Chapter 46

"I assume you know why you're here, Vince," Coach George said as the silver-haired youth entered his sparse office and took a seat down on the opposite end of George's considerably wide desk.

"No, sir," Vince lied.

"Good boy," Coach George complimented him. "Never give away more information than you have to. No sense in confessing to a crime I might not know about."

Vince blinked in surprise, unsure of how to react to such a statement.

"It's the right strategy," Coach George continued. "Unfortunately for you, it’s not any good in this case. You're here because of the fight you and Michael had on Saturday night."

"I'm not sure what you mean," Vince said.

"The point at which is a lie is exposed is when you give it up for a better one. You don't cling on to the one that's no good anymore. Now, I've got a full report from Thomas Castillo about how he and some friends pulled your ass out of a mini-glacier. Let's be clear here: I didn't call you in to dock you or punish you for having an unsanctioned fight," Coach George informed him.

 "I... I wouldn't really call a jumping much of a fight," Vince admitted, taking the coach’s advice and giving up on denial.

"Get in enough of them and you will," Coach George assured him. "Now, I don't really care that much about the fighting. I know we make a big deal in the beginning, but that's mostly just to cover our own asses legally. My concern is about what I read in this report."

"What do you mean?" Vince asked.

"I mean Michael had you dead to rights. It didn't sound like there was any real struggle between you two from how unharmed Michael was. I know what your power is, kid, and I know they never successfully found a limit on how much energy you can absorb. You should have at least given that little nutjob a run for his money. So I want to know how much power you had stored up when that guy surprised you," Coach George demanded.

"Enough," Vince said, crossing him arms and sitting back in the chair.

"See, that's the one amount we know you didn't have. Enough," Coach George shot back. "You threw one fire punch in your ranking matches, and this time I'm guessing you only had enough heat stored up to fight hypothermia while you got the shit knocked out of you. We both know you can do a lot more than this, so I want an answer. Why are you trying to scrape by on the bare minimum with your power?"

 "I'm not," Vince replied. "I work as hard as anyone out there. I run, I lift, I train, I do everything you ask to get stronger and prepare myself for combat."

  "You do," Coach George agreed. "That's why I'm taking the time out of my day to have this conversation rather than just drumming you out of the program immediately."

 Vince's eyes widened slightly. He'd been expecting a lot of things, but expulsion from the program had seemed too extreme for just one fight.

 "I have... issues with my power sometimes," Vince said carefully.

Coach George looked at him for a moment, then spoke again in a lower tone. "Look, kid; let’s just put our cards on the table here. I know about you and the rest of your petri dish dorm. Of course they were going to tell the people who were supposed to help teach you." The last part was proactive, accurately anticipating the question Vince had been about to interrupt him with. "So you say you've got issues with your power? Well, I've got issues with people who can't use the very thing that qualifies them for this course in the first place. This is your only chance; if I were you, I'd try really hard to convince me there's some reason you should stay."

 George had expected another snappy comeback, but to his surprise the kid lowered his head a bit and seemed to genuinely think. Most men his age would have assumed that it was a bluff and made up some crap to throw back as an answer, but the kid with the goofy silver hair was being rational about it. George readied himself to actually listen to what Vince would say, a courtesy he wouldn't have normally extended.

"If the procedure isn't permanent, and Alice loses control, what happens?" Vince asked at last.

"She starts free-floating around the place again," Coach George replied.

"And Mary?"

"She won't be able to block out the voices."

"What about Nick and Hershel?" Vince asked again.

"Nick, god only knows what, and Hershel would start shifting uncontrollably to Roy again," Coach George answered. "I assume you’re building toward a point here?"

"I am," Vince answered. "And this is it: If the procedure isn't permanent, if I lose control again like I did before, what happens?"

"You have an entire faculty of capable Supers to keep you in check," Coach George told him.

"A faculty that can only react," Vince pointed out. "You can't anticipate. That means for you to contain me, something has to have already happened. If it happens when I'm down here, then it’s probably no big deal. But I have normal classes,, too, and I eat lunch in the dining halls, and that’s time I spend with regular humans. Humans who wouldn't be able to survive a sudden wildfire or a lightning bolt to the chest."

"So you're scared of hurting other people?" Coach George asked.

"Yes. I'm terrified of it," Vince said. "I want to be a Hero to help people, to use my abilities the way my dad always told me I should. I want it more than I've wanted anything in my life, aside from control of my powers. I will work hard, and I will do what you say, but I won't absorb more energy than I have to until I'm positive that I won't lose that control. If you have to kick me out then you have to kick me out. I'm not endangering innocent people for the sake of my own ambition, though."

George stared down the skinny boy sitting across from him. All the training had stacked a little muscle on his shoulders, but he still gave off a lean, almost shrimpy impression. Physically this kid was nothing worth taking a second look at. His eyes, though, that was a whole other story. George had seen a lot of tough talk in his years of dealing with kids who grew up stronger than everyone else. What he hadn't seen near enough of was eyes filled with determination and integrity, eyes like the blue set that were meeting his gaze from across the table.

"I'll give you one year," Coach George said eventually. "You can keep up this tentative crap until the end of your freshman year. As long as you keep up the work in gym and the start of combat training I think you can keep pace with the slower half of the class."

"Really?" Vince asked dumbly, unable to disguise the shock in his voice.

"Yeah, really," Coach George confirmed. "Be warned, though, this is all you get. At the end of this year you either make peace with the necessity of using your power or don't bother coming back. Starting second year that attitude won't just put you at risk, but people who'll be depending on you as well."

"I understand," Vince nodded.

"Good. Now get out of here; you've still got a few minutes before gym," Coach George said, gesturing to the door.

"I will. Um, thanks," Vince said lamely.

"Thank me by working hard," Coach George told him, and Vince exited his office with a quick nod of agreement. George, on the other hand, leaned back in his chair and savored the few moments of solitude he had left before he'd have to ride and demean the remainder of the freshman class. He reflected back on his talk with Vince, going through the boy's logic and motivation in his head once more.

 "I'll say this for him," Coach George mumbled out loud. "That kid has the same brass balls as his dad."