Chapter 98

                “You’re sure this is okay? As I recall, we didn’t even start really sparring with our powers until halfway through the year. You don’t mind a freshman getting ahead of the curve?” Roy asked.

                “That rule was only for gym classes,” Professor Fletcher said. “In between, they’re having all sorts of power-based fights to move their rankings. Fights that Ashley hasn’t been doing too well at. So if she wants to train with a safe partner, and you’re willing to take the time to help, then it’s fine by me. Just make sure you have a healer on hand the first time you two go at it, in case she dishes more than you can take.”

                Some small piece of Roy wanted to protest the idea that he could be injured by a freshman, but wisdom won out over pride. Any Super could be a threat, assuming they weren’t because of a gap in age or training was an excellent way to get the shit kicked out of him. Roy Daniels might not be the fastest learner out there, but even he caught on eventually.

                “I’m surprised you’re willing to entertain the notion though,” Professor Fletcher continued. “Thought you’d have your hands full trying to figure out your own stuff.”

                “If dwelling on it helped, I’d probably have had a dozen breakthroughs by now.” Roy and Hershel had both been thinking non-stop about the curious weakening of the barrier between their minds. Yet, for all their nervous fear, nothing actually seemed to be happening. There were still occasional twinges of the other leaking through, but neither experienced anything as severe as what had happened during October’s trial. Perhaps it responded to stress, or need, or some other variable they’d yet to account for. Regardless, doing nothing wasn’t helping, which meant it was time to try doing something.

                “You never know, maybe sparring with her will knock a few screws loose up here,” Roy said, tapping gently on his head just below the brim of his hat. “And how many chances am I going to get to fight someone who uses punching explosions? That’s the sort of thing that you can’t pass up.”

                “Just make sure you’re careful,” Professor Fletcher cautioned. “She’s not just a freshman, she’s had almost no experience fighting other Supers before this. Came from a town without competition, and since she’s not a sociopath she didn’t use her abilities on normal people. A Super that raw needs to be handled just right until they learn control, otherwise they’re as likely to get themselves hurt as their opponent.”

                “Little odd, isn’t it?” Roy asked. “Most Supers who know they want to go the HCP route seek out pre-emptive training, trying to get some kind of head start.”

                “Her journey is her own, just as yours belonged to you,” Professor Fletcher replied. “If you want to know why she’s so inexperienced, I suggest you talk to her.”

                “May just do that.” Roy rose from the chair that seemed just a bit too small for his sizable frame and began trying to work his way to the door of Professor Fletcher’s cramped office. “One question though, before I head out. Ashley having the sense to approach a senior, someone who knew their way around a fight well enough to teach her without getting themselves or her injured, did she really come up with that by herself? Because on her own, I think it’s more likely she’d have done what I did and kept trying to swing for the top of the class. This seems more like the sort of thing that a wily professor might put in her head, assuming they were experienced enough at manipulating people.”

                Professor Fletcher’s face was stoic as always, the old man had racked up more years of practice hiding his feelings than Roy had even spent on the Earth. After a long moment, his head gave the slightest dip, so subtle one could have easily mistaken it for a twitch rather than the nod it was.

                “That’s not the sort of thing her coach really has the place to tell her to do. At the same time, I’d hate to see someone with such promise wash themselves out of the program before really getting a shot to improve. So I might have planted a few ideas, made sure certain already existing rumors made their way to her. The better question here, however, has nothing to do with Ashley Beck. I’m much more curious about how you figured that out. Forgive me Roy, you’re a fine Super with a good heart, but thinking things through like that has never been your strongpoint.”

                “Hershel figured it out, after we talked to Ashely at the party,” Roy admitted. “He just thought it all came together a little too easily, and so he had a hunch that you might have been behind things, even if you didn’t want it to seem that way.”

                “Yet from just his hunch, you felt confident enough after our conversation to actually press me about it,” Professor Fletcher pointed out.

                Roy hadn’t considered that. The idea to ask him had just appeared in his head, like all thoughts, seemingly out of nowhere. Only now, he found himself wondering, where had the urge actually come from? Where did any thought come from? He pushed the question away, more than aware that he was not the sort built to grapple with such existential issues. Or was he? Roy wasn’t even sure about his own mind anymore, and that meant he could take nothing for granted.

                “Was there a point to that, other than tripping me out?” Roy asked.

                “Just making sure you’re taking careful note of everything,” Professor Fletcher replied. “This sort of exploration of an ability, often times it’s the smallest details that lead to a breakthrough. Something to keep in mind when you next meet with Professor Stone.”

                It was all Roy could do not to let out a heavy sigh. Hershel was making headway on the meditation practice, but Roy had so far only succeeded in learning to nap while sitting. Not an entirely useless skill, just not what he was supposed to be accomplishing.

                “At this point, I’ll take anything that helps,” Roy said. “Anything else I need to know? Any other weird worries you want to put in my head?”

                Professor Fletcher paused briefly, as though actually considering the question. “No, I think that meets the requirements for today’s meeting. Do let me know when you and Ashley have your first sparring session though. I’d rather she not be aware, but I plan to watch over the fight. As her teacher, it’s important I know as much as I can about my students and their limits.”

                “And if I don’t push her to her limits?”

                This time, there was no pause at all before Professor Fletcher replied. “Then I’d be forced to see if a Super with mimic abilities had taken your place. The Roy Daniels I’ve helped train can’t help but bring his best to every battle. He doesn’t know any other way to fight. It’s one of the things I respect most about him, in fact.”

                Roy couldn’t think of anything to say to the professor in reply to such high praise, so instead he simply gave a small nod, and showed himself out of the room. If he hadn’t already planned on giving Ashley a good round of training, he was damn sure going to do it now.