Chapter 35

"Oh dear," Will said, gazing at the glowing screen of his cell phone. "It seems I'll have to cut our study session short today."

"That's fine," Vince assured him. "I think we got a lot of good material for the project so far. We can pick up here tomorrow."

"I appreciate your understanding," Will said with a smile. He reached across the table and began scooping books and notes into his backpack.

"Did something come up?" Vince asked.

"You could say that. It seems my sister has been challenged to a ranking match, so I feel a bit compelled to be there in support," Will explained.

"I didn't know you had a sister," Vince commented, packing away his own things. If Will was heading out Vince felt he may as well do the same. He could get back above ground, grab some dinner, maybe even see Sasha for a bit before he tackled the rest of his work for the evening.

"Her name is Jill. It is purely speculation, but I've always believed our parents must have been sadists to give twins rhyming names," Will said.

"It's not really that bad," Vince lied. Will stopped packing, looked Vince in the eyes, and stared. "Okay, it's pretty bad," Vince said, breaking after mere seconds.

"I know," Will said simply, readying himself to leave. Vince was about finished as well, so they exited the library together and began walking toward the lifts and combat cells. The two had been holed up in the underground library, which was similar to the one on the regular campus but stocked with a somewhat different selection of reading material. Very few normal Lander students found themselves in need of books on how to deal with radioactive fallout or study ancient war formation techniques. In the HCP such things were considered required reading.

"Sooo," Vince said, awkwardness and a poor understanding of social convention forcing him to make small talk. "What are your sister's abilities?"

"She manipulates technology," Will answered.

"Like, she can turn on cars, or like she can become the Internet?"

"Somewhere in between," Will chuckled. "She can interface with software, but only to a limited point. If you asked her to type on a computer without her hands, or drive a car from a block away, those things would be in her arsenal. Asking her to hack into the Pentagon would be well out of her reach, though. It's likes she talks to the machines and asks them nicely to cooperate."

"That seems pretty useful," Vince said. "As long as you have plenty of tech around."

"At that point having a brother whose power is mechanical genius comes in rather handy," Will said.

"Yeah, I've seen some of the stuff you use in class. The self-writing pen seemed pretty awesome," Vince said.

Will shrugged. "It frees up my hands and lets me get written notes. The hardest part was designing it so it could balance continuously on the tip while moving."

"I bet," Vince agreed. "So with you building her gadgets and her being able to use them with a thought, I bet your sister is one dynamite fighter."

"She's good, but there are plenty better," Will admitted. "She only came in fourteenth in the initial ranking. Of course, as the gear I build for her improves and she learns to fight more effectively, I expect to see a significant rise in her ranks over the years."

"I'm sure you will," Vince encouraged. "What about your rank, though?"

"I'm not combat compatible," Will replied with open honesty. "I can build things ahead of the technological curve. There are some who don't even believe that should count me as a Super. I'll certainly never be able to match what the others can do on the front line of battle. I'll have my uses, though; they just won't be gauged on how well I throw a punch."

"If you're focused on the rhino charging at you, you're likely to miss the panther sneaking up on your rear," Vince said.

Will raised his eyebrows curiously.

"It's something my father used to say. It meant I should learn to use misdirection and keep myself aware at all times, but it seemed sort of applicable to your situation," Vince explained. "Just because you aren't a thick-skinned muscle-bound monster doesn't mean you aren't dangerous."

"True," Will said slowly. "Although I still feel my place on the battlefield is supporting others in the background."

"Maybe it is," Vince agreed. "All that really matters is that you're happy with what you're doing and where you're going."

"And I am," Will said as they walked into the central hall. Vince saw the lifts at the south end and readied himself to head back above ground. Before he left, though, a question struck him.

"I hope your sister does well today," Vince said. "Who is she fighting, anyway?"

"One of the girls she shares a suite with. A friend named Sasha," Will told him. "She has pink streaks in her hair and super speed. Very difficult to miss."

Vince was in whole-hearted agreement as he changed his oriented direction and began walking next to Will once more, mind already racing ahead of him to the fight that was beginning in the combat cells.