Chapter 108

By Wednesday things had calmed down a bit for Nick. He’d gotten his plan outlined for Mary, who was finally beginning to warm up to it; he had helped explain their theory of his new power to Vince, who was confused but open-minded; and he had turned in his tailing assignment for Professor Pendleton’s class. He’d done nearly all of the legwork before Camille’s party, yet it still felt good to have the papers handed in so they could be marveled at. Nick enjoyed the written assignments; they were the one area where he didn’t have to diminish his own performance for the sake of keeping character. Sometimes the professor would even call him in to talk about the methods he’d used to achieve such results. Therefore it didn’t surprise him when he noticed his daily cipher instructed him to be at class half an hour early. What did surprise him was when he arrived to find both Professor Pendleton and Alice waiting for him.

“You know, if you’re going to stage an intervention, I think you need more than two people,” Nick pointed out.

“Can you throw an intervention because someone is a douche? Damn, I’d have put one together for you in our first week if I’d known that,” Alice countered.

“Cute as your verbal dry-humping is, I think you both know why I’ve called you here,” Professor Pendleton interrupted. He pulled two stapled stacks of paper from his desk.

“No idea,” Nick replied, for once, honestly.

“It’s because we turned in the same tailing assignment,” Alice said.

“Wrong, it is because you both turned in the same... wait, what?”

“Well, virtually the same, I mean. Nick probably had a few Watches I didn’t, and I know I had a bunch of Spots that weren’t on his.”

“I am just so very confused,” Nick said.

Professor Pendleton held up the twin stacks of paper, which Nick now recognized as their respective tailing assignments. As he looked at the first page he realized something; Alice’s was identical to his own save only for name and penmanship.

“I know you two are teammates, and I do respect a desire to help each other out; however, you must know that even in a class as morally grey as mine you cannot allow another student to copy your work. This undermines the act of learning, which is what you are here to do.”

“Professor, I didn’t let Alice copy my work,” Nick protested.

“He really didn’t,” Alice confirmed.

“Oh? Then how did you happen to provide near identical Watches to his?”

“I stole them.”

“You stole them.”

“I stole them,” she repeated.

“How the hell did you steal my answers?” Nick asked.

“Remember when you left me alone to clean the boy’s bathroom this weekend?”

“Yes, but I only let you into the bathroom. All of my notes were in my bedroom,” Nick pointed out.

“Yeah, fun fact. When your father pays for, facilitates, and largely lets you design the building you live in, getting universal access on all the doors actually isn’t that hard.”

“Then how... oh, you wily girl,” Nick said, realization dawning at last.

“Would someone care to explain the rest of this to me?” Professor Pendleton said.

“Friday night Nick pretended he was bad at singing so I’d beg him to get on stage and do karaoke,” Alice summarized. “In return he wanted me to do something humiliating as well. I floated the idea of cleaning the boys’ bathroom, and he accepted. When it turned out he could sing, I pouted and acted pissed, so he felt good enough about his little trick that he never thought twice about leaving me on the boys’ side unattended. I also took the precaution to make sure he’d leave by reminding our captain she hadn’t gotten his plans for the upcoming match yet. After that, it was just a matter of opening the door and taking a few photos with my cell phone.”

“So you knew I could sing?”

“I suspected, but it didn’t really matter. We weren’t making a bet, we were striking a deal, so I was obliged regardless. You were very careful to structure it that way.” Alice flashed him a smile that Nick was quite accustomed to giving and not so accustomed to seeing on other people.

“A daring and well-crafted plan,” Professor Pendleton said. “Sadly, it has nothing to do with tailing, which was the assignment.”

“The assignment was to get information, which I did. Quite a lot of it, actually: well over twenty points, even if none of my Spots count.”

“Yet you stole the vast bulk of it from another student’s efforts. What on earth would make you think that was acceptable?”

In response Alice pulled out and unfolded a slip of paper from her uniform’s pocket then slapped it on the desk. It was the syllabus from the first day of Subtlety class. Her well-manicured nail pointed at the third entry, a single word in bold print: “Cheat.”

“Ms. Adair, this does not-”

“I created a plan with multiple steps, I used a person’s own trick against them, I adapted to changing circumstances on the fly, and I executed it all without my target’s knowledge. The goal of this class exercise was information gathering. Tailing was just the recommended technique. Or is it your contention that methods are more important than results?”

Professor Pendleton looked over at Nick, who could only shrug. Nearly everything she’d said were Professor Pendleton’s own words and wisdom that had been dispersed throughout his class lectures. He turned his attention back to the near identical submissions and took in a very deep breath.

“Fine,” Professor Pendleton said at last. “However, if this ever happens again, I’ll be giving you a zero, Nick.”

“Who to the what now?”

“You heard me. She caught me by surprise with this stunt too, so I can hardly hold you to a higher standard. From here on it’s a different story. If you don’t guard your information then you give your enemy the advantage. So if she manages to steal your stuff again then you’ll get a zero,” Professor Pendleton explained.

“What about the extra challenge to skip the final?” Alice asked.

“After your next team event. I’ll need to get the necessary permissions and, of course, finish grading, just in case anyone else qualified. Now both of you go take a walk before class. I don’t feel like entertaining you.”

Alice and Nick took the hint and retreated into the hallway immediately. As they walked down the concrete corridors, Nick looked at the blonde girl with a new respect. She had played him. Not for anything important, and not all that well by his standards, but she’d still managed to slip one by him.

“Question,” Nick said. “You couldn’t have known I’d give you that golden opportunity last week when you asked all those questions about exceeding the point total on the assignment. So what was your original plan?”

“I had faith that at some point you’d set me up, especially at a nice social setting,” Alice replied. “I did have a backup plan in case you didn’t.”

“What’s that?”

“I was going to sleep with you.” She gave him a wide smile and a wink.

“Real funny.”

“Yeah, it is. Especially if I’m telling the truth and you accidently traded it away for a poorly-cleaned bathroom.” Alice gave him another smile, this one far less festive and vastly more desirable. It came with softly tilted eyes and just a slight flush to her cheeks. Nick stumbled, his feet going stupid as his brain kicked into overdrive. By the time he recovered, Alice was cackling freely at his expense.