A Change of Pace – Chapter 7

Daisy’s stony expression cracked under the shocked looks and exclamations from the Heroes in training. She couldn’t stop the chuckle from reaching her lips. She was supposed to be the worse cop in their little introduction duet, but this was just too priceless.

“What!”

“Is this a joke…”

“But there are 57 of us!” Craig latched onto the last shout from a blue haired girl.

“Hmmm…that’s a good point.” He turned to Daisy. “I’ll let the lady choose. I like to consider myself a gentleman.” He purposefully ignored the young Supers’ actual argument.

Daisy rolled her eyes, continuing to undermine her role. She looked out at the fear and surprise in the crowd. While in Craig’s office she’d read up on most of the people in the room. Knowledge was power, and having in-depth research on these kids was going to allow them to easily defeat them. There was no doubt she and Craig could take them without the information, but it would be nearly impossible without getting hit at least once. There were two specific people among this class who the instructors needed to keep an eye on to win Craig’s still unstated wager.

The big guy in the back was the obvious strongman in the room, and the information showed he was already high midlevel or low high level. He would pose a challenge to Craig. It didn’t matter how many times you could hit someone if you couldn’t hurt them. Craig’s above average strength would increase his odds, but they didn’t want to take the chance of the student getting a lucky hit. This wasn’t about simply winning; it was about winning so completely that it demoralized them. Watching how they reacted to an overwhelming defeat would give them a glimpse of the true fighters; those who took a beating and got back up ready for more. Whether or not these fifty seven teenagers knew it, they were about to step into the unknown. The HCP didn’t want people who feared this, they wanted those who embraced it.

However the room split up she would take the big guy. Her kryptonite among the students was the blue haired speedster. While specific uses of Daisy’s ability allowed for some pretty effective self-enhancements, there was no way she would be able to avoid getting hit by the speedster. She could take the hits no problem, but that defeated the purpose, so Craig would take that half.

“I’ll take the extra one,” she shrugged casually.

“There we have it,” Craig clapped excitedly, grinning like a fool.

“Do you honestly think you can take on half the class and win,” the question was followed by dead silence.

The poser of the question wore a cocky grin. Daisy mentally retrieved his information, and knew this little exercise in humility was developed specifically for people with his mentality. He’d been that big fish in a small pond. His ability would be formidable with training, but the training he’d done was child’s play at best. His current confidence was a hindrance not an asset, and would have gotten him killed if this was a real fight.

“You’re old and have had one too many donuts,” he pointed at Craig, the disgust evidence on his face. “And you look like you’ve got about five years on us,” Daisy took notice of the way his eyes lingered on her breasts. “How can you teach us to be Heroes much less beat half of us?”

<So you’re overconfident, a chauvinist pig, and don’t know when to keep your mouth shut,> Daisy ran through the mental checklist of things to discuss with the young man after he’d gotten his ass kicked.

“What is that old adage? With age comes wisdom,” several heads nodded in acknowledgement. “Well that’s bullshit,” her words cut like razor blades into the already rigid class. “With experience comes wisdom. Despite what we might look like we’ve got a hell of a lot of experience. But I’ll let my fists do the convincing,” she grinned evilly at the overconfident man, cracking her knuckles for added effect. “So to answer the second part of your question, I have no doubt I can take 29 of you. I could probably take all of you if Coach McMillian would let me, but then he doesn’t get to have any fun,” she chuckled at the man’s expression. It was mostly hate, but there was a trace of fear as well.

“What do you think Coach McMillian, should we offer them a little more incentive?” Craig jumped on the opportunity she provided.

“My fellow instructor is quite correct. The odds of half of you defeating one of us are infinitely small. That’s no fun, so here’s the deal,” his comical grin must have looked practically sadistic to the gathered freshmen. “If any of you can lay a single hand on us then you’ll get the distinct pleasure of watching your instructors duke it out.”

The anxious and confused faces of the students lit up at the idea. Some looked at the situation as a great training opportunity. Getting to see two Heroes fight was something you didn’t see every day. Others, like a certain cocky gentleman, undoubtedly just wanted to see his tormenters beat on each other. Others were more skeptical and waited for the other shoe to drop. These were the ones Daisy took note of.

“But…” Craig interrupted before they could get too vocal. “If you fail we’re going to do a light workout,” Daisy pitied the fools who thought anything in their physical training regimen would be light.

“Deal,” the arrogant boy, whose eyes continued to drift to Daisy’s curves, accepted.

“To the gym!” Craig yelled before anyone could dispute their classmate’s decision.

Like a Roman general leading his soldiers, Craig led the still coping students out of the auditorium and towards the “gym”. The space they used for physical training was a good distance from the auditorium for good reason. Daisy walked in silence beside Craig as their path began to slope gently downwards. Pre-fight butterflies were fluttering around her stomach. She knew it was silly to feel this way, but she hadn’t been in action in a while. She assured herself this was natural.

She was preoccupied enough that she missed the jaw dropping expressions the students wore when walking into their future seventh circle of hell.

“Every time you enter or exit this room you will do twenty pull-ups,” Craig motioned at a large double row of bars right next to the entryway. “Get to it.”

They didn’t move fast enough. “MOVE!” Daisy yelled, her voice echoing through the massive space.

Whoever had built the gym had gone to the Superdome in New Orleans and thought it too wimpy. Immediately to the right of the entrance were the rows of pull-up bars that were currently occupied by grunting students. Straight beyond the entrance was the room’s main attraction, the one mile track. A quarter mile track wasn’t enough in Daisy’s mind, too many turns to gather speed and not enough straightaways. The mile long circuit fixed that problem nicely.

West employed a station focused technique during their physical training sessions. The majority of the stations were scattered around the track with a single one being encompassed by it. Immediately to the right of the pull-ups bars was a wide empty space. This was mostly used for warm ups, cool downs, calisthenics, and the universally popular push-up. The empty space stretched for a bit before transforming into tile. The tiled area encircled an Olympic sized swimming pool. People easily forgot the 71% of the planet surface was water, and a Hero needed to be able to adapt to any environment.

Beyond the pool was a wide assortment of cardio equipment. There were no treadmills present, that would just be redundant with a perfectly good track nearby. Still the extra equipment added some variety to the fitness planning. Across the track from the cardio equipment was the free weights area. Dumbbells ranging from five pounds to five thousand pounds were orderly arrayed in front of a large mirror and collection of benches. Daisy was a fan of free weights. It forced you to use your muscles to stabilize more than machines did, but she recognized the physically-enhanced often needed more than what free weights could offer.

The machine section was the next station starting just to the left of the pull up bars. Everything from normal machines you’d see at any gym to industrial magnetic driven monstrosities populated this space. This was the section the strongmen would be drawn too. Those who could lift tanks would hone their abilities here. Last but not least was the final station contained within the track. Fifty roughly 20’x20’ electronically monitored circles glowed a vibrant green around their edges. This section was used for non-ability combat practice. Here the students who were as vulnerable as humans would learn to take a hit.

Daisy finished her survey of the room just as the last freshmen struggled to raise their chin above the bar. <That one isn’t going to last,> she thought as the students gathered before the instructors.

“Chin up,” Craig laughed at his own pun. “For those who make it you’ll fondly remember the days you only had to do twenty.” Pure hatred glared back at him.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” he pointed to the blue haired speedster standing right in front of him. “Everyone from you over is going to face me; the other side gets our lovely alternative instructor.”

The students began to move with a sense of urgency this time. Whether it was dread or excitement that drove them was inconsequential. “You!” Daisy’s voice cracked like a whip, singling out the smug teenager who’d been unfortunate enough to disrespect his instructors. “Get on my side.” The boy wasn’t quick enough to hide his sneer as he moved to the indicated section.

“Feel free to stretch,” Craig was doing a few ridiculous stretches that she knew were popular back in the seventies. He even made sure to thrust out his protruding belly.

He gave them five minutes to warmup. It was immediately obvious who’d had prior training. A few went through punching combinations while others practiced sprawling and other wrestling/MMA style techniques. Others looked around nervously and settled with basic stretches while one girl even sat down to meditate.

<Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world…AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH,> the girl’s eyes went wide and with a yelp she toppled out of her position. Her yellow eyes sought out Daisy with surprise and trepidation.

Daisy smiled impishly at her while Craig ushered his half of the students towards the empty space. It took a little work but he eventually managed to convince them that surrounding him offered them the best chance at success. Daisy tried very hard not to smash her hand into her forehead. <This is going to be a long year.>

Daisy was excited to see the upcoming fight, not because she expected anything from the students, but because she wanted to see Craig in action. She hadn’t had time do any research on the Hero, Shotgun, so she was eager to see his process. The problem with fulfilling that wish was that he was a speedster and would obviously be engaging his targets at impossible to follow speeds. Luckily, Daisy had a few tricks of her own.

The public had a rudimentary and rigid view of Supers in general, but particularly absorbers. It was mainly due to the Hollywood and media coverage of famous battles. Everyone thought absorbers absorbed whatever energy they could and then dished it back out at their opponents. While it was a measure of classification how much an absorber could store, how many different types of energy they could absorb, and how heavy their attacks could be. Daisy always found it was the little things that made her sorting truly great.

She was classified as a Manhattan Class once you put all her abilities together, but despite all the power she could bring to bear it would be a trickle of electricity that allowed her to observe Craig’s battle. Daisy summoned the familiar energy and focused it inward. She concentrated on her mind, allowing the minute current to stimulate her neurons into firing much more rapidly than naturally possible. It took her thirty years to perfect this technique, and even then she would need a healer if she continued this for more than ten minutes. She felt a stab of jealousy for the Supers with enhanced body control who could do this indefinitely without frying their brain. Still, this was better than nothing.

As her perception increased the world slowed around her. It was only then she could recognize the minute differences in Craig’s stance. In normal time he appeared to be standing still and surrounded by the students. With this new view she could tell that the man was subtly vibrating. She barely had time to divert some concentration to her kinetic absorption before the fight began.

“Gggggoooooo,” the word was enunciated in slow motion, and barely out of Craig’s mouth before a sonic boom blasted nearly everyone off their feet.

<I guess that’s why they call him, Shotgun,> Daisy thought as the pressure wave rocked her back but didn’t plow her over. <Going from zero to speed of sound instantaneously is a useful trick.>

Those students who were swept off their feet by the unexpected shockwave were quickly dispatched with precisely placed blows. Even with her heightened perception Daisy only saw a fleeting blur as Craig moved methodically through the students. Blasters couldn’t form projectiles before their jaws were broken, teleporter couldn’t wink away quick enough, and not a single shifter completed their transformation before they were decisively dealt with.

Daisy estimated a few seconds had passed until the only people standing were Craig and the blue haired speedster.

“Miss Whitfield, I congratulate you for lasting this longest.” The young Super’s eyes were wide as she surveyed her fallen compatriots, a few of whom had growing pools of blood around them. Craig’s fake belly was gone now, easily ripped away by the incredible speeds he’d achieved.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, rule number one!” Craig yelled to Daisy’s shocked students. “Always expect the unexpected,” he patted his flat belly for emphasis. “Don’t take what you see at face value, and always assume whatever you are facing can kill you.” He never took his eyes off the young speedster as he gave his little lecture. “Ok…technically that’s three separate rules, but we’re just gonna treat it like one.” He grinned before another sonic boom ripped through the gym.

Chasing down the other speedster took longer than before, about a full five seconds. It ended the same, with the young woman unconscious and a compound fracture in her right leg.

“Follow those rules and you might stay alive long enough to make a difference,” Daisy added her caveat to her group since the speedster skirmish ended on the other side of the gym.

“HEALER!” Craig’s voice boomed around the domed structure.

A previously undetected side door opened and a smiling man in a traditional white lab coat emerged. “Good afternoon, everyone,” his voice was jovial as he surveyed the battered bodies of 28 students. “I’m Dr. Sanderson, and my team of healers and I will be tending to your wounds throughout your time at West.”

The medical Super’s smile glowed in a very literal sense. Soon the glow spread like a fog to the incapacitated students. It didn’t move particularly quickly but it easily covered a wide area. After a few seconds submerged in the glowing mist students began to jump to their feet like the ground was on fire. The man continued to smile as the fog dissipated and the students looked around confused.

“Assemble over here,” in a flash Craig was standing beside Daisy.

Despite being unconscious moments before, the students sprinted to the designated area. No one wanted to piss off Coach McMillian after that display of power. Daisy released the flow of electricity and her perception returned to normal.

“My group, move,” she didn’t have to yell as the 29 students surged past her.

This group learned from their predecessor’s mistakes. Instead of gathering close to Daisy they gave her a wide berth. One student even ran all the way to the far side of the pool before turning to face her. Not that it would matter.

“Coach McMillian’s wager is still on the table. If one of you can land a hit on me then we’ll move directly into an instructor battle. If not, then we do our light workout,” she emphasized “workout” more than “light”.

“Bring it on,” the cocky boy stated confidently from near the back of the gathered students.

Daisy took a deep breath as she settled into a casual stance in the center of the empty space. The pre-fight butterflies were gone, replaced with the steely resolve of a seasoned warrior. As she exhaled she opened herself up to her most formidable ability. Fighting with kinetic and electrical blasts would undoubtedly end in her victory, but it wouldn’t serve the demoralizing purpose of this exercise. Especially now that half the class saw what a properly trained Hero could do.

As Daisy opened herself to her surroundings, a second sight if you will, the life force of her opponents popped into existence. They were always there hiding beneath the observable spectrum, her ability just brought them into focus. Threads were the best way she was able to identify the energy that flowed within a human being, and no two were the same. Over time she’d been exposed to enough Supers’ threads that she could generally gauge what the Supers’ ability was. It wasn’t nearly as reliable as solid intelligence or a good telepath, but it worked in a pinch.

She sorted quickly through the tangle of life lines, searching out the most formidable. The strongman was in the rear of the group and his life thread resembled a thick reinforced steel cable. It was sturdy, resilient, and tough to break. But they all broke eventually. She felt Craig and Miss Whitfield’s life threads, both taught rope that vibrated as if someone was constantly flicking it. The golden eyed telepath’s, whose meditation she disrupted, felt like someone dipped ordinary yarn into jelly or some type of lubricant. While the more traditional Super classifications were all relatively similar, it was the shifters Daisy truly enjoyed sensing. Shifters had not one but two threads that flickered in an out of existence in a constant war for dominance. She had two shifters in her group, both with a plain fiber for their first thread. One student’s second thread seemed to ooze some form of tar-like substance, while the other’s was a pure beam of brilliant pulsing light.

It took only a few seconds for Daisy to mentally sort the threats, and position her ability to take immediate action. She wouldn’t have been able to do that when she graduated from the HCP, but decades of experience drilled the muscle memory into her consciousness. When she graduated from the HCP she started at a kill zone of about fifty feet, but that range grew steadily to the 2640 feet she was currently able to achieve. Her ability was odd in that quantity within her range didn’t tax her. She could be draining 15 or 15000 people, but it all took the same level of concentration and energy use. However, if she tried to drain someone at 2641 feet she’d get nothing. Scientists much smarter than her theorized that she created a life sucking field or bubble, but had never been able to gather data to prove their hypothesizes. All she knew was that her power was constant.

Daisy wished she had a little more control over the application of her legendary ability. If she was able to exert more power on some than others it would be more effective. She could drain a regular human instantly, but it took her time to take down strongmen and healers with self-healing abilities. She knew she shouldn’t be complaining at having an ability she alone possessed, but sometimes she just needed to vent.

She looked at her group and began the count down, “Three…two…one…Go.”

Not one of the 29 students was able to take a step in her direction before she reached out with her ability and grabbed hold of their life threads. The reaction was instantaneous as all 29, even the strongman and healer, fell to their knees. Most of her group threw up, while others passed out, and were immediately followed by those who needed to finish emptying their stomachs first. One by one they dropped into unconsciousness, some trying and failing to fight the severe vertigo and weakness that eventually overwhelmed them. Only two were still standing ten seconds into her attack.

She saw Craig’s look of concern in her peripheries, but she waved him off. No one was in danger of getting their life drained. This was only the first step of what the press had dubiously names her “reaping” process. This was leeching. Leeching disrupted the natural flow of energy through the body. It caused nausea, dizziness, disorientation, weaknesses, and eventually unconsciousness. It was great for crowd control and subduing those criminal Supers who decided to surrender and commit to reforming their lives. To Daisy it felt like she was simply squeezing their life threads. If she wanted to fully drain their life force, a.k.a. reaping, she would sever the thread completely.

A quick look at the unconscious students showed that no one was in danger of drowning in their own vomit, so she casually advanced on the first of the two conscious students. He was a rail thin boy who looked like a light breeze would snap him in half. His hair was a dull blond and his iris’ were a sickly silver color. Daisy towered over his 5’7” stature, especially when he was on his knees. Overall, he looked more like a hospital patient than a healer.

“Just give in,” she suggested to the struggling Super. “Do it and the pain will stop.”

The boy’s eyes constantly tried to roll into the back of his head but kept coming back down like a defunct slot machine. Even Daisy found it a little creepy. She took pity on the kid with a knee to the face. Breaking his nose and ending his ultimately futile struggle against her power. Healers and strongmen could hold off the effects of her leeching or reaping, but it would eventually take them like it did all the others. The only Supers able to withstand her onslaught were nullifiers like Zero.

“Looks like we’re going to be doing a light workout today after all,” she made a point to step on the limp body of the arrogant boy who’d taunted her and Craig.

She continued her stroll over to the massive strongman who was valiantly fighting against her ability. Sweat was dripping off his face as he tried to steady himself and get back on his feet. Every few seconds he’d dry heave, but what was left of his stomach’s contents was already on the ground in front of him. His breathing was heavy but he was able to lift his head and make eye contact with Daisy as she approached. Despite what he was feeling his face was a mask of determination, an all too familiar face.

The pieces slid into place and she recalled the stubborn kid from Brooklyn who though he was tough enough to take on some power lines. He was taller and wider now, but the face and its accompanying expression was unmistakable.

She stopped a safe distance from the struggling strongman. “Well…well…well. Looks like you made it after all, kid,” the expression he gave her was a mix of triumph and pain. “Congratulations on overcoming the first obstacle.” She pitched her voice lower, so that only he could hear her. “Now prove to me you belong here.”

As if waiting for an invitation the student lunged at her swinging his massive fist. This was what Daisy expected, and why she didn’t walk right up to him. Knowing his reported strength level gave her an idea of how much her ability should affect him. He’d gone down way too easily. He was trying to play it smart, and she could respect that. Unfortunately, Daisy was a firm believer in Craig’s first rule among many others.

Despite his attempted surprise attack her abilities had taken a toll on him. He was slow and off balance allowing Daisy to easily sidestep his strike. She followed up with a kinetically enhanced uppercut. The crack from her fist making contact with his chin reverberated around the gym like a lightning strike. The young Super was picked up off his feet by the force of the blow and fell over backwards unconscious.

“I agree with Coach McMillian’s rule number one,” Daisy yelled as she turned back to Craig’s group of students. “Always expect the unexpected. Don’t take what you see at face value, and always assume whatever you are facing can kill you.” They all nodded in agreement. Today had been a valuable lesson for them. “Now here is rule number two,” her voice held none of the triumph one would expect after a resounding victory. “Constant vigilance!” she let the words sink in. “It only takes a knife in the back to kill most of us.”

A silence dragged for one too many seconds as the students digested this. “And that’s that,” Craig’s clap was significantly less audible than Daisy’s punch. “Doc, if you would be so kind as to wake up our students, we can get on with today’s exercises.”

The fog crept away from the smiling doctor and rejuvenated the comatose students. They all gave Daisy fearful looks as they hurriedly gathered around Craig.

<They should be fearful,> Daisy met their stares with an unflinching expression. <This life isn’t for the faint of heart.>

 

***

 

Seth’s face was fire engine red as he rounded the corner of the one mile track at the far end of the gym. Coach McMillian’s statement of running five miles at a seven minute pace didn’t scare Seth like it did some students. He’d been training for years to maintain peak physical conditioning, which included participation in a quarterly marathon. Five miles was nothing.

Seth’s breathing was steady and his heart pounded methodically in step with his feet, as he rounded the corner and headed back down the half mile stretch to the finish line. He wouldn’t be the first to finish but he was well ahead of the demon eyed bitch who was maintaining the minimum pace. After the first half mile lap the class had rearranged itself into a handful of groupings. The first group was those with physical enhancements like Becca and Mason. They’d all finished a while ago, with Becca completing the five miles in about 25 and a half seconds. Seth tried not to think it, but in his mind Becca was smoking hot and only getting hotter. He’d have to make a decision there sooner or later.

Mason also finished well before him. The strongman earned the respect of the class for being able to stand up the longest to the insufferable woman. He’d even tried to win Coach McMillian’s bet and save them from this run. A run the entire class placed firmly on Seth’s shoulders. Seth’s face wasn’t red from exhaustion or exertion, it was shame.

Seth was running in the group of Supers’ without physical enhancements, but who were clearly in good shape. He was leading the group, partially because everyone was giving him a wide berth. No one wanted to associate themselves with him. Even Angela, who was keeping a surprisingly quick pace, was staying away from him.

<Great job, Seth,> he berated himself for the hundredth time. <Way to stick your foot in your mouth on the first day. You’re supposed to be here to build contacts and friendships for the future, not alienate yourself completely.>

It had seemed like a good idea at the time to call out the instructors. Coach McMillian looked fat and well past his prime, while their other instructor looked more like a bangable coed than a Hero. How the hell was he supposed to know they were ridiculously powerful and would wipe the floor with them?

<Who knew it would be so hard to score one hit,> he crossed the finish line and took a few deep breaths to steady his heartrate. Shame and humiliation were able to get the physiological response that the jog failed to do.

Instead of going to sit with the rest of his classmates Seth picked a spot about ten feet behind them. Better to wallow in solitude than further tarnish his poorly executed first impression. So it was a wonderful surprise when Becca squatted down next to him.

“How ya doin’, champ,” her affable demeanor wasn’t phased in the slightest from her resounding defeat at the hands of Coach McMillian, or the brief cardiovascular exertion.

“I’ve been better,” he replied, actually looking into her eyes.

He never realized they were a warm brown color, like milk chocolate. He’d usually have gone for the down the shirt look that his superior height allowed for, but he didn’t want to drive her away. Especially since she was the only one risking social suicide to approach him.

“It’s only the first day. It’ll get better,” she gave him a reassuring pat on the back and quickly returned to the rest of the group.

No one else approached him until the rest of the students completed the run. Kyoshi only finished about ten seconds under the time limit. She was breathing hard and covered with sweat. She obviously hadn’t been training hard enough for the HCP, and she only got by with those long legs.

<Mmmmm, those legs…shit…sorry Kyoshi,> Seth pulled his focus away from the grade A appendages, hoping the telepath would accept his apology.

She didn’t give any indication she’d heard his comment or not. She was being helped off the track as their alternative instructor crossed the finish line without a bead of perspiration on her brow. She was ahead of four students.

The class was already down to 54 students after the beating the instructors singlehandedly inflicted on them. Three freshmen had quietly approached Coach McMillian while the rest hurried onto the track to begin the “light” workout. By the time Seth rounded the turn at the far side and looked back, they were gone.

“You four,” Coach McMillian pointed at the students finishing behind his fellow instructor. “You have failed to meet the bare minimum HCP physical standards. You will not be able to continue with this program. I hope you train hard and urge you to reapply when you are in better shape.” With that, Coach turned his back on them as if they didn’t exist anymore.

“What we did today will be a warm up for every class the rest of this week,” no one dared groan at the information, and many were too exhausted too. “A Heroes’ fitness is one of his greatest assets.”

“Getting fat and lazy is an invitation to getting killed,” the female instructor jumped in. “Many good Heroes have fallen because of complacency. You will not be among them,” her penetrating gaze surveilled the room, lingering for a moment longer on Seth.

“Tomorrow you begin your regular classes at West, so I suggest you get a good night sleep and recover,” the way Coach McMillian said this made it sound like people failed routinely at this task. “There is also a freshmen welcome celebration in the student union from six to midnight. This is a good opportunity to interact with other freshmen, but I must reiterate the Dean’s comments on SI infractions. You will get no sympathy from me if you reveal yourself to impress some girl or guy tonight.”

“Tomorrow afternoon you will have your initial combat ranking,” the female instructor explained. Several students looked around confused. “You are all going to fight each other this time,” she clarified. “We will get a baseline reading of your power, tactics, and overall ability so we can better develop your skills and instruct you going forward.”

“There is no gender bias at West,” Coach McMillian continued the information brief. “Other HCP’s might split up the sexes for the first year, but a villain or Super gang banger doesn’t care if your reproductive organs are on the inside or outside. So, if you’re squeamish about fighting the opposite sex get over it by tomorrow afternoon.” He made sure to give a few of the guys pointed glances. “I miss anything partner?”

“I think you covered it all, Coach,” she let her own gaze shift through the students. “Everyone should remember why they are here. If you want to go out tonight and get drunk and laid I’m not going to stop you,” a few people laughed nervously at the statement, misreading the situation. “I will also not hesitate to kick your ass to the curb if you can’t perform to our standards.” No one was laughing now. “Keep your personal lives up there, and be prepared to bring 100% when you get down here.” Seth couldn’t help but feel she was talking to him personally. “And even then sometimes that won’t cut it.” She let the last bit hang in the air for a moment.

“Hit the showers,” Coach McMillian concluded their little speech.

“Mr. Abney,” the female instructor called after Seth as he headed for the tunnel. “When you don’t smell like a gym sock report to my office.” She didn’t give any more of an explanation as she followed the rest of the students up the tunnel and into the HCP’s main facility.

Twenty minutes and a healthy helping of deodorant later Seth was sitting alone in the devil woman’s office. She didn’t give him directions, but it wasn’t too hard to find. Another test he supposed. The small space was completely devoid of anything that would classify it as a workspace. There was nothing on the desk, not even pictures. Nothing was in the cabinets and the bookshelf behind the desk was empty. The whole place smelled like it was recently cleaned. Even the chairs leather cushioning looked recently polished.

<She basically tells me to double time it to her office and she’s not even here,> he fumed in silence as he waited. <Could she be any more of a bitch.>

As if on cue the door opened to reveal the instructor. She didn’t even acknowledge him as she took her seat behind the empty desk and opened a file she’d brought with her. She flipped through a few pages before closing it and finally recognizing Seth’s existence.

“Well you were a particular fuck up today,” her expression didn’t change but her eyes danced with laughter.

Seth thought it better not to respond. If he opened his mouth he would say something stupid again. The last thing he needed to do was to stick his foot in his mouth again.

“Well at least you’re learning to keep that flap shut,” his tormenter actually grinned at him. He was about to disprove her statement, just to piss her off, but she beat him too it. “Seth Abney, please remove your head from your ass.”

“Wha…what?” he’d expected something along this line, but it was different to actually hear it. He wasn’t accustomed to being spoken to in this manner.

“I’ve read a lot about you, Seth, and I have to say that you have potential,” if he’d been off balance before, then this knocked him on the ass he was supposed to remove his head from. This seemed to be what she was going for. “You have an incredible power, Seth. You could also make a first rate Hero one day.”

“Thanks,” Seth wasn’t sure how to respond to all the praise, and was rethinking his instructor’s view of him.

“Those are all big “ifs” at this point,” Seth’s reconsideration faltered. “Right now you’re on my shit list.” Seth’s impression of the women returned to its former poor level.

“I could care less about what you think of me,” she read his mind like a telepath. “What matters now is for you to take a good hard look at how you want the next few weeks to play out. If I don’t see a change, I’m going to toss you to the curb myself.”

“What do you mean?” Seth needed more information.

“I know all about your family, Seth,” she began to rattle off plenty of well-known public facts, as well as a few privately held secrets. It all left him feeling deeply uncomfortable. “The decision you need to make is whether you want to really be a Hero. Being a part-time Hero for fame and future political capital isn’t going to cut it. The Dean was clear on this point in his introduction this morning.”

Seth didn’t like how easily this woman was reading him. He’d worked very hard to get himself into this position. She could tear it all down with a snap of her fingers. It would be one thing to get through a few years of the program and not make it. That was a situation he planned for. But being tossed on his ass for lack of commitment, or some other administrative reason, was going to make him look far worse than not being able to cut it in the country’s most difficult program.

“That’s the first issue we needed to discuss,” the woman moved on, clearly not looking for an answer from him. “Number two is the fact that your misogynistic tendencies are going to get your ass kicked here. You needed to get over those quick before someone other than myself realizes it.” Her eyes bore into him like the iceberg into the Titanic. “There are several women here beside myself who are quite capable of kicking your ass.”

Despite how much Seth loathed this woman he knew she had a point. It was already something he was working on thanks to Kyoshi. It wasn’t his fault women had thrown themselves at him since he was old enough to get a boner.

“On a personal note, if I catch you staring at my tits again I’m going to put you through the fucking wall, and I can’t guarantee you’ll get back up,” her tone, expression, and body language all indicated she was deadly serious. “Are we clear?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Seth’s voice came out much higher than he would have liked.

“Good,” she smiled again. The expression looked more at home on a King Cobra than her face. “Have a good evening, Mr. Abney. Be prepared for tomorrow afternoon.”

Seth got up and out of there before he did something he’d regret. He wanted to tell her to shove it and show her what he was made of, both in combat and the bedroom. He also knew he wouldn’t survive either experience with his current skill level. He clearly had some improving to do.

After all Seth was an Abney, a member of one of the most influential Super families in the South. There was no way he was going to allow some no name Hero to destroy his career and insult him like that.

<I’m gonna kick some ass tomorrow,> that was step one of the plan. <But first I’m gonna do this freshmen party, drink half a dozen beers, and get a little strange. They can’t expect me to change overnight can they?” it was a long time since Seth’s last real challenge. He was going to enjoy this.

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