Chapter 27

Nick arrived at Wednesday’s Subtlety class to find the room empty, save for two chairs. He observed the lack of classmates, gave a half-hearted shrug, and then took one of the seats. A few minutes later, Professor Pendleton walked in and plopped down in the other one.

“Gave me a different puzzle, huh?”

“Yep,” Professor Pendleton confirmed. “The others were sent to a classroom with a set of problems on the board and instructions to solve them before I arrive.”

“They might notice I’m not there,” Nick pointed out.

“They might indeed,” Professor Pendleton agreed. “That’s really more your problem. Much like someone destroying my test to see who the really swift people were was my problem.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that. Strange that someone would do that.”

Professor Pendleton cocked his head to the side. “Really? You’re going waste my time with the innocent routine?”

“Never admit to any crime until you know what you’re being charged with,” Nick replied, his body language relaxed and his smile unwavering. Professor Pendleton wasn’t sure what to make of this kid. Even after seeing the tapes of Nick slipping the notes on to other students and reading the extensive file Blaine had compiled, there were just some things that didn’t seem to fit.

“Fair enough,” Professor Pendleton said. “I know it was you who organized that little stunt. I have video of you planting the papers on people.”

“So this is a disciplinary meeting then?”

“Not yet, though that option is on the table. Right now I want to understand why you did it.”

“You’re the teacher, you tell me,” Nick said, leaning back and setting his hands in his lap.

“Not how it works,” Professor Pendleton said. “You can play these little games with everyone else on campus, but in case you missed the memo, I’m the teacher in the only class where you really have talent. If you and I are going to have productive exchanges where I’m actually able to educate you, then I’m going to need honesty on your end.”

“And if I’m not okay with that?”

“Then by the time you get back to the surface your clearance will be revoked and your bags will be packed,” Professor Pendleton replied.

“It’s like that?”

“It’s like that. I’m here to teach. If you aren’t here to learn then there’s no need to waste my time.”

“I see,” Nick said. “Then to answer your question, I planted the notes because it was the best solution to my dilemma.”

“Which was?”

“I needed to be marked as exceptional, but I couldn’t have that happen in front of other people,” Nick replied.

“Because of the feelings against Powereds.”

“Partially, but mostly because it spoils the demeanor of ineptitude I’ve worked very hard to cultivate,” Nick explained. “Right now there is a team prepping to go up against us in some sort of test. In all of the scenarios and plans they’re running through, not one will account for me being as competent as I am. They’ll write me off, and I fully intend to slip some tricks through that gap of ignorance.”

“Seems like a long way to go for a one-use element of surprise,” Professor Pendleton said.

“Who said anything about one use? Our captain is a telepath. So far as anyone knows she’ll be the one making the plays and giving the orders.”

“Cunning. How long do you think you can keep up the charade?”

“Until the day I can’t,” Nick said honestly. “No reason to greet that day any sooner than I have to.”

“You’re an odd one, Nick,” Professor Pendleton said, slipping off his chair and walking slowly about the room. “Normally someone with your history and way of thinking would be on the opposite side of the Hero and criminal equation.”

“You’re the expert,” Nick shot back.

Professor Pendleton paused his walk, then resumed. “Found out about that already?”

“It wasn’t exactly hard,” Nick told him.

“I guess it wouldn’t be,” Professor Pendleton admitted. “Well, Nick, I find myself with my own dilemma. You see, I want to evaluate and educate you like the rest of the class, but I know you’ll keep tanking anything I throw at you on purpose. And while in any other class that would be career suicide, in this instance it happens to be an outstanding example of what Subtlety should be.”

“Quite a pickle,” Nick agreed.

“I suppose I could tell you to start performing up to your potential or I’ll fail you out.”

“You could.”

“Or I could judge your performance purely on the exams that will come throughout the year.”

“Also viable.”

“I think there’s another solution,” Professor Pendleton said, sitting back down in the chair. “Every Wednesday at five, you and I are going to meet in this room. I’ll have some class material for you and we’ll review the week’s teachings. The only difference is that while you’re in here, you’re honest. No ducking, no tricking, no pretending. I’m putting out a lot of extra effort by doing this so I expect you to come ready to better yourself.”

“That’s fair,” Nick said.

“One more thing: no tanking tests. When we do a practical exercise in my class I expect you to bring your A-game. I don’t care how you sell it to the others, but those are an integral part of Subtlety and I can’t replicate them one on one.”

“I think I can manage that,” Nick agreed. “I do have one question before I sign on. This honesty thing, does it go both ways?”

“To an extent,” Professor Pendleton said.

“Then I want to know why you’re bothering with the extra effort. I’m smart, I’m crafty, and I’ve got ability, but you and I both know that with the contenders in this class there is no way I’m graduating in the final ten.”

“Probably not,” Professor Pendleton concurred. “But it’s my job to help you as best I can anyway, no matter how slim the odds of you walking out of here with a cape. Besides, let’s just say I know what it’s like to be surrounded by people with way more power than one’s own.”

“That part I can believe,” Nick said.

“Anything else you wanted to ask?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“Then let’s get to class. I’ve got some other students to teach and you have to pretend you couldn’t solve the puzzle and show up late,” Professor Pendleton said.

“You catch on quickly,” Nick complimented.