Chapter 34

"Looks like we got Everest," Vince said, striding into the library and depositing his books on a small table occupied by a short boy wearing glasses.

"That's great!" Will, also known as the short boy wearing glasses, exclaimed. "I thought for sure someone would have beaten us to him.”

"When I spoke with the dean he told me we were the third team to make our selection," Vince replied, taking his seat and spreading out the books. "I guess the others are taking their sweet time in picking a subject."

"Who else had been chosen?" Will asked as he unloaded the contents of his own backpack onto the table, cluttering it even further.

"Apparently Shane and some Amber girl took Captain Starlight, and Doc Nominal was chosen by guys named Gilbert and Adam," Vince recounted. Fortunately there hadn't been many names on the sign-up sheet, so the few that were present were easy to recall.

"Oh, I know Gilbert," Will said. "He and I are in the same physics class together above ground. Good guy, if a bit of a slacker on studying. No one else though, huh? I was sure that Alice girl who is always asking questions would be first in line."

"That's not an unfair assumption," Vince admitted. "She's working with Nick, though. I don't think they exactly dislike one another, but they never seem to talk much. Then again, I don't think any of us really talk a lot with Alice except in passing."

"She doesn't seem like she would lack social skills," Will observed.

"No, she doesn't; really the opposite," Vince said thoughtfully. "She's always polite and composed. I guess in the whirlwind of the first few weeks we just haven't had time to get to know one another."

"I imagine that's the case with many of us," Will said. "In fact, it's possible that is why Dean Blaine gave us this project in the first place. It does force us to expand our social circle a bit."

"You might be right," Vince agreed. "Though that still doesn't explain what's holding up Alice and Nick on choosing a Hero for their project."

*          *          *

"I respectfully disagree," Alice said through a thin mask of patience. "I think Lord Pholos will make an excellent case of study for our project, and is not a 'bore in a cape' at all."

"Oh, come on," Nick replied, spinning his chair in a circle and staring up at the ceiling. "Do you know what Lord Pholos was before he got into the game? A manager for a paper clip company. Seriously, how could he possibly be more boring?"

"Maybe the fact that he was one of the few older men who became certified as a Hero is in itself an interesting story," Alice retorted.

"Great story, that one. He was born in a family that had religious disagreements with the existence of Supers so he was raised to pretend he was human. Then his wife leaves him at thirty, his normal world falls apart and he escapes into a new one, one where he can use his powers to have the fame and respect that eluded him in his younger years," Nick returned.

"That's... well... it's still... fine," Alice spat out bitterly.

The two of them had been at it for some time now, camped out in the common room of Melbrook, Alice making suggestions and Nick spearing holes in them. He had to admit, she'd picked a few that would have actually made exceptional projects, and that was the problem. Nick didn't want to be exceptional; he wanted to coast though this presentation with a middle-of-the-pack Hero that would earn him a middle-of-the-pack grade. Since Alice didn't know this, though, he was forced to play his character in an alternate direction. Instead of showing that he wanted an average presentation and grade, Nick was making himself out to be a perfectionist and knocking down any Hero suggestion that wasn't "good enough" for him and Alice to work on.

Nick was also finding a slight bit of amusement in watching Alice vainly try to conceal her mounting frustration. How this girl had even gotten the impression she was skilled in hiding her emotions and manipulating people was beyond Nick's impressive comprehension.

"Okay," Alice said after a moment to gather her composure. "Let’s see what other options there are." She pulled out the Xeroxed list that Dean Blaine had provided each group, showing which Heroes were available for them to choose from. "How about The K?"

"Retired too young."

"Alphablaster?"

"Honestly? You want us to do a report on someone with vocabulary based powers?"

Alice had to admit, even to her that one seemed pretty bad. "Well, what about Everest?" Alice asked.

"Perfect," Nick replied.

"Really?"

"Totally," Nick confirmed. "But Vince already texted me and told me that's the one he and his partner got approved to do."

"But... then why didn't you..." Alice began to stammer.

"Oh, relax," Nick assured her. "We'll find someone good."

"Well... well, I'm done!" Alice declared, dumping the pages in Nick's lap and stopping his slow circular turning. "You pick the next one and let’s see if I think your choice is good enough."

Nick scooped up the pages and pretended to look through them. The truth was, he had memorized this list before he and Alice had even left Dean Blaine's classroom for gym. It had taken Alice a bit longer to break than he expected, but the disintegration of one's pride was always difficult to apply a realistic time frame to. She'd finally defaulted to the princess he knew lurked inside that socialite façade, though, and that meant he could get a topic chosen and be done with it.

"Ozarell lived an interesting life," Nick remarked offhandedly.

"Interesting enough?" Alice asked, crossing her arms and setting her jaw.

"There's always Lickotaur," Nick ventured once more.

Alice did nothing but raise an eyebrow.

"Okay, look," Nick said in his best I'm-being-humbled-by-this-experience voice. "It seems like you and I both have different ideas on who we should pick for this project. Agreed?"

Alice slowly nodded her head.

"But the one thing we can both agree on is that if we don't pick someone soon we're likely to end up with nothing but the dregs left as our options," Nick continued the train of thought.

"That's not entirely impossible," Alice acquiesced.

"So, rather than bickering back and forth all day, why don't we try a different method to pick our subject?" Nick asked.

"Just a wild guess here, you already have such a method in mind?" Alice asked, not bothering to mask her sarcasm.

"That I do," Nick said, breezing right past the accusation in her words. Instead he set the list down on the coffee table and produced a penny from his pocket. "Let's flip a coin on it."

"Like what, heads or tails on each name systematically as a veto system until we narrow it down to one name?"

"No, that would take forever," Nick chided. "I mean literally. I'll flip the penny and whatever name it lands on is the one is we use."

"That is utterly ridiculous," Alice replied without hesitation.

"But more productive than fighting all afternoon," Nick pointed out. "Besides, it isn't as dumb as it seems. Remember, my power is controlling luck. If I max out my good luck in this situation then the penny should land on the best option for us."

"Uh huh," Alice scoffed skeptically. "And after less than a year of control you think you can use your abilities for something that abstract?"

"Well, I haven't tested it," Nick lied, "but theoretically it should be possible. What's it hurt to try at least?"

"Fine," Alice said after a calculating pause. "I reserve the right to veto whoever it lands on if I don't like it, though."

"I'll agree to that as long as we look them up and give them a thorough once over," Nick said. Alice gave him the nod, and with sudden dexterity he flipped the small copper coin into the air. As soon as it was out of his hand, he focused himself and poured his luck into the coin, willing it to come down on the best possible result. He was careful to breathe deep and do other mild physical gestures that the others hadn't picked up on yet. Nick had spent weeks before coming here creating fake tells that would crop up whenever he used his powers. The only real tell was difficult to miss, so he'd been fastidious in drawing attention away with the decoys.

The penny tumbled down onto the list, landing squarely on a single name. Alice and Nick both leaned over and looked down at the printed tucked beneath the coin.

Nick let out a low whistle. "Man, talk about the dregs."

*          *          *

"So, you're a telepath?" Hershel asked.

"Nah, man. Jedi," Alex said once more. “You know, like the order of space knights created in films by the great George Lucas.” The two of them were in a cafeteria getting dinner and discussing options for their project. In the course of the day Hershel had found that he had a surprising amount in common with his new project partner, including a love of sci-fi, video games, and vintage comic books. The one sticking point he kept coming back to was Alex's power, or at least Alex's description of the power.

"You can move things with your mind, and pick up thoughts and emotions, right?" Hershel asked.

"I know this sounds crazy, but to me it feels like I move things with the Force, not my mind. Other than that you're pretty close," Alex agreed with a cheerful head nod. "Plus I can sort of do the mind trick."

"The one where you put thoughts into weak or unfocused minds? That's the Jedi mind trick you're talking about?" Hershel tried to clarify.

"Yeah. I can make it work about ten percent of the time," Alex confirmed.

"So, one out of ten times you try to tell someone to do something and they do it?"

"Eventually," Alex said.

"You do realize that sounds a lot like a telepath and telekinetic," Hershel said carefully. "Not like the abilities of practitioners of a religion from a science fiction movie."

"Yeah, but it's not," Alex said simply. "I know what you're thinking, I've heard it since I was a kid. Every teacher and coach my parents hired to help me hone my powers tried to convince me it was my mind doing this stuff, not the Force."

"And they were unsuccessful I take it," Hershel noted.

"They were unsuccessful because they were wrong. If I try to focus my mind and make even a pencil move, nothing happens. But if I reach out to it with the Force, I can juggle weights and golf carts. I know myself and I know my power. Maybe it is because I’ve always seen it a certain way and it’s too late to change, but in my head I’m a Jedi," Alex said once more, not forcefully, instead with a sense of deep conviction and confidence.

So there it was. Alex considered his powers to work as though he were a Jedi and would not budge one bit on the topic. It was an oddity, but then again, Hershel loved dressing up like an elf lord and defending his castle. If anyone should be able to understand sculpting one's own reality, it was him. Besides, it seemed likely that state of mind and perception were important for someone whose powers were linked to their brain.

"A real Jedi, huh? That's pretty cool," Hershel said, smiling and picking up the ketchup for his fries. "Anyway, who do you think we should do our project over?"