Chapter – XXXIV
They were getting stronger.
Slowly but surely the freshmen were getting better. Sure there were some like Kearney, Danielsen, or Locklear who had advanced physiques and would always outpace the rest of the class. But even the students without the benefit of superhuman physiques were improving. Nobody was failing to finish the workout, and only the occasional few were falling down in the middle of an individual courses. Of course only part of that was because of their own improvements. It would take a hell of a lot more than a couple months of obstacle courses, no matter how hard they were, to turn some high school kids into heroes. No, it had a lot more to do with the fact that by now most of the kids who were prone to quitting had either quit the program or had been washed out. The ones that were left either had either improved enough that they weren’t completely wiped out by the gym workout, or they had the determination to get up after they fell down.
That was what Alex Marshall was reflecting upon as he felt the small, but familiar, flicker of pride at watching his kids finish their last runs of the day through the obstacle course. There were variations, of course. Based on the first couple weeks it had looked as though Robin King was going to pace the entire class as far as progress went, then she suddenly leveled out. That was more Helen’s problem, but Alex hoped that she figured something out. King was a good kid, and healers were always handy to have around. Danielle was a weird case altogether, which was to be expected based on her history. Some days she was, no pun intended, a machine, while on other days she struggled to make it through the class. But it was Max Hall that Alex was most proud of. He had been right on the mark that first day of class, Max’s body may have been soft as marshmallow, but he had steel in his spine. Those extra training sessions with Kevin were really paying off; Hall wasn’t putting up world beating numbers, but he wasn’t in any danger of waking up in the infirmary anymore either.
“Alright kiddies, take a lap around the gym to cool down, then stretch.” Alex said as the last group of students crossed the finish line. For the most part they all lurched into a slow and somewhat ragged jog around the track that ran the perimeter of the gym. Some hesitated a moment or two, but not long. The ones who had survived this long had well learned exactly how little Coach Alex tolerated dawdling.
Before long the class had made their way around the track and had gotten down on the floor to stretch their tired, aching muscles. That completed, the group split up and started back to their respective locker rooms.
As the boys were almost out of the gym, Alex heard a scuffle break out towards the back of the group. With a sigh he headed over to see what was going on.
“The hell did you say to me?” One voice demanded.
“You heard me. I challenged you to a ranking match.” As the volume increased, so did the crowd around the pair, but it quickly parted for Coach Alex. “What? Don’t tell me that you’re scared to fight the last ranked student in our class?” Max Hall asked.
“Like hell I am.” John Johnson said, sticking his chest out in defiance. “I just didn’t think you were dumb enough to want to fight me.”
“I think I know, but would somebody mind telling me what’s going on here?” Coach Alex asked.
“I’m officially challenging John to a ranking battle.” Max said, not quite taking his eyes off John.
“And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It sounded like English, but there’s no way this weakling is dumb enough to challenge me” John replied.
“Dumb? You’re only ranked a couple spots ahead of me.” Max said.
“Okay, you’re talking your way an ass kicking, bitch.” John growled.
“So I take it that you’re accepting Max’s challenge?” Alex said, stopping John short. “You don’t have to accept, although I can’t say that it won’t impact your grade.” He added with a small smirk on his face.
“Fine, he wants to an ass kicking? That’s what he’ll get!” John said. “When are we going to do this?”
“We can go get a combat cell and settle this right now.” Coach Alex suggested
“No! No, he looks pretty tired from the workout.” John said, carefully not mentioning his own sweat drenched clothes. “I don’t want him to have any excuses afterwards.”
“That’s valid,” Coach Alex said “do you have a suggestion Max?”
“How about Saturday morning?” Max offered. “That way we can get a good night’s sleep, and don’t have to get up early the next day.”
“Fine. Whatever,” John said “it’s not like you’ll get any better with a couple extra days anyway.” With that he pushed his way through the crowd and headed out of the gym and to the locker room.
Coach Alex simply regarded Max with an arched eyebrow, as if to ask whether or not he knew what he was doing. Max responded with a determined expression and a small nod of the head before making his own way back to the locker room.
“Dude, I kinda can’t believe that you really challenged John to a ranking match.” Tom said as the four roommates rode up the lift to their room. They had a short break before their afternoon classes started, which they usually used to get lunch. Today was no different, but Max’s challenge had them more than a bit distracted.
“Do you really think you can win?” Erik asked. “I mean that stuff he spits is really sticky, and when it dries it’s tougher than concrete. And besides, you’re not much of a fighter.”
“I think so. I don’t think it’s going to be easy or anything, but how am I going to get any better if I don’t push myself?” Max asked.
“I get that, but why did you challenge him?” Tom asked.
“pretty simple,” Max responded “he’s the highest ranked guy I could challenge. Really it was him or Peter and Peter isn’t going to push me any, no offense.”
“None taken,” Peter said “we already established that I can’t defeat you, so there would be no point in it.”
“Yeah. And besides, somebody has to shut that cocky asshole up. Getting leaned on by Coach Helen hasn’t done anything, and he’s still a prick to Danielle when the teachers aren’t around.”
“I think I like that reason better” Tom said as the doors of the lift opened. “I think getting his ass kicked by the lowest ranked guy in the class should do it.”
“Come on guys, let’s just grab our books and get going.” Erik said “I’m hungry, and we need to get Max ready. Carb loading is a thing, right?”
“Dude, do you ever think about anything besides food?” Tom asked his much larger suitemate. “Or do you just think with your stomach all the time.”
“Oh, go easy on him.” Max said “don’t tell me you’re not hungry.”
Before he could reply, Tom’s stomach rumbled loudly enough for all to hear. “Traitor…” he mumbled to the offending organ while his friends cracked up at the almost absurdly appropriate timing.