A Change of Pace – Chapter 31

<98…99…100,> Daisy’s abs burned with lactic acid as she slowly lowered herself to the ground. <Now rockies,> she reengaged her core muscles, and focused on her obliques.

The gym was nearly empty at this time in the morning, and that’s just how Daisy liked it. When her pseudo-imprisonment started over a month ago she’d initially started working out after physical training classes. Having all of the students watch one of their instructor’s workouts, especially when she wasn’t in peak shape, quickly ended that plan. But that was over a month ago. With nothing to do but work, sleep, eat, and workout Daisy had quickly forged the body she’d had when she was an active Hero.

Daisy grunted as she lifted herself off the mat, squeezed her abs, and then rotated to the side when her chest nearly touched her legs. The outline of a flexed six-pack pushed against taught skin, and she couldn’t help but smile.

<Not bad for a 71 year old,> she flopped down onto her back, rolled over, and started doing pushups.

Daisy kept her face looking straight ahead, and made sure to go all the way down until she squished her chest against the floor. Big boobs were great, but doing pushups with them wasn’t. Daisy’s eyes were focused on the entrance as she finished her first set of fifty, so she caught Craig walking by with a coffee in hand. He must have seen her out of the corner of his eye, because he slowly back peddled into view, and entered the gym.

“Hey, Daisy,” he said her name slowly, cautiously. “Did you go home last night?”

“Nope,” she jumped to her feet and started doing some air squats between pushup sets. It made it easier for her to talk to him. “Halloween is tomorrow night. Kids are roaming through the neighborhoods; tepeeing and egging houses, getting drunk, and puking everywhere. I’d rather sleep down here than have to deal with all that shit.”

<If some retard did something to my house I might be tempted to break my probation,> she didn’t say that part out loud.

Being under house arrest hadn’t been good for Daisy’s anger issues. She hadn’t been able to unwind in a social setting with any of the other instructors, Topher, or even by herself. Craig noticed this, and tried to organize fun activities that could get her to interact with people within the confines of her probation, but it just wasn’t the same. So people had started to walk on eggshells around Daisy again, which only soured her mood.

“Well at least it’s Friday, and I heard you are sitting down with Agent what’s-his-face tomorrow,” Craig gave her a thumbs up. “Maybe they’ll wrap the witch hunt up, and let you out to play.”

Daisy knew what he meant by that. Craig had been pestering her about Topher for weeks. The speedster was like a teenage girl obsessing over high school drama. He maintained he wasn’t, but Daisy was sure he and Chrissy were having gossip-fests behind her back.

“I can only hope,” Daisy began her second set of pushups.

“Ok then,” Craig whistled, while backing out of the gym. “Don’t forget about the meeting tomorrow night.”

“What?” Daisy was so focused on her workout she almost missed that last bit.

“Oh, did I forget to tell you,” Craig tried to remain innocent, but his sly grin betrayed him. “Some of our parental alumni are going to be stopping by, and they want to meet with all the instructors. Ok…Bye,” and he vanished in a blur.

“Damnit, Craig,” Daisy yelled after him. “I hope you spill coffee all over yourself.”

When she’d started as a professor the other instructors had failed to tell Daisy about Craig’s unique approach to first year teachers. He tended to tell them things last minute to see how they’d react. Maria said he’d done the same thing with some of his interns back in the day, and she guessed old habits die hard.

<If he doesn’t watch himself I’m going to kill him hard,> Daisy remembered her reply, and Maria’s laughter.

“Everything ok, Professor Meyers,” Hannah Dixon, approached from where she’d been running laps.

“Everythings’s fine, Dixon. Coach McMillian is just an ass sometimes.” It probably wasn’t the best idea to undermine another instructor in front of a student, but Daisy wasn’t in the mood to care.

“Ah…” the senior’s smile and nod indicated she’d also been on the receiving end of the close combat instructor’s shenanigans.

“Ok. Do you need a spot or anything…Reaper?”

Daisy didn’t react in the slightest to the aspiring subtly hero’s inquiry. Dixon had been all over Daisy for the past few two weeks trying to get her to admit to her Hero name. Apparently, after what happened at Sprout, and the resulting investigation, Dixon had been able to dig up enough to connect the dots. But that didn’t mean Daisy indulged the senior.

“I’m good, Dixon. Even if you’re totally off base with who you think I might be,” Daisy kept her face passive as she replied.

“Whatever you say,” Dixon shrugged. “I’ve got a meeting with Iron Giant…I mean Dean Ditmar to get to anyway.”

Daisy waited for Dixon to exit the gym before shaking her head. She had to admit that the girl was good, and would probably make a hell of a subtlety Hero. But if she kept sticking her head into Daisy’s business she might have to schedule a special training session with the younger woman.

<Why is it that kids these days always need to get knocked down a peg or two,> Daisy wondered.

<Because their mommy and daddy always told them they were the best. They’ve always gotten a trophy for participating, and they’ve always received instant gratification,> Grace’s voice drifted through Daisy’s mind.

Daisy chuckled as the woman herself walked through the doorway, dressed in a cream colored blouse and knee length skirt.

“Could you please put a shirt on,” Grace telekinetically grabbed Daisy’s sweat-soaked shirt from the other side of the gym and lobbed it toward her. “This is an institution of higher learning.”

Daisy pulled the athletic shirt over her sports bra, the sweat-wicking fabric clinging to her skin as tried to situate herself. “What’s with the outfit?” Daisy asked, giving up trying to get the damp piece of clothing from clinging to her uncomfortably.

“I’m giving my final interview to Agent Clark,” Daisy didn’t want to ask all the questions tumbling around in her mind, and she was glad she didn’t have to. That was the benefit of having a telepath as a friend. “As far as I can tell he’s grasping at straws. Someone way above his paygrade is pushing for leniency, so I think you’ll probably get off with a warning.”

Daisy didn’t realize her shoulders were tense until she felt them slacken. “That’s great news. Now I can finally get back to my life.”

“Speaking of your life, don’t you have a test or something today?”

Very few things could make Daisy Lee Meyers turn white with fear, but forgetting to study for her history midterm was one of them. There was just something about it that transported her back to her days with the nuns. She’d been smacked around enough times with a ruler due to her poor academic behavior, and those experiences had stuck with her.

“Shit,” Daisy looked at her watch in desperation. “I’ve got three hours until class. I’ll see you later.” Grace didn’t need to read her mind to find the humor in all of this.

<If I fail my class John is going to kill me.>

Two hours and fifty-nine minutes later, Daisy burst through the door of her 20th Century History classroom, nearly taking the door off its hinges. The people sitting right behind the door jumped in surprise, as metal groaned to stop the forcefully swinging door. “Sorry.” Daisy mouthed to the glaring students, before jogging up the stadium seating to her usually seat.

“Jesus, girl; what’s got your panties in a bunch?” Laurie watched a flustered Daisy collapse into a chair with amusement.

Daisy cheeks heated as she looked over towards the woman who’d probably become one of her best non-Hero friends. “I forgot to study.”

“You forgot to study,” Daisy had gotten to know Laurie pretty well in the past month and a half, and she was entering what Daisy affectionately referred to as “mom mode”.

“You forgot to study for the second largest test of the semester, a test that is worth twenty percent of your entire grade,” if Laurie was standing, Daisy was a hundred percent sure her hands would be on her hips. “This school charges a thousand dollars per credit hour, and this is a three credit class. Are you going to throw away three grand of your parent’s money because you “forgot” to study?”

“I’m just auditing the class so it was only a hundred and fifty bucks for me to take it, and I’m paying for it myself” Daisy’s remark wasn’t received well by the older looking woman.

Luckily, the most boring professor in the world entered the room as the most opportune moment. “Everyone put everything away under your chairs so we can begin,” his dull monotone was already putting Daisy to sleep.

“We’ll talk about this after class,” Laurie wasn’t dropping it, and Daisy didn’t expect her to.

In Laurie’s own words, “Daisy displayed a level of maturity she’d never witnessed in a young woman before”, but that didn’t stop the older looking woman from taking a protective mama-bird stance when it came to Daisy’s well-being. Daisy knew she meant well, and the instinct to protect her young was something instilled in Laurie from her own motherhood, and thousands of years of evolution.

Honestly, Daisy didn’t mind someone fusing over her protectively. For nearly a half century, Daisy had been the boogey-woman every criminal worried about, so it was a nice change of pace to have someone else worry about her in a good way for a change.

<One of the unexpected benefits of Dr. Johnson’s little experiment,> Daisy smiled, and focused on the thick test that had just been placed in front of her.

“What industry was Sinclair’s The Jungle based on, and what act of legislation did it provoke?” Daisy whispered the first question, feeling a ball of molten lead forming in her gut.

<Fuuuuuuck. This is going to be a long class.>

                An hour later Daisy was drowning her sorrows in a sweet tea at one of the school’s dining halls. It wasn’t the worst test she’d ever taken, but it was in the top five. Professor Monotone might give the worst lectures ever, but he was devious when it came to writing his exams. The first fifteen questions were impossibly hard. Daisy doubted someone with a Ph.D. in the time period could have answered them. After that the professor lured people in by tossing in ten easy questions. Daisy built up a little confidence and then BAM, fifteen more impossible questions. It felt like getting punched in the gut by a strongman.

Daisy took the full hour to complete the test, just like the rest of the class; and she knew she’d be lucky to pass. Daisy didn’t like to fail; it would eat at her all the way until the end of the semester. She’d overcompensate and strive for perfection in the final, but it might already be too late. She still had the group project to do, but taking a big hit on the second biggest test was still going to hurt in the long run.

“What’s got you all worked up?” Laurie asked from across the slightly sticky table. “You look like you just ate some bad fish.”

“I’m pretty sure I bombed that,” Daisy took a long drag of the sweet tea, savoring the sweetness. “Just pissed.”

“That ain’t it,” Laurie steamrolled Daisy’s excuse. “You’ve been pissin’ and moanin’ for the last month. This fuck up is just the latest dump in that toilet.”

Daisy cringed at the visual picture Laurie was painting. “Yeah,” Daisy admitted vaguely. “It just hasn’t been a good October.”

“So what’s going on? Talk to me,” the older looking woman put down her sandwich, and crossed her arms expectantly.

Daisy took a deep breath, and tried to figure out how to say this without compromising national security. “I’m just in a bit of trouble…with the law.”

“You doing drugs?” Laurie had he hands on the table and was leaning over Daisy with an intense look on her face.

“No.”

“You steal something?”

“No.”

“You kill someone?”

“No.”

“You…selling yourself?”

Daisy just had to laugh at that one. “No, Laurie, I’m not a hooker.”

“Good,” Laurie sat back down in her seat, and grabbed her sandwich. “Those are the big ones right there, so anything else can’t be that bad.”

<If only you knew the whole story,> Daisy kept her expression neutral.

“Let’s just say I did the wrong thing for the right reason,” it was the best way Daisy could think to describe it.

“You’re conscience clear?”

“Yeah,” Daisy replied thoughtfully. “I know I did what needed to be done.”

“Then you’ll be fine,” Laurie extended the sandwich to Daisy. “You want a bite?”

Daisy took her up on that, sincerely hoping everything was going to be ok.

 

***

 

<How did I get here,> Angela wondered as pain wracked her whole body.

She knew how she got to this physical location, that wasn’t the problem. After physical training was done for the day Angela asked Hannah if she’d do some extra sparring. Angela had made the request to other members of the study group, and had learned a lot from the experience. However, she’d never challenged the number one ranked senior, and now she knew why.

All Angela remembered was shifting into her angelic form and taking a step toward the woman. Next thing she knew both of her wings were broken, and she was hanging in the air from some invisible noose. Her legs kick futilely below her as she fought for something to stand on. For the second time she tried to flap her wings, but only got excruciating pain shooting down her spine.

“Think, Angela. Find a way to escape,” Hannah was standing lazily in the corner, picking at a cuticle. She wasn’t even sweating.

Angela’s mind scrambled for a solution. Her energy weapons appeared in her hand, in the form of a javelin. She made a slashing motion over her head, cutting through the invisible force that was hanging her, and then she tossed the weapon at Hannah as she fell to the ground.

Hannah looked up without a hint of surprise at the blazing stick of energy flying towards her. About halfway between Angela and Hannah the energy javelin shattered, but Angela didn’t let the setback stop her. Her angelic form touched down lightly on the ground and took off running straight for Hannah. The energy weapons reappeared in her hand, this time as a deadly looking maul, and Angela had every intention of smacking the senior with it.

Angela was still twenty feet from Hannah when something happened. First, Hannah simply vanished. Second, Angela found herself barreling into the reinforced walls. The unexpected impact shook her down to her bones, and left her vulnerable. Third, it felt like someone dropped an invisible house on top of her. Angela fell to her knees, her back and shattered wings screaming in agony. Lastly, the invisible noose slipped around her neck again and hoisted her back into the air.

Angela struggled against the invisible pressure crushing her windpipe, but she couldn’t get out of it a second time. Her vision went fuzzy, her mind couldn’t think straight, and she passed out.

An icy sensation flooded Angela’s veins, bringing her violently back to life. With a cough, and wide, scared eyes, Angela bolted upright. She’d shifted back when she was unconscious; back to her weak human form.

“Not bad,” Angela looked past the white uniformed healer to see Hannah watching her closely.

“Not bad, really?” Angela glowered, upset at her own poor performance.

“Yeah, not bad,” Hannah replied sternly. “You didn’t stand a chance of beating me, but you fought intelligently. Maybe in a couple of years you’ll stand a chance.”

Angela took the praise for what it was, but was still upset with her own lackluster showing. Hannah noticed.

“Here are my notes on the fight,” the victorious senior dismissed the healer, and took a cross-legged seat next to Angela on the floor. “My first observation is that you rely too much on your wings.”

“But my wings allow me to fly, and flight gives me the high ground,” Angela retorted, explaining her tactical choices.

“In most cases that is the smart play,” Hannah conceded. “But you misjudged your opponent. Being able to fly is a disadvantage when you’re facing an advanced mind who can slap you out of the sky.”

“Of course I wouldn’t fly if I knew how powerful you were, but up until today I didn’t have any idea of your abilities beyond a general categorization,” Angela replied, replaying in her mind what Hannah had been capable of.

“It’s dangerous to assume you’re going to have intel on everyone you’re fighting. Coach McMillian told us in close combat to always approach your opponent as if they can kill you, and that sometimes means feeling your opponent out and not jumping right in.” Hannah explained.

“So it would have been a better idea to gauge your abilities, trade a few light blows before dancing away and formulating a more appropriate strategy,” Angela saw the lesson Hannah was trying to teach her.

“Yes,” Hannah smiled. “If you hadn’t jumped into the air to do a flying charge right away, I wouldn’t have been able to take out your wings.”

“If I kept my wings then I would have been able to get out of that aerial choke hold you kept putting me in,” Angela thought through the new hypothetical fight.

“Exactly,” Hannah nodded. “You always need to keep in mind the weak points on the human body when facing a trained advanced mind.” Hannah began pointing at Angela. “Throat, eyes, nose, groin in males; those are just a few places where light blows can do a lot of damage.”

Angela didn’t need any more explanation. That pain was still fresh in her mind.

“Next thing we need to talk about is your energy weapon.” Angela nodded, remembering the javelin and maul she’d summoned. “Good news first; you used it well to cut through the telekinetic force choking you, and as a distraction to get back into the fight.” Hannah acknowledged the high points. “Bad news is that your range still sucks, and it was easy to block your attack the farther the weapon gets from you.”

“I know,” Angela’s frustration showed. “I’ve been working on it, but I think some classes in Control or Focus are what I really need to get a handle over it.”

“That might be true,” Hannah conceded. “But don’t give up. Maybe focus on perfecting a single ranged energy weapon. If you can become minimally proficient before you go into sophomore year, it will give you something to build on. ” Angela nodded her thanks for the advice.

“So,” Angela began when Hannah didn’t offer any more constructive criticism. “How exactly did you get me from charging at you to charging into the wall. You aren’t a teleporter, so how did you just disappear like that.

Hannah smiled thoughtfully for a moment before explaining. “It’s one of the special aspects of my power. As you’ve already deduced, I am an advanced mind. My telekinesis is good, but not great, and so is my telepathy. With those two traits alone I probably wouldn’t have made it past junior year without recognizing a special aspect to my telepathy. I can actually freeze the thought processes of my opponents. That is why you thought I just disappeared. As you charged, I used my ability on you, and got out of the way.

“So you just stop people from thinking like that,” Angela snapped her fingers.

“At first it took a little time, but now I’ve got it down to being nearly instantaneous. But it’s important to explain I don’t stop thinking, I just freeze it. I guess it puts the body into autopilot while the mind is frozen. That’s why you continued to charge even though I wasn’t there anymore.”

Angela kept her expression in check as she imagined the possibilities of Hannah’s power. The number one ranking senior could use her ability in combat, like she had against Angela, or there were more nonviolent applications. She could walk into a vault, or secure areas, put everyone on autopilot, and collect intelligence without them even realizing what was happening.

<Now I see why she is a subtly major,> Angela watched the senior cautiously. <I hope she never goes villain,> Hannah as an enemy was a dangerous reality that Angela didn’t want to deal with.

“Thank you for trusting me with your ability’s details,” Angela really meant it.

“You would have figured it out sooner or later,” Hannah shrugged. “And the reason I told you was so you would calm down.”

“What?” Angela was sure what the older Super meant.

“You haven’t been hiding anything from anyone,” Hannah stared levelly at Angela. “Everyone has noticed how tense you’ve been throughout the last week; even more tense than usual, and that’s saying a lot,” Angela didn’t take that as an insult. “I told you when you first started this study club that you needed to relax or you would burn out; so here is your chance to vent. Tell me what’s got you all worked up.”

Angela retraced her steps for the last week, and saw what Hannah was referencing. Angela had been a little uptight, nervous, and just out of whack. Asking for extra sparring session after a full week of HCP physical training was just the latest transgression. It all boiled down to one thing.

“My parents are coming to parent’s weekend,” Angela admitted to Hannah.

“Ok…” Hannah motioned for her to continue, and waited patiently for Angela to think of the right words.

“If I’m being too forward just say so, but are your parent’s Heroes?” Angela was curious about Hannah’s background.

“No,” Hannah shrugged. “Both of my parents are regular old humans.”

<Then you can’t understand,> Hannah must have picked up on the thought, or the sad memories behind it, because she frowned.

“Both of my parents are Heroes, and they have high expectations for me,” Angela explained.

“You’re number one in your class, and no one has dared challenge you yet. What more could they want?” Hannah scooted forward and placed a hand on Angela’s shoulder.

“You don’t know my parents,” was all Angela said.

There wasn’t really much to say after that, so they wrapped up the training session. Angela said goodbye to Hannah at the elevator, thanked her for taking the time to train, and then returned to the townhouse. Her parents weren’t getting in until Saturday morning. They’d planned to stop by the townhouse, then tour the campus, meet with her instructors along with some of the other illustrious alumni, and then were going to have dinner with her before going back to work.

<I’ll only have an hour, two tops, to impress them,> Angela thought as she stepped through the front door and into the townhouse.

The familiar blast of AC hit her skin, but didn’t wipe away the sweat she’d developed from the fight and the walk back. Even a month into Fall the humidity hadn’t died down much. <I need to get an outfit together, find a good place to eat, and get ready to brief them on my progress.>

                <You’re just having dinner with your parents, not planning some black op,> Kyoshi didn’t bother to announce her mental presence, or her physical one, as the taller woman moved to block Angela’s path.

“Excuse me, Kyoshi, but I’ve got a lot to do.” Kyoshi didn’t move.

“You can do everything you want later, but right now you are going to come with the rest of us. We’re all going to go get our costumes for tomorrow night. Once you’ve had a little time to unwind, then you can start planning for your parent’s arrival.” Angela got the impression Kyoshi wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

Appreciation and annoyance rushed through Angela. She appreciated that Kyoshi knew she was going to have a hard time with this weekend. Angela hadn’t made it public knowledge, but Kyoshi had picked up enough off Angela’s mental frame of mind to figure out her relationship with her famous Hero parents. Angela also appreciated the telepath kept that information to herself.

The other half of the emotional rush was annoyance. Angela was annoyed Kyoshi had been listening in on her thoughts, and annoyed she was going to waste more unproductive time with everyone shopping. It was even more annoying that it was for Halloween costumes; a holiday Angela thoroughly disliked.

<I wasn’t listening in on your thoughts,> Kyoshi responded. <Well at least not at first, I am now, but that’s not the point,> Kyoshi mentally floundered, realizing she was proving Angela’s point against her. <I got a call from Hannah Dixon, the senior, about you. I didn’t even know she had my number. But she told me to take you out tonight to cool down.>

                Angela would have been even more upset with Hannah’s action, but it was hard to argue without someone who’d just mopped the floor with you.

“Fine,” Angela huffed. “But we’d better be back by nine. I really do have stuff to prepare for.”

“Oh, Angela,” Kyoshi gave her a sad smile. “We’re going shopping with Becca and Liz. We’ll be lucky if we’re back before Halloween.”

***

 

“That is just freaking adorable,” Liz raised her voice as Becca emerged from the dressing room. Parents had already complained, and management had talked to Liz twice about her language.

The costume store, in a shopping center not far from the mall, was packed. Halloween was tomorrow night and all the little kids were out either getting their outfit last minute, or exchanging them for something more popular.

Anika didn’t get the point of Halloween. The thought of going from home to home and begging for candy from complete strangers was a recipe for disaster. She didn’t want to think of how many children would go missing in Orlando tomorrow night. People just couldn’t be trusted.

She pushed the melancholy thought aside and turned her attention back to her girlfriend. Anika had to admit that Liz had a point. Becca was adorable.

“Why’d they have to put parent’s weekend on the same weekend as Halloween,” Becca pouted as she twirled her skirt.

Anika knew exactly why she’d chosen the Little Bo Peep costume she was currently wearing. The outfit’s skirts went down to mid-calf and looked more at home on an Amish woman than a college teen. Becca might not be saying it, but Anika had put enough training behind her telepathy to know her girlfriend was worried about her parents being in town. It was already going to be enough of a shock for them when she came out to them at dinner tomorrow, so she didn’t want to make it worse by possibly getting seen in a revealing costume.

“Not a problem,” Liz jumped in, grabbing a hold of the bottom of the skirt.

Anika tensed for a moment as the other woman moved in, but forced herself to relax. Liz had been nothing but great to them. Seth’s girlfriend was kind and generous; which was an oddity for someone of her incredible looks, or so Anika had been told. Still, Anika didn’t trust her. There was just something off that she couldn’t put her finger on.

<You’re just being paranoid,> Anika thought, echoing what Becca had said the first night the couple met Liz. <Just relax.> Being told to relax by a hyperactive speedster was a bit of a wakeup call.

“I get you’re not slutting it up,” Liz surveyed the outfit. “But I suggest we get some black fishnets, maybe tear the skirts a bit, and pop a few of these buttons to let the girls out,” Liz poked Becca’s chest. “Maybe we can do a little makeup too, and you can be zombie Little Bo Peep.”

Becca’s smile was infectious as she thought over the idea. “Ok,” she popped a few of the buttons herself, and then did one up so a bare amount of cleavage was showing. “That’ll work. What do you think Ani?”

“I just want to have you to myself,” Anika meant that in whatever way Becca needed.

“Awww, you’re the sweetest,” Becca skipped over to Anika, blue and white skirt billowing in her wake, to plant a big wet kiss on her lips.

“If you two want to sneak into the dressing room for a quickie I’ll keep watch,” Liz wiggled her eye brows.

Becca blushed scarlet, and Anika might have too, if Kyoshi and Angela didn’t arrive at the perfect moment. “What do you think?” Kyoshi did a small twirl to show off her selection.

Kyoshi was dressed as a ninja, but an actual ninja would have been killed quickly if it were wearing the outfit. There was a skirt instead of pants, and it was relatively tight; tight enough that any real Japanese assassin wouldn’t be able to run in it. The top also left enough showing that Kyoshi fell into the “sexy” ninja category, but would probably be more clothed than most women at whatever parties they decided to attend.

“I’m going to wear leggings,” Kyoshi stated when the other women didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Kyoshi’s height made the skirt really short.

“That’s probably a good idea,” Becca gave her the once over. “It looks swell to me.”

“Mason’s going to have a ragging hard on for you all night,” Liz added her two cents. Anika was beginning to see why she and Seth were such a good match.

“Um…thanks,” Kyoshi blushed.

“So what about you Angela, you ready to party?” Liz asked.

“I’ve been ready for the last hour, to go, not to party,” Angela clarified. “Can we please wrap this up?”

“Just a few more minutes, please, we still have to get Anika something,” Becca flashed her pearly whites at Angela until she relented.

“I’m not really into the costume, Halloween scene,” Anika replied. “I’ll probably just be like Liz and go without a costume.

“You think I don’t have a costume,” Liz looked genuinely surprised, wiped out her cell phone, and handed it to Anika.

Liz had a picture pulled up that made Anika’s eyes bulge. Liz was wearing a West Private University short sleeves crop top football jersey that went down only far enough to remain decent. The rest of her tan, tone body was completely bare aside from a pair a black, tight athletic boy shorts. In the picture Liz was looking over her shoulder, eyes smoldering, with smudged black eyeliner beneath each eye.

“I sent that to Seth this morning,” Liz giggled as the group passed the phone around.

“Well that explains why he was so agitated today,” Becca eyebrows rose when she saw the scandalous photo. “He’s got ants in his pants.”

“I’ve got to keep that boy on his toes,” Liz replied as she retrieved her phone.

“So, how are you and Seth doing,” Becca asked as Anika reluctantly disappeared behind the dressing room curtain with something Becca had picked out for her.

“We’re good,” most people would have missed it, but Liz’s face softened a bit at the question. “Don’t get me wrong, the boy is a hound dog if there ever was one, but you just gotta learn how to muzzle him,” Liz smiled wickedly, subtly implying their might be actual muzzles involved. “My Dad’s coming to meet him this weekend, so that’ll be interesting.” Becca raised her eyebrows in interest, but Liz redirected. “But enough about me, how are you and miss hot stuff doing?”

Becca wasn’t sure she liked the phrasing, and she wanted to talk more about Seth’s upcoming meet the parent scenario, but she couldn’t deny that Anika was the epitome of hot stuff. “We’re so great, I mean…just….ahhh,” a full body shiver went through the speedster’s body as her face lit up. “She’s just the best.”

“I heard that,” Anika pulled back the curtain to reveal her in a belly dancer outfit that would send ideas through most heterosexual women’s minds. “What do you think?”

“Wow…” was the only thing Becca was able to get out.

“Then it looks like we’re all good here,” Angela ushered Anika back into the dressing room. “Get changed so we can get out of here.”

No one argued with the class’ number one ranked combat specialist, even the woman who didn’t know Angela could kick some serious ass relented. They all had what they’d come for; Becca as possibly zombie Little Bo Peep, Anika as erotic belly dancer, Kyoshi as sexy ninja, Liz as drop dead gorgeous slutty football player, and Angela was…

“What are you going as, Angela?” no one had seen the last woman’s costume, not even Kyoshi.

Angela held out a set of angel wings, and a golden halo. “I’ll just use my sheets for a toga,” Angela filled in the last bit as she hustled them all to the checkout line. Everyone but Liz couldn’t help but laugh. It was just so Angela.

It took another fifteen minutes to get through the checkout aisle. Kids were running around sword fighting, shooting their plastics guns at each other, or dueling with whatever assortment of weapons their costumes came with. The parents fell on the spectrum between totally disinterested in anything other than what was on their smart phone; to constantly trying to wrangle their rambunctious offspring. The five supers huddle together to avoid the madness.

Unlike the store, the parking lot was virtually empty. It was nearing midnight so all of the other stores had closed up an hour or two ago. A lot of cars were crowded around the costume store, but other than that it was an asphalt covered wasteland complete with plastic bag tumbleweeds blowing around in the semi-cool fall breeze.

“Can you spare some change?” a homeless man, was panhandling among the cars.

“No,” Liz answered for the group, even as Becca went to get some money from her purse.

“No that’s ok, I think I have a few bucks here,” Becca replied, fishing through her purse to find her change from the costume she’d just bought.

The homeless man was dressed in rags and smelled like sour shit. His face was haggard, hollowed out from years of drug abuse. Everyone in the group saw this, and guessed he would probably use what little money Becca gave him to score. Becca probably saw it to, but she was just the type of person to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. Anika stood a little bit straighter as she realized how good she had it. She and Angela might be stronger, and better fighters, but Becca had the heart of a Hero.

Unfortunately, having a good heart doesn’t always work out so well in a messed up world.

Becca had a fistful of singles in her hand, and was about to hand them to the man when he pulled out a wicked looking knife. “Give me the money!” he tried to be intimidating while remaining quiet at the same time. “All you bitches empty your bags now or I’ll gut you.”

Becca moved back as the man waved the knife in front of her. Not that he ever could have cut her, and ultimately it didn’t matter. There was a flash of silver, and the cocking of a hammer. Everyone turned around to see Liz pointing a pistol at the knife wielding degenerate.

“Drop the knife or I drop you,” Liz was cool and collected, her weapon not shaking in the slightest.

There was a tense moment where the homeless junkie didn’t do anything. Everyone watched him, hoping he valued his life more than crack, heroine, meth, or whatever he was hooked on. Thankfully, in this case, self-preservation won out against addiction. The man dropped his knife and ran.

No one moved to pick up the knife. There was no telling who the knife had stabbed, and anyone’s fingerprints on it would lead to a lot of unwanted questions. So, after making sure no one was watching, Anika stomped on it, crushing the blade and handle flat.

“Well that was fun,” Liz reengaged the safety, and put the pistol back in her purse. “Anyone want ice cream, I’m feeling ice cream.”

“You ok?” all the Heroes in training were handling the situation fine, but that’s what they trained for. They were all watching Liz and judging her reactions.

“Right as rain,” Liz shrugged. “I’ve been around weapons my whole life,” she patted her purse for emphasis. “And this isn’t the first time I’ve been held up.”

“Really?” Becca asked.

Before entering the Hero world, Becca had been in a town with virtually no crime. When everyone knew everyone else it was hard to get away with anything.

Liz gave Becca a sad smile. “I’ve always been taught that people are going to try to take what you have, and if you can’t defend yourself then you’re going to end up with nothing. A girl like me, walking around alone at night, needs to be able to throw down.” There was no joking in Liz’s explanation. “Next time you see Seth, ask him how we met.”

“Huh, I guess you’re right,” Becca looked back and forth between Liz and the knife. “Just wanted to make sure you’re ok.”

Anika watched the whole interaction with suspicion. Liz was way too comfortable with that gun, and she was way too cool under pressure for a normal eighteen year old girl; even one who’d been mugged before. There was a difference between being used to something, and being comfortable with it; especially when it was a potentially violent scenario. This whole situation showed Anika that Liz was hiding something.

<Sorry Becca,> Anika knew she’d be apologizing a lot in the future for her interactions with Liz. <I just don’t trust her.>

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