Nick sat in the boys’ lounge, pretending to read a book on statistics. The others would gather soon and he’d have to begin his strategy meeting. It was an event that would likely be unpleasant. They were going up against Chad’s team, a proposition which meant that from the outset Nick knew he would have to throw a Hail Mary. It was a long shot, and while Nick was comfortable with the idea of high-risk high-reward scenarios, that didn’t mean he was particularly looking forward to selling his team on it. Mary had been hard enough, and she had the sturdiest head on her shoulders out of the lot. Of course, that was only true because Nick had failed to account for another member of their team. Fortunately, that other team member had not forgotten to account for Nick.
Nick glanced up to see Hershel standing by the dart board. The hefty boy didn’t move with much grace or speed, but he was unobtrusive enough to come and go without raising more than peripheral awareness.
“Me? Nah, I’m a wiz with numbers. This class won’t know what hit it.”
“You’re not in a statistics class this semester,” Hershel replied. “And even if you were, it’s not like you need to study.”
There was a gentle rustling of pages as Nick shut his book. “What makes you think I’m not in a statistics class?”
“Because you’re not the only one who knows the value of listening when people talk.” Hershel took a few steps forward and sank into a chair opposite of Nick. “You’re also not the only one here with experience as a tactician.”
“I see. So you’ve figured out our next move?”
“That’s why I asked if you were nervous. Not going to be easy to convince those guys to go along with that sort of plan.”
“Enlighten me. What plan have you assumed I formulated?”
“You want us to lose,” Hershel said simply.
“You want us to play defensively, not take risks, and do nothing more than run the clock on whatever trial they subject us to.”
“Okay,” Nick said. “Let’s presume you’re correct. I want us to give this match away. Why would I do that?” He leaned back in his chair a bit, giving Hershel more space to think. It turned out to be unneeded.
“Because you and I know both understand the gap between this team and Chad’s team. It’s a match that we can’t hope to win, regardless of the rules they give us.”
“We have the element of surprise,” Nick pointed out. “Alice’s new gravitational power is coming along at a steady rate, and Vince has successfully managed to absorb the kinetic energy of two tennis balls I’ve thrown at him.”
“Two out of how many?”
A small frown tugged at the corners of Nick’s mouth. “One hundred and thirty four.”
“I figured as much. If he was doing it reliably you would have asked Roy to join in the training. He could fill Vince with far more kinetic power than some tennis ball. That’s why you’re still on beginner exercises, and that’s also why you want us to lose. Right now we have two trump cards, two people who can do things no one else suspects. They’re still relatively new, however. If we blow them on a match we’re going to lose then we waste the chance to surprise another team.”
“So you think it’s better to let our hidden cards evolve into Aces before setting them on the table?”
“A child thinks only about the battle; a General considers the war as a whole. Losing this match covertly gives us a much better chance of winning our third one,” Hershel explained. “And I know you reached the same conclusion.”
“I won’t deny that. If the situation was as you described it then losing without giving our all truly would be the best idea. However, you’ve got a few facts incorrect,” Nick said. He inched forward toward the edge of his seat, reclaiming the space he had previously abandoned.
“Indeed. First off, we have three surprise cards, not two. Despite their indignation at the loss, it seems Allen and Hector have stayed quiet about Camille’s capacity for laying the hand-to-hand smack down. I’ve had Mary keeping mental tabs on them and neither has spilled the beans.” Part of Nick would have liked to have discussed Camille’s real power with Hershel, instead of the fighting skill they were pretending she had, however he didn’t quite trust Roy to keep her secret.
“Why would they do that?”
“They wouldn’t. They are worthless idiots. Britney, on the other hand, is a masterful competitor. She understands that now that they’ve lost to us there is nothing to gain by outing one of our member’s talents. If that knowledge were to allow other teams to beat us, then it makes us appear weak, and them even weaker since we beat them. That girl grasps the simple truth that from here on out, the better we do, the better they seem for having come so close to victory.”
“Enemy of my enemy...” Hershel said.
“Camille doesn’t change much.”
“Camille’s fighting prowess does give us an unexpected advantage, in that no one realizes she’s a capable warrior. That said, I agree that she alone wouldn’t be enough to deviate from the plan of losing.”
“So what else is there?”
“A few things: how hungry Alice is to prove her worth, for one, or the rate at which Vince’s abilities accelerate in real combat for another. But all of them go toward a single issue that prevents us from giving up the match: feasibility of execution.”
“You don’t think they could do it?”
“I don’t. You and I both know that even with your memories of how logical a choice it is, Roy would be a longshot for such a plan.”
“He’s not the one we have to worry about.”
“Roy should always be worried about when constructing a plan. Especially when Chad is a factor. He has a soft spot for getting knocked senseless by that blonde adversary.”
Hershel didn’t have a comeback for that one; he merely nodded his agreement.
“Besides, I could sooner charm the entire female population of the HCP into a massive orgy than I could talk Vince into giving up. There is not one single ounce of Quit in that boy, no matter how smart a choice it might be. Where he goes, Camille will follow, of course, and by the time three of us are fighting wholeheartedly, Alice won’t be able to hold back any longer. She’s been sidelined so much, now that she feels she can contribute she’d obviously jump in. That of course means Mary will break formation to go keep her friend safe, and by this point the only people still playing it smart are myself and Alex.”
“I think you underestimate how much they trust you. If you told them that was the plan, they’d go for it.”
“I assure you - they would agree to anything, and in the moment they would mean it. A person’s nature in combat is not easily changed, however. No, they would never give away a victory, regardless of the odds against them. Too bad, because you were right about it being the smart play,” Nick conceded.
“So if you can’t do the smart play, what’s left?”
“I should think that’s obvious,” Nick replied, a smarmy grin spreading across his face. “If you can’t make a smart play, you make a batshit crazy one.”