Vince had been in his room for only a few minutes when he heard a knocking at the door.
“No way he’s that fast,” Vince muttered to himself as he hopped up from his bed and opened the door. As it turned out, yes, there was a way that Nick was that fast.
“Hey, I grot mamfes,” Nick mumbled through a mouthful of burger. In all of the scenarios that had run through Vince’s head of how Nick would finish his meal and get matches, the possibility of Nick’s curiosity overwhelming his desire to eat while stationary was one that had not occurred.
“How did you find matches so quickly?” Vince asked as he gestured for Nick to sit in the computer chair again. Mercifully, this time Nick swallowed the food in his mouth before answering.
“They were lying on the ground by the door when I left the dining hall,” Nick explained.
“Let me guess: you used your power?” Vince asked rhetorically.
“Sure did,” Nick replied with a grin. “I wanted to get this show on the road.”
“Fantastic,” Vince said dejectedly. “Just what I needed.”
“Okay, see, now I’m confused. You’re the one who volunteered to show me what you can do. What’s the problem?” Nick asked.
“It’s... I guess it’s nothing, really. I just get nervous about using my ability,” Vince admitted.
“Still? Didn’t you go through the two months of therapy to get used to controlling it?” Nick took another bite of burger after his question, clearly banking on Vince to do some explaining.
“Yes, and I can control it... mostly. It’s just there are some aspects to it I’m still working on. Look, it should be fine. If we use matches then everything will be okay,” Vince said reassuringly, though he never could have admitted who he actually was trying to assure.
“Sweet,” Nick said as he polished off his lunch. “So what do I do?”
“Just face me and light a match, then hold it up in front of you,” Vince said. He sat down on the edge of the bed so that he was only a few feet from Nick.
“Can do,” Nick said, pulling a book of matches from his pocket and carefully extracting one from the end. Vince noticed the matchbook had a few missing from it already. It was a pretty decent guess that Nick had focused his luck and some poor smoker had dropped their matches without noticing. Much as he was hesitant to view luck as an ability, Vince had to admit it definitely had its uses.
Meanwhile, Nick had plucked his match and was trying to light it with all the skill of a drunken hobo. On his fourth try he finally got the match head to ignite and was so surprised he nearly dropped the small flame onto Vince’s carpet. He was able to keep his hold, though, and slowly moved the burning match so it was directly between himself and Vince.
Vince’s eyes were locked on the flame, focusing on it with all of his concentration. Ever so gently Vince raised his hand and opened it so that his palm was on level with the match. For a few seconds nothing happened, then the flame began to lean toward Vince’s palm. A moment later there was a small burst of heat and Nick was pinching only a tiny piece of ash between his fingers.
“Whoa,” Nick exclaimed. “What did you do?”
“I absorbed the energy of the flame,” Vince explained. “That’s my ability: I can absorb energy and store it for later.”
“What do you mean ‘for later’?” Nick said, already pulling out another match from the book.
In response Vince held up the index finger on his right hand. A small flame appeared at the tip of his finger, a flame about the same size and intensity as the he Vince had just vanquished. It burned for almost ten seconds, then vanished just as quickly as it had appeared.
“I can use the energy I absorb any time I want,” Vince continued once his finger was out. “I can use it slowly, like I did just now, or release it in controlled bursts. In this case it would have made a tiny fireball. I don’t have the ability to extend or increase it, though. However much energy I have absorbed at the moment is what I have to work with.”
“Awesome,” Nick said, nodding his head. “Now do this one.”
Vince sighed, but he couldn’t deny this was good practice anyway, so he accommodated his dorm mate’s demands for entertainment and absorbed the rest of the matches one by one.
“I have another question for you,” Nick said as Vince snuffed out the final match from the book.
“Shoot,” Vince replied. His mind had wandered off near the end of their practice session, focusing instead on how the aching weariness he had been fending off seemed to be decreasing a bit in his absorbing hand. He wondered if using a part of his body as an absorption point had pain-fighting properties.
“I get that you absorb the flame as it exists, but why is it every time you use your power, I wind up holding nothing but a fleck of ash? Does stealing the energy destroy the matchstick?” Nick was poking at the small piece of ash Vince’s last absorption had left on his fingernail.
“Yes and no,” Vince said, turning his attention back to his dorm mate. “Remember when I said I was still getting the hang of some stuff? Well, that’s what I meant. See, I don’t just absorb the existing energy: I absorb the potential energy as well. At least, I do if I don’t sever the connection.”
“Yeah, I’ve really got no idea what you’re talking about,” Nick said, flicking off the piece of ash and checking the matchbook to see if he had missed any.
“Okay... How to explain this? Look, let’s pretend that you have another match and you light it, okay?” Vince said.
“Sure, why not,” Nick agreed.
“Now, if you leave the match be, the fire will eventually consume all of the wood,” Vince said. “However, if you were to lick your fingers and put it out halfway through then you would still have some of the matchstick left. With me so far?”
“Mostly,” Nick said.
“Good,” Vince said, choosing to plow ahead and hope for the best. “Well, obviously the match that is allowed to burn all the way down produces more fire, and therefore more energy. See, that’s why the match disintegrates in your hand. When I steal the energy of the flame, I don’t just take all the energy that’s there, I also take all of the energy that has the potential to be there.”
“I don’t suppose you could break that down a little easier, could you?” Nick asked, pulling out his dice and fiddling with them. Vince took a deep breath and tried to hold his patience. This could be a confusing concept if someone wasn’t used to it; Vince needed to keep that in the front of his mind.
“Think of like this,” Vince tried again. “There is only ash in your hand because in the fraction of a second that I begin drawing the energy of the match, the whole thing burns up in a flash and is taken into my body. That make sense?”
“Actually, yeah,” Nick said. “But if it burns all at once then why aren’t my fingers singed? I mean, if I’m holding it and it burns, it should hurt.”
“You’re not totally wrong,” Vince said. “Normally that would still burn you. But heat is a form of energy, and I’m taking everything the match has to give. So, while it might flash burn in your fingers, all of the heat flows into me.”
“Dude,” Nick said. “I get it, but your power is fucking complicated.”
“This from the guy whose ability works on quantum probabilities,” Vince pointed out.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nick said. “I just control luck. Nothing complicated about that.”
“Right,” Vince said sarcastically. “Nothing complicated at all.”