It was midway through the third week of classes when a white document appeared on the wall in front of the gym. It said very little, only listing a date and the numbers “1 vs. 4” and “2 vs. 3”. It said nothing else and was gone the next day. For its minimal appearance of importance, that one sheet of paper stirred up the sophomore class more than a pickup truck careening through a bee hive. There was excitement, titillation, trepidation, curiosity, wonder, worry, and of course good old-fashioned fear. Fear of the incoming, fear of the unknown, and a particularly poignant fear concerning the fact that the date on the paper was only three weeks away.
* * *
Alex and Camille arrived at Melbrook that night around the same time. No one had told them to show up after classes because no one had needed to. It was obvious they’d need to talk with their team. They entered the dorm and found the others already sitting in the common room. Hershel had given the night over to Roy since the weaker Daniels brother wouldn’t be participating in any upcoming events. The muscular man sat on the couch, working so hard to look carefree that it appeared more as though he were trying to quiet an upset stomach. Mary and Alice were perched on a couch while Vince sat near them by himself. Only Nick was standing, his narrow shoulders leaned against the far wall as he watched the two non-residents walk in.
“And then there were seven,” Nick quipped.
“Sorry we didn’t call first,” Alex apologized. “We just figured with the matches being announced...”
“You’re fine,” Mary assured him. “We were expecting you two to come over and talk about the plan with us.”
“What plan?” Alice asked. “All we know is who we’re facing and when. We don’t know anything about what sort of match it will be so I’m not sure how much actual planning we can do.”
“More than you might think,” Mary told her. “We don’t know what we’re facing, but we do know our team composition and the lineup of the others. That should at least allow us to come up with some comprehensive strategies for several scenarios so we’re not totally flat-footed when things start.”
“Seems like a waste to me,” Roy said. “There’s no type of challenge they can throw at us that can’t be beaten with enough force.”
“Oh? That why you failed my little scavenger hunt?” Nick asked.
“That was different,” Roy snapped.
“Different in that the stakes were lower and your failure more excusable? Yeah, I suppose it was different,” Nick replied.
“Settle down, you two,” Mary commanded. “We need to have some strategies if we want to get through our first match with the kind of scores we’ll probably need. Britney is a damned fine leader and has placed well in all of our exams so far by using good tactics and plenty of forethought. Since she’s the captain of team four it is safe to assume they won’t be caught in a panic, even if they get thrown a few curveballs. We should try to play in the same league.”
“Not to be a downer, but how do you propose to do that?” Alex asked. “Nick’s photo hunt that ran us around town did an excellent job of showing just how much we lack in the planning department. We’re all smart, capable Supers, but we don’t have much experience with having to think like tacticians.”
“Actually, I’d say that night taught us one person in the group has a tremendous amount of experience in thinking like a tactician,” Mary disagreed.
“You mean Nick?” Alex’s voice did not convey a tone of reassurance at this revelation.
“I do,” Mary confirmed. “I might be the captain, but being in charge means delegating on tasks you know you aren’t the best option for. When it comes to strategy and thinking ahead, I’d say Nick is by far the greatest among us.”
“If you say so,” Alex said hesitantly.
“Alex, I know the image Nick gives off: that he is an irreverent, uncaring, sunglasses-wearing douchebag slacker who is just here wasting everyone’s time,” Alice said.
“I feel that was a little excessive,” Nick complained.
“But,” Alice continued, ignoring Nick’s protests, “we four know him better than anyone else. We lived with him for the past year and fought against Coach George with him. The fact that we’re totally on board with Mary’s suggestion should tell you that there is more to him than gelled hair and a sack of shit where his heart should be.”
“Okay, that one was just mean,” Nick spoke up again.
“Alice is right,” Vince agreed.
“Oh, sorry, Nick, not about those things, but about us knowing you and what you can do,” Vince clarified.
“I believe you all,” Alex said. “It’s just strange to hear. I don’t mean to be offensive, I just never saw you as the type to plan ahead much. Quite the opposite, really.”
“If you considered yourself a telepath then I’d take that as a compliment,” Nick said. “As is, I’ll just appreciate the willingness to view me in a new light. I’ll even tell you what: how about before we go over my ideas for prepping for multiple types of challenges, you listen to my overview of our situation? If you think I don’t have a comprehensive grasp on what we’re facing then I’ll happily abdicate my newly-acquired duties.”
“That sounds more than fair,” Alex agreed, taking a seat next to Vince. Camille slipped into a chair over near the door where she had a good view but was difficult to see.
“Good,” Nick said, stepping forward from his leaning position and taking command of the attention in the room. “I’d like to start with a simple overview of our chances as we are at this given moment, and with the most recent knowledge of Britney’s team that I have.” Nick paused and thought of how to best articulate this message that would convey a firm grasp of the situation to his teammates.
“To put it succinctly: we’re fucked.”