Chapter 48

“How are you feeling?” Professor Pendleton asked.

“I’ve got one of the best healers in the school on my team; she patched me up right away,” Nick reminded him. The two were in an infirmary office going over a post battle check-up. Healers or not, it would be irresponsible not to check a student’s mental and physical health after any combat situation. The professors handled this task not because of any extensive medical knowledge but because they knew all too well the tell-tale signs of a student hiding something that might be wearing on them. Such was not the case today, as Nick was in rather high spirits.

“Still, electricity can have some lingering effects. Tasing yourself was pretty dangerous.”

“Not like it’s my first time on the shit end of an electrical charge. Besides, you only call something dangerous if it fails. When it succeeds, it’s called ‘innovative.’”

Professor Pendleton suppressed a sigh. He wondered if he’d been this foolhardy and brash in his youth. Had any of his own instructors been present, they would have happily informed him that this young man in sunglasses had nothing on him in the way of moronic stunts. As it was, Professor Pendleton merely continued with the exam.

“I suppose it was rather creative. I guess no one would have expected you to get the better of Gilbert in a one on one match.”

“Yeah; in fairness, even I was only giving myself fifty percent odds.”

“Yet you went ahead with such an uncertain strategy. Why?”

“Because I’ll take fifty percent over zero,” Nick said simply.

“There was another option. You could have let Mary handle both of them,” Professor Pendleton pointed out.

“Gilbert’s power makes him difficult for her to deal with. We fought him last year and found that out firsthand. If he’d been distracting enough, Terrance might have gotten in a fluke shot.”

“Why, Nick, you almost sound as though you were concerned about her.”

“I was. Mary is our strongest member; if she got taken out it could have spelled a lot of trouble.”

“A rather cold, if accurate, sentiment. At any rate, it’s hard to argue tactics with the one who triumphed,” Professor Pendleton said. He pulled out a folder from his briefcase and set in Nick’s lap. “You’re free to go. Consider this a parting gift. It’s a summation of what happened with each member of your team during the match. Normally it would go to the captain, but since you’re here and I have it, you can pass it along.”

“I guess handing these out is standard?”

“Only to the teams themselves. If you want to know about the others, you’ll have to rely on gossip and hearsay like everyone else,” Professor Pendleton said, his words half statement and half challenge.

“So we don’t get to know anything about the other teams’ match then?”

“Only their completion time. Yours, by the way, was forty-four minutes and thirteen seconds,” Professor Pendleton told him. “As for the other match, Team Two defeated Team Three in just a hair under ten.”

“That’s actually better than I’d hoped,” Nick said, his face void of the surprise one might have expected.

“You do understand that they devastated the other team in a fourth of the time it took you to win, right?”

“Sure, but look at what they were working with. Taking ten minutes to win tells me they don’t have a strong enough team dynamic or tactician,” Nick surmised, rising to his feet.

“Just out of curiosity, what do you base that conclusion on?”

“The fact that if I’d run their team, they could have won the match in five.”

Professor Pendleton started to chide him then thought better of it. Nick was many things: irritating, condescending, emotionally distant, all that had been made very obvious. He wasn’t overly prideful, however. The boy seemed to look at himself with an almost clinical detachment when evaluating his personal capabilities. From everything Professor Pendleton had seen, if Nick thought he could do something, he usually had several good reasons for it.

“You should be less concerned with how to manage them and more concerned with how to defeat them.”

“Oh, come on, you and I both know those are one and the same,” Nick replied, heading for the door. “Thanks for the file. I’ll be sure Mary gets it.”

Professor Pendleton suppressed a smile. Say what you would about the kid, he kept things interesting.

“Nice to see you’re taking this job at least somewhat seriously.” Professor Pendleton’s smile evaporated as he heard the voice from the doorway. He turned around merely to indicate he heard it; there was no need to verify its source. He knew that voice very, very well.

“Hello there, Professor Hill. All done checking on students?” Professor Pendleton asked stiffly.

“Professor Hill? Really, Sean, it is bad enough you avoid me at every turn, now you want to stick with formalities. I’m beginning to feel a bit hurt,” Professor Hill replied.

“My apologies, Blake. I suppose I just don’t think we have all that much to talk about.”

“I think we could talk about plenty. Why on earth you’ve come here, for example.”

“Dean Blaine requested I fill the vacant position, one that opened up because you allowed a pair of traitors to live under your nose for years,” Professor Pendleton snapped, his rigid tone caving to his impatience.

“So we replace traitors with a criminal. The Lander HCP is really moving up in the world.”

“If you have a problem with my employment, bring it up with the dean. Otherwise, we’re done here,” Professor Pendleton said, striding through the doorway. Professor Hill grabbed his arm before he could make it all the way past.

“Let go of me, Blake. You don’t want to do this.”

“We aren’t kids anymore, Sean, and I’ve gotten a lot stronger while you’ve been rotting in jail. Still, you’re right, I don’t want to do it. I just want to make you aware that I know the real reason you came to Lander.”

Professor Pendleton barked out a harsh laugh. “Congratulations, you figured out the world’s easiest puzzle. Of course she’s why I’m here. What of it?”

“Just letting you know to watch yourself. That one’s path has already been decided. Any attempts at interference will not be well-received.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Professor Pendleton lied. “Though given your track record with such things, maybe I should.”

Professor Hill released Professor Pendleton’s arm and lowered his voice. “What happened was a tragedy; I’ll never disagree with you there. Placing blame doesn’t help anyone.”

“It might not, but it sure as hell helps me wake up in the morning,” Professor Pendleton said fiercely, quickly walking away before his emotions could get the better of him.