Chapter – XV
Max slowly opened his eyes, only to have them assaulted by an all too familiar glare. He hurt all over and the last thing he could remember was being in gym class and apparently making up for all the running he had missed out on when he couldn’t control his power.
“Wakey, wakey. Hands off snakey.”
Max turned his head, a mistake since even his neck was hellishly sore, and saw Coach Alex seated on a folding chair next to him.
“What happened?” Max asked, before a flash of frightening insight hit. “How did I get in here? Are you going to cut me!?”
“To answer your first question you pushed yourself past the point of exhaustion and collapsed in the gym. I think waking up in the infirmary twice in your first two days is some kind of record. To answer your second question, that really depends on you. I’m going to be completely honest with you, I wasn’t kidding when I said that what you did today was just some light calisthenics. The workouts will just get tougher from here on in, and if you can’t keep up, we will have to cut you. Do you want to quit and save us all some time and aggrivation?”
Max blanched at the prospect of that workout just being a light one. He was quiet for a long while as he questioned himself. Max questioned his resolve and just how far he thought he could push himself. He remembered flopping like a fish on a line as he tried to do a pull-up, his throat burning and muscles screaming as the coaches demanded more wind sprints from the students.
And then he imagined quitting. He imagined the phone call to his parents where he told them that the HCP was too hard for him. He imagined giving up on his dreams of being a hero and using his ability to help people, dreams fostered under the brutal jeers and taunts of “Filthy Powered!” he tearfully endured before he learned how to control his power.
More than anything it was that, the promise he made to the memory of a bawling eight year old Max that made his decision for him.
Steeling his resolve Looking directly into Coach Alex’s eyes, Max said “Cut me if you have to, but I’ll be damned if I’m quitting.”
To Max’s considerable suprise, instead of scoffing or calling him out for his foolishness, Coach Alex smiled and leaned forward in his chair. “Good to hear it, ” he said. “Whatever made you make up your mind and put that look in your eyes, don’t lose it. Don’t ever lose it.” Sitting back once more, Coach Alex said “The truth is, this course is designed to make you fail, especially in your first year. Small failures are expected every day here. Failure is how we find out what you can’t do. In your case, Max, you’re conditioning sucks, and you can’t fight.”
“So why aren’t you going to cut me?” Max asked, wondering why they would keep him if he couldn’t do anything right.
“Because, the one thing you did show us was that you don’t quit. So at least for now, I can work with that. Don’t get me wrong, your life is going to fucking suck for a while, but if you refuse to stay down and use the resources available in the HCP, you might just survive the semester.”
Max nodded, his stiff neck voicing its protetsts at the motion. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to get to enjoy his first weekend in college. Then a wild, and probably stupid, thought popped into his head.
“Coach Alex, is… Is there anything extra I can do to help catch up?”
“The second goddamn day and you’re already asking for extra credit? Kids today!” Coach Alex exclaimed in mock exasperation. “You know, kid, I probably shouldn’t do this, but crawl your ass out of that bed.”
Max got out of the hospital bed, and immediately regretted it. It took him two tries to successfully stand up, and then it took him more than a few steps before he even began to feel steady on his feet. But still he followed Coach Alex as he lead him to the lift his class had used to come down to class that morning. Rather than press a button go back up toward the surface, Coach Alex surprised Max by having them descend further into the HCP’s subterranean campus.
When they exited the lift and continued down the new corridor, Max heard a curious sound, almost like machinery in the distance. Coach Alex didn’t seem to pay the sound any notice beyond a small smile. As they proceeded down the corridor, the rhythmic sound took on a metallic tone, putting Max in mind of old black and white films of tanks being built.
The pair finally made their way to a set of double doors at the end of the cooridor, Coach Alex pulled open one to reveal a truly impressive weight room. It looked like a cross between an industrial warehouse and a temple to Hercules. Max saw dumbbells and barbells, plates, racks, and benches of every discription, and pieces of equipment whose function he could only guess at.
And on one of them, a piece of equipment that looked like some sort of bench press, lay the source of the metallic clammor he had heard on the way there.
It was a man.
A truly massive man.
With a nod in that direction, Coach Alex led Max over to him, loudly clearing his throat as they got near. The man set the weight he was holding down with surprising gentleness before setting up and looking over at the approaching duo. Max could see that he wasn’t a tall man, maybe six feet at the tallest, but he was so muscular it didn’t even look real.
“Shit! Alex, the fuck you doin’ here?” the mountain of a man exclaimed, his rich baratone filling the gym. He stood up and offering his hand to Coach Alex.
“Young mister Hall is why I’m here, K.” Turning to Max he said “Max, I’d like you to meet the aptly named Professor Strong. Though you haven’t earned the right to use that title yet, so it’ll be ‘Coach Strong’ to you.”
“Pleased to meet you” Coach Strong said, holding out his hand to Max, who hesitated to shake it. The obvious power in the hot-chocolate colored limb made Max worry that he was liable to have his arm ripped off. However, while the coach’s hand was thoroughly caloused, and his grip was firm, it was far from crushing. “So what’s the story? I don’t think you’ve ever brought a freshmen down here before. Is he too tough for basic gym?”
Coach Alex let out a sharp bark of laughter, much to Max’s chagrin, before replying “Nope, just the opposite. Max here passed out and had to be taken to the infirmary today. That’s after he got his ass handed to him in the ranking battles.”
Coach Strong arched an eyebrow at this, and said “So what’s he doing down here? You know you have to weed out the wimps before you let me have the sophomores.”
Alex held up his hand “I was getting to that. See, even though he woke up in the infirmary twice in his first two days, he said we were going to have to cut him, that he wasn’t going to quit. And get this, he asked if there was anything extra he could do to make up the ground.”
“Shit son,” Coach Strong said “you a masochist or something?”
“No, sir. I mean, I don’t think so. I justwant to do everything I can to be a hero.”
“Well, I normally don’t get to see freshmen. I’m the close combat professor, and something of a strength coach for the sophomores and upper-classmen. But, if Coach Alex thinks I can help you, than I damn well will, but you better not quit on me.”
Max gulped, but before he could say anything, Coach Alex clapped him on the back, nearly knocking him over. “Well, I think I’ll leave you in Coach Strong’s loving care. Right now I think I want you down here twice a week, at least to start. You two can figure out the details.”
After Coach Alex left, Max looked uncertainly at Coach Strong and said “Well, I don’t have my class schedule on me, but I think I have some time after class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”
“We’ll do it Monday and Thursday, you’ll make time after class. Now never mind all that bullshit, ‘cuz we’re getting started right now. Come on over to the cage, young blood. We’re gonna build you a foundation, that means that it’s time to bow down to the king!”