“Good morning class,” Dean Allen said from the stage at the beginning of ethics class, also standing on stage next to him was Coach Young. “Professor Young here will be collecting your subtlety packets and going over of few of the details.”
“Good morning, please hand your packets forwards, those in the front row please hand them to the right, Jackson please bring them up here,” Professor Young said. “I would like to go over some of the specific parts of this packet, it contained what I considered a wide array of the techniques you will learn if you have the privilege of pursuing subtlety as a major. Problems that required hacking, tailing, decryption, interviews, pattern recognition, data mining, even basic language translations. I have no expectation that anyone should get even more than 60 or 70 of these, not even the seven students that I personally picked for this program. Now there is some good news; I will be interviewing everyone over the course of this week, I will find a time to meet with all of you, these will mostly be informal meetings, what I will be looking for is the how; how you reached the answer you did. It will offer bonus points for clever solutions, extra points may even be awarded if you can defend a wrong answer.
“Subtlety is rarely black and white, there may be more than one answer for a given question, and almost every time, no matter the answer, you must always defend your position and process. The DVA is always worried about subtlety heroes going rogue, expect queries every time. If anyone has any questions we will go over them when we meet individually, the interviews will begin tomorrow, once I have had a chance to go over the packets.”
“Thank you, Professor Young. Now class, since I know how excited you are to begin combat, and the fact that the ranking trials can take hours, at least for those that make it to the finals, we’re going to forego class today and immediately began the matches. So, I’d like you all to follow me, we will be heading down to the combat cells.” The students piles into the lift and took it down one level, the lift opened to a metal-grated walkway heading to the center of the room. From that area you could look down though windows in the top of each of the cells, from the central area you could look down into six different rooms, with walkways going out in every direction to look in the cells farther out. The room was massive, at least 24 combat cells could be seen from the upper walkways. Reaching the large central area there were a bunch of bleachers, currently full of students, there were also massive jumbo screens on the far walls, it seemed like there was at least one screen for each combat cell. Coach Tillman was waiting there as well.
“Welcome Fresh Meat!” Coach Tillman yelled in his typical gym teacher manner. “As you know, as well as being your torturer in gym 5 days a week, I am also the close combat instructor here, which means I will be overseeing this ranking trial. The other professors, the dean and a small number of support staff will offer their opinions, however, I and I alone will be the final vote in the ranking. As you can see, we have quite the audience, for most students from the other grades this is quite the spectator sport.
“This is how the combat works, two people go down into the cells and fight, the only rule is, intentionally lethal force will not be allowed and will be immediately grounds for expulsion from the program. And in fact, unintentional lethal force will also be grounds for expulsion, because if you can’t control yourself you shouldn’t be here. This will be tournament style fights, double elimination, losing does not automatically mean a poor ranking, we are looking for skill with a physical style and creativity and applications of powers in combat and we are aware that unfair matches occur all the time, your first match may be someone with super strength who also is completely immune to your power. You’re going to lose to them, however, you should always try to put on the best show possible. We don’t have the right amount of students for a perfect bracket so there will be bye rounds for some. However, more matches can only help with your ranking, so it’s not necessarily a good thing. After every match you will all see a healer, no matter if you received an injury or not, once you and your opponent are ready, your next match will begin within five minutes. After you lose two matches you will be free to leave or watch the remainder of the matches. Rankings will be posted tomorrow at about noon. Now if you will all look at the screen behind me you will see the number for the room that you will be having your first match. Good luck!”
Sam entered the combat cell through a truly massive metal door, at least a foot thick, the wall around it even thicker. The walls were white and the inside of the cell was a near perfect square, about a hundred foot square, the height about a hundred foot high, with angled windows near the top, where a couple people were staring though, with over twenty matches going on, and none of the upper classmen aware of any specific powers, they were probably spread out over all the different matches, or watching the screens for a more well-rounded view. Across the cell, a short, red haired boy, with a face full of freckles walked though his own massive door. After he got about five feet into the cell both doors closed and it could be heard locking. The intercom came on, “Greetings combatants, please introduce yourselves,” the voice was a mechanical, likely pre-recorded voice.
“Sam Johnson, sup?”
“I’m Alex Sullivan.”
“Combat will begin in 3…2…1…Begin.”
Sam immediately charged his strength, speed, durability, and reflexes to about three times human level. He could maintain that level for a week if need be, and it would give him options until he could find out what Alex’s power were. Alex reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out what looked like a playing card, he threw it forward and as it left his hand it began to grow and change shape and shift and it ended up as a ten foot tall rock monster, it was made of sharp brown rocks piled in a mismatched configuration vaguely human in appearance. So Sam saw that he was a summoner, which was a good and a bad thing, the good was that Alex would almost certainly be normal human resilience, strength and speed. The bad news was that he could summon nearly anything, with practically any abilities.
Sam charged the golem, moving fast, at about ten feet from it he jumped, it looked like he planned to hit it, but at the last moment the added more energy to his strength, pushed off with greater force and cleared it by five foot, it tried to reach for him but it was slow. Alex was not expecting him to get around his golem so quickly, it caused him a stumble backwards and fall on his ass, and in a panic he reached into his pocket, pulled out another card and threw it. Before Sam was even halfway to ground it had formed into a three foot long spider, with a spiked back, spikes on the joints of the legs and large hooked claws at the end of those legs. It formed almost directly under Sam, so he added even more energy to his strength and kicked down with his legs with as much force as he could muster without leverage, he went straight though the back section of the spider, green fluid shot from all sides of the thing and it was dead before Sam even reached the ground though its body. Sam saw Alex laying on the floor in front of him, now it would be easy to finish this, but before Sam could take a step, a massive blow slammed into his back and side, he flew nearly 20 feet, rolled and ended up lying near the wall, he’d forgotten how close he was to the golem.
The good thing about Sam’s healing is that it gives him a sort of diagnosis ability. He had a broken back, a broken hip, broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, more bruises than he had time to count and some internal bleeding. Sam needed time to think, so he energized his mental speed, it was very draining but luckily a few seconds was all he needed as a few seconds in his mind would feel like minutes. Everything slowed to a crawl and he began the mental calculations, he could heal all the damage with near minimal energy, but that would take six to eight hours, he didn’t have six hours, based on the speed of the golem he had maybe ten seconds. In order to heal that much damage in that much time would require almost half his energy, probably closer to 75%, which would not bode well for the large number of other matches he may have to fight today. So as he saw it he had two choices, forfeit this match, get healed by the healing staff and save his energy for other matches, or use up most of his energy supply, win this one a spectacular fashion, and flounder around in the other matches, likely losing again after one or two more matches. In the end Sam’s pride couldn’t allow him to surrender in a fight that he could win.
Sam healed his body up fast, but focused on only the life threatening injuries, he stopped short of the bruises and cuts and minor pains, every little bit saved for later would be useful. He quickly stood up and turned off the energy flow to everything, the golem was slow enough that his normal human speed would be enough to get around it. Alex was now on the far side of the cell, keeping the golem between himself and Sam. Sam ran out and around the thing and began to charge toward Alex, when he got to within thirty feet of him, Alex began to reach into his pocket to grab another card. Sam had to make another choice, Alex could have a limitless supply of monsters, Sam had to finish it fast. So ‘fast’ was what he did, he put a massive burst into his speed and punched Alex about a quarter of a second later. Alex went down hard, Sam had only planned to hit him with a normal amount of force, but physics dictated that mass times acceleration equals force, so the force crushed his jaw, knocked out more than a few teeth and definitely knocked him unconscious, and the other unfortunately law of physics, the equal and opposite reaction applied the same force to his hand and wrist, it gave him a few broken fingers and probably a sprained wrist, at least he could get the healing staff to fix that for him.
Sam checked his own energy, after the massive burst to speed his energy was very low, he’d never had a perfect knowledge of the amount of energy he had left, it was more of a feeling, and the feeling he was getting now was that it was low, maybe ten percent, if he was extremely luckily it would be closer to fifteen, he didn’t think he was that lucky, it was going to be a long day. The doors opened and a student healer came in, the intercom sounded, it was coach Tillman, “the winner is Sam Johnson. Congratulations.”
Allison stood across the cell from Shawn Cain, the tall skinny faired hair guy they had lunch with after orientation. “Hi, Shawn,” Allison said.
The intercom activated, “Greetings combatants, please introduce yourselves.”
“Oh, well you know me, but I am Allison Beckett.”
“Combat will begin in 3…2…1…begin.”
Allison offensive skill with emotions was to bombard her opponent with one overwhelming emotion. Fear would have been the most effective in any combat situation, however Allison had never before had the opportunity to practice with negative emotions, her friends at home had let her practice positive ones often, so that was the only plan she could use. She slammed Shawn with feelings of love for her, it should only take about 45 seconds for him to be completely overtaken by love for her and unable to attack her. Moments after Allison began her barrage a giant lion with bat wings and a scorpion tail appeared out of nowhere and charged her. Allison slipped backwards, fell to the floor, and backpedaled to the wall. “I surrender! I surrender!” she yelled.
“Oh, wow, that was just supposed to be a distraction,” Shawn said, stepping out from an illusion of a wall, “that wasn’t real you know, I only make illusions, sorry. That can’t be good for your combat rank. I’m really sorry…you know you’re very cute.”
“Not your fault. Damn, you’re right, that can’t be good for me,” Allison said, the love emotions she had put out were still affecting Shawn, they’d fade on their own in less than hour, but Allison decided just to use her power to level him back out, before things became awkward, and Shawn said something he’d regret.
Michael was waiting in the cell when his opponent’s door opened and a seven foot tall robot stepped though. The main body of the thing was a 4 foot diameter sphere, the legs were short and stubby, reminiscent of a rhino’s legs. The arms long and thick giving the whole thing a look like a fat gorilla. Michael had seen military power armor on the news before, those cost tens of millions of dollars, those were sleek and tough. This model looked like it had been assembled from scraps found in the junkyard. Armor plating didn’t line up, there was numerous exposed wire and hydraulic tubing, it could only be called rust colored because there was more rust than anything else. But, what stood out the most were the weapons, a mini gun over one shoulder, a fat tube on one wrist, some kind of launcher with a wire behind it on the other wrist. As Michael was looking over the robot, the head section opened like a submarine hatch and the head of a black kid with long black dreadlocks poked out, “Hey, I’m Tyler Wagner, but everyone just calls me Ty,” he said.
“Yo, I am Michael Gonzales.”
“Combat will begin in 3…2…1…Begin.”
Ty dropped back into his power armor and closed the hatch. Michael shifted, and what he was afraid of happened, he didn’t gain any attributes to deal with a massive robot, instead he only gained a power to deal with a tech genius; in this case his shifted form sported a big brain, literally, his skull was bulbous, at least the same size as the rest of his head. Right away Michael could feel his brain working faster, unfortunately it didn’t give him any insight into the workings of his opponent’s armor, it only took everything he knew about technology and created connection between various pieces of it, but he had never been overly interested in computers or electronics. He enjoyed working on cars so a bit of mechanical knowledge came forward, but again, not enough knowledge to see a weakness on the armor. The armor, despite being piecemeal, was intimidating, a direct approach would just get him barraged by those weapons. Michael figured he had to get behind it, stay behind it, then start tearing at the exposed wires and hydraulics. Michael took off to the right meaning to circle it, closing the distance between them with each circle. The power armor fired off a net, then a couple of darts, Michael easily dodged them at this distance with his speed and reflexes. He quickly realized that his strategy wouldn’t work, he wouldn’t be able to get behind it, it was rotating independently of it legs, near the bottom of the sphere were two separate pieces that allowed the top to rotate. The armor always stayed facing Michael and continued to fire various weapons, all appeared to be non-lethal, which usually mean slower that lethal weapons. Michael dodged another net, more darts, a bola, and a taser-like spiked wire that the suit than retracted, so he’d have to deal with that again.
Michael circled the armor three more times and was now only about five feet from it. The armor stopped firing, it couldn’t get a lock this close, but it had started reaching out with its arm, but Michael was staying just beyond its reach, now he was at an impasse. Charging the front would be too dangerous, but he couldn’t get behind it with its rotating speed and he couldn’t keep circling it like this. So Michael, rolled close to it on its left, but didn’t complete the roll, instead he stopped in a prone position, the armor rotated through to where he’d expected Michael to be, this finally allowed Michael to get behind it, he jumped up and grabbed the joint at the shoulder. Then before he could grab for anything, Michael was shocked, his entire body tightened up and he blacked out.
Tony entered the cell and looked across to see Hope, “Ah, crap. Hey Hope, how you doing?” Tony asked nervously, not out of fear, but because Tony was guaranteed a win here, not only beating up an offensively powerless girl, but his roommate to boot, that could be awkward at home.
“Hi Tony. You don’t have to go easy on me you know, I can hold my own.”
“Yeah, Hope I’m sure you can hold your own against a normal human, but how are you going to take down a grizzly, or a tiger, or a rhino?” Tony asked.
“I’ll figure something out,” Hope said and took a basic marital arts stance.
“I’d like to see that,” Tony said, but didn’t really believe she had a chance. Tony’s preferred fighting forms were big cats, tiger, lion, panther if he needed more maneuverability, but against a normal human, the claws and teeth could be considered deadly force, so he needed something with strength, but also control, so he turned into a gorilla and charged at Hope. To her credit she was able to sidestep him and kick him quite hard in the hip. What Hope probably didn’t know was that gorillas are pretty agile, add in to that a human mind with some knowledge of martial arts and Tony was able to quickly turn and grab Hope by the ankle. He dragged her to the ground, pinned her ankle to the ground, and put his other hand on her neck, then roared in her face. Hope used her other leg to kick Tony in the shoulder a few times, Tony used his foot to pin that leg, but Hope kept punching and pulling on Tony’s fur with her free arms. It didn’t look like she was going to be giving up if he just restrained her, so he increased the pressure on her neck, after ten seconds she appeared to blackout. Tony backed away, just in case she was faking and shifted back.
The energy James had taken from Sam was still present, no amount of energy had every lasted this long, he would have loved to see how long he could actually hold it, but there was no chance of James holding any amount of energy for the day, he’d be using and recharging through every fight. James had hoped for an easy first round, but those hopes were dashed when Jackson Locke came though the other door, having to actually duck his head to get in, “Oh, great, hey Jackson.” Jackson just grunted back. “Okay, good.” Before coming to Sizemore, James had never met another super, before healing classes James had never drained a super, and he’d never before tried to drain someone with super endurance, he had no idea how long it would take to completely drain someone like that and if Jackson happen to get a hold of him, even for a moment it would be over. James needed to attempt a small drain to try and get a sense of Jackson’s power, even from across the room James should be able to drain a small amount of energy.
James created a tendril and sent it across the room toward Jackson, who tried to bat it away but it was just smoke and shadow at this distance so his hand passed right through it. That hand touching the tendril allowed James to absorb a small amount of energy and also get a sense of the power that Jackson had, it wasn’t good, at this distance it’d take hours, doing some quick calculations, at a minimal distance, five feet or less it’d take several minutes, but James didn’t plan on getting that close to Jackson, at ten to fifteen feet out a full drain could take up to ten minutes. That’s ten minutes of trying to avoid a charging Jackson, the odds did not seem to be in his favor for this. Luckily, his power wasn’t just draining, he could also use it, not like Sam, he could only increase to his maximum physical potential, but more importantly it would allow him to stave off all forms of fatigue. So, he quickly closed the distance to about fifteen feet and began sprinting in circles around Jackson, all the while absorbing more energy and feeding it into himself, allowing him to maintain his maximum sprint speed without slowing at all. Jackson kept lunging for him, but years of martial arts combined with optimal reflexes easily allowed him to avoid the lumbering Jackson.
He kept circling, getting closer when he saw an opening then backing out for safety. Weather it was a mistake or arrogance, James had accidently closed the distance to closer than five feet and Jackson was able to hit James with a backhand and he careened across the cell, hitting the wall hard. Because he was currently putting most of his absorbed energy into optimizing his body he was able to avoid blacking out from the hit, and he was able to put more energy into healing his body, the damage was extensive and it actually required quite a bit of the energy he’d already absorbed.
James was back on feet before Jackson had managed to close even half the distance to him. James created a new tendril and continued draining, it appeared Jackson was down about half his energy, but it also appeared that it was slowly regenerating, a much faster recharge rate than he’d ever seen, which actually wasn’t saying much considering how little contact he actually had with supers. But the strategy was bearing fruit, as long he was more careful, he should be able to wear down Jackson in less than five minutes. James ran, and circled and drained. Jackson kept trying to reach him, but he was just too slow, and the more James drained, the slower Jackson became, and the slower the Jackson became, the easier he became to drain. After three minutes, Jackson collapsed to his knee, another 30 seconds and Jackson couldn’t hold up his own weight and he fell to his stomach on the floor, 15 seconds later and Jackson eyes closed, James held it for another five seconds to make certain Jackson stayed down, then he cut off the drain. James waited for the intercom to announce him the victor, it did so a few seconds later. James extended his healing tendril at Jackson, his healing tendril had a different look than his draining one, whereas the draining one looks like shadowy smoke, the healing has a light backed cloud effect, he returned all the energy he still had stored back into Jackson, if he hadn’t returned the energy than healing alone wouldn’t have worked to return him to fighting form. Jackson woke up within moments, and was able to stand a few seconds later, James had used quite a bit of the energy, so he couldn’t return a lot of it, but it should be enough for Jackson to continue in the ranking matches.
Jennifer was waiting for her second match to begin, the first had been a very lucky draw, and she faced off against an ice elemental, a tall blonde girl by the name of Amy Danvers. Jennifer just put out so much heat into the room that her opponent’s ice couldn’t even form into a solid state, the room had turned into a sauna, and Jennifer just kept putting out heat until her opponent passed out. Her second opponent walked through the door, she was a pretty, muscular, average height, Hispanic girl with short black hair, and she introduced herself as Rosa Duffy.
The fight began by both girls slowly circling each other, Jennifer’s opening moves were limited considering the nature of her power that a flamethrower blast to the face of most enemies would be lethal force. Jennifer’s power allowed her create powerful blast of fire, from a basic long range flamethrower, to a plasma cutter, to a foot long dagger-like white hot fire, but the most unique aspect of Jennifer’s ability is the power to create the same forces from the bottom of her feet, sometimes it could be used as a surprise attack, an extra blade or fire blast, but its most useful use is to create the power and intensity of a jet engine, essentially jet boot allowing for flight, using her hand blasts as stabilizers. So, Jennifer kicked off her shoes, ignited her flight and launched herself at Rosa. As Jennifer attempted to punch Rosa in the face, Rosa suddenly liquefied, she became water, Jennifer’s flight path was thrown off and she landed hard, “so you’re a water elemental then?” Jennifer asked, “that’s not good for me.”
“Yeah, just like your last battle was an unlucky draw for Amy. That’s the problem with being an elemental, it’s always like a rock, paper, scissor type fight against other elementals.” Rosa said, her voice sounding mostly normal, strange considering it came from a watery humanoid figure.
The good news for Jennifer though was that now she could attack with full force fire blasts against Rosa, fire against a water form is not lethal, but enough energy might weaken her enough that she’d be forced to leave her water form and be available to attack physically. Rosa blasted Jennifer with a powerful water jet attack, it hit her like a fire hose, pinning her to the wall. Jennifer screamed, the water was powerful and painful, she activated her flight and was able to get out from behind the torrent, she took off along the wall, the cell was only a hundred foot cube, which may be enough room for hand to hand fighting, but not for flying, especially at Jennifer’s flight speed. She was continually turning and all the while Rosa was blasting at Jennifer with water jets, Jennifer tried to get higher, but Rosa’s blast reached all the way to the ceiling. Jennifer knew running alone wouldn’t be enough, but she couldn’t create her own blast while flying, it throws off her trajectory too much, and landing seemed like a bad idea with the speed and power of Rosa’s attacks, there is little chance she wouldn’t be hit and end up pinned to the wall again.
Jennifer had to risk it, she charged Rosa, flying straight through her again, landing better this time, having known what to expect. She turned and hit Rosa with the strongest blast she could manage, Rosa wasn’t ready for this, because she took a full powered flamethrower blast to the body, she began to boil and steam, but after only a few seconds Rosa was able to recover. She blasted right through Jennifer’s flames, the water jet hit Jennifer’s hands, broke most of the fingers and continued on to hit her in the face, breaking her nose and partially blinding her, but as she fell to the floor Rosa began to miss. From what little Jennifer could see, the combined blasts had created another steam and sauna effect, like in Jennifer’s last battle, it meant she had a small window of opportunity to counter attack, Rosa couldn’t see her. She had yet to move from the spot she first transformed, perhaps she couldn’t hold her water form on the move, so Jennifer at least knew where Rosa was going to be. She wasn’t sure she could actually do anything though, her hands and nose were killing her, and she could barely see, plus considering her last shot at Rosa was the most powerful she could make and it still had almost no effect on her, perhaps forfeit was the smarter course of action. In the end however, Jennifer just had too much to prove, to herself, to the DVA, and to the HCP, quitting just wasn’t the smart move here.
Jennifer unleashed another full blast of fire to where Rosa was standing, it hurt her hands, a lot, she focused her blast more than before, giving up range and area for power. Her fire looked much more like a beam of fire that the typical flamethrower effect, she scored a direct hit on Rosa, the steam effect was loud and quite noticeably, but after a few seconds the hiss of flame on water stopped, Jennifer stopped blasting in case Rosa had returned to human form. The steam slowly began to clear and Jennifer looked around, but didn’t see Rosa, then she was hit in back with another blast of water, hard. Jennifer fell forward and caught herself with her broken hands, she screamed and nearly passed out from the pain, she tried to push up but the pain was too much. She rolled to her back and was hit again by another blast, this one only a glancing blow, Rosa stepped closer and did it again. “Give it up now Jen, you got no other plays here,” Rosa said.
“Fine! I surrender!” Jennifer yelled, frustration clear in her voice. The intercom announced Rosa’s victory, and Jennifer was finally able to get to her feet, a student healer came in and gave her a basic healing.
Michael was fuming after his last loss, he felt it was an unfair advantage to allow power armor into a ranking battle, even if it was a tech genius creation, what if any power was allowed to use power armor in the HCP, things would become way too unbalanced. Michael was still muttering to himself in the combat cell when an attractive and tall blonde girl entered through the other door. “Hello, I’m Michael Gonzales, how are you doing?”
“Hi Michael, I’m Amy Danvers, and I am not doing too good, lost my first match to a fire elemental and it only took a few minutes. So, unfortunately for you I have to make a good impression here, which means I can’t go easy on you just because your cute,” Amy said winking.
“Well, you’re pretty hot yourself, but I also lost my first match, so I can’t go easy on you. And as long as you don’t have power armor I am going to win this one. Sorry.”
“Oh, cocky, I like that…” Amy said, but was interrupted.
“Combat will begin in 3…2…1…begin.” Michael quickly shifted. His form had some featured he’d never had before, the good thing about Michael’s shifts is he always knows what his new features are and how they work, mastering them or using them effectively in combat isn’t always as easy. This form had a layer of blubber, fur, a dragon-like head capable of breathing fire and strange clawed feet, “so, you’re an ice user then?” Michael asked, his voice coming out as a deep guttural growl.
“Yes, how’d you know.”
“With this form that’s the only power you could have.” Amy’s feet were oddly bare, and the reason for that became apparent pretty quickly. Ice began to form under her feet and spread from there, it quickly reached the walls and began to climb them. The ice was approaching Michael fast, he unleashed a torrent of fire at it, it stopped the progress and destroying the ice actually seemed to hurt Amy a bit, or at least caused her to stumble and the ice to stop forming.
“Ah great, not another fire user, that is so unfair!” Amy said.
“I’m not really a fire user, well it’s kind of complicated, but generally I’m not really a fire user. But sorry anyways.” The ice stopped about five feet from Michael, but suddenly spikes of ice launched themselves from the patch on the ground and slammed into Michael, they hurt, but didn’t even break through the skin. Michael saw that Amy was able to shape and control the ice she formed on the ground, so the solution seemed simple, Michael bombarded it with his flame breath. It seemed to melt much easier than normal ice, like the way she formed it made it more lightly packed to allow it to change its shape easier, for all the ice he melted the slower and weaker it seemed to make Amy, she seemed to be growing desperate, because she kept blasting off shards of ice at Michael, and they hardly hurt him at all. He kept advancing and she started to flounder, growing desperate, she couldn’t form any more ice and what she had already made wasn’t doing any good, Michael burned away all the ice up to Amy, she had backed all the way back to the wall, he was right in front of her, “are you going to give up or do I actually have to hit you. You probably wouldn’t go out with me if I have to beat you into unconsciousness.”
“Yeah your right I wouldn’t, but you don’t have to find out because…I give up,” Amy said dejectedly.
“Well, I am sorry Amy. And I was serious about that asking out part, maybe we could talk after I finish my matches. Are you going to be sticking around to watch the rest?”
“We’ll see, maybe if you win them all. That way I’ll know I was beaten by the best,” Amy said, actually giving the dragon-like face a kiss on the cheek.
Sam entered the battle cell and looked across at his opponent, an average height, average build, average looking brown haired kid, “my name is Drew Lackey, and this…” Drew shifted his form, it was kind of difficult to pin down what the shift was, it kind of appeared that he became better looking, like he had gotten a spray tan, bleached his teeth, put in colored contacts, gelled and styled his hair, then spent a few hours in a make-up chair, the only thing missing was red underwear over blue tights to make the picture complete, “is Pinnacle. Greetings, I am the shifted form of Drew Lackey. I possess the power of flight, greatly enhanced strength, speed, reflexes, senses, durability, energy resistance, regeneration, and powerful energy blasts. I am the perfect hero,” Pinnacle said.
“Humble aren’t you? and you gave yourself a hero name, I thought that wasn’t allowed. Plus, why are you telling me all this?” Sam asked.
“I will of course answer you, I didn’t give myself a hero name, I am a separate personality from Drew, so the name is a name, not a hero name, which is allowed. Second, I am telling you all this because honesty is an important part of being a hero, plus it will allow the match to be more fair. Fairness is important to being a hero. Drew would agree with you that keeping my powers a secret would be better, but I have persuaded him this is a better way. Do you require any time to prepare? I will wait,” Pinnacle said.
“No, don’t need to prepare, but while your being honest, how much weight can you lift?” Sam asked, knowing this would be very important for him to know exactly how much energy he had to use.
“All my enhanced abilities are fifty times greater than an average man, I can fly at 300 mph, and regenerate at nearly a 1000 times normal rate.” That was bad for Sam, if he’d been at full power he could increase all those powers ten times greater than even Pinnacle’s optimal, but at his current power reserves, he’d only be able to match him for five minutes, and that’s not even dealing with flight or energy blasts. Sam charged Pinnacle, he added a small amount of energy to reflexes, speed and resilience, enough to close the distance to Pinnacle, if Sam could get in one punch, enhanced with all his remaining energy then Pinnacle wouldn’t stand a chance. Sam closed the distance to Pinnacle and threw a few test punches, he avoided, blocked or countered them with almost no thought or energy, Sam added more to speed and reflexes and tried harder, but Pinnacle continued to stop him just as easily, there was no way Sam was going to land any attacks at present speed, so a quick mental calculation had him needing to put speed to at least twenty five times human optimal, durability to match, and all remaining energy might give his strength a hundred times boost, it’d have to be enough. He quickly added a burst to all those and attacked Pinnacle, he was able to land the punch in Pinnacle’s solar plexus and it launched him fifty feet into the wall, he hit hard and went to the ground, it appeared to have worked, for about three seconds, then he got back up, slowly, but he got up. Sam was now out of energy, and Pinnacle was coming for him, fighting would be pretty much impossible now, he was completely human strength now. He was kicking himself now for his last fight, if he’d saved his energy, he could really have given this Pinnacle a real fight. Pinnacle slowly walked up to him and flicked him in the forehead, it was just enough energy to knock Sam unconscious.
Allison and Hope both lost their second matches. Allison had attempted to use fear emotions on her opponent, but before she even had a chance to see if it would work, she was hit by an electric user, about a taser’s worth of energy brought he down fast. Hope had been up against Jackson, she did attempt to fight, she went in and punched and kicked and tried some holds, Jackson had stood there and looked at her like he was fighting an infant, then he gave her a light smack on the side of the head and she went down. It was the second loss for both of them and they got out of the infirmary and back to the observation room about the same time to watch their roommates fight, both fights for both girls had lasted less than five minutes, they both feared they would be in the last two spots in combat rankings. As they got to the observation room, they saw Michael beating an ice user, and James’ second fight was about to begin.
James’ second match was against Rebecca Stone, Hope and James both knew her from healing classes, which included her powers, and Hope knew instantly that James would have a huge advantage with range. Rebecca’s power to create various chemical concoctions was versatile, she could create any helpful drug that she understood, including her powerful healing elixir, she was also an enhancer, even better than Hope, she could create super steroids or adrenaline or thousands of other useful drugs. Hope had never seen her poisons work, but Rebecca had demonstrated her paralytics and they worked fast and effectively, if she got her hands on James she might be able to take him down fast, but her power relied completely on skin to skin contact; James’ did not, and with Rebecca only having normal human endurance (her power didn’t work on herself), meant James wouldn’t have to even get within twenty feet of her to take her down. James did just that, he created a tendril fifty feet out and moved forward slowly, Rebecca saw what was happening and sprinted forward, this just increased the rate at which James drained her, when she got about fifteen feet out James moved back, while still draining, after thirty seconds Rebecca stumbled and fell, she couldn’t get back up. James was declared the winner, then he returned her energy to her. Hope and Allison both cheered for him from the observation platform, but he couldn’t hear them.
Tony first match showed nothing of his skill and he felt bad about having won like that against Hope, he couldn’t think of anything else he could have done, but it still felt wrong to win so easily. Statically there was no way his next opponent could be worse than Hope was, she was definitely going to be bottom three in combat rankings. The person that met him in the combat cell was a short (but taller than Tony), thin (but in better shape than Tony), his hair was strange, a blue so dark it looked black, “Hello, my name is Rob Pinto,” he said.
“Hello, I’m Tony Price. I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me what your power is before we begin?” Tony asked.
“No, I don’t think I’m going to be doing that, you only get one chance to surprise the enemy in real life and the HCP. But as turnabout is fair play you want to tell me yours?” Rob asked.
“No,” Tony was afraid of this, his power had a big flaw, he couldn’t change from one animal form to another before switching back to human form first, the whole process could take up to six seconds, which is quite a long time in the middle of battle. With Hope he knew exactly what she could do and had a fair amount of time to decide on a form, once Rob revealed what he could do, it was likely Tony wouldn’t have a lot of time to make a good decision, and he might not make the right choice. So after the battle began both combatants just stood and stared at each other, Tony was keeping an eye on Rob and suddenly he was gone and a moment later Tony was staring up at the ceiling with pain in the side of the head, “Speedster or teleporter?”
“Speedster,” Rob said from the other side of the cell, then Tony felt more pain in his face as he was punched several more times without even have seen him move. Now was the time to choose an animal form, nothing could keep up with Rob, so he needed something that could take the punches he was throwing. Tony’s body morphed and expanded and kept expanding, and in a few seconds a three-ton African elephant stood where Tony had been kneeling. If the appearance was surprising to Rob he didn’t show it, because almost immediately after Tony was able to take stock of his new form, he felt his back leg being punched, ten…twenty…fifty times, Tony felt them all but even after so many it couldn’t be called anything close to pain. Tony tried to look around and find Rob, but an elephant’s sight is quite poor and Rob was moving very fast, so he couldn’t see him anywhere, then the punches returned to the back leg. Tony needed to limit Rob’s mobility, so he moved himself to the corner and backed into it, then sat down. He now only had to deal with a 90 degree area of view, he still had trouble keeping track of Rob, but Rob had almost no way to get a good attack on Tony. Every time Rob got close Tony tried to grab him with his truck, or slam him with his head, but he just kept missing. This went on again and again, Rob’s attack doing no damage and Tony’s missing, after an hour Coach Tillman’s voice came over the intercom, “after review of the previous hour, this match will be called a draw. Both students report to the infirmary for healing.”
After five hours there were only eight students left, James, Michael and Tony were three of them, when Coach Tillman called them all together under the observation platform. “Congratulations students, you have made it to the final eight, there will be three final rounds, 8 students, then 4, then the final 2. Three of you have yet to have a loss, Mr. Reed, Mr. Lackey, and Miss Worley, congratulations, but it will now be single elimination. Also we will be instituting a time limit, 15 minutes, then five minutes for healing, then the next match will begin, we will be finished in one hour, if your match goes to fifteen minutes, then myself and the other professors will declare a winner. The board behind me will show your match-ups.”
Jackson and Drew’s match ended with Drew winning, Jackson’s strength far outclassed Pinnacle, but Pinnacle’s durability made strength almost a moot point, the deciding factor was Drew’s energy blasts, they TKO’d Jackson after a few dozen blasts. Tony’s quarterfinal match was against Victoria Worley, the tall, skinny girl who introduced herself as Vicky, she had beaten Tony with the same strategy she’d used all day. Her power was the ability to create force fields, as well as throw force bubbles, the most versatile part of her power was the ability to change and reshape a force bubble if she continued to touch it, this had allowed her to capture her opponents inside one of her fields, then cut off their air. All Tony’s animal forms had required him to get close to her, so he was caught quickly. Michael’s match was similarly anti-climactic, his match was against a girl of average height, long black hair and the coloring and features of a Native American, by the name of Valerie Singley. Her power was the ability to paralyze anyone she looked in the eyes, so when Michael had switched forms, his shifted persona had no eyes, instead he had echo-location like hearing and thermal vision by way of heat sacs where his eyes should have been. His opponent had no offensive attacks to use against him and was physically too weak to put up much of a fight against his shifted form, it was over in less than a minute.
James’ match-up was against Kathryn McAllister, a short girl with nearly white blonde hair, cut short and spiked. The match started much like it had for both of them in previous matches, James used a tendril at about fifty feet out and Kathryn launched a lightning bolt, Kathryn missed, electricity being hard to aim well at that distance. James’ tendril was able to drain a small amount of energy, but something strange happened, the energy he was absorbing was unfamiliar to him. When he had drained energy from Sam yesterday, it was another strange form of energy but he knew how to use it, what he had drained from Kathryn had been a completely new feeling. If he didn’t know that Kathryn was an electric user he would have no idea what he had, as it was he could sort of see how this energy could be considered electricity, but it brought about a load of questions in James’ mind, so confused and surprised was he by what he did, that he dropped his guard and Kathryn was able to capitalize and score a powerful hit on James, he was launched backwards and hit the floor smoking, passing out immediately.
The semi-finals had Kathryn facing Drew. Her electric attacks were somewhat effective, but Pinnacle was just too fast and strong, and he ended it quickly again. And Michael’s match was against Vicky. Before this match Michael had been lucky, not counting the tech genius, Michael’s power had trouble adapting to the more meta-physical abilities; gravity control, time manipulation, telekinesis, forces he couldn’t see or interact with, physical traits to counter-act these were sketchy at best, and force fields would be no different. Not that his power didn’t try, his shifted form was fast, his legs were like a frogs, it would allow for incredibly fast jumps, ideal for avoiding force bubbles, but the most interesting adaptation was his odd mouth, it was also frog-like, wide and big and under his chin he had a sac that contain a kind of hardening goo spit. Michael jumped up and spit a wad at Kathryn’s force field, it hit the field and hardened almost immediately. He did it again and a third time, each time covering more of the bubble, it seemed to him that the point of the goo was to completely cover her field in a hard goo shell, thereby cutting off her air supply, a similar strategy to what she had been using all day. If she dropped the shield and tried to run a quick spit at the unprotected form should incapacitate her just as quickly. She tried several time to blast outward with her force bubbles, and was able to dislodge large sections of it, but Michael was faster and the more he spit the tougher the material got. It wasn’t an overly quick process because the match was called for time. Neither had scored any hits, but Michael was declared the winner because his strategy was working, whereas she hadn’t moved and had stayed on defense the whole time.
That brought them to the finals, a large crowd had gathered up top to watch this one. Drew/Pinnacle was going into the finals undefeated, but most everyone recognized that Michael’s only loss came from an unlucky first round match-up, odds being placed by some intrepid students had Pinnacle at only a slight favorite. When Michael shifted his form it didn’t really contain too many surprises, he was larger, in height, width and muscle density, making him much tougher and stronger, his legs were lean, allowing for good bursts of speed, he had wings, a tail, and had long, thin, sharp claws on hands and feet. The wings were kind of interesting, when he moved them he saw that they were likely too heavy to allow flight, he could probably glide, but they appeared to be reinforced to act as shields against Pinnacle’s energy blasts.
Pinnacle flew forward and slammed both fists into Michael’s chest, it launched him backwards, he snapped open his wings in order to slow his speed, he landed gracefully. Pinnacle was now standing in the middle of the room, where Michael had been previously, he raised his arm and they began to glow with a nimbus of white light. A brilliant beam shot forth from his fist towards Michael, who spread his wings out into the front of his body. The force was intense, Michael had to dig his claws into floor in order to avoid being flung backwards again, and even so it created a three foot long gash in the floor. Michael chanced taking a peak out from behind his wings, but he didn’t see him in front of him, then Pinnacle appeared next to him and attacked, trying to barrage him with a flurry of punches. Michael was able to get up his wing to act as a shield against the attacks, then swiped back at him several times with his claws, each swipe left deep gashes in Pinnacle’s uniform and skin. The gashes began to heal up fast, but not before he lost a good bit of blood, that seemed to be the way to defeat Pinnacle, blood loss. Michael had no idea how much blood a shifted super needed to lose in order to be knocked out, but he was going to find out. Pinnacle moved back and attempted his blasts again, Michael shielded himself with his wings again, Pinnacle tried to get behind Michael, but his speed was only greatly enhanced, not super speed like Rob. Michael could track him and Pinnacle couldn’t get an angle on Michael to get his blast behind his wings, so he had to resort to physical attacks. Pinnacle was fast enough to get within Michael’s wings, and when he got inside Michael’s reach he was able to get in ten hits for every one swipe, they both had healing attributes, Pinnacle’s much faster than Michael, but they both could figure out that this match was going to go to the fifteen minute limit. So it became a matter of putting on the better show, Michael lashed out with his wings and tails and claws, Pinnacle alternated between ranged energy blast and close up melee. Pinnacle was faster, stronger, more powerful, but Michael’s adaptive wings had great durability and resilience. In the end it came down to the time limit and Coach Tillman’s voice came over the intercom, “Thank you all, combat rankings will be posted tomorrow.”
“Wait, who won?” Michael asked.
“Rankings will be posted tomorrow,” the intercom repeated.