“Have a holly, jolly Christmas. It’s the best time of the year…” Anika plastered a smile on her face and kept it there.
<She’s cute, but she’s not that cute,> Anika watched as the entire Whitfield family belted out the lyrics and butchered the song.
The entire family was packed into the large minivan for Christmas shopping, which meant there was no way for Anika to escape what was happening all around her. Mr. Whitfield, who kept insisting she call him Eugene, was leading the chorus and driving at the same time. With the thick blanket of snow covering everything Anika didn’t think that was a good idea, but the patriarch of the Whitfield clan handled it with ease.
“Here it comes again,” he bellowed, in a raspy voice that said he was in the initial stages of coming down with a cold. “Haaaaaaaaaaave a holly, jolly Christmas…”
Next to Mr. Whitfield was Mrs. Whitfield, who also wished to be called Maurine, and Anika also thought that was weird. She acted as copilot, spotter, and kid wrangler. Behind them sat Becca and Anika. Anika looked over to where her girlfriend was belting out the lyrics out of tune and without a care in the world. Becca’s singing voice made her flinch, but the smile on her face and the happiness in her eyes melted Anika’s heart.
“… it’s the best time of the year!” feet slammed in rhythm into the back of Anika’s seat.
Anika was a guest of the Whitfield’s. They’d welcomed her into their home for their favorite holiday, and despite the particulars of her and Becca’s relationship, things had been going fine. That tenuous peace meant that the multi-gifted Super couldn’t turn around and pummel Becca’s younger brother.
“I don’t know if they’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer,” the rhythmic kicking didn’t cease.
Anika couldn’t physically beat down the little man, and she also couldn’t keep the exasperation off her face. Thankfully, Becca was in tuned with her girlfriend and noticed the situation.
“Clark!” she spun in a blur, and slapped his legs. “Don’t kick the seats.”
Clark Whitfield was seven years old, and had all the pent up energy that came with that age. The little guy looked a lot like his father; plain brown hair and brown eyes, but Anika could already tell he’d be a good looking guy when he grew up. He already had the same jaw that men in magazines had who modeled outdoor clothing. But that was a decade away; right now he was just a literal pain in the ass.
In response to Becca’s order, Clark did the rational thing and stuck out his tongue and kicked the seat even harder. Anika could have braced the seat easily with her enhanced strength, but that would only hurt the kid’s legs. No one needed a trip to the hospital so soon before Christmas.
“Clark, listen to your sister,” Mrs. Whitfield called from the front, and Clark reluctantly stopped.
He might have stopped, but he had that mischievous glint in his eye that little boys sometimes had. Anika knew she need to be on guard later because he was up to something. <And I thought I’d have trouble staying sharp.>
Clark and Becca were a lot alike, and Anika could see that her girlfriend was probably a lot like her younger brother when she was a kid. They were exuberant, full of life, and probably a handful for poor Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield. Becca’s sister wasn’t like that. Matilda Whitfield was the middle child of the family. She sat quietly in the back seat reading a book. Anika knew the type. Matilda was the smartest of the younger siblings. She’d got teased because she wasn’t as outgoing as her siblings in school, but she was going to be the girl that got out of the small town and made something of herself. She didn’t let the minor bullying get to her. Of course, that was a lot to put on a nine year old girl, and Anika could be totally wrong, but she didn’t think she was.
“How’s it going back there Matty?” Anika asked over the disjointed singing. Matilda wasn’t taking part in the revelry.
“I’m fine,” the little girl’s voice was soft as she looked up at Anika through her thick glasses.
Matilda’s hair was brown and fuzzy, just like her mom’s; but she’d inherited blue eyes from some recessive gene buried deep in her DNA. She was the only person in her family with something other than brown eyes, and it made her stand out in a good way.
Anika would have talked to the quiet girl a little more, but she was interrupted by Mr. Whitfield announcement. “We’re here!”
“Yay!” Becca and Clark echoed each other while Anika and Matilda rolled their eyes, and then shared a grin.
Their destination was a small, family run supermarket in the center of town. Both town and supermarket were generous terms when ascribed to these places. Even Anika’s family, which witness protection dictated live in a remote area, had more civilization than Becca’s town. A town it had taken them ten minutes to reach by car.
Mr. Whitfield pulled the car into the only remaining parking spot, there were only a half dozen to begin with, and threw it into park. “Ok, does everybody know what they’re getting?”
“Cheetos!” Clark yelled, but his mother shot him a look and he shut up.
“Your mother and I are going to grab the Christmas ham,” he started things off.
“I will be getting the mashed potatoes and beans,” Matilda announced from the back. “I’ll also keep an eye on Clark.”
“I can keep an eye on myself,” the little guy huffed, but didn’t protest anymore.
“Ani and I will grab all the fixin’s,” Becca was vibrating with excitement. “And the cornbread, can’t forget the cornbread.”
Anika thought cornbread was a southern thing, but apparently the Whitfield’s had been having cornbread at Christmas dinner for generations; Anika wasn’t complaining, she loved the stuff.
“We’ll all meet at the cash register in twenty minutes,” Mr. Whitfield put his hand in like they were in the middle of a team huddle.
Becca rolled her eyes in an “I’m too old for this” way, but didn’t hesitate to put her hand on top of her dad’s. Not sure what to do, Anika followed her lead. Next was Mrs. Whitfield, and then Clark; who half climbed over Becca to get in there. Matilda just nodded.
“Let’s do it!” Becca and Anika pulled back the sliding doors and had to jump out of the way as Clark sprinted through the ankle deep snow and into the store. Matilda exited the car much more civilly, and thanked Anika for holding the door for her.
Anika had already thought of the supermarket as an overstatement from the outside, and she revised that expectation when she got inside. I was hard for her to imagine good parents like Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield allowing their kids to run wild in a store. There were simple things to worry about like them knocking over displays or grabbing a bunch of stuff they didn’t need, but then there were much more serious issues. What if somebody snatched them from the candy aisle while the parents were looking at hams?
All it took was one look into the market to know there was no way that was going to happen.
It was safe to say that the last time anything had been done to the building was in the 1980s. It wasn’t worn down, but it had a well-traveled feel to it. There were two cash registers, and neither of them had the moving conveyer belt that brought the groceries closer as the cashier scanned them. Both cashiers, who were an old couple, were dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Judging by the realistic bulge, Mr. Claus didn’t need any padding to play Santa.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Claus greeted the Whitfield’s by name, and they even made a big deal about seeing Becca again. Anika looked beyond the small homecoming gathering at the rest of the store, which consisted of a fruit and vegetable section, four aisles, and a meat and Dairy section. There was no way someone would be able to snatch Matilda or Clark in a store like this. You could see seventy-five percent of the place from the front door.
“And who’s your friend here?” Mr. Claus had a rumbly voice, just like all the movies portrayed Santa.
“Oh…um…this is my…friend from school, Anika.” Anika kept the smile on her face as she shook hands with the Claus’.
She didn’t hold it against her girlfriend that she’d called Anika her “friend” from school. They’d gone over exactly how they were going to handle things on the drive up. Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield obviously knew, and they were adapting better than Becca thought they would. It took more than a day to discard generations of biased thinking, and it was something they’d have to consistently work at.
Becca’s siblings didn’t know, but Anika believed Matilda had a suspicion. The little girl was too smart to miss the signs. Clark was oblivious though, and Becca’s parents had politely asked Becca and Anika to not tell her siblings. There wasn’t any “we don’t want you infecting our other kids” mentality behind it; which Anika originally feared. The Whitefield’s were just still trying to figure out how to explain it all to them, because it wasn’t just the family that this concerned. In a close knit community like the one they lived in, once word got out everyone was going to know within twenty-four hours. The older Whitfield’s not only needed to explain it to their children, but they needed to be ready to support those children when Matilda and Clark eventually went back to school and had to deal with the backlash.
<Matilda will be fine,> Anika knew that for sure. <It’s the outgoing Clark that they need to be worried about.>
“Well it’s good to see you all again. Welcome back Becca,” Anika had missed the rest of the conversation between the Claus’ and Whitfield’s, but she smiled and waved politely as they walked away to get their groceries.
“You weren’t even paying attention,” Becca chided Anika, as they headed down the first aisle.
“Sorry,” Anika apologized. “Just thinking.”
Becca did a quick look around before giving Anika a tight hug. “Just give it time.”
It warmed Anika’s heart to know that her girlfriend got her like that. “Ok,” Anika broke the hug with a smile. “Let’s get these fixins’ you been talkin’ about,” she laid the country accent on thick and got a playful smack on the shoulder for her effort.
“Uh oh, cat fight,” a cocky male voice said from the end of the aisle.
“Crapola,” Becca’s face went from a grin to a grimace instantly, and the sudden change had Anika on high alert.
“What is it?” they both turned toward the voice.
Instead of seeing one guy they saw three. The leader, the one who’d spoken, had a quarterback build. If Anika had to guess he’d been the captain of the team and the teenage king of the town. <Big fish in the smallest pond imaginable,> Anika saw how this could play out and it wasn’t good.
What Becca said next only made things worse. “That’s Ben Wilson. I dated him senior year.”
<So it’s a boy comes back from college and wants a quick winter fling with the girl he used to hook up with scenario. That’s just great.> A bad outcome was almost guaranteed at this point, because Anika sure as hell wasn’t going to let some jerk put his hands all over her woman.
“Becca Whitfield,” the man sauntered over, and when Anika thought sauntered she meant sauntered.
He had his chest puffed out like a peacock, and he moved his arms back and forth meaningfully. He looked like he thought he was marching in some important parade, not walking down the aisle of a small-town market.
“Hey, Ben,” Becca replied, significantly less upbeat than a few moments before.
Like all guys, Ben clearly missed the body language. Becca was slightly withdrawn, shrunk down, and had drawn in on herself. All of which were telltale signs of not wanting to get involved in something. Ben missed all of that, walked right up to them, and casually leaned against the shelves full of soups.
“How ya been?” his voice dripped with ego, and Anika wanted nothing more than to have his grip slip and him fall into the metal cans like an idiot.
“I’m good. How’s Iowa State?”
“They red-shirted me this year, but they say I’ll start next year,” Anika had the quarterback pegged even before she knew he played football. “And who do we have here?” The way he turned his attention to Anika made her want to puke.
“I’m her…friend,” Anika reined in her inner bitch-mode that she so badly wanted to unleash on this little tool.
Ben wasn’t little by any means. He was 6’1” probably two hundred and ten pounds, and was used to high stress situations that also involved him getting hit. Still, he wasn’t a Super and he wasn’t in an HCP; so he was no match for either Becca or Anika if it got ugly. Still, he could hurt her in other ways.
“These are my friends, Bill and Ted,” he motioned to the two guys behind them. They didn’t look like current athletes, but they might have been. Not all high school football players made it to college. “How about ya go talk to them and let me have a moment with Becca.”
He made it clear he was telling not asking. Anika wasn’t going to have any of that. She stepped in front of Becca, crossed her arms, and leaned casually against the same soup rack Ben was. “No thanks, I’m good.”
You could always tell when a guy wasn’t used to hearing no. As a big football star in a local town he probably never heard it from a girl. On a college football team he probably didn’t hear it either. Anika saw his eyes go wide, and his face go from a cocky smile to a scowl. Anika almost wanted him to do something. She’d have him on his face before he knew what hit him.
“Hey now,” Becca the eternal optimist and good person stepped between them. “It’s ok.”
<Are you sure?> she projected the thought into Becca’s mind.
<Yeah, it’ll only take a second. I can take care of myself you know.>
<I know,> Anika cut their link and pushed off the shelf. “Come with me Bill and Ted,” all she could think about was the late 80s dorky comedy.
Anika didn’t go far. She might trust Becca to handle herself, but she wasn’t going to let her girlfriend out of her sight. Bill and Ted followed obediently, and Anika revised her opinion of them. These guys weren’t additional muscle; they were just two dudes who’d followed Ben all through high school. She looked a little closer and saw that Bill and Ted looked as uncomfortable with the situation as she did.
“I…um…I like your tattoos,” Ted was the one who finally broke the silence once they stopped at the end of the aisle.
It was cold out, so Anika had layers on that covered her arms, but it had hiked up when she struck her casual pose against the soup. She could tell Ted was nervous. Despite Ben’s charm, and apparent good luck with the ladies, Ted didn’t seem to share in that confidence.
“Thanks,” Anika gave him a small smile to put him at ease. He didn’t seem like such a bad guy.
“So…um…are ya like Becca?” the question caught Anika off-guard, and it took her a few seconds to figure out what he meant.
Her first thought was that he was asking if she was gay like Becca, but then she remembered that no one knew Becca was gay. That left possibility number two. They were wondering if Anika was a Super, and by association, in the HCP.
There were a couple ways she could answer the question. Say yes; which would intimidate these guys. She didn’t care much about that, she’d probably never see them again in her life; but they’d make life difficult for Becca. If they both made it to Hero it could also be a problem. She could say no, but she didn’t think she could sell that. If she lied, and they called her on it, Anika would be that new girl who was a liar. Again, that would negatively affect Becca. There was always option number three. Not answer them at all and let them guess. Going over her options that one was probably the best one.
She never got to answer.
“WHAT!” Ben shouted from the other end of the hallway.
Anika had taken two steps at a faster than normal speed before she got a better view of them. She expected to see his hand on her; hands that she would immediately break, but instead he was backing away with a look of horror on his face.
Becca just shrugged, spun on her heel and walked back toward Anika. She looked relieved.
“We got shoppin’ to do,” Becca waked right past her. Anika gave Ben another look before following obediently.
She waited patiently until Becca was ready to talk about it, and that wasn’t until she’d finished grabbing most of the ingredients for Christmas dinner.
“I told him I was gay,” she said simply as she grabbed some thyme from a rack of spices.
Anika didn’t even hesitate; she pulled Becca into a tight hug. They held it until Becca wiggled, signaling that she was good. “I saw he didn’t take it well.”
“Yeah,” instead of looking a little sad at having to out herself to the entire town before she was ready; Becca was grinning.
“What?” Anika didn’t understand the discrepancy.
“Well,” Becca giggled a little. “I might have told him it was because of him.”
That set them both into a fit of laughter that echoed through the small market.
“He needed to get knocked down a peg or two,” Anika replied when she had enough breath. She had to wipe the tears out of her eyes.
“Yes, yes he did.” Becca smiled while taking a deep breath. “I hope you’re ready for Christmas, because it’s going to be the most interesting one of your life.”
Anika was ready, but she doubted she had any idea what she was about to get into.
San Francisco was an amazing town, and an amazing town can only be shown to you by an amazing woman. Mason was lucky enough to have one. The first couple of days of their holiday break were a whirlwind of activities. There was so much to do and so little time that Kyoshi dragged him out of bed early and they didn’t return until dinner. Mason saw all the sights; the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Warf, the Presidio of San Francisco, China Town, and Golden Gate Park just to name a few.
Mason had particularly enjoyed China Town. It was a splash of familiar in the otherwise unfamiliar settings. Mason had been to China Town in New York many times; and despite being on opposite coasts, the people and neighborhoods were fairly similar. Other than that, he’d learned than San Francisco and New York were two very different places.
It wasn’t just the cities that were different, but the people and the atmosphere too. New Yorkers had a volatility to them that Mason was yet to see anywhere else in the world. 9/11 and an Armageddon level Super attack would do that to a city. San Francisco was lucky enough to have a few major Hero teams and not a ton of crime. It was a nice place to live, and that was reflected in the people; along with their world renowned acceptance of those who were different. Where Mason might get sideways looks on the NYC subway, people here didn’t do that. It was a refreshing change of pace from home.
Mason let down his guard enough that Kyoshi tried to shove some culture down his throat. She coincidentally timed their visit to Golden Gate Park at the same time as a Shakespeare festival. Thankfully, the weather was warm enough for them both to spend half a day watching everything from Romeo and Juliet to King Lear. Mason expected a park festival to have crappy acting, but he was proven wrong.
By the end of the fourth day of tourism Mason was worn out. He was looking forward to the upcoming Christmas festivities, but he was also relieved that they would mostly be taking place in the home. It was time to kick back and enjoy the rest of the break, or so he thought.
One night mason was lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, when he heard something being pushed under his door. Most people on the edge of sleep wouldn’t have notice the soft rustle of paper against a wooden floor, but Coach Meyers had a way of teaching her students to be paranoid.
Mason’s first thought was that it was from his girlfriend. Despite all the time they’d spent together, they hadn’t spent anytime “together”. It surprised Mason just how much that affected him. He’d only gotten laid once in high school, and it hadn’t bothered him; but now that he and Kyoshi were regularly intimate, a few days off was an unwelcome change.
<Not that I’m going to do anything about that,> Mason’s commitment was unyielding. It was unyielding because if they got caught there was no doubt in his mind that Wilhelm Schultz would tear off his limbs one at a time.
With growing trepidation, Mason got out of bed and walked over to the piece of paper lying by the close door. “Meet me tomorrow morning at 7:00am in the basement,” Mason read the note to himself three times.
He was looking for hidden meaning, but didn’t find any. At first he thought the note was from Kyoshi, but the handwriting was all wrong. Kyoshi’s handwriting was elegant and flowing. She preferred cursive whenever she could, and she never pressed hard on the paper. This note was written in heavy block letters. It was the type of handwriting you might expect from a large man.
“Oh shit,” Mason barely got any sleep that night.
He set the digital alarm next to his bed for 6:45. He’d probably gotten two hours of total sleep as his mind flashed from one possibility to another. <Why does Mr. Schultz want to meet with me so early?> The answer to that was simple; Kyoshi liked to sleep in whenever she could. If she was asleep she couldn’t listen in to whatever was going to occur between them.
What could happen between a father and his daughter’s boyfriend was the stuff of nightmares. But you had to sleep to have nightmares. Mason got lucky, he just got to lay in a pool of cold anxiety sweat until the alarm started beeping.
Not knowing what was going to happen, Mason selected a comfortable outfit. Part of it was to be comfortable, but the other part was to show that he wasn’t intimidated. Of course he was scared shitless, so this was an exercise in his acting ability.
The bedrooms were on the second floor of the house. Mr. and Mrs. Schultz’s master was at the end of the hall. In the middle of the hall, directly across from the stairs was Kyoshi’s room. At the opposite end of the hall were two guest rooms, one of which was Mason’s. Mason briefly considered knocking on Kyoshi’s door and alerting her to his imminent danger, but quickly decided against it. If things went as planned, Mason was going to have to deal with Mr. Schultz a lot; so he needed to get comfortable around the grizzly-sized man.
The wooden stairs didn’t creak as Mason’s considerable weight descended into the open floor plan of the first floor. Everything was comfortable and inviting; but the mix of cultures was a bit jarring. There were some clearly Japanese touches throughout the space, and some unmistakable German ones as well. The most important of which was the large man standing next to the door leading to the basement.
Mason was immediately grateful he’d chosen comfortable, casual clothing. Mr. Schultz was wearing athletic shorts and a sleeveless workout shirt. The older man’s arms were the size of tree trunks, and the veins popping out of them meant that he used them regularly.
Mr. Schultz didn’t say a word when Mason stepped onto the first floor, he just waved for the younger strongman to follow. Mason did just that, and descended behind the larger man into the basement darkness. Mason expected a light to get switched on, but it didn’t happen. Once double the proper amount of time had passed Mason started to get nervous.
<This is it. He’s gonna kill me, and bury me under the basement,> Mason started to move away from the stairs in the opposite direction he thought Mr. Schultz had gone.
Logically, Mason knew Mr. Schultz wasn’t going to kill him in a dark basement. Mason knew he was just a papa bear protecting his cub, even though that cub could full out conquer other people’s minds and possess them.
Thankfully, the paranoia was short lived as lights flashed on everywhere; but it was only replaced with more anxiety. Mason was standing in the middle of a gym. This wasn’t an attempted murder, this was a workout; but Mason had been in the HCP long enough to know that there really wasn’t much difference.
“Relax, Mason,” Wilhelm Schultz’s accent was still heavy despite living nearly twenty years in the U.S. “Vacation is making you soft, this is a chance to fix that.”
Mason gulped, but nodded his acceptance, as he scanned the room. Mason knew from the home, and Kyoshi’s spending habits that the Schultz’s were well off. Mr. Schultz had a thriving business, and was able to provide everything his family ever needed. Judging by the modern strongman gym that was in his basement, everything included all of this.
“Let’s see what you can do,” there was a clear challenge in the statement, and Mason felt a fire stir in his chest in response.
Mason wanted to show Mr. Schultz what he was capable of. He wanted to show the seasoned German Hero that he could protect his daughter, and he would be able to provide for his own family as a Hero.
“Ok, let’s do this.”
Mason had learned long ago that all strongmen were not created equal. It became obvious quickly that the strongman boxing coach that Mason worked with was much weaker than Mason. Since joining the HCP he’d done a little more research into the topic and found out quite a bit about his Super classification.
First off, the average strongman could lift things roughly in the three to four ton area. That had surprised Mason as first, but then he read on. This was just the baseline for regular Super strongmen, not Heroes; and they usually stayed in the three to four ton range because they never tried to improve themselves. If Mason wasn’t working to become a Hero, and not in an occupation that required him to lift heavy things, he probably wouldn’t need any reason to lift more than eight thousand pounds. The average car only weighed two tons; so as long as he was able to jack it up by hand to fix a flat tire, there really wasn’t any need to get stronger.
The low end Hero strongmen usually started at lifting around twenty-five tons, but they usually had some other skill that they brought to the table. Lifting fifty thousand pounds with pure physical strength was fine, but there were easier and less dangerous ways to pick stuff up. Mason knew of several density manipulators who could make that fifty thousand pounds feel like fifty pounds.
Strongmen strength climbed up from there, and moved into mid-level around forty tons. Supers in the mid-level could possibly make it to Hero on their pure strength alone, but they’d need a good team fit. A mid-level strongman couldn’t always take the hits the rest of his team couldn’t; so he needed to fit into a different dynamic.
Mid-level gave way to the high-level strongmen in the sixty-five to seventy ton range. The amount of strongman who could lift and throw a main battle tank were rare, but they fit into a typical strongman team role very well. For all intents and purposes that was the end of the line for strongmen. There were some extreme-level strongmen out there. Supers who lifted above two-hundred tons, but you could count those Heroes in the US on two hands. The one that sprang to mind instantly was Iron Giant, and the other was Titan. But Titan wasn’t really a strongman, so Mason didn’t know if that counted.
Currently, Mason was hovering between the low and mid-level strongmen categories. Strength for strongmen, just like humans, was measured through a series of exercises. Despite what some people might think, and some women might appreciate, it didn’t matter how much weight a Hero could curl with their bicep. The muscle wasn’t going to do too much when it came to the stuff that mattered. Exercises like the bench press, squat, and deadlift were more relevant to the type of work a Hero strongman would be doing. So those were the exercises Mason and Mr. Schultz started with.
Mason’s performance showed that he’d been taking some time off.
“Push!” Mr. Schultz yelled as he stood behind Mason.
Mason was halfway through the upper motion of a squat. The magnetically driven weights had forty-two tons on the scale. That might have been impressive to anyone else, but Mason could tell it wasn’t doing it for the old Hero. Personally, the squat was Mason’s best exercise, and his personal best was forty five tons for six reps. This was only rep number three on forty-two and he was already crapping out.
With a final burst of exertion, which almost made the young strongman crap his pants, Mason pushed the weight up the last bit and into the locking mechanisms.
“No it wasn’t,” Mason couldn’t stop the words from coming out of his mouth.
Mr. Schultz stopped toward the readout where he would program his own weight and stared at Mason.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Schultz,” Mason put up his hands defensively. “I’m…”
“You will call me Wilhelm in the gym, Mason,” the Hero’s voice was strangely kind. “But only in the gym,” and the kindness was gone. “There is no need to apologize,” he continued before Mason could speak. “A strong man admits his flaws and weaknesses. This is a space to admit such things. A space where no one will hold it against you.”
<I’m not so sure about that,> Mason kept the comment to himself as Wilhelm dialed in the weight for his sets.
“Now move. My turn.”
Mason couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping as Wilhelm warmed up with twenty reps at seventy-one tons. The man was warming up just shy of double Mason’s max rep. If he had to guess, Wilhelm was at least twice as strong as him, and the older German might even be able to break that coveted hundred ton mark.
<I’ll just have to wait and see.> and that’s exactly what Mason did.
They worked up to max weight sets on the primary muscle exercises where Wilhelm did break a hundred tons on the deadlift and squat. He only fell short on the bench press, and that lead to a stream of loud German cursing. Mason didn’t see what the man was complaining about. Wilhelm was up in the rarified atmosphere of strongmen. He wasn’t a Titan or Iron Giant, but he was probably the strongest person in the city, including the Hero teams in the area.
Mason on the other hand barely broke thirty-five tons with his deadlift and bench press. Wilhelm didn’t say a word or convey any emotions accept encouragement, but Mason still felt like he was being judged. After the big muscle exercises they dropped significant weight and worked some of the finer muscles. That was where the conversation took a unique turn.
“You should not be so hard on yourself,” Wilhelm announced as he brought two hyper-dense weights in front of his chest in a butterfly motion. “You do well for someone so young.”
“Well doesn’t make you a Hero,” Mason replied, mirroring the movement with the same weight.
“You are young, four months into real training,” Wilhelm laughed aside Mason’s complaint. “How much was your first lift?”
“I squatted eighteen and a half tons…” Mason listed all his starting lifts. He’d memorized them after his first power evaluation.
“You double your strength and you are angry,” Wilhelm actually laughed, something he’d never done to something Mason said. “You will be very strong, Mason. Do not worry. You started stronger than me if that helps.”
Surprisingly that did help. The huge man had started off weaker than Mason; that put a lot of things into perspective for the young Hero in training.
“And the programs in this country are good. Not as good as Deutschland, but still good.”
“How are they different?” Mason asked, and Wilhelm was more than happy to answer.
Mason had never thought about how other countries trained their Heroes, and was very surprised to find out that it was all done through the military in Germany. According to Wilhelm, every Super went through the American equivalent of basic training in Germany. They were evaluated, categorized on a separate system that America didn’t use, and then trained.
“Most just do training and go live regular lives. They will only be called in an emergency. Others, like me, are good enough to get full training and become Ritter von Deutschland.”
“Ya. Ritter means knight in Deutsch. Americans call them Heroes, Germans call them Ritters. Europe is fond of its old traditions,” Wilhelm laughed at a joke that Mason didn’t understand. “The point, Mason, is that you will be a strong man one day; maybe strong enough for my Kyoshi.”
Mason nearly dropped the weights he was holding in surprise. “Really!” he can’t stop from sounding like a little boy who just got told he could buy the toy he’d wanted all year.
“Maybe,” Wilhelm’s expression and tone became serious again. “We will see.”
That was good enough for Mason. Wilhelm was starting to think we was good enough for Kyoshi. That was a big win, and the first step in Mason’s long term plan for him and the girl of his dreams.