Professor Fletcher heard the knock at his open door and glanced up from the reports he’d been pretending to read. An unfamiliar husky boy stood a step outside, looking at the professor with a healthy dollop of fear. Professor Fletcher’s brain swept through the situation to puzzle out exactly who this kid was. It was too late in the year for any of the freshman to still be portly: three hours of gym a day had shrunk even the heaviest of them. The older students would all still be in tip-top shape as well, so this kid wasn’t a participant in the program. Add to that he wasn’t wearing a uniform, but he’d still managed to get down here and knew where the offices were. Someone who would have comprehensive knowledge of and access to the HCP, yet clearly wasn’t participating in it himself. That narrowed down the subject pool considerably.
“You’re the other Daniels boy. Hershel, right?”
“Come on in, then. What can I do for you?”
Hershel moved through the room like a hemophiliac navigating a razor maze, eventually sitting in a chair by the professor’s desk with his back straight and his body signaling it was ready to run. “I, um, I came to talk to you about the rest of the classes before spring break.”
“What about them?”
“If it’s... if it’s okay with you, I’d like permission for Roy to miss them.”
Normally Professor Fletcher would have suspected a ploy for an extra week of vacation; however, the terror tremors rippling out the kid in front of him said clearly that asking for this was one of the last things he wanted to do. Whatever the reason was, it must have been a pretty damn good one.
“Obviously that isn’t going to fly well with all of Roy’s teachers, so I’m guessing you’ve got an explanation for that kind of request?”
Hershel nodded. “I can’t let him out until after spring break. I’ve decided to do something that will really piss- er, I mean, anger him. I don’t know how he’ll try to sabotage or stop me, so I can’t risk it.”
“Wild guess: this has something to do with the limit wall he’s been unable to break through,” Professor Fletcher ventured.
“How did you know?”
“Usually someone goes to their favorite professor with this kind of thing, or at least the one they think likes them the best. I’ve spent the most time with him, which means putting up with his ego and his badly-articulated attempt at a Southern drawl, not to mention his tendency to call me a cocksucker when things I suggest don’t work, so I think you’re smart enough to go elsewhere for favors. Unless it concerned the very reason I have put in all that time with him, which would be working past his wall.”
“I suppose that’s fair. Roy’s grown a lot, but he still doesn’t handle frustration particularly well. And yes, I have an idea for how to break through his limit.”
“I’m all ears,” Professor Fletcher said.
“Oh. I have to tell you? I thought if you knew the reason...” Hershel trailed off as he realized he didn’t have much logic to the end of his argument.
“Look, I agree that what you’re proposing is important. More than a week of HCP training, and that’s saying a lot. From the way you’re fidgeting, I think you’re hoping I’ll be the one to explain this to the rest of the professors. Which I will - if, and only if, I believe you’re doing something that could really work and not just waste more time.”
Hershel swallowed and took a deep breath. Once he said it aloud, there was no going back. Roy would be mad, beyond mad, really. This could undo all the progress they’d made in their relationship since coming to Lander. His brother might never forgive him. But... it was all he could do. Roy was always the one who had to face the danger, always the one who had to brave the pain of battle. Hershel would never be able to protect his brother the way Roy watched over him. He could do this, at the very least. He could undertake a mission even Roy couldn’t handle.
“I’m going to see my father.”
Professor Fletcher raised an eyebrow. “I’d gotten the impression from Roy that option was off the table.”
“For him. Not for me. I’ll go and talk to him.”
“And you think he holds the secret to making Roy stronger? Because I’m not exactly new to this and I haven’t found a single thing that works.”
“I think he does. He’s the first trainer Roy ever had. No one knows Roy’s power better than my father. If there is a way for Roy to improve, he would be the one to know it.”
“I can believe that,” Professor Fletcher acknowledged. “But what if he doesn’t? What if he’s just as clueless as the rest of us?”
“Then... then I don’t think Roy and I will be advancing to junior year, will we?”
Professor Fletcher weighed his reaction carefully. The wrong phrasing could dash what tattered hope these two were still holding on to. “At his current level, Roy performs in the upper ranks of the class as far as combat. However, limitations are an issue that is considered here. If he truly can’t get any more powerful, then he wouldn’t be able to hack it at higher levels. It would be irresponsible of us to give an advancement spot to someone we know is going to fail out.”
“I understand,” Hershel said. He really did, too. Hershel got that strong as Roy was, if this was all he could do then it wasn’t enough. The fight with Coach George had illustrated the problem perfectly. Strongmen had to be able to deal damage, and against the upper echelon of Supers, Roy simply couldn’t. “That’s why I have to try to do this. I have to go see my father. If he can’t help then at least we did everything we could. If he can, well, then maybe one day Roy will forgive me.”
“For your sake, I hope so,” Professor Fletcher said. “Fine. You can miss all the classes until spring break. I’ll settle things with the dean and the other professors. I expect a full report on what you learned as soon as you get back, obviously.”
“Of course. Yes, sir.”
“Good. Now, you should probably head back to the surface. I’ve got a class coming up and you have a trip to plan.”
Hershel didn’t need to be told twice; he exited the room so fast that Professor Fletcher was left momentarily wondering if the husky kid had been concealing a super-speed ability.