The rain was pouring down the morning of Sam and Jackson’s match, but once they were down in underground complex the weather became irrelevant. Unless you happened to be someone who was hoping to get a little sunlight to top off your tank before a big match. There was only the one match scheduled for today and yet there was more people here to watch than for any other challenge day so far this year.
“He’s going to try to go for the quick finish. You have more endurance than him, you just have to survive long enough,” Hope said to Jackson. They had found an out of the way classroom and she was sitting on his lap talking strategy. “My guess is he’ll put his strength up to at least double yours and increase his speed enough to hit you fast. But, if you can avoid a couple of his punches, it will be a huge loss of energy for no return on damage dealt. The longer you can make the match last, the better your odds of winning.”
“Should you be telling me all this? He is your friend,” Jackson said.
“He may be a friend, but you are more than a friend. You get priority,” she said and kissed him to drive home the point.
“That’s easier said than done though. Even if he was only moving at normal speed, I’m not much of a dodger. I’m just too large, maybe if I can anticipate his charge I can jump out of the way, because if I really focus on putting strength into a jump, I can get away from him in an instant. But, the cell really isn’t big enough for the kind of speed I would need to produce.”
“Well, he likes to start things with super speed to go for the immediate hit. So, first thing, jump, and then when you come down, slam the ground with as much force as you can muster. It should give you a few seconds to get your bearings before he can come at you again,” Hope said.
“Johnson!” Coach Tillman yelled at him.
Sam left his small group and ran over to the coach, “What’s up?” he asked.
“The staff has decided that the lethal force restriction will be lifted for this match.”
“What!? How can that be? What do you mean?”
“You both can take anything the other can throw at you, but it would be unfair to expect Jackson to guess when or if you’re powered up enough to take the hit. It would be an unrealistic handicap for him when we all know you can maintain your resistance through anything. Therefore, if you are standing, we will assume you are ready to take a hit from Jackson. Do you know how much you’ll need to survive his attack?”
Sam gulped, “yes. I think I do.”
“Good. We will of course have the highest safeguards in place, including telepaths listening in, teleporters ready to bring in the most powerful healer we could get, and a super who can see about ten seconds into the future…just in case.”
“Okay…thank you, Coach,” Sam said nervously, not only because lifting that restriction is dangerous, but he was counting on Jackson pulling his punches, this evened things out a lot.
The coach had come by and told Jackson about the lifting of restrictions, although it would have been nice if he’d announced himself a little sooner, so he wouldn’t have caught him and Hope in the position they were in. She’d just laughed about it, as she enjoyed making people uncomfortable with her sexuality; she probably thought it was another weapon she could use in her weak arsenal.
“This is great!” she said. “No holding back! You’ll beat him for sure now!”
“I don’t know. I’ve never hit anything without holding back something,” he said.
“Well, they said they have someone who can see the future. If your hit is going to actually knock the head off his shoulders, then they’ll stop the fight and you’ll win. Come on! Don’t hold back,” she said and pouted her lips.
“You don’t understand Hope. You can’t know how hard it is to be this large and this strong. I control my strength and movements every second of the day, it’s not something I can just turn off and on at a whim.”
“Well, I want you to try,” Hope said and walked him through the combat cell level to the door of his cell. He appreciated her moral support and he had really fallen for her; he just wished that they could actually ‘date,’ what they had was nice, but it was so much less than he hoped for. He kissed her one finally time and then entered through the massive metal door into the combat cell. He rarely looked up at the observation windows when he fights, but this time it was noticeable. Every single freshman seemed to be up there, as well as some professors and upperclassmen.
It surprised him, as it was only the 5th place combat rank, although the fact that he’d defended it four times already and the way Sam had moved up the ranks at what was apparently a new record; he could sort of see the appeal. Plus strongman fights were always big draws. In the professional fighting leagues, strongmen were always the title bouts, so he couldn’t blame their curiosity, although it made him a bit nervous. After a few minutes of calming his mind, Sam came through the other door. Jackson being over at Sam’s house every weekend and several times during the week had given them a passing familiarity, maybe even a friendship, but that wouldn’t hold back either of them here and now.
“Hey Jackson,” he said and smiled the way he does that woman swoon over.
Jackson just grunted back a word that might have been “hey.”
Coach Tillman’s voice came over the PA, and once again spoke of the lifting of the restriction, and made doubly sure Sam was at the necessary level before the match would start.
“You really want to win that bet, huh Ben?” the dean asked him.
“I don’t know what you mean John,” he deadpanned.
“Lifting the lethal force restriction. Bringing in the extra healer and super. It’s not exactly common practice.”
“I’m in charge of Close Combat matches and rankings. I get to decide if there is an unfair advantage and try to safely correct it if possible. I believe I have accounted for all the risks and made the match more realistic, which should be the point,” Ben said fighting a smirk.
“Yes, I believe you have. Because if I had found a flaw in your approach I would have shut you down.”
“Even if he does lose here it might not be the end of his run. He could challenge again next week and maybe we couldn’t pull in the people we did and we’d have to put the restriction back in place, or he could jump Jackson and go for the student ahead of him.” The dean just glared at him, even if the lifting of the restriction did make sense, you just didn’t do it for freshmen.
“You better hope you really did think of everything, because if there is an accident it will be your ass on the line.”
“I have. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to make the announcement.”
As the buzzer began counting down Jackson coiled the muscles in his legs, preparing to jump the moment the match began. He kept his focus on Sam and tried to avoid giving away his plan. The buzzer sounded and Jackson’s body responded even before his mind processed the noise and he was flying towards the ceiling like a rocket. He put in arms up and they slammed into the ceiling, absorbing the force as he dented and cracked it. Then he pushed off with his arms with even more force than he’d used with his legs, tripling the size of dents he had made and causing a large chunk of it to fall with him.
He came down faster than he’d gone up and prepared to slam the floor with even more energy. While he’d never tried to do this before, he had seen strongmen do it and the concept seemed simple enough. In just a few moments he was plowing into ground; it cratered around him in a way he wasn’t prepared for and he lost his balance, but apparently it did achieve his goal, as large chunks of debris flew away from him and he wasn’t immediately attacked upon landing. He then quickly made a more controlled jump towards the corner of the cell and put his back to the wall, then prepared to defend himself.
He wasn’t exactly prepared for the massive chunks of concreate that came flying at him, as one took him directly in the face just as he’d turned around. Two more came quickly after that, but he just batted them away. Then he was finally able to see Sam, standing near the edge of his crater, just staring Jackson down. If Hope’s strategy was the best one, then his best hope would be to just stay in the corner and defend, especially since according to the lifting of the restrictions, Sam would have to be putting energy into his resistance right now and it’d have to be a lot to match Jackson, which in turn should drain him fast. But all that is assuming that he wouldn’t risk shutting off all his energy while waiting on Jackson to make a move. Technically, a telepath should be listening, but he wasn’t sure if turning off his protection was allowed. Either way it really didn’t matter, waiting on Sam to make the first move would serve him the best.
For just a moment he took his eyes off of Sam and scanned for Hope above, but just as his eyes locked with hers he felt a force hit his gut that he’d never experienced before and he fell to his knees. Then more blows than he could count assaulted his head and face. Before he could even get his hands up to start blocking he must have been hit fifty times. Finally he swung his massive arm out in a wide arc in front of him, but only encountered air. Then he repeated it with his other arm and again until he could get back to his feet. He stumbled a little, but kept his eye locked forward until he found Sam calmly standing thirty feet away staring Jackson down, probably assessing the amount of damage he’d done. It would be hard to do, since Jackson didn’t even understand at the moment how bad the damage was compared to what would be necessary to take him down. He was bleeding, which was a rare feeling, he was bruised, his eye seemed to be swollen shut, and as he spit, a wad of blood and a tooth went with it.
So far this year he’d lost twice, both times during the initial ranking trials, the first had been to James, who had drained him, but had caused no pain or trauma. And the second time had been Pinnacle, whose energy blast didn’t really cause exterior trauma, so much as they rattled his brain from within his skull in an imitation of being knocked out by a boxer, but this type of pain was completely new to him. And if he hadn’t been hopped up on adrenaline, he would have probably dwelled on it more than he did. He debated for a moment leaving the corner and meeting him in open combat, but dismissed it. He needed to protect his back.
He was watching Sam as he vanished, so Jackson launched himself towards the other corner, but as he was coming down, Sam appeared right in his landing spot. He tried to reach the wall he was flying parallel to, but he was too far away from it. So he again coiled the strength in his legs and prepared to lash out on his landing, but Sam sidestepped and avoided him like he wasn’t even trying, then brought both his arms over his head, locked his hands together and slammed into Jackson stomach. Driving him into the floor and knocking the air from his lungs, in what was another new sensation for him.
As he lay on his back imbedded in the floor, Sam didn’t hesitate to capitalize on the situation and slammed down with his foot into Jackson’s chest with so much force that Sam’s shoe exploded from around his foot and Jackson’s ribs cracked, or possible even shatter. The move was incredibly brutal which likely meant that Sam was desperate and running low on energy. If he could just stand up, maybe take one more hit, then he would be the winner.
So, he reached his arms out and planted them in the floor, but as soon as he tried to push, the pain from his ribs compounded greater than they had in the initial attack and he recoiled and winced in pain. He tried to suck in some oxygen, but he couldn’t seem to, technically he could go for half an hour without any air in his system, but the feeling of having nothing in his lungs was terrifying and so he reached out for a second time, this time he tapped out.
A healer was teleported in, directly to his side. Jackson looked over at Sam and he didn’t look too steady on his feet. Even though Jackson hadn’t thrown one punch and certainly didn’t cause any damage to Sam, the match had been extremely close.
Sam had been turning off all energy every time he stepped out of Jackson’s range which is why he was looking so unsteady, that much up and down on the body took its toll, but he was still dangerously low on energy, or else he would have pulled the power of that stomp to the chest a lot more. He’d just really needed to end it. And then when Jackson had tried to stand, Sam thought he was finished, but then when he couldn’t, Sam let out a huge mental sigh of relief. He hadn’t taken a hit, but it was still required that he get a quick exam before they released him, and quick is what it was, as soon as he walked in to the infirmary, Dr. Peavy laid her hands on him and two seconds later declared him healthy and he walked right back out.
He’d told his friends he’d be top three by the end of this weekend, but it wasn’t going to happen. He was so low on energy that it would have taken all day to get back up, and that would have been with a Hope charge, (questionable now that he’d beaten her boyfriend) and sunshine, which wasn’t going to happen today and likely not for several day after that.
Once the weather had begun to turn, Sam relieved that he needed a way to get sunlight while not freezing to death in the mid-west weather and he found Sizemore’s greenhouse and botanical garden. It was kept warm enough, let in light through every window, it was free for students use and was open 18 hours a day. And although it was against the rules, there was a large open lawn area that he and many other students tanned on, or absorbed sunlight in his case. Even with the sky as dark and cloudy as it was right now, enough light came though that he could begin to recharge, although not enough that it wouldn’t look weird that he was trying to tan there, so instead he just sat on a bench and got some through his arms and face as he did some homework. It would have been way too slow to not be a waste of time if he had something else to do right now.
So, what did you think Ben?” Dean Allen asked him as they rewound the tape once again. The match barely lasted three minutes so it was easy to watch and re-watch it.
“I hope you can see how massive of a weakness he’d have if he ever made it to hero right?”
“Yes…the very hard time limit. But, he has years to improve control and he’ll likely increase the battery size or decrease the energy requirements, it always happens with training like this.”
“Perhaps, but how do you think he’ll do in the mid-term when he has to go six hours?” Ben asked.
“If he knows how long he has to go and if he’s smart enough, I think he’ll excel.”
“Some big ifs. This type of fighting is perfect for him, but it is limited in scope and risk. We know what happens when he has to fight an unknown number of opponents. He will need to be a lot better and a lot smarter if he wants to go the distance.”
The dean just smiled as he was one step closer to winning his bet and it sounded like Ben was backpedaling on his thoughts of Sam’s skill.
Jackson hadn’t lost consciousness and his own healing speed combined with the expert healer they had used had him on his feet before he’d even left the combat cell, but he still had to go to the infirmary. He’d been there for over an hour now; apparently having the rib cage shattered into a hundred pieces couldn’t be easily healed, even with the five different healers that had helped get all the pieces back in order.
“He didn’t have to hit you so hard!” Hope said for the third time.
“Actually, he kind of did. If I was more used to pain then I could have stood up and physically kept going. If he’d done any less damage, or I had been a little smarter, it would have ended very differently.”
“Still…” she said while holding his hand. “I think I need to sneak into his room tonight and shave his head bald!”
He laughed, “Ow. Still hurts to laugh. He fought exactly as hard as he had to in order to win, we shouldn’t begrudge him for that.”
“Maybe you can’t, guy code and all that, but I’m a woman, I can passive aggressively scorn him for his actions,” Hope said, although she smiled so he hoped she was joking. Bradley came over and laid his hand on Jackson’s ribs and as they began to glow the last of the bruises faded away and Jackson took a deep breath as a sigh of relief.
“Thanks man,” Jackson said as he grabbed his shirt and put it back on and left with Hope.
Michael once again asked Amy for something more like a date and she’d once again refused. During Michael’s sessions with Dr. Gibson he’d asked for advice about what was going on with this, but despite the fact that Michael felt he was holding out, the only advice he’d give was to ask her about it. So when she once again countered with the offer to go back to her room, he accepted and not just for the obvious reasons that come from a tall, busty, blonde inviting you back to her room. Once the door to her room closed she assaulted him with kisses and started to pull his shirt off. Michael was very tempted to just go with it and talk afterwards, but it somehow felt dishonest if her reasons weren’t good enough. So he ever so difficultly stopped her, “we have to talk,” he said.
“Looks like you want to do more than talk,” she said suggestively and leered at his…waist.
“I’d like nothing more,” he said. “But I need an answer to something first.”
“Oh God! You’re not going to try to make this something it’s not, are you? It’s just sex, that’s all I want from you and this…” she said pointing back and forth between the two. “I’m completely focused on the HCP, and I don’t want some emotional relationship and pointless dates to bite into my free time. I like sex, it’s a good workout, it is fun, and it relieves the stress of the day. But that is all I want from any relationship right now. If you can’t handle that or want something more, then look elsewhere, but if you want passionate sex several times a week with no strings attached then take your pants off!” It took about 1.2 seconds of thought before Michael dropped his pants and almost ripped his shirt getting it off. That’s one mystery solved.