A Change of Pace – Chapter 11

Daisy watched the monitors in the viewing room with the handful of students who’d finished their first round fights. It hadn’t been more than ten minutes since the students stood united against the evil instructors, but now there were clear separations. Those who’d lost tended to group together in silence, while the winners chatted animatedly among themselves. The former group also tended to shoot glares at the latter when they believed no one was looking.

<The psychology of the modern teenager,> no supervillain in the world could produce the shiver that ran down her spine. <Good thing I don’t have to work with teams yet.>

Daisy returned her attention to the monitor where the clumsy telepath was facing off against the class’s sole healer. She almost moved onto another screen when the women transformed from a klutz into a calculated instrument of violence.

<Well I’ll be damned,> she watched the larger woman’s form as she used the momentum of her opponent’s punch to counter with a spinning back fist, which clearly unhinged his jaw.

She stifled a laugh, no need show delight at a student’s misery, and intently focused on the match. The healer was just as competent. Coming at the girl with measured ferocity, and doing his best to try and get her on the ground. He almost had her too, when a blast of distorted force shot his backwards. They didn’t let up either. Daisy had to admit she was mildly impressed. Their form was pretty good, they read the situation well, and their attacks and counters were appropriate. They’d obviously been doing this a while.

“Get him, Kyoshi,” a gust of air announced the arrival of the victorious blue haired speedster.

The fight continued with punches, elbows, knees, and kicks until the telepath snared her opponent’s foot. The delicate use of telekinesis was notable, especially mid fight. Daisy knew the girl was pretty weak in that department, but a level of finesse could often be just as useful as brute force. That’s exactly how the rest of the fight played out. Daisy particularly liked the student’s reaction when the big woman straddled the smaller healer and repeatedly punched him in the face.

“Damn!” was the consensus from the gathered victors, and more glares from the losers.

Most of the people present had easily won, or been handily defeated, so seeing a real brawl held a certain fascination. It was simple human nature.

“And there’s the rear naked choke,” one of the victors commented. “That’s all she wrote.” As predicted the telepath choked the healer unconscious.

“Yes!” the speedster looked like a kid hyped up on candy as she celebrated. “That’s my dorm mate.”

“She fought well,” the un-shifted Angela Martin had arrived in time to see the conclusion. “We should train with her more often. I didn’t know she was such a competent fighter.”

Daisy turned her attention to the remaining fights on the monitors. One by one they came to a conclusion, with a few being quite bloody. Soon the old-fashioned bracket on the screen filled out to clearly display the 25 remaining contenders. Due to their odd number, and by random selection, Jason Cook had been given a first round bye. He would get no such treatment this round. This time the honor went to Martin.

“Congratulations to all of you who made it through the first round,” everyone who needed to be present was present, so Daisy saw no need in waiting. “Your reward for winning is you get to keep fighting. You have ten minutes to repeat the same procedure as last time, and get to your combat room. Please help yourself to some refreshments if you wish.”

The refreshment bar had been filled with bottled water, soda, and various finger foods. “For those of you who lost, make yourselves at home,” Daisy gestured to the ample seating. “And enjoy the show.”

She didn’t want to babysit the group for a minute longer than she had to. Since Martin was off this round she wanted to see what this Kemps girl was capable of. She took note of what combat cell she was going to be in, and took another door off the main room. This hallway was considerably longer than the last one, but it emptied into a room identical to the one she watched Martin’s fight from. This time it held Craig instead of Marshall.

“Hey, Daisy,” Craig greeted with a wave that showered the room with cookie crumbs. “Second round already?”

“I gave them ten minutes to get to their rooms. It seemed like a good idea to let them stew for a few minutes first.”

“A woman after my own heart,” Craig placed his hand over his chest with a grin. “So I heard girl power ruled the day over there,” the hesitation in his tone told Daisy he was tiptoeing around the real topic.

“Do you mean Seth or Marshall?” she cut to the meat of it.

“Both I guess,” he shrugged. “I heard you made Marshall laugh.”

“Wh…what!” her expression got a rich laugh from the speedster. “I roundhouse kicked him in the head.”

Craig nearly dropped his bag of goodies as laughs rocked his body. “Marshall always did have a twisted sense of humor.” Craig let the topic drop as Kemps’ stepped out into the room.

She was early, so they had to wait a few minutes before her opponent arrived. Daisy recognized his picture from the student files, but couldn’t remember his name, or anything else besides him being a teleporter.

<Well, I’ll see what’s he’s capable of in a minute,” she leaned casually against the glass to watching the battle.

“Welcome to the Thunder Dome!” Craig announced over the PA system. “The match will start in thirty seconds, and will only end with surrender or dismemberment…I mean unconsciousness, or something along those lines. The use of lethal force is not authorized. Any use of such force will result in me smacking you into next week where you’ll find yourself expelled from the HCP and most likely in jail, so don’t do that. Happy hunting.” Daisy’s laughter mirrored the seniors’ in the room.

There was no such amusement among the tense freshmen in the combat cell. The tension only seemed to build for the next thirty seconds, until it finally exploded. The teleporter blinked out of existence as Kemps charged forward. He appeared to her side, dodged a punch, and tripped her up. Kemps cartwheeled and came up swinging, but hit nothing but air. The teleporter was on the other side of the room laughing.

Daisy felt sorry for the boy if Kemps ever caught him. Daisy saw, more than heard, the growl from the frustrated Super, and Kemps odd tattoos began to glow faintly with the heightened emotion.

<At least he can teleport rapidly,> Daisy thoughts, as the game of cat and mouse played out over the next fifteen minutes.

The teleporter was only able to score a few hits against Kemps during this time. He was able to pick her up and drop her once, but the resilient girl landed as nimbly as a cat, who then tried to claw his eyes out. They were going to be at this for a while if someone didn’t come up with something soon. Craig’s yawn echoed the same sentiment. Then Kemps began to repeatedly smash the wall of concrete.

“What the hell?” Daisy watched as small chunks began to break off the room, until Kemps had a decent sized pile.

The teleporter dropped in a few times to attack while she was distracted, but she swatted him away easily. Kemps then began to smash the small chunks into smaller chunks, until she had enough pebble sized ammunition to occupy Paris. With a sweep of her leg she spread the debris in a circle around her, and then looked for the teleporter with a savage grin on her face.

It took Daisy a second to realize what she was doing, and then recognize the brilliance and lethality of it. “Get ready to move, Craig.” The speedster seemed to have come to the same conclusion.

Down in the combat cell Kemps grin tightened in concentration before everything exploded. The little pieces of debris shot out like missiles driven by the kinetic blast Kemps shot into the floor below her. She’d fashioned a homemade claymore mine, and she was the trigger.

<Shit,> Daisy knew how bad this could turn out, as projectiles peppered the viewing glass.

Kemps wasn’t done though. The teleporter was on his knees now, howling in pain while he tried to stem the flow of blood from his shattered shoulder. Kemps’ follow on charge caught the injured boy in the chest and probably broke just about every bone there.

“Stop!” Craig halted the battle, blurring down into the combat room to check on the crumpled form of the boy. “Healer!” he yelled calmly, but Daisy heard the hint of fear.

The healer scampered down to the room and frantically began working on the boy. She confirmed he’d broken all his ribs, his breastbone, his shoulder was shattered by a pebble-sized hole that went clean through it, and he now had an irregular heartbeat and nearly pulverized lungs. The senior was able to stabilize him, but he needed Dr. Sanderson’s help to get back to full strength.

Craig disappeared and then reappeared with a stretcher. They carefully loaded the broken boy on, and quickly transported him away. Daisy let Craig handle the boy while she observed Kemps. The young women was breathing heavily, and her hair was disheveled due to the kinetic blast, but it was the eyes Daisy was interested in. Her emerald eyes were wild as they continued to scan to room even after everyone was gone. Those eyes spoke of much more than the adrenaline brought on by a single fight.

“You are the victor, Miss Kemps,” Daisy announced to no one but the multitalented Super below her. “Please return to the viewing room for your third round assignment.”

It took a few moments, but the young Super shook herself out of whatever mindset she was in. “Yes, Ma’am,” she replied, hurrying to obey the command.

Daisy watched her go, and then pulled out her cell phone. “Hello,” John picked up the phone on the first ring.

“I need to talk to you now,” her voice held no room for discussion.

“Can I at least know what you’re going to yell at me about,” he tried to deescalate the situation.

Daisy took a deep breath, and remembered he was her boss. “You need to tell me Anika Kemps real story. Not the bullshit that’s in her file.”

 

***

 

Kyoshi was on cloud nine. She was undefeated, had taken down a seemingly superior opponent, and had just digested a cheeseburger slider. Life was good.

“Who do you think you’re going to face this round?” Becca asked, indulging in her own treats before her second fight.

“Beats me?” Mason mistook the recipient of the question as he approached. “I fought that Nathan guy over there, brother was good, copies your power.”

Kyoshi wasn’t sure how she felt about someone using her own power against her; especially considering what she was truly capable of. She’d spent a split second debating using her unique telepathy against Derrick, but immediately discarded it. First, it might not have worked against a healer. She didn’t know if his brain worked differently. Second, it still felt like a complete and total invasion of privacy. If someone copied her power and then used it against someone, was she to blame?

“I just hope it’s not one of you two,” Kyoshi replied, looking up at Mason.

His uniform was a little worse from wear, but other than that he looked fine. According to his own account he’d beaten someone just as strong and tough as him. That was a major accomplishment. Kyoshi didn’t know how Becca’s match went, other than she won, and Becca didn’t seem inclined to talking about it.

Mason smiled down at Kyoshi, his own thoughts echoing her sentiment. The telepath knew the only way she would be able to beat someone like Mason was through her unique ability, and that just wasn’t worth it. She’d still make him work for it though.

“I should get going,” Kyoshi didn’t have the speed that the physically enhanced Supers did. “I’ll see you guys after the round.”

She headed through the door at a light jog, and followed the signs to her combat cell. She opened the door and entered the room just like before, locking it behind her. This room wasn’t the pristine concrete of the first one. Several dark scorch marks scarred the room, and she could still feel a bit of residual heat from whoever was here last.

<Must have been a good fight,> she concluded, settling down to find her center.

            The calm had barely blossomed before the opposite door opened to admit her next opponent.

<Hello,> a voice echoed through her own mind, breaking her concentration.

<Hi!> Kyoshi never knew she’d be so excited to meet another telepath. <I’m Kyoshi, nice to meet you.>

            “I’m sorry,” her opponent’s voice held embarrassment. “I can only project my thoughts to others. Your reply comes in like radio static when you’re not quite tuned to the correct station. I catch every couple words, but I can’t always put together your sentences.”

<Seems like we’re opposites in this regard,> Kyoshi wondered what it was like to be an advanced mind but with weak telepathy. She’d honestly never thought about it before.

The boy tilted his head in a confused expression, and Kyoshi flushed. He was definitely good looking, 6 feet tall, athletic with a barrel chest, buzz cut blond hair, blue eyes, with a strong chin. The eyes were kind, maybe even a little sad, but he held himself proudly. He still looked tiny compared to Mason though, and her for that matter.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized quickly. “My name is Kyoshi. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Jason,” the boy replied with a smile that revealed dimples. “Nice to meet you, Kyoshi.”

Kyoshi kept her thoughts to herself for the next few minutes as she returned to her center. Jason stretched casually while they waited for their match to begin. Kyoshi wasn’t getting much information off Jason or the people observing the match. Every time she tried to get a reading she ran into a mental brick wall.

<Of course the other telepaths would be interested in this match,> she thought as she stopped her attempts to gain information. <We’re probably the only advanced minds in the class.>

            She also knew that if she really wanted to, she could bust down those mental barriers. The fear of what happens when she pushed too hard stopped her, that and the pre-fight announcement.

“Congratulations on making it to the second round of West HCP’s combat rankings,” despite the sentiment of the statement the voice announcing it was void of emotion. “This match is between Kyoshi Schultz and Jason Cook. The match will begin in thirty seconds, and will only end when one of you capitulates or is rendered unable to continue. The use of lethal force is not authorized. Any use of such force will result in your expulsion from the HCP, a mind wipe of all your experiences here, and an investigation with possible criminal charges. Good luck.”

Kyoshi didn’t have time to think about what the voice meant by “a mind wipe”. She was too busy focusing on the clock and Jason. She crouched into a defensive stance, not sure what her opponent was capable of.

“I’m sorry about this,” Jason said, his blue eyes unhappy. “I don’t like to hit women. But Coach made it very clear that’s something I needed to get over.”

“Don’t worry about it,”Kyoshi managed a causal grin. “I didn’t make it to the second round without being able to take a hit.”

Jason nodded, his thoughts conveying gratitude for her permission. They spent the next two dozen seconds in silence. Kyoshi tried desperately to get a glimpse of what his opening move would be. She could only guess what he was thinking.

<Three…two…one,> Kyoshi was incredibly thankful that Jason didn’t appear to be a talented multitasker.

Jason’s mind opened to her a half second before his attack, giving Kyoshi just enough time to throw up a protective barrier in front of her. Not that it did her any good. Kyoshi might be the better telepath, but Jason’s telekinesis made hers look like a backyard stream against the Mississippi during flood season. The distortion of her field leapt between her and Jason, and probably saved her life. The impact of the two forces sounded like a thunderclap. You could actually see the tendrils of his blast washing over her protective barrier for the second it actually held. It was simple physics. In this situation Jason was an unstoppable force, and she was not an immovable object.

Kyoshi’s kinetic barrier shattered and she was thrown back by Jason’s power. She made contact with the back wall with an audible crunch. Her universe exploded in pain. She thought she was familiar with the sensation from her training, but that was childsplay compared to this. Her whole body protested, her head rang like the Liberty Bell, and brilliant stars went supernova in her vision. She struggled to breath, and getting up was completely out of the question.

“Stop!” the voice impassionate voice had some emotion to it this time. “Healer!”

Kyoshi was beginning to fade quickly. She tried to fight the sleepiness, to get to her feet, but nothing was responding.

“Stay still,” a healer was crouched beside her now. “You’re pretty fucked up.”

“The winner is Jason Cook. Mr. Cook please report back to the viewing room for your round three assignments.”

Kyoshi’s vision was too blurred to see what was going on, and both her ear drums were perforated, so she didn’t see or hear him come to check on her.

“Is she going to be ok?” Jason knelt down next to the healer.

“You messed her up good,” the healer was running his hands a few inches over Kyoshi’s unresponsive body.

“I’m seeing several broken vertebra, a ruptured spleen, severe traumatic brain injury, she’s got a good bit of bleeding going on in there. She’s also got microfratures in just about every bone in her body. You need to be more careful, you just about killed her,” the healer listed the injuries with professionalism.

“I’m…I’m sorry,” Jason looked like someone had plunged a dagger in his gut. “I didn’t mean too. I thought she’d be stronger.”

“A little word of advice,” the healer pushed Jason back as a stretcher arrived to transport Kyoshi to the infirmary. “Until you know these people a bit better don’t hit them too hard, or at least ask how much of a hit they can take.”

Jason nodded, and watched the healer follow the stretcher out of the room. All he caught was “…she’s stable”, but that put his mind at ease. If this match taught him one thing it was caution, because that blast wasn’t even 50% of his power.

 

***

 

Becca didn’t have as much of a skip in her step as she headed off to her second match at a leisurely pace. The image of the canyon she’d carved into Byron’s back was still fresh in her mind, and was likely bothering her more than the now healed shifter. In her mind it was like she’d been taken back in time to when she’d first gotten her power, and that hadn’t been the most enjoyable experience. She was lucky Byron didn’t end up like that cow she’d accidentally killed.

<Just learn from your mistakes,> Becca reminded herself as she stepped into the combat cell. <Like Coach said, this is why we train so hard. If we identify these things now, then we’ll be better Heroes because of its.> It felt good to know there was merit to the method behind their instructor’s madness.

Even with the pep talk, Becca wasn’t going to use that move again any time soon.

“Hiya,” Becca greeted, when she realized she wasn’t alone in the room.

The room itself didn’t seem to be damaged from the first round battle, so there was no risk of Becca tripping over a piece of rubble at several hundred miles an hour. The one thing that was off was the smell. It smelled like freshly turned earth, with a hint of something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She discarded the thought, instead focusing on her opponent.

She was taller than Becca, but just about everyone was. She was probably about 5’5”, with dark brown hair that hung lazily down to the middle of her back. Her face bore a mild case of acne, but what really struck Becca were the girl’s eyes. They were intense, a weird mix of green and brown that shone just a little too much to be natural. They were also sunken; giving her a permanent tired and uninterested expression. It was tough to tell much more than that about her because she was wearing a thick brown duster.

Becca thought this particularly weird for several reasons. First, no self-respecting teenage girl wore a duster. Those were reserved for early 19th century private investigators, burned out cops purposefully trying for that unique look, and pedophiles. Second, no one wore a duster in Florida, especially during the summer. Third, the duster had an unusual shimmering quality to it. Becca didn’t think she’d like it one bit.

“Hiya,” Becca repeated when the other girl just stared at her.

“Whatevs,” the girl finally replied, sneering at the speedster.

“Just trying to be friendly,” Becca said defensively. “No need to be rude.”

“I’m not being rude,” her sneer got even bigger. “I just don’t associate with people I’m about to beat up. It’s like when your parents tell you not to play with your food. I’m not going to play with my food, not yet at least.”

<That’s just creepy,> Becca tried not to let her unease show.

Instead she settled on a smile, which seemed to annoy the dreary girl. With every passing moment of awkward silence it became more and more obvious this woman was Becca’s antithesis. Becca was chipper, spunky, and full of good intentions. This woman was glum, apathetic, and didn’t give a second thought to anyone beside herself. This begged the question, how could someone like that be a Hero?

Thankfully the voice over the PA system took over before things could get any more awkward. “Welcome to the second round of competition. This match is between Rebecca Whitfield and Ashley Bates. The match will begin in thirty seconds, and will only end when one of you admits defeat or is knocked unconscious. The use of lethal force is not authorized. Any use of such force will result in your expulsion from the HCP, and an investigation with possible criminal charges. Good luck.”

Becca was able to bear the next thirty seconds as she stared down her opponent in an intense no blinking contest, that was just as important as the battle they were about to engage in. Becca was so concentrated on the other woman that she didn’t notice the horse fly that landed stealthily on her forearm.

“Ow!” Becca’s concentration broke as she easily swatted the annoying bug out of the air.

She rubbed her forearm to elevate the stinging sensation before returning her attention to Ashley. Her opponent was grinning, one of those grins that said they knew a secret that you didn’t. This gave Becca pause, so when the clock hit zero she dialed up her perception.

<What am I missing?> Becca scrutinized Ashley, the room, anything that she could be missing.

She couldn’t make out anything. From thirty feet away Ashley looked like a weird girl in a duster, the room didn’t seem to hide any traps, and she couldn’t discern anything out of place other than that weird smell. She dialed down her perception to allow time to creep forward. That’s when she saw it. The duster wasn’t a duster at all, it was…

“EWWWWWWW!” Becca’s shriek nearly drowned out the sound of thousands of bugs surging forward.

Becca hated bugs with a passion, and this was just about her worst nightmare. <No…No…No,> Becca pleaded with the universe as she turned and ran.

It was an odd thing to be running at a few hundred miles an hour and trying to dodge thousands of bugs. They formed a pretty solid wall of gross around Ashley, and a minefield of ick throughout the combat room. To avoid all of them was impossible. Becca would be lucky to get out of there without looking like a car windshield that drove through a plague of locusts.

She tried her best to avoid them, but their splattered remains had already ruined her pristine uniform. One would explode against her speeding body here, another two or three there, then a half dozen, a dozen, two dozen, and so on the closer she got to Ashley. Each impact felt like someone was shooting Becca with a BB gun. Eventually she would have to make a decision. Dive head first into the filth to get to Ashley, or continue to squirm like the stereotypical girl who’d seen a spider.

<God, I hope there aren’t any spiders,> Becca was forced to wipe away bug guts so she could see.

As she got closer and closer to the densely populated center the moment of truth arrived. <Aww shucks, might as well go for it,> she acted before she could second guess her decision.

She dove headfirst into the tangled mass of critters, arms spread wide to make contact with Ashley. She was violently assaulted as the bugs exploded against her. She continued running, expecting to make contact with Ashley any nanosecond. Unfortunately, the only thing Becca made contact with was the wall.

If she wasn’t more resilient, Becca would have ended up a smear on the concrete, but instead she ricocheted off the solid surface with only a dozen broken bones, a busted face, and a concussion. The worst part was that the bugs didn’t care about her injury, and neither did the woman commanding them. Becca struggled to crawl away as the horde descended on her. They found their way through the remains of their fallen swarm and burrowed into Becca’s clothing, their multitude of legs stampeding over her skin causing a rising sense of panic. Other’s found her more vulnerable spots, trying to wedge their way into her ears, nose, and firmly shut eyes. That’s when Becca made the mistake of screaming.

The primal sound was immediately cut off as dozens of creatures streamed into her mouth, cutting off her airway, and turning that sense of panic into full blown hysteria. She thrashed violently trying to kill the bugs, but the human body only held so much air. Gradually her thrashing became less violent until it became about as threatening as a puppy pawing at a rope toy. Then the darkness took her.

“Halt!” the bugs immediately extracted themselves from Becca, opening the life giving airway. “The winner is Ashley Bates. Miss Bates please return to the viewing room for your third round assignment. Healer, please check on Miss Whitfield.”

Becca was already beginning to regain consciousness with a profound sense of disappointment. <Well,> the internal optimist rose from her defeat like a phoenix from the ashes. A phoenix that was suddenly becoming increasingly aware of how severely injured it was. <At least I have a nemesis now.> She was out again before the healer reached her.

 

***

 

Daisy was growing increasingly impatient as she paced back and forth across the viewing room. A handful of students were back from their second round fights, but they saw her expression, and stayed clear of their instructor. Between mental curses, Daisy split her attention watching the door and watching Mason face a particularly slippery duplicator.

The strongman was swinging for the fences as he was mobbed by a dozen copies of his opponent. They were tying him up pretty good considering he couldn’t use his full strength. He hadn’t figured out which one was the original yet. One duplicate poofed into white ash as Mason elbowed it in the face, and another as he kicked at it. That was a tactical error, as two more clones grabbed his outstretched leg and put him on his back. She pulled her attention away from the viewing screen and back on the door. Nothing.

<Damnit, John!> the room vibrated as she stomped her foot in frustration.

The first round knockouts who were sitting close by suddenly found better seating on the opposite side of the room. Daisy’s anger was directed more at what had happened in Kemps fight than at her boss’s tardiness.

<No one should have that look in their eye, especially not a kid,> the ferocity Kemps had shown, and the wild eyed aftermath were all too familiar to Daisy. She’d been in Kemps position before, totally lost in combat that everything else faded from existence. Even when it was over, assessing threats and waiting for the next wave of violence. All that mattered was survival. That was the first part of it, the effect of the real issue. What Daisy wanted to know was the cause. For her it had been several near death experiences in battle.

<Kemps is only eighteen,> Daisy felt her heart go out to the girl, a rare and confusing emotion for her.

While ferocity in combat was a good thing, it wasn’t always an asset for a Hero. Those types of actions led to a lot of collateral damage, both human and structural. It took Daisy’s first team, her first real friends, to get her through that time. She hadn’t been the only one to go through it, but they’d coped together.

<And now their dead,> he chest tightened in response to the morose thoughts, and heart began to pound.

She breathed deep, getting herself back under control. Not wanting to lose it in front of the students helped, and John’s timely arrival sealed the deal. He spent a few minutes chatting with a few of the students; congratulating the second round victors on their performance, and reassuring the first round losers that they would have ample opportunity to redeem themselves. Daisy incessant foot tapping eventually caught his attention, and he disengaged from the students.

“Follow me,” she stated bluntly, leading the way through one of the side doors.

They made their way down one of the short, plain hallways, and emerged into a smaller viewing room with a few seniors and healers present. They were killing time until the next round, since all the matches around them were complete.

“Out,” the one word order cut through their conversations, and they scattered.

Daisy took a seat in the now empty room, and gestured for John to take the opposite one. John knew he was screwed the moment she did this. Having served as her team leader and friend for a while, John learned to notice the subtle difference in Daisy’s mood swings. When it came to anger there were multiple levels, and what he was seeing was the worst one. The Dean was used to the fiery anger of his friend. Yelling, screaming, and destruction of property was pretty normal for the hot head. What he was dealing with now was cold furry. She was calm and collected. Her anger focus to a dangerous point, and that point was directed right at John.

“Explain,” Daisy was settling for single word sentences to get what she wanted.

“Daisy,” John began softly, trying to put her at easy. “A lot of this is classified top secret by the DVA. It’s on a need to know basis.”

“I need to know,” the edge in her voice could have torn John’s shifted form a new asshole. “I’m supposed to train her, mold her into a Hero; all that PR motivational crap you spew to the parents. I need to know how she is going to react to situations.”

“Daisy…” John attempted to start up his argument again.

“No, John, tell me now or I’m gone,” she knew she’d thrown down the gauntlet at her friend’s feet, but she didn’t care. You didn’t fuck around with this sort of thing.

John deflated in front of her. The already small man looking smaller than she’d ever seen him before. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his index finger and thumb, something she knew to be a stress reliever for him. He took a deep breath and removed a file from inside his blazer. He laid the contents carefully on the table between them, and sat back to speak.

The information was delivered in an impassionate, detached tone, signifying John wanted nothing to do with it. Daisy could see why, as she picked up the file and began to read about the life of Anika Kemps.

“Miss Kemps was born in Lebanon,” John began. “Her mother was an American citizen, one of the one’s lured their as jihadi brides. Like all the others that went over there, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. She was full of ideological zeal, but she’d grown up in a privileged middle class neighborhood outside Minneapolis. She wasn’t prepared for the rough life in remote Syria and Lebanon.” John shook his head, the sadness evident in every line of his aging face. “She hadn’t been in the country more than a month before being married off to one of their “warriors”, and being ordered to procreate for the good of the caliphate. Nine months later Anika was born. She was born to a mother who’d realized her mistake and a cruel father. The details are incomplete, but she spent eight years over their before a Force Ops raid found her. What we do know is that her mother was killed in a failed escape attempt. Her father worked his way up into the terrorist organization’s leadership ranks due to his impressive adaptive power and cruelty. Anika was often a victim of that cruelty.” John took a moment to collect himself again. “She hasn’t spoken about it directly, but our psychological analysis of Anika is highly confident in assuming she was routinely physically and sexually abused.”

The table cracked from the pressure Daisy exerted on it. <Calm down, calm down,> she told herself repeatedly.

Daisy knew she had problems, but this was one she couldn’t imagine. No man had ever touched her without her express consent. The few who had attempted were left twitching from 50,000 volts, or with several broken bones. That an eight year old, unable to defend herself, had been subjected to that…

“Daisy, please control yourself.” Daisy hadn’t realized the electricity arching through the air around her. John had shifted to protect himself, the voltage not doing anything to his hardened exterior.

“Sorry,” Daisy took more deep breaths, and the miniature lightning storm ceased.

“Thank you,” John’s shrunk back down to his shorter self, and became flesh and bone again. “Miss Kemps retains the scars of her past, just like you do,” John continued. “And like you, she sees Dr. Johnson regularly; although she’s actually scheduled and attended appointments.”

“I’m going soon. Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” Daisy was too lost in thought about Kemps to come up with a wittier response.

John sat silently as he watched the wheels turn in Daisy’s head. He’d seen that expression enough times to let his friend and colleague finish her train of thought without interruption.

“We need to temper her response,” Daisy concluded, recalling some of the training she’d done when faced with a similar situation. “Right now Kemps goes straight into survival mode, and if we don’t get a handle on things she’s going to get someone killed,” she held up a hand before John could speak. “I know we are here to push the students, and injuries are to be expected, but she nearly killed that teleporter. She would have finished the job too if we hadn’t been there.”

“We still need to safely develop her,” John sounded very Dean-like at the moment.

“We will, but if she wants to make it as a Hero she’s going to need to learn restraint; especially if she’s going to learn a whole bunch of new powers.”

John nodded in agreement. “You’ll be taking the lead with this,” that was an order not a suggestion. “As you might have deduced, Miss Kemps has a rightful distrust in men. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure she inclined towards the fairer sex.” Daisy wasn’t totally surprised by this. She’d seen the way Anika looked at one of her female classmates.

<That’s so not in my job description,> she thought.

“I’ll work with her,” Daisy agreed, she owed the girl that much for the shit she’d been through.

“Good,” John’s tone indicated this was the end of the conversation. “I expect to hear from our good doctor that you’ve scheduled an appointment by the end of the day.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Daisy followed him out of the room, her mind racing with training ideas for Kemps.

“Good luck, everyone,” John bid farewell to the larger group of students who’d arrived, leaving Daisy alone with the teenagers.

She glanced at the monitors just to see Mason get an open handed slap across the face of the opponent he was facing. The number of clones remaining exploded, making Mason look like every chalkboard eraser in the world had been emptied over his head. She suppressed a grin as her person to watch was the last to advance to the third round.

“Stop lollygagging,” Daisy yelled to the chatting students. “Third round’s coming up, so be ready.”

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