"Professor Freeze Ray?" I asked.
"The fifties and sixties were strange times," Sumerset replied.
I stepped out of the bunker's shower stall and reached for the towel on the bench. Sumerset was outside of the room, leaning against the wall and talking to me through the closed door. I could smell the smoke from his cigarette.
My acute sense of smell was a recent development.
"But--Professor Freeze Ray? I mean, what was he a professor of?" I asked, raising my voice as I stopped to peer at my reflection in the mirror. I wasn't sure, but my muscles looked a little more prominent.
"'Freezology', assumedly," Sumerset said. "With a minor in 'Ray-onomics'. Oh, man. If you thought that was funny, you should have been around when he started working for the Feds."
"Working for the government? Didn't you say he was a super-villain?"
"Well, yeah, but eventually he got caught. Government offered to mitigate his sentence in return for his help on a few projects. Needed his 'particular brand of genius', if I recall the wording."
"How'd that work out?" I asked, drying my hair with the towel.
"Turns out the poor bastard couldn't build anything but freeze rays. Government asked him to build a jetpack--he just gave one of his freeze rays a big recoil and strapped it to his back. Flew around on giant icicles."
"Oh, wow. That's--um, that's pretty amazing," I said.
"Like I said, the fifties and sixties were strange times. I think we were all a little off-kilter."
"But still. I mean, 'Professor Freeze Ray'? Has to be the lamest super-criminal idea ever."
"Oh, hell no, kiddo. That prize goes to 'Boomerang Kid'."
"'Boomerang Kid'?" I said. "Do I even want to know?"
"He had... wait for it: Boomerangs."
I tried to stifle my giggle, but it was too much. "Oh, God. A boomerang grenade."
I heard Sumerset choke--I could picture him nearly swallowing his cigarette in a fit of laughter. "Oh, oh damn. That would be too perfect. I can totally imagine that guy doing it, too."
"Whatever happened to them?" I asked. "All the villains and heroes from back then. They all seemed so, I don't know--silly. But fun. Like it was all some sort of game."
Sumerset didn't reply at first. I finished drying myself and put on a tank-top with shorts; when I came out, he was putting on his sparring gloves.
"I just got cleaned up," I said. "Besides, I've been at it for hours. I think--"
"You're meeting Epoch tomorrow," he said. "I want you to be prepared for anything."
"I'm not going to fight them."
"They're registered capes. As far as they're concerned, you're another criminal. There's a chance this is just a setup."
"Then why am I going?"
"Because if Scourge comes after you, there's no chance in Hell you can take him on alone."
I grumbled, but reluctantly shifted my weight and threw the towel aside.
I was stronger than the old man--and I was way faster--but it never ceased to amaze me just how easily he could keep up with me. He didn't dodge blows--he just arranged it so that by the time I'd swung my fist, he was no longer there.
We'd been at this for more than a week. He had me practicing how to fight for at least three hours every day--sometimes more. I still no idea about what I was doing, but I had finally started to throw a few punches that Sumerset said looked 'vaguely respectable'.
I took the first swing. Sumerset swatted my hand aside and spun around to my left, seizing my arm and twisting.
Instinctively, I moved with the motion--seeking to end the pain. He used that instinct against me and threw me to the floor.
"Gunf," I mumbled, sulking as I chewed on floormat.
"I can still see your punches from a mile away," he said.
"When are you going to teach me the cool stuff?" I asked. "Like, the deadly death-touch, or something." I shoved myself off the floor, rolling to my feet.
Sumerset circled me. "You need to learn how to throw a half-decent punch first. Then and only then will I teach you the ancient secret of the Zebra-Style Shaolin Murder-Poke."
"Right," I said, watching him as he circled. "Seriously though, what am I supposed to be learning here? That despite being incredibly strong and fast, I can still get my butt whupped by a seventy year old man?"
"If this was a real fight, you wouldn't be holding back," he said, and then he stepped forward and telecasted his next blow with his left elbow.
And I fell for it. I shifted my weight back in time and prepared for the strike right before his foot swept out and hooked behind my ankle, his right arm catching my shoulder and violently pushing. I span like a top out of control, thumping down hard against the matt.
He was right, of course. I was holding back. If I ever managed to hit him with a solid blow--I could easily break him. I'd only managed to touch him once, but I'd seen him grimace with pain. The thought of hurting him--really hurting him--made me a little nauseous.
"What if I get mind-controlled by bore worms, huh?" he said. "You gotta take me down. What then?"
"Do you want me to come up with a bore-worm contingency plan?" I asked, rolling to my feet again. "Because if bore-worms are on the table, I will totally do that."
"What if you have to kill the Scourge to win?"
The question threw me offguard--and Sumerset used it. In an instant, he was hammering me in the stomach, sending me reeling back and gasping for air. And then I was on the floor again, his iron-toed boot wedged firmly between my clavicle and chin.
"It's not about that," I said, my voice sounding cramped and tiny beneath his boot. "I'm not in this to 'win' anything. I just want to survive to see college."
"I'm not comfortable with you going into this with the notion that you're not going to have to kill anyone."
"And yet you are comfortable with the notion of encouraging a sixteen year old to try and kill a guy?" I asked, shifting to sit up as he drew his foot back.
"You do whatever you gotta do to survive," he said. "Lord knows I don't want to live to bury another Daysdale."