I glanced up at the red, rocky cliff to my left, thinking about how I’d have to run into the parking garage to get to the truck, and walk back.
It wouldn’t be too bad once I got the Rocket suit, but, it looked like a long walk from here.
Turning back to Gunther, I said, “You realize that we’re tired, right? Dr. Nation’s program is all about unpredictably stressing us to the breaking point, and maybe a little past it.”
Gunther nodded. “I’m counting on it. That means you won’t be able to fight for long, and you’ll have to use quick, efficient takedowns on anyone you fight.”
“Takedowns? Who are we fighting?”
Gunther grinned, revealing white teeth. “The toughest people in the first year class–at least on paper.”
I took a breath, feeling it in my chest. “So this is right now?”
He checked the other athletic field. “I think you’ve got ten minutes, maybe a little more. Bring Jaclyn, Vaughn, Daniel, and Cassie. Tell them to bring their gear.”
“Tell us to bring what?” Jaclyn asked. She walked up, making it one of the few times I’d seen her as anything other than a blur in the last few hours.
She looked like I felt—which said something. A few drops of sweat glistened on her cheek, and while she walked at a normal speed, her gait seemed more deliberate than usual.
“Our gear,” I said, turning my head toward her. “We’re doing a demonstration of… something.”
Cassie might have been sweating, but she she didn’t look tired. “We’re going to be fighting someone? Who?”
“The toughest first years, I guess.” Turning back to Gunther, I asked, “Why?”
He said, “That would be telling, and it’ll be better if you don’t know. Ten minutes. Be there.”
We were drawing a crowd, or if not drawing one, we weren’t deliberately discouraging a crowd from forming.
We stood just off the side of the track. A lot of people were walking off the last round of laps. After running as much as we had, you would think we wouldn’t want to move, but walking slowly felt better than you’d think.
Plus, I’d always been told it was better to slow down than simply stop exercising. They probably had too.
Interrupting his own conversation with Brooke, Alex brushed a bit of blond hair out of his eyes, and said, “This sounds like it could be good. You want to watch? I want to watch.”
Brooke smiled at him, and then over at us. “Let’s.”
Neither of them looked especially tired either.
Conversations sprouted as people explained what was going on. Then people started walking toward the first years’ field.
Walking with them, and a head taller than most, Sean shouted, “You’d better win,” at us as he walked away with his friends Dayton and Jody. The two of them were a study in contrasts—Dayton was almost as tall as Sean, but more muscular. Jody stood a head shorter than either of them.
Uncharacteristically, Jody ignored me. Since gaining powers, he’d seldom missed an opportunity to taunt me. Of course, he’d been close to getting kicked out of the program for it last year.
Plus, Sean might feel like he owed me somehow for getting Sydney help. I wondered if he’d told Jody to leave me alone. “You’d better win,” almost sounded encouraging by comparison to some things we’d said to each other.
* * *
Ten minutes later, we were landing in the first years’ athletic field. Well, all of us but Jaclyn. She’d run, and Cassie only flew because Vaughn kept her in the air.
Personally, I wasn’t sure I’d have let him carry me. I’d seen his face before he put his costume on, and so had Cassie. He looked like someone had kicked him in the stomach. No one had, but that didn’t stop him from looking greenish.
I’d worried that Vaughn might have a touch of altitude sickness, but I could worry all I wanted and that didn’t stop the fact that we were flying in.
In the last ten minutes, someone (probably Earthmover) had removed the stone containment half circle from the center of the field, leaving no sign it had been there but a line of dirt where the grass should have been.
The first year class had relocated to the bleachers next to the field.
I wasn’t sure when they’d put on costumes. They must have done that earlier, but I knew they’d been in shorts and t-shirts earlier in the day.
Who was I kidding? They’d probably been told to report to their first class in uniform.
Members of all the other classes loitered around the field, some standing together, others lying on the grass. I wasn’t sure they were even awake.
Gunther’s voice met my ears as I landed.
“Officially, this is still part of your entry assessment, but they handed it over to me. When they did, I imagine they were thinking that I’d use it to evaluate your fighting skills. I don’t have to. A couple of you have been trained by me personally, and I know what you two can do. A few of you have been trained by your parents or perhaps at a martial arts studio, and that’s something, but most of you haven’t been trained at all. That doesn’t mean you’re not dangerous, of course. Your powers are remarkably impressive.
“So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to choose a few of you, and you’ll get a chance to fight members of the new Heroes League. When the fight’s over, we’ll talk about what happened.”
He turned toward where we stood in the field, “Are you ready?”
“Ready,” I said. The suit’s sonics modified my voice so much I barely sounded tired at all.
Vaughn and Jaclyn didn’t have that going for them, but their voices blended with the rest of the team.
“Excellent,” Gunther said. “Now we’ve got several of you who came out of the Cabal’s breeding program. Please stand up.”