Chapter – XXVII
“Good morning Danielle, how are you feeling this morning?” Doctor Miles asked as the young woman came into his office. He would have preferred to conduct her check-ups, the frequency of which had been reduced from daily to weekly, in the much better equipped infirmary. However, Danielle was uncomfortable in hospital settings. It was understandable, really. First she had been enduring cancer treatments, which is always a physical and emotional battle, but then she had her life changed in an instant when a rogue super decided to attack the hospital in which she was being treated.
But still, that cold, analytical, and detached part of Dr. Miles’ mind, the part that allowed him to do his job as a physician, and the part where his ability resided, could not help but be frustrated. He let no sign of his constant, but mild, annoyance show.
“I’m fine Dr. Miles. How are you?” She replied.
“I’m quite well, how was your weekend? Enjoyable, I hope.” Dr. Miles asked, taking the next step in the opening pleasantries.
Danielle froze for a moment, her breath catching in her throat while her heart raced. Did doctor Miles know she snuck out? How could he know? She made sure her room’s door was closed and locked and that nobody was around when Tom opened the portal. He couldn’t know about what her hand did, right?
“It was good, pretty quiet.” she answered, hoping that doctor Miles wouldn’t notice her moment of panic.
But he had, a small smile stretching his lips.
“Good, glad to hear it. And how was the party? It’s good to see you making friends and fitting in.” But doctor Miles raised a placating hand before Danielle could interrupt and try her luck with actual deceit. “Yes, we know about your excursion Saturday night. Michael White informed Dean Smith of your problems with Mr. Johnson. You’re not in trouble. You’re here for your protection, but you aren’t a prisoner here.
“Wow, thank you so much for understanding. Is anything going to happen to John? He’s kind of a jerk, but he was drunk.”
“That’s quite alright. We were all young once your circumstances are quite a bit more extraordinary than even normal for a prospective Hero, but you are still a young woman who is going to crave her freedom and independence.” Dr. Miles answered “And no, nothing official is going to happen to Mr. Johnson, although Coach Helen is going to have a word with him. I believe the faculty will be keeping an eye on him.”
“Oh,” Danielle said “she is always really nice to me, but she kinda scares me.”
“You aren’t alone. She had quite the fearsome reputation in her Hero days. I believe she even spent time with the Wayward Wraiths. But I must ask; How did you tolerate the alcohol you drank? For normal humans it is a metabolic poison that slows reactions, lowers inhibitions, and can have a variety of other effects.”
“Pretty okay I think.” Danielle answered. “I got kinda relaxed, maybe a bit tipsy, I’m not sure, I was too sick to try drinking before… The hospital. I don’t know how fast I got over it, I got a bit distracted when John came on to me.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to get your basic vital signs, blood pressure, heart rate, the usual.” Doctor Miles said. “But if you didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, I suppose this is one more box we can check off until we have reason to believe otherwise.”
“Actually…” Danielle started after some hesitation “Something weird did happen. After I hit John, hit spit his goop at me. And well, I tried to block it and my hand turned silver and spread out like some sort of shield and the goop just slid right off. Max told everyone he did it with his shield, but it was me.”
And then in a quiet voice she asked “What’s wrong with me?”
“We don’t know that anything is wrong with you. We don’t actually know why your new body so resembles your original body. It could be that this is just another facet of your new abilities. We’ll need to explore this though. But for safety’s sake, I suggest you don’t go experimenting on your own. Let’s set up a time for guided training with Helen soon though.”
Though his tone was reassuring, that cold, calculating portion of Jeremy’s mind had already started dissecting the new information. Potential repercussions for Danielle, possible mechanisms for her hand’s transformation, working backward from potential conclusions, making inferences from the available data. His prodigious mind attacked the problem from every possible angle, even some Jeremy himself was unaware of.
And so he moved on to giving Danielle her weekly basic physical. But as he took her vitals and tested her reflexes he did so with renewed attention to every data point. They had suddenly gotten confirmation that there was much more to this young woman that met the eye. It was his job to find out what and if it posed a danger to Danielle or anyone around her.
“Push!” Coach Strong shouted.
“Push!” he shouted again.
Max lay on the bench, a steel bar balance precariously over his head, grunting as he labored to obey the massive professor. It didn’t take long after he began his supplementary training for Max to figure out why Coach Strong rarely worked with freshmen. Simply put, his methods were too unorthodox, his personality far too intense for most people to deal with. His workouts demanded that Max perform at his absolute peak, such as it was. All the while he stalked around whatever piece of equipment Max was using, shouting encouragement and demanding more like some sort of irresistible combination of a crazed drill sergeant and a revivalist preacher giving a hellfire and brimstone sermon.
“Motherfucker, don’t you quit on me!” he shouted, from somewhere off to Max’s left. “You don’t have permission to fail yet! You are going to make pain your friend! You are going over to pain’s house, kick in that motherfucking door, grab pain by the throat and make it your bitch! Tell your muscles ‘I’m the boss! I tell you what to do, you WILL move that weight!'” During this rant, he moved back behind Max as the weight stalled an inch or two off his chest. “Now, PUSH!” Coach Strong shouted one last time.
And slowly, inexorably, the bar began to inch back up. Sweat pooled on the bench and Max’s face was locked in a rictus of pain and determination, but the weight kept moving. Finally it got up to the rack, and Coach Strong grabbed the bar just as Max’s exhausted arms gave out on him.
With a single hand, and no apparent effort, he racked the weight for Max and offered him a proud smile.
“Good set kid, damned good set.” he said.
Max didn’t respond right away, he was too busy panting like a bellows to possibly speak.
After a while, but not so long as it took at the start of the semester, Max replied “Thanks, but I’m still weak. I bet even Tom could do more.”
“Bullshit.” Coach Strong instantly replied, helping Max to a sitting position and offering him a drink. “Yeah, there’s always going to be someone who can do more than you. You don’t want to know how many punk supers thought they were hot shit until Titan rolled up on them, or Zero showed up and shut them down completely. But that’s not strength. Real strength is in here” he said, gently tapping the center of Max’s already aching chest. “Strength is picking yourself up off the floor and refusing to be beat. Strength is finding a way to keep pushing forward when everything is telling you to quit. And kid, believe me when I tell you this, you got that in spades.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Max said, his breathing starting to come under control. “But I still feel weak. I mean, I know im doing more weight and reps in here, and that’s awesome, but I never seem to get any better in Gym.”
That cold, analytical part of Jeremy Miles’ brain was already ticking over, attacking this new problem from every angle.
“Don’t tell either one I said this, because I don’t need either one to have a bigger ego than they already do, but you don’t think you’re getting better because they are very good at what they do. They have slowly been ramping up your workouts from day one. They usually have student’s growth curves timed out perfectly, and they want those of you who are going to quit, to get frustrated and quit.”
“But why?” Max asked. He already knew they were done for the day, otherwise Coach Strong wouldn’t just be talking to him, and he wanted more information on the program.
Coach Strong pursed his lips a second before answering. “This is one I definitely shouldn’t tell you, but they’re getting you kiddies ready for your midterm, and trying to weed out the ones who don’t have strength in them.”
“What’s the midterm going to be?”
“I’m not gonna tell you that, kid. But I will tell you that its a lot more of what you’ve been doing, with plenty of fighting thrown in.”
Max blanched at the prospect of fighting. He knew it would be unavoidable, but he also knew he was terrible at it. “Fighting? Well I’m screwed” he said.
“I saw your ranking ‘fights’,” you could practically see the quotes as Coach Strong said the word “and yeah, you’re pretty much screwed. But I’ll make a deal with you: You keep doing work in our Monday workouts, and I’ll learn you a thing or two about fighting on Thursdays. You just don’t tell anyone. Practical training isn’t supposed to start for freshmen until next semester.”
“Deal.” Max said.