With the passing of the party, all that remained for the sophomore class, aside from a few awkward wake-ups with unexpected partners the following morning and one uncomfortable break-up that resulted, were their midterm exams for Lander’s standard curriculum. For some this was a source of mere annoyance, for others it was a hot ember of fear constantly searing their stomach lining. Vince fell into the latter of the two categories, but he certainly wasn’t alone. He still cursed himself for the night of studying lost, to say nothing of the prodigious hangover he’d suffered the next morning. Each passing day seemed to fly by faster and faster, bringing him closer to the test that could end his career at Lander without so much as throwing a punch.
“How’d I do?” Vince’s voice hadn’t had this much fear in it when he was staring down George last year.
Nick made a quick mental tally of the red marks he’d drawn on Vince’s paper. “Better. Definitely better. You got about fifty percent right.”
Vince let out a groan that, in the right environment, would have attracted a female hyena. “That’s still failing.”
“True, but it is failing by less than you were when you only got thirty percent correct.”
“You think that will make a difference? A fail is a fail. I have to pass this thing to stay in the HCP.”
“I’m just saying you’re making progress. Consistent improvement is a positive sign.”
Vince flopped his body across the couch and stared up at the ceiling. “I’ve only got two more weeks. I’ve barely gotten through half the backlog of stuff I didn’t really understand, and we’ve still got a week left of new material to cover. I don’t know how I’m going to pass this class.”
Nick stared at his friend’s downcast face in genuine surprise. In the time they’d been at Lander he’d seen plenty of unexpected behavior from Vince, bravery in the face of impossible odds, trust when none was warranted, loyalty beyond comprehension. He’d never seen the guy downtrodden, though. Up until now, Nick wouldn’t have thought Vince even knew how to accept defeat, let alone preemptively contemplate it.
“You’ll do it with lots of effort and help,” Nick reassured him. Truthfully, he only put Vince’s odds of learning the material at around forty percent, but the silver-haired warrior was too integral to their team to let go without trying to save. Besides, it was hard to picture life here without Vince. Things just wouldn’t be as interesting, or at least that’s what Nick told himself. He was still adjusting to the idea of genuine friendship, after all.
“I just don’t know,” Vince replied.
“Lucky for you I do know. This is my wheelhouse, Vince. I knew how to calculate a vig before I understood that the toilet was the place you went to shit. Math is for me what punching assholes in the face is for you. It’s what I do.”
“But that doesn’t mean you can teach me how to do it.”
“It means I’ve got a better shot than anyone else. Now, do you want to call it a day and pack your bags or do you want to go over the mistakes you made on this test?”
Vince took some time to answer, enough that Nick was almost unnerved. When he did respond, all the doubt had left his voice; in its place was the steel resolve that seemed to bubble out of him when the occasion demanded.
“Let’s review. I’m not ready to leave yet.”
* * *
Roy was in unfamiliar territory. Oh sure, it seemed like a place he’d been a million times: he recognized the layout and the décor, he even felt nostalgic at the smell of paper that wafted freely through the air. Those were Hershel’s memories, not his. Hershel was the type to come to the library on a Saturday, and for any other project, Roy would have gladly let him. This was a little more personal. This was something Roy felt like he had to contribute to, otherwise it wouldn’t work.
The good thing about having Hershel’s memories was that Roy didn’t have to blunder about, hoping to find what he was looking for. He automatically knew the shelving system and was intimately familiar with several sections. Sadly, the book he was looking for wasn’t science fiction or fantasy, so the latter knowledge wasn’t as useful as the former. Before long, Roy found his destination, rows and rows of books all crammed with tidbits and facts from the span of human history. A special area of these shelves was dedicated to a subject most people found frequently fascinating, especially given the special curriculum it was known that Lander offered. These books were all about Supers and Heroes, ranging from autobiographies to sheer speculation. Roy loaded up his arms with a few choice selections and found a table where he set up shop.
He’d take home as many as he could, but first he needed to weed through the ones that didn’t cover his topic of interest. A quick perusal disqualified several selections, not for their style but for their substance; they only dealt with Supers whose powers were unlike Roy’s.
A better understanding of his own abilities was key; that’s what Professor Fletcher had told him. So far the private tutoring sessions weren’t working. Roy was still at the same weight he had been months ago. That was why he was wasting a beautiful afternoon surrounding himself with books. If understanding was key, then learning about everyone else whose abilities resembled his own seemed like a logical jumping off point. When Hershel took back over and looked at these memories, he would find himself surprisingly proud of his muscular brother.
More books were read and set aside. Roy was beginning to notice a pattern: while people like himself frequently dotted the landscape of Hero history, they rarely took center stage. Strongman was just a role people had in groups, much like healers. They were useful, but ultimately ancillary. After all, lifting a car was impressive to humans, but it didn’t quite have the shine of turning oxygen into atomic energy. The more he searched, the more frustrated he became. His whole suite of powers was merely an accoutrement for some Supers, a small piece of what they could do. It began to make sense why Chad was so defensive about his abilities: he didn’t want to get lumped in with people who couldn’t really do anything besides give and receive powerful punches.
There were exceptions, of course: a few like Roy who had risen high in the esteem of the public and Hero community alike. These he took note of and set their books in the checkout pile. The last book he read concerned possibly the most famous strongman in recent history, one whose abilities bore a striking similarity to Roy’s. This book was immediately set in the discard pile and left abandoned as Roy gathered his selections and headed for the front desk. In truth, it was a testament to his emotional growth over the past year that the book was not thrown with enough force to send it through the well. Still, regardless of how useful the information contained within might be, there was simply no way Roy would be rifling through that book’s contents.
In Roy’s opinion, he already knew far too much about its main subject, a Hero named Titan.