Hitting Walls: Breakthroughs and Detours
The small white haired girl climbed into an average looking grey sedan, stretched briefly, and let out a sigh as she settled into the seat for a moment before digging out her keys. Eloise James was not at all happy about many things. The recent takeover of Alternative training by Coach Rachd to turn one of the only useful parts of her HCP experience, so far, into another pointless round of beatings and pain. The presence of the Oversight Committee threatening the legitimacy of the program that Eloise had chosen. Most of all, the young woman was not happy that she was still entirely restricted from really showing what she was capable of.
An observant bystander would probably have noted when Eloise’s completely ordinary looking Civic started that the engine sound did not at all match the car’s exterior. A more knowledgeable bystander would have recognized the deeper sounds as denoting a much more powerful engine than should have been present in such a car. A point made more obvious as Eloise peeled out of the student parking lot with a great deal more speed and burning rubber than the small car should have been capable of.
After three days of living through more of the muscular Combat Instructor’s idea of a ‘better rounded’ education, the young white haired woman needed to spend some time doing something that did make her happy. A short drive later, the ordinary looking Civic pulled up to the gate of a self storage lot, a code was entered, and Eloise drove into the fenced off area. The grey car navigated directly towards a specific unit with an ease that spoke of frequent visits.
The white haired girl stepped quickly out of the small vehicle and up to the rather impressive looking lock securing the heavy sliding door of a storage unit. A combined key and combination later, the lock was released and the door slid smoothly open. In most states the contents of the storage unit would likely have tripped dozens of red flags and landed Eloise on several watch lists, at the minimum. In Texas the small girl’s impressive arsenal had simply required an additional insurance deposit.
Eloise paused to bask for a moment in the presence of all her favorite toys and tools, before grabbing a padded carrying case from just inside the door and moving quickly into the unit. Need to get a move on or the range will be closed, member or not. In spite of the urgency of her movements, the young woman still paused and rather affectionately stroked some of the larger weapons present before moving on to less specialized gear. Let’s see, haven’t gone old fashioned in awhile so let’s grab the Peacemaker. Still got two full boxes of rounds for it to shoot through anyways. Need something peaceful to relax with. We’ll take the Volquartsen for that. And I need to just fucking break something. Saiga, I choose you! It’s Super Effective! The white haired girl giggled at her own thoughts as she carefully loaded the three weapons and several cases of ammunition into the bag.
Loading the bag into the trunk of her small car and re securing the heavy lock, the young woman drove with not quite as much disregard for the speed limit as she made her way towards the neighboring town of Kilgore and the pistol and rifle club she had acquired membership at the first day she had arrived in the state. In Rachd’s un-powered training she was expected to somehow take on drastically larger and stronger opponents than herself while unarmed. In the full power segments she was expected to take on those same foes, many who possessed abilities centered heavily around combat, with nothing but her small size, elusive abilities, and a half-assed stun gun. Still, she would carry on and work as hard as she needed to in order to advance. Eloise needed to somehow last in the program long enough for them to let her show them what she was really capable of. Several of the sophomores had said that in the second year, the students started specializing. That would likely be her first chance to really impress the Instructors. All she had to do was make it that far.
Collin had always wondered if the old saying were true. ‘The easiest way to attract a woman is to already have one.’ In the months since he’d somehow hooked up with Tasha at the Halloween party, he’d noticed that his attempts at flirting with his attractive tutor seemed to be showing definite signs of progress. The muscular young man was finding himself particularly grateful that his course load for the second semester at Overton was somehow managing to be even lighter than the first, otherwise having the tutor at this point might result in worse grades as opposed to better.
“I’m really sorry Collin, I’m not being much help tonight am I? Let’s go over the draft again and I promise not to distract you this time.”
“I don’t think you can ever manage to not be distracting, Nikki.” Before the winter break such a line would probably have resulted in brief laughter followed by a reprimand to keep focused on his work. Now it simply caused the older student to descend into a giggling fit. “Besides, we’re already past our two hour session and I don’t think we’re going to manage any more productive edits tonight.”
The pink haired girl looked up at the wall clock in surprise. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize it had gotten this late. I should have been focusing more on work and not playing around. Forgive me?” Nikki held an adorably innocent puppy dog expression for almost five seconds before Collin’s expression caused her to fall into another giggling fit.
“Well I think I’m going to head back to my room now. See you tomorrow Nikki?”
“Actually I have a surprise for you, Collin,” the girl managed to get her giggling under control. “Tomorrow you’ll be meeting your new tutor, Alex Staven. Same time, same place, slightly less attractive figure.”
Collin’s look froze somewhere between dismay and dumbstruck at the news. It was with that expression that the tall pink haired woman slipped a piece of paper onto the table in front of him.
“I told you at the start of the year that I’m not going to date anyone I’m tutoring. Call me!” And with a wink, Nikki vanished from the Student Union building with a speed that briefly made the red headed man suspect an ability of some kind.
Looking down with the same shocked expression still etched in place, Collin noted the slip of paper held a series of seven numbers, and what was apparently a personal email address. Holy shit. Now I guess I need to find out if I’m still dating Tasha or not.
The short rainbow haired Chinese girl wore a truly triumphant smile as she approached the usual table where she met with her nemesis on a nightly basis.
Instead of responding, Lisa Shang simply produced a slip of paper from her bag with a wide flourish and slammed it on the table directly in front of the faux hipster she’d been saddled with as a tutor.
“You think this will make you less late?”
“I think you should read it and find out for yourself.”
Jackson glared at the short, stocky woman briefly before picking up the slip and scanning it. Then scanning it again. Then carefully examining both sides of the paper. “What the hell is this?”
“That would be my waiver to get myself out of this moronic tutoring program. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure a lot of people really need the extra help and this is an awesome thing to do for them. But I’m not one of those people, and I don’t think anyone on the planet is so fucked up that they need help from an asshole like you Jackson.”
“But… You can’t jus-…”
“You’re referring to your requirements for reduced living expenses while in the graduate program? I don’t give a flying fuck Jackson.” Lisa’s smile actually grew wider as the crushed expression descended across her long time tormenter’s face. “You’ve been a complete ass the entire time you’ve been in a tutor, and apparently I’m not the only student to file complaints against you. You know your academic advisor kept all the old ones from before you got into this new program right?” A bit of shock mingled with the stricken look on the young man’s face. “So many complaints that when I went and made my third request, they told me that if I maintained a 4.0 through the first semester and at least six weeks into the second, they’d waive me from the program. Well guess who has a perfect GPA Mr Dreis?”
“Please, yes, I’ve been a dick, but I can do better! Give me a chance, I can’t afford the housing expenses wit-…”
“You are so many fucking steps past second chances. Go flip burgers to pay for your housing expenses.” And with her gleeful smile still intact, the short asian girl turned and strode away.
Jackson Dreis remained at the study table for quite some time, staring blankly at the slip of paper in his hands and quietly crying. It probably said something about the man’s personality that not a single person in the Union building thought to approach, console, or even simply ask “What’s wrong?”
Another break was called in the match as the heavy set brown haired youth collapsed and failed to stand again. The healer moved in quickly to restore the young man to passable condition and the two combatants squared off again. Sean Tannen squared off against his telekinetic opponent and wondered what the point of this really was. In actual Alternative training the brown haired boy felt he was making actual progress towards finding ways to use his ability without needing a ready built battlefield pre-stocked with living vegetation for him to use. On the fourth day of this never ending series of one on one brawls, all he was really learning was exactly how many hits it took from each of his classmates before he was unable to stand on his own. At least in the un-powered segments he could hold his own against most of the class.
Offering a signal that he was ready to go again Sean immediately dashed forward towards his opponent, before almost instantly diving to one side. He felt the strange compression of air that indicated his opponent had attempted another telekinetic strike. Michael’s ability was definitely more directly effective than Sean’s, but he was still having trouble hitting a moving target with it efficiently. Unfortunately he wasn’t having much trouble swatting away projectiles on a predictable arc as he proved yet again by blasting away the pair of live clippings the heavier youth had thrown at the telepath during his dodge. One thing Michael Karl definitely was in these matches was careful, as he made a point to not only knock the airborne plant life away, but also to sweep it into the farthest corner of the room as it hit the ground. Sean had briefly entertained the idea of trying to catch his opponents off guard by littering the combat rooms with the small plants as quickly as possible, but that tactic hadn’t managed to pan out yet this week.
Another rapid direction change for the brown haired man didn’t quite net the evasion he desired as his opponent managed to snare one of his legs with the invisible energy being wielded and trip Sean face first into the floor. Wasting no time the downed youth quickly kicked off and scrambled as hard as he could to break the unseen grip of his opponent and was rewarded with the freedom to roll forward and up to his feet. Sean instinctively wiped away the blood streaming from his likely broken nose and threw his next piece of living ammunition, a now blood soaked bit of creeper vine. The brown haired ecomancer desperately poured energy into the bit of greenery in an attempt to make it more difficult for his opponent to deal with. The result this time was somewhat different from what both men expected.
The crimson stained clipping exploded with growth as it flew, reaching a mass far more than the telekinetic man was able to fully redirect. The quick thinking black haired man managed to force it down to meet the floor before it could sail all the way to him, but Sean had the advantage now. The truly massive piece of vegetation sprouted dozens of new vines which shot towards the now scampering telepath. To Michael’s credit, he avoided the grasping tendrils for nearly thirty seconds before he was snared, then cocooned in a mass of green. Sean gave his opponent a ten count to free himself, then used his ability to withdraw the grasping plants from their victim, leaving a rather stunned Michael laying on the floor.
“What the hell was that?”
“I have no idea, I’ve never been able to do that before. I wonder if it coul-…” Sean trailed off in the middle of his musing, watching as the enormous plant suddenly began to wither and desiccate at an alarming pace. In far less than a minute, the entire vine had withered to practically dust. “Huh. It’s never done that before either.”
“So it’s like you super charged it somehow. Think this counts as a breakthrough?”
“If it’s a breakthrough, a major addition to your current ability or a new ability, we need to get the Coach so we can document it. Think this counts?”
“Let me test a theory first.” Sean produced another small plant from one of the many pouches he wore, this time a spruce seedling. Using his other hand he carefully marinated the tiny tree with blood from his still streaming nose and tossed it away from himself.
It only took a few seconds for the seedling to explode into a size that would likely have rivaled a redwood were it not for the restrictive ceiling space in the combat room. The now massive trunk split with an almost deafening crack as the more than ten foot wide tree shattered against the reinforced ceiling. Michael looked briefly confused as Sean responded by starting a loud count, before the telepath caught on to his intent.
At sixty two, the massive tree remains began to rapidly wither away. At ninety there was nothing but a deep pile of light brown dust to mark where the huge spruce had been.
“Yea, I think that counts as a breakthrough.”
There was a chuckle from the adjoining corridor as both freshmen turned to see the older healer watching them. “Never a dull moment with your class, is there?”
The thin woman’s expression of triumph was rapidly replaced by screaming frustration as she plummeted once again to land on the hard concrete floor.
“God DAMN IT!” Iris Todd’s exclamation from her supine position was met with a few conciliatory looks and some more quickly masked grins or suppressed giggles from her other classmate’s working towards their own Alternative goals in the large fitness room.
It had seemed like such a simple goal to Iris, one that she knew had to be possible as two of the Heroes she had chosen to pattern her own techniques after had proven capable of it on multiple occasions. Occasions well documented both by news footage and more amateur photographers. Iris Todd was attempting to run along a vertical surface, and after five days the young woman had to concede that it was far harder than it had looked on TV.
“You still have a whole class period to work with if you can come up with something that might be easier to make progress on Ms Todd.” Iris glanced over from her still downed position to note that Coach Martinez had reentered the room at some point since she had started her last attempt.
“No Coach, I need to make this work. Even if I can’t get it in time for it to count for the Alternative assignment. Being fast is great, but unless I can make it unpredictable it’s not going to be enough.” The blonde girl’s statement had been proven true enough many times already over the course of the year. She hadn’t given herself great odds against the incredibly durable physical Supers she’d expected before the year even began, but she had found herself at extreme disadvantages or even losing matches against several others that she had though would be unable to keep up with her.
“You’ve made some progress at least, so you won’t need to expect a complete zero for the assignment.” Iris perked up a bit at that news from her Instructor. Knowing that her efforts would not be completely in vain upon her failure to completely achieve her goal galvanized the young woman with enough energy to ascend quickly back to her feet. “I recommend coming at it a lot less directly than you’ve been trying.” The advice from the hispanic coach was accepted with a nod, then Iris was off.
The thin speedster had done herself significant harm on the first day trying to climb the wall while already moving at nearly her current top speed. Suffice to say that while her legs could propel the woman at several hundred miles per hour, they had not proven equal to redirecting that much momentum to a perpendicular direction in an instant. Since then Iris’s record was five clean steps before losing contact with the wall and falling back to the unforgiving floor. Having heard that this amount of progress would be noted, Iris was hoping to at least double that mark before the end of class.
Taking a couple laps around the half-mile indoor track to work out her new approach angle, the speeding blonde finally committed to her new attempt at close to half of her top speed. One, two, three, four, five, SIX! SEV-… FUCK! Iris had managed the new approach quite well, but found herself unable to account for the new angle of ascent and once again found herself pushing off into space instead of staying along the wall.
Realizing that she had far too much lateral momentum this time, the skinny blonde curled into a protective ball an instant before she slammed into the far wall, bouncing slightly off at the impact to land limply on the floor. The room spun lazily around the shaken girl as she heard rapid footsteps approach seemingly from all directions at once. Somewhat strangely, only a single figure appeared in her swirling field of vision in spite of the obvious commotion approaching her. Then all the pain that she’d been dimly aware of miraculously faded out, and the young woman felt awareness of her surroundings dimming with it.
“She has a pretty bad concussion Coach Martinez, we should probably get the doctor to look at her. This is a little bit past my specialties.” Iris never did get to hear what the coach had to say on the subject.
Zach Snider absently noted the speedster’s bone crunching impact with the wall and her subsequently being carted off to the infirmary for a more complete treatment. With that distraction gone the slightly built young man turned his whole focus back to the small table in front of him, and the heavy plastic bowl sitting atop it. For his Alternative goal Zach had chosen to learn to use his ability with a much greater delicacy than he currently exhibited. He had always wished, at least a little bit, to have access to a much more flexible power like telekinesis, feeling that his own ability to amplify his arm motions to lash out was far too narrowly focused. So far his attempts had not met with any resounding success, though progress was definitely being made.
The dark haired youth had found by manipulating force with only his fingers he could regulate the amount of energy being output to the level where he was no longer just flinging objects away as he tried to grasp them, but as yet all he could manage was a sort of ranged juggling act. He simply did not have enough directional control over the shape of his ability once it was more than a few feet away from himself, and Zach was finding that the juggling lifts he was currently capable of performing were a decent party trick, but as he had to compensate for the wobbling item faster and faster he inevitably ended up using too much force at some point and sent the bowl spinning off into space.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, Zach began another attempt to cleanly lift the plastic bowl from a range of about twenty feet. This time he managed to get the initial pick cleanly, the table didn’t even wobble as the bowl was lifted a few feet in the air. Gentle grasping motions with the tiniest flick towards himself kept the bowl flowing towards him for nearly half the distance before it wobbled heavily left. Before he could consciously stop himself from doing so, the dark haired boy found himself making a rapid correction, and cringing as the extra momentum sent the plastic item spinning off across the room again. Zach began stomping towards the offending Tupperware to reset for another attempt, but not focusing on his path, found himself hopping and cursing away from the small table he had just rammed his own hip into.
Frustration piled atop frustration, and now the damnable table was piling injury on top of insult. Zach didn’t even try to restrain himself as he launched a kick at the offending furniture, a grim smile on his face as his kick launched the cheap end table airborne. The smile replaced by a look of shock as the airborne table was then accelerated into the wall with sufficient force to shatter it into little more than a pile of splinters.
Zach found himself staring at the pile of broken wood for quite some time, mouth slightly agape. When his powers had first developed he had spent years trying to manipulate his ability with something other than his hands and arms. It had been five years of such dedication before he had refined it down to where he could use individual fingers to direct his power, and that had seemed such a huge achievement at the time. Ten years of practice, and he had never once before managed to invoke his ability without his hands being involved. Until he had just obliterated a piece of crap IKEA table in a fit of frustration.
Turning to scan the room Zach noted that the Instructor had returned from seeing Iris off for medical attention and was currently absorbed in his roommate’s example of purple, pink, and green explosive orbs directed at low power into the corner of the room. The slightly built man grinned at seeing his friend’s success as he jogged over to where the coach stood observing.
“Coach Martinez, I think I need to change my Alternative goal.” That quickly swung the hispanic woman’s attention towards him. “I’ve had a bit of an accidental break through and I think I’ll make more progress refining it for the rest of the class period than I would continuing on my current track.”
Elena Martinez looked the young man over, smiling a bit as her gaze came to rest on his right foot. “Would this break through have anything to do with why your shoelaces are torn to pieces?”
Zach looked down to inspect his footwear and saw his Instructor was correct. He hadn’t even noticed the damage done to the shoe in the aftermath of his accidental success. “Yes Coach, I believe it does.”
“Figured out a new way to project?” He nodded in response. “Take an hour to see if it’s repeatable and then give me a demonstration and we’ll count it as a success. If you can’t make it work again in an hour than I recommend going with your original goal, as that way you’ll at least get some credit for the progress you’ve made over the week.”
Zach found himself hurrying to one of the supply rooms to find some appropriate targets to practice with. On the way there he realized that as soon as class was over he was going to need to do some experimenting to solve his new footwear problem as well. I really hope I don’t end up having to go barefoot like Ames does.
The tall skinny woman found herself somewhat nervously hesitating outside the closed door before her. Nearly always confident in her actions, she found her chosen course was now heading into a bit of a social morass that she had absolutely no applicable experience for navigating. Would it be extremely wrong of her to seek Ty’s assistance in dethroning his own girlfriend from the top combat rank in their class? Finally the blonde settled her internal debate with a shrug and a confident knock on the door in front of her. Her technologically inclined roommate could always just tell her ‘no’ in the event that the request was out of line after all.
Ty Rodins found himself a little surprised to see his tallest roommate was the source of the late night knock at his door. Amelia rarely ventured down into the hallway that held the two boys’ rooms, even though she was always sociable in the common area on the main floor. “What’s up, Ames?”
“I was wondering if I could commission a small project from you.”
The heavily built black youth smiled in response. This was rather familiar territory for him as several of his classmates had made such requests throughout the semester. It was a bit of a shock coming from Amelia however, considering the near ludicrous strength of her ability. “Let me guess, you want a pair of shoes that can pass the ‘Ames Challenge?'”
“No, well yes that would be awesome, but that’s not what I’m hoping for this time. I need you to make me a weapon.” The uncertainty that crept into the confident woman’s tone was completely missed by Ty in his shock over the content of her statement.
“What could you possibly need a weapon for, Ames? I mean you’ve got to be getting close to where you could throw TANKS at people if you wanted to.”
“Some of the bigger APC’s maybe, but a main battle tank is like sixty tons. I’m not quite there yet.”
“The fact that you need to use the word ‘quite’ in that sentence brings me back to my original point. What could you POSSIBLY need a weapon for, Ames?”
Amelia took a deep breath to focus herself before she spoke again. She had expected the incredulity from her roommate. She had questioned her plan herself multiple times, but it really seemed like the best solution. “I need a weapon to level the playing field to take the top rank back.”
The silence that descended after Amelia finished speaking stretched out to several long uncomfortable moments as Ty searched his roommate’s face for some sign of a joke, and the tall woman stared back with nothing present there save for honesty and determination.
“Ames, Erin’s my girlfriend. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to make you something for fighting her. How could you need a weapon to level that battlefield anyways? You’re like, what, seventy or eighty times stronger than she is?”
“If we were fighting to kill each other than that would really make all the difference, but the HCP frowns on lethal force amongst students.” Amelia offered a smile with her statement as Ty gaped for a moment, then chuckled at the thin joke. “I’m probably a hundred times more durable than Erin is as far as a match like this is concerned, and if she had to fight me unarmed I don’t think she could ever win. But armed she can concentrate her strength enough to make it hurt, and skill-wise I would have to say that she’s still more than a hundred times BETTER than I am. I need something to cut into that advantage until I can learn enough to do it myself.”
“I’m not saying I’ll do it, but… Do you have something specific in mind? I mean it’s crazy, but I am kinda curious too you kno-…”
“Sweet Lord make this man stop being such a baby.” Both Amelia and Ty jumped a bit as Scott seemed to materialize in the hallway behind the tall girl. “Ty, you know if you don’t help Amelia out with this you will feel terribly guilty about it forever. You are far too much of a pushover for this, so stop pretending otherwise. Additionally, the good Lord knows that Erin will be angry at you when she finds out you helped Amelia out. Angry for about five minutes, then she’ll laugh about it and want you to take her out for an expensive dinner. On the other hand if she finds out that she only kept the top spot because you WOULDN’T help Ames after Erin is already using weapons you made…”
“She’d kill me. Christ I keep forgetting how deep that competitive pride goes in my woman.”
“You might also want to remember not to refer to our good friend in the possessive form Ty.” Amelia found herself giggling at the interplay between the two long time friends as Scott made his way to his own room. “She might remind you that you are HER man, and the ownership doesn’t really go the other way around.”
Ty sighed dramatically as Scott left the hallway. Turning back to the waiting braided girl in front of him he motioned her into his room. “So let’s see this plan you have for beating up my girlfriend.”