After we finished talking, Lee said, “The advanced class is coming in soon. I’d have you stay except you’re already going to stick out.”
“You’ve been training with me for years. You’ll stick out. Oh… And by the way, bring the full suit next time. You’ll need the protection.”
“Count on it.”
Not long after that, I walked out of the door, finding a group of ten people waiting outside.
I recognized a few. Rod, a bearded, but otherwise typical college guy, and Sam, a sorceress of Pakistani or Indian descent. I couldn’t remember which. She said, “Hi, Nick.” Rod gave a wave.
Cassie knew them somehow. They were a year ahead of us.
It felt a little weird that they recognized me, but I’d pulled them out of an invasion of fishmen during the summer. You don’t forget something like that.
Plus, Grandpa had left the identity of the Rocket with a massive reputation to live up to, so everyone next to them probably recognized me too.
The group of them filed into the gym, and I was alone in the hall. Alone amid gray concrete walls, I walked my way back toward the bunker’s inhabited section.
If I’d wanted to avoid thinking about Grandpa, I couldn’t have. The Defenders had decorated with pictures of important moments in history for superheroes. Ranging from the World War 2 era, pre-Heroes League group called the “Victory Squad” to the last gasp of the Abominators in the 1970’s, Grandpa seemed to appear everywhere.
Nearing my room, I turned the corner to see Dayton—Dayton, as in one of Sean’s friends. Dayton, who stood a head taller than me, and had become even more muscular last spring after Vaughn’s uncle ran every member of Justice Fist through his own version of the power impregnator.
“Hey Nick,” Dayton grinned at me, showing no trace of the animosity I usually saw in Sean. “How long have you been training with that guy?”
If it had been Sean, I might have ignored him and kept on walking, but aside from one fight, Dayton had always been decent to me.
I stopped, and thought about the question. “Well, officially since I was twelve. My grandfather gave me free martial arts lessons as a Christmas gift and Gunther was my teacher. The thing is, I’d already known him for years before then. He’d been teaching me things even before he’d officially started training me.”
Thinking back, whatever form Lee wore, he’d always been training me. Even the games he’d played with me as a little kid were all obviously about strategy and tactics. Some of them had taught me basic fighting moves, and I couldn’t have been older than six.
Dayton nodded, “Thought so. Remember when Jody, Sean, and I fought you, and you kicked our butts? I asked you afterward where you took martial arts, and you told me a studio. It was good, but nothing like this guy. Did you know you move like him?”
“No.” Did I move like him? I didn’t try to except when he told me to—which happened a lot in class. If anyone would notice, it would be Dayton. His real power was the ability to pick up skills by watching people use them.
“It’s pretty cool. He’s always walking as if he expects to be attacked, and he’s always watching for it. You’re not exactly the same, but you do a lot of the same things.”
I probably wasn’t watching for nearly as many different possible attacks as he was.
Dayton put his hand to his chin and thought for a second. “You know, the way you walk doesn’t make you look nearly as cocky as he does either.”
That managed to get me to laugh a little. “I’m sure.”
Dayton laughed too. “Yeah, I bet he thinks he can take on anybody. Don’t take that wrong. I’m getting the feeling he can.”
“Could be,” I said.
Dayton checked quickly to either side, “Um… I don’t want to bug you about this. I know Sean’s been a jerk to you, but if you could—”
Sean’s voice interrupted him. Dayton and I turned toward the noise, and saw Sean walking down the hall, about fifty feet behind Dayton.
“Oh,” he said as he saw me, and didn’t say anything else.
On the whole, I saw that as an improvement.
“Talk to you later,” Dayton said, gave me a wave and walked toward Sean.
I stood in the hall, wondering what that had been about. Had Dayton just talked to me so he could bring Sean up, or had that been a spur of the moment thing?
What had he been planning to ask, anyway?
All I could say for sure was that Sean wasn’t in on it. Otherwise he would have finished, right?
Haley had said Dayton seemed like the only decent guy among Sean’s friends back when she’d been dating Sean. I could see that, even if I felt like his loyalty was misplaced.
Crazy to think Vaughn’s uncle had sent Sean and his friends through the power impregnator (without much opposition I’d bet, even though some of them were seriously screwed up) while I had to slowly get permission from everyone on the team to do the same with Courtney.
Well, I only had Rachel and Travis to go.