The knock on Nick’s door came around eight that evening. He glanced up from his computer and looked over. Her self-control was impressive; he’d expected her to arrive hours earlier. Instead of getting out of his chair Nick yelled over his shoulder.
“We both know you can open the door yourself.”
There was a pause, then a soft buzz as his door opened to reveal Alice, clad in sweats and clearly stressed, at least judging from the state of her tangled hair and the nervous fidgeting she was unconsciously doing.
“I guess that’s my fault for letting you find out,” she said, walking in and shutting the door.
“And for copying my work in the first place,” Nick added. “Which, in retrospect, was a pretty impressive piece of misdirection.”
“I aim to please.” She hopped on the bed without any sense of self-consciousness. Nick wondered if he’d ever had people in his life less aware of social implications than his dorm-mates. Where he was from, coming to a man’s room and getting on his bed carried certain intentions, ones he was relatively certain Alice wasn’t intentionally communicating. Not yet, anyway.
“I’d say you’re probably wondering why I’m here, but since it’s you, I bet you already know.”
“You always swing for the fences, I’ll give you that,” Alice replied.
“Can’t blame a guy for trying. Anyway, yes, I know you’re here because you think I know what Professor Pendleton’s ability is.”
“Wrongo. I’m here because I know that you know his power. Hell, you probably know all of our professors’ abilities. I wouldn’t be surprised if you knew everything down to their birthplaces and favorite colors.”
“You seem to think quite highly of my investigative abilities.”
“Am I wrong?”
“I didn’t say that,” Nick shot back. He reached around and turned off his computer screen. The current research didn’t involve Alice directly, but nevertheless, he was learning more and more that discretion around this girl could save him quite a few headaches.
“So, what can he do?”
“From what I’ve gathered he can teach a class fairly well, he can certainly see through people’s bullshit, and he probably is a reasonably proficient gymnast.”
Alice cocked her head in perplexity.
“He won a tournament when he was a teen. Plus he has excellent balance.”
“Ooooookay. Interesting, and we will absolutely circle back to that last part, but not what I was talking about.”
“I know what you were talking about. Let me ask you something first: you know next year we drop down to two majors, right? Are you planning on keeping Subtlety?”
Alice glanced down at the bed sheets. “I haven’t really decided yet. I mean, given the whole gravity manipulation thing, I’ve got to keep Control, but Ranged Combat isn’t all that productive for me.”
“Ranged Combat isn’t productive for a girl whose abilities are perfect for staying at a distance and making objects fly all over the place?”
“We learn a lot of that in Control. Besides, I didn’t say I was dropping it, just that I’m not sure. I know I’m not the best at Subtlety, I just kind of hate to give it up. It’s always interesting, and really, it’s different from almost every other aspect of Hero duties. Once I let it go, I can’t get it back, so I’m making up my mind slowly.”
“I can understand that,” Nick said. “So, to answer your question: no. I’m not going to tell you what Professor Pendleton’s power is.”
“Damn it, Nick, this is not the time to go into dickhead mode.”
“Believe it or not, this is me in good friend mode,” Nick countered. He plucked a pen from his desk and began twirling it between his fingers effortlessly. “If you’d told me you were going to drop Subtlety and just wanted to ace the test so the final exam wouldn’t screw up your stats overall then I would have happily given you the dirt. On the other hand, if you really do want to consider Subtlety as an option for your career as a Hero, then I’d be doing you a disservice.”
“How? You can’t say knowing invalidates the test, because you already know.”
“I know because I found out. I did the work. You can, too, and if you do then you’ll get the information. My point is that I’d help you cheat if you were just getting by, but if you want to learn then I have to say no. Professor Pendleton really did put together a great sample of a real world exercise. Yeah, you probably won’t pass, but in the act of failing you’ll learn some things not to do. That’s all success is: screwing up over and over until you’ve learned the right way to do things.”
“Geez, you didn’t complain this much when I copied your tailing work.”
“Because you earned that one. You tricked me. If you can get the information from me without my help then you deserve it. That’s exactly what we’re supposed to be learning to do in the first place.”
“All right, I take your point. You won’t help me. I’m guessing that means you won’t give me any assistance in the actual trial, either.”
“Not intentionally. Then again, you used some surprising levels of cunning to get here in the first place. See if you can dip into that well again, and maybe you’ll find a way to outfox us all.”
“Please, you don’t remotely believe that,” Alice said. Her posture had relaxed during their conversation. She was clearly still worried about the test, however she seemed to have reached the point of resolving herself to whatever fate had in store. It was a skill everyone in the HCP possessed, because those who couldn’t turn off their frantic nerves had washed out within the first few weeks.
“No, I don’t. I think you got lucky on the first one. Generally speaking, this class isn’t really suited to your talents.”
“Hey, I’m not an idiot. I’m just not as good at this as some of the rest of you.”
“Precisely. Remember, HCP isn’t looking for those who are good, they are looking for those who are the best. You have an ability that is flat-out spectacular, one that allows you to neutralize Supers with all manner of powers. I have no doubt you’ll be a serious contender for a graduation spot if you keep plugging away at the Control course.”
“I guess so,” Alice agreed, pulling herself off Nick’s bed. “For what it’s worth, I have no doubt you’ll get one of the Hero spots, too. No one in our class even comes close to you in lying, cheating, or manipulating.”
“You sure know how to sweet talk a fella, but only time will tell. Most graduates, even those who majored in Subtlety, have other talents they bring to the table. Punchy kinds of talents.”
“Then get good at that,” Alice said. “I will not accept any excuses for failure. The five of us are going all the way in this thing. We’ll show everyone that Powereds can be viable candidates for Heroes after the procedure. All of us, together.”
“That is a very pleasant thought,” Nick concurred. “In the meantime, let’s just focus on getting to next year.”
“Deal,” Alice said, giving him a warm smile and letting herself out.