A Change of Pace – Chapter 5

Reaper’s world was a mix of sweat and blood as she stumbled across the rooftop frantically looking for cover. <Stupid…Stupid…Stupid,> she berated herself as she swiveled her head around looking for their assailant.

The intelligence brief said it was supposed to be a simple jewelry heist. A couple guys with guns was nothing a pair of seasoned Heroes couldn’t deal with. Plus, they had their intern present. Three highly trained Supers were enough to handle the situation. Unfortunately, a few guys with guns magically became three guys with guns and a Demolition class blaster. Reaper’s sensitivity to energy was the only reason she and Miriam, the Hero, See Through, were still alive. See Through’s sidekick wasn’t so lucky.

They’d been rounding up the three gunmen, whose bullet’s Reaper was able to kinetically absorb, when an energy sphere the size of a car landed among them. Reaper was able to scream “RUN” and cover a short distance before the sphere hit. See Through’s side kick was turned to ash, See Through herself was blasted across the street, and Reaper received a shredded arm and broken leg courtesy of a trip through a brick wall. From there it was a game of cat and mouse as the blaster sadistically hunted his prey. It was a game that would have ended quickly with Reaper being a very charred and very dead mouse if not for See Through. The other Hero was able to recover and draw the blaster’s attention long enough for Reaper to scramble for cover.

“You Hero bitches think you’re a match for me!” the laughter echoed across the rooftop, punctuated by another exploding sphere.

Reaper grunted with pain as the shifting landscape stressed her broken leg. She knew it was broken in at least three places and she had a moderate concussion. On the bright side her makeshift tourniquet stopped the bleeding from her arm, but not before the blood loss and mild brain injury interfered with her abilities. The ambush robbed her of two of her three power sets. She wasn’t able to drain the blaster’s life energy, no matter how much she wanted to filet his soul from his body, because every time she tried to concentrate it felt like someone was driving a knife into her brain. The last thing she wanted to do was pass out. She also wasn’t able to absorb much more kinetic energy. Her whole world shattered in agony when she tried to focus. She counted herself lucky she’d been able to retreat to the roof without feinting. Electricity came to her as easy as breathing, but her control wasn’t great in her current condition.

“Gottcha!” the blaster’s triumph was accompanied by See Through’s scream.

“Miriam!” Reaper jumped from her hiding place just in time to see a small sphere strike her friend in the chest.

She rolled to her side as the blaster took aim at her and must have blacked out for a moment. When she came to the Super criminal was advancing on her with a sick smile on his face. A crackling sphere hovered before him casting a haunting shadow across his face.

“Die you son-of-a-bitch!” Miriam, who Reaper and the blaster both thought was dead, pulled a gun from her costume and pointed it at the criminal.

Her mask was torn revealing her real face. Blood poured from her mouth and the entire front of her costume was charred. Despite this her eyes were intently focused and her hand was steady. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as the blaster began to turn, intent on throwing the sphere meant for Reaper at the bigger threat. Mid way through the turn the gun rang out once…twice…three times. The blaster spun around from the force of the impact with a smoking hole between his now dead eyes, but not before the sphere was flying towards the downed Hero. Reaper was already moving towards her friend, desperate to get there before the sphere. She wasn’t nearly fast enough.

The sphere was off target but that didn’t make it any less devastating. Miriam was blown off the rooftop, her broken body flailing weakly against gravity’s pull. Reaper futilely threw herself against the roof’s edge desperately reaching for a friend she already knew was lost.

“Miriam!” fearful eyes stared back at Reaper as the inevitable sunk in.

One minute Miriam, See Through, was alive and the next she was road kill in a garbage filled alley. Life was just that fleeting…

 

***

 

Daisy awoke sobbing, the phantom pain of her ancient injuries feeling all too real. She was lying in a pool of cold sweat coursing with static electricity, which caused her blond hair to stand on end. She let the sobs wrack her body for several minutes. She knew better than to try and stop it. It would only get worse if she did. Soon her eyes ran dry and the snot was cleared away with a few tissues. Calm careful breaths centered her and she pushed the death of an old friend to the back of her mind.

<I knew I should have had that drink,> she looked at the clock reading 4:15 and sighed. <Might as well get up now.>

            While an active duty Hero Daisy always slept in her costume. Crime never rested so she needed to be ready at a moment’s notice. The only exceptions were DVA forced leave, the rare personal vacation, and even rarer circumstance when she was with someone. Since her diagnosis she’d found it easier to sleep in the buff, when she actually had a bed to sleep in. It saved a lot of time on laundry.

She rose slowly. The phantom aches were gone but her mind told her to be cautious. After a few shoulder and knee rotations she moved quickly to the shower. Warm water cascaded over her, washing away her sweat and anxiety. She’d always loved the few minutes she was able to grab for herself in the little slice of heaven. She was able to collect herself, focus, and prioritize her day while basking in heated bliss. If she could hide away in a shower forever she would, but life was never so accommodating.

She switched off the water and grabbed two towels. She wrapped one around herself and another around her hair as she brushed her teeth and went to her closet. The lack of options was frustrating but she believed workout sweats would be good enough for orientation. The sweats were black with red lining just like her old costume. She laid them on the bed and went to spit and rinse with mouthwash. With that complete she began to brush her hair. Two years of minimum maintenance left it much longer than she liked. She needed to ask Maria or Grace where a good salon was.

<Maria will want to make it a girl’s night out. Then Chrissy will get wind of it and insist we have dinner at one of her places. Grace will get forced into it against her will, but she’s probably used to it,> Daisy sighed as she accepted the inevitable hypothetical.

A few more minutes of personal hygiene completed her ritual so she dressed and made her way to the kitchen. She already felt bad about the number of sweets from the previous night so she dug through the cabinets and began to make some egg whites and oatmeal. She cut up an apple to give the plain oatmeal a little more flavor and resisted putting cheese on the eggs. It was a bland breakfast but it would give her the energy needed until lunch. Plus, everyone knew a Heroes real breakfast staple was coffee.

Daisy was very particular about how she took her coffee. She wasn’t too hung up on the coffee type but she liked the breakfast blends. 3/4th of the cup was coffee with the remaining quarter being organic chocolate soy milk. She’d been drinking it for so long that regular milk made the whole cup taste like mud. This was followed by one small spoonful of sugar with a second scoop that just covered the tip of the spoon. She knew it was a little OCD but she could taste the difference if her caffeine ritual wasn’t followed precisely.

With her coffee made she let it sit while she finished drying her hair. She would microwave it for thirty seconds when she was ready to finally drink it. She blow dried, did a second comb, and put its length into a ponytail. She was unsure what today would hold, but she doubted her hair obscuring her vision would be a good thing.

She popped the coffee in the microwave and took another look at the clock. 4:49, 34 minutes from wake up to heading out the door. It was slower than Daisy usually was but since it was the first day she took the extra few minutes. The microwave beeped and she removed the cup to pour it in a travel mug. Ready for the day Daisy headed to her closet, punched in the code, and took the elevator down to the HCP. She was five minutes early when she walked into Craig’s office.

“Good morning,” the speedster looked like he wanted to say something, but instead went with, “You sleep well?”

“No,” Daisy’s reply was curt. She tended to be cranky until she finished her coffee. “But thanks for asking.” She took a seat opposite her fellow instructor and waited.

“Well then…”Craig was clearly uncomfortable so Daisy interjected.

“Craig, you were straight with me yesterday so I’ll do the same for you now.” She took a deep breath. “I’m here to do my job, a job you yourself said was more important that I was making it out to be. I will do this to the best of my ability and I will become a Hero again. If you every treat me less than you would another Hero I will personally leave your corpse on the side of the road for your wife and children to find. Do you understand me?” the hardness in her voice could have been chiseled of John’s shifted form.

Craig ran the gauntlet from startled to angry before settling into his comical grin. He added a chuckle for emphasis before acknowledging her point. “I promise I’ll treat you the same I would anyone else,” he crossed his heart and hoped to die.

“Now that we have that out of the way give me the run down on the day,” Daisy was very interested in how the modern HCP operated.

“Today is pretty straight forward,” Craig pulled a stack of folders from beneath his desk and split them in half. “We’re going to spend the next hour going through the 57 freshman files. Then at 6 we’re going to go on stage with the Dean and give our introductions. Boss man is going to give them the facts which will mess with their heads. We’ll say who we are and what we do. After that we’ll move down to the gym, split the group in half, and then we’ll each fight half of the class.”

“What now?” Daisy’s shocked expression coaxed another chuckle from the speedster.

“We will each fight half of the freshman class,” Craig repeated. “The purpose of freshman year is to first breakdown any bad habits that have formed. With the majority of these guys and gals being the only Supers around, they have an inflated sense of superiority and big egos. We’ll put that to bed here before classes even start. We might even loose a few who can’t cope.”

“So we beat the crap out of some teenage Supers, then what?” Daisy was intimately familiar with the method of teaching, but was surprised they practiced it in the HCP. She’d always attributed the style to ForceOps or the conventional military.

“It isn’t just us kicking the crap out of these kids, we are going to give them some motivation,” Craig’s grin became practically evil. “If no one scores a hit on us, then we go for a little jog. Five miles at a bare minimum seven minute pace, nothing too difficult. If someone can’t make it then they wash out on the spot. However,” he continued when Daisy failed to see the motivation. “If someone does land a hit on either of us then we fight each other.” This time Daisy’s grin was the evil one.

“Has anyone ever scored a hit on you or Maria?” she asked curiously.

“Someone actually tagged me last year,” Craig sighed.

“So your whole break down their ego method didn’t work?” she was growing more skeptical of this course of action.

“On the contrary, we did more to impress the students when we actually fought one another,” Craig admitted. “Showing them what two trained Heroes can actually do scared some of them more than us kicking all their asses. So it’s a win-win for us,” his comical grin was back.

“Interesting,” Daisy pondered the scenario while flipping through the students files.

There were some interesting power sets in this class. Just from the reading material she doubted a number of students would make it through the first week, but she wasn’t ruling out any surprises. Getting selected into a HCP was not an accomplishment to be taken lightly. The two Supers sat silently reading over the available information until 5:50 rolled around. Craig noted the time and they returned the files to their place under his desk. Before leaving for the auditorium he pulled what looked like a fake pregnant belly from the closet behind his desk.

“I like to employ deception,” he stated, seeing Daisy’s confused expression.

She couldn’t help but laugh as the fit speedster transformed into a chubby middle aged man. “Whatever floats your boat,” she followed the transformed instructor out of the office section and towards the auditorium.

“Looking good, Professor McMillian!”

“Go get’em Professor!”

Gray and white clad students cheered as Craig walked down the hall. It seemed this wasn’t the first time this deception was used, and the upperclassmen were eager for their younger counterparts to suffer just as they did. While students cheered, hollered, and even gave the amiable teacher pats on the back no one approached Daisy. She received a number of “Good morning, Professor” and “Welcome to West HCP, Professor”. They were all respectful but standoffish. She was an unknown variable, and like any good Hero they were approaching with caution.

<At least they’re teaching them something right,> she thought as she followed Craig through a side door to the auditorium’s back stage area.

She could hear talking from beyond the curtain and feel the undercurrent of fear and excitement. John was waiting for them with a series of notecards. He looked up as they entered and sighed.

“Craig, are you ever going to put this routine to bed?” he motioned at the protruding belly.

“I’ll stop doing it when it stops working, Boss,” Craig replied, his comical grin eager.

“So be it,” John looked at his watch. “You’ve got two minutes, so work out any kinks you two might have before we go out there.” John moved away to stand next to the curtain.

“So how do you want to play this?” Craig asked, patting his belly to get into character.

“How do you usually play it,” Daisy couldn’t keep the smile off her face, and she knew she needed to get a handle on it before going out on that stage.

“We usually did a bad cop worse cop routine. Maria was usually the worse cop because she looks the part. Although, that squeaky voice of hers ruined her delivery.” Craig explained.

Daisy read between the lines. “I know I’m a natural bitch, Craig,” the speedster simply nodded in acknowledgement. “I’ll be the worse cop.”

“Glad you worked that out,” John interrupted before pressing a button on a controller he was holding. “Because now it’s show time.”

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