Chapter 7

Vince rubbed his head as he and the others walked among the late summer foliage that decorated the Lander campus. He’d been healed, of course. They all had. But somehow he felt like something still smarted. Were Vince the introspective sort, he might have considered the possibility that it was his pride.

“Yeesh, I feel like I’m still walking funny,” Nick complained, his own gait easily on par with the others despite his protests. “Next time I’m pinning a note to my shirt: ‘Do not let Ed heal.’”

“Who is Ed?” Alice asked.

“One of the junior year healers. What’s wrong with Ed?” Roy answered and asked.

“His power just speeds up the body’s natural healing to light speed. I prefer the ones that make it like it never happened,” Nick explained.

“You want some cheese with that whine?” Mary said snidely.

“No, but I would like some original content in your insults,” Nick shot back. “I’m just saying, electricity can have long term effects. What if it had screwed with my nervous system, or worse, dulled my rapier wit?”

“We’d finally have proof of a just and loving God?” Alice ventured.

“Ha. Ha. Just for that I’m not listening to your votes on what to watch for our welcome back movie marathon,” Nick snapped.

“Oh no, please, please, please be joking,” Mary’s soft voice implored.

“Come on, how else do you want to celebrate our return to Lander than by engaging in our traditional form of revelry?”

“Literally, I mean literally, anything else,” Alice said.

“Fine then. Whipped cream orgy it is.”

“Is it sad that I’d almost prefer that to more slasher flicks?” Mary asked.

“At this point, no,” Vince agreed as he opened the Melbrook front door. The five students piled in and down the hallway, entering the common room to find a set of unexpected guests awaiting them.

“Good afternoon,” Mr. Transport said, flashing them a wide smile. Mr. Numbers was more subdued in his greeting, merely offering a curt nod to his charges as they meandered into view.

“You guys are back!” Vince cried happily. Despite the dean’s assurance, Vince had remained worried about what repercussion the Mr.’s would face for their role in Mary’s rescue.

“Of course,” Mr. Transport confirmed. “I’m sorry we’re a bit late, there were a few final loose ends to wrap up before we were able to return. I trust you had a good orientation?”

“Good? Why, it was downright... shocking.”

It’s hard to say who threw the first light punch into Nick’s shoulder for that awful pun, but it was easily observable that everyone joined in before he cried out for mercy.

“It was interesting,” Mary reported more factually. “Looks like second year is a lot different from the first.”

“In more ways than one,” Roy tacked on.

“So we’ve been briefed,” Mr. Numbers said. “It will be hard. Try to keep up.”

“What Mr. Numbers means to say is that we have faith you five will make us proud and all do well enough to make it to third year,” Mr. Transport hastily added.

“Sure,” Mr. Numbers said, in a tone that one could take as an agreement, were they feeling particularly generous.

“Well, glad as we all are to see you, we were already deep in a discussion about how to spend our evening,” Nick said, steering the conversation back toward his original goal.

“Uggggh.” The groan came from both the gathered students and, if one were listening quite carefully, was slightly augmented by a small contribution from the pursed lips of Mr. Numbers.

*    *    *

Carl sat in his new office, a formerly paper-cluttered mess that had been scrubbed clean of all documents in the course of the recent investigation. He drank a glass of water and eyed the small white pills in front of him. It was ludicrous to him that he could transform into living lighting, fight off an entire room of young bucks, and yet his doctor was still lecturing him on the importance of monitoring his cholesterol. It seemed like a horrible prank perpetrated on him by the cosmos. Still, Carl Fletcher was a pragmatic man, so he swallowed the pills along with a mouthful of water and grimaced at the bitter taste.

A light hand knocked on his door, then slid the wooden barrier open without waiting for a response. Carl glanced up to see a tall man with dark shaggy hair waltz in and plop down in a chair positioned directly before the desk.

“That,” Sean Pendleton said, “was truly stupendous. I mean, a masterful display of skill and power woven together in a tapestry of ass-kicking.”

“Thanks,” Carl replied, taking another draw from his water.

“A sight like that, it speaks to a lifetime of experience. Certainly years spent in active combat, not to mention extensive training beforehand.”

“They don’t exactly hire rookies to teach here,” Carl deflected.

“Oh no, certainly not. In fact, generally speaking, only Heroes with exceptional pedigrees and pristine records are even considered for these positions. I say generally because I believe you and I are exceptions to that rule. You see I, in case you weren’t aware, am a convicted thief on the grandest of scales. And you, well, you are a no one,” Sean said.

“Aren’t you just a charmer?”

“I don’t mean it as an insult, I meant it literally. See a talent like yours coupled with the skill you showed would hardly go unnoticed, even in the world of Heroes. But I’ve never seen or heard of any Hero with your particular talents, and I even went to the trouble of doing some digging after the spectacle. You aren’t a criminal either; I certainly would have heard of someone like you running in that circle. So that leaves you as a nobody. Which presents quite the conundrum.” Sean leaned forward at this point and lowered his voice. “Because, you see, I know why I was chosen to replace Persephone. And given the situation at hand, I can only conclude that Dean Blaine tapped you for precisely the same reason.”

“Trust,” Carl surmised, his own tone matching the low audibility of Sean’s.

“Right on the money,” Sean said. “Dean Blaine is in quite a precarious position, and as such seems bent on surrounding himself with personnel he can count on. Now, I know why I’m perceived as loyal. You, however, remain something of an enigma to me.”

“While everything you’ve said is true, I fail to see how it’s any of your business,” Carl replied.

“Simply put? You and I were both brought here from the outside after a fantastic snafu. Now, while he would never want to admit it, two top employees going so far off the reservation must have shaken Blaine’s faith in his staff. And rightly so: we still have no real idea what the point of their little after-hours field trip was. So a logical person would be forced to assume that there is more going on than what is presented on the surface.”

“You’ve just said a lot without getting to the point.”

“My point, you cretin, is that in a program where every human cog is a potential Judas, the only people we can safely trust are the dean and one another. So I’m proposing we get to know each other a bit better, given the shaky alliance we find ourselves thrust into.”

Carl sighed and finished off his cup of water. At this rate his doctor would have him on stress medication, too.