A Change of Pace – Chapter 50

Kyoshi cut the mental link between her and Mason. <Stupid…stupid…stupid man.> She balled her fists in anger, but couldn’t stop them from trembling.

The image of a dark figure leaping from the largest building in the area was seared into her memory. Her heart had skipped a few beats before it remembered it needed to continue pumping blood through her body. Thanks to her telepathy, Kyoshi knew that it was Mason. Even from over a mile away she’d been forced to watch her boyfriend jump. Intellectually, she knew Mason was strong, the strongest in the class; and she knew there were healers waiting if he injured himself. Even with all that information available she hadn’t been able to stop the overwhelming fear that punched her in the gut.

It also told her a lot about how much a three month romance had changed her. She’d come to the HCP for herself; to fill the void left in the hero world by her father, and to use her power to help people. In that three months she discovered she could control other people, like they were puppets and she was their creepy puppet master. No matter how rare or extraordinary people told her the ability was, it still felt like a violation. And then there was Mason. The big lunk of a man had completely stolen her heart, and with it all of her good sense. She could not possibly imagine life without his smile, his kind words, but most importantly his innocent and sincere thoughts.

All of those emotions made everything more difficult. She loved the man to pieces, but they both knew his purpose on the battlefield. Strongmen took hits so people like Kyoshi didn’t have to. Instead, she just had to take the emotional hits every time he put himself in the line of fire.

<Ugh,> that about summed up her mental state pretty well.

Even though Kyoshi had cut their mental link she was still instinctually following Mason’s progress through the city. She needed to get moving or else he would get to the diner before her. She might love the man, but she wasn’t going to roll over and play the meek housewife for him. Actually, she was probably more competitive than the gentle giant.

Kyoshi studied her environment and reached out with her senses. She was sitting in an alley filled with loose bits of trash. There wasn’t any wind here, so the garbage and its stench lingered. Her telepathy told her that there were a few people between where she was and the diner. It wouldn’t be hard to get around them thanks to her gift; and since only ten to fifteen minutes had passed since the start of the exam there was still plenty of time to rack up points.

Kyoshi used the environment to provide cover and concealment as she made her way toward the intersection of first and fourth streets. The town was fairly quiet, and the eerie silence was only interrupted by the occasional explosion. She could feel Kimberly Goodman a few blocks away. That coincided with a handful of explosions, and a figure shooting into the air. Whoever had tried to attack the number nine ranked freshmen had failed.

Kyoshi ducked into a storefront when the fleeing flyer shot overhead, but quickly resumed her mission to get to the diner. She’d passed it on the way to finding Mason originally, so she had a good idea about what to expect when she got there. The diner sat right on the corner of a big square. It wasn’t as big as Times Square back in New York, but even at a quarter of the size it was huge. A space that huge meant good lines of sight where they could see enemies coming for fifty yards. That was enough time to make the fight or flight decision based on who they’d have to go up against. It was also a good centralized location for her to spread out her awareness and select targets.

Kyoshi approached the building from a back alley. It had the same foul odor of days old garbage. The diner was the bottom floor of one of the bigger skyscrapers at the center of town, so another tactical option was to escape upwards. Kyoshi wasn’t looking forward to jumping out of any windows, but if Mason carried her it was a viable escape plan.

The back door was locked, so Kyoshi exerted a little telekinetic force and broke the lock. She’d come a long was in using her weaker ability since the start of the school year. She was still far from strong, but she’d learned to use what she had to get the job done.

Throwing around telekinetic energy that wasn’t connected to her body was still painful, but she’d be able to trip someone running away without feeling like someone sucker-punched her brain. Anchoring her energy was the key. As long as she could keep the energy connected to herself she was nearly free of any mental trauma. That, combined with her martial arts abilities, had turned her into a tough close combat opponent. Thanks to Coach Meyers and McMillian she was stronger than she’d ever been. The HCP had forged her into a weapon. It wasn’t the blunt instrument that Mason was, but her sleek, silent, and deadly abilities had a place in the Hero world if she could survive the next few years.

The restaurant looked like any other city diner. Metal and plastic chairs were stacked on top of tables that had decades of stains and scrape marks on their surfaces. The air was slightly permeated with scents from the grill in the back, and left Kyoshi wanting nothing more than some pancakes and bacon. A quick mental scan told her Mason was close, so she took a seat in at a table in the back with a good view of the entrance that kept her out of sight.

<Who should we go after once he’s here?> Kyoshi scanned the surrounding area and noted a few minds nearby. They were from lower ranked students, so they wouldn’t get many points. But Mason and her needed to start getting things done if they wanted to get a decent grade.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the crash of a door thrown open, a mini-cyclone of wind ripping through the diner, and a shoulder check that picked her up out of her seat and threw her over the table.

Kyoshi didn’t have time to curse, mentally or physically, before she crashed down to the ground her head bouncing off the hard plastic of a nearby chair. Immediately her vision swam, and it became hard to focus. <Get up!> She yelled at herself just as she heard voices close to her.

“…but it’s Kyoshi,” the voice was familiar, but Kyoshi’s head was still clearing.

<Come on, get up!> whoever had ambushed her was hesitating, and she needed to use that time to do something. She tried to focus on the other person’s mind, but a sharp stab of pain lanced through her temples. <Not yet,> Kyoshi shook her head again to clear the pain and the last few stars dancing in front of her eyes.

Thankfully, it cleared her vision enough so she could see the two women in the diner with her, and she immediately dropped her guard.

“Becca, Anika, thank God it’s just you two,” relief spread through her as she pulled herself to her feet. “Mason’s on the way.”

She expected to see smiles and similar expressions of relief from her friends, but there wasn’t any. Becca looked stressed, and was glancing between Kyoshi and Anika. Anika just looked determined. Kyoshi felt the undercurrent of her friends’ thoughts, pushing aside stab of pain. Anika’s indecision was only a fraction of what Kyoshi saw on Becca’s face. The blue-haired speedster’s mind was full of determination but a powerful undercurrent of worry.

<If you try to take me I’ll snap your legs before you can complete the thought,> Anika’s voice rampaged through Kyoshi’s mind. It wasn’t filled with anger, or spite, or the need to inflict pain. It was only a statement of fact.

Kyoshi quickly reassessed the tactical situation.

“Why are you doing this?” Kyoshi asked Becca; putting as much hurt in her voice as she could. It wasn’t hard, her head was still throbbing.

<Delay until Mason gets here,> she kept her plan to herself.

There was no way Kyoshi could beat Anika and Becca. Kyoshi could probably take Becca. It would be easy enough to drive a mental spike into her brain and slip in to take control, but Anika was much more resilient. The still unclassified Super could use her super strength, speed, or kinetic blasts to defeat Kyoshi. The woman also had better mental defenses since she’d started to develop telepathy. Kyoshi wouldn’t be able to get past them quick enough to do any damage before Anika was on top of her.

The bottom line was that Kyoshi was screwed if she couldn’t delay them until Mason arrived.

“I’m your friend, Becca,” the speedster hadn’t answered Kyoshi’s question. “We don’t have to fight each other.”

Becca was a good person, everyone knew that; and that was the aspect of the speedster Anika and Kyoshi were both trying to manipulate.

“She’s down Becca,” Anika’s voice was a lot softer than the stern tone in Kyoshi’s head. “She’s rattled enough that you can finish her. You need the points,” Anika’s voice was almost pleading.

“You don’t have to do this to your friend,” Kyoshi immediately countered. “We all need the points. I can find you another target; there are three within a block of here. They’re going to be worth more points than me.” All together they would, but none were currently ranked as high as Kyoshi. “Please Becca.”

“You’re ranked nineteenth, Kyoshi,” Anika shot back. “And you haven’t lost a fight since the initial rankings. Becca lost her last fight and is still in the bottom half of the class. She needs the points; I will make sure she makes it to next semester.”

Everything clicked. Kyoshi was still pissed at Anika for advocating their friend to beat her unconscious, but she got where the other woman was coming from. They’d all developed strong relationships in the past few months; and from the glimpses Kyoshi had gotten into Anika’s mind, that was a big deal for the other woman. Kyoshi knew she would do what was necessary to make sure Mason and her continued in the program, but that was more of an abstract concept for them. They’d both been doing well, so they didn’t have to worry about it. Anika and Becca did.

Understanding their mindset helped, but Kyoshi still wasn’t going to lie down and surrender.

“Becca, look at me,” the speedster’s eyes were a little wet as they danced back and forth between Kyoshi and Anika. “You are going to make it to next semester. You’ve worked really hard, and everyone knows that. Everyone loves you, and everyone trusts you; so do you really think it’s going to look good in your evaluation if you turn on your friends.”

Honestly, Kyoshi had no idea how the balls hovering over all of their shoulders were going to interpret this situation; but she was sure the coaches were going to have words with them however this turned out. She doubted the algorithms programmed into whatever system was processing all of this was advanced enough to interpret this interaction, but that as a big “if” in a world of tech genius Supers. Still, Kyoshi thought it was a pretty good argument to keep her in the fight.

“Ani, she has a point,” Kyoshi made sure to keep her emotions neutral when Becca responded.

<Get here quick, Mason,> she sent the message. <Or you might be facing the rest of this final alone.> She felt her boyfriend speed up. He’d be here soon.

The look Anika gave Kyoshi was hard and unfriendly. The advanced mind wasn’t sure if it was because she heard the mental distress call, or because she’d sowed the seeds of doubt in the other woman’s girlfriend. Either way Anika was not happy.

“I’m not going to lose you,” Anika’s voice was disconnected as she took a step toward Kyoshi. “You got in a hit so you’ll still get points. I’ll finish her off and you can have a clear conscious.”

<Oh crap,> Kyoshi didn’t stand a chance against Anika in close combat, but she wasn’t going give up and sit there on her butt.

Kyoshi jumped to her feet and got in a fighting position. The mild distortion of her telekinesis wrapped itself around her entire body, slightly obscuring anyone’s view of her. She’d gotten the idea from watching footage of Jason’s championship fight with Angela at the beginning of the year. She’d never tried using her telekinesis defensively before, and she wished she’d had more time to work on it. She didn’t want to use it at all during the final, but it was either this or lose.

The extra energy cocooning her body made her more durable than an average human, but even then she wasn’t going to be able to take more than a few hits from Anika. Either way, Kyoshi was going to have one hell of a headache tomorrow.

“That’s new,” Anika paused to reevaluate, but determined it wasn’t a threat to her.

“Are you sure?” Kyoshi was bluffing, but the distortion in front of her hid the fear on her face.

Anika hesitated, but then kept coming. “Yes.”

Then the wall of the diner exploded.

Mason crashed through the brick exterior like a runaway semi. Pieces of tables, chairs, brick, and wood flew around the room. Becca dodged the incoming projectiles; Anika just shrugged off the few that hit her. Kyoshi took a couple fragments, but her energy protected her from the worst of it even if it did knock her down.

“Hello,” Mason’s ruined the impressive show of force with the greeting. “Are we all teaming up?”

<They’re trying to beat me unconscious,> Kyoshi snapped as she scrambled back to her feet.

Comprehension dawned on Mason’s face, and was quickly replaced with a firm look. “We’re friends, so I’m giving you the opportunity to walk out of here,” Mason’s usual pleasant tone was hard as granite. “I suggest you take it.”

The balance of power was roughly even now, but still probably in Anika and Becca’s favor; especially when Kyoshi saw Mason was avoiding putting weight on one of his ankles. Kyoshi kept her eyes on Anika, hoping she hadn’t noticed the injury.

“Becca’s going to make it to next semester, we all want that,” Kyoshi stepped in. “I can sense Rich, Bridgette, and Byron nearby. I’m sure Becca can take all of them by herself. Let her get those points under her belt and then you can go after tougher prey.” Kyoshi felt Bridgette’s mind immediately start moving quickly in the opposite direction. The girl with advanced senses heard the plot against her and was running for it. Too bad she wouldn’t be able to out run Becca.

<It’s either her or me,> Kyoshi didn’t like having to make the decision, but she got the feeling Heroes had to do that a lot.

Several tense, silent seconds passed as everyone processed the deal. Anika and Mason’s eyes didn’t leave each other’s; while Kyoshi watched Becca. The speedster was clearly conflicted, and Kyoshi was sorry about that, but this could either end with everyone walking away or no one. While the speedster thought about it, Kyoshi probed the edges of her mind looking for the cracks. She found one, and prepared to dive in if Becca turned them down.

“Ok,” Becca’s response was a whisper, but she repeated it with more conviction. “We’ll go after Rich, Bridgette, and Byron; but don’t be back here when we’re done or you’re next.”

Mason bristled slightly at the challenge, but Kyoshi cut him off. “They’re that way, that way, and that way; all within two blocks,” Kyoshi pointed toward the three other freshmen. “Good luck.”

She slowly backed away, and grabbed Mason’s arm as she passed. The strongman did a good job of not limping too badly as they headed for the back door, but Kyoshi needed to look at the injury.

<I’m sorry,> Becca’s mental projection caught Kyoshi off guard.

<It’s ok, Becca. I get it,> Kyoshi made sure the woman who lived above her knew that she didn’t hold the tense situation against her.

Everyone had learned something about themselves in the last three minutes, and not all of that was good. But they were freshmen, and freshmen made mistakes. They just needed to learn from them and get better, so they weren’t in those situations again.

“That was awkward,” Mason interrupted her musings as they stepped out of the ruined diner and into the back alley.

“Speaking of awkward,” Kyoshi pushed Mason up against the alley wall, and placed her hands on her hips. “What the hell were you thinking?”

The man who’d busted through a wall and helped convince two strong Supers to walk away without a fight cowered under her gaze. Kyoshi didn’t enjoy it, but this was for Mason’s own good.

“I…um…I,” the strongman stumbled over an explanation, but Kyoshi silenced him with a kiss.

“Just don’t do it again, ok,” she let her anxiety and fear show.

Mason wrapped her in a hug, but it only lasted a few seconds. They didn’t have time to sit around and make lovey-dovey eyes with each other. They were still in the middle of the final, and Kyoshi didn’t have any points as far as she knew. She quickly scanned the surrounding area and headed toward the nearest opponent.

The silver balls hovered silently at their shoulders, recording everything.

 

***

 

“HA,” Craig’s bark of laughter echoed through the still busy room. “Look at her flail. She looks like a chicken.”

Daisy saw several of the DVA workers walking around shoot the retired Hero glares. To anyone who hadn’t worked with the freshman for the past few months, Craig’s outburst would have looked cruel. To the two freshmen instructors it really was funny; especially since the girl currently flailing in the air like a flightless bird was an aerokinetic.

Daisy watched through the silver orbs electronic eyes as Jacqueline Eaton got control of her descent. “She’s got someone,” Daisy leaned toward the screen; she’d caught the blur of movement out of the corner of the orb’s eye just like Eaton had.

Craig looked over at another screen when the locations of all the freshmen were being tracked. “That’s Martin she saw, I wonder what…” the both watched as Eaton flew towards the blur she’d spotted. “Well I guess that answers that.”

The freshman class had a few flyers, so the odds were that Eaton wasn’t chasing the highest ranked Super in the class. It was just bad luck, and bad tactics that Eaton was jumping into the deep end without hesitating.

“At least she’s being aggressive,” Craig commented, tracking Eaton’s progress as she flew across the arena. Angela’s icon had stopped moving.

There were other people moving in the area around Eaton, and they made contact first. “Gilford still needs to work on her aim,” Craig analyzed as twin beams of energy shot past Eaton. “Looks like she teamed up with Skylar, interesting choice,” he mused. “But still with a stable gravity bubble she needs to be able to hit someone from that distance. They’ll never catch…OW!”

Daisy heard Craig make that noise before. It had been over Thanksgiving, and the opposite team’s quarterback had been ruthlessly sacked. Topher had made a similar sound.

“Yeah that’s not pretty,” Daisy looked at the damage done to Eaton’s leg. The aerokinetic was flying away as fast as she could. “And that’s what happens when you jump into a situation too aggressively.”

“It’s an art more than a science,” Craig commented, chomping loudly on the sandwich he’d grabbed in the last quarter-second. “We can tell them six ways from Sunday how to approach a situation, but they won’t learn the intricacies until the do it for real.”

“Which is why we play Battleball,” the dean stepped up between the two coaches. “How are things looking?”

Daisy didn’t reply since she was a Battleball virgin, but Craig didn’t need to be asked twice to run his mouth. “Aside from Gilford hitting Eaton it’s starting out a little slow.” Despite the recent action, Craig looked a little disappointed. “But it could be…OH SNAP!” Craig practically threw is sandwich in the air.

Daisy looked at the view Craig was watching. Derrick Masters was on the ground, run through with a golden spear of energy, and refusing to surrender to Martin after her surprise attack.

“I’ll be back in a second,” Craig grabbed an orange safety vest and disappeared.

Daisy toggled through the different camera views and watched Mason pick himself off the ground and survey the floor they’d dropped him onto. “What’d I miss,” Craig reappeared again. Masters was on a nearby table getting patched up by Dr. Sanderson.

“Jackson’s about to get triple teamed,” the two coaches and the dean watched as Mason fought against multiple opponents. “That’s smart,” Daisy hoped the balls took into consideration Mason’s ability to disrupt Liam’s toxic fog breath when they scored the fight. “And that’s not so smart,” Daisy watched as Mason avoided Romanoff by jumping out of the window.

“Well…he’s tough enough to take it,” the camera view was obscured by cascading rubble as Mason went through a number of floors. Daisy looked over and saw Craig smiling.

“Oh, over there,” Craig was like a little kid with paper view. “Bates and Danny Mason are going at it.”

Daisy watched as number fifteen ranked Ashley Bates ran across number twenty-three Danny Mason at an intersection. Both Super had come a long way over the past few months. Bates’ swarm, which she still collected into a duster that she wore proudly, surged forward. Bates had developed a lot more flexibility with her control of the bugs, and it showed when they divided to attack Danny’s duplicates separately. Danny ran away from the insect deluge, and continued to split; but Bates didn’t need to be able to see Danny to hunt him with her bugs. Danny’s only choice was to make it outside her effective range before they caught him.

He didn’t make it.

A few flies didn’t look like they’d be able to trip up a fit, young super. Even a few hundred wouldn’t be up to the task. But when thousands of the small creatures descended on Danny, he didn’t stand a chance. Bates went for the throat…literally. It was her trademark move. The critters climbed into the boy’s mouth, and Danny couldn’t do anything to claw them out.

Craig appeared on the screen to tell Bates she’d won. Daisy could see the reluctance on the young woman’s face before she pulled her insectoid army back toward her. <I’ll have to keep an eye on her,> Daisy had a bad feeling that something was going on with the anti-social girl. <Speaking of keeping an eye on something.>

                Craig was gone, collecting Danny, but Bates had taken her eyes off her surroundings. Kimberly Goodman stepped out from a side alley and chucked a glowing sphere toward Bates. Bugs sizzled and died as sphere tore a huge chunk out of the swarm. Bates dove to the side to evade getting burned, but Goodman was a step ahead of her. When the sphere was fifteen feet away it violently exploded. The shockwave picked Bates up and tossed her into a nearby wall.

Bates wasn’t down for the count, but she was too slow to get back up. Goodman sprinted across the open space, grabbed Bates’ ball, and finished her attack by kicking the bug-controller in the face.

“Finally someone’s remembering to get the balls,” Daisy sighed, as Bates disappeared from the arena, and Craig reappeared next to Daisy.

“Can’t hold it against them too much,” Craig shrugged, his eyes scanning for where he would be needed next. “This is their first chance to really let loose and fight in an open space. Of course they’ll forget that grabbing the ball and knocking someone out is worth more points than just taking someone out. ”

“Losing your head because you’re finally able to tear shit up isn’t an excuse. Hell, I thought Martin would catch it, but even she missed,” Daisy criticized. “It’ll be interesting to see how her little alliance with Jacobsen will turn out.”

Craig and Daisy watched the screens. The initial flood of action from people in close proximity to one another was beginning to die down. The freshmen were being more strategic now. People were pairing up and hunting for the people who would get them the most points. Daisy half wished that Kemps and Mason would have ended up duking it out, but couldn’t fault the speedster pair from taking the ultimatum and collecting the points from dispatching the classmates close by that Schultz tipped them off to.

<This is where we settle in for the long haul,> Daisy grabbed one of the nearby sandwiches and watched her pupils try and tear each other apart.

She paid attention to some more than others.

 

***

 

Anika watched as Becca chased down the last of their three victims. <Victims, why am I thinking of them as victims?> Anika banished the weird thought from her head.

Over the last fifteen minutes Becca had caught and defeated Rich and Byron. Her girlfriend had defeated Byron back in the ranking matches, and his tar monster form still hadn’t developed a counter to what Becca called her “super-vibrating-friction hand attack”. It was the cutest, stupidest wrestling-move name Anika had ever heard, but Becca didn’t know that. Anika loved that she was so innocent.

Taking down Byron had been easy, and taking down Rich had been lucky. Anika was afraid she’d have to step in if the Super grew too large and strong for Becca. She wanted Becca to gain the maximum amount of points possible without her assistance.

Becca had caught Rich completely by surprise. In a flying leap she stole his silver ball, and then proceeded to pound him into submission with fists faster than Anika could follow. The boy only managed to grow a few inches before a vicious right hook knocked him unconscious. When Coach McMillian showed up he was all smiles for the class speedster.

Anika was all smiles too, but her mind was taking in just how different Battleball was from the closely monitored challenge matches in the combat cells. She saw how much more effective Becca was when she had time to move. Rich was only ranked two spots ahead of her, but she’d taken him down with ease. The high speed superman punch she’d delivered to knock the boy on his ass was something that should be on action posters.

“There,” Anika focused her mind back to what they were doing, and pointed toward the building entrance.

Anika’s telepathy was nowhere near as good as Kyoshi’s, but she was able to pick up ambient thoughts from a hundred yards away. It wouldn’t tell her what Bridgette was thinking, but if did give Anika a pretty good idea where the other Super was hiding.

Apparently, Bridgette’s own hearing extended to at least a hundred yards as well. It was a desperate, futile last ditch attempt to get away from the hunting speedster, and it utterly failed. Bridgette tried to run, and she made it about two steps before Becca was on top of her.

The blue-haired speedster kicked Bridgette’s legs out from under her while simultaneously grabbing the silver orb hovering just above Bridgette’s prone body. Bridgette didn’t give up without a fight though. She kicked out with one leg, going for Becca’s knee, but Becca saw the move coming. She easily sidestepped the slow kick, and brought her own foot crashing down on Bridgette’s opposite leg.

Even from a few dozen feet away Anika heard the snap. In Bridgette’s enhanced ears it must have sounded like an explosion. Bridgette screamed in pain, and all of the aggressiveness that Becca had been showing drained out of her like someone had pulled the stopper out of the tub.

“Oh jeez,” Becca crouched down to look at the ankle she’d just broken. “I’m sorry, Bridgette, you ok?”

Anika readied a kinetic blast in case the injured Super tried anything.

“I’ve been better,” Bridgette managed through gritted teeth. “I think it’s broken,” the looked at her skin intently. “Yeah I can see the swelling starting.” Anika and Becca couldn’t see anything, but they weren’t about to argue with someone who’d been able to read one of those eye chats from halfway across the massive gym.

“Yeah I’m done,” Bridgette announced, and the rush of wind heralded Coach McMillian’s arrival.

“You’re on a roll, Whitfield,” the speedster coach picked up Bridgette in a bridal carry. “Keep it up,” another gust of wind and he was gone.

That left Anika and Becca alone, with an uncomfortable topic festering between them. “Becca, I…”

“It’s ok, Ani,” Becca replied before Anika could finish.

Anika didn’t have to peek into her girlfriend’s mind to know that it wasn’t ok. It was clearly written on her face that Becca resented her for convincing her to attack Kyoshi when she was alone in that restaurant.

“Becca, please just…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Becca cut her off again.

<This is bad,> Anika thought to herself. Becca had never shut her out before; and more importantly Becca wasn’t talking. The hyperactive speedster was always talking.

“No Becca just listen,” Anika lost control of her emotions, and stomped her foot like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I forced you to go after Kyoshi. She’s your friend, no…she’s our friend and it was wrong of me to come up with that plan.”

“The plan made sense,” countered Becca, and Anika almost snapped at her for ruining her apology.

“Yes, but that’s not the point,” Anika held in her frustration. “I shouldn’t have been thinking it in the first place. Kyoshi is our friend. Mason is our friend. You trust your friends, and you don’t plan how to defeat them.”

“I know why you did it,” Becca quickly continued before Anika’s mind could think of all the negative reasons she’d done what she’d done. “It’s because you love me.”

Anika couldn’t stop the smile the split her face in two.

“Well isn’t that sweet,” while Anika had been talking to Becca she’d stopped paying attention to the street she was supposed to be watching. Now they had visitors.

Anika turned to face the newcomers, and the moment she made eye contact she felt her body freeze. “Wow, you walked right into that one,” Natalia Romanoff’s cocky grin was all that Anika could see. She couldn’t even blink.

“Ani, what’s,” Becca peered around Anika and her entire body went ridged.

“Are you really that stupid, Becca,” Natalia was laughing. “I just got two for the price of one. You really are some backwoods hick aren’t you? You couldn’t figure out it was me, and you just had to look and see what was going on. A smart person, a real Hero would have gotten some distance and reassessed the situation. Not walked right into its arms like a lemming.”

Anika could see the angry thoughts Becca was thinking. A lot of them had to do with her girlfriend repeatedly punching Natalia in her face until the dainty, obviously surgically modified, nose was broken.

“You shouldn’t have been so curious. There are only a handful of people in this class that can hurt Anika here, and one I’m definitely not one of those,” Anika knew that, but the stuck up bitch wouldn’t continue to monologue without a plan.

“But that’s why I brought along my partner here,” Nathan Flynn moved out from a side alley and took in the scene.

“And now I’ve got options,” unlike Natalia, Nathan’s voice didn’t drip disdain. He didn’t even seem that he liked working with Natalia. Nevertheless, they were a good team. Natalia could paralyze people with her power, and Nathan could defeat people with the powers he took from them.

“I’d take Anika’s power,” it was supposed to be a suggestion, but Natalia made it sound like an order. “We’re going to get a lot more points if we can take down number seven. Becca’s just a low ranked bonus.”

Anika felt her girlfriend bristle at the insult, but there was nothing either of them could do. Nathan approached calmly, but his eyes kept scanning the area. “If it’s any consolation,” he whispered once he was right in front of her. “Once I deal with you two, I’m going to take out Natalia. She’s useful, but she’s a pain in the ass.”

It wasn’t any consolation, but Anika couldn’t move. If she could, she’d probably smile and lure Nathan in so she could punch him in the face; but that wasn’t an option here. There were no options here. No matter how hard Anika tried, no matter how hard she fought her thoughts, her strength, speed, and kinetic blasts were all useless while she was paralyzed.

“Sorry about this. I’d rather face you when you aren’t frozen, but I couldn’t win then. I need the points,” Anika didn’t have time to think about the irony of the situation.

<It’s all about points,> now she felt like an even bigger asshole for convincing Becca to attack their friends.

Nathan placed his hand on Anika’s chest; not in a groping perverted way, but in between her boobs. She didn’t feel a thing, and she felt a surge of hope that it might not have worked.

One look at Nathan’s face and she knew she was wrong.

Nathan’s eyebrows nearly shot all the way into his hairline. His pupil’s bulged, and she could see his whole body start to shudder. He looked like he’d just taken a shot of adrenaline and was trying to hold still while the raging chemical rampaged through his body.

“Holy…!” Nathan exclaimed, but then his eye rolled back into the back of his head and he collapsed.

He crumpled to the ground like Anika had knocked him unconscious, but she was still frozen in place by Natalia’s stare.

All three Supers just stood there motionless for a second. Staring at Nathan’s prostrated body. “What the fuck did you do?” Natalia screamed when she noticed the subtle rise and fall of Nathan’s chest was gone.

The wind howled, and suddenly Coach McMillian was on his knees next to Nathan. He moved in a blur so fast Anika could barely keep up. She got the gist of it though. He was checking the young man’s vitals.

“Everyone stay here, don’t move!” his voice lacked its usual cheer, and conveyed ultimate authority. Then in another howl of wind, the Coach and Nathan were gone; leaving Anika, Natalia, and Becca to wonder what the hell just happened.

<What did I do?> Anika didn’t know what happened, but she knew she was the one who did it. There was no other explanation.

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