Chapter 4

“See, I told you we’d get lucky,” Nick gloated as he munched on a thick hamburger.

“We didn’t get lucky,” Vince corrected. “We got lost. For half an hour. Until I went into a building and asked for directions.”

“And wasn’t it lucky I brought along a guy with no masculinity issues about asking for directions?” Nick pointed out.

“I think you’re stretching on this one,” Vince replied, picking at the basket of chicken fingers. Being a wanderer had given Vince a pretty ironclad stomach when it came to grease and taste, but he had also always had to subsist on whatever was available at the time. As a result, he had a small appetite and an equally small percentage of body fat. He reflected ruefully that if only he had some muscle on his wiry frame it would have been very pronounced.

“I might be,” Nick admitted. “But then again, you haven’t even told me what you can do; who knows if you’re fit to judge the skills of others?”

“Shh,” Vince hushed him quickly. “We’re in public; you know we can’t talk about that kind of stuff.”

“Oh please,” Nick said, taking another bite of his burger then guzzling down soda. “We’re at one of the only five colleges in the nation that offer certification for Supers to become the government-approved responders known as Heroes. I’m sure, like, everyone in this cafeteria is a damn Super in disguise.”

The young men paused for a moment and looked around. Besides themselves, there was a small group of ladies halfway across the dining hall, and a large table mixed up of boys and girls clear on the other end. There were also a few tables where, like Vince and Nick, only one or two occupants sat. No one in the room looked particularly Super, or even interesting for that matter. Well, with the exception of the girl with short pink and black hair sitting with her friend. Vince did notice her as he did his visual sweep. Even aside from the colored hair, something about her stood out.

“Okay, maybe half the people,” Nick conceded as he finished looking around him.

“According to the doctors at who told me about this place, less than half of one percent of the student population is enrolled in the Hero Certification Program,” Vince informed him. “So odds are pretty good you and I are the only people with abilities here.”

Nick let out a low whistle. “Less than half of one percent? That seems really low.”

Vincent shrugged. “There are a lot more humans than Supers. Even if this is only one of five schools, Lander is still a big university. A lot of people are going to come here wanting a run-of-the-mill education.”

“Poor bastards,” Nick said, shaking his head. “All kinds of awesome stuff going on around them and they have no clue about it.”

“At least they better not,” Vince said. “I heard that keeping your abilities a secret is, like, half of your grade. They say if you’re found out you have to do some kind of awful makeup courses to graduate, and that’s only an option if you’re at the top of the class.” Vince unthinkingly ran his hands through his hair. At least the campus was full of enough people with their own strange features that he might have at least half a chance of blending in.

“Don’t worry about the ‘do,” Nick told him. “I didn’t think it meant anything significant, and I already knew you had some sort of power when we met. Of course, I still don’t know what the damn thing is... But hey, that’s what friendships are built around, right? Secrets and mysteries.”

“You’re something of a drama queen, aren’t you?” Vince asked.

“Gasp! A dagger, straight into my heart,” Nick said, grasping his chest and leaning back in his chair. His breathing became labored and his hands slumped to the sides. He was dead, his life ended before its prime by the harsh words of someone he had thought of as a fast-growing friend. But hark! One of his hands lifted oh so slowly, making its way to the table and grappling the hamburger, then raising it triumphantly to his opened and waiting mouth.

“I don’t even want to know what’s going on in your head right now,” Vince said to his slumped-back friend.

“Good call,” Nick assured him.

Vince sighed and pushed away his now-forgotten chicken strips. Nick was loud, indiscreet as could be, and showy every chance he got. But he was also the only person to try to be Vince’s friend in years, and he knew what it had been like for Vince before. Those two qualities alone made him someone Vince knew he’d need to keep around.

“Get a book of matches and meet me back at the dorm,” Vince told Nick. His words seemed to bring some life back into Nick’s hamburger-munching corpse.

“You’re supposed to wait until midterms before you go all pyro on shit,” Nick chided him.

“I’m not going pyro! I just... Look: you said you wanted to know what I can do, right?” Vince asked him.

“Why yes, yes I do,” Nick said with a series of enthusiastic nods.

“Then get a book of matches and meet me in the dorm,” Vince repeated, pulling up the remainder of his food and walking away from the table. He dumped his refuse in the bin then made his way to the exit. He was relatively certain it would take Nick at least a few minutes to find some matches, plus a few extra to finish his burger. Vince was counting on those precious extra moments, because if he was going to try and do something with his power then he needed to get prepared and focus.

And, just to be on the safe side, pray.