, and of course I’ll take anyone that has a power that comes from within, but my candidates don’t really stand out too much.”
“And ranged, how are yours doing?” Dean Allen asked.
“Nothing to report, except for Ray Bailey, there are no real surprises,” Professor Anderson said.
“Yeah that one surprised me a little too,” Phil said. “Super senses and slight physical enhancement don’t generally equal the kind of ranks he pulled. But even so, I’d like him in my class, he’s a walking surveillance kit.”
“I agree,” Anderson said. “He will gain a lot from subtlety. If he makes it to the hero world he will be support, and ranged and subtlety will be a good skill set for him.”
“I thought you’d put up more of a fight for your number one ranked range student,” Phil said.
“No point, not yet anyways. He has years to decide how he wants to proceed. Plus I’m too old to pick a fight that yields no real gains.” Phil smiled at the ‘too old’ comment, he knew her story, but that hadn’t stopped them from sleeping together for the last two years.
“And, then finally, control.”
“As I’ve said before, I believe all students should be taking control and therefore I officially recommend every student for control.”
“Of course,” the dean said. They’d had the argument before and while he did agree about the usefulness of control, it just wasn’t smart or practical to make it a class for every student and he would have liked real feedback here. “Alright, that wraps up the progress reports. Any other comments or concerns anyone would like to bring to the table?”
“Tony! Wait up!”
He looked back and saw an elderly black woman coming towards him; he was sure he’d never met her before, but he stopped and waited for her to catch up. She moved quickly for looking as decrepit as she did. Once she was close enough he asked, “Hello? Do I know you?”
“It’s me, Jim,” she said.
“Oh, hey Jim. Is it painful in an old body like that?”
“No, I’ve still got mostly young organs and bones and joints, so I’m not ‘technically’ suffering from old age. Although the muscles in this body are almost non-existent and that slows me down, but it’s not too bad. Luckily I don’t often get an elderly form, just bad luck that I had to walk half way across campus to catch up with you today,” he said. A few students gave the pair odd looks, so they moved away from the path to a bench underneath a nearby tree.
“Yeah…about that, why are you here? No offence.”
“It’s Ella. She is taking the break-up really hard,” she said and paused. Her old face was really driving home the anger and sadness her words conveyed. “I need to know if it was because she’s powered.”
“No! I never had a problem with El being powered. But…the fear of her ability keeping her hiding in her in room was a factor in my decision.” ‘Although only a small one,’ he thought.
“Is it because you’re a super in the HCP?”
Tony didn’t even hesitate, although it definitely threw him, but he’d been lying all year and it was instinctual to protect your secret identity now. “I’m not a super,” he said fully committed to it.
“Well…here’s the thing. In that tent, the day you came to the park, there was a powered who has…let’s call it an insight power. Since it’s sporadic, it could have been a fluke, but she asked me, ‘if El knew she was dating a super?’ And, my sister Abby, she happened to have done a year at Korman HCP and the facts just sort of added up. Like, why would someone from San Francisco come to a technical college on the other side of the country to study zoology and why would he live in a house as large as that and why didn’t El know what you’re doing every afternoon?”
Tony kept his face steeled, but refused to speak to avoid fanning the flames. Technically, it was only an infraction if he said the words or was seen using his powers. Someone accidently having a powered ‘insight’ wouldn’t count against him, or rather it shouldn’t, but his unique program might make it more…difficult.
“You don’t have to say anything. Abby told me the rules, but hypothetically, if El knew the truth and we were certain she wouldn’t ever tell anyone. Would you get back together with her?”
“Hypothetically…no,” Tony said and watched Jim’s face turn angry again. “Because, hypothetically, if she ‘knew’ the truth, she’d have insight into others around me and it wouldn’t be fair of me to expose them,” he said very carefully.
“And if it was only your ass on the line?”
“I would risk it,” Tony said with certainty. “Hypothetically.”
“I see,” she said slowly, mulling it over. “Well, El is taking this so hard and she’s blaming her powered status again. I’ll…I’m not sure what I’ll do. I won’t tell her what I suspect, but I may make up lies about you to make her feel better.”
“Do what you have to. She deserves some peace.”
“You mind if I ask, why did you start dating her if you couldn’t or wouldn’t go the distance?”
“Besides how hot she is?” He joked, “I thought, ‘it is college, it can be causal.’ I didn’t know I’d get so attached, so quickly.”
“I guess I can see that. And you did give her a fairer shake than most other people would to a powered. And if you are a super, you’ve treated all of those you met at the picnic with more respect than I would have expected from someone not related to them. You’re a good guy Tony, and that puts me in a difficult spot. I was really hoping to come here and learn something that I could go back to El with that would let me say ‘he’s just a bastard,’ but you’re not making it easy.”
“Sorry,” Tony said smiling.
“Yeah, well I’ll try to help her get over you and I’ll also be looking for a way that you can tell her the truth.”
“Good luck with that,” he said earnestly.