Chapter XXII: Fight Test
Drew Jenkins couldn’t help but ogle the massive chamber. He stood in the center of a room the size of two football fields set side-by-side; the floor, ceiling and walls were all blindingly white and broken only by the double doors at the end of the chamber and the observation booth above them.
The Wreck Room was nothing he had not seen before: on his first day at the New Vindicators Academy, not too many weeks ago, Professor Alston had shown them the room during the tour all the incoming students were given. Still, it was one thing to be shown the Brobdinagian room and another to stand in its epicenter.
Mister Bradshaw stood before the Senior class, many of them rendered apprehensive by simply being summoned here. Those who were veterans of this institution were more experienced with the sort of exercises administered here. “The stated purpose of this school is to teach you to protect yourselves and your loved ones as you attempt to assimilate with a society that fears and hates you,” pronounced the former Vindicator. As he held the status of Most Dangerous Man on the Planet he was more than a little imposing. “This school has failed you all in that. Four of your classmates are now dead; that’s testament enough to this faculty’s fallibility.”
Many of the students began to murmur as he admitted fault on behalf of the rest of the staff.
“Miss Jordan and I were brought on to train you all in basic self-defense and we’ve done that… but that obviously was not enough. As some of you may know, this school used to operate much differently. Just last year you were divided into squadrons and trained in simulations that ranged from rescue missions to actual combat against the very villains the Vindicators themselves fought. We’re going to be returning to those days now… putting you through scenarios designed to push you in your training.”
Magnus Loder’s hand went into the air.
“What is it Mister Loder?” Mister Bradshaw asked.
“Who’s in charge?” Magnus asked.
“That’s not what I meant,” Magnus said. “In these sorts of scenarios… shouldn’t one of us be calling the shots?”
“We’ll be gauging how you each act throughout these exercises, looking for someone who stands out as leadership material. However, this scenario won’t require a leader…” He turned to his former teammate and Miss Jordan stepped forward, holding a box. “Each of you will need to take one of these arm bands…” One-by-one the students took the strange bracers and began to affix them to their arms, staring quizzically at the screen on the back of each. “Most of you already have codenames but… those of you new to the school have not been designated with one yet.
“Ben Altair, Jeremy Carlson, Drew Jenkins, Magnus Loder, Adonis Skraag… do any of you have a preference?”
“Lodestone,” Magnus iterated.
“Duh,” grumbled Deimos.
“Frostbite,” said Ben, nodding to himself.
Mister Bradshaw looked to Adonis and Drew. “Adonis,” offered one of the young men.
“What kind of loser uses their first name as a codename?” laughed Magnus.
Mister Bradshaw fixed him with a warning glare but still concurred with what the young man was saying. “Adonis… you might find yourself in a situation where you’re in public and-”
“Everyone knows my face,” muttered Adonis apathetically, “and codenames exist to protect our families, right? My parents already lost their lives because of me. What do I have left to protect? Why do I need to hide?”
Mister Bradshaw nodded thoughtfully. “All right, then,” he said, turning to Drew Jenkins. “I suppose that leaves you, Mister Jenkins. What’s your codename?”
“Well… I… I absorb the powers of people near me so… how about ‘the Sponge’?”
Cassandra and Alexa started to laugh.
“Fine!” barked Drew. “How does ‘Commander Amazing’ sound?”
“‘Mimic’,” offered Lex. “‘Rogue’.”
“Those are Marvel Comics characters,” Donna-Anne explained.
“‘Copycat’,” suggested Magnus.
“‘Foo Fighter’!” exclaimed Drew. “I love that band!”
“‘The Imitator’,” offered Jacque.
Mister Bradshaw sighed dejectedly. “Well, Drew?”
“What did you say?” Drew asked, looking to Magnus.
“‘Copycat’?” asked Magnus.
“Copycat,” repeated Drew. “I could live with that.”
“Fine then,” said Mister Bradshaw, turning back to the observation deck where Miss Jordan had disappeared. “We’re going to be starting up the simulation soon. You’ll have five minutes to spread out once it starts. After that someone’s codename will appear on your bracer. The scenario’s parameters are very simple: your objective is to be the last man standing. You will accomplish this by incapacitating whomever you are given as a target. You may not directly attack anyone you do not have as a target. Once your target is disposed of you will then receive their target. If you receive your own name you may target anyone you choose. Again, the last man standing wins.”
Magnus’ hand went into the air and Mister Bradshaw opted to ignore him as he made his way to the doors and to the observation deck.
True to his word the environment changed. Holograms appeared all around them, depositing them in an environment larger than the Wreck Room itself was. Copycat looked around in awe, shocked to find himself standing in the middle of a baseball stadium. “Where are we?” he asked.
“Busch Memorial Stadium,” explained Lodestone. Some of the New Vindicators stood spellbound by the terrain the Wreck Room had created. Others wasted no time in putting as much distance as they could between them and their possible opponents. “It was the home to the Saint Louis Cardinals until the new Busch Stadium was opened. It was demolished in 2005…”
“How do you know all that?” asked Frostbite.
Lodestone shrugged. “My granddad is big into baseball. Him and my dad have probably been to every major league stadium in North America. They’ve taken me to at least half of them…”
Lodestone looked to Copycat and Frostbite; no others remained with them. “Shouldn’t you guys be running now?” he asked. “What happens if I get your name?”
“What happens if we get yours, you mean!” laughed Copycat.
“We’re in a stadium,” Lodestone explained. “I control magnetism. Everything here is a weapon. I won’t be running. I’ll be standing out in the open, waiting for all challengers. Whoever has my name has to come to me and once I defeat them I’ll be safe from any further targets. From there I just have to wait for someone to climb over the rest of you until only he and I survive. Once I defeat him, I’ll have one.”
“Mister Bradshaw didn’t say anything about that,” Frostbite said.
“What?” asked Lodestone.
“He didn’t say we could fight back. He said we could only take attack whoever’s name we had.”
Lodestone’s eyes widened in horror and he immediately began to run, determined to find his target before anyone else found him.
He vanished into the home team’s dugout and hurried down the long corridor towards the empty locker-room. Once there he used his powers to seal himself inside and sat down to wait out the remainder of the five minutes.
Soon enough his bracer beeped softly and he touched at the screen, watching as his target’s codename appeared: “JETSTREAM”
“Perfect,” he said as he stepped out into the hall, seeking out the Tennessean and determined to prove himself to the proctors as the perfect prefect.
In the hall he ran into Fog and glared suspiciously at the young man. “Who do you have?” Lodestone growled.
“Forecast,” Fog said apathetically, “but I’m not feeling good so… I think I’ll just wait to be taken out…”
“Taken out!?” exclaimed Lodestone. “You could just turn vaporous and wait the whole test out…”
“That… it just seems kind of cheap,” Fog offered, slithering down the hall past Lodestone. “Good luck, Magnus.”
“Hey!” the young hero called after his classmate. Fog shuddered at the exclamation and turned slowly, a nervous expression on his face. “It’s ‘Lodestone’,” the youth said with a proud smile before running off to find his target.
He didn’t dare tell Fog that he was hunting down the young man’s girlfriend but also didn’t think such a revelation would faze him. Ever since Quinton Jorgenson’s death, Cloud Goodman had been more distant towards Donna-Anne Manther. It only helped Lodestone to see his inevitable removing her from this exercise as a charitable action.
He rushed past the boiler room, oblivious to the pair lurking in the shadows there. Amalgam and Tripper crouched in the sweltering room, anticipating their moment to move. Once more Amalgam checked his bracer and watched as “RUMBLE” flashed before him. It seemed like an appropriate match-up; no other Senior could match him in strength. He would have felt guilty had he drawn Adonis as a target.
“Atlanta and Donna-Anne,” Amalgam whispered to his girlfriend. “Think you’ll be able to take her out?” he asked. “You guys are roommates and best friends, after all…”
Tripper smiled sweetly and checked her bracer again. “AMALGAM” it read. “It’s going to sting, having to take out someone I’m so close to,” she admitted, “but we have to do what he have to do, right?”
Amalgam nodded in agreement. “Yeah… it’s nothing personal. She’s mature enough to accept that.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” she said before putting him down with the Trip Field.
As Amalgam fell to the ground he watched as Circe sprinted down the halls, trying her best to outrun Hourglass’s slithering form. Hourglass’ body rose up into the air like a tidal wave and then crashed down over Circe, pinning her to the ground and keeping her buried in the shifting particles that composed the young woman’s body. “You win! You win!” Circe exclaimed. A beep sounded from her bracer and she pulled her arm free from the mire to take in the black ‘X’ where her target’s name had been. “It wasn’t like I stood a chance against my target anyway…” she grumbled as Hourglass began to withdraw.
Suddenly all of the sand that composed the young heroine flew upwards and slammed into the ceiling of the corridor. Hourglass began to reform as her body began to fall but then she flew to the side and was slammed against one wall. Then her entirety exploded through the air, slamming into the adjacent wall.
Hourglass took her human form and fell to the floor. She scrambled onto her back and looked up at Loess. She knew she didn’t stand a chance against her roommate’s geokinesis and audibly cursed. “You win,” she grumbled, surrendering before she even had a chance to view who her newly acquired target was.
With Hourglass’ defeat Loess received the target her opponent had inherited from Circe. “Deimos, huh?” Loess asked, eyeing her bracer and assessing how this bout would go. “It’s been a pleasure, Cassie.” Loess saluted the disgruntled Circe before running down the winding hall. “Take it easy, Mae.”
Loess hurried out of the hall and exploded from the dugout. Part of Deimos’ abilities included flight so it was likely that he was wherever he could use that to his fullest. It seemed that she was not alone in this reasoning though: Lodestone was here, scouring the sky for Jetstream.
“Who do you have?” Loess asked, startling the hero by spontaneously announcing her presence. She touched at her bracer and twisted her arm to show him that she did not have his name. Likewise he showed her that he did not have her. “Which one are you on?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I started with Hourglass,” Loess said. “She dropped Circe from the competition to get Deimos so… yeah.”
“Oh.” Lodestone returned to watching the skies. “Jetstream’s my first.”
Loess nodded. “So… how do you like the school?”
“Hmm?” he asked, oblivious to the longing looks she fixed him with.
“What about it?”
“How do you like it?”
His eyes widened as Jetstream exploded through his field of vision. “GOT YOU!” he screamed, swinging his arms through the air. The bleachers responded to his command and were hurled through the air, moving to slam the young woman as she catapulted through the sky.
Her force field absorbed the brunt of the blow but the impact still knocked her off her course. Lodestone watched as she was knocked out of the air and collided with the upper section of the stadium, then fell down into the cheap seats.
A beep from his arm told him that he had succeeded. “Congratulations!” Loess exclaimed excitedly as he checked for his new target.
“ADONIS,” the bracer read.
“Oh, too perfect,” Lodestone said, half-laughing. He took off at a run, charging out onto the field, oblivious to Frostbite trying to fend of Copycat, using the young man’s powers to try and eliminate him from the exercise. “Adonis!” Lodestone screamed to the rafters. “You and I both know that you don’t stand any chance of dropping anyone from this game! Give it up and let me take you out!”
In the control booth Miss Jordan looked to Mister Bradshaw with a worried expression. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea…” She looked from the intense concentration Mister Bradshaw was giving to monitors and her eyes widened at the sight of Adonis, walking towards the field. “What’s he doing?” she asked.
“He’s going to face Magnus.”
“He doesn’t stand a chance.”
“He knows.” The tone in the man’s voice articulated how impressed with their student he was. “His alternative is to run and hide… He’s hardly about to do that.” He remained in his seat, ready to watch how this scenario played out.
“You’re really just going to sit there and watch this?”
The man nodded.
“Adonis shouldn’t have been in this exercise, Michy. His power is non-combative. What did you hope to teach him through this?”
Mister Bradshaw only continued to watch as Adonis stepped out of the visiting team’s dug out, adjacent to where Lodestone had appeared.
“About time,” Lodestone growled. “Are you ready to give up now?”
Adonis looked past Lodestone to Loess. “Hardly,” he said as he touched at the bracer he wore. “I came to claim my target.” He turned his arm over to show them that he had received Lodestone as his opponent.
“You can’t take me,” Lodestone said, chuckling softly.
“He’s right, Maria. I don’t stand a chance against him… Would you help me?”
Lodestone’s laughter faded as he felt the earth move under his feet. While Adonis’ abilities may not have been directly combative the hero had neglected that they were effective. His ability had left Loess infatuated with him and willing to do almost anything to help him.
Under his gloves and under his boots Lodestone wore magnetic bracelets. It hurt to fly by those by in a situation like this he had no choice. Lodestone hovered back from the shaking ground and was startled to see it tear apart and form into a hand that began to reach for him.
The ground split apart at his command too—it surprised Lodestone that he was able to evoke the sprinkler system considering that Busch Memorial Stadium had surrendered their attempts to keep a natural ball field during the 1970’s; the challenge of combating Saint Louis’ summer heat and sustaining the grass surface was too much when presented with the option of Astroturf.
The network of pipes began to groan and twist and bend as it formed a protective cage around him and he used his own energy to reinforce it against Loess’ geokinetic assault. He maintained his exoskeleton with one hand raised to the heavens and with his other he beckoned for the tables from the picnic area to come to his cause.
Guiding them through the air he propelled them for Adonis and slammed the young man with the first, knocking the breath out of him and forcing him onto his back. Adonis swung onto his side and moved to sprint out of the path of a second table falling out of the sky, gunning to crush him beneath its weight.
Lodestone hurled more after him and Adonis continued to flee from the threat. “Look at him run!” boasted Lodestone. “You really can’t fight your own battles, can you!?! This fight would have been over a long time ago if you didn’t have Loess to manipulate!”
Even without his Neo-Sapien powers Adonis was considered a genius. He was very intellectual but that facet of his being was never something he had applied. He was a quick learner though and as he continued to evade Lodestone’s attacks narrowly his eyes darted about the field looking for anything that could help him claim this one, minute victory. Still, his eyes found nothing he could use that would not fall into Lodestone’s domain of power.
A table whirled through the air towards him and Adonis throw himself out of its path, only to roll under another table dropping out of the sky. He got to his feet quickly and moved to run but it landed on his leg and he howled out in pain.
Another table hovered over the ground.
“Yield,” Lodestone said.
“Not to you,” Adonis grumbled.
Lodestone hammered the object into the ground before Adonis and then commanded another to hover over his prone form. “YIELD!” the hero demanded.
In the control booth Breanne Jordan watched as Lodestone incapacitated Adonis. He had waited as long as Loess’ attempts to pierce his defenses would permit; he had wanted to hear Adonis admit defeat rather than claim it for himself. “His powers aren’t combative,” she told the man before her, still watching the screen thoughtfully. “Adonis shouldn’t have been a part of this exercise.”
Michuru nodded. “We’ll eliminate Mister Skraag from any more of these exercises,” he said darkly. “It’s pointless to include him in these sessions, given the nature of his abilities.”
That and he could not see an exercise that Adonis and Lodestone did not turn their attempts to train them into a grudge match. “For now, go retrieve Adonis and I’ll call Nat. Her healing powers will take care of his leg and anything else Mister Loder may have damaged.”
Still, as Breanne vanished through the floor of the chamber Michuru couldn’t help but wonder what it would take to repair Adonis’ soul.
To Be Continued... wrote:Frostbite versus therapy