Charge, The

The Education of Danny


By Chip Masterson

Dad woke me with a swat to the head. Instinctively I cowered into a fetal position.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" he snarled, yawning.

"Nightmare," I said, unfolding a little. True, and as much as I was going to tell him.

"That Henderson broad's on the horn. Tell her not to wake me up no more." He shuffled his grizzled belly down the hall and I tried to relax, still my racing heart. Dreaming about Danny again. Hoping this call was just another nightmare.

In the kitchen I waited until I heard Dad click off. Mrs. H immediately started babbling. "Scott, you have to come over," she whispered. "I've never seen him like this. My poor peach tree. You're the only one he'll listen to."

Yeah, right, I thought. I borrowed my Dad's Harley, knowing I'd catch it in the morning. Still, after Danny, my 250 pound Dad's beatings were like a girl's hissy fit. My GTO was still in the shop. Salvage of the wreck was nothing but a distant dream. All because Danny used his arm muscles to outgun her horsepowered thrust.

Then, of course, there was Kevin, still in the intensive care unit at St. Joseph's hospital, his life hanging by a thread. But I don't like to think about that.

When I pulled up I could see the roofline sagging to the back and the top of the peach tree canted at a weird angle, sinking and shivering. The Henderson's opened the door as I walked up and told me to go around back, it wasn't safe in the house. I saw what they meant. I couldn't see a single undamaged wall, and the groaning of the heavy roof made an eerie undercurrent to the pounding coming from the yard.

I walked around in time to see Danny change sides. The big tree listed about forty degrees and the yard was littered with smashed fruit and leaves. One side of the tree was battered in and Danny moved, naked but for boxers, to the tilted side and started hammering with one fist like it was a punching bag. Wood splintered and flew at my eyes from the blur at the end of his arm and the tree creaked back upright a degree or two at a time, its stressed roots raising mounds of earth where Danny's fist forced them out of the ground.

Horrible cracking sounds seemed to come from the earth as the tree's integrity was battered apart by the hurricane speed and power of Danny's pile-driving fist. Leaves continued to rain across the yard and I heard his mother crying inside the creaking, broken house. Terrified, watching this thirteen year old brat shove a giant tree around, I called out shakily, "D- Danny?"

He turned, a storm of emotions swirling across his face. I tightened every muscle in anticipation. Suddenly he burst into tears and tackled me. Weeping and clutching at me, his body racked with sobs, he rolled me over on the uprooted soil until I thought my back would break. He squeezed the breath out of my first string quarterback's chest and I barely had air enough to whisper "Danny, stop."

He threw himself off me and lay on his back, his dirty, splinter-encrusted hands covering his face. I waited until the sobbing stopped and he started moaning. I said, quietly, "Is it Kevin?"

"Of course it is, dickwad," he spat out. Then, heartbreakingly, "What did I do? You made me do it. You tried to trap me and I couldn't stop myself. It's your fault."

I felt like I'd swallowed needles. "Danny, you need help. Fact is, you're the only one who can stop you. The fucking army couldn't stop you. You're still just a kid. All kids have tantrums. It's just that you're too strong."

Danny screamed at the sky and his muscles leapt into lean, taut relief; I went too far. Jumping up, he plunged his hand into the ground, exploding dirt and grass back into my face. His lat thickened and his back muscles interlocked. His triceps bulged and suddenly a line of dirt raced in two directions across the lawn. He pulled his arm out, carrying a bent and bending iron water pipe with it. His hands started twisting and squeezing the metal as he screamed, thick sprinkler pipe pulling up out of the ground like taffy. He tortured it like he was making animals out of balloons, the solid metal pipe crushed and folded over and over and over. Finally the red left his face and he stood there, sweaty and panting. He dropped the crumpled ball of pipeline and looked over the ruined yard, the tree past saving, the house clearly condemnable.

Something crossed his face and all the emotion drained away. "I'll fix this." He calmly went over, reached up and strained just a little. A thick branch bent and popped and yielded to Danny's arm, cracking off. A strip of wood pulled out down to the hole he'd pounded into the bole. He took the branch and snapped off the end, then braced it up under the roof. He moved back to the tree like a robot, chilling me to the core. I went to speak to his parents through a shattered window.

"What are we going to do?" his distraught father asked. Fortunately neither of them were hurt; Danny vented on inanimate objects this time.

"I'll try to think of something," I promised. But what?

Next day I just sleepwalked through classes until football practice. Here my scholarship is earned doing the one thing I enjoy, the one place my man's body can unleash its skill and power without being emasculated by a little, but way not-little, boy. Practice was perfect and I lingered in the locker room until everyone cleared out, milking the best part of the day for all its worth. Alone, I felt I owned the place, the team, the school. I took my time putting some baby oil on my pumped, sore muscles before changing into street clothes. I realized I wasn't alone.

The craggy face of Detective Salas stood in the doorway. He wore a trench coat despite the humidity from the shower, but he looked like he was wearing my shoulder pads under the wool. "Finish up," he said with a smile. "I've got time."

"Like looking at oiled-up jocks?" I challenged, flexing my pecs a little to taunt him. He'd been lurking around lately but never approaching; studying me, I guess. Pissed me off.

"Give or take," he said. "I'm still wondering what your connection with Kevin Wallace's is. I'd like to have a shot at getting the story from him, but he's still at St' Joe's in a coma. He may or may not make it." He looked me in the eye until sweat broke out on my forehead. I turned back to my locker to pull my jeans on. Suddenly I felt naked.

"Like I told you before," I said over my shoulder. "We were acting stupid with our cars and Kevin got hurt." I hated betraying Kev like that and MYSELF, but at least he was still alive. At least there was some hope. If I were to bring Danny's ire down on Kevin, or myself... or on this Detecive, there would be no hope for ANY of us!

"Yeah. That's what you said before. But still, I'd like to know how young Danny Henderson fits into all of this."

"Him?" I asked. "I barely know the kid. He's got nothing to do with any of this. I've babysat for him a few times."

"Yes, I know. Funny thing is though, that 'baby' doesn't look like he needs much sitting. Like with the eight hundred pound gorilla, looks like he does all the sitting, wherever he wants." Salas stood evenly on his feet, blocking the doorway, filling it. I walked up to him and looked up into his black, calm eyes.

"I just do what I'm told, detective. On the field and off."

"But it's who does the telling that I think lies at the heart of three wrecked GTOs and one teenager in ICU who may or may not live. You see, the way he went through the wall is clear enough, but once we put the car back together--and here's the tricky part, it took a long time--it looked like someone tried a number of times to get through that wall. Logistically, though, there's no way it could have flattened itself around that hydraulic lift so tightly that we had to cut it loose. From where the hole is. Of course, how that ancient lift got up in the air is another question: looks like it was pried up, but not with a crowbar. Too many mysteries, you see. I hate `em. Never read `em. I like stories that tell themselves plain.

"That's why I'm not going to collect evidence," he continued with a weary lilt to this voice, "gather facts, dust for prints and try to come up with some elaborate theory of spacemen and yetis that crossed time and space to meet in the glorified truck stop that is Gorman, California. I'm going to get the story straight, laid out like a blueprint. You're going to tell me Danny Henderson's part in that story, if it kills me."

I laughed and went back for my shirt. "It just may, detective."

"Do me a flavor," he said, making as if to leave. "Your `charge,' Master Danny Henderson, has Advanced Quantum Mechanics at eight a.m. tomorrow at Cal Tech. Let's sit in on that lecture and have a little chat afterward. I want you there, to help break the ice."

"I'll have to blow off Writers Comp," I said.

"I'll write you a note." He turned and left, and left me ver afraid, for myself, for Kevin and Lance and especially for Detective Salas.

I was late the next morning. Danny's career at Cal Tech was quickly approaching the level of a national security problem. Two standard issue goons were sitting in the back of the steep lecture hall not even pretending to take notes. They should have just left their sunglasses on.

Most of the students were scribbling or holding their heads. The professor's shirt was untucked and the rolled-up sleeves were unrolling; his tie puddled on the floor and his hair was totally out of control. Danny stood at a blackboard dense with figures, symbols and equations. This was a graduate level course and Danny was easily ten years junior to anyone else: and for those ten years, most of Danny's life in fact, those students had lived math, science, physics. And Danny came in and blew them all away.

The prof kept asking things like "But what if--" and "But how--" followed by sentences I couldn't even begin to comprehend. Danny wouldn't even let him finish, but would scribble on the board in a blur of motion as he explained. Reconceptualized. Manipulated. He reversed long-standing theories and hypotheses, he shattered accepted models, he synthesized database tables of facts and experiment results in his head and condensed them into irrefutable positions. Sometimes he had to repeat himself, slowly, to the Ph.D. guy. As if talking to a child.

One by one the students dropped their pencils, their jaws, their heads on the desks. Danny didn't even own a pen or pencil, and when he took a test he made a big show of snapping off the eraser. He made it look like a struggle too.

Wave after wave of information poured out of Danny's mouth and hand and all the prof's knowledge and experience was crushed down before him. His authority humbled. His face quivered as he realized Danny'd turned him into a T.A., wiping the board clean, asking nothing more than set-up questions, and nodding like a back-seat Chihuahua. He looked beaten before this kid's intellectual virility. And Danny didn't let on how much he relished each victory, every time he squashed some prize-winning physicist with mental brawn. Except for a little glint in his eyes that told me so.

With a final flourish, Danny compressed a dozen years of research into a few simple calculations, bringing him one step closer to that unified field theory thing that Hawking can't quite grasp. "Only when I get through with it, it won't be a theory. It'll be a fact."

The prof dropped his head and dramatically, self-deprecatingly applauded over his head. The students gave half-hearted, grudging applause while Danny beamed in not entirely good-natured pride. A fact picked up by the feds, no doubt.

"Now we see why Danny has beaten our chess computer twelve times in a row." He'd only played it twelve times. They wouldn't let him play it anymore, in fact.

As I understand it, a chess computer doesn't think, it calculates with computer-speed all the possible moves from given board positions, then evaluates values and preferable moves and unerringly chooses the move that best anticipates your next best move up to six moves in advance. And if you make a less-than-best move, it can crush you easy. It's called "brute force calculating." They say there are more possible moves on a chessboard than there are atoms in the entire fucking universe. The computer doesn't even calculate them all, just a big chunk.

Well, Danny can equal that brute force and perform those same calculations just as fast if not faster than any computer, and wed it to the sort of strategy and risk-taking only a human mind is capable of. And I suspect Danny's able to compute ALL the positions, period. That big blue IBM supercomputer back east, the one-and-a-half ton monster that whips Garry Kasparov's ass? I saw the tape when the kid creamed it three times in the space of thirteen minutes, twice taking the machine's queen. He didn't even use the board facsimile, he just punched positions into a keypad with no visual references as soon as the computer chose a move. Once the experts realized Danny's cerebral might, two of them fainted on the spot. Now he has it down to breaking the computer three games in just over four minutes. They shut it down after that; it starts to get too hot.

Det. Salas and I met Danny in the hallway. Danny was still cocky and said, walking ahead of us, "You're that detective creep, aren't you?"

"Danny, play nice," I said.

"Yes Danny, I am," said Salas.

"Too bad about that kid that damn near got killed. That's why you're here, right?" He turned and looked Salas in the eye in a way that expressed no guilt, only the challenge one dominant male gives another. Salas shook his head. Submitting... perhaps.

"It's you, Danny. You impressed me when I interviewed you about the assault which may yet turn out to be murder if Kevin doesn't manage to pull though."

"Murder?" Danny snorted. "I thought it was an accident. It's like I've tried explaining to 'dickface,' here. Kids shouldn't play around with cars, you know. Someone always gets hurt." A chill ran down my spine.

"There's someone I think you should meet, Danny. Someone who can maybe help guide you."

"I got a bazillion counselors to do that. And those feds watching me. Funny how loud their bugging devices are. I've been able to find everyone one in the house."

Salas stopped, and Danny stopped too. "That's what I mean, Danny. You seem to have extraordinary power beyond your mental prowess. I know because I'm that way as well. And we can always sense each other, can't we?" With that Salas took a can of green beans out of his coat pocket. Green fuckin' beans in his coat pocket. His hand almost covered it as he squeezed into it. The top and bottom of the can domed out as the sides crushed inward. I watched the wool across his upper arm go tight: his thumb pressed deeper into the tin, which collapsed under a pressure greater than the incompressible liquid inside. He kept crushing the unopened can and little thumps accompanied the little bumps pressed out all over the parts of the can not covered by his grip. With a squishy pop the bottom burst and thick green water spurted out of the can. The beans had been totally pulped by the compressing water inside and the tin was torn along edge that burst under his fingers.

"Alright, I'll meet your friend. Shake?" Danny held out his hand. Salas dropped the can and wrapped his long, wet fingers around Danny's smaller hand. Danny smiled and his forearm seemed to ripple even beneath the sleeve. Salas remained impassive so Danny grinned wider and suddenly his baggy sweatshirt started to tighten up around his arm. Salas still made no move but met Danny's force... and started to sweat ever so lightly. Danny opened his mouth and laughed silently: he cocked his head, bright- eyed, doubling his force, then doubling that. Salas's head moved slightly as he continued to hold Danny's eyes, which narrowed as he applied even more pressure to Salas' mitt. Tearing myself away from those hands I saw Salas's jaw set and start to clench. A big ball of sweat ran down into the crevices below his eyes. But still his expression didn't change. I heard a couple sickening pops and then Danny broke the hold.

"Nice to meetcha, champ," Danny said. His hand hung relaxed at his side while Salas's remained kind of stiff.

"Tomorrow out at the steelworks, about six p.m. I guarantee you won't be disappointed."

Danny walked me back to my bike and I looked over my shoulder at Salas.

"He's shaking his hand out now, isn't he?" asked Danny, staring straight ahead.

"Yup," I said, watching those big brown fingers flex and clench.

"Hope his friend is tougher'n he is. Ya think they're gay?"

"Never entered my mind," I said.

The next evening I arrived at the steelworks before anyone else. The workers were all gone and the administrative staff was just heading out. Salas had arranged for everyone to be gone, including the nightman. I got the impression it was nothing new.

Salas drove up in his sedan that said Police in everything but letters. The shocks groaned and the car rose when he got out. He'd shucked the overcoat and wore work-out shorts and a sweaty tank top. His shoulders looked more than a yard wide, and his chest was so square and thick I couldn't take my eyes off of it. It almost looked too large for the waist it teetered on and the tank top hung like curtains off the edge of his pecs. Arms nearly as big as my legs hung from shoulders of such perfection I wanted to cry. Shorts cut to be baggy stretched over thighs cut with a jigsaw--but those quads looked like they could break the blade. Calves stood out from his shins in shelf-like thickness. He saw me staring and said, "Just keep working, you'll get there."

"Yeah, right," I said, feeling small and homely. The fact I could get laid three times a night by different girls meant nothing when there were guys like him in the world. Just then a squad car pulled up and a black man who dwarfed Salas got out. The car didn't groan at all, so I guess he'd had it specially adjusted for him. Four inches taller than Salas and at least fifty pounds of muscle heavier, thicker, broader and deeper. At least. Maybe a hundred pounds if that's possible. Everything was so exaggerated, but since he had a big head it knit together perfectly, like a tank or a navy destroyer. This looked like a dude who could make anything possible.

His uniform must have been custom made but even so it bare contained the wealth of muscle clothing his arms and chest. The pants had to be some sort of lycra blend to stretch over thighs that I could feel jostle the coarse asphalt of the steelyard. He walked up and shook my hand, firmly but restrained. "Reggie Cole, Venice P.D. You must be the friend."

I nodded, unable to speak. He looked like he could toss Salas over his head and press him with one arm. As if on cue, he said "Don't worry, keep working, you'll get there. Where's the man of the hour?"

"He's thirteen. And he's late."

"Whoa!" said Cole, black eyes flaring. "You didn't tell me this was some kid. I had four hours of prime stake-out overtime staring me in the face that I gave up. Who is he, someone's cousin who wants to start lifting weights and needs to know where to put his feet?" Cole went over to the front bumper of his cruiser and placed one hand on the front fender. Palming it, he lifted up and the frame rose. The frame groaned. He walked his hands under the car and grasped the frame. The car rose off the fucking ground, and he just pressed it... for fuckin' reps! Suddenly the car fell with a SLAM and bounced a couple quick times on its tight shocks. "Damn! Fifty reps! I'm gonna get it up to one fifty if it kills someone."

I backed away. Salas saw this and put a meaty hand on my shoulder. "He's just showing off. He's one of the good guys."

I gave them the lowdown on Danny's, uh, activities, and officer Cole sobered up real fast thinking about a kid doing that, aged eleven to thirteen. "It's the way he can turn it on and off. Like the other night, he totally went blank, like a robot. That's not a good thing." My stomach turned over with worry--and fear. And then I saw Danny standing behind him.

"Whoa!" said Cole again. "Where'd he come from?"

"He's fast," I said, my gut clenching.

"Been tattling on me, Scotty boy?" Danny said, eyes sparkling.

"Naw, Danny. Just boasting of your accomplishments." With these two around, I felt a little brave and reckless.

Salas made introductions but Danny didn't try the handshake test again. He seemed impressed by Cole's and Salas's size. At least, a little bit.

"So what are YOU gonna teach ME?" he asked. We walked over to the chain link fence and placed his fingers in the links. He barely seemed to move as the links stretched into his palm at started popping loose.

"Don't do that, son, it's private property," said Cole, walking to tower a good two feet over Danny. God, the cop must weigh over four hundred pounds, and Danny still hadn't broken 180.

Crackling issued from Salas's car. Apparently he was needed at a crime scene. Danny chucked his head. "Gonna blame me for that too?"

"Can you handle this?" he called over to Cole.

"No problem." Cole looked down at the boy with a paternal coldness. "We'll be just fine."

I myself felt a little wary at losing Salas but Cole looked like he could tie Danny up with one big hand. "Let's adjourn inside," said Cole as he led the way into the steel mill, his hard ass symbolizing everything he was.

Once inside he gave the big steel door a shove and it slid obediently closed. Turning, he said to Danny, "I'm a good cop, not a bad cop. But school's in session and you're gonna learn how to behave in public."

"Or what?" smart-mouthed Danny.

"Or this." Cole flexed one bicep that defied the imagination. I shook my head and blinked. It looked like some sort of melon rising up, crinkling back the cotton sleeve, and a big vein throbbed over the top of the split peak and spread greedy conduits like talons over the round muscle. The triceps was like half of some giant's dinner plate. He extended his arm and the muscle stretched out but kept a peak even as his elbow bent backward a little: there was simply too much muscle in it. Then he shot it up hard and it leapt like an earthquake and I let out a shocked breath at its mammoth power. He stared at it lovingly, then looked at Danny, pointing at it with his other hand. Making sure Danny took it ALL in.

Danny wasn't impressed.

Danny flew at Cole's midsection, knocking him back a few steps and making him grunt a little. Cole grinned. Danny clung to his chest but couldn't wrap his arms around his expanse of back. Cole made as if to pry Danny off but the kid dug his thighs around Cole's waist, locked his feet and flexed his quads. Hard. Cole's dense musculature caved beneath Danny's pressure and Cole's face opened in surprise as a deep groan came out along with all his air. Danny grabbed Cole's pecs and dug his thumb up under them, and crushed the muscle in his hands. Cole flexed into marble hardness but Danny's stone-splitting fingers dented the muscle, massaging its rock into squirming mud.

Cole's hands moved toward Danny's shoulders to throw him off but Danny's hands moved faster as his legs twisted around that waist that become impossibly narrower. The boy's fingers grabbed those granite monolith biceps and sank into the impenetrable muscle, finding the split between the heads and digging deeper, and deeper. For the first time in his adult life Cole screamed and flexed to no avail. Danny savaged the officer's steel-breaking muscles until pain drove the cop to wrench his arms free and box Danny's ears. Danny fell stunned to the floor and Cole staggered back, hardly knowing which of his tortured muscles to tend to.

But Danny shook it off first and sped past him in a blur. Rebounding off the wall with that dry clink of brick sliding against previously solid mortar, Danny landed full on Cole's back and spread his knees apart to take in the expanse of Cole's enormous lats: and begin compressing them. Cole staggered forward and Danny placed his hands on either side of the officer's head. I'd seen this before, with a basketball and a parking meter. Now Cole's eyes bugged as the kind of pressure only Danny can exert threatened his skull's density. The cop's hands grabbed Danny's wrists and pulled--and he screamed again. Danny narrowed his eyes as his pecs stood straight out between his brawn-bristling arms and his lats flared out in wings to rival the larger cop's. Cole's upended, reddening biceps and deeply lobed triceps pulled at the boy's wrists... and Cole shrieked and bent forward, striving to throw Danny off his back like a bucking horse. But Danny applied more pressure still.

I ran out to the cruiser and yelled at the dispatcher to send Salas back ASAP and ran back inside. When I got there my knees gave out. There was an indentation inches into the brick wall roughly the size of Danny's back, and Danny had Cole on his belly. Cole's arms were trapped at his sides and Danny's quads braced them both and squeezed while he pulled Cole's head backward on its triangular neck. Foam was spitting out of Cole's mouth and try as he might to buck or flail his legs, a child less than half his weight held him down and ground him into the concrete. Explosions of power rocked Cole's body in an awesome display but Danny contained each explosion with his own physical strength. And sought to implode him with squeezes of his own.

Danny's knees widened and let Cole's arms out. Cole immediately tried to push himself up but Danny grabbed his wrists and began forcing those arms backward. The muscle density any powerlifter or Mister Olympia would drool found rose in Cole's back as those thick arms were manhandled--or boyhandled--backward. Danny laughed as he strained, his shoulders and back starting to rival the man's in size, and handily exceeding them in strength and endurance. Danny was hardly breathing heavy as the man beneath him heaved and grimaced. Cole tried to kick Danny's head but Danny ducked, again too fast, and with an effort that strained his kid's face and made cartilage crackle and pop, Danny brought both of Cole's wrists together--and secured them in one long-fingered hand. His other hand shot back and grabbed Cole's foot, and a thigh that could squat a bus struggled to extend, only to find Danny's arm had other plans for it. And all that hardened muscle HAD to submit and bow to Danny's absolute will.

Danny threw out his chest and drew inward, one arm mastering the savage thrusts of the panicking man and the other bulging bicep peaking higher as it crippled the force of that tree-trunk leg. His mountainous back expanded and his arms drew closer together, stretching the big cop beneath him. Danny now yelled in glory as he totally contained and controlled the man who would be his teacher. Standing up, he bent Cole backward like a fucking bow. Cole shrieked in high-pitched, incredulous terror. Danny's authority could not be more complete, or more terrifying.

"Danny, stop it! Don't kill him! Haven't you had enough?" I hurled a broken brick at his head, knowing it wouldn't hurt him. It bounced of his skull and his neck didn't even move. Through gritted teeth he yelled, "Say uncle."

Cole bellowed in agony and Danny bent him further, his biceps peaking much larger in proportion to his body than Cole's to his, and almost as big as Cole's. "Say uncle!" he yelled. Cole groaned and Danny bent him even further, sweat just beginning to bead off him. Cole gritted his teeth and tensed every quaking muscle in his body in an effort to break Danny's hold. But Danny had more in store, more than Cole could handle. Danny's muscles pulsed as he conquered this new thrust and bent Cole's chest farther off the ground. Vertebrae started to pop within the dense cords and plates of the policeman's back that couldn't flex or stretch outward so long as Danny crushed them inward. Inward against the straining bone. Cole breathed heavily, snot and spit flying out of his face, and suddenly Danny started rocking him back and forth across his bowed belly, banging his head against the concrete and lifting it high up into the air. Playing with the helpless muscle man as if he were a toy.

Finally Cole issued a strangled cry "Uncle!" just as Det. Salas ran into the warehouse. Danny let go and stood with his foot on Cole's back, flexing and giving a Tarzan yell. Salas drew his weapon but Danny didn't even notice. He did the most surprising thing I've ever seen him do. He went around and putting his hands under Cole's armpits (Cole instinctively flinching), lifted the big man to his feet. Cole stood but staggered, and Danny reached out his hand, beaming.

"Great fight! You're one strong dude! Never fought anything as tough as you, man. Shake?"

Cole looked at him, wheezing, and locked eyes. Suddenly Cole laughed, in spite of bruised ribs and cracked tendons. He reached down and picked Danny up and swung him around--like a kid. Then he threw Danny a good forty feet, and Danny landed right and immediately charged him, giggling. They went down and wrestled, this time Cole getting on top. He held Danny's arms down but those arms struggled to rise, rise against Cole's weight and strength. Cole writhed to master the boy but he finally gave up, holding his hands up in surrender.

"You win, kid. God damn almighty, you win." He laughed and shook his head.

Danny jumped up as fresh as spring. Then he suddenly got shy. "So, you gonna teach me stuff? Like how to control my temper?" Moods change fast for Danny, as fast as those flying hands.

"Why did you try to kill Kevin Wallace?" Salas asked, holstering his piece.

Danny got very solemn for a moment, then burst into tears. I went over to him and he clutched me again, squeezing me hard but not enough to hurt (much).

Finally, sniffling, Danny asked, "Am I going to jail?"

Salas shook his head. "No, but you're gonna settle accounts. Boy like you has special needs, but you're not above the law. You need to learn that."

"And I don't think there's a prison on earth that could hold you," Cole added, rubbing his tormented biceps. When he shook them out, it was like a bear getting out of a stream and drying its coat. For the first time, ever, I felt sorry for Danny. His super strength was going to be as much a burden as a joy. At least, if you consider rarely being able to fully use it a burden. I know I would.

Danny looked curious. "Am I-- are we some kind of freaks?" His brow knit, worried, then lightened. "Can we be superheroes? Like in the comics?"

"No and no," said Cole, rising to his full height and width. "We're just genetically blessed, that's all." Salas added, "But with your brain power too, you're unique. You're growing up faster than you should have to, but that's the breaks. We'll be here to help. But you've got to obey us in everything. You always have a choice to do good or ill. What you choose to do will not only reflect, but shape who you are. Who you become. Don't let what you did to Kevin Wallace near be the start of the wrong road."

"And that starts with obeying your parents," I said, hoping they'd back me up. Cole nodded, to my relief.

"Can we start training now? I'm still kind of fired up." Danny's leg jittered so hard I was afraid the floor would crack.

Without a word officer Cole squatted down, his immense thighs tensed, and then he leapt straight up in the air to the catwalk. It must have been over twenty feet high! He went over the rail and landed with a boom that shook the whole structure. He ran down the walkway to where the big vat that pours the liquid steel down sat on its track. With one brawny arm, he started pulling that heavy machinery back to where we were. The iron scraped and squealed and I could see the gears over on the machinery that moved it turning grudgingly under his force. When he got close he jumped up on it and hanging by one arm from the cross beam, unhooked the empty thick-walled cauldron and prepared to drop it. I moved back but Cole shouted "Stay where you are!" so commandingly my body froze before my mind could even react.

The hunk of metal picked up speed gravity greedily pulled it down but Danny, seeing our heads higher than his own, jumped up to meet it. Cocking his hand on the way up, he hit the accelerating steel with the heel of his hand and not only stopped its descent but propelled it back up to Cole faster than it had fallen. Cole shouted "Whoa!" and caught it with his free hand: and had trouble stopping it. It actually pulled him upward a little before his tensing muscles stopped it and the two hung there from his one hand, swinging a little from the velocity.

Salas complimented him. "Good instinct, Danny, especially the jump. But what if it had fallen on its own, and someone like Cole wasn't there to catch it?"

`Oh," he said. "I guess it might've gone through the roof."

"And come down again, somewhere else."

"So I should make sure it doesn't come down again?"

Salas paused, and Cole, hooking the cauldron back on, laughed. Salas grinned too. "Then you'd take out a communications satellite and cause more trouble. No, the point is you should yell `Heads up' and catch it. That way the steel mill keeps its property, its roof, and everyone is safe."

"Aw, man," said Danny. "I shoulda thought of that."

Cole dropped to the ground, his legs effortlessly absorbing the shock of his four hundred plus pounds. The cement floor, though, shook from the impact. "Good first lesson. Now we can play."

He walked over and found a I-beam on the scrap heap, one that had a piece broken off the end. He picked the hunk of steel up in one hand and tossed it to Danny. My jaw dropped--yes, again--as Danny reached out and caught it with one hand, stopping it in mid-air and holding it before him while his thick delt pulsed. Cole nodded. "Knock yourself out."

"All right!" shouted Danny and immediately the beam started vibrating and letting off a dim gong-like tone. His fingers gripped across the top of the beam but the metal didn't bend under them; still, that bell-like tone continued to grow louder. As I watched, the thick support steel began to warp outward around his fingers, the ends of the beam bowing slightly toward each other along the top. Out and downward the top half of the beam warped as his forearm muscles expanded and increased their tension on the metal. His knuckles went white as the ringing got achingly loud and the pressure began to deform the bottom portion of the beam as it curled around his grip. Finally he dropped the distorted hunk with a loud crash and watched it rock and bob. But he wasn't done with it yet.

He grabbed one end and secured a grip on the wide middle portion, between the two end caps. His shoulders spread and his back thickened through. I watched the striations on his chest play as, without bracing the beam against any part of his body, pushing and pulling, he overstressed the steel with his muscle power and small cracks formed in the end. He kept piling on the pressure until one crack widened and then he pulled outward and the solid steel beam ripped open! The metal made a horrible ringing crack, like some gigantic bell breaking open as Danny ripped it down the middle. The jagged edges tried to veer one way or another but Danny's arms controlled the tear so it continued down through the warped hunk, the two split ends now curling away from each other like a fucking zipper. He never stopped but kept ripping, keeping the opening seam straight down the middle. The steel screeched as it tore apart and Danny never tired, his arms worked and the thick steel ripped.

When he had two curled ribbons he finally looked, for the first time in the evening, a little winded. I wondered if Salas had been here, if that would have made any difference. I refused to answer my own question.

Cole studied him. "We'll meet every Sunday, at your home or here. For training. In the meantime, behave yourself, don't show off in class and obey your parents. Consider it a discipline. Discipline always makes a man stronger, never weaker. You're doing this for yourself."

"Sure, whatever," said Danny, breaking into a broad smile. For good or for ill, I pondered. I wish I could be at peace that it would all be for good. •

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