Hard Fought Battles
The petite hispanic girl cursed and threw herself to the floor of the combat cell just ahead of a blur that caught and ripped several strands of her trailing hair out as it passed her by. The blur resolved for a moment into the shape of a tall blonde girl as the speedster slowed to reverse direction, rocketing back towards the falling girl before she had finished landing. A flicker of light and a rush of air later, and Teresa Montez watched from her new position above as Iris Todd slammed a spring-style baton into the space occupied by the dark haired girl’s abdomen a split second before.
She’s gotten a lot faster since last year. The thought was pushed aside along with the mounting feeling of exhaustion that Teresa was experiencing from massive overuse of her ability in this match. Before gravity could completely reclaim the teleporter and send her falling back towards her opponent again, the petite woman brushed her outstretched fingertips against the ceiling. A loud cracking sound accompanied the brief flicker of light this time, as nearly 500 pounds of reinforced concrete blinked out of existence at the top of the room and rematerialized just above the floor, settling with a loud crashing noise.
Iris paused her movement long enough for her falling opponent to note her unfatigued expression and confident grin. Then the speedster broke off a loose piece of concrete from the most recent speedbump created by the teleporter and flung it towards Teresa.
Another brief pulse of light, another rush of wind, and the view in front of the teleporter had changed again. This time she was up against the deeply pitted wall directly above one of the entrances to the combat cell, and a curse from the blonde on the ground told Teresa that Iris had once again failed to predict where she would reappear. Iris’ inability to guess where I’m going notwithstanding, I need to end this fast or she’ll win when I just pass out. God but the headache from this is gonna SUCK.
Without waiting for another knowing look or challenging expression from the floor, Teresa sent another oblong chunk of the wall next to her crashing into the floor, then blinked across the room again. A second piece from the far wall landed before the first had even settled, then another piece from the ceiling came crashing down with enough extra momentum to make the impact nearly deafening. The speedster easily evaded the bombardment, smiling widely as she recognized the growing desperation of her opponent’s tactics. Six rapid attacks into the barrage, Iris was barely evading the new attacks and instead looking for the spot where Teresa would eventually emerge to try and catch her breath. Eager fingers tightened around the fist sized chunk of concrete in her hand as Iris patiently waited for her shot. The seventh piece of rubble landed just to her side, close but not so close that she even needed to move to avoid it. Scanning the room rapidly, the speedster couldn’t spot her opponent. An instant later, she felt fingers brushing into her side. THEN Iris felt the reinforced concrete of the wall.
Teresa smiled from where she lay exhausted on the last piece of rubble she’d teleported down, elated that her gamble had finally gotten her close enough to make contact with the speedster and launch the taller girl into the wall with a significant amount of force. Teresa felt a little guilty that she’d also sent Iris into the wall as close to the ceiling as she could reasonably aim her opponent, but as tired as she was after the long match she figured she needed as much extra impact as she could manage to make sure her opponent went down with a single blow. The smile vanished when the dark haired girl saw the blonde pull herself unsteadily to her feet and begin to march towards the downed teleporter.
Teresa struggled to her feet as quickly as she could, noting with a dim flicker of optimism that Iris seemed to be having almost as much difficulty staying on her feet as the drained teleporter was. I’m not sure if I can move myself another ten feet without passing out. And I don’t think I can beat her in a fist fight, but I am NOT giving up. The petite girl set her feet firmly and pulled her hands up into a semblance of a guard stance, drawing a confused look from Iris that in turn confused Teresa.
“Uh, Teresa? Match is over right? You got me?” The question from the speedster left Teresa too shocked to speak for several seconds, her mouth actually opening and closing a few times before proper words managed to come out.
“I… don’t know? You’re still up, Iris.”
“Yeah, but you got a hand on me. Outside the combat rooms you could have just put me two or three miles straight up and let me make a crater, or stuck me in a holding cell like Portaller or Blue Path use. I’m not going to pretend you didn’t win the fight if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Oh, ‘kay.” Teresa barely managed to get the words out around the surprise she was still trying to deal with. Fortunately her speechlessness was short lived, as Iris suddenly zipped across the intervening distance to slap the shorter girl in the back of the head. “OW! What the fuck, Iris? I thought you said I won?”
“You did win, but I didn’t get to hit you even ONCE that match, and you tossed me into the wall. I have to get a little payback.”
Teresa was about to continue the argument, then realized that her opponent had been honest enough to award the win even though the rules of the match coupled with Teresa’s own exhaustion would have easily allowed the blonde to take the victory for herself. “Alright, you got your payback. Now help me get to the infirmary before I pass out.”
Iris laughed briefly, and the two girls managed to limp out of the badly damaged combat room, leaning against each other for support.
Erin Casse danced nimbly back several steps before leaping gracefully to her right to land lightly atop the hood of a car. The ground she’d been occupying a moment before crackled briefly and then collapsed into a sinkhole. The street in the large simulation room was pockmarked with dozens of similar pitfalls, as well as a few unnaturally jutting earthen protrusion. This is definitely not going quite to plan. The tall girl glanced around from her temporary perch to note that Zach, limping slightly but still mobile, was continuing to evacuate the ‘civilians’ from the immediate area.
“You are a lot better at this than I thought you’d be. How can you tell where I’m attacking?” The speech generated through a vibration of the ground beneath Erin sounded far more like an ordinary female voice than it really should, considering how it was being generated.
“I can see you down there, and I can see where your power is being aimed by paying attention.” Erin’s response was not in any way interrupted by the next assault which sent a pillar of stone crashing up through the bottom of the car she stood atop, the graceful young woman catapulting herself upward to land lightly on top of a streetlamp without any pause in speech or even a noticeable change in breathing.
“X-ray shouldn’t be able to see me this far down.” The vibrating earth managed to sound hurt and accusatory, a combination that drew a brief giggle from Erin atop her new, higher vantage point.
“This isn’t exactly an appropriate venue for getting into ALL the aspects of what I can see or do. Suffice to say that I have VERY wide spectrum vision.”
“You’re trying to stall me, aren’t you?”
Erin’s smile could be heard clearly in her reply. “Hey, you’re the one that started the conversation, I’m just being polite.”
“You still think you can win? I took out your heavy hitter, your ghost isn’t carrying any ordinance big enough to make me flinch, and I don’t think your other boy has enough stamina left to whittle his way in to get at me.”
The girl atop the light post frowned briefly at the reminder of how quickly Scott had been taken out of the match. But one doesn’t generally associate ‘Earth Manipulator’ with ‘really fast offensive rush’ either. “And you don’t think I’ll have any influence in the outcome of this match? That’s more than a little condescending.” Erin managed to almost perfectly mimic the mock-hurt, accusatory tone that her opponent had used a moment ago, her effort drawing a dry chuckle from the ground.
“As crazy good as you are, we both know you don’t have the hitting power to get to me. You have to get too close, and it’ll take too long.”
“And I think we’ve both learned that there’s nothing you can do to me while you’re trying to hide underground. Too much lag on your attacks when your opponent can see them coming.” Erin punctuated her statement by dropping from her perch and striking the ground with one of her batons, a loud chiming ringing out from directly above her concealed opponent. “So why not come up and finish this? You know you probably aren’t earning any points destroying the street while completely failing to either capture OR contain your target.”
Immediately after issuing her challenge Erin rolled hard to her right, barely avoiding another stone spike; and then leapt to land atop the now mostly ruined car, beating the formation of another sinkhole. “Or we could spend the rest of the afternoon and evening avoiding each other. All my midterms are wrapped up, how about you?”
An actual growling noise came from the ground in response to Erin’s last taunt, and the pavement in front of her split to allow a humanoid figure composed of earth and stone to step out of the ground. “God, classes. There’s something I didn’t need to be thinking about right now.”
The girl atop the car actually gaped in shock for just a moment at the form her opponent had opted for in moving up to close quarters fighting. Aside from color and texture the earth and stone form in front of Erin was nearly identical to the crystal form Collin shifted into. But she can constantly rebuild the outer body as long as she has material to pull in. Collin is more durable straight up, but her combat form can effectively regenerate AND has ranged attack and control abilities.
“You ready?” The question came as Erin pulled her thoughts back on task and began running through possible combat scenarios. Only one of them looked particularly good, and she’d been hoping to save that one.
“You have any medical conditions I should be aware of before we start fighting for real?” The completely earnest tone of Erin’s question drew another chuckle from her opponent.
“Nothing that should come up. You?” The earth manipulator managed to keep her tone as earnest as the original question.
“Nope. Looks like it’s go time.” Erin’s statement was accompanied by a shift from her normally opaque appearance into an utter void of light as she leapt forward to close the distance with her opponent.
The earthen figure lunged forward as well, unfazed by the startling change and swinging a massive stony fist towards her elusive target. Erin spun almost casually past the attack and stepped up to where she was almost touching her target. “You know that flashbang thing won’t work on me, right?” The question came as Erin pointed her left palm towards her opponent’s midsection and gritted her teeth in anticipation.
“Yeah.” The response was barely a hiss that was drowned out in an iridescent flash of light from her left arm and a pained scream from the earth manipulator.
The earthen combat form fell apart as its controller lost focus, and the athletically built black woman fell to the ground in front of Erin. The older girl’s right leg was nearly severed just above the knee, the glowing beam that had lanced cleanly through her having fortunately cauterized the injury as it burned through stone and flesh with equal ease, even leaving a scorched scar digging into the pavement behind its target. From both the downed senior’s leg and the standing sophomore’s arm came the sickening and vaguely sweet smell of burned flesh. Before her opponent could recover, Erin dropped into a mounted position over the wounded girl and placed her right palm in the center of the senior’s abdomen. “Give up, now.”
Vicki stared in shock for a moment as the figure atop her again became a complete void of light that her eyes couldn’t quite focus on, but after more than three years in the HCP her mind quickly caught up with the situation. The impending future was not one with any options she liked. “Yea, I give.” The words were barely a whisper, forced out between hisses of pain as the wound in her leg felt like it was still on fire.
As soon as the words were out of the older girl’s mouth, Erin was on her feet yelling in the direction of the nearest microphone for a healer.
“How the hell did you do that?” Erin looked down with a little bit of surprise evident on her face, as Vicki pushed herself into a sitting position while asking the question.
“You know about my flashbang trick. That’s not letting any light, or the other bits of the spectrum I can manipulate for that matter, out for a bit and then just letting it all flare out uncontrolled. This is pretty much the same thing, only it’s all the energy I can hold focused out through one point.” Erin held her obviously burned arm aloft for emphasis as she replied, figuring the trick was well and truly out of the bag at this point anyways. “Not the easiest tactic to practice you understand.”
“What… what would you have done if it hadn’t worked?” The older girl’s voice lost its forced tone as a junior healer that Erin didn’t recognize showed up with Professor Martinez to begin working on the two injured students.
“I would have hit you with a bigger one to see if that worked, and then if it didn’t I’d probably give up.”
“Bigger?” The almost playful tone that had been present in the earth manipulator’s earlier banter had returned as her pain and injury vanished.
“Yeah, bigger. I can go for a pretty massive blast if I’m willing to burn the whole arm off.” Vicki looked for some trace in the younger girl’s face that the answer was an exaggeration in some way, but the completely earnest tone was coupled with an unreadable expression as the healer went to work on Erin.
“God damn but your class is CRAZY.”
“I’m telling you it will work just fine. Please?” The redhaired girl responded to the pleading tone of the most powerful sophomore at Overton with a look of complete blank non-comprehension.
“You want me to do what?” Susan Owens finally voiced the question when it seemed obvious that the taller blonde girl was not interpreting her expression as the request for clarification it was meant to be.
“It’s simple, see I’ve got the machine rigged up so tha-…”
“Let me rephrase.” Susan interrupted what she expected was going to be an even longer and more detailed explanation than Amelia had offered when she had first ambushed the shifter in the extreme-weight room. “I’ll be more specific; I understand that you want me to use this… apparatus you’ve cobbled together in order to actively push against the custom press because you want to try and measure how far past the hundred tonne limit you can push. The part I don’t understand is how I would possibly think it’s a good idea to potentially destroy a million plus dollar piece of HCP equipment.”
“It most likely won’t break!” Susan responded to the somewhat weak defense with a patient stare and finally Amelia dropped her overly cheerful facade. “Look, it doesn’t matter if this one breaks because I’m literally the only student in the HCP right now that can push past the range on the other machines. And it won’t matter if they get another super strong Super next year because I’m paying, out of my own pocket, for the HCP to get an even more ridiculously overbuilt version that maxes out at 250 tonnes.”
“And the reason we aren’t just waiting for your new machine to arrive?”
“Apparently when you push into the range bigger than this one they have to actually assemble it on site. Some of the parts are unsafe to transport once they’ve been assembled past a certain point, I’m sure Ty or Tara could make sense of all the technical stuff for you if you NEED to know that part,” both sophomores shivered involuntarily at the idea of asking one of the class’s Tech Brilliance Supers for a detailed explanation of anything. “So because of all the secret clearances and stuff they can’t actually come and put the thing in until summer break.”
“And the reason you can’t wait until then to get a proper work out is…?”
Amelia sighed and her posture slumped slightly, her tone sounding more uncertain than Susan could ever remember hearing from the top ranked sophomore. “Because I don’t know HOW strong I am, Susan. Because Rachd told me that I needed to find a way to figure out where my real limits are so I can start training with them or I could end up washing out of the program.”
The redhaired girl went silent for a long moment as she contemplated her classmate’s dilemma. Odds are if Rachd was the one who told her that it really is true. I don’t think he’d bother taking the roundabout route for any kind of motiva-…
“Hey, Jacobson!” The male voice shouting from the entrance to the workout room interrupted Susan’s train of thought as both girls turned to look at the newcomer.
Okay, senior is rudely interrupting Ames and coming this way with an angry look on his face. To shift, or not to shift?
“That’s me!” Amelia’s tone and posture were back to the normal calmly confident demeanor that most of her class were familiar with. “You’re… Thompson? From the first week of team drills, right?”
“Yeah, that’s me. Glad to see you remembered the guy you sucker punched.”
Ah, that would be why he looks upset. Sucker punched by Ames has GOT to leave a mark.
“It wasn’t anything personal, just trying to complete the training objective before you broke any of my teammates. If you want a shot at some payback I’m free this Saturday?” The casual offer from the blonde girl drew an incredulous stare from the redhead and obviously unsettled the brown haired senior.
He looked almost as stunned as I do for a second there…
“Seriously? You’re offering to go one on one with me?” The senior’s tone sounded slightly suspicious, but there was a heavy undertone of gloating there as well.
“Why not? I mean you’ve been trying to figure out a way to get me to challenge you all week so that it wouldn’t look like you were bullying the lower classmen. Or did you want to go through all the speeches you’ve been working on?” Amelia simply maintained a steady smirk as Max’s expression reverted to shock, then quickly shifted to anger. “And to answer the obvious question, you do know that I’m friends with one of the most powerful telepaths the HCP has ever seen, right?”
For just a second, Susan thought that the senior was going to lose it and actually try to kill Amelia right there. Then the rage just bled out of his expression and he began laughing, deeply and genuinely. “You know, I’d feel like I wasted most of my week, except that I got exactly what I wanted out of it. See you Saturday afternoon, Jacobson.”
“Looking forward to it, Max. There’s already a cross class betting pool to see if I can make it through your ‘less than sixty seconds’ or not. I’m getting pretty good odds.” The muscular youth simply glared at the skinny girl one last time in response before turning and walking out of the room.
“Why didn’t I hear anything about this betting pool?” Susan’s ethereal whispery voice caused Amelia to start involuntarily before turning to face her transformed friend with a wide smile. The skeletal form that the redhead shifted into had already taken up position at the blonde’s jury rigged contraption next to the hundred tonne press.
“So far it’s actually a pretty small group, Cat promised not to let it blow up too big until the confrontation actually got scheduled. Also you’ve been… distracted lately.” Amelia slid onto the bench and gripped the incredibly dense bar above her with a look of determination on her face.
“Fair enough. So what are the odds this whole thing comes flying apart and kills us both?”
“About zero percent.”
Susan cocked her head to the side at the immediate answer, a mannerism that looked absolutely terrifying on her shifted body, before seeing the flaw in her question. “What are the odds that this whole thing comes flying apart and breaks some very expensive equipment?”
“You probably don’t want to know.” As the powerful girl responded, she began pushing against the bar with all of her impossible strength.
“Well that’s sixty. Did anyone actually bet on Max winning in the first minute?” Cody tossed the stopwatch onto the table as he leaned back in the plush chair in the small observation room containing nearly half the Overton HCP senior class.
“Max did. I think one of the juniors did too.” The response from Vicki McCormick was spoken absently and directed mostly at the monitor in front of the group. “Jesus Christ, we need to sell tickets to this stuff.”
The events unfolding on the screen showed the two physical Supers, Amelia Jacobson and Max Thompson, engaged in a brawl that looked absolutely nothing like any training match any of the assembled seniors had ever witnessed or been part of. The Combat Instructor had informed all parties earlier in the morning that the match wouldn’t be taking place in the normal combat rooms, instead the two were fighting in a much more heavily reinforced room usually reserved for training massively destructive powers needing to work on control. Another collective gasp went through the room as the skinny blonde on the monitor dug her feet in to reverse direction and catapult herself at her opponent, the unnaturally dense and heavily reinforced floor cracking visibly from the force she exerted against it.
“I think this will be an excellent learning experience for Mr Thompson. He’s needed someone who can push him in order to improve from his current state.” The calmly analytical tone drew a few surprised looks towards the young man who was probably the least physically imposing in the room. Daniel Heyes, the top ranked senior, offered no direct acknowledgment to the looks and instead appeared to simply refocus his attention on the monitor.
“Uh, Danny?” The question from a black haired senior near the back of the room was tentative and quiet. “Max is pretty clearly winning this fight, I don’t think Jacobson is pushing him that hard.”
The much smaller Daniel glanced back for a moment at the source of the question, before looking forward again as he responded. “Mr Thompson hasn’t had to face someone physically stronger than he is during his tenure in the HCP, even the Instructors he’s worked with have been his peers in the realm of physical strength, not his obvious betters. He claims that he wants to be a ‘Strongman,’ like his grandfather was, and here he finally gets that chance to see what that really means.”
The truth of the white haired boy’s words was driven home a moment later when the sophomore countered one of her opponent’s lunging punches by setting her feet and literally driving her face INTO his fist. On the screen Max retreated quickly, the senior holding obvious edges in the categories of both speed and skill, but the high resolution cameras clearly displayed his mangled hand. Complete with jagged splinters of bone sticking out through the skin.
“Holy shit, did she just break his fist with her face?” Vicki was grinning hugely at the scene in front of her.
Still, the seniors knew that the minor victory would be short lived for the top ranked sophomore. Max’s ability allowed him an incredible control over his body in many different ways, resulting in more than just massively enhanced speed and strength. Within a few seconds of receiving the injury, the muscular youth’s hand was fully recovered as he continued with a more measured assault against his opponent.
The fight dragged on for far longer than any of the seniors had anticipated. Max remained highly mobile and evasive while Amelia operated in short lunges and tried to catch her opponent with anything she could. The gathered seniors stopped wincing each time their classmate landed a blow that reverberated so loudly in the special combat chamber that the mic cut off briefly to keep from overloading the speakers. The impacts were becoming almost commonplace, a way to mark the time of the match instead of the major turning points they would have been against nearly any other Super at Overton. Against a vast majority of Supers in the world for that matter. Conversely although Amelia’s hits grew rarer as the fight wore on, contributed to by the combination of her mounting injuries and Max becoming more familiar with her limited style, the reaction to each blow was more pronounced. It was almost frightening to see the strength of the skinny blonde girl in action, as outstretched fingertips brushing her opponent’s arm contained enough force to spin him briefly to the ground with a dislocated joint.
“How long can she possibly keep this up? She has to know she’s losing.” The sentiment came from the back of the room, and met a mostly affirmative echo. Mostly.
“Are you fucking nuts Calvin? How long can she keep this up? Until she can’t anymore, that’s how long. And the rest of you, don’t even try to pretend you’d give up if you were in her shoes.” There was a level of steely fire in the second ranked senior’s voice as she turned to glare at her classmates. “We’re training to be god damned Heroes. We don’t have the luxury of giving up. That girl is going to do exactly the same thing the rest of us would, she’s going to keep fighting until she either wins, or she literally CAN’T fight anymore.”
“Shit, I don’t think she can stand up anymore.” Collin Gauge barely muttered the words aloud, but looks of pained agreement spread quickly through the assembled sophomores.
On the screen in front of the class, it looked like the fight had finally ended. A mostly one sided beating that had lasted for just short of an hour. And a collective gasp rippled through the room as the image on the monitor showed Amelia Jacobson, unable to balance on her now mangled legs, dragging herself towards her opponent. The muscular senior had stopped moving, and was now standing his ground and staring incredulously at the skinny girl that couldn’t even stand as she pulled herself closer to him, her expression obviously not yet one of surrender. Then he began to laugh.
“Everyone pay VERY close attention. This is why pride is the greatest enemy all Supers will ever have to deal with.” The gravelly voice of the Overton Combat Instructor from the back of the room drew brief glances of surprise, then nearly all attention focused on the monitor.
Tara Warren looked away instead, glad that she noticed that she wasn’t the only person who had no more stomach for watching Amelia take a further beating as Kaori and Zach likewise directed their eyes to something other than the huge screen at the front of the room. As a result, those three sophomores were nearly knocked from their chairs in surprise when a cheer lit up the room. Max had stopped laughing and began to slowly stroll towards his downed opponent, apparently intent on finishing her off when something unexpected happened. Amelia kicked off the ground with both broken legs to launch herself at Max one final time, catching him slightly off guard with the unexpected maneuver, but still nowhere near fast enough to connect as he twisted out of the way. But during her crawl towards her opponent, Amelia had done something else. The powerful blonde had unclipped the belt she had added to her HCP uniform and worn since the end of her freshman year. A belt that only a couple of the sophomores had ever recognized as more than just a belt, but all of them recognized it instantly as it whipped free. Amelia had kept the elastic whip weapon she had used to reclaim the top position from Erin the previous year, and she employed it now to latch on to her opponent and pull herself to HIM.
Max wasn’t quite as skilled as Erin, nor was he nearly as flexible, but he was faster and MUCH stronger. He nearly evaded the elastic cords Ty had designed. He very nearly got completely out of Amelia’s way even after she altered her trajectory mid flight. For all her effort, the pain written clearly on her face from the moment she had kicked off with her broken legs, Amelia barely managed to half grab her opponents ankle as he ducked away from her. Then the incredibly powerful girl’s grip tightened, and the senior collapsed with a shout of pain as bones were crushed to powder in an instant. One more half-hearted lunge forward and the sophomore brought her fist down in a wild arc that barely clipped the desperately twisting senior’s head, rocking it back hard enough to send him momentarily limp and leave a divot in the floor. Again and again, Amelia flailed blindly at her opponent, each blow partially deflected or evaded but still inflicting incredible damage. A few seconds later, and Max finally went still.
“Jacobson, stand up.” The enraptured class turned in shock to see that Rachd had moved to a console on the side of the room and was apparently broadcasting into the combat room.
Amelia looked up, her expression holding no sign of comprehension for a moment, then she tried to force herself upright on still broken legs. She made it almost to one knee before collapsing again and finally going still.
“Healers, GET IN THERE NOW!”