A Change of Pace – Chapter 24

<This is fucking stupid,> Daisy hesitated with her hand on the old, scratched, and cold brass doorknob.

The coolness of the metal underneath her hand felt good compared to the sweltering heat outside. They were only a week away from it officially being fall, but no one had told that to the month long heatwave. Daisy had dressed for the day in a thigh length red sundress that matched her eyes, with a black satin sash tied underneath her breasts, partially as a makeshift belt, and partially just to make her boobs look good.

For the first time in a long time Daisy felt good. Her angry outbursts were much less frequent and usually only occurred in her role as alternative instructor. She was getting along well with the other instructors, she was building up the courage to call Christopher, and she was making progress with Dr. Johnson. She didn’t even hate that many of the students she was assigned to teach. Most were still grossly incompetent, but she didn’t hate them.

Daisy was scared to admit it but she felt…cute today.

<This is still fucking stupid,> she’d lingered with her hand on the doorknob long enough that a small line had formed behind her.

With a deep breath she pushed open the door. It was a thick door made of old wood, not the cheap, flimsy crap you saw now-a-days. In the center of the door was a small sliver of a window. The window had been cracked long ago by some thrown object. A mix of dust and debris, with what seemed to be some sort of orange liquid, had coagulated in its bottom two corners. It was barely transparent, but that small window was the only slice of the outside world that students could glimpse during class.

Daisy tried to go unnoticed as she entered the room and looked for a seat, but going unnoticed when you were a woman over six feet tall still meant you caught everyone’s eye. Since she was just auditing the class, Daisy was allowed to start several weeks late. It seemed in that time a number of little groups had formed.

Like Daisy, most of the girls were wearing a variety of thin clothing; with some being bold enough to just wear a little something to remain modest by school code standards. All the boys had some sort of shirt on; a few wore trashy, stained wifebeaters, while a few actually looked decent in golf polos A few of the shyer students sat alone, or in groups of two when they’d found a likeminded individual, and tended to wear a lot more clothing despite the heat.

Daisy took all this in, along with snippets of the nearest conversations, as she passed by. Decades of combat experience screamed for the former Hero to take a seat along the same wall as the door, and close to it. If anyone entered the room with hostile intent, that location would be partially hidden by the open door, and the best location to attack from. But the nervous, “slightly pissed she had to do this”, part of Daisy wanted to sit in the back. She compromised and sat in the middle.

She ignored the gesture of several guys as they moved their backpacks to make room for the hot new chick. Daisy was old enough to be all their grandmothers, but she had to remind herself that they didn’t know that. Especially when they continued to stare at her ass as she passed.

“This is a room full of Abney’s,” Daisy hadn’t noticed until now that the freshmen HCP students were much more mature than your average college student.

Daisy selected a seat about midway up the tiered seating, but still against the same wall as the door. She couldn’t ignore all her years of experience. She selected this seat partially because it was next to what appeared to be an older woman going back to school after years out in the real world.

The other woman was a little chubby; probably thanks to baby weight she’d never dropped. Her forehead was creased with worry lines, probably from those same babies who’d grown up into little hellions. She had dark circles under her eyes, and crow’s feet from long nights helping those kids with their homework. If Daisy had to guess, those kids were probably sitting in a classroom just like this in another college somewhere, and for the first time in eighteen years this woman was getting a chance to chase her own dreams.

“Hi, I’m Daisy,” Daisy plopped into the chair next to the woman, crossed her legs, and extended a hand in greeting.

The woman wasn’t shy about giving Daisy the once over. She looked over her face, one that you’d see on a supermodel walking a runway, not sitting in a classroom. She looked over Daisy’s outfit, which was still more conservative than most of the class’ but was still showing off some cleavage. Lastly, she looked into her eyes, where she saw a kindred soul.

“Nice to meet you Daisy, I’m Laurie.”

“Hello Laurie…” Daisy was about to test out her conversation skills, when a guy came running up to her.

The teenager was gasping for air with the slight gleam of sweat on his skin. Daisy immediately tried to match his face with one of the HCP students, but she couldn’t identify him.

<Is something wrong? Does John need me? Is this a distraction, or some sort of subtle attack?> Daisy’s paranoid mind flashed through possibilities as electricity pooled in her palms, and flashed into her mind to better evaluate the situation.

“Are you ok?” the boy asked, a frightened look on his pimply face.

Daisy looked herself over quickly, patting herself down, looking for blood. “I think so.”

“Are you sure? You don’t have internal bleeding or anything?” the boy was doing his own scan of her now.

“I haven’t been hit, so I shouldn’t have any,” Daisy was even more confused as the boy took her hand to feel her pulse.

“You positive? Because it must have hurt when you fell from heaven…angel,” the boy’s frightened expression morphed into a toothy grin.

Dr. Johnson’s therapy sessions were the only thing that saved the kid from a fifty thousand volt shock. <Deep breaths, Daisy. He’s just a stupid kid, driven by his stupid hormones, to be a little jackass. No biggie.>

A small group of guys were cheering their friend on, while a few nearby girls giggled at the brazen attempt at a pickup. Daisy would have been embarrassed if she wasn’t so angry. <Don’t kill this kid, just let him go back to his friends. He can have this one. He did show some guts.> she tried to spin the whole situation in a positive light.

If only the boy had not spoken and let go of her hand. “How about your number, baby.”

<Aww hell no.> Daisy’s anger leaked through as she increased her grip on the boys hand.

“Wha..” the boy squirmed as the grip became painful, and then he saw her eyes.

<Typical,> the guy had probably been too busy staring at her tits to notice anything else about her. Namely her crimson, obviously Super, eyes.

Daisy’s vermilion eyes bore into his soft brown ones for several seconds, conveying her emotions far better than her words ever could. Only when the boy started to fidget, and his arm started to tremble did she answer him. “No.”

She released him, and the boy practically fell on his ass as he jumped backwards. He scrambled to get his feet under him, and ran back to his group of friends.

“She’s a fucking Super,” Daisy heard the boy call out to the gathered boys and girls, shooting a nervous glance over his shoulder as he talked. “I bet she’s in the HCP.”

<Just great,> Daisy didn’t let her anger show as she started to unpack a notepad and pencil. <Now I get to have another conversation with John. The only good thing is I can’t get an SI infraction, and no one is looking for Reaper in a college classroom.>

Daisy’s glum thought were disrupted by Laurie. “Little shits these days, huh,” her eyes scanned the younger men and women around her. “What happened to the good old days when a boy was respectful, opened the door for you, and didn’t try to boost his ego in front of his friends at a women’s expense.”

“Tell me about it,” Daisy chuckled. “There’s still a couple good ones out there, you just have to find them,” a picture of Christopher in his police uniform flashed into Daisy’s mind.

“So you’re a Super,”Laurie kept her voice down.

Daisy was getting the distinct impression that Laurie was a “take no shit, get down to business” kind of woman.

<A woman after my own heart.>

                “What gave it away?” Daisy tried to be nonchalant about it, not wanting to dig the current hole she was in any deeper.

“I’d say it was the eyes, but kids put in colored contacts and pretend to be Supers for some reason. It was the way you crushed the little baby’s hand,” Laurie grinned.

“You got me,” Daisy shrugged, not wanting to lie to this woman she liked, but not willing to reveal anything more than was necessary. Plus, technically her use of kinetic abilities did count as greater than normal exertion of strength.

“You’re secret is safe with me,” she leaned in, and continued in a conspiratorial whisper. “I’m a Super too.”

“No shit,” the two women grinned at each other.

Daisy wanted to know more about Laurie, but the professor walked in and called the class to attention. “Welcome back to 20th Century History,” the elderly man spoke in a wheezy monotone that was going to drive Daisy crazy. “I see we have a new face. Please stand and introduce yourself.”

Daisy assumed he was talking to her, so she got to her feet. All eyes were on her now. The boy whose hand she’d crushed, more like bruised, was glaring at her. All his friends were joining him. Many of the girls were giving her glares too. They were “you’re a threat to me” glares that were all too common on insecure girls at this time in their lives. Everyone else was just mildly interested in the new person, or was already daydreaming about what they were going to do after class.

“My name’s Daisy, and I’m auditing the class.”

<Short and sweet,> she sat back down.

“Thank you, Daisy,” the teacher stepped up to the chipped, rickety looking lectern, and opened his textbook. “Let’s pick up our discussion with the effects of the Industrial Revolution on early 20th century American culture.

Daisy didn’t have a textbook, but Laurie came to her rescue. The two women shared the book throughout the dull, boring hour long class.

When John had approved Dr. Johnson’s “let’s reintegrate Daisy into normal society” plan, Daisy planned on enrolling in a course where she would have to do the least amount of work possible. So what better class was there than one she’d actually lived through 70% of the material? It was a solid plan, but she didn’t take into account the professor. Ten minutes in, Daisy wanted to hang herself from the rafters. If it wasn’t for Laurie she would have written off the whole experience as a disaster.

“Makes you want to gouge your ears out doesn’t he,” Laurie whispered, causing Daisy to snort with laughter.

People around her made shushing noises, or conveyed their annoyance for her disrupting their note taking with a scowl. “Sorry,” Daisy whispered back, shooting her own glare at a grinning Laurie.

A few more minutes of intolerable lecture passed. “Watch this,” Laurie rearranged the book so it was vertical, and blocked what they were doing from the professor.

Subtly at first, but then more intensely, Laurie’s hands started to glow.

“I’m basically a super powered flashlight,” Laurie let the light die down, and placed the book back on the table. “Not good enough to do anything with, but if you need a nightlight I’m your gal.”

“I think it’s awesome,” Daisy smiled, feeling very comfortable around the older looking woman.

“I hope you aren’t an HCP student,” Laurie whispered, making sure no one heard them. “Because that boy up there is going to go running to the Dean of Students’ office the moment this class is over.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not an HCP student. If I was, I would be taking, not auditing, this class,” Laurie nodded her acceptance.

“Too bad, you’re the kind of person I’d want saving my old, wrinkled ass,” Daisy couldn’t help but laugh out loud, earning her a dirty looks from everyone, including the teacher.

Even though she’d only known Laurie less than an hour the statement made her day.

<Maybe, Johnson was onto something after all,> Daisy admitted to herself, but would never admit it to the psychologist.

The instructor finished up with five minutes left, but didn’t let them leave early. A lot of the other students were very upset about this, making their displeasure known with groans and muttered insults about his expanding waistline, or receding hairline.

“We’ll be having one group project this semester,” he announced after a few minutes of trying to ignore the complaints. “We’ll go over it more in detail next class, but start thinking about who you want to partner up with. Please keep in mind that you will be graded together on the project, so pick someone who’s willing to put in the work,” the clock’s minute hand hit the twelve just as the chapel’s bells began to ring. Their mix of deep and soft chimes was nearly drowned out by the scraping of desks and chairs against the linoleum. The professor was forced to shout the last, most important, bit of information.

“You mind partnering up with me?” Daisy couldn’t quite keep the nervousness out of her voice. Laurie had saved the class from being a total disaster, but if she turned Daisy down, Daisy doubted she’d be back later in the week. She’d rather face John and the Dr. Johnson’s disappointment then sit through another one of professor “I have no emotions” class.

“Sure,” Laurie pulled a piece of paper out of her notebook and wrote down her phone number. “I don’t think I could partner with any of these other kids. One more tweet or Facebook poke and I’d end up choking them.”

“I won’t do either of those,” Daisy promised, because she didn’t know what either of them was. “Here’s my number too,” she tore Laurie’s paper in half and handed her back her information. “See you next class.”

Daisy had a little skip in her step as she left the classroom, and headed towards the nearest HCP lift. Even the steady stream of sweat dripping down her back didn’t ruin her good mood. In fact, it only got better when she crossed paths with Shaw and Fletcher.

The multi-species shifter and electrokinetic were sunning themselves in bikini tops, and eating lunch in one of the universities open quads. Both did a double take, and nearly choked on their bottled waters when they saw her walk by. Fletcher practically jumped into a fighting stance, expecting another trio of black clad assassins to jump out of a nearby tree. Daisy had to keep from grinning. She could practically read their thoughts from their expressions.

<Is Coach Meyers following us? Are we in trouble? Is she actually wearing that cute little dress? Have we somehow been transported to a parallel dimension where she is something other than a sadist who takes pleasure in our pain?>

                “See you soon,” Daisy called over her shoulder, unable to resist. She did have a great training session planned for them.

The nearest HCP lift was a couple of buildings away, so Daisy let herself get lost in her thoughts. Or as lost as her Hero-honed mind would allow her. Despite the baking heat, she was finally getting used to Florida. And she hadn’t even done any of the touristy activities Orlando had to offer.

<Christopher has plenty of places to take me then,> the thought wasn’t completely out of left field. She’d been working up the courage to give the policeman a call since Maria threatened to steal him.

<Christopher…Chris…Christo…Topher,> Daisy tried out a variety of nicknames in her mind. <Stop daydreaming about boys,> Daisy reprimanded herself. <It’s time to get to work.>

                She entered the student union building and discretely made her way to the back of the structure, making sure no one was looking before she passed through the fake wall of polymorphic mesh. “Hold the elevator,” she called out to the closing doors. She didn’t feel like waiting ten minutes until the next one arrived.

An arm shot out triggering the sensors to stop the twin metallic doors from closing. “Thanks, Kemps,” Daisy passed through the doors and allowed them to close behind her.

Most of the ride passed in silence. The kind of silence you had when you were riding with someone who idolized you, but they couldn’t quite summon the courage, or the right words, to start a conversation with you. Daisy knew she’d filled a role in Kemps’ eyes. Whether that role was that of a kick ass teacher, confidant, or simply a resource to be utilized when it came time for her vengeance; Daisy held some place in the younger woman’s heart.

“That’s a cute dress,” Kemps tried to sound casual in her compliment.

“Thanks,” Daisy managed a sincere smile; lingering thoughts of Christopher helped with that. “How are you and Whitfield doing?”

The younger Super’s cool, confident exterior melted at the mention of her girlfriend. “That’s what I like to see,” Daisy stated before Anika could respond. The lift slid silently opened and the two women walked out. “See you in class,” Daisy left Kemps to head to her office.

Most of the professors were in their offices, since this was the designated lunch hour. It was Daisy’s second miscalculation of the day. The first had been the assumption that the college students would be mature. Second, was assuming the same about her colleagues.

Cat calls and whistles followed her as she passed by office doors. “Femme fetal coming through…hide your husbands,” Craig and Maria tag teamed her with their good natured jesting.

“Don’t make me come in there,” Daisy replied good-naturedly. Only to have both Heroes shut and lock their doors in mock fright.

After fending off a few more scandalous comments from Miles and Marshall, Daisy locked herself in her office to get changed. As cute as this outfit might be, there was no way in hell she was wearing it to a physical training class.

She was just pulling up her running shorts when a soft knock reached her ears. <That was quick.> Daisy had an idea of who it was, and what this was about.

Sure enough, John stood on the other side of the door looking slightly displeased.

“I just received a call from the Dean of Students about a possible SI infraction,” he didn’t wait for her invitation before he entered. “When he told me the name of the student that had been identified as a possible HCP student, I was both happy I didn’t have to expel a potential Hero, and unhappy I had to come talk with you…again.” John gave her a tired, exasperated look. “Why do you keep doing this to me?”

For a moment, just a moment, Daisy felt bad. That said a lot about the progress she’d made. But it was just a moment.

“All I did was give the kid a firm handshake. It’s not my fault he was a little baby who was biting off more than he could chew. His comments were borderline sexual harassment, and if they’d been said to any girl other than me, that woman would have been highly embarrassed. In my opinion he got off easy.” Daisy replied defensively. “Plus, as far as I know, there are no SI infractions for instructors; so what’s the big deal?”

“There’s no SI infraction rules for instructors because we didn’t think we had to make an actually rule to tell them to maintain their secret identities,” John pinched the brim of his nose between his index finger and thumb. “And we haven’t had an issue with it until you.”

Daisy was confident that no one in that class would make the connection between her and the Hero, Reaper. “And you probably haven’t made an instructor, who already has her degree, go back to school either,” she smiled triumphantly at the smart comeback.

“Correct,” John gave her credit for the reply. “But I would still think you’d want your secret identity to be kept secret, and all the other professors would like that as well.”

John had a good point about the other teachers, and Daisy felt bad for not seeing the potential impact on them if they were seen with her, a now identified Super. “I’ll try and behave, but I can’t be held accountable for my actions when dealing with some macho jackass. Never have, never will.”

A particular interview with a strongman looking to join the New York Patriots came to mind. Suffice it to say, the big, tough, macho man had ended up in the Hudson after insulting Daisy.

John seemed to be on the same wavelength, because they smiled at the same time. “Galavant is coming in for your class today, correct?”

“Yeah, he should be here soon.” Daisy looked at her watch. “We’ll have the students do warmups, he’ll do his spiel, and then he’ll monitor them the rest of the training. Craig and I are going to do a handful of assessments so we can fill out some progress reports later tonight.”

John nodded. Daisy wasn’t telling the HCP Dean something he didn’t already know. He had to sign off on their training plans, and John wasn’t the kind of person to give things a cursory glance before putting his stamp of approval on them.

John was only gone half a second before Craig stuck his head in. “Did wittle Daisy get in twouble again,” he made a baby face to go along with his terrible baby talk.

“The kid deserved it, and luckily there’s no rule that’s says I can’t do what I did. So I’m good,” she smiled back smugly. “Aren’t you supposed to escort Galavant down?”

“Shit!” Craig’s pouty impression of a baby vanished, and he disappeared in a flash.

<If that man wasn’t a speedster he would have died from procrastination long ago.> Daisy shook her head. <Now paperwork.>

                There was always paperwork, and Daisy’s worst fears had been confirmed. There was even more paperwork involved with being an HCP professor than being an active Hero. There was paperwork just so you could fill out more paperwork. If Daisy had been able to absorb fire, she would have burned her office to the ground in the first week. Instead, she spent most of her free time filling out forms.

Craig and Daisy had set up a schedule for evaluations on all the students up until the holiday break. The evaluations would give them a one on one chance to get a feel for the student’s abilities, make any adjustments to the training plans, and figure out what discipline they should go into; assuming they came back.

Unlike some schools, there was no guarantee for who would be in combat, and who would be in alternative training. Daisy and Craig would make their recommendations, the students would be divided, and then those students who felt they belonged in a different class would be given the chance to convince their instructors. They needed to have a compelling reason though; just wanting to be in one discipline didn’t cut it as justification.

<I’ve got Jackson, Cook, Kemps, Whitfield, Schultz, and Abney>. Daisy went down the list of the students she needed to pull aside today.

Some of the individual sessions would be simple, while others would be more complicated and intensive. Most importantly, Daisy was actually looking forward to helping these students. Most of them had proven to be mildly competent. Well, everyone except Abney. She still wanted him gone.

Daisy was midway through her pre-analysis; yes she had to do a pre-analysis before she did an actual analysis, when a heavy handed knock sounded like it was going to break down her door.

“If you break my door, Ronnie, I’m gonna kick your ass again. Or you’ll face the more gruesome fate of the dreaded expense report!”

Ronnie Fitzpatrick, the Hero, Galavant, opened the door with a sheepish grin. He was fully outfitted in his medieval-style costume, complete with a maul that weighed a few hundred pounds.

“Welcome to West Private University’s HCP,” Daisy waved him in, and gestured for him to take a seat.

Daisy could see the nervous twitch at the corner of his eye as he took a seat. All the cockiness from their first encounter was gone. The seat would have collapsed under his weight if he didn’t alter the density of his armor. Thankfully, he had the foresight to power down. She couldn’t blame the young Hero for being nervous. He was just out of his internship, and on his first team. The Orlando Protectorate wasn’t a big name team, so it wasn’t a giant leap forward in his career. He’d also managed to arrest an HCP instructor on one of his patrols, and then had that instructor kick his ass so bad he shit his pants.

Daisy still felt bad about that, but only a little.

“I’m glad we could finally set this up, Ma’am,” Ronnie took off his helmet, and shook out his fiery red hair. “As much as I was ready to get out in the world and start doing some good, it’s still nice to be back in school.”

“And now you get to be an authority figure who doesn’t have to do the workouts,” Daisy tried to inject some levity into the situation, and succeeded.

“Freshman workouts, such pleasant memories,” he smirked.

“I’ll lead you over there,” Daisy got up and led the way over to the gym. “They should be starting their workout now. We’ll have them do a warmup, and then you can give them you’re talk.”

“What exactly do you want me to talk about,” Daisy wished the Hero had come more prepared.

“Anything…everything. Talk about your time on the job, your time in school, whatever floats your boat. I’d stay away from things like Intermurals and the different majors, we haven’t talked with them about those yet, and I don’t want your whole visit to be explaining the differences between Focus and Control.”

“So you want me to pump them up a little, Ma’am?” Ronnie questioned, putting his face obscuring helmet back on.

“You can pump them up, or tear them down. I’d rather they have a realistic view of the world than see it through rose-tinted glasses,” Daisy was pretty strict about that point. “And please stop calling me Ma’am, my name is Daisy.”

“Sure thing…Daisy,” they’d arrived at the large, double door entrance. “I’m actually nervous.” Ronnie had a stupid grin on his face.

“Don’t be. They can smell fear,” Daisy winked at the younger man, and then opened the door.

“Get moving! Let’s go!” Craig was yelling at the students to hustle from the pull-up bars to the track. “Five miles, you know the drill!”

“Hey, Galavant,” Craig switched gears like a well maintained car. “Good to see you again.”

“Coach McMillian,” Craig got a much more relaxed smile than Daisy. “Glad to see you’re still around.”

“They’re going to have to pull this gig out of my cold, dead hands,” Craig mimed gripping something tightly with a pained expression. “So are you going to talk to these kids like a normal person, or in that douche character you always do?”

“Hey, that douche character has gotten me a commercial for a nationwide anti-drug campaign. And the little kids love it,” Ronnie responded with a proud, but defensive crossing of the arms.

“But not the ladies,” Craig laughed at Daisy’s jab, and Ronnie’s lack of a rebuttal pretty much confirmed it.

“So…” Ronnie gave a loud cough to change the subject. “Who are the ones I should keep my eye on?”

“Well the blond there,” Daisy pointed toward the second fastest group of runners. “Is the number one rank; powerful shifter with a lot of training and a variable skillset.” Ronnie nodded his head, watching Angela.

“The one you might be able to give the most advice to is the guy there,” Craig pointed to a medium height, sandy haired guy in the middle of the pack. “His name is Simon Skylar, and he’s our number twelve rank.”

“What does he do?” Ronnie watched as the student seemed to effortlessly run around the track.

“He creates a gravity field around himself,” Daisy explained. “It only extends out about three feet from him, but it allows him to do some pretty interesting stuff.”

“Simon, stop cheating or I’ll make you run ‘til you puke!” Craig screamed across the room.

“Yes, Coach,” there was a visible drop in speed and grace as Simon disengaged his ability.

“He also likes to take the easy way out when he thinks no one is looking,” Craig added, turning back to Daisy and Ronnie. “He’s got power, and talent, but if he doesn’t get his head right he won’t make it too far.”

“What do you want me to do?” Ronnie looked confused.

“His ability and yours work pretty similarly,” Daisy laid it out for the young Hero. “It’s all about concentration and rapid adaptability. When we fought, and you found a weakness I was exploiting, you were forced to adapt and reconfigure your density manipulation. Simon needs to be able to adapt his ability to the threat. He made it pretty far by increasing the gravity in his sphere to weight down, evade, and tire out his opponents. But when he came up against someone who wasn’t affected by that tactic, like Ms. Goodman, he lost quickly.” Ronnie nodded his head in understanding. “Just talk to him about mental flexibility. I’ll help him develop additional tactics if he makes it into alternative training.”

“Keep running, Whitfield. You aren’t even breathing hard!” Craig yelled at the speedster standing at the finish line.

“Yes, Coach,” she disappeared in a blue blur that rapidly lapped everyone in the room.

“You’ve got about twenty minutes to work on your speech,” Daisy elbowed him in the side. “Make it a good one. I’d hate for your team to hear about your embarrassing accident.”

<Sometimes you just need a little motivation,> Daisy ignored Ronnie’s shocked expression, and went to ensure none of the other students were slacking.

Twenty minutes later Galavant found himself surrounded by nearly forty-six, sweaty, but attentive Heroes in training.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” Galavant began looking across the crowd, and making eye contact with a few individuals. “My name is Galavant, and I’m a Hero with the Orlando Protectorate here in the city.”

Daisy saw the mixed responses from the group. A few of the students with Hero parents, like Angela, weren’t impressed. Others, like Whitfield and Fisher, were star-struck.

<Although Fisher always looks that way,> Daisy pushed the stray thought aside.

“You are about a month into your freshman year, and I have no doubt that several of you have been pushed to your limits, and discovered things you never thought yourself capable of,” Daisy could make out a smile under his concealing helmet. “I’m here to tell you it isn’t going to get any easier. It’s only going to get harder, you’re going to have to continue to push yourself, and be the best if you want to graduate.”

<Hook, line, and sinker,> Daisy watched the students for their reactions. She took note of those who looked a little deflated, and those who sat up a little straighter.

“I’ve only been a Hero for three years,” Galavant continued. “So I have a unique prospective to offer you about being a Hero not too far out of the HCP.” A few heads in the crowd nodded. “The first piece of advice I have for those of you out there at the bottom of the rankings…don’t sweat it. Not everyone comes here knowing how to fight. I started in the lower half of the rankings myself, but I still became a Hero. Trust your instructors, because I know from first-hand experience that they know what they’re doing.”

<How can I rat on him to his team after a compliment like that,> Daisy kept her face neutral as the students looked back and forth between her, Craig, and Galavant.

“For those of you not confident in your power it’s ok,” Daisy saw Galavant turn his attention on the people she and Craig hadn’t pointed out in their brief information dump. “When I was a freshman my ability wasn’t nearly as powerful or diverse as it is now. Your instructors will help you develop your abilities, understand them, harness them in unique ways, and make sure you can use them responsibly. That being said, not everyone has the power to be a Hero. If you don’t make the cut, keep trying and experimenting, but some people just can’t hack it, and this life isn’t for everyone.” Daisy couldn’t help but shoot a sidelong glance at Abney.

<He’s striking a nice balance between slapping them down and motivating them,> Daisy thought as Galavant’s speech continued.

It wasn’t a long speech, maybe ten minutes, and mostly more of the same. Giving a little insight and inspiration into what might be in store for the students, but then tempering it with realistic expectations. Then he had to answer all of the questions. Students asked about his power, which he answered generally.

<At least he’s learning his lesson,> Galavant probably would have gone on a five minute tangent if not for the potent lesson Daisy had given him.

After the questions the little break was over.

“I’d like to thank Galavant for stopping by and talking with you,” Craig blurred to the front of the group. “He’ll be moving around the gym for the rest of the class. Treat him with the respect you would treat any other instructor…or else,” the implied threat of additional physical training was more than enough to keep everyone in line. “Jackson with Coach Meyers, Hannover with me, and Skylar with Galavant; everyone else hit the stations.

“Move!” Daisy added a little extra emphasis because she was feeling a little left out of the normal back and forth she and Craig inflicted on the students.

Jackson practically tore holes in the floor while hurrying to obey her command. “You needed to see me, Coach?”

“Yeah, follow me,” Daisy weaved her way through the scattering students into the weight machine section. She stopped next to what looked like a giant block of metal with a contraption above it that looked like one of those hairdryers women sat under at the salon.

“I need you to pick this up. One rep, your max weight,” Daisy pointed at the machinery.

“Is this a test?” Jackson didn’t hesitate as he grabbed the bar to test how heavy it was.

“We’re doing a power evaluation, Mason, so show me what you can do.”

The class strongman did a few warm up reps at lower weights before dialing it up. The machine was a combination of a heavy object and a repulsing magnet, all on top of a reinforced floor so he didn’t crash through into the lower levels. It was designed to measure how much weight someone could pick up with whatever technique they wanted to do.

Daisy watched Jackson’s form as he dug his fingers into the grips. With a grunt he got it a few inches off the ground, got more of his hands and forearms underneath it, and got his legs into it. The strongman’s legs were as thick as tree trunks, but they wobbled dangerously as he got the giant hunk of metal up to waist level. He almost exploded through his uniform as he engaged his biceps and back to force the object up to shoulder level. He rested it on his upper back and shoulders for a moment, taking three deep breaths, and then did a shoulder press. Daisy moved to support him just in case he failed to lift the block above his head. With a loud yell, Jackson locked out his elbows before stepping out from underneath the weight, and letting it crash to the ground.

Daisy ignored the yelps, and stares, of the people in the gym who’d been surprised by the sound of 30.2 tons crashing into the floor.

“Good work, Mason,” Daisy patted him on the shoulder. “You’ve gotten stronger since you’ve been here, and you need to keep getting stronger. You’re already a lot stronger than your run of the mill strongman, but you’re just average when it comes to Hero strongmen. Right now you can lift a little over two city buses,” she gave him a visual to judge his strength by. “That’s good, but you need to get stronger, improve your fighting, and start to think outside the box when using your strength. Understood?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” a look of determination looked back at Daisy through a layer of sweat.

“Good, now send over your girlfriend.”

<If he can get stronger, he’ll be a Hero to be reckoned with.> Daisy jotted down the notes on the pad of paper she’d brought with her.

“I’m here, Coach,” Schultz nearly fell as she skidded to a halt in front of Daisy.

“Did your boyfriend tell you what we’re doing?” she read her facial expression, and body language for honesty.

“He said it’s some type of evaluation, and he had to pick something up.”

<At least she’s honest, or a really good liar.> Without being a telepath it was impossible to tell, but Daisy had been around enough liars in her time to spot the blatantly obvious, and moderately clever.

“Follow me, you can’t pick this stuff up,” Schultz didn’t take it as an insult, just a simple statement of fact.

They moved over into the free weight section, and over to where the lightest weights sat. Daisy had Schultz start with smaller dumbbells and continue one by one until she couldn’t lift anything heavier. She couldn’t do much, not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what Jackson could lift. But it was still an improvement.

Daisy jotted down the numbers, and then started the next test.

“I want you to get into my mind, Schultz,” you would have thought Daisy asked Schultz to jump off a bridge judging by her reaction. “You’re a telepath, Kyoshi,” Daisy switched to her first name. “You need to develop your mental game, or you won’t make it here.”

Daisy could see the war of emotions on the younger girl’s face. Kyoshi feared what she was capable of, and rightly so. Daisy had read the file on what happened not long after her powers manifested. The way she’d initially been ridiculed as a Powered, the poor boy’s whose mind she’d invaded and overcome. If used improperly her power could be incredibly dangerous, but that was all the more reason to control it.

Kyoshi not wanting to use her powers was only half the reason for the hesitation. The other half was whose mind she was supposed to invade. Daisy couldn’t stop the flash of anger that spread through her mind like wildfire. Kyoshi stumbled backwards at the psychic backlash, falling over a seat, and landing heavily on the ground.

<Shit…calm down,> Daisy quickly regained control.

“We’ll try this another day,” Daisy conveyed mental calm, control, and apology to the telepath. “I’m going to set you up with Professor Livingston, the Focus instructor, for a little additional instruction.” Daisy offered a hand, and the student took it.

Daisy didn’t release Kyoshi’s hand when she was on her feet. “I know what it’s like to be scared of your power,” Daisy whispered low enough so only she could hear. “If you ever want to discuss it, just come to my office, and we can talk it over. But the best piece of advice I can give you is that having control of it is better than constantly fearing it.” Daisy met her eyes, conveying the truth of the statement.

After a moment Kyoshi nodded.

“Good, send over Cook.” Daisy let Kyoshi run off without another word, jotting down the note to talk to Grace about the situation.

Daisy watched as Jason Cook disengaged from the punching bag he was methodically bashing, and jogged over towards her. She noticed the tension in his shoulders, the slight throb of the artery in his neck, and the twitch in his cheek. The class’ number two rank was usually more composed and calm.

<He’s nervous,> Daisy wasn’t sure why, but she sure as hell was going to find out.

“Ma’am,” Cook rigidly stood before her like a soldier at attention.

“We’re doing a power evaluation,” Daisy watched the boy for more tells. “Just do what I tell you to do.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Daisy walked him back over to where the lightest dumbbells sat in their reinforced plastic braces. Despite Cook’s strength, she needed to start him and Schultz at the same point. “Pick up and then put down the weights starting with the 5 pound one here, and go until you can’t lift it anymore.

<There!> Daisy saw his pupils widen in alarm at what she’d asked him to do. <But why?>

Daisy stepped back to give Cook some space, and to get a better angle to watch him from. The boy took a deep breath and concentrated on the 5 pound dumbbell. For ten seconds nothing happened.

“Let’s go, Cook. I don’t have all day,” Daisy watched him closely.

A vein in his head bulged, and throbbed with the increased effort. The weight didn’t even budge.

“Cook…” the weight shot off the rack like a missile, toppling it, smashing through the eight foot high glass mirrors, and embedding itself ten feet into the solid earth.

“Damnit!” Cook growled, sitting down on a bench, and putting his head in his hands.

Daisy gave him a moment to calm down. Cook was a good kid, and this was the first time she’d seen him lose control like this. She didn’t feel like being that dumbbell today.

“Talk to me, Cook.” She took a seat on the bench he was on, but kept an appropriate distance.

It was another minute before be responded. “I can’t do it.”

“Can’t do what?” Daisy knew what he was going to say, but she needed to kid to admit it to himself.

“I can’t lift the weight,” Cook’s shoulders dropped half a foot as he released his pent-up frustration. “I can’t lift anything.” His eyes were a little teary when he looked at her.

Daisy noted the admission on her pad. “Have you ever been able to lift anything?”

“No, and this is the first time anyone has asked me.” Daisy found that bit interesting.

“Standard DVA evaluation of advanced minds has a lifting test,” Daisy explained, trying to recall the specifics of Cook’s file.

“I never got tested by the DVA,” the boy informed.

<That would explain it.>

A DVA physical wasn’t a necessary part of the HCP admission process. The students were just required to disclose their powers. If they wanted to they could say how powerful that power was, it usually increased the chances of them getting accepted, but that wasn’t required. It made sense that people focused in on Cook’s powerful kinetic blasts and didn’t even bother to consider the finer aspects of telekinesis. That Cook was the most powerful telekinetic blaster Daisy had ever seen, even among professional Heroes, only reinforced her assumption.

“Ok,” Daisy tried to adopt a more comforting tone. “There are a few ways this can play out. The first one is that with the proper training you could develop some milder telekinetic abilities like most advanced minds. From what I’ve seen from you this is possible. Next would be that you will never develop the finesse some of the other advanced minds have. Since you’re telepathy is spotty at best, you might even be better classified as a blaster. From what I’ve seen this is also possible. With either of these avenues you can still be a Hero.” Her tone wasn’t quite as uplifting as she intended, but Cook got the sentiment. “I’m not going to lie though, the second path is going to be more difficult because you won’t be as versatile, but its’ still possible.”

“I’ll do what it takes,” the wetness was gone from the young man’s eyes, replaced by resolve.

<These kids are tough,> Daisy was glad the number of slackers in the class was low to begin with, and was quickly being weeded out. <The world needs more people like Jackson and Cook.>

“I’m going to get with Professor Livingston, the Focus instructor, and get you to sit down with her for a session. She’s an advanced mind, and will have a better idea how to evaluate you, and figure out how to move forward.

“Yes, Ma’am.” The resolve was still there. Stubbornly lingering in his blue eyes.

“Good, send over Kemps.”

The first half of Kemps’ evaluation was pretty standard. She ran around the track for time, clocking in at eighty miles per hours, and then had to lift the same contraption as Mason. She was able to lift 4 tons; about the strength of an high end civilian strongman, but only 20% of what a low level Hero strongman could accomplish. The kinetic blasting was a little more difficult. Daisy didn’t know the science behind the measurements, other than it was measured in joules. So she just wrote down the number recorded by the machines when Kemps hit the shock plate.

“That’s good,” Kemps was panting a bit. Daisy had grabbed her in the middle of the cardio station and asked her to perform at her top level, so the older Super didn’t hold it against her.

“You need to be truthful with me on the next part, Kemps,” Daisy tossed her a water bottle, and sat down next to her. “Have you started to experience any new powers? Is anything different than when you started here?”

Kemps expression was thoughtful as she collected the information. “I’m definitely stronger and faster than when I first got here, but that might just be the training regimen.”

As much as Daisy would like to take credit for her improvement, she knew she couldn’t. Kemps had nearly doubled in speed and strength, probably from hanging around Jackson and Whitfield. But she wrote down the response anyway.

“Other than that I’ve started to feel a tugging sensation in my head…”

“Explain,” Daisy leaned forward discarding her note pad.

“That’s the best way I can describe it, a tug,” Kemps’ expression was frustrated. “When I’m close to people it’s like I know something is going on, but I can’t quite put my finger on it, and when I try, it all slips away like I’m trying to hold water in my hands.

Daisy relaxed, retrieving her notepad. She’d thought Kemps was going to talk about tugging on something, like the life threads Daisy was able to sense and cut. But this didn’t sound like that.

“It sounds like you might be manifesting telepathy,” Daisy offered. “You spend a lot of time around Schultz, and if your ability works by constant contact and observance then that might be the case.

“Not sure that’s a good thing,” Daisy saw what the younger woman was getting at. Having other people’s idle thoughts bouncing around in your head was never a good thing.

“I’m going to set you up with Professor Livingston, the Focus instructor, to see if she can give you a few techniques to practice. But if you find yourself in a pinch, go to Schultz for advice. I’m sure she’s willing to help.”

<Grace is going to hate me,> Daisy mentally sighed, but at the same time relishing her peers’ expression when she dropped the new information on her desk. <New friendships come with the bonus of getting to screw with one another.>

“That’s all for now, Kemps. Send Whitfield over, and get back to work.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the young Super jumped to her feet and ran over to her girlfriend.

They exchanged a few quick words, a peck on the cheek, and then Whitefield was standing right in front of Daisy.

“Heya Coach Meyers, you wanted to see me,” Daisy fought back a groan at the bubble of energy exuding from the smaller woman.

“I need to give you an evaluation, so start running.”

Whitfield jumped the gun and started sprinting around the track before Daisy had the equipment set up. Even with her running a few miles before Daisy was ready, the speedster was still clocked at 709 miles per hour.

<Seven miles per hour in a month,> Daisy nodded her head, scribbling down the information. <If she keeps this up, Craig better watch out.> Despite her improvement, the petite, blue-haired speedster had a long way to go to contend with Shotgun.

“On me, Whitfield,” Daisy hadn’t even finished the statement before the young Super was standing by her side.

<The girl isn’t even breathing hard,> Daisy tried not to be jealous of the speedster.

“You’re getting faster, Rebecca…”

“Please call me Becca, everyone calls me Becca,” Becca cut her off, ecstatic that the alternative instructor was being more familiar with her.

Daisy had to hold up a hand to keep the little energizer bunny from rambling. “Ok, Becca. You are getting faster, and if you keep this up, you can be a top tier speedster.” The girl was grinning ear to ear now. “That’s a good start, but we need to look at some possible secondary applications of your power. Most of the great Hero speedsters can usually do more than just run fast. You’ve seen Coach McMillian do his instantaneous sonic boom, and he’s also more durable than the average speedster,” Daisy gave the student an example of what she was talking about.

“Oh, I get it,” the girl started to vibrate with excitement. “Does thinking really fast count?”

“Thinking really fast,” Daisy couldn’t help but grin as she wrote the quote down on her pad. “You want to elaborate on that?”

“Well, when we were waiting to do the combat trials the first week I slowed everything down so I could try and match up my combat cell with whoever I was facing, so I’d get an idea of what to do before I got there. It didn’t work so well. I also used it against Ashley,” a grim look came across her usually endearing face. “It didn’t work out so well then either.”

“The ability to speed up your perception is a great tool for a Hero,” Daisy knew this from experience, and hearing the instructor say it brought back the younger woman’s joyful expression.

“Really?” the girl practically squealed the question. “I thought all speedsters can do it.”

“All speedsters are able to think fast enough so they don’t hurt themselves while running. Is that what you can do, or is it more than that?” Daisy was getting more interested with the pigtailed girl with every passing second.

“Oh, I don’t have to be running to think fast. I can even think faster than I am running,” Becca scrunched up her face as she tried to put the sensation into words. “And I can adjust it faster or slower.”

“How fast?”

“Well things nearly stop when I think hardest, but I can’t move when I’m thinking that fast.”

Daisy furiously copied down the information. “You have a very powerful ability Becca,” Daisy saw the younger woman had to visibly restrain herself from clapping. “We just need to get you to learn how to use it.”

“Let’s do it!” Daisy thought the girl was going to vibrate right through the floor she was so excited.

“If you become a Hero your ability lends itself well to being a team leader,” Daisy didn’t want to inflate the girl’s ego, but she needed to know the possibilities. “You being able to move quick enough not to get hit, and being able to think things through before anyone can make a move are priceless tactical advantages. But,” Daisy needed to make sure Becca understood the situation. “All of this depends on whether or not you have a tactical mind.” Becca looked confused at the statement. “You need to be able to evaluate the battlefield, have an assessment of your own team’s capabilities, be able to quickly learn about your opponent, and deploy your forces accordingly.” Becca nodded along with the explanation. “Only so much of this can be taught,” Daisy didn’t want to put the girl down, but that was the reality of it. “We can try and teach you how to recognize certain things, but your mind needs to be wired a certain way.”

“I can do it, Ma’am,” more resolve stared back at Daisy.

“Good,” Daisy knew the girl could do everything right, everything she was told to do, and still fail. Judging by how Becca had faced off against Ashley, Daisy had her concerns. “What I want you to do is watch any ranking challenge you can get to. The schedule should be posted over by the professors’ offices. I want you to take notes, and then you can sit down with me or Coach McMillian to go over them.”

“Yippy!” Daisy couldn’t believe the girl actually said that.

“Sound like a plan?” Daisy shook her head, her ears ringing slightly from the high pitched squeal.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Get back to work then,” the girl was already halfway across the gym. “Send over Abney!” Daisy was forced to yell after her.

<Last and certainly least,> Daisy tried to keep her expression neutral as Seth Abney approached. She could tell he was doing the same.

“You wanted to see me, Ma’am?”

“I have to do a power evaluation on you. Follow me.” Daisy marched him over to the pool.

Seth Abney was a broad spectrum elemental manipulator, but that didn’t mean they were able to test all of his elemental abilities in the gym, so she had to go with one of the elements available.

“Show me what you can do.”

Abney’s grin was cocky, but not as cocky as it had been on day one. <Improvement.> Daisy kept her expression neutral.

Abney waved his arms horizontally side to side, making the entire contents of the Olympic sized swimming pool move back and forth. <Powerful.> Daisy knew as much from his file.

“Do something else,” Daisy jotted her observations down.

Abney concentrated again, and started moving his arms vertically. Geysers of water began to shoot up halfway to the ceiling. “Keep them tight, and hold it.” Daisy ordered, watching closely.

Seth trembled slightly from the effort of keeping the water cycling through the pool and up into the geyser for thirty seconds, while not throwing water all over the place. <Still pretty good.>

“You’re powerful, but you don’t need me to tell you that,” Daisy expected some smartass comment, but got nothing from the troublesome student. “This time pull out a small stream of water, remove it from the pool, and make it flow in a figure eight motion.”

Without argument, Seth picked up a stream of water ten feet long and three feet thick out of the water. With visible effort he disconnected it from the pool. The water barely held its form, wobbling and sagging in certain places. When Seth tried to move it in a figure eight motion the whole thing disintegrated, and fell back into the pool with a loud splash.

“Ok,” Daisy noted the weakness. “You’re powerful, but you lack finesse,” Daisy reframed her earlier statement. “I’d venture a guess that most of your pre-HCP training was focused on raw, large attacks with your power?”

“Bigger is always better,” Abney replied with an almost unnoticeable smile.

Daisy controlled the surge of anger at the not-so-subtle sexual reference. “Let’s say there are ten people lined up shoulder to shoulder on the edge of the pool over there,” Daisy said through gritted teeth, trying to relax and put the situation into prospective for the young man. “One of them is a bad guy, and you need to take out him, and only him. Could you do that?” Daisy saw the frown on Abney’s face, and knew she’d gotten through to him.

“Exactly,” Daisy walked away from the pool. “A lot of the time bigger isn’t better. Sometimes you only needed the smallest, most delicate use of power to get the job done. Understand?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Abney’s thoughtful look surprised Daisy.

<Maybe there’s still hope for him?>

“Good. Now I need to know your comfort level with your abilities. Starting from most comfortable to least.”

“Fire, Earth, Water, and then Air,” he answered without hesitation.

“Are you able to be more delicate with your use of fire?” Daisy asked the important question.

“I think so?” Daisy had Abney second guessing himself. “I’ve never really thought about it.”

“Well it’s something you should think about, and start practicing,” Daisy replied a little hard on the younger man. “You automatically went to fire when you fought Angela. If you face off against people less durable you aren’t just going to be able to use those same tactics.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Daisy hated to admit it, but she saw a little determination in the boy’s eyes, and not just the “fuck you, I’ll show you” kind of determination.

<Maybe his roommates are rubbing off on him,> Daisy could only hope he was getting some good influences.

“That’s good for now,” Daisy pocketed the pen. “Go finish your workout.”

Daisy went to rejoin Craig and Galavant, who were watching the rest of the class finish up.

“I hope you enjoyed your time with us,” Craig was saying as she approached.

“As I told Daisy, it’s nice to get back to school every once in a while,” Galavant was smiling at the pained, exhausted freshmen staggering through their last few exercises.

“Well it ain’t over yet,” Daisy grinned. “Abney, Gibson!” she hollered so the entire gym could hear her. “Get to the infirmary and get some healing, I’m moving your match from Saturday to now.”

To the two students’ credit, they didn’t hesitate to drop what they were doing and run to do as they were told.

“A combat ranking match, just for me,” Galavant put his hand on his chest in mock gratitude.

“Yes and no,” Daisy smirked back. “I want to see if Abney has learned anything in the past month.” Craig nodded his agreement, without knowing her ulterior motive.

< I think one more embarrassing loss, especially one from a challenged he issued, might get him to quit.> Daisy wanted to see if the kid was really committed or not.

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