Chapter 231

                It wasn’t often Roy heard from Professor Fletcher outside of class, so he was surprised to find an email with instructions to head down to the training cells that morning. Things had been hectic since the capture of the Sons of Progress, but normality was slowly reestablishing itself. Stirring an event as it had been, that didn’t change the fact that the students had new hurdles to climb and required constant training to stay on top of their game. Still, coming in on a Saturday was odd, and it wasn’t until Roy was in the hallway leading to the specified training cell that he finally got an inkling of what was going on.

                That was because Roy could hear the explosions before he ever set foot in the cell, which was no small feat given how dense and insulated they were. From there it wasn’t hard to put together. There were few Supers in the Lander HCP who could cause that kind of ruckus, and only one that Professor Fletcher would want Roy to check in on.

                He pulled the door open carefully, wary of potential debris, and paused to marvel at the utter destruction that lay before him. It looked less like someone was training in the cell and more like someone was trying to burrow out of it. Huge chunks were torn from the walls, cracks ran up and down every surface, and the floor was coated in chips of broken concrete. What made it all the more impressive was the fact that Roy knew they repaired these cells regularly, so odds were all of this destruction had been caused just that morning. Standing in the middle of the chaos, panting for breath even as her arms glowed with a fresh charge, stood Ashley Beck; so focused that she didn’t even notice the door open.

                Before he could get her attention, Ashley launched herself at a wall. Her fists flew into the concrete, generating blasts as fast as she could summon them. Blow after blow rained down, carving out new chunks, but there was something wrong. This wasn’t the controlled, focused sort of work he’d taught her to do. This was raw, primal, nothing but a torrent of fury being poured onto an innocent wall. When she finally stopped, she was nearly gasping for breath, yet there was still a slight glow in both her fists.

                “If this were a sparring session, you’d be in deep shit. Can’t afford to get so focused you stop paying attention to your surroundings. Not even in training.” Roy closed the door behind him despite the nearly empty halls. Whatever this was, Ashley wasn’t going to want to talk about it in public, if he could even get her to talk at all.

                Ashley’s head whipped around, and for a split-second Roy saw her shift her weight for a charge. Then she realized who’d come in and the aggression slipped away. “What are you doing here? Did we have training scheduled?”

                “No, you’ve had things pretty well in hand since Christmas,” Roy replied, walking around and surveying the remains of the room. “But someone tipped me off about a hooligan destroying school property, so I decided to come see what the fuss was. Turns out, it was you.”

                She watched him for a long moment before offering a half-hearted shrug. “The cells are here to use for training, so that’s what I’ve been doing. Am I supposed to work on my power somewhere else?”

                “No, you’re right; these cells are exactly the place for training. Problem is, I don’t see anyone here doing any training. All you’re doing is beating the ever-loving shit out of a wall. And while that would be fine if you were gauging your output or trying to experiment with a new technique, we both know that’s not what this is.” Roy arrived at the section of the wall she’d battered when he walked in, running his hands over the craters. “Now I’m not the smartest guy in the HCP, but I know a thing or two about bottled up anger. Anything you might want to talk about?”

                “With you?”

                “Sure, if you like,” Roy said. “Or you can talk to Dr. Moran. Haven’t had a lot of need for her myself, but she’s helped a couple of my friends here and there, and she did a world of good for one buddy. Hell, I’m sure Professor Fletcher would listen if you wanted him to. Maybe even Dean Blaine, if he’s got the time. You get the point: there’re plenty of folks willing to listen, all you have to do is talk.”

                There was a moment where he thought she was going to take him up on the offer, but then her eyes hardened and she shook her head. “Pass. I’m fine doing it this way.”

                Roy found himself at a crossroads. He could keep being gentle and try to prod her into talking, or he could accept the answer and leave. There wasn’t much else in the way of options. Roy knew better than most how futile it was to try and make someone who didn’t want to open up talk about their feelings. It had taken years with his friends, and a few ass-whippings, before he finally understood that blind anger wasn’t enough to get by. Not in life, and certainly not in the HCP. At that thought, a new option popped into his head. It was, technically speaking, probably not an approved therapy method, but it had the possibility of working. That made it far and away better than either of the first two ideas.

                “You think so? Well I think you’re fighting like shit. Those movements were sloppy, and you’re so mad that you can barely keep your aggression in check. I saw you start to move for me when I walked in, that ain’t the kind of shit you can afford to give away. Now this is the part where you tell me how wrong I am, which is bullshit, but I’ve got things to do today so why don’t we skip it? Instead, I’ll give you the chance to prove if you’re really as ‘fine’ as you think.” Roy shrugged off the HCP uniform jacket and tossed it into the nearest corner of the cell.

                “Am I supposed to beat you to prove myself or some crap?” Ashley asked. “Because that’s crazy. You’re a senior in the Class of Nightmares. Confident as I might feel about my skills, there’s no way I’m going to be able to close that gap.”

                “Never assume a fight is lost before you go into it, otherwise it will be. And no, I’m not asking you to beat me. I want you to hit me. Once. One solid blow on the face or torso, and I’ll leave you to your so-called training.”

                Despite shifting her weight into a more offensive stance, Ashley didn’t yet look sold on the idea. “And let me guess, if I lose I have to agree to go talk to Dr. Moran?”

                “Do whatever the fuck you want. Talk, don’t talk. Fight, don’t fight. I’m not your dad, it ain’t my job to guide you along to what I think is right. All I’m looking to prove is that you’re not doing yourself any favors by staying like this. After that, it’s on you to decide what comes next.”

                Roy lifted his arms and gave the nod to signal that he was ready. “Now quit with the jawing, it’s a beautiful Saturday and I don’t want to spend all of it beating the piss out of you.”