A Change of Pace – Chapter 34

<Everything is going to be just fine,> Daisy pulled aside the window curtain to see the black SUV pulling up.

It was pretty early in the morning, and after a holiday like Halloween, that meant nearly the entire student body was still passed out. Daisy and Craig had only finished their patrol a few hours ago, so she was going on minimal sleep. But she was still wide awake.

<Everything is going to be just fine,> she repeated the chant over and over in her mind. <Grace and Topher have both hinted as much. I’ll probably get a slap on the wrist, some shit DVA tasking for a little bit, but then everything will get back to normal,> she hoped this was more than just wishful thinking.

The black SUV, with government plates, gave a single honk from the curb. <Could you be any more conspicuous,> Daisy grumbled. If it wasn’t the day after Halloween then she might have had a problem with it. <Real subtle Clark.>

                Daisy was dressed to impress today. A freshly washed and ironed blazer, a professional white blouse, dress pants, and a pair of heels. It was not her style in the slightest, but she hoped the people who were going to decide her fate saw the effort she was putting forth. She couldn’t guarantee that her mouth would be as professional, especially around Agent Clark, but she was trying.

Daisy left the house, turning the key to engage the home defense system, and hopped into the back of the DVA SUV. She didn’t recognize the driver. He was most likely a low level agent who got the shit duties like every low level individual in any organization in the world. She didn’t bother to make conversation with the young man, she could already tell he was sweating being in the same car as her. He probably didn’t know who she was, but he knew enough to know that she was someone important.

The roads were nearly empty on the drive into Orlando. Students weren’t the only people who participated in Halloween. Parents had to drag around their kids, and then weather the sugar induced storm when they got home. Young professionals were still trying to hang on to the remains of youth, and partied just as hard, if not harder, than college students. It was early enough that people who didn’t revel in the costume themed holiday weren’t out and about yet. It all made for a smooth and uneventful drive. With the way things were going in her life, Daisy was half expecting a mercenary team to repel from a helicopter and try to take her out.

<That’s just your paranoia talking,> Daisy tried, and failed, to convince herself.

The SUV did a few laps around the headquarters of the Orlando Protectorate to make sure it wasn’t being followed. It was a pretty standard procedure, and Daisy was glad that the young DVA agent at least had some common sense. Even though the surroundings looked harmless, you could never be too careful.

<No one’s tailing us, no spotters on the roof, enemy Supers…hell if I know,> Daisy reached out with her ability to the entire half mile within her range.

There were fifteen Supers in the half mile around the Orlando Protectorate’s headquarters. She recognized John’s life thread inside the building; his human thread flashing in and out of existence with an impossibly strong, thick thread of metal cable. She also recognized the threads of the Orlando Protectorate, including Galavant. Being the low man on the totem pole, Ronnie probably got the worst shift during the holiday. Aside from them, there was another Super in the building, probably a police officer who couldn’t cut it in the HCP but had a minor power that helped him solve crimes. Daisy had seen other Supers choose similar careers over the years. Then there were the regular old civilians, or what she assumed were civilians. There could be enemies hiding close by, but without closer inspection, it was impossible to tell.

Daisy kept her eyes peeled for any sign of an attack as the SUV stopped circling the buildings, and slipped into an underground garage. Once inside the concrete structure, the SUV circled to the bottom level and then passed through another reinforced, key code protected door. This section of the garage held the DVA vehicles assigned to the Protectorate and any other visiting DVA employee.

<Including Agent Asshole,> the man in question was waiting for Daisy, with three other black suited agents, by the private elevator.

Daisy took a deep breath, and fixed a fake smile to her face before exiting the vehicle. “Agent Clark,” her voice conveyed a pleasantness her eyes never could. “Glad to see you again.”

“Ms. Meyers,” the DVA Agent accepted her hand, and tried to squeeze it into a pulp, but she just sucked in the little kinetic energy he was able to produce. “Please follow me.”

The four DVA agents immediately formed a square around her, and guided her into the elevator. Daisy unconsciously shifted her stance and position once inside. Despite the official nature of the group, Daisy still felt like she was about to get ambushed, so she planned accordingly.

The elevator ride was just as uneventful as the drive over, so Daisy refrained from sighing in relief when the twin metal doors slid open to admit them into the Protectorate’s headquarters.

<An elevator that leads right into their operations center; that’s just stupid,> Daisy made a mental note to tell Galavant that his boss was an idiot for at least not having another layer of security. <Even a locked door is better than nothing.> If it slowed the enemy down for a second, then that gave you a second to react. A second was all Reaper needed.

“Good morning, Daisy. Glad you made it on time. If you could extend this practice to our staff meetings I would greatly appreciate it,” John greeted her with a straight face, but the joke made his eyes twinkle.

She took that as a good sign. “If you send a personal driver to my house every time then we can make it a regular thing,” she countered with a grin.

“So Ms. Meyers is regularly tardy to her professorial duties,” Agent Clark jumped on their friendly banter like a hyena.

“It’s a joke, Clark, read the room,” Daisy chided him just like he was one of her students. It wasn’t the best way to start the meeting, but she couldn’t help it. Clark had a talent for being a douchebag.

“Enough joking around, let’s get started,” his mouth was set in a firm line as he gestured toward the interrogation room he’d used in all of their interactions.

Nothing had changed in the room, just like the man sitting across from her. The walls were still a smooth metallic gray, there was a single metal table in the center; but this time it had three chairs. As the Dean, and one of Daisy’s character witnesses, John was allowed to sit in on the verdict.

If it was even possible, there was more paperwork on the table between them than any of their previous meetings. It was all neatly arranged with the digital recording device prominently displayed in the center. Like every time Daisy saw the contraption, she wished for the old school ones using magnetic tape.

“This conversation is between Agent Clark of the DVA, Daisy Lee Meyers, the former Hero, Reaper, and the Dean of West Private University’s HCP, John Ditmar,” Daisy bit her tongue on the whole former Hero bit; mostly out of respect for John. “Thank you for attending, Dean Ditmar. I know you are a busy man, so I will start with the matter that concerns your students.”

“I’ve cleared my schedule for this important debrief, Agent Clark,” John smoothly countered the agent. “Please continue at your convenience.”

<You tell him, John,> it was obvious Clark wanted to get Daisy alone, and John was putting his foot down to prevent that. Probably because she would open her mouth and insert her foot if she had the chance.

“Thank you, Dean Ditmar,” Clark’s tone was pleasant, but Daisy caught the eye twitch behind the agent’s tinted glasses.

“The first matter is to discuss the illegal use of super abilities, in a combat situation, by three of your HCP students; a Miss Rebecca Whitfield, Miss Anika Kemps, and Mr. Seth Abney,” Clark pulled three files from the top of the mountain of folders. “After careful review of the situation surrounding the illegal use of powers a letter of reprimand is being put into each of the HCP student’s official records.”

The anger that was always present within Daisy rose up like a beast out of some ancient legend. <I’m going to rip you’re fucking heart out! No one messed with my kids!> she mentally screamed, and her face must have showed it.

John placed a hand firmly on her thigh, out of sight of the DVA agent. In his human form, John couldn’t have stopped Daisy if his life depended on it, but there was a more profound power behind the gesture. His touch ate away at Daisy’s anger by providing a measure of reassurance. That brought her down from wanting to rip Clark’s head off to just daydreaming of strangling him to death.

“The law is clear about using Super abilities without a certification, and the law is in place so that untrained Supers don’t do more harm than good when they decide to intervene in a situation,” Daisy noticed Clark didn’t look as happy as he should. “However, considering the individual situation, a certificate of appreciation for their gallantry is also being entered into their official file, and the fine associated with their behavior is being waved.”

Daisy’s whole body unwound instantly. <Of course John wasn’t going to let something happen to our students. He said that in his opening speech, at the beginning of the semester, he’d have their backs if they acted like a Hero when a Hero was needed.> John gave her knee a confirming pat.

“Since there has been no SI infraction reported in the last few months, the DVA has recommended that they continue in the HCP program.” Daisy couldn’t stop the victorious smile that crept onto her face.

“That is good news,” John spoke up, so the recorder caught everything he was saying. “I would like to thank you, Agent Clark, for diligently and righteously perusing this case, and coming to a fair and lawful conclusion.”

“No thanks are necessary, Dean Ditmar, I’m just doing my job,” Daisy could tell there was nothing Clark wanted to do more than take a swing at the pair of Supers sitting across from him. “Let’s move on to the second matter at hand; Ms. Meyers’ conduct on the night in question.”

Daisy took a deep breath to steady her nerves. Despite everyone telling her that she was going to get off today, she still felt nervous. <That’s because you know you did something wrong,> she told herself, even though “wrong” might not be the best description.

What Daisy had done was take a risk, a risk that could have ended with a lot of dead civilians and a few dead Supers. In her gut she also knew that she’d made the best call she could. With things moving fast, chaos taking over, and a real security situation involving Kemps; Daisy didn’t really have another choice. She knew it was the DVA’s job to look at how things could have unfolded, and her suspended certification, and multiple infractions weren’t helping. Still, she hoped they made the right call; because in the end nothing terrible had happened. That was a lot better than what would have happened if Hellgate got away with Anika.

<It’s a Hero’s job to make those calls,> that was something Agent Clark, and his other vindictive colleagues, could never understand.

“After carefully reviewing the facts, and circumstances, of the situation at Sprout Coffee,” Daisy noticed how he mumbled through the “circumstances” part. “Our investigation has concluded that Daisy Lee Meyers, the former Hero, Reaper, made a judgment call that led to the best possible outcome. There were exigent circumstances to the situation, which were relayed to me through official channels, which confirmed Ms. Meyers’ actions were in keeping with the appropriate behavior of a Hero and HCP instructor.” Agent Clark looked like he was swallowing nails as he read his statement. “The findings of the investigation recommend that Ms. Meyers continue as an instructor for West Private University’s HCP, as she embodies the behaviors desired in modern Heroes.”

Daisy had to bite her tongue to not ask Agent Clark to repeat that last part. Grace and Topher had been right, she was going to be able to stay an instructor, and more importantly, was going to be able to go on that date tonight.

<Goodbye house arrest,> she couldn’t hide her grin.

“That being said,” Daisy felt her heart stop beating for a moment at the ominous lead in. “The DVA still recognizes that Ms. Meyers has shown a pattern of practice for using her abilities without a certification, and in hazardous conditions. Although those actions have been deemed warranted on multiple occasions, the pattern concerns the department. As such,” Clark was the one grinning now. “An addendum has been added to Ms. Meyers file. She will need to go a full year without having used her abilities in a compromising situation before she can apply for recertification.”

<You son of a bitch,> Daisy’s smile turned into a scowl, but before she could say anything, John placed a restraining hand back on her thigh.

“Thank you for your thorough investigation, Agent Clark. I’m sure Daisy is more than capable of meeting those requirements to recertify. We all just want what is best for the civilian population we are charged with protecting,” John’s smile was sweet, taking a lot of the sting out of Clark’s statement.

“Again, Dean Ditmar, I’m just doing my job,” Clark kept up the façade of the professional agent, even though everyone in the room knew it was total bullshit at this point.

Clark had been told by his superiors to let Daisy off easy. Clark knew it, John knew it, and Daisy had pieced it together during the conversation. That the DVA agent was only able to make a one year, no powers clause stick was a testament to the people who didn’t want Daisy out of a job again. Daisy wasn’t stupid enough to think she had a get out of jail free card, but she did know she had benefactors in high places. She also knew that her biggest one was sitting right beside her.

“To complete the debriefing I just need you to sign some paperwork,” Agent Clark placed a new, black, government issued pen in front of Daisy.

Some paperwork was code for signing and initialing every third form in the three foot high stack of paper. By the time Daisy was done, her hand was cramping so much she doubted she could make a fist to throw a punch.

“This completes the debrief of investigation number 84620263,” Clark concluded before he shut off the recorder. The action surprised Daisy, and then she found out why. “I don’t know who you know, or how you pulled this off,” Clark was leaning across the desk, ignoring John, and trying to be intimidating. “But I’ve got my eye on you now. Every step you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you. You can count on that Meyers.”

“Isn’t that a song,” Daisy turned to John. “Every step you take…” she tried to match the DVA agent’s words to tune in her head.

Instead of being flippant about the whole thing, John took a more direct route. “Remember your place, Agent Clark,” the small Dean got to his feet, and adjusted his tweed blazer. “There are things you don’t know, that are way above your pay grade. This decision was made for a reason, and is not something me, or your superiors, take lightly.” John’s level stare wasn’t threatening, but it conveyed a truth that stopped Clark in his tracks. “It is your right as our civilian overseers to keep tabs on people of interest,” John continued once he’d knocked Clark off balance. “But if I get a whiff that you are abusing your authority, or exploiting people in my program, you’re going to find yourself one the opposite side of this table, and you will…not…like…it.”

<How does he do that?> Daisy still found it amazing that the small statured man could put just the right emphasis, on four little words, and get a reaction out of people. She could practically see Clark’s wide eyes behind his sunglasses.

“You’re kind of a bad ass,” Daisy stated, once they’d left the interrogation room. She gave Ronnie a thumbs up, and got an ear to ear grin in return before he ran off to tell everyone who would listen to him.

“You don’t get to be an HCP dean by playing nice,” John replied calmly. “You’ve got to know just how the system works, and the last thing on Agent Clark’s mind was him being in trouble for investigating Supers. People like him forget that Heroes are really here to help people, and the amount of good they do gets weighed in every decision made about them. This has been a lesson for him, and I doubt he’ll make the same assumptions again.” John stopped, and turned to Daisy with a serious expression. “Lay low, and toe the line for the next few months. If you do something again, I don’t think I’ll be able to help you.”

“You know I just can’t sit back and let people get kidnapped or hurt,” Daisy replied just as seriously.

“Then don’t find yourself in those situations, at least for a few months,” John added when he saw her raised eyebrows. “I know you’re a magnet for trouble; always have been, probably always will be. But please, for once, can you give it a rest and let this blow over.”

“I promise I won’t go searching for fights; but like you said, trouble always seems to find me,” Daisy shrugged, and resumed following John into the elevator, and back down to the private garage.

“I guess that’s the best I can hope for,” Daisy knew John sincerely wished nothing would go wrong, but Daisy was a firm believer in Murphy’s Law.

<If anything can go wrong, it will.>

 

***

 

<Everything is going to be just fine,> Kyoshi reassured herself as she walked through the metallic, sci-fi feeling corridors of the HCP complex. <You can do this. You’ve picked the best possible match up, and you’ve done your homework on him. You can win this.> Mason must have felt her gripping his hand tighter as they reached the observation room.

He turned to her with a smile. “I have complete confidence in you,” he returned her stressful squeeze with a reassuring one of his own. “He’s going to be a tough opponent, so don’t underestimate him. I’ve been watching him in physical training and he is definitely putting in the effort. I still think he’s a little upset about his loss to me, so hopefully he doesn’t take it out on you.”

Kyoshi couldn’t tell if Mason was joking or just being ignorant about the comment. Either one could be true.

Ever since their holiday weekend at the beach, Kyoshi knew she needed to start moving up the ranks. Sitting where she was, wasn’t going to cut it if she wanted to advance with Mason. She was already in the top half of the class, but she hadn’t done anything since the initial ranking matches. She found herself in that spot where she was high enough to be comfortable with her standing, but not high enough for people to consider her a threat. If her classmates didn’t consider her a threat then the instructors wouldn’t consider her Hero potential. She needed to change that.

She’d been working her ass off in physical training, and putting in extra training with Professor Livingston. The older advanced mind had given her some great exercises to focus her control of her power’s special nature, and she finally felt confident enough to use it.

“Being confident doesn’t mean you’re without fear,” Coach Meyers had told Kyoshi when she finally went to her to make the challenge, and get some advice. “Having a fear of your power is healthy because it helps you control it.” The instructor’s words of wisdom echoed in Kyoshi’s mind as she looked up at the screen.

<I’m still scared pretty shitless,> Kyoshi kept that thought to herself.

Her big boyfriend was a rock of encouragement. She could feel that comfort emanating through his every thought. “You’ve got this, Kyoshi. You’re going to go in there and whoop some ass,” he was grinning like a guy at the start of the Super Bowl.

“Thanks,” her voice wasn’t as confident as she wanted it to sound.

Mason wrapped her in a hug, and gave her a kiss for good luck before pushing her toward the door. “I’ll be right here after you win.”

<Positive encouragement, positive thoughts,> Kyoshi was grateful, even if her rational mind knew words couldn’t take the hits when she stepped into that combat cell. <Well hopefully I won’t have to take too many of those.>

                Kyoshi had put a lot of time and effort into choosing her opponent. Danny Mason, who people always called Danny in order to not confuse him with Mason, was a duplicator. The boy was an average 5’8” with an average build that had slimmed down over the course of their physical training. She’d been watching him in class, and she knew she was much better trained than him. She also had the advantage in reach and weight, and that was the only time she was going to admit being happy at weighing more than most women.

The key to fighting Danny was finding the original. That was always the case with duplicators. As an advanced mind, Kyoshi had the power set that could see through Danny’s defenses. She could pick out the real Super from his thoughts and take him down. She just needed to be able to get to him quickly. Danny could produce duplication relatively quickly from what she’d researched; one every ten seconds. He could make some quicker, but they’d come out wrong.

Kyoshi had developed two plans to fight Danny. Plan A was to bull rush him and use her superior training to take him down fast. He’d likely pop out a clone right at the beginning of the battle, so she’d only have to fight two on one right off the bat. Fighting multiple opponents was never a good idea, no matter how well you were trained, but Kyoshi could handle two. Three was a whole other story. If Danny was able to produce multiple clones then she needed to move to Plan B.

Plan B was using her power, her real power; the power that still caused nightmares every once and a while. Needless to say, Kyoshi desperately wanted Plan A to work.

Before she knew it, and before she was ready for it, Kyoshi was standing at the reinforced combat cell door. She knew she couldn’t hesitate at the door. Scared, unsure of her power Kyoshi needed to be left behind outside the cell; cool, confident Kyoshi need to be the only one in the fight. That was exactly what she did.

<Multiply, strike, maneuver, multiply, strike, maneuver,> Danny was reciting his plan over and over in his head.

<Clever,> Kyoshi picked up on the attempt at mental shielding immediately.

No one in the freshman class, aside Angela, had a lot of training blocking out telepaths. If you thought you could simply clear your mind and be unreadable, you’d be wrong. Thoughts are always filtering through someone’s head, clearing your head is next to impossible. The next best thing was to think of something that was unrelated to what you were trying to hide. This was tougher than it sounds. People always thought about something important whether they wanted to or not. It was the whole concept behind asking a person not to think about something, and they’d immediately start thinking about it. It was just human nature to mentally respond. If you were about to go into a fight you were automatically thinking about your battle plan.

What Danny was doing was the best defense he could mount. He was projecting his surface thoughts loud and clear. < Multiply, strike, maneuver.> Kyoshi knew, that he knew, that it was the most logical plan. By keeping that at the forefront of his mind, he was able to make more precise plans deeper in his consciousness; he could then filter them down, and mentally yell the general concept of the plan. <Multiply, strike, maneuver.>

This left some advanced minds in the dark about the specifics, but Kyoshi was different. If she wanted to, Kyoshi could delve down into the deeper portions of Danny consciousness and rip out the more detailed aspects of his battle plan. The problem with that was that it wouldn’t be subtle, and it could have nasty side effects. With practice Professor Livingston said she could get better, but at this point in her training, Kyoshi didn’t want to risk it. She’d rather rely on what she knew she was good at.

“This challenge match has been initiated by number twenty-three ranked Kyoshi Schultz, and accepted by number nineteen ranked Danny Mason,” Kyoshi recognized Professor Livingston’s voice over the PA system. The match will start in thirty seconds, and will only end when one of you is unable to continue, or submits to your opponent. A reminder that lethal force is not authorized. Any use of such force will lead to immediate expulsion for the HCP, and possible criminal proceedings. Good luck,” the room went silent, and the clock started to tick down.

“Good luck, Kyoshi,” Danny gave her a smile from across the room.

Kyoshi got into position. Just like she knew the basics of Danny’ battle plan, he knew the basics of hers. She didn’t bother to hide that she was going to chase him down and beat him unconscious, so it was no surprise when he got in position to run away.

“This should be a good match,” she replied.

Despite the savageness that was about to ensue, Kyoshi knew Danny was a pretty good guy. She’d heard rumors that he was dating Fiona Richardson, the freshman class’ number 28th ranked teleporter. They were a cute couple.

<Three…two…one,> Kyoshi took off at a sprint towards Danny.

The duplicator smoothly slid to the side, leaving an exact clone of himself behind, before he turned to put the maximum distance between his clone and Kyoshi. On the view screens back in the observations room, which hadn’t been that full when Kyoshi walked in with Mason, the whole scene probably looked pretty intimidating. Kyoshi towered nearly a foot taller than the smaller man, probably had thirty or forty pounds on him, and was running him down like an out of control Mack truck. It was nearly comical to see the clone charge right at her.

Kyoshi reached out with her telepathy to the clones mind. <Attack, stop her, attack,> Danny’s commands sounded like an echo in the mindless creature’s head. It also told her a lot about where Danny stood with duplicators. The best duplicators could create self-sustaining, self-thinking clones. They were exactly the same as their creators in every single way. That category of duplicators was extremely rare, and closely tracked by the DVA. Most duplicators fell into a semi-sentient clone category. These duplicators could turn their clones loose without any commands and they’d be able to survive. They’d then be able to communicate any orders, usually within a limited space, and the clones would obey. The last category was duplicators whose clones needed to be continually given orders, and would then follow those orders, and only those orders.

From Kyoshi’s research into duplicators she guessed Danny was probably somewhere between the second and third categories, but she couldn’t be sure. And now was not the time to find out.

Kyoshi and the clone charged each other with neither willing to back down. Luckily for Kyoshi, she was well-equipped to handle the obstacle. A shimmering bar of telekinetic energy appeared at ankle level just in front of the charging clone. The poor creature didn’t even have time to react; he rushed into the small barrier at full speed. The sound of a braking shin wasn’t audible over the pounding of Kyoshi’s feet, but she saw the pain register on the clone’s face as it started to fall. Kyoshi ignored the pain of it impacting her barrier, and juked to the side like an NFL running back. She easily dodging the arm the clone threw out to try and catch her, and continued rushing Danny without losing much speed.

Danny was about twenty feet away, and running in the opposite direction. Both Supers had the endurance to run in circles for an hour, but that wouldn’t do Kyoshi any good. She reached out and summoned another telekinetic barrier at ankle length, but Danny was planning on it. He leapt over the barrier, splitting himself in midair. The second clone rolled to the side, jumped to its feet, and charged back at Kyoshi.

<I can still do this,> Kyoshi convinced herself to stick with Plan A for now. <Time to show these professors what I’m made of.>

Kyoshi had long ago accepted that her telekinesis was weak, and seeing people in the HCP like Jason only solidified that fact. The HCP had also taught her that you didn’t necessarily need to be strong to be good; brains were just as good as brawn, and Kyoshi had brains. She put her mind to the task, asking for help from her roommates, and consulting with her instructors along the way. The result was a few tricks she could use to increase her odds of winning.

Kyoshi barreled straight at the clone, not bothering to change direction. <Tackle!> Kyoshi heard the mental command, but didn’t give it time to execute. She reared back midstride and delivered a superman punch right to the clone’s forehead.

One of the tricks Kyoshi learned was to put her limited telekinetic reserves behind her punches. Its wasn’t anywhere close to a strongman’s punch; she knew because Mason had been her test dummy, but it increased her power five-fold. And the best part about it all was that it didn’t hurt her as much as her free standing constructs did. Practice had shown that the closer her telekinesis was to her body, or reinforced by something, the less pain it inflicted on her.

Kyoshi’s punch might have sent a small throb of pain through her head, but it caved in the skull of the clone, and turned it into a pile of white, chalky dust. She lost a lot of momentum with the move, but her long legs allowed her to make up ground with the fleeing duplicator.

They played a game of cat and mouse, running around the combat cell. After another few seconds Danny split off another clone, but this one didn’t attack. The clone kept pace with Danny as they continued to run away from Kyoshi. Ten seconds later a second another clone split off.

<I can still do this,> Kyoshi was within a few feet now, a few more seconds and she’d be able to reach out and grab him.

Six seconds later Danny split off a third clone.

<Oh my god,> the third clone was a half formed monstrosity, and it screamed its pain.

Its flesh sagged off it like it was being melted, its eyes weren’t fully formed so they leaked down his face, and its nose was just two slits cut in its skin. Its mouth only had half the teeth, but its vocal chords worked just fine. Its wail of anguish broke through Kyoshi’s concentration just as the two other clones stopped. Kyoshi slammed into them, and the four of them tumbled into a heap on the ground while Danny kept running.

<No,> Kyoshi felt a clone grab her leg and start to pull. She instinctively lashed out, kicking the clone in the face, and breaking its nose. Its howl of pain joined its half formed brother, just as another set of hands grabbed for Kyoshi.

She grabbed one of the flailing limbs, found a joint, and then torqued it in the opposite direction. She didn’t need telekinetic reinforcement to break the arm at the elbow. The third clone’s painful sobs joined the other two as Kyoshi rolled away and got back on her feet. The ground was not a place you wanted to be with multiple opponents. Her eyes scanned for Danny. He was standing about fifty feet away with another clone between her and him. She felt the adrenaline kick in as her legs started to carry her towards her target; only to get blindsided from behind.

The clone she’d tripped at the beginning of the battle had finally caught back up with her and executed a damn fine flying tackle. The blow knocked the wind out of Kyoshi and sent her crashing back to the ground. She rolled to her front to avoid getting choked, and the clone fell on her like a vicious animal; punches and spittle flying as it obeyed its master’s command.

Kyoshi raised her arms to protect her head. The action exposed her body, and the clone landed two clean blows to her ribs. She grunted in pain, but nothing was broken. The clone reared up for another strike, determined to bring a two handed strike down on her face. When most of his weight was leaning back she thrust her hips upward, bucking him off the ground enough so she could slide her arms between his legs and her torso. Before the clone could regain his balance, and finish the attack on her unprotected head, she pulled with all her strength, sending the clone flying forward, while she slid backwards between his legs. The clone threw its arms out to stop it from falling flat on its face. Kyoshi twisted, got her feet under her, jumped, and landed a telekinetically reinforced punch to the back to the clone’s head. It disintegrated into white dust, which she promptly fell into.

<Gross!> she got out of the chalky material, trying very hard not to gag.

While Kyoshi had been fighting off the clones on the ground Danny had been busy. It hadn’t taken more than thirty seconds to defeat the clones, but now three more duplicates stood between her and Danny, and another one slid of the Super as she thought of what to do.

<I can do four,> she lied to herself, looking for any reason not to use Plan B.

The four clones stepped away from Danny and started to encircle her. It was the best tactic, and would quickly overwhelm her if they all attacked at the same time. As much as Kyoshi wanted to believe she could take four clones, she couldn’t. As much as she didn’t want to do Plan B, she didn’t see another option. She kept her fists up, and on her toes in case she needed to run, but all her attention needed to be on the real Danny.

<Please let this work,> she knew that doing mental exercises, and doing the real thing in a combat situation were totally different; which was half the reason she had resisted until now. <Here goes nothing.>

<I’m sorry, Danny,> she sent out the mental apology, eliciting a confused expression for her opponent, before she grabbed his mind.

People had the misconception that the mind is a closed off, circular thing; that Supers can only infiltrate minds by bluntly beating at an encircling mental wall until it’s broken. That way of thinking is false. Kyoshi understood why people had that misunderstanding. People looked at pictures of a brain, which is pretty close to a circle, and they made the logical jump to assuming the mind was built the same way. Advanced minds knew better; they knew the differences between the brain and the mind.

The mind is abstract, not a definable construct like people make it out to be. There are no limits to the mind, which is why advanced minds are able to use telekinetic force outside their bodies, and read others’ thoughts over several miles. Some advanced minds can, and do, take a blunt force approach to banging on a person’s mental wall; that method is exhausting and can do damage to the target. Skilled advanced minds look for the edges of the mind, or the seams in a person consciousness. Heroes trained their careers to notice the fine signs of these mental phenomena. Kyoshi was born with this ability. She was a natural deep penetrator.

Kyoshi’s consciousness swept over Danny’s mental barriers, easily pinpointing the weak spots until she found the one she wanted to exploit. It was hard to describe what it looked and felt like, and to most advanced minds, they wouldn’t have noticed it at all.

<I need to move quickly,> the four clones had nearly trapped her, and would soon start their attack.

Kyoshi took a big mental breath, stabbed her metaphorical hands into the weak spot, yanked it open, and dove in.

The hardest part about deep penetration telepathy was staying anchored to your real world self. The human mind was a very very big place, and if Kyoshi wasn’t careful she could get lost in there; leaving both her and Danny in a vegetable state. That was the reason Professor Livingston was watching this challenge match, because she could stop that from happening. She didn’t have the same deep mental ability that Kyoshi did, but she didn’t need to find the weak spots; all she had to do was follow Kyoshi in, and pull her out if things got too risky.

Kyoshi’s problem in the past had been the fear of losing herself, and irreparably harming the person whose mind she was infiltrating. One of those problems had been solved. Ever since she started practicing with Professor Livingston, she’d been using Mason as her anchor. He was so strong and sturdy in her mind’s eye that he was perfect; and a little bit of love didn’t hurt.

Kyoshi felt wave after wave of images splash against her consciousness. Recent fragments of memories bounced off her like she was swimming through an asteroid field. The deeper she swam the older the memories became. She saw Danny and Fiona making out before physical training. She saw Danny getting his acceptance to West Private and the HCP. The pride was palpable in his mind, and the emotion nearly overwhelmed her.

<That’s something you don’t feel in the exercises,> Kyoshi focused on Mason’s face, and the emotion lessened.

She swam deeper.

Kyoshi saw a birthday party of a young Danny when he first developed his powers. She saw the fear in his parents’ eyes, and the judgment of the other children. Even at a young age people judged others who were different. She saw him getting picked on because of those differences until he got control of his ability. Even once he had control, and he faced the bullies with three times their numbers, he only did enough to make them stop. He never shamed them more than was necessary to get them to leave him alone.

The deeper she swam the more she got to know Danny Mason, and the worse she felt about doing this to him. It forced Kyoshi to cling tightly to the mental picture of her Mason; the feel of his skin on her hand, and the sensation of his lips on hers.

Kyoshi probably could have ended the fight at this point. Danny’s clones had vanished back in the combat cell, turned to white powder as their creator writhed in pain on the floor. She could have ended it all, but she didn’t. Her power was tantalizing, she wanted to know more, she wanted absolute control, and she knew how to get it.

<I think you’ve won Schultz?> Professor Livingston’s voice was a far off echo that was being transmitted to her through her disconnected body’s mental senses. It was good that she heard it, because if she didn’t she’d be in big trouble.

But she kept swimming deeper.

Kyoshi had only swum this deep once before. On that first day she’d used her ability to its full potential. She hadn’t been in full control then, and looking back, it was a miracle she hadn’t been lost in that boy’s mind forever; but now she was knew how to do it, now she had an anchor, and now she needed to prove to herself that she could use this to become a Hero.

<I can’t be afraid anymore,> Kyoshi said it to no one in particular.

She knew she was getting close. The memories here were of a very young Danny, and they were fuzzy. She doubted Danny could even access these memories of his early childhood. <Almost there,> she took one last stroke and she reached his core.

She felt like she was breaking the surface of a freezing lake. Her whole body shivered as sensation after sensation washed over it. She opened her eyes and gasped in air, but it wasn’t her eyes. Kyoshi looked across the combat cell at her body through Danny’s eyes.

Slowly she got Danny’s body to its feet, flexed his finger, toes, and did a few arm circles. She walked around in a circle, threw a few experimental punches, and even did some pushups. Everything felt off; everything wasn’t the proper height off the ground, her body was stronger, but things weren’t where they should be. Having different anatomical parts wasn’t something someone got used to in a few minutes.

<Miss Schultz,> Professor Livingston’s voice rang out louder than before, and with a bit of an edge.

<Oh yeah,> she looked up at the cameras and couldn’t help but smile.

“I, Danny Mason, surrender,” she bent down and tapped the ground three times for emphasis.

“Kyoshi Schultz is the victor,” Professor Livingston’s voice rang out over the PA system. “Please remain in the combat cell until the healers arrive.”

<Time to get out of here.>

Getting out was nothing like getting in. When Kyoshi made the swim deeper into Danny’s mind she had to fight through his consciousness. It wasn’t much of a fight because Danny was untrained, but it still took some time. It was like swimming against a weak current. Getting out was like being thrust along a raging river over Niagara Falls.

With a shudder that almost knocked Kyoshi’s body off her feet, she was violently ejected from Danny’s mind. When she opened her eyes everything was where right where it was supposed to be. She took a deep breath and looked back across the cell at Danny. He was blinking his eyes, and shaking his head like he was trying to clear the mental cobwebs. Then he saw Kyoshi.

“What the fuck!” he marched right over to the taller Super and threw a punch.

“Hey,” Kyoshi easily parried the strike, and pushed the smaller boy back with both hands.

“What the hell did you do to me?” she could see the frustration and anger in his eyes, and she didn’t blame him.

“Enough, Mr. Mason,” Professor Livingston’s voice echoed through the combat cell’s PA system, and an unseen force pushed him away from Kyoshi.

“What the fuck happened?” the boy’s anger was bleeding into confusion.

“You were defeated by Miss Schultz. I suggest you learn to accept defeat gracefully, or your time in this program will be short.”

“She was inside my head,” Danny grasped his head with both hands. “How did she…?”

“Miss Schultz is quite an adept advanced mind, Mr. Mason. I suggest you take that into consideration in the future.”

“That was so…wrong,” Danny looked back at Kyoshi now, confused eyes replaced with hurt and betrayal.

“I’m sorry, Danny,” Kyoshi knew not to take a step towards him, so she meekly crossed her hands in front of her and looked down at the ground.

“I don’t…you can’t…whatever,” he stopped trying to explain as the healers and Professor Livingston entered the cell. They quickly checked them over, and healed the bruise Kyoshi had on her side.

“You’re free to go Mr. Mason. Miss Schultz if you’ll follow me,” Kyoshi followed Professor Livingston out of the cell and down a hallway in the opposite direction Danny was headed.

“Did I do something wrong?” Kyoshi was scared now. She didn’t think she’d broken any rules, but there was a lot about her power that she didn’t understand. She might have broken some privacy rule that she didn’t even know about.

“Most likely, no,” the instructor replied, leading Kyoshi through the maze of hallways until they came to the staff offices. “But we are going to need to make a call to the DVA.”

“Oh…” from Kyoshi’s limited experience with the agency she didn’t take that as a good sign.

 

***

 

The soft knock echoed throughout John’s office, and when he didn’t immediately answer, a more determined knock interrupted his review of the student’s file.

“Come in,” he’d been waiting for the instructors, so he pulled out water and a bottle of expensive scotch.

Grace and Daisy entered the Dean’s office, both looking a little agitated. Seeing Daisy agitated was more common than seeing her happy. John had realized long ago to just let the famous Hero work out her agitation in her own way; as long as that way didn’t involve breaking anything expensive. If Craig was present, John would bet him Daisy would be in the gym for the next hour working off her stress.

Seeing Grace agitated was more uncommon, but he knew why his Focus instructor was in that particular frame of mind. A call with the DVA will do that to the calmest of Supers.

“Make it a double,” the advanced mind pointed at the glass and the bottom of scotch, but then hesitated.

“Get your drink on, Grace, I’m a big girl,” Daisy gave her the ok. “I’ll just take the water. I need to be hydrated for my workout.”

<And I could have won some money,> John sighed, ignoring the questioning stare from Grace.

“How was the call?” he decided to get right down to business as he finished pouring Grace’s drink.

“It’s official,” she accepted the glass, and took a big gulp. “The DVA reviewed the taped and the brainwave data we sent them; one hundred percent possession.”

“That’s ridiculous in someone her age,” Daisy had the best understanding of the scope of her statement. “Schultz is going to be a grade A ass kicker one day,” John sensed a hint of pride from his old friend.

“Even if she doesn’t make Hero, which I’ll admit, would surprise me with her power,” John clarified when he saw Grace’s expression. “But if for some reason she can’t make the cut, people are going to throw job offers at her; DVA, CIA, FBI, ForceOps, NSA, basically any three letter agency will sell their soul to get hold of her.”

“I bet she’ll make Hero,” Daisy’s statement held a finality to it. Despite John’s old friend’s unusual nature, she was a pretty good judge of character.

“You would have thought at the beginning of the semester that her boyfriend would be the more likely to make Hero,” Grace mused as she sipped the last of her scotch.

“Strongmen are a dime a dozen, but there are less than a ten advanced minds in the world who can pull off a full possession,” John replied bluntly. He liked Mason Jackson, but that didn’t change the statistics. “What do you think would happen if Miss Schultz advanced and Mr. Jackson didn’t?” John posed the question.

It clearly took the other Supers off guard, because they didn’t immediately have an answer.

“Jackson will make the cut for sophomore year,” Daisy finally answered. “He’s got the raw talent to take him places, but he needs to learn how to fight; and after that, he needs to learn how to fight dirty.”

Grace nodded her agreement. “Mason Jackson is a clean soul in a dirty business. As much as I would like to see more idealistic Heroes like him, he is not always what the world needs to keep going.”

John understood and agreed with what both of his instructors were saying. The world wasn’t a nice place, and Heroes needed to meet those horrors head first, and in some cases, be the horrors themselves.

“This is a discussion we can finish another day,” John nodded dismissal at the two women in front of him, and turned back to his review of Kyoshi Schultz’s updated folder.

<I need to have a discussion with Kyoshi and Anika,> John thought after his staff members left. <It’s just as dangerous for Anika to be around Kyoshi when she practices her possession, as it is for her to be around Daisy.>

John knew more than most how tough Anika’s life had been, so there was no need to put another target on her back.

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