Chapter 145

“Klidnrapped?” Hershel mumbled, his mind comprehending but his mouth still refusing its usual duties.

“Close enough,” Coach George agreed. “Though to be honest, you’re more being brought along because you were there. Wrong place, wrong time sort of thing. There was only one of you we actually wanted.”

Hershel’s eyes flicked to Mary.

“Obviously. Process of elimination when there are only two of you isn’t that tough,” Coach George confirmed.

“Wats on hler hlead?”

“Oh, you like? It’s a subsonic neutralization... aw fuck, this thing has a really technical name but I can never remember it all. It’s a gizmo that keeps people unconscious. Very useful, but very controlled and hard to come by. Hence why you aren’t sporting one. I mean, why bother?”

“Caush I wash jusht there,” Hershel managed to spit out.

“Yes, that,” Coach George agreed. “And the more obvious reason. Mary is one of the most powerful advanced minds in recorded history, let alone at her age. Containing her awake would be hellacious, to say the least. You, on the other hand, are a fat smart kid with self-esteem issues.”

“Roy,” was all Hershel managed to get out before Coach George laughed.

“Roy? I’m sorry, do you think I’m going to be giving you any whiskey? You can’t access Roy, and that means you’re of no more concern to me than any other regular human.”

Coach George paused for a moment and regarded his conscious captive.

“It’s kind of funny, you know; back when you were just Powered, you almost certainly would have shifted by now. But without a specific trigger you’re stuck there, utterly helpless. In a way you were actually stronger back before you had any control. Ain’t that a bitch?”

Hershel made a valiant effort to spit at Coach George, but the slippery tongue and untrustworthy mouth betrayed him once more, leading to little more than a stream of droll falling from his lips. Though his cheeks burned on instinct, his eyes continued to send daggers at Coach George’s rugged, unbearably smiling face.

*          *          *

“We have fifteen minutes,” Mr. Transport announced as he returned to the room. He had left with Mr. Numbers only seconds prior, but was returning as a solo act. “At that point we will go, pick up Mr. Numbers, find out Mary and Hershel’s location, drop you off, and return to meet the man coming to stop us from doing those very things.”

“You won’t stay and help?” Alice asked, a new dimension of fear entering her voice. Losing Nick had been worrying; losing the only two adults left in their party was an altogether terrifying development.

Mr. Transport shook his head. “Alice, try to understand. If Mr. Numbers and I are believed to have gone against company orders, then come next year not only is there zero chance of us still being here, but there will be vast repercussions for him and me both. If they just think you all got the drop on us, we might still be able to swing the same post here next year. Additionally we will be here to distract our... associate from finding you all too soon.”

“Why does that matter?”

“Because his order will only be to recover you three; it won’t bear regard to your friends. And he will execute his orders. Trust me,” Mr. Transport said, a bit of the color slipping out of his face.

“We understand,” Vince said, standing up from the sofa where he’d been resting. “So we have fifteen minutes?”

“Fourteen and a half now,” Mr. Transport corrected. “Gather any tools or weapons you might favor, get dressed for combat, gather whatever you think will give you the best edge.” His eyes flicked briefly to the boys’ side door, which Nick had slammed ceremoniously behind himself directly after his and Alice’s altercation. Alice pretended not to notice.

“Guess I’m getting out of my dress, then,” she said, turning on a stiletto heel and gliding through the girls’ side door.

“Vince, I assume you’ll want to change out of slacks and a button-down,” Mr. Transport urged.

“Of course. There’s something else I need, though; something very important,” Vince said slowly.

“Then go get it! This deadline is non-negotiable.”

“I’ll need your help,” Vince explained. “It isn’t exactly close at hand.”

“Fine, fine; as long as we can get it in time to get back here for Alice’s pick up I’ll take you wherever you need to go,” Mr. Transport agreed.

Vince told him the location. Mr. Transport’s already pallid coloration whitened another shade.

*          *          *

Nick sat on his bed, staring off into space. Every now and then he would reach to adjust the sunglasses that were no longer there. Instead they rested on his desk as a pile of debris. It was no great loss; in truth he’d planned on smashing them himself once his time here at Lander had ended. He was still a bit miffed that it was that girl who had the pleasure of their destruction instead of him. Nick’s hand almost tightened in reflex to the thought of Alice and her sucker punch. He was slipping; he couldn’t believe he nearly allowed an emotion to manifest itself as a physical gesture. He’d have to put himself in some intense retraining when he got back to Vegas.

At least his planning wasn’t slipping. Nick had kept a go bag under his bed since his first day in Melbrook, a bag that was now propped up against his door. He could grab it when the rest left to go on their suicide mission and make his escape. He’d purchased and parked two vehicles other than the Bug in key locations on the Lander campus, vehicles with no record of being owned or driven by Nicholas Campbell, just in case. The windows were tinted to minimize recognition. There were toll passes to accommodate any route he might take stashed in his glove boxes.

Nick reran his mental checklist and confirmed what he already knew. That he was fore thinking, that he was intelligent, and that he planned for every possibility.

Almost.