Nick walked into the Melbrook dorm a few minutes later, thankful that the lift system could take him back to the top without involving Mr. Transport. He didn’t expect anyone to be back yet, since they would actually be using this time for training, so it was a surprise when a voice called him before he could get over to the boys’ side.
“Nick, may I have a moment?” Mr. Numbers asked, stepping out from the kitchen.
Nick sighed loudly and his shoulders slumped. He was only a few inches from the door. So close, and yet so far.
“Look, I know I should have just used the time and faked a few shots, but they were talking about doing this for an hour a week. That kind of time really adds up, and I feel like it’s only fair for me to spend it actually improving myself,” Nick said preemptively as he turned toward Mr. Numbers.
Mr. Numbers blinked twice. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, though I can assure you I will be before the end of the day.”
“Awesome,” Nick said.
“At any rate, I had something else I wanted to discuss with you. Something I’d like you to keep private from the rest of the group, excluding Mary,” Mr. Numbers said.
“Oooh, now my curiosity is piqued,” Nick said, a small grin growing on his face. Maybe this day would take a turn for the better after all.
* * *
Vince was mortified. He sat in Coach George’s office, waiting for the man to come in and let him know what the consequences from his accidental electrical outburst would be. There had been quite a bit of commotion after Vince had destroyed the power grid to the room, what with the small fires and people rushing in and what not. Vince had been hustled into this office and been told to sit tight. He wished they’d skipped the formality and told him to just pack his bags now.
The door slapped open as Coach George walked in. He was reading over a manila folder and collapsed into his chair without so much as sparing a glance for Vince.
“My goodness,” Coach George said. “You did quite a little number on that room. The whole thing is going to have to be rewired and rebuilt. Not too shabby.”
“Not too shabby?”
“Well, you didn’t blow a hole through the concrete, so I’m not going to go calling it great or anything. It was respectable, though, you earned that.”
“I’m... confused,” Vince admitted. “I thought I would be getting yelled at or kicked out right now.”
“Kicked out? For what? You did what I told you: you tried to use a new type of energy in an environment specifically designed for learning to use your powers,” Coach George said.
“But I messed up. I wrecked the whole room,” Vince pointed out.
“Oh yeah, you did screw up, no one’s fighting you there,” Coach George said. “But that’s part of learning. I mean, if we drummed out everyone who ever had a slip up the only thing battling evil would be an overinflated sense of ideals.”
“I guess, but, I just thought, I mean, there were all those other students who got dropped last semester...”
“Look, let me lay it out for you here. If you get lazy, or overconfident, or careless, then I’ll have you out of my gym with a fresh boot print on your ass. No one is going to kick you to the curb for making an honest mistake in the pursuit of learning, though. That’s how you get better at something: you screw up until you’ve learned not to screw up anymore. Let me ask you this, you going to try and shoot lighting the same way again?”
“Then lesson learned,” Coach George said, spreading his arms.
“So, if I’m not in trouble then why was I brought here to wait for you?” Vince asked.
“We wanted to make sure you were okay. Things like this can really shake some people up, so we try to be proactive and talk to you about it as soon as it’s happened. Put things in the right perspective and all,” Coach George explained.
“Oh. I guess that does sort of make sense,” Vince said.
“That it does,” Coach George agreed. “To that effect, though, do you know what went wrong today? I mean, you nailed Castillo no problem during the exam, but this time it seemed to get out of control.”
“I’m not sure,” Vince admitted. “It could be a lot of things. Thomas was closer, so maybe it never had the chance to split. I had less power to use in the first place. Maybe even my state of mind. I wasn’t focusing on how to release the energy when I used it in the exam, I was just concentrating on getting the timing right. I can’t sincerely say where it went wrong.”
“That’s okay,” Coach George assured him. “It just means you’ve got a few more mistakes coming before you know how to handle this.”
“Oh dear,” Vince said.
“Don’t worry so much. Next time we’ll have you in a room where a mistake won’t be quite as alarming,” Coach George said. “Insulated walls, detached grid, grounded floors. Trust me, we’ve been doing this for a long time with a lot of Supers.”
“That might be okay then,” Vince said.
“Nice to hear you’re on board. Any other questions or things you want to talk about?”
“No, I think I’m all right for now,” Vince said.
“Excellent, then get your butt out of my office and back above ground,” Coach George said. “I’ve got paperwork to do.”
“Yes, sir,” Vince said immediately, scampering up from his chair and dashing out of the office.
* * *
“It’s certainly contrived, and I can see why you’d want me and Mary helping,” Nick said after Mr. Numbers finished his proposal. “It could go over all right, though. Possibly even well.”
“Happy to hear you’re on board,” Mr. Numbers said.
“I haven’t actually said that yet,” Nick pointed out. “I’ve only said it’s logically sound in premise.”
“Then what’s stopping you?”
“As I told Mary, I don’t do favors. You want me to help steer things positively for you, then there’s something I want in repayment,” Nick replied.
“Dare I ask what?”
“Actually, nothing too complicated,” Nick said. “I want you to agree that at a point in the future, you submit to my request that you will refrain from interfering in whatever I am doing at the time.”
“I see. And if I don’t?” Mr. Numbers asked.
“Then neither do I,” Nick said. “That is the give and take of favors, after all. I would like to point out that I'm not asking for you to participate or intervene in any way with whatever activities I might be perpetuating: merely to do nothing. It's even possible you would have done nothing anyway and I will have burned my favor pointlessly."
Mr. Numbers carefully weighed his options. Making an open-ended deal with someone like Nick was far from desirable; however, the terms were slightly in his favor. It only required him to feign ignorance, turning a blind eye at some future point. Even if it was at a critical juncture, Mr. Numbers was confident he could stick to the letter of the deal while still circumventing Nick's plans if needed. And worst case scenario, he could always just break his promise.
"Deal," Mr. Numbers said.
Nick spread a wide grin across his face. "Then it looks like we're good to go."