Chapter 176

               Roy slammed his bat into the concrete target, sending a spray of rubble across the room at a velocity that would have injured any caught in the shower. He spun around; double-checking the room just to be certain all his targets were neutralized. Since they were all stationary concrete pillars with faces painted on, there should be no way for new ones to pop up, but he’d learned early on not to put anything past Professor Cole.

                “A minute and a half,” she said, watching him from the sidelines. “You’re getting faster, albeit at a slow rate.”

                Roy bit back a remark about how quickly he could tear through these things if he didn’t have to use his bat to do it, and instead walked over to rejoin the rest of the class. Today was a Friday, which made it form day, where all they did was attack motionless targets to show Professor Cole how quickly they could move while keeping their attack form proper. Roy liked to think he did okay at this part, and that was probably as good as he was going to get. Whether it was in Close Combat or Weapons, Roy Daniels could only incorporate so much strategy and style before his brute nature took over. For a long while he’d thought that was a weakness, but his training over the summer had shown him what an asset it could be.

                “Good job, everyone,” Professor Cole told them, her voice slightly muffled by the ever constant cloth bandages obscuring everything save for her eyes. “Shower up if you’re done with the physical stuff, otherwise head on to your next class.”

                Everyone began moving, so much so that Roy nearly missed her next words. “Daniels, hang back for a moment.”

                And here it was, the moment he’d been waiting for. She’d tell him he wasn’t taking the class seriously enough, and that he shouldn’t bother applying to keep it next year. It was what Roy had expected from the beginning; he’d always known he was on a Close Combat course. That was the path of the strongman. At least, it was the path of the good ones.

                Once the rest of the class had filtered out, some tossing curious glances back as they went, Professor Cole began to speak.

                “I want to know if you’re thinking about continuing my class next year.”

                Roy appreciated the fact that she got right to the point. No need to dance about if she was just going to give him the boot. “Don’t worry; I’ll be out of your hair come semester’s end.”

                “Pardon?” Professor Cole cocked her head to the side, one of the few ways she had to convey surprise with her obscured face. “Daniels, I’m asking because I want you to stay in the Weapons course. I want you to make it your specialty. Of everyone here, you might be one of the people best suited to wielding a weapon.”

                “Let’s be fair here, I wield a baseball bat. That’s only a weapon in dire circumstances and gang movies from the eighties,” Roy said.

                “Though it’s got a modern shape, you’re actually wielding a club,” Professor Cole corrected. “A heavy instrument meant to impart more force on a focused surface area. That’s one of the very first weapons mankind ever used, and the classics never go out of style.”

                Roy glanced at his bat with newfound interest. It was already beginning to show dents in a few spots, even after it had been fixed up after the final. Professor Cole had told him that she could get a more durable one, but there would be a proportionate increase in the weight. Before year’s end, he’d likely have to make that upgrade, at least if his current rate of increasing strength held.

                “Okay, the weapon might not be bad, but let’s lay our cards on the table: I’m shitty at wielding this thing.” Roy gently swung his bat a few times through the air. “I can connect a fair amount, but when the class spars most of the others can parry my swings easily.”

                “True, there is little grace in you,” Professor Cole agreed. “However, in those sparring sessions you have to stop your swing when another student blocks you. What if you didn’t stop? How many of them could halt your blows?”

                “Um… maybe Violet,” Roy said. “If she did her density shift quickly enough.”

                “I concur. The point I’m trying to make is that you’re measuring yourself in this class as a weapon user, and in that area you do fall short. But you aren’t a weapon user; you’re a strongman with a bat. If I can impart even a few bits of knowledge and training into that thick head of yours, you’ll be categories more powerful than you would be with just your fists.”

                “Most strongmen do fine with their fists,” Roy reminded her.

                Professor Cole rolled her green eyes so slowly that for a moment Roy feared she might be suffering a stroke. “And that is exactly the problem. Strongmen are, at a base level, uber-humans. They are exactly like mundane people, only with their physical abilities dialed up. Fundamentally there is nothing different about what they can do, only the scale on which they can do it. Which means they should all still be using weapons. All that stops them is tradition and pigheadedness.”

                She thrust a bandaged finger down at Roy’s bat. “Do you know why baseball players don’t punch the ball? Because no one, no matter how strong they are, can ever impart more force with a blow that with a bat. The two scale together. A version of you who wields that weapon will always be more powerful than that same version of you without it.”

                “Do you give this talk to all the Close Combat people?” Roy asked.

                “No, because for most of them Close Combat is the right choice. They use moves, and counters, and strategy. Their hands are important for what they do. You, Daniels, hit like a train and absorb blows like a tank. Force is what you do, it’s who you are. And that bat in your hand will give you more of it, always and forever. Just think about it during these next few months. I’d hate to lose a student with your potential. Having one of my pupils be top of the heap has been pleasant, I’d like to keep the streak alive.”

                It wasn’t hard for Roy to figure out who the professor was referring to. In Lander there was only one true king of the students, though technically she was a queen. “Much as I’d like to be as strong an Angela, I’ve already lost the chance to hold the top spot all four years.”

                “No one really cares who holds first place the longest,” Professor Cole told him. “All that matters is who finishes with it. You’re in a damn strong class, Daniels. Some of the ones who are middle-pack in your year could be top dogs in others. If you really want to make a run for the number one position, you’ll need every tool available. Just think it over, that’s all I ask.”

                Roy tightened his grip on the cold metal bat, and slowly nodded his head.