“You know what today is?” I ask with excitement.
“Not the day I get to sleep in, I guess” Ray says, groaning as I shake him awake.
“No silly, the day we get to find out what Blue’s power is,” I tell him.
“Oh, you mean the day Professor Grimes brain rapes us with her voodoo magic?” Emilio says. “Because ahora que we’re getting good at the whole killing thing we need to believe we’re in a real situation y todo.”
“Think that comes later. Today’s just an intro to the simulated environment,” May comments from her bed. “She’s getting our nervous systems used to it and making sure our powers don’t trigger in real life while she’s doing her thing. Part of that will actually be displaying our powers at max capacity in her dream world, hence Blue will have to display his powers at full capacity.”
“Oh, right. Looking forward to that myself actually,” Ray says, finally dragging his butt up out of bed. He has bed head and I laugh as he gives a big yawn.
“Are you lot talking about me?” Blue says from his bathroom door, hair glistening from the show he just took. He has a twinkle in his eye and I can tell he’s just as excited about today as I am. He’s hoping for a fight; one he plans to win this time. After Mary discovered new lens colors could add to her abilities she rose to the mid ranks of our class on the red lenses alone. She wants to see if new colors will work in the simulated environment before she tries out more. If they do, it will be a much safer place to test out new colors. Though given the sims’ dependency on the mind and her ability’s clear blind spot regarding itself, I have my doubts that her plan will work.
Blue is dead last now when it comes to combat ranking. Even Ray figured out how to get past his weapon to deliver a beat down, something they both agreed was ridiculous given a real fight without powers would be carried out using guns or energy projectors. After that rather humiliating defeat, Blue asked me to help him train in fighting without powers. But all the tips on stance and positioning won’t save him against the slightest use of a combat power.
“Just saying how much we look forward to seeing you shine,” I tell him.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Blue says. “It might hurt.”
“Hah,” Emilio bursts out. “You hurt me? Like hell. No chance amigo.” He doesn’t even slightly remember Professor Karim’s speech to us the first day. Blue just smiles at him broadly. He’s tried to be a good sport about other classmates teasing him on his spot as last ranked. But it’s worn on him, not being able to cut loose. Having guys like Emilio, Reader or Mohinder pick on him for refusing to even discuss what his power is.
I suspect that Mohinder does it to try and bait him into revealing a clue since his super intelligence could crack the mystery with even the slightest slip. But if Mohinder figured it out he’s not been willing to share and the other guys are just being dicks.
“Maybe amigo,” Blue says sarcastically. “But Dean Gravitas asked me to teach the first couple of lessons in the Sim today. And I really like my lesson plan.”
“Is the lesson on how to lose?” Genevieve breaks in. “Sorry, couldn’t resist.” Despite her ingrained haughtiness she tries to resist the same sort of bullying Emilio engages in.
“In a manner of speaking,” Blue says. “Now come on, I need some delicious breakfast if I’m going to try and not suck it up for a change.”
“You need some delicious breakfast every day. I swear that’s ninety percent of what you do here. You don’t even pay attention in class,” Ray grumbles lightheartedly, finally pulling on a shirt and stretching.
“Lesson zero of today,” Blue says. “I don’t need to pay attention in class.” He winks at Ray and walk out the door with a slight swagger.
After breakfast we’re taken to a room with a circle of comfortable looking recliners and told to settle in.
“For most of you, this process will be very easy. Just close your eyes and you’ll be in the simulation,” Professor Grimes says from the middle of the room. “Please try not to use any offensive power until you see me in the simulation with you. We have the entire staff waiting in the wings, as it were, to help ensure if anyone’s physical body tries to activate a power the damage will be limited and fixable. That said, the one member of your class that would likely happen with has been excused from this form of training.”
Looking around I realize that Allie is nowhere to be found. Puzzling. She’s often missing from the simulated kill tests, but is always present in class. Now that I think about it, I’ve never gotten anything from her that would suggest a reason for her absences. I’ll have to pay more attention to that in the future.
Most of the class closes their eyes and is under in an instant. I try, but nothing happens. Professor Grimes comes over to me. “Now for my more difficult student,” she says, taking my hand. “You’re going to have to let me in now Pyrrha.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I want to. I’m just not sure how.”
“Relax,” Professor Grimes says softly. “And breathe deep. Count backwards from ten, and think of something that calms you.”
I lean back in the recliner and imagine my body is surrounded by water and that I’m swimming. Ten…nine…one stroke after another… seven… stroke stroke, water washing over me… three…two…one.
The water disappears and I am on a concrete platform surrounded by my classmates. The platform hovers thousands of feet in the air over a forest. Above us is a night sky full of brilliant stars, but the ambient light was far brighter than nighttime could ever be.
Blue stands in the middle of the platform casually with his poleaxe, trying to suppress his anticipation. Some of our classmates are scoffing, like Nelle with her red hair and needles, Joker with his deck of cards, or the small Mohinder. A few are more curious like Miss Marid or Grant Li. No one is quite sure what to expect.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Professor Grime’s voice says from all around us. “Welcome to your first experience with my mental simulations. Normally I would have one on one sessions with all of you to confirm whether there is any risk of your powers triggering in real life when used in here. But at Dean Gravitas’ insistence, we’ll be having a less orthodox approach this year. Your first lesson will be taught by B.B. When I say Go, your goal will be to try to kill him by any means possible. Nothing a lot of you haven’t already done in training.”
She gets a chuckle from some of those who’ve trounced Blue during combat matches. He yawns, waiting patiently for her to continue. I prepare to start draining Blue’s power and get ready to summon Samson and James. Blue’s failing to get into a proper stance, as usual, despite my personal fight tutoring. He’s got his poleaxe lying across his shoulders, completely open, not a care in the world.
“Get read-“ Professor Grime doesn’t even finish the word when a wave of pain cuts across my face. Blood trickles down my face into my eyes. How is this possible? My armor should have reacted instantly, there’s never been someone with super speed fast enough to get past it. But it hasn’t expanded to cover my face at all. Is it a glitch in the mental simulation? Barber’s shade controls the armor, so maybe his personality entirely drives its usage. Can Samantha’s power capture that aspect in her simulation without a real mind to drag in with me?
But a split second blink gets the blood out of my eyes and I don’t understand what they’re seeing. Every single one of my classmates is dropping to the ground, dead, several of them in pieces. If the simulation glitched, maybe it wasn’t just my powers that didn’t work.
Blue stands in the same place he was, but I see the droplets of blood glistening on his Poleaxe’s blade and his body is thinner, as if he’s gone days without eating. Arterial spray shoots out of the necks of many of my classmates, including Genevieve’s, as they slump to the ground. Mohinder’s entire head has come off and Emilio’s is caved in. Mary’s spectacles lay broken in half on the edge of the platform, her body nowhere to be seen.
“Lesson one,” Blue says, breathing labored. “Always be the first to strike, even if you have to cheat to do it.” Blood explodes from classmates just as Jira Hellsing tries to piece herself back together. The energy was just starting to flash in the blood drenching her when Blue’s second attack had come. Her body rocketed off the platform and she dropped quickly out of sight. I suspected that was what I missed happening to Mary.
“Lesson two, never underestimate your opponent, no matter how dead you think they are. And a personal lesson for you Pyrrha, always keep your armor all the way up when anticipating a fight.”
In an instant he’s standing inches from my face and I can feel that he’s conflicted about having hurt me. I realize what his power really is and gasp slightly, mind still reeling from the pain. I’ve only felt pain beyond normal muscle exertion a few times since I was a child. “You can stop time,” I breath out.
No, that’s not it exactly. He wouldn’t be strong enough to put down Genevieve with just a time stop, no matter how many times he hit her. I’m fascinated, but I know I should be trying to win the fight. I attempt to summon James to run him through.
“Very close,” Blue says as the pain intensifies a hundred fold from a new direction and my thoughts of cutting him down are abandoned. I look down and see his poleaxe piercing my side this time, armor broken around it. Blue looks a lot worse for wear, muscles atrophied, eyes sunken with black circles under them. “I can stack time. Though the conversion rate at higher levels is pretty poor. Piercing your armor took the equivalent of years of force. But it would cost me decades off the backend of my life and, as you can see, quite the toll on my present physique.”
The wound is mortal and I’m having a hard time concentrating on his words, but I work out the implications. “If you use your power in the real world it kills you faster.” I don’t have long, but I’m not sure if he’ll answer outside the simulation. He’s kept me conscious because he trusts me to know, but for all his proclamations of working together he still doesn’t entirely trust our classmates to know how his ability works.
“Yes. Hopefully training in here I can fight using my power without being totally useless. But at my current skill level taking on strong defense opponents would leave me dead in a week.” I’m trying to focus on his words, but even hanging onto consciousness is a struggle. I consider trying to lash out with James to turn about his lesson two, but it would be a cheap trick. There’s really no question he could have killed me on the first strike without leaving himself open, bypassing my armor further than he did at first to cave my head in like he did to Emilio.
“Guess I know why you never needed to learn how to fight for real,” I choke out, trying to smile, thinking about the implications of being able to strike without any chance of retaliation at all. Blood dribbles down out of my mouth running down onto my chin.
Blue disappears and the world fades to black. The pain dissipates quickly as I wake up from the simulation and find myself back in the staging room, lying in a comfortable recliner, uninjured. It takes a moment to calm my breathing after being in that much pain.
Lesson four for me, I need to get hurt more often. There was that weird illusion when I fought Allie, which I still don’t understand, but I froze then too for a moment. If I fought against Genevieve again and she didn’t hesitate she’d pierce my armor for sure before I drained her. And if I reacted like I did today then I doubt I would counter effectively enough to save my life. I’m not overly concerned about losing to Genevieve herself, but her powers are not so atypical that I don’t expect to run into someone on her level in this profession.
“You ok?” Blue asks. “Sorry if my demonstration was a little rough.”
“I’m good,” I reply. “Your lessons are well noted and appreciated.” He wants to say more but is interrupted by Dean Gravitas clapping from the middle of the room. Zhe is wearing some sort of lacy suit like that worn by Imperial Noblemen in the 17th century. Zhe has a long rapier at zhis side and two delicate blue tear drop earrings hang from zhis ears.
“Some of you are grumbling,” Gravitas comments. “Convinced even now that the simulation screwed up, thinking that Professor Grimes made an error. I assure you, that is not the case. Baby B here killed each and every one of you.”
“Really wish zhe wouldn’t call me that,” Blue says, aggravated by Gravitas’ nickname for him. It’s the first I’ve heard the term, but Blue’s annoyance is of the familiar variety. Gravitas is not calling him Baby B for the first time.
“How did he kill us?” Mohinder asked. He’s not happy about being beaten, but he’s even more annoyed he has no idea how it happened. His mind works super-fast and he can teleport, a combination that makes the idea of someone beating him without even appearing to move unacceptable.
“He hit you first,” Gravitas said, not really answering the question at all.
“By cheating!” Emilio says indignantly. “Grimes didn’t even say go yet.”
“You think there’s such thing as cheating in a real fight?” Gravitas says in puzzlement. “The most important lesson of today is that you must strike first. More often than not, the first one to hit wins. Many of you are part of this program because you might survive a hit if you fail to strike first. But most are here because we think you have what it takes to win in one hit against the majority of opponents you are likely to face. A real execution is closer to a game of tag than a knock down fight, and Baby Blue here is the master of being it.”
“I still don’t understand what his power is,” Forest says. He’s displeased that he’s fallen yet another rank. His power works on a mass scale, but too many of our classmates can get past it for a killing blow. I suspect once Ray can really cut loose his displeasure will only increase.
“Me neither, and I lived longer than you lot,” Jira Hellsing grumbled, eyes flashing red.
“That you did,” Dean Gravitas says, completely ignoring the issue of what Blue’s power is. “Which comes to the next lesson. B.B. turned in his intended actions prior to the lesson to make sure any mistakes he made were not interpreted as an oversight on his part. He knew Jira wouldn’t die from his first strike and would require additional work. Had she been a little bit faster she might have even more thoroughly demonstrated the point… There is no kill like overkill. Not only should you hit your opponent as hard as feasibly possible from the offset, you should reduce their body to bits and preferably burn those bits to ash. Then collect as much of that ash into a tube and launch the tube on a rocket into space so we never end up with some crazy ash monster... again. We’ll of course provide tools for those last couple of bits.”
Contemplating practicing this tactic during kill tests was even more disturbing than the usual reflection on our classroom activities. But it made an undeniable amount of sense. Even The Butler would have been killed early on if his opponents hadn’t underestimated his regeneration abilities. Graveminder also only reached Untouchable status because his early opponents didn’t kill all of his bodies before he figured out how to hide some from sensors. Overall, those particular oversights have worked out more than not, even if Graveminder is a Crime Lord. But the potential damage of a truly malicious powerhouse with a healthy resistance to death and dismemberment shouldn’t be underestimated.
“There was another lesson B.B. pointed out that, although not on the agenda for the day, is certainly worth mentioning,” Gravitas says. I wonder how he observes what actually goes on in the mental simulation. Or is there a time delay and Professor Grimes relayed the relevant information before we came out of it? This information I don’t think he’s actively suppressing the way he often does, it’s just too mundane for him to think hard enough about it for me to glean it from him. “Those of you who have defensive abilities that require conscious effort should make sure they are activated as soon as possible when entering a combat situation. This doesn’t just include things like armor, either. Mohinder and Grant, neither of you should ever let yourselves be close enough to hit unless you’re delivering one yourself, and even that we’ll try and work on. Book boy –“
“Name’s Reader,” Reader interjects.
“Still ridiculous, you really need a better name. And you should strive to go into all situations from now on with a high defense character’s abilities already on. Joker, I suspect you could use your projections in a shielding capacity at the offset of an incident, though not sure you’d be able to get enough coverage against Baby B to matter. Worth doing anyways, it could save your life someday. The only one who did a halfway decent job on this was Emilio.”
“Fat lot of good it did me. Me mató in a second,” Emilio says, surprised at the praise.
“But if this were real life I would have avoided you,” Blue says. “Same with most of the folks the Dean just listed.”
A click of recognition occurs to Mohinder and I try to grab onto what he’s figured out, but he slips into thoughts too fast for me to track in an even more effective manner than Mary does. I’m not sure if it’s an intentional screen or not, but it’s fucking annoying. He knows who Blue is, and the casual condescension he’d once had gives way to a hatred I don’t understand.
“Time stacking,” he states, glaring at Blue.
Blue sighs in frustration. “Guess the secret is out, huh?” he asks. I get the impression he’s not just talking about his power.
“Although it is impressive that you have figured out B.B.’s general ability,” Dean Gravitas breaks in. “I would like to remind you Mohinder that it is frowned upon to share personal details you may know regarding another student. Or to act upon any grievances you may have outside of an approved match.”
Dean Gravitas’ voice has barely changed, but there is a sinister quality in it now that leaves no room for doubt that zhe will not tolerate Mohinder continuing the discussion. I can feel from my teammates that they, however, are far from done with this topic of conversation and will be bringing it back up again once we’re all alone.
“I think that concludes our first set of sim lessons,” Gravitas says. “I believe Professor Grimes would desperately like to have her normal one on one sessions with you now to establish the safety of fully using your abilities while under her influence. I will leave you all to it, and expect each of you to really go all out.”
With that, zhe gives us a mock salute and hurtles upward through a hole in the ceiling, Despite the mental stonewalling Gravitas engages in, I get the distinct impression one of zhis greatest pleasures is being melodramatic just to screw with us…