Chapter 30

Alice was bored... again. As she sauntered into the dorm lobby, laden with bags and well-lit by the morning sun, she began to entertain the possibility that the reason she was bored might be because she was lonely. Yesterday had left her feeling restless, so she’d jumped in her car, taken a firm grip on Daddy’s credit cards, and burned up the town. Her dinner had been at an upscale restaurant that none of the rest of her class would even be able to pronounce, let alone gain entrance to. She’d even spent the night in a posh hotel room rather than trudge back across town to her comparatively squalid little dorm room. She had spoiled and pampered herself rotten to lift her ever-falling spirits.

And yet... and yet she still felt off somehow. It couldn’t be loneliness, not logically. Alice had always been alone. Certainly Daddy had kept a devoted staff at the house, but they had never been people to her, let alone friends. Daddy’s schedule had always kept him busy, and her mother had passed away when Alice was just a girl, so she had grown up entertaining herself.

Of course, her play had to be within limits, lest she grow too joyful and lift off the ground. It was a hard lesson Alice had learned at a very early age: joy that lets you walk on air is always followed by the misery of crashing to the ground. It was why Alice had learned to grow so careful in her emotions, so reserved in her feelings. Being alone all the time had actually been a boon there; she had suffered through fewer stimuli and gained a greater sense of control.

She walked into the girls’ side of the dorm, then into her room where she deposited her bags. Perhaps it was loneliness after all, only it was affecting her for the first time because her nose was constantly being shoved in it. All around the other students were meeting people and forging friendships. Yet Alice, for all her social grace and tact, had spent yet another Friday night by herself. Well, it wasn’t as though she’d ever had to make friends before. She could always manage a conversation with surgical precision, but when it came to taking that leap, she found herself unable to plunge. She realized it was a somewhat ironic way to think of her dilemma, given that her own ability left her nothing to fear from gravity, though since that was only a recent development perhaps it make a sad sort of sense.

Alice began putting her new purchases into her closet. Maybe she would try reaching out to her dorm mates tonight. It was Saturday, after all; one had to assume they were planning something. They were idiots, and of course Mary was an enormous hazard, but they knew what it had been like to grow up as a Powered, and that should provide them with at least a bit of common ground.

Besides, if she spent too many more Friday nights alone she’d have to hire a contractor to widen her closet.

*          *          *

“They don’t seem to be bonding well,” Mr. Numbers noted as he and Mr. Transport dined on breakfast in their apartment.

“Is that problematic to our plan?” Mr. Transport inquired.

“Not problematic per se; however, it does lower our chances of success,” Mr. Numbers replied.

“Do tell,” Mr. Transport encouraged.

“We need to keep them on the straight and narrow. Peer pressure is a tool that could work for or against us in the long run, but it is not even on our thin list of options until they are moving and thinking as some semblance of a collective,” Mr. Numbers explained.

Mr. Transport took a bite of eggs and mulled over Mr. Numbers’ point. “So you’re proposing that it would be easier for us to manage them as a herd than as individuals.”

“Correct,” Mr. Numbers confirmed. “It does put all of our eggs in one basket; however, given that the loss of even one student to the side of villainy will result in our termination, it could be said that all the eggs are in that basket anyway.”

“I see what you mean,” Mr. Transport agreed. “Do you have a solution?”

“Not a solution, but a possibility. One of the greatest ways to bind people together is through necessity,” Mr. Numbers said.

“Ah, such as how you and I didn’t care for each other when we were first paired, yet trusting our lives to one another forged a powerful bond,” Mr. Transport commented.

“Precisely,” Mr. Numbers said.

“We can’t put their lives in constant danger without arousing suspicion, though,” Mr. Transport pointed out. “What do they value with similar or equal intensity?”

“Their grades,” Mr. Numbers replied succinctly.

With that, the conversational portion of breakfast was done.

*          *          *

Hershel’s eyes snapped open and he leapt out of bed. He couldn’t believe the memories Roy had bequeathed him from last night. Fighting the number one rank? And Mary... he was both floored and amazed by her. To handle Roy with such total control... it was unreal. She’d even exploited his weakness for betting. Fortunately, Hershel had no such weakness, nor did he have any desire to see his alter ego be singled out as the top rank. Roy was already unbearable lately; winning this fight would validate his arrogance and leave him unwilling to listen to another word from anyone. Hershel threw on some pants and a wrinkled shirt. He was getting off campus, walking to a coffee shop, and keeping Roy caged all day long.

“No, you’re not,” said a familiar voice as he stepped into the common room. Mary was waiting for him, sitting on a couch facing the boys’ side and sipping on a bottle of water.

“I most certainly am,” Hershel replied with more force than he meant to. “Do you have any idea what you did? Once Roy beats Chad there won’t even be the possibility of getting through to him. You should have just hung the weakness over his head if you wanted to stop him.”

Mary shook her head. “Roy would never have obeyed, no matter what it cost him. You and I both know that. The only real chance of controlling Roy is through his own pride. He made a bet on his own strength. He’ll honor it when he loses.”

“When he loses?” Hershel said, stepping toward Mary and sitting down on the couch. “Do you know who you’re talking about? I’ve barely seen any Super even damage Roy. The only person who ever beat him in combat was our dad, and he’s the one who taught Roy how to fight. He won’t lose, Mary. He never loses, on anything or to anyone.”

“That’s why I told him to fight Chad,” Mary explained. “Roy needs to be beaten. He needs a dose of humility, and you need to stop thinking of him as this unstoppable force. You’re just as strong as he is, and after today’s fight I hope you’ll be one step closer to believing that.”

Hershel paused. His initial fear and hesitation was waning as the girl he had been unable to stop thinking about was finally talking to him and looking at him. A part of him wanted to believe she was right and that Roy could lose. The only hurdle was the decade of experience that said otherwise. Still, as he looked into her strong amber eyes, his resolve weakened, and he did what men have been doing for women they admired for centuries.

He caved.

“You really think Chad might be able to beat him?” Hershel asked.

“I know he can,” Mary responded. “Unlike the rest of you, I’ve actually seen Chad fight.”

Hershel snorted. “You know Roy will remember this whole conversation when he comes out.”

“Will it change his mind?”

Hershel shook his head. “Roy could hear a direct message from God saying he’d lose and still show up ready to go.”

“Exactly,” Mary said. “So have breakfast and relax for a bit, then go change into Roy. Let this day run its course and have a little faith.”

“I’ll try,” Hershel said. “Why are you so sure Roy will lose, though?”

“For one thing, he already fought a number one ranked student last night, and you saw how well he did there,” Mary countered.

“You didn’t hurt him though,” Hershel pointed out.

“See if you still say that to me tonight,” Mary said.