The first thing Nick did, once he had secured his door tightly shut behind him, was to shed those idiotic sunglasses. He blinked several times as his eyes readjusted, then strolled over to his desk and turned on his computer. He opened a word processing program and immediately began writing down the day’s events with as much detail as he could remember. It was a very minor challenge for him. There had been times before he had gained control of his power when he would go weeks between note-taking sessions, and he had still managed to glean information from those.
Nick made no motion to save his file as he typed. He had procured a surge protector that doubled as a battery in case of a power outage, so he was relatively certain nothing would interrupt his process or destroy his work thus far. It was probably redundant in a place like this with safeguards on top of the safeguards, but Nick hadn’t survived eighteen years of bipolar luck without learning to be a little redundant in his safety measures.
It took him only a few minutes to finish - Nick had shockingly quick hands - and then he leaned back in his chair and began reviewing the day’s events. He had done quite well and had adhered to the primary tenants of survival in a new area: speak much, say little, and see all. The glasses had been a good addition; he needed to thank Ms. Pips for that suggestion next time he was in Vegas. They kept anyone from reading what was on his face effectively, and they made him look like something of a jackass.
That suited Nick’s needs just fine. People overlooked and underestimated those they thought of as stupid, which was precisely what he wanted. Nick was a boy who could affect the outcomes of dice throws in a school for people who could lift cars and eat fire. He was going to need every advantage he could get, and surprise was an excellent one to have.
Nick continued scrolling down, rereading his own recent notes. He had befriended Vince easily enough, and Hershel was socially ignorant, so getting on his good side had only required minor encouragement. Mary was a lost cause; Nick needed a telepath hanging around him like he needed a bullet to the head. Alice, on the other hand, was a whole different story. She had some skill in reading people, but her subtlety and manipulation skills were amateurish at best. The way her eyes had been darting about during the meeting, how she tilted her head when she was trying to figure out a new aspect to someone, the clumsy way she tried to lead a conversation with Vince, all of those had been tells of a novice. Nick estimated he could get her to trust him within the span of a month. After all, there were few things as vulnerable as someone with just a little bit of knowledge.
The two agents he had babysitting him were going to be simple to get around. They had run a classic “good cop, bad cop” routine to categorize their interactions with the students. As long as he created some personal problems to ask Mr. Transport for help with and let Mr. Numbers yell at him occasionally for minor discipline issues, neither one would think to wonder what was going on behind those sunglasses.
Nick finished reading his notes, then went through them twice more. After the final pass, Nick deleted every word he had written and closed the file without saving, making sure to purge the autosave function as he did so. That done, he undressed and got into bed. He would plan for how to handle the next day for only an hour, then allow himself to get some sleep. He needed to be in top form when he met the other students, after all.
* * *
Mr. Transport and Mr. Numbers sat at the dining table in their new apartment. It was a spacious two-bedroom that existed behind the door in the kitchen. They would, of course, be sharing the cooking area with the children, but since the kids had meal plans and little practical experience in taking care of themselves, neither Mr. Transport nor Mr. Numbers anticipated battling with them for space on the stove.
They had also been provided with their own mini-fridge, which Mr. Numbers took as a negative sign indicating some higher up was aware of Mr. Transport’s penchant for beer and liquor. Still, the fridge was there, so Mr. Transport had put his beer and a bottle of gin in it as they unpacked. Now the two sat, still clad in their suits, going over their assignment folders one last time before the mandatory destruction of them.
“Do you think it went well?” Mr. Transport asked from his seat.
“Exceedingly,” Mr. Numbers said. “We made them perceive us in the way they were supposed to. The only exception, of course, is the telepath.”
“She shouldn’t pose a problem for us, though,” Mr. Transport said. “Remember your training. Telepaths can only read what is going through your mind at that moment. Just be careful and remember to control your thoughts around her.”
“I’m aware of the necessary techniques,” Mr. Numbers said with a slight edge to his voice. “I’m just not certain it holds true with that one. There’s something about her, something different. I worry she might be able to go deeper than most telepaths.”
“I’m sure the doctors or nurses would have made note of it in the file. Besides, why would a telepath who has spent her life without control of her ability be more adept with it than those who have honed it through a lifetime of practice?” Mr. Transport asked.
Mr. Numbers let out a small sigh. “I suppose you’re right. Still, we’ll have to stay on our toes around her. Heaven knows we have secrets we can’t afford to let some eighteen-year-old girl in on.”
“I thought she was seventeen,” said Mr. Transport.
“She was when we met her, but she had her birthday while she was undergoing treatment,” said Mr. Numbers.
“Oh. I do hope they did some sort of celebration for her,” said Mr. Transport.
“It is to my understanding that there was cake,” assured Mr. Numbers.
“Very good then,” said Mr. Transport. “Well, I’m ready when you are.”
“Let’s get the lighter and the bucket,” said Mr. Numbers.
* * *
Alice tossed and turned sleeplessly in her bed. A telepath! What had her father been thinking, allowing a telepath to be her dorm mate? He knew how much she valued her privacy. At least, she had thought he knew. What was she going to do? That Mary girl could be listening to her at that very moment. She would never know a moment’s peace; never know a good sleep again.
Alice had always been excellent at reading others, a skill she had first learned from watching her Daddy interact with other people. Now she was stuck with a dorm mate who had been living in the damn forest for the last few years and who was a mind reader to boot. All of Mary’s social habits had been scrubbed clean by the wilderness and the solitude, so Alice had no idea what was going on in her head. On top of that, Mary could see Alice’s thoughts plain as day.
Never had the tables been turned on Alice like this, never had she felt so exposed, so vulnerable. Her only consolation was that the others would be simple to deal with. Hershel was a big, insecure geek, Nick was a tongue-wagging idiot, and Vince was uncomfortable with his own uniqueness. They had all shown weaknesses to capitalize on for her own gain, so she was comfortable with them. As for the agents, Alice barely spared a thought for them. They worked for Daddy, because whether they knew it or not, everyone worked for Daddy in some way. She would be polite, and if they crossed her, she would handle them.
No, there was no problem with anyone else. Alice flipped over in her bed for the thousandth time, trying to figure out how to handle Mary.
* * *
Hershel was also thinking about Mary, though he and Alice had very different problems with the girl.
“She was so pretty,” Hershel said to no one. He used to have friends, back before Roy had begun popping up more frequently, and had even managed to hang on to some personal connections through his LARP group. Those were gone now, back in Chicago, while he lay in bed alone. He desperately wished he still had them so he could tell them about his day, about how he had gotten Roy under control, and about the beautiful girl with the amber-colored eyes he had met on his first day at college.
Hershel could do none of those, though, so instead he was talking to an empty room. He wished he could have talked to her after the meeting was over, but she went back to the girls’ side almost as soon as the two administrators were gone. Did she know he was going to talk to her and that’s why she ran? A wave of insecurity washed over Hershel, one that he was more than accustomed to. Hershel was pudgy, shy, and unremarkable. He had spent his whole life feeling those waves of insecurity crash against him. The only times they weren’t there was when he was dressed up in costume pretending to be someone else. Then he was brave, strong, and confident. Then he was someone worth being.
Hershel felt something stir in his mind. He realized he had been calling out to Roy without noticing. That seemed to happen at his lowest points, when he wanted to be anyone else in the world besides Hershel Daniels. If not for the treatment, Roy would probably have appeared already. Fortunately, that was no longer the case. Hershel could call to him all night, but until he used the trigger that had been created, Roy would stay nothing more than a tickle in the back of his head.
Still, it was hard enough to get to sleep alone. Hershel didn’t want to try and pass out with both of them stirring, so he decided to think of something besides Mary and how insecure she made him feel.
“She really is so pretty,” Hershel said once more. He rolled over and tried to visualize anything besides Mary’s amber eyes.
* * *
In her own room, Mary blushed.
“Yes, I think he’s very sweet, No,” she said to her bear. “I just think he needs a little more time to acclimate to college on his own. This is a big new environment, and if I were to be with him, I’d become nothing more than a security blanket.”
The bear stared back at her from his resting place on the bed.
“Okay, you got me. I also want to see what his other side is like,” Mary admitted. “Besides, there are much more interesting thoughts going on right now, don’t you agree?”
No said nothing.
“So many people thinking of little old me,” said Mary. “I feel like this is going to be a very interesting year.”
No still said nothing.
“Oh, you rascal,” Mary laughed. “Maybe after a few weeks. Right now we need to get to bed. It’s going to be very loud tomorrow unless we’re rested and in control.”
Mary scooped up No and got under the covers with him. Like turning off a light switch, Mary banished away the voices from her head. Just like that it was as though she were back in the forest, communing with the quiet. The ability to have silence on demand, that was something she would never grow tired of.
* * *
Vince was asleep. Unlike the others, he hadn’t had any large revelations about his roommates or sudden fears about the day to grapple with. Vince had merely come in, undressed, and gotten into bed.
Of course, before he slept, Vince had tenderly removed a gold pocket watch from his backpack and gently wound it as he did every night. He then checked the time and made sure the watch was running right then set it down in a place of honor on his bedside table.
Then he had gotten into bed himself, pausing on his direct flight toward the land of slumber only long enough to run a finger along the watch and softly whisper, “Goodnight, Father.”
After that, he was gone into a dream that seemed to feature fire more heavily than the ones he had regularly.