Chapter 27

Roy was acclimating well to gym. After the first day of trying, Hershel had wimped out and left the physical exertion up to his bigger, stronger, better half. Hershel handled the ethics class, and then made the change before even setting foot in front of the coaches, all of which suited Roy just fine. Hershel got to sit through the boring stuff while Roy was free to show all these pansies what a real Super could do.

Roy lapped the majority of the freshman boys once again as he breezed past them on the track. While every day was sprinkled with different exercises, running was a constant. It seemed that whatever curriculum Coach George had in mind factored heavily on cardio and endurance. For most of the class it was a grueling daily struggle just to keep up and not give in. For Roy, and a few other notable adversaries, it was a time to get in a light jog and simmer in the envy of others. On that note, Roy noticed Vince giving him a dirty look as he breezed by. Vince had been cold to him since that night in the club. It probably hadn’t helped matters that Roy had shaken his dorm mates off and left Hershel alone to wake up in a downtown alleyway. Normally he and his fat body-based roommate shared a more cordial relationship, but Roy had felt the need to make a point.

A little fallout from a cohabitant didn’t even qualify as a blip on Roy’s radar. The idiot in sunglasses had been just as chatty since that night, and of course Alice was practically drooling every time he walked in a room, so that made Vince the only one with an open grudge against him. It was possible Mary didn’t like him either, but she seemed to always avoid him so who could tell? Besides, that one was off limits. He could push Fatty around a lot, but slipping the sausage to a chick he liked would be like declaring open war. Roy felt that would cut into a lot of his time and fun, so it was easier to give the chubby dipshit a little bit of accommodation.

“Time!” Coach George yelled from across the gym. “Line up!”

The boys and girls filtered from their opposite sides of the track to the center of the gym where George and Persephone stood waiting. The rule of staying on opposite sides had stayed in effect since day one, and though lapping was permitted, falling behind was never tolerated. So far every student who had fallen back into the other sex’s group had been taken out and not seen again. It seemed they were playing hardball. Roy was almost entertained.

“Well,” Coach George said once they had all fallen into line. “It seems you survived another day. I’m a touch surprised; I was sure we’d be kicking another couple of you out today.”

Panicked looks fleetingly leapt across the faces of some of the slower students. Personally, Roy felt it was warranted. Even Fatty had kept up with his group for one day. If he could do it then the only excuse for failing was laziness.

“I was wrong,” Coach George continued. “If I were you, I’d savor those words, because you won’t be hearing them very often. I’m a man, though, and I’ll own up to my mistakes. I was wrong, and today every one of you managed to keep up and stay in the program. So the question I find myself asking is this: are you all just much that better than I thought, or are you all so weak and worthless that it’s impossible to tell which piece of shit has sunk to the bottom of the toilet?”

No one said anything, the weaker students struck dumb with fear and the stronger ones arrogantly self-assured that this conversation wasn’t for them.

“I think it might be the latter,” Coach George said. “So I want you all to think about something. There are only so many spots for advancement out of this year into the next. Just passing isn’t enough; we’re only taking the best. Next time you’re slowing down to stay with your group instead of driving harder to leave them behind and knock some slow shit out of the running, I want you to think about that. Think real hard about whether you want to be a nice guy who helps everyone squeak by with mediocrity or if you want to be a Hero. Because I promise you, a mediocre Hero is just a corpse that’s a week behind schedule. Get out of my sight.”

The line broke and students began moving quickly toward the showers. Roy began swaggering but felt a firm hand grip him on the shoulder.

“Daniels,” Coach George said. “I think you and I need to talk for a minute.”

“Sure, Coach,” Roy said with his patented smile flashing. “Want me to run faster and drive a few more people out of the running?”

“Actually, Daniels, I’d like you to take note of something,” Coach George said.

“What’s that?” Roy asked.

“In this class there are several students with physical gifts well-suited to endurance or running. Yet you lap the other groups more times than anyone else,” Coach George explained. “Why do you think that is?”

“I guess I just want it more,” Roy replied, chuckling at his own wit.

“Try again, jackass. It’s because everyone else is taking this time and training seriously. Ms. Foster alone could have passed everyone several thousand times during that run. But she didn’t because she was running without using her abilities as much as possible,” Coach George said.

“Sounds pretty dumb to me,” Roy replied. “I mean, if she’s that good at running, then why practice it so much?”

“Because she wants to get stronger. As does Mr. Taylor, who shares your limitless endurance yet maintained a constant pace during today’s run,” Coach George said without an inkling of a smile in his eyes.

“You just told everyone to work harder in order to knock each other out, now you’re getting on my ass for doing well and applauding others for sandbagging it,” Roy said, shaking Coach George’s hand loose. The gym had emptied entirely by this point, only the two of them left in its large interior.

“I’m ‘getting on your ass’ because you accomplished nothing today, or yesterday, or really any day except the one you came in human form. This is training, Daniels, it’s designed to make you stronger, better, and more able to endure the toll that being a Hero will put on you. This is the foundation of being a Hero, and you’re pissing it away,” Coach George said.

“Thanks for the lecture,” Roy shot back. “But in case you forgot, I’m in the top five of this ‘hard-working class’ and I would have been number one if I hadn’t fought that stupid psychic guy.”

“No, you wouldn’t have,” Coach George said simply. “You’re the weakest of the strong, Daniels, and if you don’t start putting in the effort, you won’t even hold onto that title for more than a year.”

“Okay, how am I supposed to, then? I don’t get tired, I don’t get sore, I don’t even get short of breath,” Roy countered. “I’m super strong, super durable, and have super endurance. Now please tell me how to get any benefit out of lifting a few weights and jogging around a track.”

“Sorry, Daniels,” Coach George said with a shake of his head. “That’s not my job. Heroes are supposed to be creative and show ingenuity. If I were you, I’d get cracking on that, before the rest of the class leaves you behind.”

Roy scoffed. “It hasn’t even been a week yet.”

“Time flies, Daniels,” Coach George said as he turned and headed toward the exit. “And at this level, so will the progress of your competition.”