“Shit!” Coach George yelled, diving for cover. The errant bolt of electricity sizzled by his head, narrowly missing him. Instead it stuck a hard concrete outcropping a few feet behind him as other bolts followed different paths to similar results.
“Sorry,” Vince said sheepishly. The first time he’d been tripping over himself in concern that he’d wounded his teacher, but truthfully, after so many near misses the initial panic had become notably subdued.
“No harm done, Coach George assured him. “Refuel and try again.”
Vince and Coach George were having a one-on-one session for ranged training. They were in a room with exceptional insulation and no electrical conduits or metal. Coach George hadn’t been exaggerating about the variety of resources at Lander. They really did have a room for nearly every conceivable training necessity. That was proving to be a very good thing, because by George’s calculations the kid would have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in wiring damage by now if they’d been outside this room.
“Yes, sir,” Vince said, jogging back over to the car battery at the edge of the room. In the weeks they’d been training he hadn’t been having much luck, so they were now trying a new tactic. Instead of draining the battery at once, Vince only took a little bit of electricity at a time, used it in an attack, then drained a little more. This had two benefits in that it allowed a single battery to fuel him for a long training session, and it kept the damage from being too spectacular when his blasts went off course, which, to date, was pretty much every time he threw one.
“Let’s decrease the distance again,” Coach George suggested once Vince had, in a sense, reloaded.
Vince nodded and approached a small pile of concrete on the ground. So far they’d tried breathing techniques, aiming techniques, and even rubber gloves with the fingers cut out. None of it had kept the electricity from splintering, so now they had gone back to basics. The only time Vince had successfully used electricity was against Thomas with a very small gap between them. The new set of tests was to see if there was a distance which was small enough that it didn’t allow time for the energy to slip out of control. If such a measurement did exist, then the next step would be to increase it.
“How far this time?” Vince asked.
“Last time we did forty feet. This time let’s take it to thirty,” Coach George told him. He repositioned himself carefully behind his student. While a shot of lightning certainly wasn’t going to kill someone like George, that didn’t mean it was something he was chomping at the bit to experience. Especially not in his human form.
Vince narrowed his focus and slowed his breathing. He concentrated on the pile of rocks in front of him, on the spot just at the very top. He raised his hand carefully, his fingers tentatively outstretched. Vince imagined the electricity, bright blue and white hot, arcing from his palm to the rocks in a single, brilliant beam. He held that vision firmly in his mind, drowning out the rest of the world. Nothing existed outside the room. There was no coach standing behind him. Even he didn’t exist, nothing permeated this world save the rocks, his hand, and the arc that would connect them. Vince expelled a breath outward and let the energy fly.
It struck seven different spots, though to give appropriate credit one of them was fairly close to the rock clump.
“Crap,” Vince swore.
“Chin up, Reynolds,” Coach George said, walking forward. “Believe it or not, this is progress. It didn’t split up as much this time.”
“Yeah,” Vince agreed, dejection slithering in his voice. “So that means if I get really close it probably won’t splinter at all.”
“And that’s a good thing,” Coach George reminded him.
“It is and it isn’t. To be honest, I was holding out hope that the reason I was able to use electricity against Thomas was something to do with my mindset, or my technique. That way I could learn it, master it, and begin relying on a new form of energy in combat.”
“Which is what we’re doing.”
“Not exactly. What we’re really doing is finding at what distance the lightning separates. That isn’t me affecting anything except how close I can be when I use it. I suppose I would just prefer overcoming a personal limitation to a physical one.”
“Heh, that in itself makes you an oddball,” Coach George said. “Listen, Reynolds, this kind of thing is a process with any power. First you get the concept of it, then you find its flaws and limits, then you figure out how to circumvent as many as you can. It’s something all Heroes have to go through, and it can take a long-ass time. Hell, why do you think we put you through four years of this before you’re even allowed to work under an existing Hero in the field?”
“I just wish I had better control,” Vince said.
Coach George patted him on the back. “That’s the hardest part of all this. Throwing cars, bouncing off bullets, jumping between continents, all that shit it easy if you’ve got the gift. But knowing how to do it safely, and, even more importantly, when to do it, those are the real skills a Hero needs to master.”
“I guess that means I won’t be adding lightning to my arsenal anytime soon,” Vince noted.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Coach George said. “The best arsenals are versatile ones. So if we find out you can’t use electricity safely from more than ten feet then yeah, you won’t be including it in your ranged repertoire. On the other hand, it could be a devastating technique to whip out in close combat. Even if it was down to a few inches, you could make it so that every punch you throw is an over-clocked taser.”
Vince considered the idea and thought back to his first fight of the year with Michael. If his one punch had carried just a little extra juice, the whole thing could have turned out differently.
“That might not be a bad idea,” Vince admitted.
“Glad to hear an eighteen-year-old believes I can actually do my job,” Coach George said. “Go refuel.”
“Yes, sir,” Vince repeated, jogging back to the battery. If nothing else, this training was giving a lot of experience in controlling how much energy he took from a source rather than draining it dry. That was one skill he was exceptionally happy to master. It was a constant, daily reminder that no matter how much trouble he might be having, at least he wasn’t Powered anymore.
That was usually enough to lift his spirits quite effectively.