A Change of Pace – Chapter 25

Seth sighed as the golden mist leeched away the aches and pains of physical training. Dr. Sanderson had personally come out of his office to get the two freshmen boys back up to 100% for their ranking match. While Seth and Rich both appreciated the healer’s consideration, both were a little pissed at a certain alternative instructor.

“We were scheduled for Saturday. Why the hell did she switch it on us?” Seth vented.

“No use in complaining,” Rich frowned, which was as angry as Seth had ever seen him. “If you bring it up to Coach Meyers she’d probably just have some comeback ready.”

“Yeah, like ‘Heroes don’t get to pick their fights’; or, ‘Constant vigilance’!” Seth did his best impression of their coach, and got a pity laugh out of Rich.

“You’re both good to go,” the last of the mist returned to Dr. Sanderson, who pretended not to hear their conversation. Both young Supers had picked up on the chief healer’s dislike for Coach Meyers. “Good luck. Hopefully I won’t be seeing either of you two soon.”

Both boys hopped off the stereotypical hospital beds and walked towards the exit. They didn’t talk again until they were nearly at the main observation room.

“No hard feelings after I kick your ass?” Seth asked confidently.

“We’ll see about that. I didn’t get to the top half of the rankings by being a pushover,” Rich gave Seth a level stare and pushed open the doors.

Nearly the entire freshman class was sitting in the lounge area waiting for them. “You’ve got two minutes to get to your combat cell, so move it,” Coach Meyers was standing in the center of the group with her hands on her hips.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Rich replied. Seth just nodded.

The two Supers split up at the entrance, following the directions towards the separate entrances to their combat cells. Seth took the thirty seconds it took him to reach the vault-like door to think over a strategy.

Rich could make himself bigger, stronger, and tougher with time, but he would be most vulnerable at the beginning of the fight. If this was a real world fight Seth could just light him up and be done with it, but that would be using lethal force. He needed to be smarter about it. Fire was by far the element he was best at manipulating. He’d gone through an inadvertent pyro-phase when he’d first gotten his ability, and that had forced him to control it. It was also the most dangerous of the elements, so his instructors had wanted him to master it quickly.

Fire came from a place within himself. He could always feel the simmering of the eternal flame in his gut, and he’d trained rigorously on bringing it forth in a variety of ways. But the thing with fire was that you always needed to be in control. Fire had a mind of its own if not mastered, and while Seth might be immune to its effects, others were not.

Water was out of the question for this battle; primarily because there wasn’t any in the room. While some of the best hydrokinetic Heroes could pull water from the air itself, that was far beyond his current ability. Water was about fluidity, not control. It didn’t need to be wrangled and tamed as much as guided to do what he wanted. Fluidity wasn’t something Seth had mastered the intricacies of.

Earth would be just as troublesome. It was his second best element because it involved a lot of the same elements as controlling fire. You had to be in control, grounded in your sense of self, to manipulate earth. It was even more valuable than fire in the proper environment. Despite being encircled by the earth, Seth couldn’t get to it through the metal reinforced concrete. His instructors had consistently told Seth he’d eventually be able to manipulate metal, but it still eluded him.

That left air, his weakest ability. Air was the opposite of fire. Air was the element of freedom. Its power came from being unharnessed and uncontrolled. Seth had no experience, or need, to master air, until now.

<Is this what she had planned?> Seth wondered. <I’m honest to her about my skill set, and then she used that against me,> Seth would have chalked this up to normal paranoia if he hadn’t spent so much time around Coach Meyers.

“This is a ranking challenge match initiated by number forty-three ranked Seth Abney, and accepted by number twenty-two ranked Richard Gibson,” Coach Meyers announced over the intercom. “The match will begin in thirty seconds, and will only end when one of you is unable to continue or gives up. If I see any of the latter, this will only be the first of two ass kickings you’ll endure today.” Coach Meyers threw in the new bit with her usual dose of intimidation. “The use of lethal force is not authorized.” Seth felt like she was talking directly to him. Reminding him of what he couldn’t do here. “Any use of such force will result in your expulsion from the HCP and an investigation with possible criminal charges. May the best man win.”

Seth kept the countdown in his peripherals as he studied Rich. From what Seth had seen so far in class, Rich wasn’t particularly skilled in any form of close combat. He didn’t flail around like an idiot, but he didn’t have the training people like Seth did.

                <If I can get on him quick before he starts growing…> a plan developed in Seth’s mind. <Three…two…one…>

                Seth had been gathering all the air behind him over the last twenty seconds, and he blasted it all right at Rich. He tried to funnel it into a controlled strike, while simultaneously trying not to exert the control on the elemental force that would disconnect him from it. It didn’t work as planned, but that didn’t mean getting hit by a high pressure wave of air didn’t hurt.

Rich was already starting to grow, but the blast picked him up off his feet and smashed him into the back wall. Seth had been trying to concentrate the blast so the opposing Super would hit his head against the wall. Disrupting Rich’s concentration would probably interrupt the growing process, disorient him, and allow Seth to move in close and finish him off. Instead, the uncontrolled blast spun Rich around like he was in a mini-cyclone, and he smashed shoulder first into the vertical concrete.

<Shit,> despite what was looked like a dislocated shoulder, Rich was still growing. He’d already reached Seth’s height and it didn’t look like he was stopping anytime soon.

Seth’s brain scrambled for another plan of attack while Rich’s body swelled. He didn’t have anything by the time his opponent topped seven feet, so he pressed the attack with the air. Seth made a motion with both arms like he was drawing back a huge curtain. Another blast of air hit Rich from the side, sending him tumbling across the floor. The attack wasn’t nearly as effective at the first one. Rich gave a couple of grunts when he made contact with the ground, but only traveled half the distance.

<This isn’t working,> Seth didn’t have time to think before a seven plus foot Rich got to his feet and bull-rushed him.

Seth dove to the side, barely missing a clothesline from an arm larger than Mason’s. He rolled to his feet and quickly had to dodge and sidestep one armed jabbing combination by Rich.

<Shit, he’s been practicing. But at least he doesn’t heal> Rich threw a few more punches, but Seth evaded them, and retreated, using another blast of air to create some separation. This time it only pushed Rich back a few feet.

Rich’s grin told Seth all he needed to know about the growing ineffectiveness of his attacks. The one positive was that Rich didn’t seem to be getting any faster as his size and strength grew. <That’s not going to help when his fist gets as big as a frying pan,> Seth thought as Rich went on the offensive again. <I need time to think!>

                Seth’s hands erupted into flames, stopping Rich’s charge. The now eight foot Super threw himself to the side to avoid a fireball that never came. Seth used the misdirection the throw up a thin barrier of flame, and gauge Rich’s durability. The other Super stayed clear of the small wall of fire, and walked around to reengage Seth.

<Still not strong enough to take fire attacks,> Rich seemed to know exactly what Seth was thinking, because his growing stopped at about eight and a half feet tall.

“Fire is still going to burn me, and could still be lethal force,” Rich explained, his voice much deeper than when he was his normal size.

Seth didn’t have to put a lot of thought into this being a possible trick. Even if it was, he couldn’t take the chance. Coach Meyers would jump on the excuse to intervene, kick his ass, and then get him expelled. That much Seth knew for sure.

<I really hate that woman,> Seth watched as Rich wiped the sweat from his brow before attacking again.

Seth was totally on the defensive now. He had more skill and training than Rich, and he had to use every ounce of that to avoid the larger Super’s ham sized fists that hit like a jackhammer. Seth maneuvered around the room, trying to get in every shot he could. If he was going down, there was no way he was going down without a fight. The few hits Seth did score felt like he was punching a tree, and he broke more than one knuckle in the process. After three minutes of mortal combat they were both sweating profusely.

<Sweat!> the realization hit Seth like a truck, and he nearly got a haymaker to the head for his momentary distraction.

Seth was able to slide away from the fist, and took a glancing blow in the back of the shoulder. He couldn’t help a small cry from escaping when the punch broke something in his rotator cuff. Seth’s concentration faltered with the shock of pain, and he took the next kick full in the stomach. He felt ribs crack as the size twenty foot picked him up off the ground and tossed him half a dozen feet to land in a heap looking like a lump of discarded laundry.

<Need to concentrate,> Seth’s wheezing breaths were labored as he tapped into the always burning ember in his gut.

Seth didn’t let the fire out, but he did let the pressure grow until he felt he was close to bursting. Heat was radiating off Seth in visible waves now, heating the entire combat cell. Rich stopped for a moment to evaluate what was happening, and that momentary hesitation cost him.

Seth had never engaged two of his abilities at the same time before, even if this didn’t really count as full control of both at the same time. Seth kept the heat radiating from him at a constant level while lashing out wildly with the air in the room.

The attacks didn’t do more than stagger Rich, but Seth didn’t expect them to. What the super-heated air did do was produce more and more sweat from the giant Super. Seth was working off the hypothesis that Rich’s enhanced body required a corresponding amount of fuel. Being many times stronger, more durable, larger, and heavier required that much more water to stay hydrated.

Seth just hoped his guess was correct, and he was able to evade Rich long enough for the heat to zap him of his strength.

Seth got to his feet and staggered away from Rich as the heat-hurricane battered Rich back and forth enough to throw him off balance. There was no control to the storm Seth had created, so he was forced to weather it too. Seth kept his hands on the wall for balance as he put distance between him and his profusely sweating opponent. Sweat was pouring off Seth too, but it was sweat from the pain. Heat didn’t affect a fire elemental like it did normal people.

Rich caught onto Seth’s tactic; he was anything but stupid, and attempted to grow more. Rich’s whole body shuddered from the effort, but refused to grow. The surprise on Rich’s face made Seth laugh painfully. It was only a matter of time.

The super-heated cyclone continued to rampage throughout the room, turning it into what Seth imagined the surface of Mercury felt like. Without all the fire, lava, and solar radiation. Although Seth could readily produce fire, and maybe lava with enough training. Slowly the fight went out of Rich. His movements became even more disjointed until he couldn’t keep his balance anymore. He went down to one knee and crawled forward, groping blindly for Seth through dry eyes that could no longer see properly. After another minute he completely collapsed onto his stomach where he finally passed out.

“The winner is Seth Abney,” Seth shut off his internal oven function, and let the wind settle back down.

A rush of superheated air nearly knocked over the healers as they tried to enter the combat cell, but it wasn’t a problem once everything reached equilibrium. A pretty junior healer placed a hand on Seth’s face and an icy chill ran through his entire body; healing his ribs and shoulder in a matter of seconds.

“Good fight there, Dutch-Oven Boy,” Seth was too tired to admire the women’s chest, or hope her nickname didn’t stick. The healing might have taken away the injuries, but it made him twice as exhausted. “You’ll need a good night’s rest, but you should be fine in the morning.” She hurried away to join her partner who was treating Rich. The losing Super was already starting to shrink, and was suffering from heat stroke and severe dehydration.

“Impressive, Abney,” Seth would have jumped in surprise at Coach Meyers’s sudden appearance if his whole body didn’t feel like jelly. “Maybe you do belong here…maybe.”

Despite the qualifier, Seth felt a surge of pride rush through him. He still didn’t like the shapely instructor hovering over him, but the fact that she’d sort of complimented him must have meant he did something right. So instead of ruining the moment, he remained silent.

“I hoped I wouldn’t have to see you two again,” Dr. Sanderson strolled into the room, only to do a double taken when he saw Coach Meyers standing over Seth. “Coach Meyers,” his voice went cold immediately.

“Dr. Sanderson,” she replied equally frosty.

“I just need to do a quick evaluation on them before they can be released,” Dr. Sanderson approached Rich. He waved a mini flashlight in front of his eyes, peeked into his throat, and had him get up and walk around a little. “You’re good to go Mr. Gibson.” He turned to Seth.

“I’m good, just tired,” Seth informed, hoping to get out of the same treatment. It didn’t work.

Dr. Sanderson went through the same tests. Seth stumbled a bit when he had to walk around, but he insisted he was just exhausted. With a clean bill of health the doctor gave them both the OK to leave. Seth was eager to get out of there. The tension between the two older Supers was enough to make his hair stand on end.

“That was a good match,” Rich hurried up to walk beside Seth. “I didn’t see that oven trick coming until it was too late.”

Seth was surprised the other student was actually talking to him. Most of Seth’s classmates just tried to get away from him at the first opportunity. “I wasn’t even sure if it would work, but I’m glad that it did. One more punch from you and I would have been done,” Seth tried not to rub in his victory. “But yeah it was a good fight.”

“Sorry about the loss, Rich,” Becca came skipping down the hallway with Anika in tow. “And congratulations, Seth!” the blue-haired ball of energy actually gave him a hug.

It triggered all sorts of weird, confusing emotions.

“You moved up and took Rich’s number twenty-two spot, while he fell down to number twenty-seven,” Anika replied, draping herself over the back of her girlfriend’s shoulders like a human cape. A cape that was way too big for the speedster.

“He only moved a few spots?” Seth was confused. “I thought we switched?”

“Coach McMillian explained it to all of us after you had your fight,” Seth didn’t like how Anika was lecturing him. “He said the instructors collect and evaluate all sorts of data on the matches. If you lose a fight you only go down to where the new data says you belong. Rich has already proven how good he is. It wouldn’t be fair to switch him from twenty-two to forty-three just because he lost to you. They looked everything over really quick and it said he should only move down to twenty-seven.”

<I guess that makes sense,> Seth thought about it.

“We’d better get going,” Becca playfully shrugged off Anika. “If you don’t get out of here you’re not going to be on time to pick me up for our date.” The two women looked at each other with lovesick grins.

Seth turned his head as they kissed, something he usually had to beg two girls to do, and then walked away from him hand-in-hand. Rich didn’t stick around too much longer. Unlike Seth, he had friends he needed to meet up with. Not that Seth didn’t have any friends, but they were just normal people. Even if Seth wouldn’t admit it to himself, it made him feel lonely.

<Now what the hell am I supposed to do with the rest of my night?> Seth knew he should be on cloud nine right now, despite being exhausted. He’d just jumped up into the top 50% of the class; he should throw a kegger just for that alone. But he just didn’t feel like celebrating when he would be doing it alone. Kyoshi and Mason would probably join out of sympathy, but that was the last thing Seth wanted.

<I could call Butch?> but then he wouldn’t be able to reveal why they were actually celebrating. Butch wouldn’t care though. Any excuse for a party was good enough for him.

Then there was his squeeze. Just thinking about her got him excited, but he quickly shut down the increased blood flow. Seth was in a self-induced dry spell, but the righteousness of his actions didn’t stop his balls from aching. He hadn’t hooked up with her since before the party where he almost got shot in the chest by a drug dealer.

She was absolutely convinced he was playing hard to get. She’d drunk dialed him half a dozen times begging for him to screw her. She called nearly every night hoping for phone sex, and even when he didn’t give it to her, she’d do her half anyway. She’d even shown up at his townhouse dripping wet in just lingerie. The way she’d pouted, twirled her hair, and thrust out her chest at Seth had almost broken him. He stayed strong though. Still, the whole ordeal led to an awkward conversation between him and Kyoshi. If she hadn’t been able to read his mind, Seth doubted she’d have believed his side of the story.

The reason Seth wasn’t out banging his masochistic fuckbuddy was the newest saved number in his phone. He’d been casual and hadn’t called her right away. Just thinking of her punching out that dealer got him excited again.

<God damn she’s hot!> The tight black uniform the HCP gave to its freshmen students wasn’t the attire you wanted to get a boner in. <Cold shower and then I’ll call her.>

Seth was world renowned, well maybe not world renowned, but definitely renowned for how smooth he was around women; in his own humble opinion. Liz somehow negated this ability; like she was some guy-confidence-disrupting female Zero. He’d been thrown off when they first met, and he was nervous and thrown off now just thinking about talking to her. He spent his entire shower distracting himself from her awesome rack by thinking about what he was going to say again. It felt like he was back in seventh grade working up the courage to talk to Shannon Gillespie for the first time. That conversation had led to his first kiss. Hopefully, this one led to a hell of a lot more.

Seth changed quickly in the mostly deserted locker room, completely ignored everyone else, and quickly rode the elevator back to the surface. Once he finally had got reception, Seth took a deep breath and dialed the number.

It rang a few times before the honey dipped voice on the other end answered. “Talk to me.”

“Hey L…Liz,” Seth felt like slamming his head against the table for stumbling over her name. “It’s Seth.”

“Seth?” there was a distinct pause on the other end of the line, and Seth felt his stomach plunge into his lower intestine.

He thought it had hurt when he’d first seen Becca with Anika together. This was worse. <What is wrong with me? Do I have the yips?>

“Ohhh…Seth,” Seth felt like he was floating on air when he heard her mood picked up. “From that little party with the special ending.”

“That’s the one,” Seth built on the momentum. “So I still owe you that thank you coffee. You interested?”

“Hmmm…”

“How about Friday night, 6 p.m., at Sprout right off campus,” Seth knew he came off a little desperate, but he didn’t care.

“Only if I can get something to eat too,” Seth nearly had a heart attack as casual coffee became a dinner date.

“Anything you want, Liz,” Seth wasn’t ashamed at the slight drooling that ensued.

“I like that.” The line went dead, and Seth started dancing in the middle of the student union.

He didn’t care if he was drawing attention to himself, and people were laughing at him. He’d just scored a date with a fucking perfect 10.

<Suck on that Super bitches.> Seth would take Liz over anyone in his class any day; powers or no powers.

 

***

 

Daisy watched as Abney and Gibson scampered out of the combat cell, and scampered was the best word to describe it. She didn’t blame them. Even the healers in the room were nervously waiting for Dr. Sanderson to release them. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to feel the tension between her and the doctor. Daisy felt bad about that. She’d jumped to conclusions about the HCP’s chief medical official, and she’d committed a series of uncalled for actions against him.

“Head back to the infirmary,” Sanderson dismissed the other healers, leaving him and Daisy alone.

Daisy saw her opportunity to make everything right.

“Dr. Sanderson,” the man started walked towards the door. “Dr. Sanderson,” it was impossible he hadn’t heard her, but he was still making a beeline for the exit. “Blake.” The use of his name stopped him.

He turned to face Daisy, and there was no misinterpreting the red-faced anger on the man. Daisy actually took a step back at how quickly he’d transformed from a healthcare professional to this.

“What?” he spat the words at her.

“Chill out, Blake,” Daisy made calming gestures with her hands. “I just wanted to apologize to you.” Her words didn’t do anything to quell the fire in the man’s eyes. “I realize I was an asshole to you, and you didn’t deserve it. So I’m sorry for how I treated you without getting to know you at all.”

Daisy’s apology was sincere. She was really trying to make amends with the members of the staff she’s ticked off. It was part of her recovery plan. Robin and her were good. Marshall and her were good in a totally different way. The last one she’d offended was Sanderson.

Despite the sincerity of her words, Dr. Sanderson continued to scowl at her. “I don’t want your apology, Meyers,” the venom dripped from his words. “I just want you gone.”

Daisy was trying to be good about the whole apology mission. It wasn’t her strong suit. She was an “I’d rather answer to twelve than be carried by six” kind of person. Still, she didn’t think she deserved this kind of treatment for the few interactions she’d had with Sanderson.

She took a few deep breaths to keep the rage monster in its cage. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Blake. But I’m not going anywhere for now.”

The way Sanderson reacted you would think she’d told him to go fuck his mother.

“You belong in the ground Meyers,” spittle was flying with his retort. “You’re an unnatural abomination. Everything you are, everything you do is an insult against the natural order of things. When I say I want you gone, I mean gone…permanently.”

Daisy was genuinely shocked; for about a second.

“You know what Sanderson,” her voice was quiet, but not the submissive quiet one would expect after such a tongue lashing. “I’m trying to make amends. I know I’ve wronged you, insulted you, and maybe even humiliated you.” Her voice was building. “And I’m trying to be better than the old me because I’ve seen the error in my previous way of thinking.” She took a deep breath, and looked straight into his eyes, her own vermillion eyes blazing. “But if you EVER say something like that again to me, I’m going to rip off your fucking head and put it on a pike in the middle of the infirmary! Do you understand me?”

<So much for apologizing.> Daisy was breathing hard, and visibly shaking with rage.

All the bravado had gone out of Sanderson, and he scrambled for the exit like a jackrabbit.

<Shit.> Daisy gave him a few minutes head start before following.

Daisy made her way slowly to the infirmary; getting herself back under control, and crafting another apology. The first one had been perfect, and she’d mentally worked on it for hours. This one wasn’t going to be nearly as good, but she had to try.

The pristine, disinfected space was empty except for one white uniformed student sitting at a desk reading a book. A quick inquiry told Daisy Dr. Sanderson hadn’t returned to his office, and was recorded as being gone for the evening.

“Would you like me to call him, Ma’am,” Daisy caught the hint of disapproval in the young man’s voice.

<Seems Sanderson has been spreading his prejudices to his student,> Daisy kept a smile on her face.

“No thanks, I’ll just talk with him when I see him next.”

There was someone that Daisy knew was still around. She walked across the room and knocked twice of the psychologist’s door.

“Hello, Daisy,” Dr. Johnson greeted with a smile.

“Hey, Doc. Just wondering if you have a moment to talk?”

“I’m always available,” the man was clearly glad Daisy was coming to him willingly with her problems. “Please have a seat.”

Daisy took her seat and composed her thoughts. Dr. Johnson waited patiently for her to begin.

“I’ve been trying to make amends with people here that I’ve offended, as part of the healing process,” she began.

“I hope that is going well for you. I still think we laid out a good road map for you of people you need to speak to. And I am glad you are being proactive in making contact,” Dr. Johnson encouraged her; which made the next statement so hard to say.

“I hit a bit of a speed bump with Dr. Sanderson,” Daisy kept her eyes on her feet when she said this.

“Hmmm,” Daisy was surprised by the amount of knowledge conveyed by a single syllable. “Why don’t you tell me what happened.”

Daisy gave him a brief recap of her apology. She emphasized how genuine it was; how she covered everything she thought she’d done to the man, and the actual wording of her apology.

<Maybe I just did it wrong,> it was kind of a lame thought, but Daisy wouldn’t put the mistake past her. She could count the number of true apologies she’d given on two hands.

Then she described his reaction. “He actually called me an abomination,” the sting from the doctor’s words had cut through Daisy’s tough exterior more than she realized. “He acted like I was some monster that needed to be put down.”

“Hmmm,” the chair groaned in protest when Daisy gripped it too hard, but Johnson’s monosyllabic responses were pissing her off.

The psychologist regarded Daisy carefully until, in her mind, it crossed from professional curiosity to slightly unsettling. “You really don’t know.” He finally said, leaning back in his chair with a pensive expression.

“Don’t know what?” Daisy could tell the psychologist knew exactly what was causing the rift between her and Sanderson.

“You need to come to this realization yourself, Daisy,” he gave her a sad smile. “You’re going to need to do the legwork here if you really want to heal things between you and Blake.”

Daisy beat down the frustration with a mallet of willpower. “You’re killing me, Doc.”

Johnson gave a soft chuckle before pulling out his pad of paper and scribbling something on it. “I want you to open this no earlier than tomorrow morning in the HCP library. This will give you the night to calm down, and then you can start the process.” He handed her the torn off piece of college-ruled paper.

“Thanks for stopping by, Daisy.”

Daisy was left standing with a piece of paper in her hand, a little surprised, and a little frustrated that Johnson had politely told her to leave and worry about this in the morning. She made sure to ease his door closed behind her, so she didn’t shatter his doorframe with her pent up kinetic energy.

“I know that look,” Maria was walking by the entrance to the infirmary, a good hundred plus feet away.

<Damn her super-senses,> Daisy plastered a smile on her face that wasn’t fooling anyone.

Daisy had learned she was capable of a genuine smile, but it had to be genuine. If she didn’t mean it, it came off like a bad actor on a daytime soap opera.

“It’s nothing,” Daisy put the paper in her pocket, rearranging her expression as she approached the Weapons instructor.

“If it’s nothing…then,” Maria pulled a business card from behind Daisy’s ear, just like a street musician.

“Cute,” Daisy took the card, and her face immediately went white.

“You’ve been putting this off for too long,” Maria grabbed Daisy’s shoulders before she could bolt.

It was Officer Phillip’s card.

“I told you a few weeks ago if you don’t call him I will,” Maria scolded Daisy like she was a child. “If you don’t call that man in the next ten minutes, I will. Don’t think I won’t,” she tapped her temple when Daisy moved the card out of her reach. “The numbers already filed up here in this steel trap.”

<Shit,> Daisy’s mind raced to figure out a way out of this.

“You finally get her to call Chris?” Craig appeared in a rush a wind.

“For one of the most dangerous Heroes of all time, she’s being a wimp,” Maria gave the speedster a conspiratorial grin.

“I’ve had a lot of practice fighting multiple opponents, so we’ll see who the wimp is,” both Maria and Craig waved off the threat without a second thought.

“Chris is a good guy,” Craig answered earnestly. “Been on the force here for a couple of years, but originally came down from the NYPD where he did his first ten years right out of college. I think you’ll both get along great. Plus,” Craig smiled brightly. “He used to work with a Hero task force, so he has some DVA clearances. This way you don’t have to keep a ton of secrets from him.”

That part was a welcome surprise. The relationship problems between Heroes and civilians were just as big an issue with the instructors as with the students. The whole secret identity thing didn’t go away after four years. There had to be a great deal of trust if you decided to let someone in. Not only did it have a great impact on the Hero’s life, but the civilian’s impression of the world was forever changed. That was a big reason why a lot of Heroes were single or divorced. The life just wasn’t for everyone, even people in love. The idea of not having to break Officer Phillips into her world if things got serious was a big stress reliever.

“Fine, just keep it in your pants,” Daisy pulled out her cell phone.

Since it was a DVA/HCP issued phone it was able to get through the counter-surveillance equipment protecting the HCP. However, that didn’t mean the reception was great when you were several stories underground.

The phone picked up after two rings, and wasn’t too garbled. “Officer Phillips.”

“Hello, Officer Phillips, it’s Daisy…from that time on the street…when you thought I was being bothered…and that other time on the street…when I was just walking,” Daisy rambled.

In the background Craig audibly snacked his forehead with his palm, and Maria just shook her head with a sad smile.

“Oh, Daisy,” the voice on the other end perked up as realization set in. “I’m glad I finally heard from you.”

“Yeah, sorry it took me so long, things have been really busy…at my job,” now Maria was face palming.

“I can only imagine,” Daisy could just imagine him smiling, and it sent a warm sensation spreading through her. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

<Is he really going to make me work for it,> Daisy remembered Grace’s comment about the change in the dating dynamic.

“I just thought we might get together sometime,” Daisy tried to sound casual.

“I would like that,” the excitement in the younger man’s voice was unmistakable. “Do you like coffee?”

If they got to know each other, Christopher would learn just how addicted to the stuff she was. “I love it.” Daisy momentarily panicked when she said the word “love”, but a look from Maria calmed her down.

“Great! How about I pick you up Friday night, say just before six, and we can head down to Sprout for a cup,” Daisy couldn’t help but grin as he took the initiative.

Despite the vast amount of power Daisy held, she still liked being treated like a lady by a man who was a gentleman. “I’d like that,” Daisy was beaming like an idiot now, and Craig was giving her double thumbs up, and making kissy faces.

“I’ll see you Friday then,” Officer Phillips finished.

“You know where I live,” Daisy hung up, hoping that he did know exactly where she lived.

Maria was shaking with excitement, he hands desperately wanting to clap together like the energizer bunny. “Now we need to pick out an outfit, and shoes, we need proper shoes…”

Daisy let the smaller Latina basically plan everything for her. Craig finished up with the kissy faces and gave her a genuine grin before blurring away. Daisy felt good, the fight with Dr. Sanderson nearly forgotten.

She started to walk back toward the instructor lifts, with Maria following in her wake.

<This is all Maria is going to talk about for the rest of the week,> the realization was both exciting and terrifying.

 

***

 

“I like that.” Lilly purred as she hung up the phone, feeling the rush of adrenaline from the conversation.

<Mmmm, that man…> her thoughts always drifted back to the ass kicking he delivered, and it always got her excited.

With a shake of her head, Lilly dispelled the thoughts of what she wanted to do to Seth Abney, and focused on the restaurant’s menu. The popular Hero themed chain was crowded with college-aged couples, families with young children, and the occasional person just out to grab a quick bite. Lilly was one of the latter, except for the quick bite part.

This was phase two of her plan. She already had Seth on the hook. All she had to do to get him eating out of her hand was a little conversation, her trademark smile, and maybe a little no pants dance action. Something she didn’t mind at all with the thoroughbred stud she believed him to be. Men were the easy part; it was the women who were the challenge.

Lilly sat so she was facing the door with her back to the wall. Every time the little electronic bell rang to announce a new customer, she peaked over the top of her laminated menu. So far her targets hadn’t arrived.

“Do you know what you want yet?” a mid-twenty something grad student asked. Complete with her hand on her hip, and an obnoxious chewing of gum.

Lilly resisted the temptation of teleporting the gum right out of the annoying waitress’s mouth, but that would ruin her cover. She couldn’t do that when she was so close.

“I’ll have the bacon cheeseburger with fries and a vanilla shake,” she handed the menu back to the shocked waitress.

<Villainy works up a hall of an appetite,> she just smiled back as the older woman glared jealously at her.

Her targets arrived before her burger did.

There were two women. One was a petite little thing with blue-haired pigtails. If her hair was red she could have been a fast-food chain’s mascot. This little blue-haired woman seemed to have a boundless energy to her. She was always giggling, moving her body in some way, or constantly touching her companion.

<Ugh, speedsters,> Lilly read the telltale signs like a book.

The companion was the primary target. She was a hair shorter than Lilly’s, but with a very similar body type. The intricate silver tattoos prominently displayed on her arms were all the confirmation Lilly needed. She’d found who she was looking for.

<Now I just need to get close.>

Lilly hadn’t planned for a simple snatch and grab, or a knock-down drag-out fight. These two girls were obviously HCP students and training to be Heroes. Despite how much Lilly disliked that particular breed of Super, she had to respect them. Even the weakest among them shouldn’t be underestimated. Lilly needed to be subtle about how she approached them. She needed to gain their trust, and be invited into their midst. Only when their guard was lowered did she stand a chance of succeeding.

“You did not…” Lilly watched as the smaller Hero-in-training playfully slapped the other woman’s shoulder, and then twirled her hair with one of the cutest expressions Lilly had ever seen.

<I could always try…no,> what she was thinking would just complicate things with the angle she was working with Abney. <Plus there’s things he can do that she just can’t.> Lilly hid her smirk behind her hands.

The burger, fries, and shake arrived, and she went about devouring the mountain of food. The culinary experience was mediocre at best, but what could you expect from a chain restaurant catering to small families and college kids on a budget. Lilly studied the two women while she ate. She had a textbook and notepad open next to her meal that would match Elizabeth Aretino‘s course load if anyone looked close enough. On top of that she wrote her notes in a simple code she’d devised. Even if someone asked to see what she was writing it would take them a while to decipher it, and by then Lilly would be long gone.

Lilly did her best to listen in on their conversation, figure out their likes and dislikes, look for any patterns they revealed. She really wanted to gather as much information as possible in the short amount of time she had.

Lilly slurped down the rest of her milkshake, and let out a belch that caused the people around her to stop and stare. “Excuse me,” she replied daintily.

A few older women gave her disapproving looks, but she could care less. It was time to make her move. Lilly paid for her meal in cash to avoid leaving a paper trail. She slowly packed her backpack with her book and notes, and then pretended to leave just like any other customer. She timed it perfectly.

Her target and the speedster both got out of their booth at the same moment Lilly was passing by them. Lilly walked right into the back of her target.

<Jesus,> it felt like she’d walked right into a brick wall.

With a theatrical squeal, Lilly fell over backwards, taking out an unoccupied table on the way down. She’d have the bruise on her back in the morning from her commitment to the fall.

“Yikes!” the blue-haired girl squeal was even higher pitched than Lilly’s. “You ok there?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Lilly got to her feet. “Sorry, I really should have been watching where I was going.”

“No harm no foul,” the speedster was doing all the talking while the girl with the silver tattoos just watched her suspiciously.

“Hey, you look familiar,” Lilly pointed at the blue-haired girl. Both women tried to act casual, but Lilly saw them tense slightly. “You’re in Mr. Bennett’s chemistry class.” The speedster let out a breath and grinned.

“Yeppers. Hiya I’m Becca, and this is Anika,” the smaller woman had to stand on her tippy-toes to plant a kiss on the other Super‘s cheek.

“Hi,” Lilly spoke more to Becca, but gave Anika a nervous wave. “I’m Liz.”

“Swell to meet you, Liz. Maybe we’ll see you around sometime,” the smaller Super seemed energized to make a new friend.

“You go to West?” Anika finally spoke up, her coolness thawing a bit.

“Yes. I’m in Becca’s chemistry class. We haven’t talked before though. I just recognize the hair,” Lilly didn’t want the other woman to think she was moving in on her girlfriend.

“We’ve gotta go, but I’ll see you in class,” Becca smiled, and pulled Anika after her.

Lilly pretended to be gathering her things until both of the Supers had left the building.

<Well that went pretty well,> Lilly could already tell her in was with Becca. Anika was naturally untrusting. <I’ll just have to work on that.>

When she was sure that Becca and Anika had a good head start, Lilly exited the building and walked a short distance before teleporting home. What the young villain didn’t notice was the man that had been watching her watch Becca and Anika. He pulled out a cellphone, sent a text, and then left after Lilly.

What that man didn’t notice was that there was another man who’d been watching the whole situation unfold.

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