“Professor Fletcher?” The voice came from his office door, which Carl had never gotten in the habit of closing. He felt an open door policy should actually involve an open door. It was one of those pleasantries that seemed to have died away over time, and damn it, if he was going to be stuck in his golden years, he reserved the right to live in the past. Carl glanced up from the paperwork on his desk, a bit surprised to see Roy Daniels standing the doorway.
“Come on in,” he said, giving a curt nod to the chair. Unlike the office’s previous tenant, Professor Fletcher was fastidious in keeping the place straight and minimizing clutter. Roy had no trouble navigating to the chair or dropping into a sitting position. Once there he did seem to have some trouble getting the conversation started. Professor Fletcher found himself curious; the Daniels boy never seemed to feel out of place. This must be something pretty interesting.
“I assume you didn’t just come in here to admire my impressive office.”
“No, sir.” Roy’s gaze was on the old wooden desk in front of him, so he missed the fleeting look of shock that dashed across the professor’s face. He couldn’t remember ever hearing Roy refer to anyone as ‘sir’ before.
“So how can I help you?”
“I’m not sure what’s wrong, not exactly,” Roy said. “But I, well, it seems like I’ve hit a wall.”
“Damn it,” Professor Fletcher said, pulling out a form from the top drawer of his desk. “I wish you physical ability kids would learn to keep your shit under control. Okay, we’ll get a maintenance report in. Tell me where it was, and don’t you dare say it was above ground.”
Roy paused for a moment as the words clicked into place. He wasn’t as smart as Hershel, but he put it together eventually. “No, I mean a figurative wall. With my strength.”
“Ohhh, thank heavens.” Professor Fletcher put the paper away and let out a sigh of relief. He noticed the expression on his student’s face and felt compelled to explain. “Not to belittle your problems, it’s just that those forms can be a real pain in the ass if any damage occurs outside the HCP facility.”
“So, tell me about this non-literal wall you’ve hit.”
Roy explained about the ceiling of weights he’d been unable to break through, despite months of effort. Professor Fletcher listened attentively, nodding in the right places and keeping all his thoughts to himself. By the end, Roy was feeling more confident, trusting his professor would be able to help him get past this issue in no time at all.
“Sounds like you’ve got a real problem,” Professor Fletcher commented once Roy was done.
“Yes, sir. So what’s the solution?”
“Hell if I know.”
The collapse of Roy’s confidence was as visible as the airborne plummet of a Depression era stockbroker.
“Listen, Roy, do you know how many of your classmates have super strength and durability?”
Roy nodded. “Chad, Violet, Stella, and I have both. Others like Sasha have the enhanced endurance, but aren’t really the same.”
“Very good,” Professor Fletcher said, moderately impressed that the boy actually paid that much attention to his surroundings. “So in just the sophomore class we have four people whose powers produce similar abilities. That said, each of those powers is wholly unique. Violet increasing her density is nothing like the way Stella shifts into steel or Chad continuously renovates his body. That’s three people who at first glance seem to be similar, but would have to approach training and improving themselves in completely different ways. That’s one class, in one college that offers the HCP, in one country, in the world.”
“You’re saying helping me is too hard?”
“I’m saying that each of you little bastards works in your own way. Now, you came to me for help, and I’m going to give you all I can. I just want you to understand upfront that I don’t have all the answers. We’ll try every method I can uncover, but there’s a chance we won’t find the one that helps you get stronger. Hell, it’s perfectly possible that this is simply as powerful as you are able to get.”
“Oh.” Roy looked like he’d been told his dog had died. Professor Fletcher understood. The young people in this program had worked incredibly hard and progressed beyond what most Supers could ever do. Each one was easily in the top ten percent of his specialty. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough to be a Hero, and the closer they drew to graduation, more and more of them would discover where their limitations lay. Most would find a barrier they were physically incapable of passing, and it would be one of the hardest things they’d ever have to accept.
“Look, I’m not saying you’re dead in the water here. If I can find a way to help you I’ll damn sure do it. I just want you to be ready to do a lot of work on your own time.”
“I’ll work out all day every day, sir.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Professor Fletcher leaned back in his chair. “We talked about why the others are strong. Steel body, ultra density, all that stuff. So what makes you strong?”
“Me, I guess. I mean, when I’m Roy I’m just stronger and tougher.”
“Just stronger and tougher,” Professor Fletcher repeated. “Roy, the key to improvement is understanding how your power works. I mean every last nuance. I’ll give you this much, you seem to have the shift down, but I think there’s more to your abilities than just a split personality and a good punch. You need to learn more about yourself. It’s the best shot you’ve got at breaking through this ceiling of yours.”
“I’m, um, I’m not really good at that touchy feely stuff. That’s more Hershel’s rodeo.”
“Then work with him. Between the two of you I bet you can figure something out. In the meantime, how about we start going through the basic techniques I’m well acquainted with? Maybe we’ll get lucky and hit a functional one right off the bat.”
“I’d like to try that.”
“Great; come by here when you finish your afternoon classes. We’ll work out a schedule that doesn’t conflict with my other duties.”
“Yes, sir.” Roy rose from his seat, the consternation and frustration evident on his face. Professor Fletcher took those as good signs. You don’t get frustrated with things you’ve given up on. If you still cared enough to get pissed off it meant you still had hope. Hope was the difference between people who accepted their limitations and the ones who surpassed them. Professor Fletcher wasn’t sure which one Roy would be in the end, but he was definitely curious to find out.