Masks 13: Part 10

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Chapter Nineteen


Rodford Edmiston

"Rex, just because you're strong that doesn't mean you can ignore proper technique," said Trujillo, firmly, and not for the first time. Not even the first time to Rex. "If you're fighting someone with matching or superior strength, you need superior skill to win. Now, get in a proper horse stance and let's see your reverse punch again."

"Yes, sir," said the large young man, a bit of surliness in his tone.

Vic figured he'd soon join the dropouts. Nearly a third of the starting number were already gone. With one or two exceptions, those were all folks who shouldn't have signed up in the first place. They hadn't really known what the class was for. She figured the only reason Rex hadn't already left was pure inertia. He tended to decide on something and pursue it long after finding out he needed to try something different.

Vic and a couple of others were now considered advanced students by Trujillo; they helped teach the basics and keep an eye on things for their instructor. The other aides were both on the other class schedule, but Vic had met them in Trujillo's weekly planning sessions.

Vic had actually heard some of the students wondering aloud why _she_ was an assistant instructor when _they_ were much more powerful supers. Trujillo had silenced those remarks - without directly addressing them - by using Vic as assistant when he gave special demonstrations, and having her give special demonstrations on her own. Trujillo also occasionally gave solo demonstrations. While he admitted this was partly showing off, he insisted the main reason was to show the students what was possible. Perhaps even to give them something to aspire towards. It also made the point that while he had taught them much, he knew far more.

Some of these demonstrations had also served to reinforce for Vic why Trujillo was very much the right man for the job. Seeing a middle-aged man take a short run, leap into the air, dive headfirst into a forward roll and pop up from that into a flying kick, then drop into a right shoulder roll (rinse and repeat for the duration of a one-minute kata which left even the observers sweating) in a demonstration of dragon kata was a humbling experience. Sure, with practice, there were kids in this class who could do those things, but only after he taught them, and none of them as gracefully for at least a good long while. Neither could they currently apply the principles of dragon as well to self-defense.

"All right, _mate_!" Trujillo said, loudly, formally ending the class with a bow. "Good work today, everyone! Don't forget your assignment papers!"

Because this was a graded class they did have homework. Some of it was physical, most of it was on martial arts history and different applications through time and around the world.

That evening, Alex returned to their shared dorm room after supper to find Vic on the floor in full splits, while she worked on assignments.

"Oooh, kinky," said the younger girl.

"You would say that."

"Well, I hope you've already had your shower."

"Yes," said Vic, suspiciously. "Why?"

"Angel wants to go into town to do some shopping for a special project she's working on. She can't fly, she doesn't have a car, the busses stop running before she can get back, and putting someone with wings on my bike is just asking for trouble."

"Okay, okay," said Vic, laughing.

She straightened, rolled her hips forward and bent her ankles so her feet were flat on the floor, then wiggled them in until she was standing.

"When does she need to go?" said Vic, as she alternately lifted her knees to her shoulders to work the blood back into her legs.

"Now. She's still trying to get a ride from someone else, but isn't having much luck. Oh, and I need some stuff, too, so I'm coming along."

"Why do I have the feeling that your need is the primary reason for volunteering my car?" said Vic, grousing good naturedly. "Oh, well; I can use a drive and some fresh air. Some groceries, too. Had the last of my snacks earlier."

The trip in was uneventful. Super students from the school - including Angel - had come to the nearest part of the city often enough that most folks only gave a mild double-take seeing someone with an obvious non-human physical feature. Angel's stop was at a fabric store, where she bought lots of Velcro for modifying her clothes to get them on and off over her wings. Vic and Alex mostly bought snacks at a store in the same, small strip mall. Alex also bought several technology and science magazines from a specialty periodical and book store nearby.

On the way back traffic was much lighter, especially once they left the freeway and got on the state route which went by the school. Fall was just getting underway, the sun setting behind them as they headed back east. They could see, ahead, on the outside of a banked curve, a car on the shoulder with the hazard flashers on.

"What is that on the ground?" said Vic, coming to sudden alertness. "Is that a man?"

"I think so," said Angel, whose eyes weren't quite as good as Vic's in low light, but were better than Alex's. "He looks like he's in trouble!"

Vic stopped the old Corolla wagon on the opposite shoulder and rolled the window down. The man, who had been weakly waving at them, was already screaming.

"Please, help me! The jack slipped, my leg is pinned! Oh, God, it hurts..."

"Call 911!" Vic yelled, as she jumped out.

She ran across the road, grabbed the front bumper and heaved. The front of the large, old car lifted a bit with an ominous groan, but the man remained firmly pinned. He was also now screaming louder. Vic eased off on the bumper and went prone to look. The front rotor, fortunately, was on the pavement, but his leg was between that and the ball joint, not only squeezed severely but taking an unknown part of the load. The man was middle-aged, balding and overweight and desperate.

"Please, get me out!"

Vic felt light headed, panicked. She went around to the front of the car, threw herself flat and tried to squeeze underneath. She was thinking she could either get under the suspension and lift just that part, or maybe reach the jack. However, without the left wheel for support the front of the car was just too low.

"Come help me lift!" Vic screamed, her voice shrill, as she stood again and took another hold on the bumper.

"Vic, stop!" said Alex. "You're just going to hurt him! There's police and paramedics on the way. He's in no immediate danger, let the professionals do it!"

"Please, you can't just leave me here!"

Vic dithered, mentally spinning her wheels. Part of her knew her friend was right, but another part kept insisting she do _something_. Fortunately, she soon heard sirens in the distance.

Within seconds the first police car slid to a stop, the officer talking into his shoulder mike as he hurried to the man. There were more on the way, and an ambulance. The second policeman arrived from the other direction while the first was still talking to the victim. He looked the situation over, spoke quickly with the first, and then they ran to their respective trunks. Both brought chocks and jacks, and began positioning them. By the time they were ready to raise the car the first ambulance was there.
Vic stood vaguely nearby, thinking she should offer to help, or something, but the police and paramedics were so fast, so professional, they had the car up and the man out less than two minutes after the first cop arrived.

Vic sighed and walked back over to her car.

"The 911 operator said we could go ahead and leave," said Alex. "They have my name if they need to contact us. Which is unlikely."

"Why did't I think to use _my_ jack?" said Vic, numbly, as they watched the paramedics load the man into the ambulance.

"Not enough time," said Alex, flatly. "By the time you realized you couldn't reach his jack, the cops were already arriving. Hey, I didn't think of it, either."

She gave Vic an odd look.

"Listen, they did that a lot more quickly and safely than we could have. Two jacks, chocks, two experienced men..."

"Yeah," said Angel, looking sick, as the ambulance pulled out, turned around and headed screaming for the hospital in the nearby city. "Let's get back to the school."

* * *

Trujillo could tell, next class, that Vic was in a very down mood. He let it go until after class, then stopped her as the others were leaving.

"Okay, what's wrong?"

"I guess you heard about the car accident Alex, Angel and I came across, on the way back from town, two days ago."

"Actually, no," said her _sensei_. "Tell me."

Vic sighed, and related the events. Trujillo noted how she kept harshly criticizing nearly everything she did.

"Useless," she said, in summation, tears starting to form. "I was completely useless. I didn't even call 911."

"It speaks well of you that you feel bad about not being able to help," said Trujillo, tentatively.

"I didn't just not help, I may have made things worse."

"Maybe. That was only because you tried to help, though. There's a reason most states have good Samaritan laws. People do sometimes cause problems with the best intentions while trying to help in emergencies. Few of those on the scene before the official first responders arrive have any sort of first aid or disaster training."

"You sound like you speak from personal experience," said Vic, sniffing and rubbing at her eye.

"Trust me, I do."

"Then what should I have done? Maybe find a lever, or..."

"You broke the first rule," said Trujillo, looking her in the eye, speaking sternly. "Don't do something unless you're reasonably sure it will actually help. Rushing in, desperately doing something just to be doing _something_ because someone is hurting, maybe dying, creates a good chance of making things worse."

"Oh..." said Vic, weakly, the tears streaming unheeded down her face, now.

He put a hand on her shoulder.

"Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is nothing."

She nodded, and began dabbing at her eyes and cheeks with a handkerchief.

"Now, stop beating yourself up over this," said Trujillo, sternly. "You're not a trained rescue worker. Just because you have powers doesn't make you any better than a non-super at dealing with emergencies. If you feel really guilty about this, well, you could go into rescue work, even become an EMT. Don't, though, make a hasty decision."

"O-okay," said Vic, hoarsely. She sniffed, then used the handkerchief to blow her nose. "God, I hate this weepy stuff."

Chapter Twenty

"Something interesting from that accident the other day," said Alex. "The guy told the police that he saw several cars go by, and he knows some of the people in them saw him, but we were the only ones who stopped. We also made the only 911 call."

"Unbelievable," said Angel. She sighed, looked down at her plate, and pushed it away from her. "I think I lost my appetite."

"You're just trying to starve yourself light enough to fly."

"Not funny, Alex," said Vic. She sighed as well, and shook her head. "Still can't believe I couldn't _do_ anything."

"Oh, stop it," said Melanie. "That was 'way outside your strength range."

She joined in the sighing and head shaking.

"Just wish I'd gone along..."

"She'll get over it," said Alex, nodding. She smirked at Vic. "She and Boyd have been cuddling a lot."

"She's already doing better," said Candy. "She just hates being helpless."

"Welcome to the real world," said Mel, dryly.

"Well, she's right," said Vic, now pushing her own plate away. "I've never liked feeling helpless. One reason I started martial arts was to give me more options."

* * *

Despite still feeling a bit down in regard to the trapped man, Vic overall was quite satisfied with her life. Her grades were good, she was making friends and she was learning some very interesting stuff. The weather this fall was unusually warm, and she frequently took advantage of that to go for long, relaxing walks in the woods bordering the campus. Vic was still uneasy with the fact that many of those were with a guy. She and Boyd weren't actually dating - if nothing else, both were very busy with their Freshman year - but they were spending a great deal of time together, mostly in short increments. She knew he had begun his - she refused to think of it as "courting" - as a deliberate effort to get close to her, but she enjoyed the attention. He also seemed to have developed genuine feelings for her. Whether her own feelings towards him were genuine she wasn't certain. Yet.

At the very least, they had several common interests they enjoyed talking about.

Just now, though, Vic was out walking for a very different reason. She was pulling escort duty.

While the center of the campus was secure, some of the buildings were an uncomfortable distance from there. Given that the renovations were still underway, a few areas remained without lights, and only a few were covered by cameras or frequent security patrols. While there had been no serious crimes on the campus in years, some folks still became nervous walking alone in the dark. Even during the day - just now the time was late afternoon - some people were leery about being in isolated areas of the campus with no-one else around. Therefore, several supers - as well as members of both the regular and super martial arts classes and some of the jocks - had volunteered to provide escort service for other students.

The arrangement was a pretty informal. Someone who wanted company on a walk would ask a friend or acquaintance if they would come along, or a mutually accessible meeting place nearby would be agreed on.

Vic was currently taking Alex and Mel from an outlying lab building back to the dorm.

"I really appreciate this," said Alex, smiling at her roommate. "You may not be able to lift a car but you're Hell on wheels in a fight. I don't think anyone on campus would come after any of us with you here, and anyone from off campus wouldn't likely last very long against you."

"I hate to admit it," said Mel, looking warily around at the deepening shadows, "but I'm kind'a uneasy, too. If someone decided to sneak on campus it wouldn't be hard. The perimeter fence is a joke, and... Say, what are you looking at?"

He noticed Vic staring into the distance, towards a decrepit parking lot which had once served a long demolished running track. Now that he had stopped talking, Mel could hear something, though he still couldn't see anything except dark.

"What's going on over there?" said Vic.

"I don't know and I don't care," said Mel. "It sounds like a fight."

There was a flare of light and an odd sound.

"That was an energy blast!" said Alex. "Let's go see!"

"You're crazy!" said Mel.

"Let's go see," said Vic, putting a cautionary hand on Alex's arm, "but carefully."

"You're both crazy!"

They crept up to a small storage building and peeked around a corner. Then stared.

"I know those two!" said Alex, looking up. "That's Doro and Cosmic Ray! They're in that new super crime bureau."

"Who are they fighting?!" said Mel.

The enemy was a group of people - apparently all male - in anonymous clothes: jeans, sweatshirts and athletic shoes. What was not so innocuous were the gloves and stocking masks. Even more threatening were the clubs, machetes and hatchets, and at least three handguns.

Besides the two costumed supers in the air, there was another in the grip of one of the hoodlums, a gun held to her head. Three more were on the ground. None of them appeared to be moving, but Vic couldn't get a good look at them, because the bad guys were crowded too close around them. She could see that the flying heroes seemed to be frustrated by something, circling overhead and looking angry and worried.

"That's right, freaks! Back off now or I start cappin' your friends!"

Vic was already moving, without really making a decision to. She shot across the distance to the group of men so quietly they had no warning of her approach. She darted between the standing figures until she reached the man holding a gun to the head of a still costumed figure.

Vic slapped her left hand down on the gun, putting her little finger between the hammer and firing pin. Her right hand came up, under the muzzle while her left leg went behind both of his. She swung the gun - and the gunman's arm - up, around, over and down, dumping him on the pavement while relieving him of the gun. That got thrown at a man out of reach to her left who was also holding a gun. He dropped.

Vic did a short hop to her right and kicked a third gunman in the arm, breaking it and causing him to drop his gun as he spun around before collapsing. The next few seconds were a frantic blur, as Vic proceeded to turn a group of no-goods into whimpering piles of pain. After the last one fell she spun around, watching to make sure they were going to stay down. She relaxed as the flying supers landed beside her.

"That was totally wicked!" screamed Alex, jumping up and down, back near the corner where Vic had left her.

"A) Thank you," said Ray, as he and Doro knelt to check on the other costumed supers. "B) Are you _nuts_?!"

"I was a black belt before I got my powers," said Vic, a bit smugly.

She looked around at the fallen figures.

"What's going on here?"

"Turbinator's out cold," said Doro.

"Chuckles, too," said Ray.

"Carolina South is out cold and bleeding from the ear."

Vic stood around awkwardly, realizing she didn't know enough first aid to help. Her elation vanished, as she once again felt helpless. She glanced over to where Alex stood, and realized Mel was out of sight. She remembered him pulling out his cell phone, just before she charged in. Hopefully, he was calling 911.
"SandTrap's coming around," said Doro. "Right, he has regeneration."

"Hope the ambulance gets here soon," said Ray. "Chuckles is going into shock."

"I hear..." Vic closed her eyes and frowned in concentration, turning slowly. "Two police cars and... three ambulances. Oh, now I'm hearing more sirens in the distance, but I can't tell, yet, what they are."

"Good ears," said Ray, impressed. "Listen, can you go guide them here while we do first aid?"

"I'm gone!" said Vic, already dashing away.

The nearest access to this area was an old gate to her right, closing off a short drive which gave direct access to the state road. Fortunately, this end of the campus was nearer the city, so the arriving emergency vehicles would pass here heading for the main entrance. Vic ran to the gate, yanked hard and broke the rusted padlock. She ran out into the road and waved both arms over her head, hoping the oncoming police car would realize she was directing them.

Moments later she returned to the location of the fight, riding in the lead cop car. Another police car was behind it, and the ambulances trailed those.

More minutes passed while the paramedics worked, first on the fallen heroes. Additional ambulances arrived - without needing guiding this time - and began taking care of the attackers. The fallen heroes and some of the bad guys were taken away for further treatment; the rest were handled by the police. Then came time for the statements.

"Wait," said the Detective who was coordinating the cleanup. "You mean that girl took out all the suspects?!"

"Very efficiently," said Doro, giving Vic a grin and a sisterly hug. "While we were flying around, trying to figure out what to do."

"Well, we did divert their attention upwards," said Ray, with a short laugh.

Finally, everyone was gone except for Vic and the Masks.

"Okay," said Vic, tiredly. "_Now_ will you tell me what happened?"

"We got word a hate group was organizing locals to attack the school," said Ray. "That's why the school was locked down."

"The school wasn't locked down," said Vic, puzzled. "We were walking between buildings like usual."

The two Masks looked at each other.

"I think you better show us the way to the administrative office," said Doro.

"We did get a call and did have security on alert," said Dean Baker, a few minutes later. "However, we get so many prank calls we decided against a lockdown. Especially since classes just ended for the day."

"You get a call from a federal law enforcement agency and you think it's a prank?!" said Ray.

"There was no verification!" said Baker, defensive but also angry. "There are verification phrases which are supposed to be given with valid calls!"

"Okay," said Ray, embarrassed, "looks like someone on our end fell down. Sorry."

"That doesn't explain why no-one from the school came out to see what was going on," said Doro, without sounding accusing.

"That part of the school hasn't been used in years," said the Dean. "There's no active security there except an occasional perimeter sweep. We heard sirens, but thought they stayed out on the highway."

"I guided them in through the closest gate," said Vic, quietly. "That's well away from the center of campus."

"What were you doing out there, anyway?" said Baker, glaring at her.

"Escorting a couple of my friends," said Vic.

"She was a big help," said Ray.

Vic noticed Doro discreetly step on her partner's foot; Baker didn't.

"Yes," said Doro, quickly. "She guided the police and ambulances to us, and gave the police a clear and concise statement."

"Do you know how those men got on the grounds?" said Baker.

"Not yet. Doro and I were flying high patrol; our guys on the ground must have found their entrance point, tracked them, and gotten spotted. They're all in the hospital, but the two of us will check around before we leave."

"I'd appreciate it if you took some of my security people with you," said Baker. "More eyes on the job, and we need to know where the hole is immediately."

"No problem," said Ray, smiling.

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