The briefing room door opened and the red blur rushing through it was accompanied by a loud *CRACK* that left the gathered Sophomore class wincing and clapping hands over their ears.
“You aren’t THAT late, Dani.” The joking tone from the tall African American professor at the front of the room drew a glare from the latest arrival, and a few smiles from the recovering class.
“Right, apologies everyone. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of which one’s the day job and which one’s the night job. So, has Professor Banning clued anyone in on the extra fun exercises scheduled for today’s midterm?” A quick glance around the room drew the follow-up. “Clued in anyone that’s NOT a telepath anyways?”
Without waiting for any response from the students, the shifted Weapons Instructor darted to the front of the room and slapped a poster to the wall. Displayed clearly in blocky text were the nine Sophomore teams and their members, each with a large question mark next to the word ‘POINTS’ underneath them. Dani leaned against the wall next to the new addition, seeming genuinely worn out for the first time that any of the students could recall.
“Normally by the midterms we have a solid evaluation already built for each of the Sophomore teams, but as most of you can probably guess by looking at Dani’s poster,” The Ranged Combat Instructor took over the speech and waved a hand to indicate the poster in question. “This year… we don’t.” It wasn’t hard for any of the assembled students to guess at what Professor Banning had opted not to say during his momentary hesitation.
“So in that spirit, and thanks to some enthusiastic cooperation offered from the Senior class, we’ll be running you through the entire scoring foundation in one day!” The tall gazed around the room to see if the reveal would generate any questions, but the Sophomores all seemed to be absorbing the information stoically.
“Everyone please move to the waiting area at your designated simulation room as I call out your teams!” The animated Weapons Instructor seemed to have gotten an influx of energy from somewhere as she was back to practically bouncing with each word. “You’ll all be assigned a section where your initial confrontation with a single Senior will take place, after which you will remain in the room until the ‘carry on’ is signaled.” Dani’s smile grew even wider. “At which point you will roam the room and engage everyone left standing from the initial confrontations, be they Senior or Sophomore.
“When only a single team, or a single Senior, is left standing from that room, the ‘all clear’ will sound and you can report back here to learn what your next match up will be.”
“Any questions?” The query from the Ranged Combat Instructor was met with mostly silence and a few head-shakes, and one raised hand.
“Will there be enough room in the two simulation rooms for all nine teams to go at once? It seems like the room with five teams might be a bit crowded depending on the Seniors we’re matched with.”
“Excellent question. You’ll actually only be three teams operating per room, so you’ll be using SR 3 in addition to 1 and 2 for today. For those of you that haven’t been in there yet, it’s the wilderness room.
“Anyone else?” All of the Sophomores responded negatively to Professor Banning’s second query.
“All right, pair up as follows!” The Weapons Instructor took the conversation back over and ran down the team matchups and locations without a single pause for breath. The Sophomores headed for the exit in groups of three as soon as their number was called, leaving the two Professors in an empty room less than a minute later.
“All right, Tony. I’m gonna get changed and then I’ll meet you up in Observation to monitor the matches. Need anything while I’m out?”
“I’m good, popcorn and coffee are already stocked up there.” Anthony stretched as he spoke, relieving a few kinks in his shoulders. “I can’t believe it’s just two of us monitoring this many matches at once. I can feel the migraine coming already.”
“Oh you do NOT get to bitch about that.” The sudden shout from behind the pair resulted in startled yelps and quick spins to see the harried looking form of the Subtlety Instructor digging through one of the briefing room cabinets.
“I’ve got the ENTIRE Freshman ‘Seek, Subdue, Survive’ to monitor, and SOMEONE,” the word was accompanied by a tablet being pulled from the cabinet and held aloft accusingly. “Has been forgetting to put the tracking tablets back when they finish with them.”
Elena vanished again before either of her coworkers could get out a word, in defense or otherwise, and left the pair staring at where she’d been for a long moment.
“Wait, the Freshmen are doing their exam today too? Where?” The confused question from the Weapons Instructor drew a chuckle from her companion.
“SR 4. The suburbs.”
“Oh geez. Why didn’t we get that one and let them run the normal midterm?”
“Suburbs costs the most to get repaired, and the Dean figured that the Sophomore/Senior all day brawl was going to do a hell of a lot more damage than the Freshman SSS exam.”
“True.” Dani paused as if considering something. “Man but it would be a lot more fun to watch them fight in the houses instead of the woods though.” The speedster vanished through the door before her friend could manage a chuckle in response.
“Who’s our opponent again?”
The nervous question from the redheaded girl drew a sigh from her invisible teammate, and a patient smile from the top ranked Sophomore ahead of her.
“We’ve got Nellie, remember ice-girl?” Amelia kept her tone light and kept her eyes scanning the area for their opponent as she responded.
“Oh, right. Sorry, just… nervous, you know?”
“Get your head in the game, Tara. We’ve got a huge advantage because one of us is effectively invulnerable to this opponent.” Eloise’s rebuke came from further away, and her voice had the strangely ethereal quality it always picked up when she was using her power to be less tangible as well as invisible. “So she’s probably going to focus everything she has on the two of US in the hopes of getting at least one before Ames can take her down.”
“I don’t know about that!” The cry from the trees above the group snapped all attention upwards, just in time for Amelia to be smashed into the dirt by an iceberg the size of a small house.
“I think I’d rather go for the hat trick, if it’s all the same to you!” The petite form of Nellie Caldwell slid down from the treetops on a rapidly growing icicle, blasts of impossible cold shattering more distant trees to create a rain of shrapnel in the vicinity of the Sophomore team.
Tara recovered from her shock quickly and a massive cloud of smoke suddenly burst from the area she was standing in, leaving the Technology based Super as invisible to her attacker as her ghostly teammate was. Soft gunshots rang out from outside the area blanketed in tree fragments, but none of the taser rounds came particularly close to the rapidly descending Senior.
“Stop hiding and FIGHT ME!” The mocking call from above was accompanied by a storm of hailstones in the vicinity of Eloise’s gunshots, and more exploded trees dropping into Tara’s cloud.
An incredibly loud *CRACK* briefly drowned out the other sounds of combat, as the massive iceball that had been the opening attack shattered to reveal the unharmed form of Amelia Jacobson.
“OKAY!” The cheerful cry from the tall blonde was immediately followed by a tremendously powerful leap, bringing the top-ranked Sophomore within reach of her opponent in an instant.
“Gotcha!” The form of Nellie Caldwell exploded in a shower of razor sharp crystals, shocking Amelia as the incredibly strong girl realized that her target was actually a decoy.
The exploding ice did no damage to the Sophomore, but it did obscure her vision long enough for the real Nellie to land on her shoulders uncontested. “DEEP FREEZE!”
The tall blonde was shocked to feel herself shiver at the incredible cold that surged into her, chilled to the bone in a split second. Then she shrugged powerfully and the petite red-haired Senior was flung away to crash through several branches.
“Dammit, that should have worked!” The cold manipulator created a sheet of ice between two trees to land on and slid herself around to face her opponent. “I mean COME ON! What the hell are you made of anyways?”
The quiet response from directly beneath the Senior came almost simultaneously with an explosion of purplish mist that engulfed Nellie before she could react. A second later, the red-haired upperclassman slid unconscious off her icy platform to land heavily on the red-haired lowerclassman trying desperately to cushion the older girl’s fall.
“Nice job T-Tara.” Amelia giggled a little to hear herself stutter as she was not quite recovered from the cold yet.
“You didn’t break anything, did you?” Eloise reappeared next to her fallen teammate, checking both her and her unconscious opponent.
“Be… fine.” Tara wriggled her way out from under the older girl and pulled her injection gun from its holster.
“Seriously? It looks like your wrist is broken.”
“I’ll be fine.” The hissing noise from the gun was accompanied by a sigh of relief from the Tech Super. “This will keep it from hurting. Now help me set the break so I can use my arm until it gets healed.”
The muscular youth strode unconcerned down the middle of the street, eyes lazily scanning his surroundings as he walked. “You guys might as well come out, at this range I can hear your heartbeats.”
The challenge was met by a short, heavily-tattooed Asian girl who emerged from one of the fake storefronts on Max’s left. “Be careful what you wish for.”
The Senior reacted as soon as the girl finished speaking and began to draw a deep breath, crossing the distance far faster than expected and swinging a lazy kick that should shatter both of his opponent’s legs. And nearly overbalanced and fell as his kick passed harmlessly through the illusion of his opponent.
The blast of super-dense, super-accelerated air that came from a few feet behind where he’d thought his target was sent the third ranked Senior sailing through the brick wall of the fake drycleaner on the opposite side of the street.
“Ah, right. Illusionist. Forgot about that.” Max picked himself out of the rubble, seemingly uninjured as he strode back through the hole he’d left in the wall on entry. “I guess I’ll have to pay more attention.
The muscular young man’s confident stroll was cut short as he suddenly doubled over, intense pain shooting through his abdomen and a burning sensation in his lungs. “And… the anti-… healer… This is… really unpleasant.” Max managed to get back a little more control with each word, and focused intently on modifying his senses to the one area he assumed the illusionist wouldn’t be able to manipulate against him.
“HA!” A quick scoop of fingers into the asphalt and a clenched fist to powder the chunk of street was followed with a throwing motion that drew a startled cry and ended the phantom assault on his body.
The Japanese healer hit the ground, already turning her energy on repairing the cracked ribs her opponent had given her with his blind throw, trying to get herself back in the fight before he could take her out of it completely.
Max rushed towards the downed girl, then stopped and dove with all his strength across the street again. The blast of air robbed him of nearly all his momentum, but he managed to get his feet to the ground and push forward again before a blast of freezing cold left a sheet of ice across the entire front of his body.
“GRAH!” The wordless cry from the Senior as he shook off the white crystals and catapulted himself forward didn’t seem to have the desired intimidating effect, as his opponent blasted him with another wave of air that sent him skipping back across the ground.
Max rose to his feet again, and braced as he felt the anti-healer renew her assault. Not precise enough detection, I need to take out the leader first, now… The Senior dove back and to the side, avoiding a wave of fire from the tattooed Chinese girl, and ripped a tire off a parked car he ran into. Damned squishy opponents, better go safer.
The incredibly strong Senior tore roughly half the rubber tire off its rim and hurled it blindly above and behind him, hoping his currently enhanced sense of smell was accurate enough to land the hit. The pained cry from above drew a smile as it confirmed his accuracy, and left him with a pair of much clearer targets at street level for the moment. Got to finish the healer, quick, before demon-chick can get the illusions back into play.
Max followed up his thought charging towards his target, chunks of rubber from the remnants of the tire thrown at the other girl to keep her out of his way long enough to finish the healer. The muscular youth found himself smiling hugely as he closed the distance. And I get to do this ALL DAY LONG!
Teresa Montez winced as she heard the pained and profanity laden screams from somewhere off to her right. Barry had insisted on being ‘bait’ against this opponent however, and neither she nor Ramòn had been able to come up with a plan more likely to work against the dangerous kinetic accelerator they’d been matched up with.
Just last a little longer Barry, we’re getting close. The hispanic teleporter caught occasional glimpses of both her quarry and her third teammate as they attempted to pin the long ranged attacker down before he managed to finish off Barry. Teresa’s train of thought was momentarily interrupted when she spotted the brown haired youth peeking around a corner ahead of her, and barely managed to blink up to the rooftop before he could attack.
The dark-haired girl held her breath to keep an exclamation from giving away her new position as she watched something smaller than her fist streak through the space recently occupied by her legs with enough force to shatter a large chunk of building. That would have hurt.
A few more crashes in the distance snapped her back to focus on the task at hand, and she crept quickly forward to try and get a bead on her target’s location. An unfamiliar voice crying out in surprise, and a familiar one in victory, quickened her pace as she reached the edge of the room just in time to see Ramòn sent flying to crash through the second floor of a mock apartment building. Tracing the trajectory back, the teleporter immediately spotted her opponent, lying on the ground and nursing an arm bent at an obviously unnatural angle.
Before the Senior could fully assess his new injury, or recover enough to check his surroundings, the teleporter was behind him laying a hand on his shoulder.
Teresa felt it was fitting to send the Senior crashing through the same building as her teammate, and smiled as she saw him impact the rubble and lie unmoving. Now let’s go see if I have any team left for the free-for-all portion of the exam.
Vicki McCormick lay perfectly still, surrounded by a cocoon of earth more than twenty feet beneath the surface, and waited. She’d paid enough attention to know that her opponents included the most powerful telepath in the program, probably one of the best in the country realistically. She knew there was no point in trying to set any convoluted traps, or detailed tactics, as anything of that nature could easily be used against her. So instead, she simply waited until her opponents came close enough to be engaged, humming showtunes to herself to hopefully annoy the telepath.
“I don’t actually know those songs, so I’m not sure why I’d be annoyed by them. You’ve got a really good memory for the lyrics though!” The sudden voice caused the Senior to jerk in shock, a tremor running through the ground all around her in response.
“Wow, that is kinda freaky.”
“It’s pretty normal if you’re me.” Vicki found herself smiling unconsciously at the playful tone from the Sophomore telepath. “You want freaky, you should try THIS!”
The second ranked Senior suddenly found herself seeing a vast expanse of dark water, and her ears filled with the sound of crashing waves. A second of panic was forced back to a semblance of calm as she reached out with her power and felt the earth around her, the same and just as stable as ever.
“Ah… hmmm. I have no idea how to make that feel like something else. Don’t suppose you want to wait down there for an hour or so while I experiment?”
“Yea, I’m thinking… No.” Vicki shot through the ground as she responded to the telepath, stretching her power far wider than she normally did in a training exercise and attempting to bury the frightening Sophomore before she could mess with her mind any further.
The earth-manipulator smiled as she felt her target sink in to her waist and struggle in vain against the pressing earth, then everything went weird. The ground she was pushing on suddenly pushed back, freeing the Sophomore and twisting things around in ways Vicki had never felt. The Senior froze for a moment in shock, and in the instant before she could recover she realized she wasn’t alone underground.
The petite form of Alexandra Andrews latched onto the much larger Senior and the world around Vicki seemed to shatter. Suddenly she found herself airborne and falling with the petite blonde still wrapped around her.
“What the hell?”
“Give up?” Alexandra’s voice was remarkably calm as the two girls fell from near the top of the simulation room.
“Why would I give up? I can swan dive straight into the dirt when we get down. How about you?” Vicki grinned as she believed she’d found the flaw in her opponent’s plan.
“Because I can do this.” The small girl was suddenly clenching with far greater strength, and Vicki screamed as both of her shoulders were wrenched free from their sockets. “Give up?”
Vicki continued screaming, but forced herself to focus on the tiny bits of grit, dirt, and pebbles that had been plucked along for the ride when her opponent teleported both of them out of the ground. A single thought brought all that loose earth up at once to form a narrow spike. The Sophomore saw the attack in time to twist her hands and further mangle the Senior’s already much abused arms, but the tiny spike leapt forward undeterred to drill into the smaller girl’s eye with an amazing amount of force.
The two combatants screamed in unison as they completed their fall, Vicki managing just enough presence to alter the ground as she neared it so that it supported the fall for both like a stuntman’s airbag. Back in the earth, she violently ripped her opponent away from her and battered the smaller girl with crushing force until she didn’t feel any further resistance.
Feeling that the largest threat was dealt with, the second ranked Senior unleashed everything she had left to catch the other two Sophomores and bury them both up to their necks in solid stone prisons. Having dispatched all of her opponent’s Vicki turned her attention to herself.
Aw, shit. She didn’t let go of the left arm when I pulled her off. I think I need a healer… As the adrenaline in her system began to fade, Vicki desperately pushed her powers one final time, getting herself and her deeply buried opponent to the surface before darkness overtook her senses.
“This is almost unfair.” Michael Karl voiced the sentiment as he made his way through the forested area with a plant controller on his left and a nearly indestructible crystal behemoth on his right.
“You’re going to jinx us, man.” The rebuke from Sean Tannen didn’t have much weight, as he felt nearly invincible in the forest simulation room.
The crystal form of their team captain clapped its massive hands together gently for attention, then made a shushing motion to the pair.
“Right, geez, it’s not lik-…”
“INCOMING!” Michael interrupted his teammate and threw up a telekinetic barrier, barely deflecting a punch that would likely have laid the plant manipulator out cold had it connected.
Sean stared blankly for a moment as the impossibly stretched out arm recoiled away with a snapping sound. “Good block? How many you got?” Looking carefully forward he barely caught a glimpse of his team’s white-uniformed opponent.
Sean’s attempt to counter attack was cut short as the massive bulk of Collin moved to block his line of sight, though the heavyset youth’s protest died at his lips as he heard the rapid series of cracks and saw what seemed to be several dozen fists deflecting off of Collin’s extremely durable form.
“Christ he’s fast.” Michael had moved forward and behind a tree to avoid the barrage and was blindly flinging bits of debris to try and distract the stretchy Super.
Sean tapped Collin hard on the shoulder to let his captain know which way he was planning on emerging, and focused on the vegetation around himself. A second later, the trees themselves shifted to intercept the incredibly flurry of long range punches, and Team 2’s opponent was forced to retreat before the grasping branches could ensnare him.
Seeing the tall, bald youth’s rapid retreat, Sean gathered his power around himself and sprang forward on a living carpet, moving far faster than he could have managed to run through the heavily wooded area.
“Don’t get too far ahead!” The caution from Michael was dismissed by the plant controller.
This is MY turf, I’m not going to back down he-… Sean’s train of thought was cut off abruptly as a booted foot descended from above at high speed and crashed into his face.
The Sophomore Advanced Mind cursed as he caught his teammate before he could suffer further injuries from the fall, and then found himself having to fend off a hail of surprisingly accurate strikes from above as the Senior flew past overhead. Michael barely kept the strikes from landing cleanly, and took several painful grazes before the barrage ended. Turning to try and track the Senior, he smiled as he realized that his team captain had been a step ahead this time.
The stretchy Senior snapped an arm out and tried to pull himself away from the waiting crystal monster, but Collin leapt to meet him with surprising speed of his own. The bald youth struggled for several seconds, attempting to free himself from Collin’s grip or injure the shifter in some way, before finally sighing loudly.
“So what now, big man? I can’t hurt you from in close like this, but all you’ve got is brute force, and that don’t mean much to me. So how you want to play this out?”
In response the shifter tightened his grip with one hand and freed the other to hold it in front of his captured opponent. In front of the bald man’s eyes, the fingers of the upraised hand blurred and shifted. Gone were the rounded digits that still gripped him tightly on the other hand, the fingers now looked like a collection of obsidian razors stretching from the oversized palm and glinting evilly in the light.
“Ah, right then. I give.”
“Darlene! Please, come in.” Harold Weaver tried to cover his surprise at the unscheduled visit from the oldest investigator on his Oversight Committee. “What can I do for you?”
“I’ll get directly to the point, Mr Weaver. We’re not taking sides.”
“Beg pard-… Wait, this is about my speech to Allan a few weeks ago?”
“‘We’re picking the side with the most firepower.’ I believe it was.” The grey-haired, stern faced woman stood with challenge written over every inch of her. “My investigators were picked because they are FAMOUSLY objective, Mr Weaver, and I don-…”
“Do you think the politics behind this are objective?” The sudden interruption drew a brief flash of anger from the older woman, but then her expression turned contemplative.
“Is that a serious question?” The tone made Darlene’s answer obvious.
“Point taken. But I’m sure you can see mine as well; there are a lot of fairly heavy political hitters lining up in hopes that your investigations will turn out poorly for Overton, and most are proving that they are not at all above tipping the scales in their favor by any means necessary.”
“So my team should throw their objectivity out the window because it will somehow even out in the end?” Harold was surprised that he couldn’t actually see sarcasm in the air with how thick it lay in the woman’s voice. “That might work for me and Sherman, we’re likely retiring when this mess is over anyways. As long as we don’t mind tainting an entire career’s reputation with an ending of blatant favoritism.”
The blond man nodded in what he hoped was a conciliatory manner. “I understand that, and it’s not what I’m asking. I didn’t mean to include your investigators in the ‘we’ that was picking a side at the time.”
“Oh?” Darlene Neal had obviously been around politics her whole life, with the amount of meaning she managed to pack into a single syllable.
“Your jobs are to investigate, compile information, and present facts. My job, and by extension my assistants’, is to make sure you can do YOUR job as well as possible. So ‘we’ are going to be firmly entrenched on the side of the HCP, and make certain that your team is able to complete their jobs objectively.” And it will all be true, as soon as I can get a hold of Daniel and Juan and let them know the new details.
“And you expect me to believe this is what you meant, speaking to Allan?”
“Not at all.” Harold suppressed a smile at the startled look his honest response drew. “I will admit, I was upset about several things I had just learned at that time, and when I spoke then I was more than willing to commit people to things I didn’t have any business committing them too. With some perspective since then,” Since you showed up to object to my phrasing and attempted hijack of your investigative team for example. “I know it was going too far.”
The Committee Chairman kept a pleasant smile plastered on his face as the older woman studied him closely. After a long silence, she returned his smile.
“Make sure that everything you’ve just told me is true, at least from here on out, Mr Weaver. If you can do that, I think we can get along very well for the duration.”
“I will see to it, Darlene. Though I doubt I’ll manage to keep this seat for the full duration.” The honesty of his statement obviously surprised the investigator again. She’s great at reading when other people are hiding something, but can’t hide an emotion herself to save her life.
“Make sure my team gets to do their job, and do it the right way, Mr Weaver. I know you’re making some enemies with your pushback. I have quite a few favors throughout the Attorney General’s office, and as long as you do your job properly I’m thinking you have a better chance of sticking it out than you think.”
It was Harold’s turn to wear a dumbfounded expression as the older woman offered a knowing wink and let herself out of his office. All that planning for damage control… but if I can stick it out here, even with all the enemies it will earn me, I can leverage at least as many allies on the opposite side. Hmm… this might work out after all. A sidetrip through appointed positions with the DVA would only delay the road to the Senate by a couple of years, after all…