Chapter 129

                Vince was momentarily dumbfounded. While he’d been sure not to cross the line into real danger, he’d also known Roy’s endurance well enough to put a lot of power into that last shot. If he were running with the usual amount of electricity stored up, Vince would have practically wiped out his reserves in that one attack. Yet Roy, despite some visible singes, was shrugging the whole thing off like nothing more than a well-placed punch.

                “You’ve gotten tougher.” Obvious as it was, Vince still felt it needed to be said. He couldn’t skim past such a display without some manner of acknowledgement.

                “Like you wouldn’t believe,” Roy agreed. “After getting my ass handed to me by that suped-up strongman last May, Hershel and I have been working overtime to increase endurance as much as strength. It’s been slow going, but we’re making steady progress.”

                “That you are. I thought for sure that last attack would have taken you out.” Vince took a few steps back, re-evaluating the situation. He’d thought getting off one shot on Roy would be all that was needed; only now did he realize that he was severely underestimating the Daniels brothers.

                “This time last year, it probably would have. But haven’t you noticed yet, Vince?” Roy smiled, advancing a few paces forward as the last of the electricity’s lingering effects seemed to dissipate. “We’re halfway through the year, and nothing has managed to knock me down for the count yet. Not a Sim, not a student. I might not be as versatile as the rest of you, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have staying power.”

                Roy was right. Now that Vince was really thinking about it, the last time anyone managed to seriously injure Roy was during the attack on Lander last May. Since then, he’d been able to endure everything thrown at him. Even after being halfway crushed by Professor Cole he seemed none-the-worse for wear. It was an easy thing to miss, since Roy didn’t stand out as much compared to the students sweeping entire sections of Sims off the battlefield. One on one, however, he was probably among the most dangerous opponents in the class.

                They’d all gotten two points off of defeating Professor Cole. And unless Vince brought his absolute best to this fight, those were all the points he’d be scoring.

*             *             *

                “How many people know what they’re really seeing?”

                Gale slid into the seat next to Titan, one of the many empty ones around him. Although he’d wanted to jump closer to the screens as soon as Roy went into a cell with Professor Cole, to cheer for his sons as they managed to yank a seemingly impossible victory out of sure defeat, Titan had done none of that. Instead, he’d sat in the rear of the room, sipping a beer, acting as detached as possible. Hershel and Roy deserved to make their own way in the world. Being known as Titan’s offspring would link them to him forever, and they’d made it clear that wasn’t something either of them wanted.

                “A good fight?” Titan asked. “I’m pretty sure they all know that. It’s impossible not to, how often do students manage to beat a professor? And then to go right into a one-on-one match against each other, this is high entertainment.”

                “Oh, there’s no question that people are going to be telling their teams about this when they go home tonight,” Gale said. “But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean to say is, how many people in here realize that they’re seeing a live match between the son of Globe and the son of Titan?”

                Titan turned his head around quickly, seeing if anyone nearby reacted to Gale’s words. She’d spoken softly, but there was no telling what augmented senses other people might have. Seeing his concern, Gale dismissed the issue with a wave. “I shifted the air around us while I was speaking, and no one is paying attention to us anyway. This is just between you and I.”

                “Much as I appreciate that, I’d rather you never said anything at all,” Titan told her. “So, who spilled the secret?”

                “Did you forget I’ve got Subtlety Heroes on my team and favors I can call in? After that weird display at the last mixer, I decided to dig a little deeper. I have to say, the connection explains a lot. Guess the relationship is a rocky one?”

                “It’s gotten much better in the past few years. But we’re still far from being on good terms,” Titan admitted.

                “Yeah, I figured that out for myself. Chin up, though, Titan. If you can win me over, then no one is totally hopeless.” Gale paused, taking a sandwich from one of the many small tables set up around the room. “I have to say, it sort of makes me respect the kid a little more now that I know his relationship to you.”

                “Because you think that highly of me?”

                “Because I like the fact that he isn’t trading on your name,” Gale explained. “I mean, if he made the relationship public, there would be some people who wanted to scoop him up for the associated reputation alone. You might not be universally loved, but no one can talk shit about your abilities. Seeing him try to make his own way, I don’t know, I like that. Weird relationship stuff notwithstanding.”

                “I get what you mean.” Titan looked back at the screen, where Vince and Roy were both back to the middle of the room. “Roy doesn’t need to trade on my name anyway.”

                “That so? Is that your way of saying he stacks up to the legendary Titan?”

                Looking down from the screen, Titan glanced over his own thick, muscular frame. So much power, so many battles that had pushed him past his limits and given him strength he never knew he was capable of.

                “Compared to the me of now, no, it’s not a contest,” Titan said. “But if Roy were to go up against the HCP-version of me, I have a feeling he’d almost definitely come out on top.”

                Gale swallowed her sandwich a little harder than was strictly necessary. “He’s that strong?”

                “He’s probably almost at the same level I was at his age, although I doubt that ‘almost’ lasts for long. But no, what makes Roy really dangerous is that, unless I miss my guess, he’s going to be able to fight much more intelligently than what I was ever able to manage.” Titan looked back at the screen again, where Vince’s retreat and Roy’s advance had both halted. “Then again, that’s not the same thing as saying he can beat Vince.”

                “The absorber has been putting on a hell of a show so far,” Gale agreed.

                “Take it from someone who has watched him training: we haven’t really seen anything yet.”