Chapter 285

                “Is this… good?” Chad wasn’t used to feeling uncertain, it was a sensation that didn’t hang on him well. But after letting control of his brain lessen to fully experience his defeat, there were going to be unusual sensations until everything was re-calibrated again. They weren’t all bad, Angela’s unexpected appearance and kiss had nearly bowled him over with the surge of joy. Still, not being able to view a situation with forced objectivity was leaving him feeling less than steady.

                Fortunately, Angela was experiencing no such shadows of doubt. “Our grandfather used to say that fundamentals are always good. In fact, I bet he’s giving that line to the Heroes around him right now. Nobody should rely completely on their powers. Brains, brawn, stealth, tricks, traps, whatever you’ve got, bring it to the table. There are going to be situations where your power doesn’t work, or you can’t use it for one reason or another, so it’s important to have other skills to fall back on. Me, I focused on hand-to-hand and speed-chugging, both of which have served me well in the field.”

                Alice’s eyes bored into Angela, taking in everything about her expression. “Nice to know the Hero life hasn’t changed you. Also, I apparently still can’t tell when you’re being serious and when you’re screwing around.”

                “Maybe it’s both,” Angela countered. “Besides, why would Hero life change me? I’ve known what I was signing up for long before I ever set foot on this campus. So did Shane, for that matter. That’s why he’s going to win this thing. He’s got the training, the knowledge, and the perspective. Vince is a nice dude, but my little brother is a force to be reckoned with.”

                Just as Alice was about to stick up for Vince, Nick stepped in closer, eyes never leaving the screen. “You’re right on that account. In terms of how well they’ve been prepared for the Hero world, Shane is ahead by leaps and bounds. But here’s the issue with that: they aren’t getting quizzed on what to do when criminals split off in three different directions out of a blind alley, they’re fighting. Pure, simple combat. Shane is a tough bastard who I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, and he’s got a lot to prove. Trouble is, so does Vince. I’m sure somewhere in that head of his he’s scared that if he doesn’t put on a good showing then that Globe stuff will get in the way of graduation, regardless of how grounded it is. That means Vince is going to fight as hard as he can within these limitations, and a determined Vince is never something to underestimate.”

                “So you think yours will win?” Angela asked.

                Nick didn’t give any kind of physical response, he was still enraptured by the battle on the screen. Even his words were slightly delayed as he took in the action. “I don’t know for sure. This far along, fighting against a friend, it’s impossible to say with certainty who is going to pull this one off. It’s a gamble, no matter how you look at it. But I do know one thing, a small tidbit of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years that’s served me well. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many times again in the year to come.” The barest hint of laughter danced in Nick’s eyes as he saw Vince counter a punch from Shane and go on the offensive.

                “When in doubt, I always bet on silver.”

*             *             *

                Beating the shit out of one another was, to no one’s surprise, taking something of a toll on both combatants. Truth be told, they’d both scored enough hits to bring down lesser opponents. If they’d fought like this in freshman year, they’d have both already collapsed. In the four years of training, however, they’d grown in strength and skill, so it was that both young men were still on their feet, albeit with plenty of bruises to show for the trouble.

                Still, the fight was wearing them down, and both were getting sloppier in their movements. Shane threw a punch that was a hair too telegraphed, which Vince snared and tried to turn into a throw. Unfortunately, he was slow in the rotation, and Shane had enough time to kick one of Vince’s legs from behind, ruining Vince’s stance while giving Shane a chance to slip free. They backed away from each other again, searching for openings.

                In an unexpected way, Vince was enjoying this. It had been a long time since he had a real, proper fight outside of a sparring session. HCP battles these days all came down to powers and tactics, working as a team to suppress an enemy while keeping as many civilians as possible safe. This, however, was a return to basics for Vince. Before he’d been able to control his abilities, when the idea of even being a Super was laughable, let alone a Hero. Back when all he’d had was his own body and the strength with which he moved it.

                Shane attacked again, because that was what he did. In the time since they’d last fought like this, Vince had forgotten how aggressive Shane’s technique was. It made sense, the grandson of Captain Starlight was always chasing after someone, always fighting to prove he could live up to the burden of his heritage. Offense would be his natural default setting, even when defense might serve him slightly better.

                Jerking his neck, Vince avoided a punch aimed at his head, nimbly twisting to the side to dodge the second jab Shane had hoped to catch him by surprise with. Stepping in, Vince sank a fist deep into Shane’s momentarily unguarded stomach. The blow caused Shane to step back, but didn’t slow him down. In no time he was swinging for Vince, who’d quickly moved away. Vince didn’t stay that way for long, however. Through the whole fight, Shane had taken most of the initiative, and Vince let him. It made the moments when Vince decided to attack slightly surprising, and against Shane any advantage Vince could get was worth taking.

                Coming in low, Vince aimed a feint for Shane’s stomach. As Shane moved to block it, a small moment of inspiration struck Vince. On impulse, he threw out his original plan to capture and lock Shane’s elbow. Instead, he stepped in closer, creating more openings than he should have, and slammed a shoulder into Shane’s sternum. It was the sort of attack that Shane could have easily blocked, except that he was already moving to counter the joint-lock that Vince had abandoned. The blow knocked Shane off balance, and Vince didn’t waste the opportunity. In the brief moment where his opponent was distracted, Vince slammed his foot into Shane’s knee, far harder than he would have dared if they didn’t have healers immediately nearby. Even trying to take it easy, he still heard a few telltale pops as Shane fell hard to the ground, struggling to get back up only to find that his leg would no longer bear weight.

                “Why… why did I fall for that?” Shane kept trying to stand, wincing every time his knee betrayed him.

                “Chad likes to go for locks and submissions. I may not have gotten a proper match with him, but I’ve seen Chad fight in Close Combat class plenty of times. Since you spar almost exclusively with him, I realized you might have gotten into the habit of instinctively blocking those kinds of attacks.”

                “Damnit. Undone by my own training. That hurts worse than my knee.” Shane tried to rise again, and quickly crumpled back down. “Never mind, scratch that, the knee hurts way more.”

                “Look at it this way: you got into a habit because you were chasing Chad and Angela all these years. But I’ve been chasing all of you. A wider perspective is what you get from starting near the back of the crowd in a race. Imagine how much we’ll both see, and learn, if we make it all the way to being Heroes. That’s a whole new race, with people miles out ahead of us. In a few years, we could have a rematch that puts both of our efforts in this one to shame.”

                Finally giving up on trying to stand, Shane turned his gaze upward to meet Vince’s eyes. “That’s all well and good for the future, but you understand what winning here means, right? We saw what Conrad could do against Alice, do you think you’re going to be able to beat that?”

                “I have no clue. I’ve got a few ideas I can try, but they may not work. Victory is never certain for me, and I won’t pretend today is somehow different.” Vince knelt down, making it easier to look right at Shane. “All I can promise is that I’ll give it everything I’ve got. This is our school, our class, and even if I can’t win, I’ll make sure they don’t forget the Class of Nightmares.”

                There were a few moments of hesitation, and then Shane lowered his head. “My knee is toast, and hopping on one foot won’t win this fight. I concede, Vince. You win.”

                Instantly, the speakers crackled to life. “That’s right folks, you heard it yourselves. Shane DeSoto has given up, making Vince Reynolds the final man standing for Lander. Both of you head off to go get some healing, and Vince, don’t bother coming back to the viewing room. The final match of Intramurals starts soon.”