“Sounds like quite an eventful night,” Mr. Numbers said. He studied the board for a moment and then moved his pawn.
“That’s one heck of an understatement,” Mary replied. Her eyes swept over each piece as she contemplated possible moves. “When we got home, Alice barely stayed awake long enough for Camille to heal her hand. She passed out on the couch; poor thing was completely wiped. I had to carry her into her room.”
“How nice of you.”
“To be honest, I was a little thankful she fell asleep. I didn’t even know what to say to her at the time. Plus I was drained from some... other stuff.” Mary moved her rook a few spaces up. She’d lose it in two moves, but if she was lucky, it would give her an opening.
“Other stuff?” Mr. Numbers moved his bishop, setting his own trap for when Mary attempted to spring the one she was haphazardly constructing.
“Yeah, other stuff.” Mary and Nick had shared some brief words, mostly agreement that what had been seen in his mind was to stay between the two of them. Other than that, he had kept his distance for the rest of the evening. Of course, Alice had needed tending to, and in her distraught state she’d barely released Nick for any extended period of time. Still, Mary had a feeling she would need to have a talk with her sunglasses-sporting teammate before long. What she’d learned was simply too huge not to affect their friendship. That would come in time; currently she had bigger concerns.
Mr. Numbers watched Mary move a pawn, sealing the outcome of the game. He’d have her in five moves. “So, have you talked to her about the other aspect of the incident?”
Mary shook her head. “She’s been asleep, or pretending to be asleep, all morning. I’m not even sure what we do about it.”
“You should talk to the dean. He’ll direct you to the appropriate course. I assure you, Supers discovering new aspects of their abilities is hardly unheard of in the HCP.” Mr. Numbers moved his bishop.
“I guess so. She might want to keep it secret for a little while, at least until she gets a handle on it.” Mary moved another pawn quickly, hoping to step up the pace of the game and lure him into a mistake.
“Trust me, if the dean isn’t already aware of Alice’s new light-smashing developments, he will be soon. The man runs a tight ship and has been actively keeping an eye on you five.”
“Is that your way of saying you’ll tell him if we don’t?”
Mary cocked an eyebrow. It was rare to get such a straightforward answer from Mr. Numbers.
“That seems a bit like prying into our business.”
“Mr. Transport and I are your caretakers. Prying is one of the main parts of the job description.” Mr. Numbers moved his own knight, taking Mary’s rook. “That said, I would report this information even if it wasn’t about one of our charges. Alice needs to get training and she needs it as soon as possible. For a regular Super or a Powered, an uncontrolled ability is already dangerous, but for someone in the HCP it is utterly unacceptable.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Mary agreed. “We do tend to be a bit more active with our powers. I can see how Alice might hurt someone without meaning to.” Mary sent her rook into the fray, taking one of Mr. Numbers’ pawns in the process.
“Someone, or herself,” Mr. Numbers added.
“Fine, you’ve made your point. How would I even reach him on a Saturday?”
“I have a number you can call to set up an appointment.” Mr. Numbers moved his queen into position, preparing for the final blow.
“I’ll get Alice and call after the game is over,” Mary said.
“Then I suggest you get the phone. We don’t have long to go.”
“Don’t go counting me out until it’s over.”
She was beaten in two more moves. Mr. Numbers cleared the board while Mary went to attend to the undesirable task of dragging Alice out of bed. She wasn’t surprised, not really. She never came close to beating Mr. Numbers. It was as impossible as beating Roy in an arm wrestling contest. Mary wisely understood that losing could still teach a person quite a bit, so she persisted in her weekly habit of being clobbered despite any sense of progress. Mr. Numbers occasionally opined that such persistence was one of the habits that made her a good leader and might one day make her a good Hero. If he being truly honest with himself, he might have admitted that these thoughts were actually less opinion than they were hope; however, Mr. Numbers was seldom that honest with anyone, especially himself.
* * *
Alice lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. She was trying to sleep; however, her body had expelled her from dreamland some hours earlier and was having none of her attempts to gain re-entry. She wanted to fall back into blissful slumber because she knew that once her feet left the covers, her day had to begin. She would need to talk to the professors about the crashing lights, because while she was skeptical she had the ability to do something like that, it seemed far too big of a coincidence to ignore. She’d probably have to find Rich and apologize at some point; Mary and Alex had confirmed that whatever had gone on in her mind probably wasn’t created by him. Alice had heard the words at the time, but they couldn’t register until after she’d calmed down. She might owe Nick a new shirt: she was fairly certain the makeup she’d had on would stain most materials when combined with tears.
All of these were reasons she was still on her back despite the slowly rising sun, but they weren’t the main one. In her heart of hearts, the reason Alice didn’t want to get up is that once she accepted this new day, her mother would be dead again. She’d had a brief taste of hope and it had soured the whole of reality for her. It wasn’t surprising that her psyche would dream up something as twisted as a mysterious stranger telling her that her mother was actually alive. Not surprising, but exasperating. Yet here she was, still clinging on to that little piece of her that wanted to believe that somehow it was true. That part would evaporate when she got up. There was no room for such childish delusions in the cold wastelands of the real world.
There was a soft knock on her door. “Alice, are you up yet?” It was Mary. Of course it was Mary. She was coming by to check on her, to help make things right. That was what Mary did. Alice said nothing, just kept staring at the ceiling.
“We’ve got an appointment with Dean Blaine in an hour. I’ll come back in fifteen minutes, but if you’re still asleep, I’ll have to wake you up.” There was a sound of footsteps walking away, barely discernible through the thick door.
Alice wondered how she’d make good on that threat. Could she levitate the bed without seeing it? Maybe she’d have Mr. Transport teleport her in here. She’d find a way; Alice had no doubt of that. The alarm clock was blinking ten o’clock. That meant they needed to be in the office at eleven. She could keep wasting time here and throw herself together at the last minute, or she could get up and put on her armor. Mascara, blush, eye shadow, heels, straightened hair, an hour of effort to appear as if she were effortlessly beautiful. Alice didn’t need all of that; she was naturally gorgeous. She did it because it made her feel stronger, like she had some control over the world around her. She needed to feel stronger today. She needed it very badly.
Alice swung her feet over the edge of her bed and plopped onto the floor. She winced, ever so slightly, and then set about getting ready for the day ahead.