{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 5

Chapter 5

 

Ethan stared out the window of his hotel room, sipping his coffee and considering his future.

It was a rainy day in Chicago but the temperature was pleasant enough, and his room contained very comfortable furniture. He had tasks that needed doing, but he wasn’t really in the mood. Besides, it was the kind of soft rain that made you want to just sit and enjoy the moment.

He glanced down at the table nearest to him, full of scattered notes and files. Research. On the HCP, on Chicago, on Sizemore University. Blueprints of the entire campus lay there. Every restroom noted and every office labeled. Mom had taught him well the advantage of being prepared.

His purpose in becoming a hero wasn’t for revenge. He’d already accomplished that. Nor was it from some sense of self-doubt in his abilities. Stolen or otherwise. No, Ethan Burkhardt had a much more unusual reason for dedicating his life to such a goal.

An Oath and a Dream. His oath was his own, taken the moment he realized mother’s death was his fault. The dream could have been from anyone. It could have been his own subconscious causing trouble. He doubted that theory. It had been too clear, too easily remembered for it to be purely imagination.

His mom had always warned him about faulty memories, and though it was said with a laugh, he had taken it to heart. The next four years would likely be only the start of a career rife with hardships and pitfalls. He needed to remember it all. There was also the matter considering the drop out policy all applicants were forced to sign. It spelled out a version of identity protection that involved fogging a person’s memory.

While Ethan would do everything in his power never to get to that point, it was always better to be cautious. He had too much riding on this. He wanted it too much. He knew that. But it was worth it.

He would start with a small notebook, written in a code made of pure nonsense. Perhaps the pattern could be recognized, but translating it without the key would be nearly impossible. Nearly, because for whatever precautions one might take, there was undoubtedly a hero somewhere that could undo them with a snap of their fingers.

Notes, thoughts, reviews of training and combat, summaries of classes, and journals of daily activities. All offline.

He sat down his mug on the table and sorted aside his current semester schedule. There was English Lit, a history class, and Intro to Physics. A basic social elective filled out the calendar.

Only a few days left before classes began. He would be living in the dorm rooms and had already packed most of his items (such as there were) in preparation for the move. He’d have to put more work into meeting people once he was finished.

The problem was, he’d just been so busy trying to find a decent part-time job, but most were already locked down. This was Chicago, you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult for someone to find a place to work. His mistake was in forgetting that this was also the end of summer, and college students were flooding back into the area like locusts. The good jobs were all snatched up quickly, and what’s left were the dregs of… huh. Dregs. An idea began to form. There had been a number of cafes or coffee stands near the Market. Perhaps one of them would be hiring? The turnover rate was fairly sharp when working in retail or food industries. He might just get lucky.

Plus, his high school summers working in The Lodge might finally come in hand, and the thought of being a barista for a few semesters wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.

That goal in mind, Ethan moved back from the table, stretching widely before beginning the process of destroying the paperwork in front of him. It had served his purpose, and while not strictly illegal in any way, no evidence was always better than offering a confusing explanation.

His mind wandered to his future classmates. What would they be like? He fully expected the peace and quiet he was so used to while living alone to be shattered on campus. Hopefully, they would be interesting enough to make up for its loss… though actually, he’d rather desire that they be useful.

Ethan’s goals for the future relied on him becoming friends (or at the very least building connections) with a large number of Supers. Teleportation was at the very top of the list, but any kind of advanced mind would also be necessary.

The only question was, who would he meet first?

 

*******************

 

With a gentle stride, Jackson moved off the train and dropped to the floor of Union Station. He smiled a little then, looking about with eyes that saw more than they seemed. He shifted his duffel to the other shoulder, then began moving softly forward, the crowd of people in his path quickly giving him a wide berth. His obvious background showed clearly here in the city, his size only seeming to declare it all to the world. He disregarded the fearful looks that stared in his direction and made his way through the station to the taxi parking.

He quietly handed his duffel to the driver, who seemed fairly nonplussed about his size, and squeezed into the backseat. After giving the address of Sizemore Tech to the driver; he sat back and watched as the city flew past his window.

Well… it certainly wasn’t the forest. But to his surprise, Chicago did have its own unique beauty. It streamed from the high glass windows of the skyscrapers, flowing down across the brick and mortar of a weathered cathedral. There was a busy feeling to the city, a breath of purposefulness and determination, of excitement and possibilities.

“Heading to Sizemore, huh?” the driver glanced in his rearview mirror.

“Yes,” Jackson responded softly.

“Going to be Hero someday?” he grinned.

“Who can say?” Jackson turned back to the window. “The future is unknown. Full of potential, but undetermined nonetheless.”

The driver nodded with appreciation.“Huh. I guess that makes sense. Well, good luck anyway.”

“Thank you. Luck is always a good thing to have.” Jackson smiled back.

The rest of the drive through the city continued peacefully and without interruption, the taxi finally dropping him off at the front of the Sizemore Tech Campus. After a friendly goodbye to his driver, then shouldering his duffel once more, he made his way to the administration building.

Emerging about an hour later, he slowly began the walk to the designated dorms. Apparently, he would be living in Randolph Hall this year. He wondered what exactly that would entail. After all, a great many of the buildings in this area of the city were very old. Many voices resided here, though they might be worn with age and disheartened by remaining unnoticed for so long. He’d noticed much impatience while in the city, a far cry from the laid back feeling so prevalent in the forest.

Well, this time someone was able to listen. He couldn’t wait to get to work.

 

*******************

 

Travis stopped walking once he reached the curb and stared at the dorms, a look of excitement spreading across his face. Behind him, Casey continued dragging his suitcases over to the curb, waiting for the rest of the family to catch up.

The blond-haired young man was slightly winded, but couldn’t use his ability for fear of being noticed. It was definitely an odd feeling, that of trying not to stand out. The boys had always been… well, noticeable, and had thrived in such an environment. This was a much different atmosphere.

“Hey, Travis buddy, if it isn’t too much work, thank you could manage to liberate a few boxes from the top of the stack? I’d rather get moved in sooner rather than later ya know?”

“Sure, sure. Be there in a sec.” Travis continued to gaze with thoughtful delight at the surrounding campus. From their current viewpoint at the northwestern top of the quad, they could see over quite a large area.

To the south and east, the campus spread out in a fascinating blend of the old and new architecture styles Chicago was somewhat famous for. Ancient red-brick buildings surrounded the central part of the school, usually two to three stories in height. Only slightly further beyond that, one could see the gothic church steeple rising in the background. Since the establishment of HCP in the 50s, the small community college had undergone something of a renaissance, shifting into the massive sprawling institute it was now.

Lake Michigan provided the perfect backdrop from this viewpoint, its shining waters reflecting the sunlight into a myriad of colors. A soft breeze from the north shifted Travis’s dark curls, and he closed his eyes to just feel the moment.

It felt so right.

Casey’s hand landed on his shoulder, pulling him from his reverie and into a tight side-hug.

“Hey. She would have been proud ya know. Seeing you here.” His best friend had a solemn look on his face and was joining him in staring at the distant horizon.

With a small nod, Travis broke the hug and stepped back with a grin. “Here, let me help you carry that. Before you break something. Again.”

“Hey! It was one time ok! I just misjudged how much I could carry. Cause, ya know, I’ve been doing all this work while you’ve been daydreaming. So now we have to be without your fancy speakers. Boohoo.”

Readjusting his load, Casey waited for a few other students to move past them on the sidewalk before continuing his journey to the second floor of Stangel Hall. The atmosphere around them was full of energy as over 20,000 new or returning students made their way on the campus in preparation for a new semester.

He shoved his way past the boxes lining the hallway, then virtually threw his suitcases into their shared dorm room. “Hey man, you never did tell me how we got a room together. I thought that was a random thing for incoming freshmen?”

With deft hands, Travis continued sorting his clothing into the small closet provided. “Well, you see, first I had to bribe the dean of admissions, which was no small task by the way, then I had to convince the dean of students, which was slightly easier, but then I had to talk to the dean of the HCP, and that my friend, was the real challenge.”

He turned to find Casey staring at him with a dead expression plastered across his face and two upturned fingers presented expressively. Laughing, Travis threw a package of underwear at his friend’s face. “Nah man. There was a note in the application if you already wanted to room with another incoming student. Since we’re both freshmen in the HCP, it was approved.”

“Cool.” Casey belted the underwear back towards the other side of the room. “Want to grab a bite to eat after this? I could go for some pizza.”

“Sure. Uh, but seriously though, pizza? You know orientation is tomorrow, right? All that grease, rolling around in your gut. Just a disaster waiting to blow.”

“Nah, I ain’t worried. After all, it’s the first day. What’s the worst that can happen?”


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{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4

 

A landline phone rang shrilly on top of an empty desk, in the middle of a doorless, windowless room. A single-occupant sitting in the only chair provided stared harshly down at the noisy device, frustration evident in the intervening silence.

Finally, on the fifth ring, a hand reached out to snatch the phone off its cradle.

“Thirty seconds.”

The first voice was quiet, the meaning clear. The response was quick and cold.

“Then I won’t waste our time. The Game the Three of us have been playing at has just been escalated. Something has changed, and no one can foresee how. A new timetable is in the works, and unique pawns are approaching the horizon. The goal is this: take control of the incoming HCP class at Sizemore Tech. Utilize whatever methods as best you can, and gain their trust and loyalty by any means. Whoever controls them most by their graduation will likely win the final conflict.”

“Rules of Engagement?”

“No deaths unless agreed upon. No face to face contact. No blackmail of the HCP instructors. Addendums may arise.”

“When do we begin?”

“We just did.”

The phone went dead. A moment later, it was carefully and gingerly placed back in its appropriate position. The lone individual stood, then lifted the chair and tucked it underneath the desk.

First, a straightening of their sleeves. Then, a crack of the neck. Lastly, the whisper of a device being removed from the foremost pocket of their suit jacket. A sigh, then the device was engaged, causing a flash of light and a crack of ozone being left to echo in the now empty room.

 

*******************

 

Holding the last remnant of his bloody uniform, the tired-looking man gazed across the flowing fields of grass.

This was the day. It would begin in the next few hours, as the Windy City lived up to its name, and the young students began to explore their new home.

They had no idea what awaited them. And somehow… someway… he would have to save them. He had no other choice.

His attention was caught by the blowing rags, and the faded writing across its surface. Only the letters W A R… were still visible, followed by the number 1.  The patch above the letters had already been torn off, but he knew what belonged there. Acies. A good name. His name once. Well, one of them.

The last memories of a forgotten life. He let the rag blow away in the wind, following its wandering journey with weary eyes. When it finally dipped below another hill, he turned back towards the highway, gazing at the traffic winding into the sprawling city far distant.

The world didn’t need to know. Not yet. Hopefully never, but he was far too jaded to believe such a thing. This was the beginning of the end. Every action mattered.

Zipping up his new coat tighter, the man once known by many names, now only known by one, gave the barest of smiles. Acies was back.

After all, there were Heros to save.


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{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 3

Chapter 3

~

Jackson sat quietly alone on the high mountainous ridge and absorbed the feel of the day into his skin. The whisper of the wind that flowed through his dark hair was a comforting friend, the cool summer breeze carrying the sound of forest glen and bubbling stream into his conscience. Time slowed in this world, space fluctuating in soft tones of gravity and light… he breathed deeply, dwelling in the moment, completely immersed in the peaceful absence. It was like the strongest drug, the clearest emotion, the purest definition of true energy. An energy suddenly tinged with worry.

His eyes slowly reopened; and expelling a soft sigh, he rose and began the long hike back to the ranch. Stocky, well-muscled, and with hair black as night; the man with an unmistakable Native American heritage picked up speed while traversing the narrow game trail. This would be his last sojourn to the mountains before departing, and it was already over too soon. Perhaps he could befriend a teleporter, there undoubtedly would have to be one in the program, even if they weren’t in the same year. 

With these thoughts in his mind, he arrived back home in short order. Striding into the ranch yard and up the front steps of the mill house, he took a minute to greet Old Brett. The worn cattle dog was getting quite on in years, but his tail still wagged as hard as any young puppy when he saw Jackson walk up to the front door. As he was busy kneeling and scratching the dog’s ears, Uncle William stepped onto the veranda.

Tall and broad-shouldered, Uncle Will showed every day of his 40 plus years. His blond hair and light blue eyes were evidence enough of his thick Scandinavian blood, but his weathered face and hands depicted a work ethic few could compare to. He smiled at Jackson though, and with a shake of the head, motioned him to sit on one of the wrap-around benches surrounding the house. 

“You have thoughts, what are they?” he calmly said, as a small pocket knife and short whittling stick appeared out of nowhere into his awaiting hands.

“I am worried. My future has seemed sure… but now on the mountain, I felt a disturbing emotion. Something is moving unseen, and those with eyes ahead do not like it.” 

“Does this prevent your goals? Will you be unable to accomplish what you wish to?”

Jackson thought about it for a minute. “Unclear.”

Uncle Will nodded. “Then nothing has changed. You will go to school, you will become a hero.”

Rising to his feet, Jackson looked over at the man who had taught and cared for him since he was a child. Without this man’s guidance, he would surely have long ago fallen into insanity. 

“Thank you, Uncle. I trust you will notify me if an emergency arises?” 

“Ja. You will find transportation?”

“Of course. It might take a few weeks though.”

“Only natural. Be smart, remember your surroundings. You are unused to the city. This will be dangerous.”

“Dangerous yes, but necessary. I must learn my weaknesses, and this is the best way.”

“Agreed.” Uncle Will sighed, rising from his chair as well, knife and wood disappearing into the air. Walking over to Jackson, he placed an arm around the younger man’s shoulders. “Now, you have waited long enough. Go tell your mother goodbye.”

“Is she still upset?”

“Ja, but I doubt she will stay that way for much longer. She loves you too much to let you leave while angry. Go, talk to her. Show her the man you wish to become.”

Smiling softly now, Jackson gave a quick nod; and turned to enter the house. 

“Oh, and Jac? You must find someone to confide in at this school. Another student would be a good choice, just make sure you are familiar with their desires before telling them of your own. Trust your power, and it will not lead you astray. 

“Yes, sir. I understand.”

 

*******************

 

The deserted country road stretched for miles in either direction, connecting the horizons by its cracked blacktop. The lone individual walking quietly down the single lane was wearing what had clearly been a uniform at one time; though it was now little more than torn and bloody rags. 

Closing his eyes, he breathed in a slow, deep breath. Ah, but the delicious quiet! He had missed the silence of this area of the world; the peacefulness of being surrounded only by rows upon rows of corn and wheat. How long had it been? Years at least. It felt like centuries.

The miles had slowly passed behind the plodding individual, his mind wandering, until he slowly glanced up to see a small skirting of trees beside a small creek. “Perfect,” he decided. Carefully, he crawled through the barb-wire fence and walked through the knee-high crabgrass to the trees. After deciding to pause for at least a short rest in the grove of sycamore, he slowly and carefully began laying out what was left of his kit in front of him. A sword (about a meter and a half long) was laid gently down, it’s blade made of a bright silverish alloy. A dagger followed; the once decorated sheath that had held it was now in poor condition. A brace of throwing spikes, a now thoroughly mangled set of revolvers, and a variety of damaged gadgets all joined the small pile of equipment. 

Sighing, the weary man lay back and rested for a few minutes. Just a few minutes, nothing more. Just enough time to… 

Waking with a start, he immediately gathered energy and let it roll across his skin. Flying upwards into a kneeling position, he took a fighting stance and prepared to destroy… the stray cat calmly licking its paw. 

Slowly exhaling his pent-up tensions, the man scowled and sank back to the ground. He needed a place to rest. A safe place. Unfortunately, this was a world filled with impossible acts and incredible gifts; all directed by people with personal agendas. Nowhere was safe. In fact, the only reason he hadn’t already been found and pulled in was likely because he had been running a constant telepathic interference blanket since arriving. He could keep the interference up indefinitely, even when asleep, but almost all of his other skills required concentration and focus. Thus the need for sleep. He had lost so much in the transfer. So many skills, so many hazy memories.

Was there anyone in this world he could trust? Quickly running off a list of individuals in his mind who might consider helping him; he, unfortunately, had to discount many due to his current situation. “Hmm, wouldn’t understand, couldn’t comprehend, didn’t like them in the first place. Maybe, maybe, maybe… ahh.” 

Smiling now, he gathered his weapons and equipment up. He had a destination, and he had a goal. He only hoped it was the right one.

 

*******************

 

The door to the sleek (and obviously modified) Lamborghini opened with a barely heard hiss. Its two-toned red on black highlights stood out brilliantly in the midday sun, and it’s silver-edged rims slowed their rhythm to a stand-still. The man who could be seen emerging from the vehicle’s interior matched its theme perfectly. 

To most outside observers, they could have easily assumed that such a well-dressed individual would appear perfectly at home on the courthouse steps, or in the high rises of Wall Street and vast corporate kingdoms. Yet, he was here, on a simple university campus, walking briskly across the Commons adjunct to the Administration office. That wasn’t to say he didn’t enjoy the admiring glances his ride got. 

The man continued walking in and around a variety of office buildings and boardrooms, before finally stopping in front of an innocuous-looking file closet situated down an empty hallway. Pressing his hand to the side of a cabinet, he watched disinterestedly as a small light flickered on the top of the doorframe. When the light turned a pale blue, he simply walked through the still visibly closed doors. 

“Hello, Adrian.” A petite looking Asian woman smiled warmly at his entrance onto the elevator. 

“Yoko! When did you get back? I thought you were going to be gone until at least just before the semester began?” 

“That was the plan originally, yes. I changed my mind after hearing a few underground whispers about HCP schools being under watch.” 

Adrian Steels peered down at the much smaller professor beside him. “We already knew about Overton though.” 

“Overton, yes. They’re not the only one though, just the most obvious.” she shrugged off his further questioning glance with a wave of the hand. “I’d rather not go over everything twice; you’ll just have to wait till we’re in the meeting.”

“Fine. But I expect all the juicy details of your vacation later. And don’t think that getting back early gets you a pass on our sparring session on Tuesday. I need the practice more than you do anyway.”

“I wouldn’t dream of missing it. After all, it’s not every day we professors are allowed to destroy the reputations of our fellow peers.” She smiled to lessen the blow.

“Ha! That’s funny. You can try, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. I might be inexperienced when it comes to sharp steel and bloody maces, but I’m perfectly capable with these.” He held up his hands to emphasize the comment. 

Kiyoko Masuyo smiled softly once more. “We shall see.”

She might have said more, but the elevator dinged at this point and opened to show the HCP center. Walking past the auditorium and into the office’s section of the underground facility, the two friends continued to bring each other up to date with what had been happening over the summer. Pausing before heading into the boardroom, Adrian looked closely at Kiyoko. “It really is good to have you back, you know. Chicago just wasn’t the same without your smile brightening its streets.” 

“Thank you.” she dipped her head in response, then looked distantly away for a few seconds. “It means a lot to hear that.”

“You’re welcome. As long as you don’t forget it. Now, let’s go get this mess started.” he stated as he swung the door open to allow her entrance ahead of him. “Ladies first.”

Entering the boardroom revealed the rest of the staffed heroes gathered around an oval-like table, student files and many piles of paperwork scattered about haphazardly. 

“Good.” Dean Jackson looked up from his position at the head of the table and thoroughly scanned both of them. “Glad you guys could make it,” he commented dryly. “Now sit down and buckle up. We have a lot of work to get done, and no time to do it in. Amery, would you mind giving us a quick update on the upcoming senior class? Any issues we should be made aware of, or concerns with the students?”

The older focus instructor shifted in his seat and thought for a few seconds before answering, his Swedish accent more prevalent than usual after the summer break. “That would be a negative sir. Perhaps we’ve gotten lucky, but this year’s senior class is fairly straightforward. No situations have arisen as of yet, and I don’t foresee any in the near future.”

“The same could be spoken for the junior class.” Coach Langston’s matter of fact tone broke in. She continued to peruse a few separate files before nodding to the dean. “Should be all good for the beginning of the year, at least until trials start.” 

“Okay, then let’s move on to our more immediate subjects.” He motioned towards the display in the middle of the table. “I’m sure you’re all aware of what’s been happening in and around Overton lately. Now, there isn’t much we can do to help them directly; but I’ll be damned if I let some scrubmaker politicians try to take over our schools. In the interest of cooperation, I agreed to allow the reentrance of an extra student or two into the program, albeit if their original dismissal was unjust, and if they had the necessary potential to continue. As such, we have one applicant currently in processing.” He shuffled a few papers before pulling one out and focusing on it. 

“Susan Owens. A shifter with some interesting properties. End of second-year dropout, so she’ll be quite a bit ahead of the current sophomore class. You all have the same file in front of you, so in the interest of expediency, we’ll skip the basics. This could be potentially throwing something of screwball in our current class, but I’d like to see how they handle the changeup. Thoughts? 

Adrian grinned before mentioning what was certainly on everyone’s minds. “Meredith Hopkins is going to have a hard time handling a new top dog.” 

Langston nodded quietly. “We’ll have to keep a close eye on Miss Hopkins. Regardless, I believe Susan will be entering with quite an advantage due to her extra experience. Is there anything you wish us to implement with her training? No point in wasting forward movement.”

Dean Jackson shook his head, though he did seem to ponder the thought for a few moments. “I’ll tell you what, let’s judge her combat matches for ourselves before we make any further commitment to her future training. Regardless, I want an advanced roster and schedule replanned. Let’s keep on track with everything else we can.”

After receiving multiple nods of confirmation, he turned to the largest mixture of paperwork and files lying in front of him. “Alright, then without further ado… let’s figure out who we want to see get beat up this year.”

As the rest of the teachers good-naturedly chuckled, a screen projected to the wall on their right; filling up with a tournament-style bracket, aligned vertically with a long list of names. The Freshman beat down was about to begin.


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{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 2

New Days 

~

Even after staring at the math test for several minutes, Casey couldn’t make heads or tails of it. “I mean, sure” he thought aloud. “I spent hours studying this thing, I even had Travis drill me on the questions. Why can’t I remember a single problem?”

“Because of all your many and numerous talents my friend, the formulaic mechanics of the world has never really been one of them.”

Travis Stanton hopped on the bench next to his friend; languidly stretching his long-limbed frame, looking innocently reminiscent of an alley tomcat enjoying a sunny day. “Look man, the SAT test was weeks ago, if your scores were low enough to warrant you retaking it, you’d probably already know by now.”

“Ya, ya, you’re right. I still hate it though. And seriously dude, what am I gonna do when we get to college? You know I struggled with high school math; what the heck am I supposed to do when faced with something like college algebra? Or calculus?!”

Travis shrugged. “Cheat? Just kidding, just kidding… I’ll bet you twenty they have tutors or something similar there. Don’t worry man, we’ll get you squared away when the time comes. But, as for the moment, why be afraid of something that hasn’t even happened yet!? This is our last few free weeks of summer, and you’re sitting here wasting it away. After this, we get back to training… but for the moment, let’s go have some fun.”

Sighing resignedly, Casey tucked the stray papers into his shoulder-bag and stood up. “You’re right man. Sorry I’ve been such a downer lately.”

Travis just shrugged, already dismissing the apology. “No worries man, that’s why I got your back. Now,” he said while cracking his knuckles. “We going Pop-Blast or Wave-Hop?”

Casey grinned, a little of his normal vigor and energy returning now that he had set aside those pesky thoughts of the future. “Considering that we’re just heading into town, I think Wave-Hop is probably the better choice. No point in getting Sheriff Ben upset at us again.”

Travis nodded sagely. “A wise choice my friend.” He danced back a half-step and slid into a runner’s stance, waving at the bare ground in front of him. “After you.”

Lumbering to the invisible starting line, Casey gave his arms a quick stretch and threw the kinks out of his legs; then crouched down with knees bent in launch position. Focusing inward, he began to pull the power around him into a tight ball, flexing his muscles in preparation. After just a few seconds of storing the energy, he thrust down and back – leaving the ground in an appropriately sized blast-off. He immediately felt Travis pop into place, crouched low across his back in a surfing pose. Another instant and they were skipping across the horizon, the occasional blast by Casey keeping them moving along at a decent clip. This (though only one of many reasons), was why Travis and him had been dubbed the “Blast Boys” in the surrounding counties.

Separately, their powers sucked balls. Together however, they had created an unstoppable duo; braving bullies and angry old sheriff’s alike, carrying the torch of mischief and devilry throughout the entirety of their public school lives.

The only reason they hadn’t been completely ostracised during their formative years was due in part to a large family presence in the area; that, and the fact that their creative pranks and adventures were often more flash than substance. By the time high school rolled around, their teachers had been mostly ready for them. Mostly. Those had been the good years; and they might have continued in that vein for quite some time, if not for the death of Travis’s older sister.

She had escaped the small town innocence their family was raised in – trading it in for the high stress life of a model in the Big Apple; actually becoming quite successful in the short time she had been working there. She hadn’t forgotten her roots though, and still loved her kid brother enough to constantly try and convince him to join her in the city; even though they both knew it probably would never happen. She had died less than a year ago in a Supervillain attack that decimated New York, killing thousands of people and most of New York’s working Heroes. Since that day, the Blast Boys had changed their focus, and their goals for the future.

There weren’t many Supers in this small area of the midwest; and no heroes had ever come from their laidback town. The two best friends knew this; and having researched everything they could find concerning the HCP programs around the country – it began to become increasingly obvious that their chances of becoming the first official heroes of Dubuque County, Iowa were fairly slim.

Travis had made the decision then; if they didn’t have the skills… they would just have to develop the smarts. Thus they began to dedicate their time and energy into training – adapting strengths out of weaknesses, learning every in and out of their abilities they could find, pushing themselves beyond what either friend thought physically possible. People had begun to notice, whisperings in the town mentioning how the pranks had disappeared, the monthly embarrassing accidents in the school no longer occurring.

The Blast Boys had gotten seriously intimidating by the time graduation rolled around… everyone cringing in anticipation for the other shoe to drop. It never did. While the townspeople and county looked on in shock, both boys strolled across the platform to accept their diplomas; muscles rippling, faces neutral, eyes always on the lookout for unseen threats. Nobody had been brave enough to ask where or how they had trained; and the boys certainly weren’t volunteering any information on the subject.

Before the night of graduation was over, both friends had sent their applications to all respective HCP universities; and thus the waiting game had begun… that would finally end today. A friend at the post office had already called Travis and confirmed that multiple packages were inbound to the family farm. Unfortunately till mail arrived, there was nothing to do in the meantime (besides hijacking the mailman, which wouldn’t exactly fit the image they had been so purposely emulating).

Travis knew too much training could provide burnout; so the current deviation to the local ARC-ade was actually planned, and really served multiple purposes. On the one hand, they had accidentally foiled a robbery a couple years back, so they received unlimited tokens whenever they wanted to hang out. Free food and games? Yes please! On the other hand, they had already begun to create a great rapport with many of the younger kids who hung out around the gaming station – and Travis knew that when they finally became heroes, every bit of support they could get was a battle already won.

Casey didn’t mind the constant planning. Travis was good at seeing ahead, figuring out what they needed to do, where they needed to be. It wasn’t that Casey was unintelligent, more so that he recognized the drive behind his best friends life; and was perfectly willing to back him up wherever needed.

Because of that reasoning, he now found himself spending a few hours racking up the best score in Contra and Double Dragon; then switching to Street Fighter to get his butt whooped by a 12-year old. He blamed the losses on being distracted; having constantly checked the clock for the last 40 minutes, just waiting for the top of the hour. The mail truck always ran like clockwork, which meant that as soon as it turned 3:00 PM; he was out the door like greased lightning. Arriving home in record time, they continued their forced patience; dismissing the last of the excited family members to give them a little needed privacy alone in the dining room.

Slowly but surely, they withdrew the various packets and information handouts. When the simplistic but unquestionable letter finally appeared at the back of the stack, a slow grin began working it’s way across Casey’s face. He looked up, and saw Travis’s determined smile staring back at him.

“Now…” Travis softly murmured, “the real training begins.”

**********************

Shadows began to languidly creep up the walls of the New York Public Library as the soft light of day made its gracious departure. The old Grandfather clock sitting in the east hallway began to toll the passing hour, stirring most patrons from their focused reading; a quick look to the time causing most people to begin preparing their departure for the day.

Hidden deep among the seemingly endless rows of books and reading stands, Esme lay surrounded by the piles of her research. She had created a small crevice of warmth and knowledge tucked behind an ancient cedar and oak desk; together with a smuggled-in desk lamp and a few of those fancy pillows from one of the love seats scattered throughout the library. Hidden from the world, she would only occasionally leave her spot to drift through the many aisles of bookcases; retrieving something of value or interest, then retreat hastily back to her small sanctuary.

The various librarians tasked with the safety and security of thousands of books were well aware of who the little “book minx” was; but due to her shy and gentle nature, none minded her hideaway. In fact, she was such a regular sight in the library, that rare and unlucky was the day one couldn’t find her slipping through the old tomes and dusty binders; and if her raven black hair and soft-lipped smile couldn’t be found, all were slightly uneasy until she popped back up again. Considering that her father was a well known professor and journalist at the Columbia University, many people looked to the day she might join the ranks of students roving in and out of the library.

Esme sighed, her latest acquired manuscript laying propped open against her pale legs. Tucking her skirt underneath her legs once again, she considered the future. When originally planning her “ultimate and completely genius” path to success, she hadn’t considered her father’s reaction to it.

Four years – four years to attend, study, learn, and graduate from a HCP program; then write a detailed biography of her time inside the school (sans any restricted details and names, of course). It would be the first of its kind, an introspective recording on the life of a hero, and of the hero community in general. It would also be a chance for any and all people who wondered what truly happened in one of those schools to alleviate that desire.

Her father was a pulitzer winning writer and scholar; the only way she could ever hope to achieve his level of success would be to provide something truly unique to the world. He had been less than happy of course, and had repeatedly tried to convince her to consider otherwise. This was it though, her mind was made up, and she had already received the confirmation letter acknowledging her acceptance into several HCP programs around the country.

Now the choice remained, where to go? She could of course, attend Korman University right here in New York City; but knowing her father, he would expect her to continue living in-house. This would, however, undoubtedly distract from the entire individual college experience, so she probably needed to attend an out-of-state program. Of the remaining schools, only Sizemore Tech was located in a similar location to her own city. She had enough self-awareness to admit that she was quite the city girl; and at the very least Chicago had it’s own unique flavor of interesting. She sat still while continuing to mull over it for a few more minutes, but the truth was her mind was for the most part already made up.

She sighed once more, not anticipating the conversations she would soon have with her father; than began the slow and heart wrenching process of dismantling her home away from home. She had only just begun stacking the many books around her; when the head librarian walked quietly up to the desk.

“Hello dear. How are you today?”

Esme smiled at the older woman, a warm feeling spreading between the two avid bookworms. “I’m doing fine, thank you.”

Dr. Grace Van Brune was all too familiar with the young woman in front of her, and in many ways considered her somewhat of a daughter; as did many of the older employees of the library. She was therefore appropriately sad about the departure of the Book Minx, but the experience of life had taught her the value of striking out for oneself.

“Esme, I assume what your father mentioned in the board meeting is true? You plan on attending university in another state?”

“Yes mam, you are correct.”

“Well, if your father can’t persuade you otherwise, I don’t suppose I could either. Nonetheless, I never want you to think we would ever push you away, even if you might not wish to join our “small” crowd of intellectuals. You have a brilliant mind, truly astonishing for your age. I won’t presume to know or understand your reasonings for attending school somewhere else, but I trust you have a plan. Nonetheless, the membership board here has decided to allow our resident young researcher to continue using the library as her personal vacation home; so please, stop breaking down your area. As long as you stick with only arriving in official library hours; we would be happy to see you walking theses aisles again.”

“Oh… oh thank you! I thought… I mean, I worried I wouldn’t be able to return, but… just thank you!”

The aging scholar smiled fondly as the small raven haired girl flung her arms about her. After the hug was finally broken, she said softly, “We will miss you not being here at all times, but I imagine we’ll manage. Please know you’re always welcome here, understand?”

Esmeralda smiled once again, and nodded happily. “I won’t forget, and I’ll be sure and visit when I have the chance.”

“Good, now run along home. I’m sure your father is expecting you.”


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{PotGA} Bright-eyed and Bushy-tailed (Year 1): Chapter 1

New Horizons

~

Ethan observed the bustling city as it flashed past the greyhound bus – his forehead resting against the cool window pane. He had always felt slightly uncomfortable when entering the city. Any city really. Chicago was no different; it’s towering skyscrapers thrusting into the cloudy atmosphere; it’s streets crowded with the millions of people who called this sprawling metropolis home.

Sighing, he began to imagine once more that by some chance he had been accepted into Lander University in California, instead of here at Sizemore Tech. Not only was the Lander campus closer to his home in Wyoming, it was also reported to have a significantly smaller city surrounding it. Still, Dean Jackson was the only school director that had been willing to give an him an applicant interview; the only one willing to hear him out before automatically dismissing his application. Ethan knew that on paper he didn’t look like much; his grades average, his resume boring, his powers necessarily toned to minuscule levels. He had expected the initial rejection, but after two and half years, he had begun to growing increasingly worried they would simply never accept him. Thankfully the long wait was finally behind him; he was heading to university! Better yet, he was heading to the Hero Certification Program and everything that might entail! The place where men and women become hallowed myths, and where the origins of legends had their beginnings.

Shaken from his reverie as the bus started to slow down, Ethan began the short process of gathering his few worn bags (and one frayed and quite ragged looking suitcase) together. He then waited patiently as the massive transcontinental machine pulled into the awaiting station and finally shuttered to a halt; it’s brakes and gears hissing with familiar protest. Joining the common bustle and maneuvering as the passengers made their way out the sliding doors; Ethan took a deep breath and stepped into the cool fall air of the Windy City.

Chicago lay sprawled out before him; its expansive skyline dominated only by the shining waters of Lake Michigan. The city’s architectural style had changed drastically in the many decades since the Great Fire; it’s various downtown and urban buildings noted more for their originality rather than their antiquity.

Ethan continued to walk among the bustle of the city’s native populace, having decided to spare the cash of a taxi for the moment; and simply take in the many sights lying before him. Seeing a worn and aged sign depicting the start of Route 66, he turned to follow the route into Grant Park. He paused to enjoy the sight of the Buckingham Fountain, a tower of water spilling a hundred and fifty feet into the air, lying between the expanse of Lake Michigan and the swathe of downtown Chicago. This city was truly beautiful in its own way, he considered silently. There was no way of telling what might await him in the future; though these next four years would undoubtedly be quite the test of endurance and fortitude. At least the locale was decent enough.

Sighing contentedly, he finally turned from the beautiful sight of the lake harbor; and began making his way to a street that seemed likely to contain a taxi. No use putting it off any further – university awaited! Granted, he was quite a few weeks early; but at least now he had a chance to find a job before school started. “Hmm. I wonder what might be available?” he began to ponder.

**********************

Delphia (called Del by anyone sane enough to know her) stared at the idiot in front of her. She was sure his mouth was still moving, but for some reason, no sound emerged. Perhaps he was a mute. No, that wasn’t right. He had been ordering something, no different from a thousand other daily customers; but then he had to go and smirk at her hair. It wasn’t the smirk that irritated her as much as it was the completely unsubtle grab of the crotch, and the comment concerning her mother, and who she must have… ahem… “slept with”  to get that color. That had been the strike of a match to fuse – culminating from what had just been a sucky day in general. Her junk heap of a truck had died again this morning, and she had been late to a doctor’s appointment; which in turn had caused her to clock in late at work. A job she frankly loathed; though her co-workers weren’t too bad..

Ok, to be fair, her hair was alternating blends of fiery red and snowy white; so ya, it was quite the unusual sight. It was also a bit of sore subject for Del. She had been fired from no less than a half-a-dozen jobs over the last 2 years; and almost all were because of her hair, or at least the attitudes they held. Anger and Peace, Fire and Ice, she liked to think of them. Emotions personified, given life by the power within her.

Since her abilities had manifested as a child; her parents had done everything possible to train and support their daughter. It hadn’t been easy, and for quite a while everyone had assumed she was simply a Powered; tossed to and fro on the vivid and hazardous emotional waves her powers emitted. It hadn’t been till high school, and the excellent martial arts instructor her father managed to find, before she had finally began to gain some semblance of control. After years of meditation and learning to harness the right emotion at the right time, her life began to settle into a more manageable neutrality.

But even the strongest of wills can be overcome by the comments of a idiot; and Del was no exception. It probably didn’t help that there were quite a bit of Humanity First supporters in the area her family lived; and that her hair pointed out her Super status with extreme prejudice.

The kid in front of the register might have missed the quickly rising tide of anger; but no one could ignore the steam beginning to pour off Del’s pale skin a few seconds later. A girl, that Del had only minutes ago been training, screamed as flames began to lick along the floor where she stood; and another customer fainted as a slick layer of ice started to inch its way across the counter. Things would probably have gotten a lot worse very quickly; if not for the sudden and abrupt entrance of the restaurant manager. He took one look at the situation, and immediately began to take charge. “Delphia! I need to see you in the back, NOW!” He then spun to a young employee standing in shock with one hand still holding the fry cooker. “Roy, take over for Del at the register.” “Sara, you go help with the assembly at the moment. Alright everyone back to work!” Quickly turning to the worried crowd of customers, he gave a bright smile; and with years of experience in bullshitting his way through any situation imaginable, said with absolutely no hesitation, “No worries folks! Your orders will be on their way momentarily. And don’t forget, any kid under 12 gets a free dessert if you show your meal receipt!” He gave them another megawatt smile, then quickly maneuvered a still distracted Del away from the counter and back into the building office.

After sitting her firmly down in a chair, he paused a moment. And began to think. And sweat. His collar seemed awfully tight at that point, so he loosened his tie and sat down behind his desk.

“Um… Del.” he started, then coughed and tried again. “Look Del, I know…”

“Don’t worry, I quit.” she interrupted, then raised her head slowly. “It was just some stupid kid. I overreacted. Again.”

“Now don’t do that to yourself,” he stated angrily. “I knew your situation when you applied for this job, and you’ve done good work in keeping it under control till now.”

She sighed and waved him off from saying anything else. “I know Phil, and I appreciate it, I truly do. But my time here was almost finished anyways. I should be getting a response from college soon; and regardless if I’m accepted or not, I’ll be leaving Troyten. This town just isn’t enough for a gal like me, ya know?” she gave a deprecating chuckle. “Thanks again though. Especially for keeping me from doing something I would have regretted.”

“Sure kid. I’d do it for any of you guys here, you know that. And… well, good luck. With college that is. I’m guessing you’re going to try to get into a HCP, right?” Del nodded. “Well, if my two cents is worth anything, then you should know I think they would be idiots not to accept you. You got what it takes to go all the way.”

Delphia Tealson grinned at that. “Thanks Boss.”

“No problem kiddo.”

**********************

The internet wasn’t helping. Rubin sighed, rubbing his aching neck. The sad truth of the matter was that any research done on Hero Teams around the USA was usually either gossip or propaganda. Sure, most teams had a good PR front, but it was just that… a front. Any solid information was locked away behind security measures and safety clauses produced by the DVA and their cronies. He sighed again.

He knew there really wasn’t any point to his analysis. “Good grief,” he thought to himself. “What am I doing? Even if I do get accepted into a school, that’s four years of pain and suffering with only the slimmest possibility that I graduate. If, by some miracle, I actually get past that point, I’ll still have at least two more years of internship before I can even begin to search for a team to join; much less try to join Dad’s group.”

He rolled his desk chair back and tilted it on two legs. He had gotten fairly decent at holding this position after a summer of constant practicing; and by now it had become his default introspective pose. For, after all, if there was even one skill that Rubin Randall could lay claim too, it would be introspection. He had always been this way; for as long as he could remember the most critical observer of any of his actions in life had been himself. Perhaps it was a side effect of his abilities, or more than likely it was just genetics; but regardless of why he felt compelled to consider his existence objectively, no one could deny its effectiveness.

He had already completed high school several years early (and without a genius level intellect as confirmed by the specialists) and had continued right into college level material. He was on track to receive his bachelors degree next summer, an achievement he accomplished without ever stepping foot in a university classroom.

He could achieve almost anything he set his mind to; but he was always very deliberate about what he actually spent time doing. A minute wasted was a minute lost forever, in his opinion. Of course, most people who didn’t knew him often confused calculated action with laziness and careful consideration with timidness. Self-confidence was one area in which he had never lacked even the slightest bit in; which in turned prompted him to watch, just in case his attitude turned towards cockiness. Overconfidence could easily kill yourself or your teammates in a battle scenario; his father had drilled that into him time and again.

His father was really the driving factor in his life, he had to admit. Known in the greater Cincinnati area as the hero Wrap-Out; his dad was a master of illusions and confusion. He had been operating in the area for over 30 years; and was well-respected and feared by both sides of the law. And (unbeknownst to any but his closest friends and colleagues) he had managed to accomplish this feat while simultaneously supporting a rather large family of five boisterous kids. Ya, that was quite the legend to live up too.

All four of Rubin’s siblings had abilities as well, but neither of the older children had shown any interest in hero work, and the twins were still too young to decide for themselves. This left Rubin smack down in the middle; with quite a lot of pressure and not a few expectations to live up to. He didn’t mind. He would simply perform the impossible, develop whatever skills he might need; and hope that it all worked out to be enough.

His pondering was interrupted at this point by a loud ruckus coming from the living room downstairs; and with his curiosity peaked, he wandered out to the stairwell.

“Hey Rub, get down here! Where is that genius brother of mine?!” his older brother called out from the floor below. At 28 years old, Benjamin was currently working in the entertainment business as a CGI specialist; and from what the reports seemed to say, was gaining quite the reputation due to his particular skills.

Making his way down the stairs, Rubin started at noticing his older sister in the kitchen talking with his mom. Was everyone home? That meant… well, that could probably mean a lot of things actually.

His sister was glamorous, as usual, which was actually quite the contrast to her natural attitude. To the unseen eye, it would have seemed Lynnette Randall was nothing more than spoiled, rich, and slightly ditsy. Oh, she was beautiful, to be sure; good genes made that a non-issue. She was also extremely smart, quite witty when the need arose, an excellent shot, and her daddy’s girl. These combinations resulted in the perfect attitude necessary to infiltrate and become affiliated with high society; while feeding the information so casually mentioned in the various social circles back to her stockbroker. It was a very profitable method of work; but due to the nature of her associates, she wasn’t often able to visit the family.

Her being here today boded well, and the excitement that was beginning to fill the air was quickly becoming an almost palpable force. This was suddenly and violently enforced by the sudden torrent of limbs and laughter that spilled out into the living room; as both twins jumped on their favorite brother. “Rub! Come catch us!”

“Ya, Rub, you gotta find us! Hide and seek, hide and seek!”

Grinning at his younger siblings, Rubin shook his head. “Not at the moment guys, at least not until I can say high to Ben and Lyn. Maybe later, ok?”

Little Emmaline pouted, sticking out her bottom lip for as long as it was possible; but she was only barely able to succeed before bursting back into a giggle.

Rubin just smiled and strolled into the kitchen; casually dragging Colton, who had absolutely refused to relinquish his prize. Even now he appeared to be delightfully gnawing on Rub’s leg, perhaps hoping the savagery of the move would cause instant paralysis. While his little brother continued contemplating his utter doom, Rub smiled and gave Lynnette a bear hug. “I’ve missed you sis.” “Ya, well, I couldn’t miss the big day now could I?” she smiled back. “Big day?” Rubin inquired. “Sure, this is the day you get accepted into Dad’s alma mater.”

“Well…” he began, but got no further before the sound of the front door opening announced his father’s arrival.

Kenneth Randall was big man, not necessarily at Strongman levels of physical fitness, but certainly in the upper tier of most standard Supers. Which is probably why most of his enemies were confused when they adversely met the famous hero. Illusions and deception might be the core of his abilities, but it was his swift intellect that caught most of the villains on the street.

By virtue of the passage of time and such a well-earned reputation, it was inevitable that he become something of a legend, and quite the boogeyman to any individuals with nefarious intentions. To his family, he was something else entirely. He was their rock, the foundation of their training, the light in their mother’s eyes, and the best man any of them had ever known.

He entered the kitchen, and smiled broadly at seeing his oldest children already waiting. After greeting them both with hugs, he turned to pick up his wife of 30 years and counting; giving her a wet smooch on the cheek, during which she appropriately squealed and demanded to be sat down.

He looked to Rubin then, and said with barely any pause and a wide grin, “I picked up your package from the post office on the way home. Want to see it?”

“Of course.” Rubin said. “I’ve already waited two weeks past the normal due date. I’d rather not wait any longer.”

As his entire family gathered around in tense anticipation, Rubin slowly broke the seal on the rather large packet and began pulling out files and school information. In large bold letters on one of the very first pages the phrase Acceptance into Sizemore Tech was written in bold letters. Rubin nodded, he hadn’t been worried about his credits transferring. He quickly sifted through the rest of the papers, before freezing for a moment, then quietly sighing. “What?!” everyone demanded at once.

He gave a small smirk then, before swiftly pulling the last paper from the package. There it was, an unmistakable acceptance letter into the Hero Certification Program at Sizemore Tech. As his family whooped and hollered, he couldn’t seem to get rid of the grin that stretched from ear to ear. Within seconds his mother seemingly whipped a cake out of nowhere (with CONGRATULATIONS written in icing across the front) and began laying out plates and silverware as the rest of his family kept excitedly talking over each other.

Rubin just smiled and leaned against the counter, absorbing it all in; and recognizing the simple fact that this… this was what made life worth living.


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Path of the Golden Average: Prologue

Prologue

~

Herbert Jackson peered down with hooded eyes at the young man sitting in the hardback chair across from him. In truth, he really wasn’t much to look at. Just past the earmark of two decades, he was of average height (probably about 6 ft. even with his socks on); with a stocky, if somewhat toned, build. His hair was dirty blond and short, matching the two day’s worth of stubble covering his chin; which in turn covered a resilient expression fastened upon the entirety of his face. His only defining feature lay beneath his steady gaze – twin pools of unnaturally zaffre-blue. Dean Jackson cleared his throat, breaking away from those odd eyes and bringing his attention back to the topic at hand.

“Ethan, is it?”

“Yes sir. Ethan Burkhardt.”

“Hmm… you’re the kid who keeps us sending application letters every year, aren’t you?”

Ethan said nothing to this, only giving a slight nod of confirmation.

“Why not try to get in one of the other colleges around the country? Surely if you’re this desperate to get into an HCP program, there are other options available besides Sizemore.”

“I have tried. You are the first to agree to an interview. Sir.”

Dean Jackson looked once more at the young man in front of him. In all his many years as a hero, and many more years as a dean of one of only five Hero Certification Program colleges in North America, he had come to admire one trait above all others. Honesty. In fact, he had thrown multiple students out of his school for such a lack of integrity, regardless of how powerful they might have been.

Glancing at the open file lying on the desk in front of him; he considered what was known about this young man. 20 years old, five of which had been living on his own after his mother died. Born in the mountains of Wyoming, son of a single parent; he was noted to have spent his early years being raised on the thousands of acres that make up the Yellowstone National Park. His mother was a Park ranger, and by all accounts, they seemed to have been pretty reclusive due to the nature of her work. Her death had occurred at the hands of a mentally unstable villain; and the reports noted this is when Ethan’s powers first manifested. Soon after the accident, the young man had immediately requested emancipation (which was surprisingly granted); and had spent the next few years attending a local high school, graduating with decent if not spectacular grades.

Since then, and for the last 2 years, he had reportedly applied to all 5 registered HCP colleges in America; mainly being denied on the grounds that his lack of finances would be detrimental to his chances at the University.

Dean Jackson grunted at this point. In his opinion, the admissions office had always been a tad strict on the issue of money; likely in response to Chicago’s elite sending their precious and unique snowflakes to the school. Super or not, they believed any chance to rub shoulders with the future Heros of America was too valuable a chance to pass up.

The older hero began to consider the possibilities. Surely there was a way to provide some financial aid to a few select potential students. He knew Overton has been considering something similar when concerning lower GPAs. Perhaps if he got into contact with Dean Jilles, she could begin to point him in the right direction. He grinned then (which seemed quite predatory to those unused to such a sight); as ideas began to form on the edge of his consciousness. Perhaps it was time to shake things up at Sizemore Tech.

“Tell me son, what makes you think you can be a hero?”

“Never stop, never fall. Stand strong, stand tall. My mother taught me to stand by those words, and so shall I, to my dying day. My ability is simple but effective. With it, I hope to make a difference in this world; to leave a legacy, and perhaps carry the memory of my mother to another generation.”

“And what about fame, fortune, or just old good fashioned power? Any of those sound desirable?”

“Only as a side effect of my main goal. I will be a hero, sir, and I hope to accomplish that here at your school. But if you turn me down, I have no problem searching out other options until I find someone willing to teach me.”

Dean Jackson laughed at this, the spunky attitude of this kid sparking a sense of interest and a poignant reminder of his own days as a student. Good Heavens, that was a long time ago. He sighed then, and pointed a arrow-straight finger at the young man.

“Class starts in 2 weeks. I expect you to be here early and ready to learn. With your current grades being the way they are; you’ll likely have certain restrictions concerning classes. You’re probably going to need tutoring. I noticed you applied for a work scholarship. You’ll receive that, but it still won’t be enough for all your expenses, so you’ll have to get a job off campus to help supplement your income. Which means you’ll have to work twice as hard as everyone else, while being beaten down and broken on a regular basis; and yet still continue to keep a passing grade in all your classes. Think you can manage it?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. I’ll finish putting the paperwork this afternoon. Congratulations Mr. Burkhardt, you’re on your way to becoming a hero. Don’t waste this opportunity.”

“I don’t plan to sir.”

********************

The day’s last light began to fade slowly over the Kensington suburbs just north of Washington D.C. Evening revelries had begun to arise, and the city was settling back into it’s comfortable routine of night-life and corruption; feeding off the full pockets of the rich and powerful, as desperate interns and the common working man drowned away their sorrows in the dives and bars covering the outskirts of the capital city.

Garrett Jackson was one such working man, and he was upset. For the fifth time this week, he had gotten into an argument with his boss during his day shift. His point was simple, if his method of bringing it up was less so. He had tried to explain that because of the rising prices of gas here on the East Coast; it was vitally important that they begin rearranging their call routes. And once again, he had been told to shut up and focus on his own job; leave the company decisions to the higher ups, or the unions. Disgusted, he finally gave up trying to convince anyone; and now all he was looking forward to was a cool pint to wash away the memory of another awful (and wet) day. As his thoughts continued to drift in circles, he absent-mindedly swung on his heels – and turned to take a quick shortcut through an alley behind the bar.

“Gosh dang it,” he mumbled. “Being a plumber is hard enough in this city, what with all the stuck up politicians ordering everyone around like cattle. Stuck up sobs.”

He gave a harsh kick against the trash at his feet, anger and frustration venting into sudden destruction. The various cans and paper scattered quite satisfactorily across the narrow alleyway; providing a bit of appropriate decor to the underbelly of this corrupt city, Garrett thought with a smirk.

He had just started forward once more when, less than a dozen feet away, a crack edged by lightning suddenly appeared in the brick wall; slowly but surely widening into a gaping maw that only slightly resembled a hole. The jagged oval finally stopped fluctuating, and settled into a shape roughly about 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide.

Staring in shock and amazement, the recently distracted plumber waited for a few breathless moments; but, as nothing came forth, couldn’t keep from slowly approaching the odd looking opening. Quietly he crept forward, his eyes reflecting the dazzling colors and shapeless blackness emanating from the void. His hand slowly reached out to feel the surface of… whatever that thing was.

Just before he could touch the edge, his fingers hovering in place inches away; something focused his attention. Was… was that a face!? Gasping in horror, he stumbled back, covering his eyes in fear of what seemed to be emerging from the endless void of space.

Slowly, and violently twitching as if in great pain, something began pushing through the surface of the portal. First a mangled hand, then a crushed foot; then an entire leg, so bloody and broken it seemed to be little more than raw muscle hanging off bone.

Garrett cowered against the alley wall, the jagged red brick scraping his back as he pushed himself further away from the gruesome sight in front of him. He wanted to run, to scream; but his legs seemed unable able to move, his throat closed to all sound.

Limb by ghastly limb, the human-like creature crawled through the opening; it’s body wracked with violent jerks and unnatural contortions. Broken, bleeding, and covered in long rags and strips of cloth; it slowly turned its ill-defined head towards the weeping man, staring forward with gaping holes where it’s eyes should have been. Its jaw seemed to unhinge then, slowly working the opening where its mouth belonged. A quiet hiss emerged from its pulsing neck, then a recognizable sound came softly gurgling out. “Da…?”

“What?” whimpered Garrett, crouching tightly against the opposite wall – his own limbs trembling in fear.

“Dat…?” The creature coughed up blood and something else, hawking a gob harshly onto the ground. Once again its head rose to meet the shaking plumber. “Date…”

“You… you want the date?” Garrett couldn’t understand, didn’t want to understand; but nonetheless his subconscious began desperately searching for the day and month he happened to be existing in. Was it the 1st? Or maybe the 4th? Was it even August yet!? “Uh… it’s…  it’s, um, I’m not sure?”  

The creature nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Thank you…,” it croaked once again. Then carefully, and with obvious pain, it rose off the ground – turning away from the quivering man on the concrete and facing the still fluctuating void. Its hand slowly raised till it barely skimmed the surface; and then with a sudden gasp of relief, the jagged hole collapsed inward.

Sinking slowly to its knees; the still bloodied individual stopped moving. Minutes began to creep silently pass, until Garrett finally dared to wonder if he had actually escaped some horrible fate awaiting him. He began to rise off the ground; then froze once more in horror, as the head of the creature snapped back to meet his gaze. The face… it was healing!

“Sorry friend.” A raspy voice emerged from the now apparent human. “I can’t let you leave here remembering this. Don’t worry, I won’t harm you otherwise.”

His memories? Garrett cried in sudden realization, then turned to flee back down the alley; desperation etched across his features. It was going to take his mind! It was going to wipe him clea…

Garrett Jackson stumbled to a halt, confusion on his face. Why was he running away from the bar? And down a deserted alley, nonetheless. He turned back around, winding his way through the trash strewn opening. Turning the corner, he saw his favorite pub just ahead; but paused one last time to peer over his shoulder and into the dark and dirty alleyway. Something… something about that corridor. He shivered then, and began walking quickly away. Stupid, he chided himself. He wasn’t no kid, getting scared of the dark, and running to mommy. Still…

“Nah,” he decided. It was just the stress of the job getting to him. And them stupid, stuck up politicians.


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Introduction

Author’s Introduction & Forward

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I have long been enthralled with the genre of superheroes; though this came about less through comic books, and more through fiction of a similar sort to Super Powereds. My career currently revolves around traveling and aviation (as I wish to see as much of this beautiful world as possible) and my somewhat consistent hobby is writing; perhaps one day I shall become a professional in that field. We shall see.

Concerning the story you and I are about to embark on; it has evolved significantly since I started reading the various serials contained in the non-canon Super Powered Universe. Because of this, I have resolved to incorporate many smaller details gathered from a variety of the stories written here. My goal is to provide some semblance of familiarity within the fan-fiction storylines, connecting many of them in small but potentially significant ways; while staying true to the Original canon provided by the most excellent Drew Hayes. Of course, if you have not yet read his novels; I must admit I am slightly puzzled as to how you found your way here. Please, go read “Year 1 – Year 4”, “Corpies”, and “Blades & Barriers”. These novels are the continuing foundation of all other stories taking place in this amazing Universe (and you might as well support the author while you’re at it!). Go read his stories HERE!

As for the even more expansive fan-fiction storylines; here are a list of the non-canon stories/authors that will provide the basis for most of the world building found in “Path of the Golden Average”. You can read them here.

BeamMeUpScotty: Author of “A Change of Pace” (Go check his website out: beammeupscottysstuff)
MDS: Author of “Darkest Days/A Calculated Response” and “Masks We Wear”
Oniwasabi: Author of “Second String Supers” (He also has a website! cmh-fiction)
BunnyLover: Author of “England’s Heroes”
There will also be a few details from Epiphany’s “A Dance of Shadows”, and “Villain University” by Jopa; several characters and locale from Raptor22’s story “Echos”; quite a bit of inspiration taken from Hoshino_Fokkusu’s tale “Why Couldn’t You Buy A Ferrari Like Everyone Else”; and a smattering of small mentions and certain events from a few other stories.

By now you’re probably shaking your head repeatedly and mumbling something along the lines of…

“Gosh J.D., that’s a quite a lot of expectation you’ve built up there. How ya gonna manage not burning out? Or losing interest? Or giving up hope that it all doesn’t come crashing down?”

Well, my finely feathered friends; those are indeed all excellent questions. As you can probably tell, this is a pretty ambitious project; and I recognize that. I also recognize the simple fact that I love writing and at the moment, I’m completely enthralled with the Super Powered Universe. There aren’t really that many other series (or novels in general) out there that quite hits the spot like Drew Hayes accomplished; and for that the credit is entirely his own. So for now, I am only hoping to explore the many opportunities and stories that have arisen from such a fascinating world. We’ll simply have to see where such exploration leads.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to mention them below! First upload goes up today, then I’ll start sending them out once or twice a week. I don’t really have a set word count for each chapter; so that might fluctuate accordingly (though it will probably stick between 1500 – 3000 words).

Thanks once again to everyone joining me on this journey! And of course, thank you Drew for giving me the opportunity to immerse myself in the world you created. I truly hope my story does it justice!

~ J. D. Rhyder


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