Chapter 11

It was later than he expected when a series of sharp knocks rang against Nick’s door. He glanced at the clock and saw the glowing digital numbers flashing nearly midnight. He supposed it was a Friday night, and Mary and Hershel would want to get some couple time in after all. Still, it was a good thing he was a night owl or else Nick might have been perturbed at the intrusion.

He opened to door to reveal Mary, dressed for the night in sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt, who walked briskly past him and plopped down in his desk chair.

“Can I help you?” Nick asked.

“You sure can,” Mary replied. “We need to talk about the team.”

“Wouldn’t that require the rest of the aforementioned team to be present?”

“Don’t be an ass. I trusted your judgment on picking Camille and Alex today. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to know why you thought they were the best choices,” Mary said.

“Someone is feeling nosy.”

“Someone is feeling responsible. I got selected as Captain, which means the hard choices fall on me to make. I think I’ve got a better chance of doing that if I have the best understanding of my team possible.”

“Why, Ms. Smith, are you saying that I can offer insight even to a telepath?”

“I’m saying you’re a better tactician and strategist than anyone else in our group. And yes, part of being a good leader is surrounding yourself with smart people and then actually listening to them,” Mary shot back. “Now, can we please end this little dance? You knew I was coming over for this, and I knew that you knew, which you knew, and blah blah blah.”

“I suppose that’s fair,” Nick said, sitting on the edge of his bed and facing Mary. “So you want to know why I picked Alex and Camille. Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Camille is the only healer in our class. Having her means that we are literally the lone team in any game that can bring pieces back onto the board after they have been eliminated. That single fact would have made me pick her, but she actually brings more to the table than that. She’s socially awkward enough to be accustomed to the ostracization that will accompany siding with us, and she’s one of the few people whose loyalty we will never have to question.”

“What makes you say that?” Mary asked.

“Because she’s in love with Vince.”

“How do you-”

“Oh, come on, it’s not that hard. The girl never even glances at him unless she absolutely has to, and when she does it looks like she just swallowed a live chicken that’s trying to work its way free. She blushes every time he’s in vicinity of her, and she gave up being a number one draft pick to join us. Frankly, it’s so obvious that really anyone could tell if they paid attention. Anyone other than Vince, I mean.”

“I suppose so,” Mary agreed. “I’m a little disappointed in myself for not knowing until today. I mean, I listened to her after we all huddled and... wow. I’ve never seen so much appreciation and dedication. I don’t know what the whole story is, but Vince must have done something incredible to leave an impression like that on the girl.”

“Though it pains me to sound so optimistic, that wouldn’t be much a stretch to believe, given that it’s Vince,” Nick said begrudgingly.

“Why, Nick, it almost sounded like you were showing faith in your friend for a moment there,” Mary teased.

“Moving on,” Nick said. “Alex was chosen for similar reasons, personality-wise. He is accustomed to being an outcast and has a high level of loyalty to our group. That will keep him from buckling under the coming pressure.”

“Yes, but the same could be said for Thomas, who would have brought abilities we didn’t already possess as well,” Mary pointed out.

“Thomas would have been good,” Nick conceded. “ However, the reason I chose Alex is precisely because we already have abilities similar to his. You see, you and he are the only people with any telepathic talents in the class, correct?”

“So far as I’m aware, yes.”

“You are. Which means our team now has on it the only people capable of hearing other students’ thoughts. While that does give us duplication in some respects, it does something far more important. It robs our opponents of any mind-reading. We are the only team that doesn’t have to worry about our strategies and plans being overheard, and we are the only ones who can pluck those same ideas from the brain of our opponents.”

“Ohhhh,” Mary said, comprehension dawning. “So it wasn’t about having Alex as much as it was about taking him away from everyone else.”

“Exactly,” Nick said. “Whether the team matches are maze-style encounters like our midterms or just out and out brawls, the ability to know our opponents’ actions before they make them is invaluable. Plus, Alex isn’t entirely duplication. He can do some things you can’t.”

“Such as?”

“It’s commonly understood that telekinesis can’t stop energy, right?”

Mary nodded. “There isn’t enough mass for us to interact with.”

“You should talk to Vince sometime about his and Alex’s fight with Thomas. I think you’ll find Alex has his own potential uses beyond just a backup for you.”

“I’ll do that. So tell me something, o ye who commands we pawns. You saw the other team compositions while we were in the gym, what do you think our chances against them are?”

“Better with some than others. Shane’s team is combat heavy; I mean, he got Stella, Violet, and Thomas, so if we’re put in a pure fight against them we’ll be in trouble. Britney’s is the inverse, more stocked with unique technique users like Gilbert and Adam. They’d have the upper hand if we did games that didn’t require conflict. Chad’s team is the closest to ours. He chose a good mix of both combat- and technique-oriented students so that he’s got a viable game plan for any situation.”

“So we have the best shot against his team?” Mary asked.

“Oh no, the worst. He composed his in the same style as ours, but with much stronger people. Rich, Sasha, Selena, we are talking about some Supers that are not to be taken lightly,” Nick explained. “As it stands now, we’d have no chance of winning against his team.”

“Hmm. I suppose that only leaves us with one option,” Mary surmised. “We have to get stronger.”

“Indeed we do,” Nick agreed. “Training starts tomorrow, so get some rest. I promise, it will challenge you in ways you never expected.”

Mary was tempted to peek into Nick’s mind and see just what he had in store, but she thought better of it. She had a feeling that whatever it was, hearing about it this late would not be conducive to a good night’s sleep.