Chapter 254

               Chad stepped through Melbrook’s front door to find a veritable crowd already gathered in the common room. Vince, Mary, Hershel, Nick, and Alice were there, as he’d expected them to be, joined by Alex, who’d become a regular fixture in their home. What surprised him was the presence of Thomas, Violet, Camille, Jill, Will, and Shane. They were scattered in seats throughout the room, all surrounding a small group of adults gathered in the room’s center. Mr. Transport and Mr. Numbers were adjacent to a large man that Chad had seen sparingly about since the attack. He’d learned this was Hershel and Roy’s father, as well as that he shouldn’t pry any deeper about the man’s presence. With them were Professor Fletcher, Dean Blaine, and a muscular, dark-skinned man that Chad had never encountered before. Most eyes turned to him as he entered, and Dean Blaine gestured for him to take a seat.

                “Hello, Chad. Now that you’re here, I think we can finally begin.”

                “I’m sorry, have I missed something?” Chad asked.

                “Not that I know of,” Shane said. “We were just asked to attend a meeting here. No one has told us what it’s about.”

                “It’s about your summer break,” Mr. Transport said, stepping slightly forward. Next to him, Mr. Numbers mirrored the movement. It was disconcerting for those who hadn’t dealt with these men before; though, for the Melbrook residents, it was almost oddly comforting.

                “In light of what’s happened, some of us thought that it might not be the best idea for everyone to go home over break. What you’ve been through is traumatic, and you may wish to stay in a group as part of the healing process. Beyond that, you might hate having to go about a normal life with the weight of these events still fresh in your mind. Some of you will surely want to go, and that’s perfectly fine; however, we wanted to offer another option to those who are averse to the idea of months of idleness and solitude,” Mr. Transport said.

                “We have secured the rights to an isolated strip of land,” Mr. Numbers said. “Makeshift accommodations have been created, and thanks to your parents and teachers, we’ve reached out to several experienced Heroes and Supers who are willing to volunteer their time. You now have the option of spending your summer training, rather than going home.”

                “Why only us?” Thomas asked. “Shouldn’t the entire class be invited?”

                “This is not an HCP event,” Mr. Numbers said. “It is funded and organized independently. The focus of the time will be training, bonding, and most of all, healing. Therefore, the only ones invited are the ones who have not made issue of our students’ former status as Powereds.”

                Violet stuck her hand in the air, but then began to talk before being called on. “Why is Nick coming? He’s not even supposed to know what everyone’s abilities are, let alone train with us.”

                “Yet that doesn’t preclude him from wanting, or needing, to become stronger,” Mr. Numbers replied.

                “This is all voluntary,” Mr. Transport said, jumping in quickly to smooth Mr. Numbers’s brash tone. “You don’t have to come and show your power to someone outside the program if you don’t want. But Nick was targeted in the attack, too; he has the right to become powerful enough to defend himself. So long as those madmen are loose, everyone who can be tied to the HCP is in some amount of danger.”

                “What sort of training would we be doing?” Vince asked from his seat near the front.

                “It would depend on who is around that week,” Mr. Transport said. “Lots of sparring, no doubt, but each teacher has their specialties. Mr. Rhodes, for example, is an expert on physical conditioning. He can find your body’s best natural structure and tailor workouts to fit that build.”

                The man that Chad had never seen nodded humbly, pausing only to give a quick look to Hershel. Hershel returned the look with a nod of his own, and Chad realized this man must have been the one who trained Hershel last summer. Given the once-husky boy’s rate of improvement, it made a strong case for how skilled Mr. Rhodes really was.

                “Mr. Daniels, on the other hand, will be teaching you the best ways to deal with an opponent who is much stronger than you,” Mr. Transport continued. “He’ll only be able to come once in a while, as he has his own Hero work to do, but there will always be someone around for specialized training. This is just an offer, though. No one has to come if they don’t want to, and they shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. Everyone has their own way of moving through grief. We are here to present an option that may help some of you, nothing more.”

                “I’m in.” Alex rose from his seat on an ottoman, eyes sparking with life for the first time since Sasha’s death. “I can go right now if we need to. I want to get as strong as I possibly can.”

                “We’ll be leaving late tomorrow morning,” Mr. Transport said. “So you all have time to talk things over with your families.”

                “No need, put me down as on the list,” Alex insisted.

                “I’m coming too,” Vince said. “I’ve made a lot of progress, but that night, I realized my control still needs a lot of work.” He reached down and gently squeezed Camille’s hand, who returned the display of affection with a squeeze of her own.

                “Count me in,” Alice added. “I wasn’t going home for the summer anyway. And you can put Nick down too; he’s too lazy to have even shown up to this meeting if he wasn’t planning to come.”

                “Harsh,” Nick said, giving her a stiff glare. “But fair, I suppose. I’ll be joining you lot eventually. There are some matters I need to take care of at home before my summer is freed up.”

                “And since all of them are coming, that means I’m going along too,” Mary said. “Have to keep watch over these idiots, after all.”

                “I’ll be there,” Camille said, not that anyone had really questioned her attendance. Affection for Vince aside, Camille made a point of being where she was needed, and this was a situation rife with the potential for people to require healing.

                “Good to know there’s a crowd, but can we take some time to think about this?” Thomas asked.

                “By all means,” Mr. Transport said. “Talk it over with each other and your families. Make the choice that is right for you.”

                Shane edged slightly closer to Chad and whispered, “What are you thinking about this?”

                Chad was, in that moment, thinking about a lot of things. He was reflecting on how strange it would be to not have Angela around. He was wondering how to calm his mother when she expressed a now very reasonable concern about his safety at Lander. He was fearful of what would become of Lander and its HCP program. Chad didn’t know how to deal with most of these things—they required a depth of emotional awareness that he hadn’t yet achieved. All Chad knew was training, trudging forward and getting better bit by bit. He looked around the room, noting the faces of his friends and peers. These people had been the best training for life and emotions that he’d ever encountered. Now was not the time to balk at that education, especially not when the promise of getting stronger also lingered in the air.

                “I’m thinking it would take no less than ten very skilled Supers to keep me away.”