Chapter 41

"Still no answer," Alice all but swore as she paced the room, snapping her cell phone shut.

"Ain't that always the way? Parents are always calling when you're busy, but the minute you actually need to talk they're nowhere to be found," Nick commented from his sprawled out position on the couch.

"Oh this is just so... so him!" Alice spat out, dropping into a chair with a huff.

"In all fairness to your dad, it's not like he knows you're trying to reach him this hard," Nick said.

"Not that. I mean... well, yes, him being busy and unavailable is classic, too, but I meant the thing with his old teammate. That is just so Daddy," Alice grumbled.

"He makes a habit of helping to kill murderous teammates, huh?"

"Don't be a jackass," Alice snapped. "It's so like him to have this huge part of his life and tell me nothing about it. I mean, I can sort of understand why he might not want to tell me about what happened with Globe: I'm sure that was really traumatic. But I never even knew he belonged to a team. I thought he just got his certification and did a little Hero work to help his career. Now it turns out there's yet another part of his life he didn't bother to share with me. The funniest part about this is that as much I want to feel mad, I can't. I can't because I don't even feel surprised by it anymore." Alice let out a long, slow breath, deflating as it exited her lungs.

"I, um, actually sort of know what you mean," Nick ventured cautiously. "Ms. Pips isn't really big on sharing either."

"I thought your last name was Campbell?" Alice asked.

"It is," Nick confirmed. "It was my parents’ last name. The woman who raised me is named Ms. Pips, though."

"Oh," Alice said simply, grabbing the implication immediately.

"Yeah," Nick said, glossing onward. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Ms. Pips and she loves me. A guy couldn't ask for a better godmother. She's just not the type that gushes anything. Feelings, personal history, dreams; really, any of that crap is kept close to the vest. You know, kind of like your dad, or that's how it seems at least."

"It seems right," Alice agreed. "He's a better dad when he's around, but you don't build a multi-billion dollar lifestyle by having lots of free time to hang out with your defective daughter."

"Defective?"

"Not anymore, I guess. Just still sort of think of myself that way. From ages three to eighteen I was damaged goods. That sort of mindset takes a little time to fade," Alice admitted.

"It really does," Nick concurred. "What about your mom? Is she around more?"

"I never actually met my mom," Alice said softly. "She passed away giving birth to me."

"I'm sorry," Nick said reflexively.

"It's okay. It was a long time ago. Besides, I never met her, so it's hard to miss her," Alice reassured him.

Nick pulled himself to a more upright sitting position on the couch and looked across at Alice. "You're a terrible liar," he said.

"I beg your pardon?" Alice wasn't able to keep the surprise off of her face.

"My parents died in a car accident when I was a few months old. I might have met them, but I have no memory of them at all. I've spent my entire life being raised by Ms. Pips without ever knowing my birth parents. I know too well how easy it is to miss someone you've never met," Nick said.

Alice didn't have a response for that, so instead she fiddled with her phone.

"Going to try your dad again?"

"Doesn't seem like much point to it," Alice replied. "I guess we might as well go back to me nagging and you slacking off."

"Do we have to? I thought we were bonding there for a moment," Nick whined.

"We were, which is why I'm nipping it in the bud," Alice countered. She picked up one of her books and tossed another at Nick. To her credit, she didn't aim too directly for his head, which might have been taken as a sign of fondness.

"Ouch!" Nick yelped.

Then again, maybe not.

*          *          *

“How did I never realize you two were suitemates?” Vince asked as he plugged in the movie and rejoined Sasha and Jill on their couch.

“I do spend a lot of time downstairs training,” Jill said, handing a bowl of popcorn to Sasha so it was accessible to everyone on the couch.

“Still seems odd. Then again, I still don’t know who shares a room with you, so I guess I can’t be that surprised,” Vince noted.

“My roommate is a girl named Amber. She has an older boyfriend who lives off campus, so she spends most of her free time with him,” Jill answered. “It’s nice, actually, a bit like having a single room.”

“Wait, so the other girl, Amber, is she like us?”

“Of course, Vince; they almost always room Supers together,” Jill giggled. Vince had been surprised by her bubbly nature when they’d actually gotten to talk after her and Sasha’s fight. She’d been so cold and hard when in combat; but then again, the same could be said for Sasha. More than anything he was glad the two girls had been able to shake hands and continue on with their apparent friendship after the bout had been decided. He wondered how many other Supers were able to maintain such amiable relationships after challenges. His suspicion was very few.

“Okay, it’s set up,” Will called from behind the television.

“Sweet,” Sasha said. “And you’re sure this won’t fry our TV, right?”

“93 percent sure,” Will answered as he emerged from the tangled depths of the mythical land known as “Behind the TV.”

“That still seems like a pretty significant margin of error,” Sasha said.

“Relax; if my brother designed it, it won’t blow anything up. Unless it’s supposed to blow something up. Anyway, the point is, even if it doesn’t work, it won’t be destructive. He’s religious about using safeguards,” Jill assured Sasha.

“What do you mean ‘even if it doesn’t work’?” Will asked as he plunked down in a chair next to the couch.

“Nobody bats a thousand, little brother.”

“We’re twins,” Will pointed out.

“Yes, but I’m older by two minutes,” Jill replied, sticking out her tongue.

“Stupid sister rushing out the birth canal,” Will grumbled. “So, what cinematic masterpiece are we using to test my new device?”

Flesh Reaper 4: Hell’s Reaping,” Vince told him.

There was a beat of silence before Will’s strangled voice managed to eke out one lone word: “Really?

“Hey, it’s like a week and a half before Halloween, the video store was pretty heavily favoring the horror section. I did the best I could,” Vince defended.

“You understand what I built, right? It’s a three dimensional immersion device. We’re not just talking about pictures standing off the screen, we’re talking about being in the center of the film. We’re talking about seeing the landscape of it in every direction, of sitting on this couch underwater, or in space, or on Mount Fuji. We’re going to be utterly visually submerged in this world, and the world you chose for that is Flesh Reaper 3?” Will asked.

Flesh Reaper 4,” Vince corrected him. “Besides, it’ll be fun to have something a little scary. All I’m doing for the real Halloween is going to some party that Alice found.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Jill said.

“Maybe not. I don’t know, I’ve never to been to one of these before. Apparently it’s hosted by one of the local frats, but everyone is welcome. You just have to be in costume and pay the five-buck entry charge,” Vince said with a shrug.

“Are you going?” Jill asked Sasha.

“Already working on my costume,” Sasha said with a naughty smirk.

“You two are more than welcome,” Vince said. “Again, I don’t know if it will be worth the five bucks, but if you’ve got nothing else to do it might be fun.”

“We will certainly keep that in mind,” Will said. “At any rate, I think it’s time to put my new invention through a test drive.”

“Woo!” Sasha yelled.

“Do it!” Vince joined in.

“Um, go bro?” Jill said less enthusiastically.

“Ladies and gentleman, I present to you an entirely new way to watch movies, a way that is closer to living them than merely observing the pictures pass before your eyes,” Will said, firing up the remote. “Years from now, when everyone is using these devices, tonight will be a historic night, the night when the first lucky viewers were given the privilege of experiencing a new level of glory in the film... Flesh Reaper.” Will’s steam died off noticeably when he got to the movie title.

Flesh Reaper 4,” Vince corrected.