Chapter 152

               “Boys, we’ve got some company!” Sally Daniels did not yell as much as she willed her voice through all material obstacles and into the ears of the children she was calling. This capability was not super human in origin, or if it was then it was an ability that all mothers are given, along with lie-ray vision and the power to summon storms of guilt. Her voice hit its mark, and soon Vince and Hershel were coming quickly but carefully down the stairs.

                “Is Mr. Transport back?” Hershel asked as he took the last step and landed on the ground floor. He’d taken the news of his mother’s romantic entanglement surprisingly well, thankful that she wasn’t quite as alone anymore. Roy had been a bit of a harder sell, but after a surprisingly creative and well-articulated string of threats toward Mr. Transport, he’d eventually accepted that fact that his mother was still a woman and might enjoy companionship.

                “No, though he’s going to be joining us for Christmas dinner. Actually, Hank was in the neighborhood and decided to drop by.”

                From the hallway stepped Hank Rhodes, every bit as imposing as he was in Hershel’s memories from the summer. Immediately Hershel’s spine stiffened as he stood up straighter and his heels all but clicked together. Vince watched the transformation with curiosity; he’d never seen Hershel show such fear and deference to someone. Then again, Hershel hadn’t been the one to train under Coach George, so perhaps this was how he reacted to all male authority figures.

                “Pleasure to see you again,” Hershel said, his voice nearly as stiff as his anatomy.

                Hank let out a low chuckle and walked the rest of the way into the living room. “Relax, Hershel, you’re not getting trained today. I’m just stopping by to see how you two have been doing.” He ran his eyes up and down Hershel’s steadily changing form. Since summer Hershel’s weight loss had slowed down somewhat, however he was also turning a fair amount of his former chub into muscle. The boy hadn’t been slacking off in his training, that much was certain.

                “It’s very nice to meet you, sir. My name is Vince Reynolds; I’m a guest of Hershel’s.” Vince offered up his hand, which Hank seized and shook. The older man’s cocoa dark skin was a contrast to Vince’s naturally pale tones, and both gave a squeeze that was firm enough to indicate respect without falling into an outright challenge.

                “You’re the energy absorber boy, right?”

                Vince balked slightly, the candid discussion of his powers from a stranger something he was clearly not expecting. His hand fell away from the shake as confusion grew more evident on his face.

                “Sorry, that was crass of me to spring on you,” Hank apologized. “I’m not technically affiliated with Heroes or the HCP, but I’ve done enough work for them that they’ll sometimes call me in for special jobs. That means I’m connected enough to hear about things in the Hero grapevine, like the son of Globe being in Lander and under watch by the DVA.”

                “I guess I should try and get used to that,” Vince said. “My secrets aren’t really going to be very secret anymore.”

                “Don’t fret too much; I’m under all the standard DVA agreements for non-disclosure, that’s why people were allowed to tell me about you. Outside the circle of Heroes, you should at least get a little privacy. Actually, I’ve wanted to shake your hand for a while. Heard you were able to absorb another Super’s crafted energy. Very impressive.”

                “You think so?”

                “Let’s just put it this way: I’m glad my son is an HCP senior this year, or he’d probably have a tough time against you in the Intermurals.”

                “The what?” Hershel asked.

                Sally Daniels coughed loudly into her hand, purposely catching Hank’s eye.

                “What? They’re juniors, right?”

                “Not every HCP does things the same way, Hank. Lander prefers to keep that a concern just for seniors.”

                “Well fuck me with a bull’s horn. Sorry boys, forget I said anything.” Hank gave a slight shrug of apology, then changed the subject with exactly zero attempt at grace or obfuscation. Sadly, his first swing went well wide of the target. “How about those Chicago Speed-Demons this year? The SAA might see its first undefeated football team if they don’t lose it in the play-offs.”

                “Hang on; did you say you have a son in the HCP?” Vince asked.

                “That’s Brett, he goes to West,” Hershel said. “Roy and I worked with him in Hank’s rodeo over the summer. He’s top of his class there. We sparred once or twice, but he was way too powerful for us to get anything out of it. I was glad he wasn’t in competition with us, though now Hank has me wondering how right that thought was.” He threw a suspicious glance at his teacher, who did his best to look confounded at what they could be talking about.

                Sally shot Hank a more savage look than her first warning glance, and he decided it was time to pull up this conversation short before too much information slipped out. Luckily, this time he chose the one topic that every HCP student was always eager to talk about.

                Hank clapped his hands together once and Hershel snapped back attention. “Alright, that’s enough conjecture and grilling me. I came to check in on how your training is going, so bring me up to speed. Tell me about your end of semester exam, and don’t spare a single detail. You too, Vince. I’m curious to see what the kids at Lander are capable of.”

                “In all fairness, I should probably let Roy tell you. He’s been all but bursting with pride over what he pulled off,” Hershel said.

                “I’ll want him to tell me about too. Let’s hear your take first, which I suspect will be more analytical, and then I’ll listen to Roy’s, which will no doubt be full of color commentary. I want to see how both your minds are strategizing.”

                “That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Mrs. Daniels said. “You three go in the living room and I’ll put together a light lunch for everyone. Everyone can have a nice long chat, about appropriate topics for HCP juniors. Right Hank?”

                Hank Rhodes was not a Hero; he’d had the power and the skill, but not the desire to do the kinds of things those people had to do. Nonetheless, throughout the years he’d been called in for training, side-jobs, and a few emergency situations that necessitated a man with his skillset. He’d looked death in eyes more than once and refused to flinch.

                All the same, he was not quite so courageous a man as to piss off Sally Daniels when her face got serious. Death was a one-shot deal, it happened and then you were free. Sally was an old-school southern woman, and Hank knew first-hand that they weren’t nearly as kind as death when they got cross.

                “Of course, Sally. Wouldn’t dream of anything else.”