Chapter 141

“Sounds like somebody spiked their own punch,” Nick quipped, attitude cavalier and brain slammed into overdrive. His eyes swept the room at a fevered pace, thankfully hidden by the tinted frames as he assessed their situation. Despite what years of television had conditioned one to believe, the shocking announcement was not met with immediate riots. It was instead greeted with confusion as uncertainty rippled through the crowd. Some of the students were looking at the DJ booth, trying to figure out who had broken in to make such a strange declaration. Others were talking amongst themselves, likely trying to figure out who all those names belonged to. The Melbrook students did, after all, only account for a small segment of the freshmen class, so they were not household names. It seemed some of the adults were making beelines for the booth, no doubt in attempt to find out exactly what was going on and regain control of it. All of which were factors Nick could have handled. The problem was, as it often is, with the people they counted as friends. Thomas, Stella, Violet, Will, and Jill were all staring at him, Alice, and Vince. Sasha was still holding her boyfriend’s hand, though her body language made it clear she was uncertain how to feel about such a strange declaration.

“No kidding,” Alice said. “I mean, I know stress is high, but that seems like a strange prank to try and pull.”

Nick could have kissed that girl. She might not have been the world’s best liar, but growing up around businessmen and diplomats had given her some acumen. Not to mention she was smart enough to follow the leader when the time was right.

“That does seem strange,” Sasha said. “Right, Vince?”

“Twelve years ago a Vegas paper called The Strip Beat ran a story about the collapse of a local restaurant, cause of which was ultimately determined to be a young Powered boy by the name of Nicholas Campbell,” the voice said over the crackling PA system.

“Sure, he can claim a fake news story, but did he go to the trouble of making a fake paper as well? You know that’s where the quality of a prank is determined: in the details,” Nick said.

“Aren’t you from Vegas, though?” Thomas asked.

“A fact that is readily available to anyone in our class,” Nick replied.

“This is really stupid, isn’t it, Vince?” Sasha asked again.

“Three years ago there was a police report filed against a Powered named Roy Daniels for underage drinking and destruction of property,” the voice continued. “Eight years ago there was a search ordered for a Powered named Alice Adair who floated out of the garden on a spring afternoon. And then there are the literally dozens reports of a young silver-haired homeless child shorting out and inadvertently destroying thousands of dollars in property across the country. All of which I have documentation of, along with locations of the original sources, in the booth with me.”

The tide of the crowd was turning. While initially they’d been waiting for a punch line to the gag, it was becoming evident that whoever had hijacked the booth intended to be taken seriously. That shifted the tone of the announcement greatly. Nick noticed more and more stares turning toward him and his dorm mates as identification was made and skepticism gave way to suspicion.

“While I enjoy a good witch hunt as much as the next guy, it is a lot less fun when you’re the one with a wart on your nose. Maybe we’d best take our leave until they settle that joker down,” Nick said, scanning the room for the nearest exit back to the lifts.

“No, there’s no need for you guys to go,” Thomas said. “Just because someone is making baseless accusations it shouldn’t ruin our night.”

“That’s right. Some guy is just being an asshole. There’s no way you guys could have lied to us all year. Right, Vince?” This time Sasha was practically pleading, her months spent with Vince allowing her to see the truth in his face and his silence before the others noticed. While Nick and Alice might be playing it off well, the guilt of having lived a falsehood for so long had suddenly crashed down upon Vince’s shoulders. His face was a tapestry of shame. As Nick looked as his friend the strategy immediately changed. There was no chance for damage control. The only course of action now was an immediate exit.

“I’m sorry,” Vince said softly, his eyes drawn to the floor rather than face Sasha.

“Alice, get the hell out of here,” Nick whispered.

“What about Hershel and Mary?”

“The whole place is wired for sound, I’m sure they heard our outing. Plus, Mary is a telepath, so if she’s listening to any of us she’ll know we’re making tracks,” Nick assured her. “Now hurry your ass up. Vince and I will be right behind you.”

Without another word Alice slunk off through the crowd, the giant stuffed bear acting as a buoy to mark her location.

Nick stepped forward and wrapped his hand around Vince’s arm. “Come on, buddy, I think we should get out of here while the air gets cleared. We don’t want anything bad to happen over some silly misunderstanding.”

“What do you mean you’re sorry?” Sasha asked, pulling her hand free of her and Vince’s shared clasp.

“I mean... I never meant to lie to you, Sasha,” Vince said. Though the words were meant only for her, the meaning was not lost of the rest of their friends. Nick saw shock, then uncertainty ripple through their faces. He knew it was only a short jump before that turned into anger and betrayal, so he dug his fingernails into Vince’s arm and pulled him close.

“Vince, if you have ever trusted in me or our friendship at all, then for the love of shit come with me right fucking now,” Nick said, abandoning all pretense and dragging his friend toward the exit.

“What about the others?”

“All taken care of. They’ll meet us at the dorm,” Nick told him.

“I meant our friends and classmates.”

Nick sucked in a tight breath through his teeth. “Vince, if we stay here I can just about promise you we won’t have any of those left when they’re done with us. We need to regroup in a safe place. Now stop dragging your fucking feet and hustle.”

“You’re sure this is the right move?” Vince’s big blues were wide and scared. The kid might be hell in a fight but he didn’t know to deal with things like subterfuge and discovery. He needed guidance and he was trusting Nick to provide it to him. To put him on the right path in this time of tribulation.

“Absolutely, things will be fine” Nick lied. “But we can’t be here when they find out that guy is telling the truth and the room hits a fever pitch. We get safe, we let things cool off, and we fix whatever is still broken when the dust settles.”

“Okay,” Vince said with a nod, finally picking up the pace as he and Nick cleared an exit at the south end of the room. Once they were out of the gym they broke into a flat out sprint down the halls until they hit the lifts. Alice was already in place, and as soon as they crossed the threshold she flipped the switch, sending them slowly back upwards to the real world.