Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men. If I had a dime for every time I said that, I would have… seven dimes, as of now at least. That's kind of sad, actually. Seventy cents can't get you anything anymore.

Damn inflation!

Chapter 7: School Spirit – Part I


I always had my own theory about the goal of the Xavier Institute's whole 'mutant equality' thing.

Going for the big prize of everybody loving everybody and everything being cool all over the world was nice. Unless someone hopped on Cerebro and gave the world a psychic lobotomy, it was unrealistic that it would happen in my lifetime, given that people of different races and religions were still messing with each other even now, but it was still a nice thought.

No, while you were aiming for that, you also had to put in the work to do it a different way to cover all of your bases. The hard way. The slow, creeping, step-by-step way, by ingratiating yourself into different aspects of society over time. Dazzler started to do it with entertainment, and since mutants were public now, we could too. It wouldn't even have been that hard.

My thought was: if the Xavier Institute had ever thought to just televise Field Day, it would have done a lot to warm people up to mutants.

Stay with me for this one.

First of all, instead of just keeping us stuck on mansion property in Salem Center, usually behind gates and security, it would have let people see that we were all just kids trying to do our best.

Look at college athletics and high school sports in small towns. People latched on to talented student-athletes and tried to live vicariously through them. Well, what about students that would eventually save your sorry ass from whatever megalomaniacal freak decided to take a chunk out of your neighborhood? I bet people would care then.

Second of all, people could get to know us a bit before forming at least a partially decent opinion case-by-case. I for one didn't have a problem with anyone seeing me and deciding that I was an asshole after the fact. There were plenty of good reasons to dislike me. One of them was not because my body processes ran off light energy. Screw that.

Third, and probably most important to the whole thing working, it was entertaining! It was televised competition with different colored uniforms, flowery names, team dynamics, a few mascots (like Lockheed), and all of that other 'rah-rah', 'go team' horseshit! People would have lost their minds for it!

At its core, Field Day was a bunch of kids running around doing superhero shit. What's not to love about that? Put some well-spoken, knowledgeable gentleman on with some other charismatic S.O.B. on commentary, and the masses would have eaten it up!

Treat it like a real sporting event, like the Olympics, or those crossfit competitions they air on ESPN sometimes. If people would watch the World Series of Poker for two hours every night for a week or tune in for play-by-play of the July 4th Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, they would sit down to watch a 16 year old kid deadlift ten tons or dodge some lasers on a crazy nightmare obstacle course.

Once it caught on, broadcasting rights would have eventually made the school a disgusting amount of capital. No more relying on wealthy benefactors and alumni, or however the hell we were funded, to keep the whole machine running smoothly.

Hey, if colleges could make money and gain notoriety off the backs of their athletes, the Institute could do it off of us. Yes, indeed. It was the first step to equality and understanding for a place of education for mutants – running your young studs into the ground for profit in exchange for room and board.

There was originally a point to all of this, I swear. I just need to remember what it was.

Oh yeah! Field Day!

Competitions had started, and whenever you weren't in an event or getting ready for one, you were sitting by a monitor, watching the action as it went on. All of the events would be happening on different parts of the Institute so everyone could watch, and there were security cameras all over the property, so it wasn't difficult to re-purpose them for catching everything that was happening. We even had a drone cam, which was useful for keeping track of everyone doing the speed and control event.

Ah, the speed event. The only one that we all thought we had a good chance at winning.

I personally thought that if we picked the right people for the right things, we had a good chance to do well in everything. Sadly, the beatdown my team had taken during the last Field Day had not endeared them much toward my mindset.

Be that as it may, Eddie went out determined to get us off on the right foot in the first competition of the day.

Eddie flew around a massive course that had been laid out on the Xavier Institute grounds. There were bright glowing holographic arches that he had to go through one after another until he was done. All of the checkpoints were close to the ground, for those students participating that weren't capable of flight.

It started with twenty-five visible checkpoints. For every checkpoint you hit, it would disappear and at the end of them, a new one would keep popping up until you got to seventy-five. That way, twenty-five checkpoints could always been seen on the field until you got close to finishing up at the number one-hundred.

If you missed one or skipped one because you were cheating or weren't keeping track of where you were going, but continued on to the end, just focusing on pure speed, you were heavily penalized. Eventually you were disqualified if you kept doing it. Hence the 'control' portion of the speed and control competition.

From what I could see on camera, our boy was killing it out there. He hadn't missed any, and his speed was absolutely absurd. Four people had gone before him, and looking at his checkpoint count to his time, he was doing better than anyone I'd seen up to that point.

"Come on Eddie," I could hear Hisako mutter under her breath. Her fists were squeezed tight. She wanted him to do well, probably more than even Ruth and I did.

As he flew through the last checkpoint and his time was stopped, his score was tallied right there on the spot, taking all of the factors of the event into account.

Speed & Control Competition: Wing – 9.2

"Hell yeah!" I jumped up and clapped in satisfaction, getting a few looks from the other kids not on the Paladins. Screw them. That was an outstanding score, "Yes, sir! More of that, please!" Hisako was ready to respond to the high-five that I so desperately wanted at that moment.

It took a little while for us to settle down from how jazzed we were. What a way to start our fortunes off on a good note. Man, we really needed a team celebration or something.

Hisako was very happy about our teammate's performance, "Last year, he missed three checkpoints last year and got disqualified right in the middle of his run," She told me, frowning a bit at remembering "It absolutely killed him."

Another minute or two passed before Eddie made it back to where our team had agreed to meet up in between competitions. As he approached, I saw a medal around his neck with a large 'X' on it, presumably from winning the speed competition.

...I wanted one.

I went up to congratulate him on doing well, but when I got close enough, he didn't look pleased.

"Shit!" He exclaimed, first and foremost, before looking at us with an air of disappointment on his face, "My bad, guys. I couldn't get a ten."

What kind of perfectionist was he to think that getting a score higher than a 9 wasn't something to puff one's chest out at? He won!

"No, that was a great score, man!" I assured him, "Unless you can teleport or something, nobody's getting a 10."

And I believed that. Flying was what Eddie did. There were plenty of other students that could do it, but it wasn't the main focus of really anyone who was actually in the competition. It seemed the most natural and effortless for him than for anyone else I'd seen so far. Plus, he told me that the fastest he had ever gone was past the speed of sound. If that was the case, he was absolutely the right pick for us. I had no idea how fast he was going, but it got the job done.

The way Field Day worked this time around was based on multiple factors. Teams would choose one representative for solo events. The scores were then averaged together and would be averaged again later with the scores we got from the team challenges and then practical exercise, which was basically the big main event.

...That was more math than I felt like handling without a calculator in my hand. The scoring system was a mixed bag for the Paladins.

Full teams could only use a representative once in the six solo events offered. You couldn't have a single ringer do them all. You needed at least three people on a squad to so much as take part. Teams of four could have one person go twice. Teams of three could have two people go twice.

To make things fairer for full teams of six, all squads could dump their lowest individual score to make their averages better.

We had to pick and choose which events we thought we would kick the most ass at, because for us, every score was important.

Eddie had been signed up for the speed event. It was a no-brainer, as he was our fastest guy. He could hit the speed of sound if he pushed himself hard enough. None of us were messing with that.

We thought about putting Hisako in the strength competition, but while she was the strongest out of our team, there were plenty of students way stronger, a painful lesson she learned the last go-around. So we decided to ignore that event altogether, take the big, fat 0, and drop it.

Instead, we stuck her in the durability challenge. Her name was Armor, so why not?

For that event, the competitors were placed into a chamber where the general settings would be constantly readjusted for five minutes. Every thirty seconds, you got a point. If you lasted the full five minutes, you got a perfect score. Sounds easy, right?

Not so much. In addition to the gravity, the air pressure, the temperature, pretty much anything you can think of would be physically changed. And as time went on, it got progressively worse. If you gave up or dropped, it was over. If you gave the instructors any reason to turn it off, it was over. It was the most dangerous solo event in the entire line-up. When people chose events to pick members for, that was usually the one they avoided all together. They took the score of zero, and then made up for it with less sadistic competitions.

Durability & Willpower Competition: Armor – 7.0

Eddie had gone with her, which had been a good idea, because walking on her own was quite the feat afterwards. Thankfully, team stuff didn't start until the next day, so she had that much time to recover. She probably only needed an hour or so to get back into form, though.

By the time she got back to us, Hisako was more upset about her score than anything else, "A seven..."

"It's not the end of the world," Eddie tried to say, "That's a rough event to try and compete in. Maybe we should have gone for something else?"

"No, that one was the best my powers would have been good for," Hisako said, bemoaning her score. In all fairness, matching up to Eddie's 9-plus would have been hard in any event, "...Bling! from the Chevaliers and the Mercury girl from the Hellions got 10s."

"Well, as far as we know, they're straight-up diamond and metal," I said before reaching out and grabbing her bicep, "You might have that armor, but it doesn't last forever and you're just squishy teenage girl underneath," Hisako pulled her arm away and glared at me, but didn't dispute anything, "Fates be willing, you'll never have to be under enough pressure to smush coal into diamonds for five minutes straight, and no, Ruthie, I do not want to know if that ever really is going to happen," I finished quickly, preempting Ruth before she could interject with something from the future.

She just shrugged at me. I had no idea if that meant she had something in mind or not, but for the sake of spoilers that we apparently couldn't change anyway, I didn't want to know one way or the other.

There wasn't really any time to consider it either, as I had to get to the next competition area within the span of a few minutes. It was my turn.

Choosing events that we could do well at was hard. Last time around, part of the problem was that my teammates hadn't done it exactly right. The appropriate people weren't in the proper competitions, so their scores weren't as good as they could have been. Even if their team and practical exercise scores had been great, which they hadn't been, what they'd gotten from the solo events would have still sank them anyway.

Even though I'd felt like we'd chosen well this time around, our boon wasn't going to come from the solo events. That wasn't how we were going to win. Our goal was to stay competitive through the solo events, and then make our push during the two other phases of Field Day.

That didn't mean I wasn't expecting to win, though.

When I showed up at the entrance courtyard that was being used as the contest site, I saw a woman wearing a more traditional black and yellow color scheme version of the X-Men uniform. She was a Native American with long black hair plaited into two braids. From the team intros, I remembered this was the advisor for the New Mutants squad, Dani Moonstar.

She noticed me coming, "Solaris?" I nodded in confirmation of my identity, even if I still hated that codename, "Alright. I'm the proctor for this test."

"Did your team go yet?" I asked, trying to make some kind of conversation. Talking helped me calm down. I didn't think I had any nerves, but if I did, speaking with someone would make me forget about them, "I meant to be here earlier to watch, but I was too busy making sure Hisako was okay after the durability competition."

"Yes. I think you and the last competitor will have your work cut out for you to beat Wind Dancer's score," Dani replied with a good-natured smile on her face.

"Sofia?" I asked, remembering the girl that I talked to sometimes in Mr. Logan's hand-to-hand combat classes. I hadn't fought her yet, but she seemed like she knew her stuff, "Well shit. What did she-? Wait, don't tell me what she got. It doesn't matter. All that matters is what I'm about to get."

From the proud way Dani had mentioned Sofia and her score, she must have been the leader so far, or at least close to the lead. The belligerent little bastard in me that drove my every attempt at trying to achieve anything now wanted to get the top score, not just for my team, but so I could see the look on Dani's face after I outdid her student.

...Because I was competitive and hated losing at things.

Dani seemed accepting of my challenging nature. Why wouldn't she be? That was the point of this whole thing, to do your best, "You know the rules, right?" She asked, guiding me into the starting area, "You have one minute to hit as many targets as you can. Some are worth more points than others. You can move however you want, wherever you want, to get the job done. The number of points you get will determine your score."

"Got it," I said, cracking my knuckles and kicking my legs to loosen them up. There was nothing like a little target practice, "What if I run out?"

"You get a perfect score," Dani told me, getting a hum of understanding from me, "Okay, are you ready?" She asked. I nodded instead of speaking, my game face thoroughly on by this point, "Alright. I'll start the countdown once I get clear. When you hear the buzzer, do whatever you can to hit every target you see."

I stood and waited, focusing on my breathing and the feeling of the mystical, magical sun beaming down on me.

"Begin in Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five ! Four! Three! Two! One! Go!"

Dozens of drones descended on the area and my hands started flying. Nothing but closed fist blasts, because open-hand stuff would have made explosions, which meant smoke that would have made it harder for me to see.

Some of them remained still, but most of them had some kind of movement to them, and with so many of them flying around, it was easy to lose track of what you were trying to hit. It was like a hive of gigantic, angry, metal hornets, even down to the distracting droning hovering sound that they made to stay in flight.

I had to keep my eyes and ears open, because at best they didn't pay any mind to where I was. At worst, sometimes they would go straight for me. I didn't know if someone was controlling them, or if they flew independently, but getting hit by one of those would have definitely left a mark. Probably would have lowered my score too.

In the end, I found the sweet-spot of a quick enough rate of fire paired with accuracy that let me hit what I was shooting at with each forward thrust of each hand. If I had enough time to line up my shot, I felt like I could hit anything, no matter how far away it was. Light blasts didn't have mass, so they didn't lose momentum. They would just lose their beam form if I fired a shot far enough away and didn't maintain it, but they flew so fast that it hardly ever mattered unless I was sniping.

An errant drone flew too close and nearly clipped me, but I adjusted for it and knocked it aside with a punch. The part on the front that lit up as it fell to the ground told me that it had counted toward my score, but it messed up my flow. I spent the rest of the test trying to get back into rhythm, but I only had a few seconds left. It ended before I could hit my stride again.

As a buzzer sounded and all of the drones flew off to where they had come from, even the ones I had shot, I tried to mentally calculate how many I had hit.

"That's the end of the test, Solaris!" Dani Moonstar shouted at me from where she had been keeping time from, "Come out of the exercise area!"

I was eager to see how I'd done, so I jogged over and got a look at the tablet she was using to keep tabs on all of the scores. She noticed I was trying to check and gave me some help by turning my way once she had seen what she'd needed to from it.

Accuracy & Efficiency Competition: Solaris – 8.3

I saw that as things stood, I was at the top of the leaderboard for that event. Sofia, Wind Dancer from the New Mutants, had scored a flat 8. The only other person that had gotten close was some student codenamed 'Network' who had gotten a 7.6.

I stepped back and held up my fists, both glowing with light energy building up just beneath the skin, and blew on both before tucking them away in make-believe holsters. It was goofy, and Dani let me know about it when she shook her head at the action.

It wasn't a 10 or a 9, but I was more than happy to take it. The score was high enough to get me in the lead with one more person to go.

And I passed by that person on the way out of the courtyard. When I saw the red of Julian Keller's Hellion's squad uniform, I could feel my lead vanish just like that.

"Fuck," I blurted out. It was too late to take it back though. He could already smell my anxiety.

"Marcher," Julian said, more easygoing than I would have preferred. He walked like his winning was money in the bank already. Seeing as how sabotage was more than likely frowned upon, he had a point, "I entered this thing to show Sofia what I could do, but smacking you down is a bonus I can get behind. You want to stick around and watch me win this thing?"

"Nope!" I said, not even bothering to look back as I walked past him off of the course. I couldn't get far enough away before I heard the start of his session though, and curiosity, rotten bastard that it was, won out in my mind.

From that point on, all I could do was sit back and listen as my score was left in the dust. With every flick of his hands, it seemed like Julian was dropping four or five drones, smashing them into each other, or sending them flying. Anything that hovered into his field of vision was caught in a green field. It wasn't even the objects themselves, it was the area around them.

When time started to dwindle, he seemed to get tired of the manual process and let his power explode all around him. Anything that was left in the air around him dropped to the ground and deactivated.

After the last drone was downed, the time stopped with five seconds left on the clock.

Accuracy & Efficiency Competition: Hellion – 10

If there was a word better than bitter to describe the taste in my mouth at that moment, anyone could have felt free to use it.

The guy would have been so much easier to deal with if he either weren't such an asshole, or he wasn't so good. Unfortunately, he was both, with a power that lent itself to him being badass. It was my fault for not being up to snuff to force my own perfect score.

My best wasn't good enough. In a situation like this, all I could do was suck it up and take my loss like a man. But God, I really didn't want to.

"Man, that was too easy," Julian said as he walked off of the competition field, "You like that, Marcher?"

I was perfectly honest with him, "I don't like that. I don't like that at all," I said, "If you're in this, who did the speed competition?" Because the Hellions weren't in the top five scores for that one, but I'd never seen who'd gone for them. I'd felt like we could have taken them for a moment if Julian had done that one and hadn't even placed.

"Sooraya. But that's the score we're probably going to drop," He said with a shrug, the expression on his face changing to one of thought, "Either that or Brian's score in the telepathy thing... or whatever Kevin gets on the flying test. Whichever's lowest."

And here I was hoping he'd be some kind of egomaniac and put his squad members in competitions without thinking of who would score the highest in what. Quite the contrary, clearly. This gave them at least two scores of perfect 10. Thankfully, there wasn't much time for him to lord the win over me. We both had to get back to our teams for the rest of the competitions.

Eddie had been waiting on me, not far from the front of the main school building, in plain sight of the competition field in the courtyard. There was an understanding look of pity on his face. That made the loss hurt that much more. But, stiff upper-lip. Nothing was over. There was still plenty of work to do. Eddie respected that much and didn't bother saying anything. He just opened the door for me and fell in step as we started searching for Hisako and Ruth.

Ruth was our only telepath, so she was obviously the one who was set to compete in the telepathy competition. I was afraid for her, but if I babied her and kept her from competing, it would have done us all a disservice. She was training to be one of the X-Men just like the rest of us, and if I gave her an out just because it might have been unpleasant for her, it would have been the same as looking down on her.

Also, we needed all hands on deck. Everyone had to put their best foot forward. We all wanted to win, or at least prove that just because there were only four of us, that didn't mean we weren't just as good as any other team.

Hisako and Ruth sat on a bench outside of one of the auditorium classrooms where the telepathy competition had been scheduled to take place. Ruth was holding her head and leaning against Hisako.

Had she gone already?

Hisako noticed me first, "How did it go?" She asked at first, apparently not noticing the scowl on my face until I got closer. It must have been quite bad for her to not even need any verbal confirmation from me, "Oof. That bad, huh?"

I sighed and sat down on the other side of Ruth. When I did, Ruth switched from Hisako's shoulder over to mine. I didn't mind it any, "It's not that it was bad, it's that I never had a chance at winning. Not with who else was in it."

Eddie chimed in, willing to explain my circumstances in more detail in my stead, "Hellion was the last guy to go, right after Bel,"

Hisako winced. Was that a show of sympathy? That was new, "That sucks."

'Sucks' was an understatement. It sucked spilling your drink all over your hand because the top wasn't secured tightly enough. Losing like that was a heartbreaker. Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.

"He doesn't even have to aim. All he has to do is barely focus on the general area around his targets," I said, "I'm gonna make a suggestion for the next time. If it's an accuracy contest, it should have stuff that we shouldn't hit," I stopped when I realized that complaining over my circumstances wasn't exactly going to do anyone on my team any favors. You can't be top dog if you act like a pussy, "Sorry. I'll let it go. An 8.3 is good enough for what we were looking for, I guess."

It wasn't bad, if we were judging on the scale of 'good enough'. It just wasn't enough to win.

Hisako's expression changed to a sly one, "Well, while you were away, something happened that might cheer you up," She pulled up the student website on her phone with the listing of current Field Day scores on it, "Check that out."

Telepathy: Blindfold – 9.5

It was a good thing she didn't let me hold the phone, because I would have dropped it. I looked at Ruth, who was still leaning against my shoulder, a quiet, satisfied smile on her face, "Ruthie you got a-... that's a really good-... y-you almost beat the Cuckoos!" I pointed out, noticing that the blonde triplets on Mr. Summers' Corsairs squad had only edged her out by .3 points, "How the hell did you do that?"

Almost on cue, Miss Frost walked out of the auditorium classroom, giving the lot of us a side gaze as she stopped by us, "Most of her score came because I literally cannot read her mind," She said, sounding the slightest bit annoyed. Is it wrong that I enjoyed that? "With my girls, I can at least get something, but... with Miss Aldine, her mind is in too much flux for me to read."

"I'm not really surprised," Eddie said from off to the side, getting everyone to look at him momentarily, "What? You're telling me any of you are?"

None of us could say that we were.

"Huh," I muttered, looking over at Ruth. I wasn't surprised. Who could have figured that would have wound up being an advantage? I would take it, though, "That's a hell of a wrinkle."

Miss Frost's nose crinkled up slightly at the thought of being mentally rebuffed by a student, "Indeed. Even if it was because of a factor out of her control, I had to score her accordingly," She said, before changing her tune somewhat, "But, that doesn't mean she's immune to telepathic assaults. That is where you lost points, dear. Celeste, Mindee, and Phoebe are superior mental combatants. When they are together, they're nearly impossible to defeat. You were barely able to defend yourself."

But she had lasted long enough to outscore almost the entire rest of the field. Right now, that was what mattered. Anything else was a work in progress. We would deal with it in due time.

I was going to say something, but Ruth of all people actually beat me to it, "She knows, yes. Others are counting on her. She wants to do well," She said, slowly sitting up straighter and more confident, "Yes, this is just a start."

Miss Frost regarded Ruth closely before looking over at me and nodding. Apparently she accepted that and left us to our own devices.

Good. I was not in the mood to get punished for arguing with a teacher, because that was what it felt like was going to happen. I was not in the mood for any lectures, especially on something that we already knew we had to take care of.

It would be handled in due time.

XxX

My second challenge of the day was the flying test.

A lot of squads chose this test to skip out on, because very few kids had taken the aviation courses offered. Not me. I saw aviation on the list of classes offered and wondered why anyone wouldn't want to learn how to fly a plane. It counted as a regular class. That was just more time I didn't have to spend doing math.

The best part: it had been a class of about five. None of whom were competing at the moment. Most of the people onboard the Blackbird with me when it took off were there trying to make up a low score from another part of Field Day.

Once again, I liked my chances of doing well.

I looked around at all of the others. I didn't know for sure, but they all looked nervous. I was calmer about flying than I had been during the accuracy challenge.

Sitting in one of the seats across the way from me, the pink-haired girl from the Paragons, Megan. Since she was one of the only ones I knew, and just sitting there in silence was boring, I spoke up, "Hey, what are you worried about?" I asked. It was all over her face.

"I thought this was literal flying," Megan said, letting her wings wiggle from how they were neatly pressed against her seat, "Like, with wings, or whatever else anyone has."

"Oh," I said, before looking around. When I made eye contact with three other students, I realized how many others probably figured thought something similar before getting up there, "Oh!"

Now that made a lot more sense. At least two of the seven kids there could fly on their own. They were probably feeling good until they realized that they hadn't been taken up to jump out of the plane and fly with their powers, but to actually fly the plane itself.

…Perhaps they should have named it the pilot test instead. Much less misleading. Oh well. Hindsight was 20/20.

I tried to think of anything to say to her, but in the end, all I came up with was, "That sucks..."

Not for me. For all of them, because there was only one aviation class, and I know full well I never saw any of them in there.

It was literally all I could say in return. I didn't have anything encouraging to say, because I wanted to win, and I didn't want to inspire anyone into idiot savanting their way into a top score. However, rubbing it in was a bit dickish, and I was trying to be a better person.

Megan nodded in agreement with me and seemed to cringe at every dip and roll she thought she felt the plane take.

"Solaris," A man said in a German accent. I unconsciously grit my teeth every time I heard that codename. I really didn't like it, "It's your turn. Come up front to the cockpit and take the controls."

I unbuckled my seat and got up from the back where I and the rest of the other students competing had been sitting. We had been placed back there so we couldn't get a look at how anyone else was flying. Of course, that was kind of redundant for one of us.

David Alleyne, a.k.a. Prodigy. An appropriate name, because the fucker knew any learned skill you knew for as long as he was close enough to you. God, what a power. If I had that, I wouldn't even have gone to this school. I would have cheated my way through classes and gotten a cushy job around tons of smart people I could rip ideas off from.

Which just showed how much better a person he was than me.

To be fair, David wasn't a fucker. He was a nice guy, he was honestly intelligent in his own right, and it wasn't like he was actively trying to get all of your hard-earned talents and knowledge. Hell, he didn't even keep them! But seriously, just by sitting in the damn plane, he could probably fly it at least as well as the best pilot there, which probably wasn't me.

Speaking of whom, I passed by him as he moved back to the sitting area and I headed to the front, "Good luck," He said on his way past.

"Thanks," I said. I didn't bother asking what he'd scored. It was either perfect, or as close as any of us were going to get to it, "Here's hoping something nuts happens so I can impress Nightcrawler and win this thing."

I eventually got to the front of the plane, my eyes getting a good look at us cutting our way through the sky before taking note of who was flying. A man with blue hair and fur, but not like Dr. McCoy's. He had pointed ears, solid-colored eyes and a long, thin, flexible tail. He wore a black bodysuit with red accents and white three-fingered gloves with white three-toed boots.

Kurt Wagner. Resident teleporter, drama teacher, devout Catholic, and all-around friendly guy. He was also the proctor for the practical flight test.

I took my seat in the chair next to him and strapped myself in. They definitely would have taken points off if I'd needed to be to. Mr. Wagner waited until I looked situated and ready to go, "Are you ready?" He asked. He had an encouraging, patient tone.

"Yeah," I said, my hands tightly gripping the wheel as I waited for control to be relinquished over to me, "What's the worst that can happen?"

"You wreck the plane and we all blow up in flames," Mr. Wagner said, completely ignoring the fact that I had meant that to be rhetorical, "…Of course, that's why I'm here."

And why he had said that so calmly. Apparently, he flew this thing better than anyone else, so if I sent it into and outright spinning nosedive, he was the man that could get it out.

Either that, or he could probably teleport a few of us safely away before it hit the ground. But he would probably leave me, because I was stupid and it would be my fault that it went down.

That was not thinking conducive with a man who was about to try and fly a high-tech plane, was it?

"There's no way I'm that bad at this," I said, "If I come anywhere near crashing this thing, I'll never drive anything ever again."

Mr. Wagner just chuckled before focusing on the task at hand, "I'm giving you control. You'll feel it in a moment," True enough, moments later, I felt tension in the wheel and tightened my arms a bit to keep everything perfectly level, "Now, we will go through a few maneuvers to see what you can do."

By basics, he wanted to see if I could safely gain and lower altitude, turn correctly, adjust our speed. Basic flying stuff with some fancy rolls and whatnot added in for flair. Nothing too difficult, and he never admonished me or took control of the plane over.

It went on that way for more than ten minutes before Mr. Wagner spoke up with a question, "Do you want to keep going with the test?" He asked. I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn't, "It's yes or no."

A mystery? How fun, "Sure. Why not?" I told him.

Mr. Wagner entered a set of coordinates into the system and sat back in his seat, "Alright. Head to this location and find a place to land."

And that was it. I didn't get any more instruction, and truth be told, anyone actually flying the Blackbird on a mission shouldn't have needed one. The point of having a hoverjet was so it could land wherever the hell it needed to.

I brushed it off easily enough. I didn't care. I hadn't flown an actual plane before, despite having run numerous simulations. But all I had to do was treat it like a sim. No big deal.

The coordinates sent us to the Pocono Mountains where I had to find a sweet spot to touch down. I could have used a state park parking lot, but I had a feeling he was looking for a place more along the lines of where we would try to let people off to begin an operation, so I tried to find a less conventional area... like a big flat field nestled nicely up past a few foot trails. Yeah that was the ticket.

Hovering to a landing was a little clunkier than I would have liked. I grit my teeth when I felt it, but I don't think it showed on my face. I'm pretty sure Mr. Wagner gave me a look for it, because he maintained the Blackbird that we used. Either way, we were upright, the plane was on the ground. It was a successful landing... for the most part.

"Good," Mr. Wagner said, "Now take off, put us on autopilot, and you're finished."

Taking off was much easier. Just as long as you didn't tilt the damn plane into the ground on one end or the other, you were pretty much good to go.

Seriously, that was the most stress-free competition I did for that Field Day. The only reason to feel nervous was if you didn't know what the hell you were doing... which more than a few students taking part in the challenge didn't.

"Not bad," Mr. Wagner said after he had taken back control of the Blackbird, "How do you think you did?"

"Better than a 7?" I ventured as a guess. It couldn't have been that bad if he didn't have to stop me from doing anything, "I didn't kill us all, so I think it should be pretty good. Sorry. Black humor and self-deprecation probably don't go together when I'm flying a plane where I can actually kill us."

All of those negative jokes probably stopped being funny twenty minutes ago. I had made a ton of them ever since I'd taken the wheel. Ever since I'd gotten on to begin with.

…Now that I think about it, that might have been a reason why all of the others waiting with me seemed so nervous. Whoops.

Mr. Wagner rested a hand on my shoulder supportively, "Let me tell you something, now that you've already finished. Half of being able to fly an aircraft is believing that you can," He said, before taking a big blink with his solid yellow eyes, "…The other half is actually learning how, but just as long as you're working on that, I think you'll be fine. You're very good at this."

I sat there waiting for the other shoe to drop, because I never got a compliment without some kind of criticism to go with it. But Mr. Wagner didn't approach the issue again, "Err... thank you," I said honestly.

Seriously, I never got straightforward compliments. You could count the number I'd gotten on one hand and still have enough fingers leftover to make a fist.

I left the cockpit to sit back and wait with the other students. The softy in me tried to get Megan jazzed up for her turn, even though she had never flown a plane in her life.

It worked. Megan was super-energetic. It was too easy to get her excited. By the time she was called on to fly, I think she really believed she could do it.

She was in the cockpit for a total of two minutes. During that time, we all felt a sharp jerk downward that lasted about fifteen seconds before everything leveled out.

While everyone was busy getting their heart rates back under control, Megan slipped back into her seat. She was trying desperately not to make eye contact with anyone.

"Hey," I eventually called out, startling her enough to get a surprised ruffle of wings out of her, "What the hell happened? I thought you had this."

Her face lit up in embarrassment, "I didn't know planes used inverted controls!"

Oh. Well... I hadn't expected that. I knew that before I'd even taken the aviation class. I just thought it was general knowledge. Apparently I was mistaken.

I tried to find some kind of positive spin to put on things, "Uh, well, at least your team will have to drop one of your scores anyway."

"I guess you're right," Megan said, perking up a bit. She certainly didn't sweat the small stuff. Not for long, anyway, "I still think my squad will be fine! We did great in all of the other challenges."

Good lord, that girl could talk when she felt comfortable. Not that I had a problem with it. Listening to her was better than the tense, boring dead silence from before.

Megan chatted me up about Field Day stuff until we eventually landed back inside of the underground hangar bay the mansion had built underneath the basketball court.

As we all got off of the plane, there were members of several teams standing by waiting on us and the results.

I got off and made a beeline straight for where I saw Ruth standing and waiting for me.

"Score?" I asked, prompting her to point at a video board set up nearby. You normally saw them around school, not down in the underground area. They were usually to let students know about what was going on, functions, announcements and the like. For the next three days, they would be the boards of glory/humiliation, because they showed everyone's scores.

Flying Ability: Solaris – 8.5

"I'll take it," I said to myself with a sigh, accepting the way today had gone. Things could have been much worse. If we couldn't work with what we had going into the next day's team events, we didn't deserve to do well.

"Bellamy is a good pilot, yes," Ruth said to me. She was smiling the way she usually did before she said something cryptic and vague, "You can't crash a plane in space, no. Because then it is a spaceship, yes!"

I stared at her, then looked straight up at the sky, the right back to Ruth, who was still smiling, "I don't know. I don't want to know," I said, before letting her enjoy her little joke, "...You were proud of that one, weren't you?"

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I seriously wondered how much of her visions she saw. Clearly not enough to change anything bad, but maybe enough for her to get a kick out of a few that weren't.

As David went back to his New Mutants team members, Noriko took a moment to scrutinize the leaderboard. While David had outscored me with a 9 flat, I had the second-best score by a long shot. Like I said, not a lot of students cared to learn how to fly a plane.

I saw her electric blue hair coming our way, "How do you know how to fly that thing so well?" Noriko asked me, "You've been here for what, two months?"

I was dead serious in my response, "Because the aviation classroom with the simulator is usually open after-hours and you'd be surprised how much you can get done when you never need to sleep."

Six-to-eight extra hours every night was a lot of time to kick around. A lot of time.

Noriko seemed confused until Ruth shed some light on what I was talking about, "Bellamy has insomnia."

I saw Noriko's eyes go wide, "And they let him fly a plane?"

Hearing that must have startled her. Normally, I would have fostered that uncomfortable feeling she probably had for fun. But, being the upstanding person I was, or at least was trying to become, I decided it wasn't a good idea. The New Mutants didn't hate me… yet. I wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible.

"Insomnia, not narcolepsy," I said, trying to get a few things straight, "I'm not gonna just nod off out of nowhere. The opposite actually. You have to damn near knock me out to get me to sleep."

"Huh," Noriko said before she gave me a thumbs up with her gauntlet, "Well, good luck with that."

I didn't even know why it mattered how I got to be passable at flying. I didn't win. David won. I could see him being awarded with the medal right then and there.

God, I wanted one of those medals. Eddie had one already, and that should have been enough, but I wanted one. For me!

Don't judge me.

XxX

"MVP, MVP, MVP," Eddie kept chanting under his breath right behind me as we walked around campus, waiting for the scores to go up. He started to get louder in the hopes that someone, anyone else, would join in. Hisako just looked at him, rolled her eyes, and kept on going, "MVP, MVP."

"Stop," I said, nudging him backwards with my elbow, "Ruth got the best score out of all of us, and you actually won a competition."

Eddie scoffed and gave me a shove from behind, likely from being a downer. He was clearly feeling much better than he had been when we'd all gotten started that morning. At least that was good to see, "Are you kidding me? You got two scores over an eight. I couldn't have done that. I bet nobody else competing in this thing could have done that," He said, "And if there was, they didn't. You did."

He had a point. Maybe I had some kind of perfectionist streak that I hadn't known about until that moment. It would have explained why I was never satisfied with my own accomplishments, no matter what I did.

While I pondered along that line of thinking, I noticed Eddie straighten up and change his posture entirely. Looking back ahead to see what had nearly tripped him up, I noticed Miss Pryde at the back of the school, near where we would have split up to head to the separate boys and girls dorm buildings.

"Outstanding," Miss Pryde said, clapping her hands together. The smile she had on her face had enough light on it to charge me into overload. Not really, but you know what I mean, "I know it's just the first day, but your score this time already looks like a night and day difference from last time around."

I was able to catch a glimpse of our amassed scores as they flashed up on the board for a few seconds.

Overall Solo Event Score: Paladins – 8.5

"Thank God," Hisako muttered, though she too was pleased with what we'd gotten so far. She was just trying to play it cool.

"So you're happy with that?" I asked Miss Pryde.

"Oh, very much so," She gestured her head back toward the board again, "Look."

1st Place: New Mutants – 9.1
2nd Place: Paragons – 8.7
3rd Place: Paladins – 8.5
4th Place: Hellions – 8.4
5th Place: Chevaliers – 7.9

It was close. Damn close. Any slip-up and we weren't so much as getting a top three podium spot, but we just squeezed in there. It likely wouldn't stay that way, as this had been just the first day, the first leg of events. I couldn't believe it. I'd expected that we'd easily outdo what the team had done during their last Field Day, but sheesh.

Eddie had to rub his eyes to make sure what he was seeing was real. The look of joy on his face, it was worth all of the hard work we'd put in so far, "Wait-wait-wait. How are we so close to the top spot?" He asked, overjoyed.

"Look," Hisako pointed out as the team scores per event rolled past again, "Everything the Hellions didn't get 10s on, they got lower scores than us. How'd that work out?"

That was just the best. I started to laugh from a good, healthy place. I'd thought Julian had chosen events for his team well. It only seemed that way because half of their scores were tens. In reality, he'd just stuck his shoo-ins in the events that they would dominate in and let the others do whatever else just to get marks to cover.

I suddenly felt much better about losing to Julian earlier, "Ha! The Hellions min-maxed like a son of a bitch!" I crowed victoriously. It was a good day.

Hisako gave me a big pat on the back, "You actually booked us well in the solo events. Way to go, Bel."

Miss Pryde's eyebrows rose in interest, "Bellamy chose the events?" She asked, sounding intrigued, "And everyone else was okay with that?"

All of the others just seemed to look at her as if to ask 'why not?'

"It clearly worked," Eddie said, "He even picked two events he could do well at. If he wasn't here, we probably would have stuck Hisako with the strength competition and I would have doubled up and taken the flying contest to try and make up points off of it. Our score would have been butchered."

"Accentuate the positives, hide the negatives," I said, trying to explain my way of thinking for which event I decided to keep us out of altogether, "No one needs to know what we suck at and how bad we suck at it."

As far as they knew, we didn't suck at anything. With a good-to-great spread of scores across the board, no one would have known what to expect from us later on. Which was great, because we didn't necessarily know either.

The important thing was, we had a chance heading into day two, and at the moment, nothing else mattered.

…And just like the day before, why did I feel like I was missing something important?


Superhero Olympics! YEAH! Dig it!

Seriously, if that were a real thing that was on television for my viewing pleasure, I would watch the hell out of it. Go ahead and lie to me and say you wouldn't.

Speaking of Olympics, I have no idea why America is so good at swimming… because God knows I'm not. I barely know how to, to the extent that water deeper than I am tall alarms me. I blame my youth pool instructors. They made you jump in the water and they said they would catch you, but they never did! That wasn't teaching me how to swim, people! That was teaching me how to drown with flair!

I was talking about this story at some point.

Things are off to a great start for the Paladins, but Bellamy can't help but shake the feeling that he's forgetting something. Whatever could it be? And why? Hmm…

Eh, if he can't put his finger on it, it probably wasn't that big of a deal anyway.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed. I'll be back with more stuff at some point, when life allows.

Kenchi out.