Kyoshi stared at her textbook with blurry eyes. They were so dry that they were starting to bother her. She reached up to rub them, and was unable to stifle a yawn. The yawn led to a stretch that popped muscles that had been idle for far too long. She reached over her head and extended her arms as far as they would go. That action pulled up her t-shirt, bared her midriff, and showed off the slight bump.
She patted the bump appreciatively before pulling her t-shirt back down and looking back at her textbook.
The one bright point over the last twelve hours of her life was getting an extra-large pizza from Pesci’s Pizza and stuffing her face with it. The resulting food-baby was a reminder of that stress-less moment, but also a potential future that left her moving her studies to the bathroom for a little bit.
Kyoshi sighed and flipped the page to continue her studying. The last three weeks had been hell, and it had left everyone in Townhouse 117 exhausted. With the looming final set to begin anytime the instructors called, it was impossible not to cram for everything else in every spare moment they could find.
A normal college student knew their finals’ schedule and was able to plan accordingly. Maybe they studied the weekend before for their first two tests and then got to work on other classes after completing those original exams. Not having anything else on their plates allowed them to spread the wealth of knowledge intake.
None of the HCP students had that chance. They could get a call at any minute telling them to be somewhere and they might not get back from until right before the academic exam started. So Kyoshi had to cram right away. Her first final was tomorrow afternoon.
“You need to sleep, Kyoshi.” Mason was lying on his side on the bed and reading his own textbook. He looked better than she did but not by much. “You’re already going on 24 hours without sleep. Anymore and it won’t matter how much you’ve studied.”
<I know.> She answered him mentally so she didn’t have to turn away from her book and face him. <Just let me finish this chapter and I’ll come to bed, I swear.>
She heard the bed creak in the way it did when Mason nodded, so she plodded on through the bits of chemistry she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to remember no matter how rejuvenated her mind was.
A woman of her word, Kyoshi finished the chapter, closed her book, and went to jump in the shower. She still felt greasy from all the pizza.
Cleaned, hair dry, and dressed in comfortable pajamas she crawled into bed next to an already snoring Mason. The book was still open in front of him so she closed it, put it on his nightstand, and gave him a kiss on the forehead before turning off the lights and settling in for a well-deserved sleep.
She couldn’t have been asleep for more than forty-five minutes when the phone rang.
Both her and Mason had found the loudest and most jarring ringtone possible for finals week, and it did the trick. The problem was that they both had the same ringtone. They both snapped out of their REM cycles and bolted to where they last remember their phones. Mason got to his first and gave a sigh of relief, which didn’t do her a lot of good.
Her phone was shrieking, vibrating loudly, and flashing a blue light that made the room look like a club in the middle of a rave.
<You can do this.> She built herself up.
<I’ve got complete faith in you.> Mason added his support from across the room.
She picked it up before she chickened out. “Hello.”
“Good morning, Ms. Schultz.” Coach Meyers greeted her. It sounded like the alternative instructor had gotten a full night’s rest. “Please report to the combat cell viewing room in your uniform no later than 0130.”
The line went dead and Kyoshi looked at the clock. It was 0100 already, and she had a lot of ground to cover.
She started throwing off her pajamas and getting into something more practical for running across campus in the middle of the night. A normal guy would have sat back and enjoyed the show, but Mason chipped in, grabbing clothes from her drawer while she struggled into a sports bra.
“Thanks.” She stopped and gave him a quick kiss by the door.
“I know you’re gonna kick butt.” He smiled and gave her a hug before she sprinted out.
Sprinting was a good word for what she did. She took the stairs three at a time, which with her usual clumsiness was not a good idea. She practically ripped the door off its hinges as she ran out into the night and toward the student center. Since it was the start of finals week, the only place students were congregating at this time of night was at the library. She didn’t run into anyone as she passed through the polymorphic wall and repeatedly jabbed the button for the elevator. Thankfully, it arrived quickly, but once she was down in the HCP’s sci-fi looking corridors she still had a long way to go to get to the locker rooms. And it was much busier down here.
Kyoshi burst into the combat cell main viewing area at 0129 panting and with a stitch in her side.
<Pizza was a horrible idea.> She couldn’t believe she’d been stupid enough to pig out right before a final. She felt like she was going to puke.
“You made it.” Coach Meyers was standing next to the counter that usually held refreshments. “Let’s get started.” She handed Kyoshi an earbud and motioned for her to put it in her ear. “I’ll be acting as your Dispatch for this portion of your final examination. The device is on so just do a quick comms check.”
“Ah…yeah…testing one, two, three.” Kyoshi wasn’t sure what to say.
“Good Copy. Dispatch comms check.” She heard the alternative instructor say and then heard the echo in her ear.
“Good copy.” Kyoshi gave her a thumbs up.
“Ok.” The instructor gave her a brief smile. “Report to the room you took your last final in. I’ll brief you on the way.”
Kyoshi didn’t hesitate. She ran.
“Wait!” Coach Meyers’ yell stopped her in her tracks. “You’re going to need this.” She tossed Kyoshi a backpack, and Kyoshi resumed her sprint once it was in her hands.
“The situation is as follows.” The instructor’s voice came through loud and clear through the earbud. “At 0130 a noise complaint came into the local police department for the resident of 32 Mountainbrook Lane. A check of the residence showed the suspect as Mr. James Little. Mr. Little has a DVA file. He’s thirty-two, divorced, and his wife got custody of their daughter. His record is entirely from his teenage years; vandalism and destruction of property charges that he spent a year in juvenile detention for. Over the last fourteen years he’s gotten his life together. He’s a low-level strongman and uses his power to work construction. Nothing fancy, but he has made a good living, and by all accounts is a good father. The divorce seems to have hit him hard though. He’s still working but there has been one incident where he came to the worksite smelling like alcohol.”
“What’s the nature of the noise complaint?” Kyoshi asked, trying to get a better handle on the situation. “TV on too loud, shouting, he letting underage kids throw a kegger?” The last on got a chuckle from Coach Meyers.
“The reports from the officers on scene are that there was yelling, presumably because Mr. Little’s favorite team lost, and he proceeded to throw his TV through the front window.”
<That’s not good.> Kyoshi ran into the large lift that would take her down to the miniature city in the HCP’s basement.
Now that she was stopped she took the opportunity to open the backpack. On top, and clearly meant to be used, was a white domino mask. Kyoshi picked it up, pressed it to her face, and the special material adhered to her skin. The rest of the bag contained a belt. On the belt was a number of nonlethal items and restraints, so it was pretty clear what they wanted Kyoshi to do.
“Your mission, Ms. Schultz, is to contain the situation, calm down Mr. Little and bring him in for questioning.”
“Roger that.” The lift came to a stop and Kyoshi dashed into the waiting area.
The board was on but only one name was on it. <Schultz, A10.> Kyoshi read the board as she ran past it and down the A corridor. <Thank god we do so much cardio.> Kyoshi had been running since she left her room and she wasn’t even breathing hard. Even the pizza wasn’t bothering her so much anymore.
“How many officers are on scene?” She asked as she passed A5.
“Two officers in a standard police cruiser. Both officers are armed, but their sidearm won’t do much to hurt Mr. Little. A SWAT team is being mobilized and a specialized transport designed to handle Supers is on the way, but they’ll be waiting for your word to move in.”
Kyoshi gulped as she flew passed A8. She’d never been in charge of so many human lives before. <So don’t mess it up.> She thought to herself as she finally reached A10.
It was a ground level door, and all she needed to do was push it open.
<Ok, here goes nothing.> She pushed open the thick metal door and stepped into a calm suburban night.
The moment she was clear the door clanged closed behind her.
Daisy watched as Schultz sprinted down the hall. She was sitting in a comfortable leather chair and sipping a cup of coffee in a room just off the improvised city’s waiting room. From here she could hear, see, and influence the scenario they were sending the freshman advanced mind into.
“How many officers are on scene?” Schultz asked steadily.
Daisy could tell she was in the zone.
<Good thinking. Assessing additional resources that she can leverage to get the job done.> Daisy approved.
“Two officers in a standard police cruiser. Both officers are armed, but their sidearm won’t do much to hurt Mr. Little. A SWAT team is being mobilized and a specialized transport designed to handle Supers is on the way, but they’ll be waiting for your word to move in.” She gave the young woman more information than she’d asked for, but since Schultz was their first guinea pig of the final she deserved a bit more than the others who might get second-hand accounts of the trials.
A memory pulled at the back of Daisy’s mind.
She was sitting in a classroom with other ForceOps operators and getting a class about situational analysis.
“A situation and how you decide to handle it is always MET-TC dependent.” A burly NCO marched back and forth in front of the small class. “MET-TC stands for: mission, enemy forces, terrain, time considerations, and civilians. Use these categories to further analyze situations in order to take the appropriate action.”
Daisy shook the memory from her head. <That had to be back in the eighties.>
She didn’t remember a lot of the eighties thanks to copious alcohol consumption, but that didn’t matter now. She needed to focus on proctoring this trial.
“Mike, you there?” She switched frequencies.
“Oh yeah.” The man’s deep voice made him sound like the Cool-Aid mascot.
“She’ll be there in a few minutes if she can read a street sign, so start getting into character and get your friends ready to play police officer.”
“Sure thing.” Mike replied, and Daisy heard him shouting to the other guys on the scene with him.
Mike, and the two guys playing cops, were DVA contractors that were hired by the HCP for the final exam every year. Daisy knew that other HCPs liked to do another combat tournament to assess where the students were at the end of the year, but she was glad John and West Private did it a bit differently. The freshman had been fighting all year long, and while that was important, there was a lot more to being a Hero than throwing a punch.
That’s why Daisy loved this first trial. Trying to peacefully disarm a drunk Super, who was otherwise a good person, was a solid test of the other aspects of being a Hero.
Mike, who was actually a mid-level strongman, was briefed on the various ways to go about handling the situation based on what the students did. He’d also been doing this for several years so he had experience to fall back on. He’d be able to take anything the freshmen could dish out, but was supposed to stick to his low-level classification, which meant four tons of lifting power maximum.
Unfortunately, for anyone who wasn’t Mason or Casey, the situation could get ugly fast if they handled it incorrectly.
<Which is the point,> Daisy mused as Schultz stepped though the armored door. <Now let’s see what she can do.>
<Was it Mountainbrook or Mountainside?> Kyoshi scratched her head at the suburban intersection.
Mountainside Road was a quiet row of cookie-cutter ranch houses, but there weren’t any police lights, yelling, or gunshots so she was pretty sure it was Mountainbrook. She picked up the pace running the next five blocks. She’d already been in the impromptu city for a few minutes and she was pretty sure that not being able to find the house would count against her.
<Here we are, Mountainbrook.> She rounded the corner and immediately saw the police cruiser with its flashing lights about a quarter of the way down the street.
“Dispatch, I’m on scene.” Kyoshi jogged up to the two police officers and tried to look like she knew what she was doing.
The truth was that her legs felt like Jell-O and that pizza was threatening to come back up.
“Good evening, officers.” She decided to start things off friendly. “Everything ok here?”
“If everything were ok we wouldn’t need you.” The shorter cop gave her a partial glare, and made her feel stupid for asking.
<Of course things aren’t ok, or else I wouldn’t be here.> She wanted to smack herself in the face, but stopped herself. <That wouldn’t look good.> So she took two calming breaths and tried to center herself.
“Ignore him.” The other cop came to her rescue with a glare toward his partner. “He’s fighting off caffeine deprivation. Everything is contained here. The subject is remaining confined to his house or front lawn and all of the neighbors have been checked on. No injuries aside from the poor plasma screen over there.”
Kyoshi looked to where the man was pointing. What had to be a sixty-inch plasma sat destroyed on the small patch of grass. It looked like it had traveled through the broken window in the front of the house and then was picked up again and twisted into as much of a helix shape as possible before it started to break apart.
“Mr. Little said anything to you yet?”
“Yeah.” The nice cop grimaced. “He said if we stepped foot on his property without a warrant we’d end up like the TV.”
Kyoshi thought that over with the information she already knew. <Drunk, defensive, probably hurting.> People just didn’t throw two thousand dollar TVs through windows for no reason.
“Dispatch, does this day have any significance to Mr. Little; his birthday, kid’s birthday…”
“According to public record today would be his marriage anniversary.”
“Thanks, Dispatch.” She turned to the two officers. “Pull back a few houses. He’s already pissed at you two so let’s not give him any other chance to get angry.”
The cops nodded, got in their car and drove down a few houses, parked at an angle across the street, but turned off their flashing lights.
<Ok, you can do this.> She’d cleared the scene of potential hazards. Now all she had to do was talk to him.
With another deep breath she walked right up to the door and knocked politely.
“I SWEAR if that’s you cops I’m gonna…!”
The door flung open and Mr. Little’s red-eyed, hard-jawed face glared out at her. Both of them seemed to give a doubletake and take a half-step back. Kyoshi took a step back because Mr. Little was not little. It had to be the universe’s sense of humor that a six foot four man weighing around two-fifty was named Mr. Little. His muscles bulged under a white t-shirt that had amber stains that matched the open beer bottle in his hand.
Mr. Little took his step back probably because he was used to being the biggest guy in the room. Suddenly finding himself face to face with an amazon woman, an obviously Super one, wasn’t what he’d expected.
<Damn she’s tall.> The thought didn’t have any of the slurring Mr. Little’s speaking voice did, which put her at ease. Whatever happened, this situation wasn’t going to turn ugly because someone was really wasted.
“What do you want?” Mr. Little stepped forward again to the edge of the door. He’d recovered from his original shock and was reasserting his dominance.
“Good evening, Mr. Little.” Kyoshi gave him a big smile. She wouldn’t be able to intimidate this man, so flattery was the way to go. “I’m just here to see if everything is ok.”
“Why wouldn’t everything be ok?” Mr. Little glared back.
Kyoshi kept her smile plastered on, but arched an eyebrow and inclined her head back toward the broken TV and pointed at the nearby shattered window.
“People don’t usually toss their TVs unless something is wrong, Mr. Little; especially a nice one like that. What was it 1080p?” She pulled on her virtually non-existent TV hardware knowledge to try and form a bond.
“4K Ultra HD.” He replied, giving a heavy sigh.
“Ouch.” She whistled her apology. “So are you ok?”
“Yeah.” Mr. Little seemed to deflate some more. “It’s just been a tough week, work was rough, you know how it is.”
She didn’t “know how it was” but she nodded sympathetically.
“Why don’t you come out and help me pick up the pieces. We don’t want someone’s puppy walking by and stepping in the glass. You look like you work out.” She put and extra little umph into her smile this time.
<Calmed him down, check. Brought up puppies. Everybody loves puppies, check. Inflated his masculine ego, check. That should just about wrap this thing up.>
“Yeah, you’re right.” Mr. Little was practically congratulating her handling of the situation in his mind as he stepped outside.
<It’s a bonus that she got me outside. You never know if someone is hiding a weapon.>
<Oh.> She hadn’t even thought about that and she really should have. She wasn’t bulletproof like Mason.
She was about to let her guard down when Mr. Little turned toward the police cruiser parked down the street. That in itself would have been fine, except for the fact that the ornery cop was standing at Mr. Little’s fence instead of with the cruiser. And to top it all off he had his weapon out of his holster.
Kyoshi felt the man playing the drunken Mr. Little’s mind go from acceptance of the situation’s inevitable, peaceful completion to immediate overreaction at the sight of the cop. The transition was seamless enough that she could tell this had all been planned. And it was because of that she was able to react.
“I told you I’d…” Mr. Little took a step toward the cop and Kyoshi sprang into action.
The air around her hands distorted as she activated her telekinesis. For her, it was easier to control, and she was able to get the most force out of her weakest advanced mind capability, when her telekinesis was tethered to her. She didn’t know why, but that was how it worked in her case.
<Capitalize on his own momentum.> She gave Mr. Little a downward push when he was off balance and taking his step forward.
The push caught him at exactly the right time. His arms flailed as he tried to catch himself from falling, but there wasn’t anything to grab onto, and Kyoshi putting her foot into the back of his knee didn’t help. He hit the ground hard, and she jumped onto his back.
“Stay calm, Mr. Little.” She kept one hand on the middle of his back and the other went to her belt to find what she was looking for.
“What the hell!” Mr. Little tried to get his hands under himself and push upward.
The cement beneath them gave an audible crack as she pushed back with her telekinetic force.
<Where is it?> Kyoshi frantically thought as her fingers searched through the belt’s pouches. <I really should have looked through it before I got here.>
In a contest of force, Mr. Little’s strength was going to beat Kyoshi’s telekinesis, so she needed to bring her other gifts to the table until she could find what she was looking for.
“Calm down, Mr. Little.”
Kyoshi exerted a hard trained-on aspect of her power.
Professor Livingston had been doing private training sessions once a week with Kyoshi, and once they started to develop aspects of her advanced mind she brought in some guest instructors. Kyoshi had only spent one session with Mr. Morningstar, and it had been enough to realize she couldn’t compel people like he did. That would have made the situation she was in now a whole lot easier. Instead, Kyoshi found she had a slightly different gift.
During the fall semester, she had noticed that she was getting emotional feedback from the people she was trying to read. Dr. Johnson, the school’s empath, had confirmed it with her, and given her exercises to understand the new aspect of her ability more. Taking that training and building upon it with what Mr. Morningstar taught her, Kyoshi was able to have a semblance of control over those emotions.
It wasn’t very strong, and it had almost no effect on a prepared mind, but the mind of someone who was drunk, or supposed to be drunk, or unaware of her ability was a different story.
Kyoshi couldn’t compel someone to feel a certain way. It was more like coaxing what was already there, and since there were still lingering emotions of wanting the whole exercise to go smoothly she was able to capitalize on that.
In her current situation, her emotional coaxing of Mr. Little’s desire for a calm resolution made him stop fighting for a few seconds. In that time, Mr. Little realized what was happening and was prepared to fight harder, but Kyoshi found what she needed in those few critical seconds.
The white, square patch looked like something a smoker would be wearing to try and quit. This wasn’t that patch. This patch had enough tranquilizers and muscles relaxants to take down a bull elephant.
Kyoshi ripped the patch off its plastic backing and slapped it onto Mr. Little’s neck. She felt his resistance slacked immediately, but she continued to hold him down with both hands until his body went limp, he started breathing heavy, and drool started to pool on the cracked cement.
“Dispatch, situation contained.” She radioed in as she pulled his hands behind his back and flex-cuffed them with the a regular set that would not be able to hold a strongman in real life. “SWAT isn’t necessary, but I’m going to need that specialized carrier to transport MR. Little to the nearest precinct. They can book him on drunk and disorderly, but probably nothing more than that.”
“Good job, Ms. Schultz. That’s the end of this trial.” There was one loud siren wail from the cruiser, and both police officers relaxed.
“Nice job, miss.” They both tipped their caps at her.
“Schultz, you’re done until your next trial. Go get some sleep. You look like you need it.”
Kyoshi didn’t know how that was going to work out. She was wired now. She’d just peacefully taken down a strongman with no additional casualties or property damage. If she didn’t get an A she didn’t know who would.
Kyoshi practically skipped out of the fake city under the erroneous impression that all the trials would be that easy.
Lilly stood at the docks sweating her metaphorical balls off. <Fucking Miami heat.> Even in late April it felt like a sauna.
Despite the discomfort, and steadily growing taint-swamp, Lilly kept her head on a swivel. If shit was going to go down, it as going to go down now; which was why she was hiding in the shadows and using NVGs to watch the container ship pull into the port.
Damascus and his merry band of henchmen were waiting in a Land Rover. The ship pulled into its docking slip, a ramp detached, and people started to walk off. Most looked like regular crew members, and they didn’t pay any attention to the Land Rover. Either they didn’t give a shit or they didn’t want to know who was behind the highly-tinted windows.
Finally, at some predetermined signal, Damascus got out of the driver’s seat and walked to the bottom of the ramp. His goons, armed with AKs, took up position around the car.
<Here we go.> Lilly stored the NVGs and slid behind the heavy-caliber sniper rifle. The rifle had its own night-vision, and she scanned the dock for any threats. <If the DVA and Heroes jump them now this is going to be one hell of a fight.> A fight where she’d take a couple of pot-shots and get the hell out of there.
A group of men approached the top of the ramp and started to descend. They didn’t look like terrorists. Their heads weren’t wrapped in black, and they weren’t wearing any of the traditional clothing a westerner would associate with the Middle East. In fact, they all wore pretty nice suits. Suits that almost hid the bulges of compacted machine-guns.
The guy in the center of the moving formation didn’t have a bulge. He was dressed smartly in a three-piece suit. For an older guy he was handsome. His dark hair was just starting to silver at the temples and his neatly trimmed beard had flecks of gray in it. He was in shape, wore the suit like he owned the whole dock, and didn’t even look mildly concerned that someone might put a bullet through his brain if they knew he was here.
Seif al-Din walked off the container ship onto American soil without a care in the world.
“Welcome to America.” Lilly whispered to herself. Her trigger finger itching to put a bullet into his brain.
But the temptation passed. She didn’t need a reputation for killing Heroes and international supervillains jihadists. <I’ve got enough on my plate.>
She was on overwatch tonight, and her job was done the moment the entourage got in the Land Rover and the accompanying van that pulled up behind it. She disassembled her rifle, packed it up, and teleported it back to her armory.
<I’ve got to get back and get some sleep. I’ve got a final tomorrow.> She disappeared from Miami in a blast of darkness.
She still had a few days before all hell broke loose.