Mayhem, Machinations, and Mastering Abilities
The smile from the front of the lecture hall that greeted the two men as they entered would have trouble being described as ‘friendly.’ Walter Raines and his personal assistance froze for a moment under the predatory look from the scarred woman before recovering and seating themselves near the rather startled observer already monitoring the lecture. Mayhem’s smile grew a little wider as the Hero noted that the entire class had turned their own unwelcoming glares towards the annoying little politician as he made a minor production over the quality of the seating he was expected to make use of in the lecture hall.
“Everyone can ignore the dumbass in the expensive suit and return to the topic at hand please. Muscle girl, explain why you think the Super threat classification system places almost complete emphasis on prevention of civilian casualties and collateral damage when facing a Non Threatening Combatant, but completely discards both those points when facing a Super classed as an Armageddon threat?” The tall woman’s question managed to draw most of the students’ attention back to the class and away from the new arrivals in the room.
Tasha gave a long moment’s consideration to the question asked of her before answering. “It’s because a NoTC Super isn’t much of a threat to anyone, so the priority is just keeping the ruckus to a minimum until you can drag them in. With an Armageddon class you don’t have any room to consider anything else except how to neutralize that Super as quickly as possible with every resource you have. Powers that big just can’t be contained so the collateral is just a fact with that kind of confrontation.”
“That’s an interesting take on it. Do you know what your own threat classification would be?” Tasha shrugged in response. “You’re a healer with no known secondary abilities. You would class as a NoTC if you went criminal on us right now. Are you the lowest ranked combatant in your class?”
“No, but I don’t see ho-…”
“You had sort of the right idea giant girl, but you’ve also kind of missed the point. The objective against each identified threat level on the scale is to minimize collateral damage and loss of life.” There were some confused looks around the room at this statement.
“But you just said that Armageddon class Supers are dealt with without regard for casualties, you just contradicted you-… OW!” Walter Raines, political appointee to the Oversight Committee, attempted to interject his own thoughts into the lecture only to be cut short as the chair he was seated in suddenly scraped forward far enough to fall off the tier it was currently on. The mildly disheveled man came to his feet, face contorted and red with anger as his assistant tried to calm him down. “How dare yo-…”
“You will sit down and shut up while you are in MY classroom little man.” Mayhem didn’t yell or even seem to raise her voice much at all, but the tone carried such an obvious level of threat that even the famously unobservant Raines shut up immediately. “You get to observe, so observe. If you speak again while I am giving a lesson you will regret doing so. Briefly.”
“Now,” turning back to the students as if the confrontation hadn’t occurred at all, “who here can tell me how both of my prior statements can be true, in spite of seeming like they are completely fucking contradictory?”
Both telepaths dutifully raised their hands, though Catalina and Michael had long since noted that it was rare for the Instructors to bother calling on them when a question was asked, if the Instructor in question knew the answer at least. Two other hands also went up, the faster being selected by the scarred woman with a pointed finger and the words; “White hair girl, go.”
Eloise stood as she answered the question. “Both statements are true because of the kind of damage being looked at. When a NoTC like Tasha or myself turns criminal we’re limited to mundane means of causing damage that we can sometimes augment in some way with our powers. The only way we’re going to be more than a localized threat is if we somehow got a hold of something like a nuke or spent a lot of time wiring up conventional explosives without getting found.
“An Armageddon class is the other end of the scale. You have to completely disregard collateral damage and casualties because that’s the best way to limit both things. If someone can wipe out every living thing on the planet, then the most effective way to limit the casualties they inflict is to focus everything on neutralizing them, usually with as much lethal overkill as can be managed.”
“So how does the Ethics we’re supposed to be instilling into all your little skulls factor into the idea that there are scenarios where you are supposed to allow innocent civilians to die?” The answer this time came from a quiet voice that bypassed the standard raising of hand and waiting for recognition process.
“Because a Hero has to serve the greater good at all costs. You can’t just risk your life to save someone if doing so leaves a greater threat, to more people, at large. You have to be willing to sacrifice people you’ve never met, people that are relying on you to save them, and even yourself; because sometimes that’s what it takes to do the most good. That’s the choice Heroes are expected to make.” There was a startled silence as the petite blond, Alexandra, finished speaking and returned to her seat.
“A little more eloquently put than I would say it, but essentially dead on.” Mayhem looked around the room that was filled with a little more nervous tension than it had been a moment ago. “Those of you who make it through this program are going to be the real thing. Real fucking Heroes. There’s glory and fame if that’s what you’re looking for at the end of the tunnel, but there’s also the real world, and the hellish decisions where every choice is wrong and you have to pick the least wrong out of the bunch. You have to be willing to watch a friend die if that’s what it takes. You have to be willing to literally kill yourself if that’s the way out of the hand you’re dealt.” As the tall Hero spoke she began to produce a collection of progressively larger blades from the various pockets and pouches on her leathers. Seven blades laid on the lectern, and the eighth and longest held up for the class to see.
“A few of you may remember the news from a few years ago. Crazy fuck who called himself Richter took over a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic. Complete unknown, didn’t demonstrate any earth shattering abilities but he was definitely a Super as he disabled the boat security with some sort of shockwave.” The class noted that the scarred woman was carefully unbuttoning her jacket as she spoke.
“They classed him as a Standard level threat and sent a couple of New York’s finest Heroes to apprehend him and bring him back. Dumb luck that one of those two was Atlas, one of the hardest to kill bastards on the planet. Went in with a teleporter that called himself Express Route.” There was another pause as Mayhem needed to focus a moment to work a stuck clasp free on her jacket. “So as soon as the two Heroes arrived and attempted to negotiate a nice surrender for Richter, he turns the juice up a bit. Atlas got knocked through five decks and lodged in the hull, Express got reduced to a fucking mist.” A few of the students were nodding along with the story, apparently familiar with this portion of it, though all sat in rapt silence as the lecturer pulled the heavy jacket off and folded it carefully before placing it to the side. With more visible flesh exposed it was almost frightening to see the amount of scar tissue covering her body.
“So Atlas hits the panic button, Richter gets upgraded to a big time threat, and everyone is fucking scrambling to get their shit together. Fortunately before the psycho can do more than kill a couple of the passengers the big guy got back up to the top deck and got a hold of him. Instead of just popping the little fucker’s head off Atlas thought he would bring in a live capture now that he had him in hand. Richter had other ideas apparently.” There was another pause as the Hero placed her right hand against her own ribcage, as if feeling for something under the shirt. “No one knows exactly what happened next because Atlas was unconscious and nearly dead when they fished him out of the wreckage. The boat was obliterated, there weren’t even any fucking bodies to recover, and the seismic science shit registered a magnitude 8 quake out of nowhere. Pretty localized tremor, nothing that was going to cause any destruction from almost 200 miles off the coast. The tsunami that fucker created though, coming right at the eastern seaboard? That was probably going to kill a few million people.
“Now you all remember yesterday when I told you I had a pretty neat power? I meant it. See if you ramp up motion control enough you can stop just about anything that’s moving. I was in the group that got called up for the panic button, and since we didn’t exactly have a lot of time to work with I figure I’d improvise. We had another teleporter by then, and I grabbed her ass and told her to drop me out in the water about halfway to the wave. Great thing about being a Hero, when you tell another Hero that you’ve got something handled they will almost always believe you. So I got dropped a little above the ocean about 30 miles out, and I ramped up to where I’d be able to handle something that big.” The long bladed knife was held next to Mayhem’s side as she continued. “So I pulled this fucker out and stabbed it through both my own lungs. I’ve actually done more practice with self injury and anatomy shit than the most Emo of cutters has ever considered, so I knew at that point I had a good twenty seconds or so before I lost consciousness and died.” The woman paused and shivered briefly, a genuine smile crossing her scarred visage. “That is the closest I’ve ever come to dying, and it was also the most alive I’ve ever been for about five seconds. I could feel every wave in the fucking ocean, and the big one coming in to wreck shit was easy. I just pulled all the oomph out of it and watched it collapse. Then I was just going to drift in all that incredible feedback until the world went away. My ride appeared to have other plans as she pulled my dumb ass out of the water and popped me straight back to the mustering point. One of the good healers put me back together, and so now I get to stand in front of you and tell stories about the time I tried to kill myself.” The expressions of the Overton freshmen ran the almost complete range of possible reactions as the Hero concluded her story.
“Now can any of you super attentive kids tell me what the point of my little story was?”
“You wanted to give a real world example of choosing to die in order to save lives.”
“I didn’t pick a very good example then since I’m still here. You sure about your answer?” Mayhem locked her gaze on the braided woman who had been the first to offer an answer.
“Not important. You chose to die in order to save lives. That someone else managed to save you means that your part of the story gets a happier ending, but that’s still the point. If you hadn’t been willing to die, then it’s possible that millions of other people would have died instead. A Hero needs to be willing to take whatever they get dealt and make a decision immediately, not just wait and hope that someone stronger or with the right power can come and bail you out.” Amelia didn’t attempt to avert her eyes from the older woman’s piercing stare and answered with no hint of hesitation in her voice.
“And do you think you could make the same choice that I did?”
The tall blond offered a shrug in response. “I couldn’t have stopped a tsunami no matter what I did. And I don’t think anyone can actually know if they have what it takes to choose to die for something until they’re actually faced with that choice.”
Mayhem smiled again at the girl’s response. “Smarter than most blondes, aren’t you? And with that boys and girls, think really hard about whether or not YOU have what it takes, and get the fuck out of my classroom and go to gym.”
Walter Raines managed to contain his frustration silently long enough to allow the freshman class to clear the room and make his own way out and away from the infuriating scarred woman before he began venting at his assistant. “How dare that crazy bitch assault me like that. Jeremy, make a note to find out if there’s any precedent that would allow me to get that ‘Hero’ stripped of her certification for assault.”
“It’s highly unlikely sir, HCP instructor’s are given an extremely broad license to manage their classes, and while we are observing the classes we fall into the same category as most of the students do in regards to what the Instructors can and cannot do. The only notable exception is that we can walk out the door at any time without expecting some sort of punishment or penalty.” Jeremy Kreid managed to maintain a perfectly professional tone while rolling his eyes where his employer couldn’t see the expression.
“It was really pretty mild, Walter,” Allan Riley, the youngest Oversight investigator shared a brief, unseen, smile of commiseration with the long suffering PA behind the politician’s back as he spoke. “Celia got floated right out the door by the Dean for interrupting one of her lectures during the first week. It’s even right in the document that let’s us form an Oversight Committee in the first place. We ‘must maintain an absolute minimum of interference in the functioning of the HCP while it is under Oversight investigation.'”
“Yes, well, still look into it Jeremy. And Allan, shouldn’t you be formalizing your report for this session?”
The athletic dark haired man rolled his eyes in response, but nodded his affirmation and headed off in the direction of the elevators that would take him to the offices set aside for Oversight’s use while on campus.
“Now Jeremy, can we confirm that all the proper pieces have fallen into place?”
“Yes Mr Raines, we have confirmation that all the required clearances were made available at the appropriate times and the DOD will be unaware of the appropriations until their next scheduled inventory. At the facility in question that will not occur until two months after the end of the current school year.”
“Excellent news then my friend! With as much effort as this Dean and her friends put into trying to stonewall our Oversight Committee out of their program, they really should have made sure to review ALL the clauses in the HCP foundation.” The greasy politician wore a very smug grin as he and his assistant made their way towards the elevators at a more leisurely pace.
“Yes, I have to admit it was quite impressive that you discovered such an obscure sub-clause in all of the old legalese. Quite a coup sir.”
“Well, there are benefits to having friends with the appropriate skill sets for that sort of thing Jeremy. I find it’s best to surround myself with the most competent persons I can find.”
Jeremy managed to suppress the urge to roll his eyes again as his employer now had the taller man in line of sight. I wonder which one of his father’s lackeys spoon fed him this particular ‘discovery.’
Raines actually giggled briefly as the two men entered the elevator. “It’s going to be the most stacked final exam in history. Watching those arrogant little Super brats fail is going to be incredible.”
Jeremy Kreid coughed briefly to cover the sigh he was unable to prevent from escaping. The talented personal assistant felt more than a small pang of guilt for the mess that politics was involving all of the otherwise innocent students in. But that was the nature of the game; there would always be some collateral damage when the people in charge needed to make a change. Jeremy found himself fervently hoping that the fallout from this particular move would manage to find its way back to Walter Raines Jr as well.
“All right class, your second day of Alternative training starts with a dual task. You are all going to maintain a six minute pace or better for the next half hour on the track. In addition you are all going to come up with something you can do with your power that you have never done before and we are going to work on giving those ideas a shot.” Ben nodded along with the rest of the class as Coach Martinez greeted their arrival in the HCP gym and moved quickly to start running around the track.
For the heavily muscled black man, the pace was an easy one. Any realistic human pace that didn’t involve him towing a truck behind him was relatively easy for a Super with primarily enhanced strength and endurance. In acknowledgement of that strength Ben ran with about 1500 lbs of additional weights strapped to his body by various harnesses. He noted Erin passing him on the track was wearing a similar weight rig today, though not nearly as bulky as his own.
Dutifully following the assignment, Ben tried to come up with something he hadn’t used his power for previously. This is what I’m in Alternative training for dammit. I need to do something other than lift weights and hit something. What else is super strength good for though? The large man found himself thinking about the other strength based students in the freshman class, all three of them in Combat training. Collin really didn’t do anything that Ben didn’t save for being incredibly hard to damage in his shifted form, and unless moving in a REALLY creepy way counted as an ability, Susan didn’t have a lot of variety either. Amelia was pretty much beyond consideration, Ben was well aware that he couldn’t really compare his ability to hers at its current level.
So what else can I do. I can’t crater the floor or rip the walls down like Ames can. I can’t take a hit like Collin or Susan. Is my ability really that one dimensional? Fuck me.
“Parkour.” The female voice in his head almost caused the surprised man to trip and plow face first into the wall, fortunately catching himself and just bouncing awkwardly off the surface instead.
“It’s Cat dummy. How many other girls do you know that can talk to you inside your own head?”
Ben searched around the track before noting the auburn haired hispanic girl almost directly opposite him. She smiled as he made eye contact. “Yes, me, right here. Hi! Anyways, you should use your ability for terrain management. Parkour, wall climbing, that sort of thing. It’s not something you’ve ever done before and with your strength and durability you’d probably be able to handle some pretty extreme environments pretty easily.”
How is that using my ability?
“How is it not? You were thinking about Ames but you were only focusing on the ultimate extremes of what she does. As strong as you are you can catapult yourself around a room a lot faster than a normal human can. You can pull yourself over obstacles that most people couldn’t, and if you can get the balance right you can probably stick to a corner way up a wall somewhere almost indefinitely.”
Ben considered the suggestion carefully as he continued to run. It was such a simple thing, could it even count? He realized that Catalina had been correct in one thing at least, he had ignored a lot of what Amelia did and focused only on the most extreme examples of her ability. The way she could throw herself around a room and reverse direction was something Ben himself could probably do. For that matter so could Collin and Susan, but none of the three lesser strength Supers seemed to have figured that out for some reason. As Ben started looking for simpler answers than he had been he was amazed at all the possibilities that opened up. Erin used weapons to make up the difference in her physical abilities when facing the strongest of the freshman class, and there were a wide variety of weapons that someone of his strength could utilize that a normal human wouldn’t be able to get results out of.
Ben smiled now as he glanced at the clock to see how much time he had left for the run. The muscular young man suddenly found himself quite eager to move onto the rest of the class period.
Erin waited patiently as she was apparently to be the last in the class to divulge her new objective for a manner of using her power. Many of the other students had come up with rather creative ideas, others had been a little bit less inventive. Kyle’s objective to be able to use an illusion to simulate invisibility instead of simply misdirecting with them was straightforward, but probably a workable goal. Eloise’s stated goal to be able to walk through walls was met with instructions to run another ten laps. Apparently the exercise didn’t count if it was something you were already actively trying to do.
Erin was a bit surprised when Catalina had stated she wanted to attempt to use her ability to interfere with another person’s sensory input instead of simply scanning it. It was a bit scary to think that the telepath might actually be able to accomplish that goal. Ty’s goal to make something that worked better for him than it did for someone else was also met with instructions to return for more laps. Tara’s objective to figure out a chemical enhancement that would temporarily alter her Super ability was the first answer to be met with stunned silence from the whole class however.
“Do you think you can actually do that?” The coach sounded absolutely fascinated by the idea, and Erin had to admit she was equally intrigued. Could such an enhancement work for anyone?
“I think it’s possible. I can do a lot with temporary boosters right now, but I’m going to have to spend a lot of time making sure I have my own DNA profile completely decoded before I can start messing around with things, and I think it would work best if I could engineer a restorative that would act as sort of a rese-…”
“Do you have any objectives that you might be able to work towards in an actual class period Ms Warren?” There was less enthusiasm from the older hispanic woman as she realized that Tara’s plan was definitely not near fruition at this time.
“I still need to figure out a variation on my mace formula that will actually affect Supers with greatly enhanced durability.”
“Five laps Ms Warren. It doesn’t sound like you’ve come up with anything you weren’t already wanting to work on, but at the same time you seem to be trying to move in a lot of different directions at once and that is somewhat the point here.”
Finally Coach Martinez indicated it was Erin’s turn. The tall girl carefully considered her answer as the responses from some of the earlier students indicated that her first choice would likely not count as it was something she was already working towards. Erin needed something new, and found it in a flash of inspiration. “I want to see if I can stop light instead of refracting it or distorting it. Let none of the light hitting me bounce off or pass through.”
“And this isn’t something you were already trying to do Ms Casse?”
“Actually no. It’s something that’s supposed to be impossible without something like a black hole, but I figure maybe I could make like a one way mirror effect and trap all the light inside my body, at least for a little while. I’m not sure what happens if light builds up in one spot like that. It is energy after all.”
“And what would be the objective of using your ability in this way?” Apparently mentioning that something was supposedly impossible was an excellent way to grab Coach Martinez’s attention.
“I’m not sure exactly. I’d have to make it work first, but if I could store light than I could theoretically focus it and use it. Stand me out in the sun and I can kinda do a version of the magnifying glass on an anthill thing, only I’m a really big magnifying glass. I might be able to focus enough to get some real heat, or rapid release to make something like a flash bang effect?”
“Not a bad line of investigation Ms Casse. So with that almost all of you are approved, please use an appropriate training room for your stated objective, and all of you spend the next hour trying to make some progress towards your new goal for your power. After that we’ll switch to something else, but I expect you to continue seeking to reach your stated goal on your own time for the next week. Next Wednesday we will assess your progress and either move onto a new goal for your ability or attempt to refine your attempts at mastering your ability.” Elena turned to the students that had been sent to run additional laps as she finished laying out the assignment. “And now all of you are going to try again, and this time give me a goal that you weren’t already trying to reach. The point of Alternative training is to get you to expand your power in NEW ways after all.”