"We're about an hour early, but I'm sure the others won't mind."
With that said, Ben pushed opened the door and led Aidan in.
The interview room was somewhat austere.
Besides the sprawling Turkish carpet that covered the floor and a broad, spinning fan on the ceiling, there was little else by way of furniture. There was however, a wide, glass window framed on one side that peeked into a padded room, while an array of computer monitors was cropped below the viewing pane. At the far end of the interview room was a long desk and behind it, were three neatly spaced seats.
Ben took his place on the first leather chair from the left, so that all of them were now occupied, whereas Aidan seated himself on a stool ahead of them.
A voluptuous, silver-haired woman sat in the center. She was dressed in silk pajamas that were tight around the hip and chest area. She meekly sipped a cup of coffee while nursing her head with a plastic bag of ice cubes. To her right was a bald, hulking man wearing a gray leotard. His arms were folded as his head rested against his chest, while the sonorous sound of snoring seemed to be amplified by his iron skin.
"Whose this handsome young man?" she asked in the middle of a stifled yawn.
"This is Mr. Vaccine's son," Ben answered, as he crossed his legs and laughed. "I'm sure you remember Angus from when we were kids."
The woman grunted in reply. "How could I forget living an entire year without my powers?" She turned to the iron man next to her and smacked his face with her bag of ice. "Wake up you big lug. We have another interview candidate."
"Hmm?" The strong man popped an eye open to peer at Aidan for a moment before closing it again. The tinny sound of snuffled breathing returned a moment later.
As she spoke, Aidan took note of the fact that her eyes were also silver and bore a turbid glow. "My name is Bianca Buscemi. I'm a third class power wielder. My abilities are typical among somnambulists." She glanced at the sleeping figure beside her. "Here's a sample of what I can do..."
The iron man suddenly raised his arms and slapped his own cheeks with all his strength. The noise that emerged was similar to a giant gong struck by a pair of iron mallets. He was immediately startled awake and bellowed, "Lieutenant Graham Tusk reporting for duty!"
Graham looked about, and upon realizing that he wasn't actually in the army, dipped his head in shame.
Ben let out a resigned sigh. "C'mon you two, stop messing around. We're supposed to be professionals." He gazed pointedly at Bianca's pajamas.
"What?" she asked, pursing her lips. "I had a long night trying to get rid of a bad dream that has been plaguing her majesty, the Pope of Nilot. Besides, you've seen me in my work clothes before. Haven't you?"
Ben shook his head dejectedly and turned his attention to Aidan, who was twiddling his thumbs in awkward anticipation. "You probably already know that your Dad was transferred to Aurora High in his senior year. He caused quite a stir the day he arrived." He chuckled briefly. "Back then, it was assumed that metamorphs like Graham, whose powers affected their physiology, could not have their powers blocked. But you're dad proved that theory wrong."
Ben leaned into his chair and put on a fretful expression. "It was no picnic for me either. I had to walk everywhere. It was so tiring-"
"Shut up!" Bianca yelled. "You think you had it bad just because you were forced to walk between classes like everyone else!? Hmph! My boyfriend had wings! And not that fluffy angel crap. He had some badass dragon copters! He used to let me ride on his back whenever I felt like it!"
"Only because you promised to go out with him if he did," Ben said, disparagingly .
She abruptly climbed onto the table and made a flapping motion with her arms to illustrate her ex-boyfriend's ability to fly.
Although he was seated a few meters away, Aidan still caught a faint whiff of alcohol.
Graham pulled her off the table and gently pushed her into her chair. "Settle down now Bia and mind your language while you're at it... did you forget you're a teacher at a prestigious school? Some more coffee might help you clear your head. Here, let me get you a refill." He tugged the coffee cup away from her hand, and then paused for a moment to sniff its contents. "T-this isn't coffee!"
"Aw, w-well, you know..." she said while tussling her hair. "The pope and I needed a little pick-me-up in the morning."
"The head of the Nilotic Church drinks?" Ben caressed the stubble of his chin curiously. "Weren't they against such 'worldly temptations?'"
"Er, um... you didn't hear it from me!" Bianca let out a loud burp and covered her mouth. "Y-you didn't hear that either!"
By now, Aidan's nervousness had completely faded. And with it, most of the respect he had for the powerful trio that were conducting his interview.
His interviewers continued to bicker among themselves for a few minutes, until Graham appeared to be falling asleep again. Bianca kicked him into attention, and then finally began to ask Aidan a series of questions.
"So, mister Aidan Callan. Why do you want to join Aurora High?
"W-well... the tuition is free and it's a pretty famous school. It would help my parents save a lot of money and if I get good grades, I might be able to earn a scholarship at a top-tier college."
"Ooh, aren't you ambitious?"
Beneath the table, Ben stomped on her foot.
"Oww! What was that for!?" She glared at Ben for a moment before moving on to her second question.
"What makes you think you deserve a position in Aurora High?" The congenial smile she had did not quite match the words that preceded it.
To this question, Aidan had no answer. He stared at her blankly for awhile and, even though he knew that the descendants of alumni had guaranteed entry, he wasn't sure if that was the right thing to say, when you considered the essence of her question.
Bianca pounded the table with her fists. "C'mon! Don't hold out on me! What are your powers huh? I'm dying to know!"
Her enthusiasm only served to dampen his mood.
"I-I..." he stammered, "I'm just... a regular guy. I don't have any... powers."
In unison, Ben's, Bianca's and Graham's mouths flew open. A bit of drool was dripping out of the corner of Graham's lips, as he lurched out of a mild nap. "Y-you can't be serious!? We've never had a student without any powers!"
Bianca forgot about her next question and looked to Ben in desperation.
Ben coughed lightly in his hand, in an attempt to ease the tension. "This truly is a conundrum. While not every student at our school can be considered powerful, they all benefit from the effects of adaptation."
"Adaptation?" Aidan wondered aloud.
"That's right," Graham cut in, "whatever ability a power wielder may have will undoubtedly affect their physiology. The body will naturally adapt, which usually leads to a tremendous increase in strength, speed and agility." He pointed to himself. "For example, because the epidermal layer of my skin is made out of hardened iron, I weigh nearly three times as much as someone roughly my size-"
"Woah! You're so fat-"
"Therefore," Graham continued while clenching his teeth, "my body has adapted to my irregular weight and given me superhuman strength as a counterbalance, so I can move normally." He then pointed to Bianca. "Even a psychic power wielder will have their physical abilities reinforced because the increase in electrical activity in the brain affects the normal discharge of sensory neurons-"
"In other words," Ben supplied, "they get superhuman speed instead. And to maintain that speed, the body supplements the strength of their muscles and cartilage. The higher the class, the greater their innate strength, regardless of what kind of power they have."
Bianca flexed her flimsy biceps, and added, "That makes me hella fast and super strong!"
Ben put a hand on Bianca's shoulder, a subtle indication that she should return to her seat. "No one knows why we have these powers, or why they are prevalent in certain families. While not unheard of, sometimes power inheritance will skip a generation." He gave Aidan a serious look. "Be that as it may, do you still want to continue this interview? Knowing that, if you're accepted, you'll be in a school full of – let me be blunt – bona fide monsters... Aidan... are you really okay with that?"
Aidan nodded briskly. He was tempted to explain that he was accustomed to danger, having lived with three rather careless sisters, whose casual displays of power had nearly cost him his life on numerous occasions. He was also already aware of the phenomenon of adaptation since the day his baby sister picked up the living room couch with one hand to find her pacifier. But he didn't know what the effect was called until moments ago.
If it was just a year, Aidan was certain he could live through it.
"I can handle this," he said with confidence.
Bianca dabbed at her teary eyes. "Y-you're such a good kid! I-I'll definitely attend your funeral! And I'll definitely be sober then!"
Somewhat unnerved, Aidan snapped, "I don't plan on dying! I know what I'm doing. Thanks but... you don't have to worry about me."
Graham nodded sagely. "You've got guts. But that won't be enough to keep you alive for a whole year." He shuffled off to the computer terminal and printed out a stack of papers and handed them to Aidan. "After you sign these indemnity forms, we'll have you take some physical tests."
Ben took out a pen from his coat pocket and tossed it to Aiden, who blithely signed the papers without reading them.
Bianca was smitten by concern. "Just to be on the safe side, I'll call your Dad to confirm the arrangement." She left through the door to the hallway and closed it behind her.
Aidan was glad to see Bianca sobering up fast. He thought that she was probably a good teacher that lets loose whenever a school break came around. So, he made up his mind to sign up for at least one of the subjects that she teaches.
Graham gave Aidan a gray leotard similar to the one he had on and ushered him into a padded room.
The tiny compartment reminded him of the enclosure in an insane asylum he had seen in one of Rebecca's favorite horror movies.
He took off his shoes and clothes and wore the leotard over his shorts. He stood in the middle of the room and nodded towards the glass pane. It was a one-way mirror, so he couldn't see what was happening on the other side.
A few seconds later the sound of whirring gears filled the room. The walls to his left and right began to close in.
Aidan was fairly sure that this was just a part of the test so he waited anxiously until the walls were close enough to wedge him in by the shoulder.
"Um... mister Capala. I've changed my mind! Can we please stop the test!?"
The walls gradually pressured him from both sides. He pressed his arms against them in the hopes of fending off the inevitable contracture. The wall movement stopped for a moment, but the weight that pressed against him only grew over time.
"M-mister Tusk! P-please help me! I'm not as brave as you think I am!"
He felt the strength in his arms fading. The soreness in his joints continued to mount as the walls neared each other, squeezing the life out of him.
"Miss Buscemi! Please save me!"