Chapter 154

Morning found the Melbrook quintet clustered in their living room, a firm lockdown being adamantly enforced. The television was on, but none of those sitting in the room were paying attention. Every now and then Hershel would touch his shoulder, expecting pain to stab through his arm. A healer had been called during the night, so the physical damage had been completely negated. The other kinds were still unwelcomely present. Mary reached over and took his hand in hers, squeezing it to both give and receive some comfort.

“How do you think they’ll take it?” Vince asked, breaking the silence that had descended on them since being left alone. After a quick night’s sleep, Dean Blaine had met them at dawn to ask a few questions and outline what was going to happen next for them.

“Badly,” Nick replied. “He’s going to confirm the truth about us, and then tell them we’re not having to take the final with them. That’s not going to help the situation.”

“That’s not our fault, though,” Alice said. “We didn’t ask for our friends to get kidnapped.”

“No, but we did choose to go after them,” Nick pointed out. “I’m not trying to say we should be taking it. We’re all beat to hell in every way but the literal one. I’m just saying they won’t take that news well coupled with they what they learned last night.”

“I wonder who dropped that bomb,” Mary said quietly. “I was already out by then, so I didn’t get to hear.”

“It was some person from the DJ booth,” Alice said.

“It was Michael,” Vince corrected. The others turned to look at him. He merely shrugged. “I know what his crazy screaming voice sounds like. I heard it when he attacked me on Halloween.”

“He attacked you on Halloween?” Hershel asked.

“Why didn’t you tell me you knew who it was?” Nick tossed out as well.

“Yes, and it didn’t seem important at the time,” Vince answered in order.

“Not important? How is that not important?” Nick demanded.

“The secret was already out; what mattered at the time was getting us together and safe. Then when the whole... thing happened, it sort of slipped my mind,” Vince explained.

“Michael, huh? I wonder how he found out. Or why he bothered to out us like that,” Alice speculated.

“He had something against me; even though he won our first match he felt like I made him look bad. That’s the only motivation I ever knew about,” Vince replied.

“We’ll make sure to give him a special thank you some time,” Nick said. “On the subject, though, why didn’t any of us know about the Halloween attack?”

Vince shrugged again. “I got out of it fine. I guess I just didn’t want to worry anyone.”

“Given the events of the past twenty-four hours, I fear we’re going to need to adopt a policy of more information and worry rather than less,” Hershel noted.

“Agreed. On the plus side, we’re all okay. And we all get to come back next year,” Alice pointed out.

“I’d feel a lot safer if we knew what all it was about, though,” Mary said. “Or where Persephone snuck off to.”

The collection process of the students and the former Coach George had turned up a passenger cab coated in blood but absent the blonde kidnapper. Given all the distractions of dealing with George, there was no way to estimate when she’d made her escape, though all five said a silent prayer of thanks she’d chosen flight rather than fight. They’d barely coped with just one coach to subdue. Two would have annihilated them.

“She’ll turn up eventually,” Nick assured her. “Even the wiliest rat has to come out for food.”

“I’ll feel better when she does,” Mary said. “My telepathy will give me a heads up if she’s approaching me now that I’m on guard, but I still don’t know how safe I’ll feel in my woods all summer.”

“Good thing you’re not going off to the woods alone, then,” Alice told her. “You’re spending the summer with me.”

“Am I?”

“Mary, you were the target of this whole debacle. The last one of us to be off on their own should be you,” Vince said.

“I don’t think endangering Alice is the right way to address that problem,” Mary replied.

“Endangering me? Mary, did you forget the whole my dad is worth more than some countries thing? We don’t have a security guard in my home, we have security battalions. Several of them. My father might be an ass but he takes safety seriously. If Persephone wants to take you from my home, she’d better bring an entire army of Supers or it will be an insult,” Alice said firmly.

“I’ll... um... I’ll have to check with my parents,” Mary said lamely as she struggled to find another excuse.

“Be persuasive,” Nick instructed her. “I don’t particularly feel like repeating tonight’s performance anytime soon.”

“All of you are welcome, too,” Alice added. “I have a whole wing of the house to myself, so you won’t be imposing.”

“It’s a generous offer,” Hershel said. “But I think I’ll be okay at home. I’m looking forward to getting back to Chicago for a little while.”

“Any of us could be targets, though. You should take her offer seriously,” Vince said.

“I am. And trust me when I say I’m perfectly safe at home. My dad wasn’t a billionaire, but he was a renowned Hero. Lots of his old partners and friends live on the same street as us and keep an eye out for his family. The neighborhood might look like Sunday picnics and barbeques, but it’s got more spandex and laser vision than anyone would suspect.”

“I suppose that’s a pretty safe place then,” Vince conceded.

“Agreed,” Nick said. “And while I appreciate the offer, I’ll be declining as well. This year produced an ending I really wasn’t expecting. I need to go home and figure out what that means for me as well as my future at Lander.”

“You are coming back, though,” Vince said.

“It’s sad that I know you well enough to assume that wasn’t a question,” Nick sighed. “I’ll probably be back, if for no other reason than this little nuthouse has proven to be excellent training for expecting the unexpected. I’ll also add that my place is quite safe in its own regard. Can we take me at my word on that one?”

“We can,” Vince said before anyone else could raise the fact of just how questionable Nick’s word was these days. “I’m going to say no as well. I don’t have a fortress to return to, but no one will be able to catch what they can’t find.”

“You’re going back on the road?” Alice asked.

“I am. It’s where I feel at home. Well, that and here.”

“Touching,” Nick said. “I guess that handles our plan to survive the summer. That just leaves how we’ll get through next year now that everyone knows what we really are. Anybody got a bright suggestion for that one?”

The room was silent, save for the perplexed weather man on the television reporting the strange phenomenon to strike the California wildfires.