Chapter 93

The first few days of classes were largely unremarkable. Syllabi were handed out, new classrooms scanned and assessed for hook-up possibilities, and stomachs were forced to readjust to dorm food after several weeks of home-cooked goodness. Below the lush grass of Lander’s campus, a relatively small percentage of the total student population were dealing with stiff bodies and sore muscles as they got back into their training regimens. The smarter ones had kept up with at least a semblance of practice during the break, but even they needed an extra-long soak in the hot tub by the time the first week was drawing to a close. Within this sum of time that was, as previously mentioned, largely unremarkable, there were two quite remarkable events that occurred.

The first was a familiar posting of paper that was found by the gym on the sophomores’ first day back. It read: “March 1st. Team 1 vs. Team 2. Team 3 vs. Team 4.” It was gone the next day, as expected; however, like a tanker ramming through a dock, even once the cause was no longer visible the aftermath was abundantly evident. Efforts redoubled, training increased, and stress bubbled up in even the most stoic of students.

The second event was a two-person meeting that occurred in the classroom assigned to Professor Pendleton, in which a student turned in his extra-credit assignment.

“I have to hand it you,” Nick said as he sauntered in five minutes late for their appointment. “That actually proved to be a bit of a challenge.”

“Glad to hear that uncovering information that has the highest level of classification was ‘a bit’ of a challenge,” Professor Pendleton replied snidely. The truth was he was a little impressed the kid had actually pulled it off, or at least thought he had. Even for someone like Nick it should have been almost impossible to access that information.

“What can I say? I’ve got a gift.”

“That remains to be seen. So, what is your theory?”

“No foreplay or monologue, just right to the main event, huh? Fine, Blake Hill, in what has to be the least innovative naming convention of all time, worked as a Hero under the moniker Black Hole,” Nick said with a dramatic drop into the nearest seat. He’d planned much more theatricality for the reveal, but Professor Pendleton had taken all the style out of it.

“Nicely done,” Professor Pendleton complimented. “You pass.”

“Goody gumdrops.” Nick took a moment to stretch out in the desk, sprawling across it more effectively than one might have thought logistically possible. “I thought it was a little funny, finding out he was Black Hole. It sounded familiar, and then I remembered that was one of the people on the Hero team with Globe, Intra, and The Alchemist.”

“Most of the professors here had illustrious careers before settling into a teaching role.” Professor Pendleton could have said all instead of most if he and Professor Fletcher weren’t on the staff.

“I’m certain they did. I’m guessing all of them weren’t on an infamous team with Alice’s father.” Nick’s teeth became visible beneath a wicked grin. He might have gotten robbed of one of his reveals, but he had a feeling he’d get to enjoy the next one.

“You know about that?”

“Alice told me last year, back when we were doing a project on Globe. Strange, given how much time they spend together on her training that Professor Hill has never once mentioned his long friendship with her dad.”

“We keep a distance between ourselves and the students. We have to be objective to be able to teach you effectively,” Professor Pendleton replied.

“Some of you do, I’ll grant you that. Still, it seemed like the kind of thing that might have come up in conversation, even casually. There were reasons why it might not, like if Professor Hill wasn’t sure that Alice knew about her father’s Hero exploits. Then I remembered something else from last year. A tidbit of info I picked up when I made a scrapbook for Alice of her mother.” Nick’s sprawl had become compact as he spoke and he drew himself tall into a position of authority.

“That would be?”

“Her mother’s last name, or rather, her maiden name. If I recall correctly, which I always do, it was Hill.”

“Hill is a common last name,” Professor Pendleton rebutted.

“Sixteenth most common in America. It was still enough to make me dig deeper. Funny thing, county birth records aren’t nearly as secure as you’d think.”

“I do have other appointments today; can we cut to the chase?”

“Professor Hill is Alice’s uncle,” Nick said simply, a bit of his posture slumping. The professor just kept pilfering the wind from his sails today.

“Is he? I hadn’t expected that. I’m sure you can see why he’s remained quiet on the subject, then. Professor Hill is a professional and he wouldn’t want to raise the question of if he is giving his niece special treatment.”

“Makes total sense,” Nick agreed, slowly pulling himself out of his desk. “What makes significantly less sense is why Alice didn’t already know that. I mean, she was a Powered her whole life, it isn’t as if Professor Hill could have anticipated she’d go to Lander.”

“It is a sad truth that not every member of every family gets along. Perhaps Professor Hill and Alice’s father are not on amiable enough terms for him to see his niece.”

“Maybe. But it seems sort of funny that two people who served on a team together would be that distant from one another.”

“That was decades ago. People and friendships can change tremendously in that amount of time.”

“I suppose it’s possible,” Nick acquiesced. “Anyway, it’s none of my business; I got what you asked me for.”

“That you did,” Professor Pendleton agreed. “As I said, you pass.”

“Glad to hear it.” With that, Nick threw his backpack over his shoulder and sauntered out of the room, on to his next class and deception.

As Nick exited a small grin grew across Professor Pendleton’s face. It bloomed into the kind of smile that was often described as a ‘cat that got the canary’ smirk. It had been a while since Professor Pendleton had seen a plan come together so well; he’d almost forgotten about the tingle that flowed through his fingers or the light euphoria that danced in his brain.

“By the by,” Nick said, sticking his head back through the door. “I figured all that out in the first two days of break. By the fifth day I’d realized from the coincidences that you set me up to draw Professor Hill precisely so I would uncover all that information. They were all things you wanted me to know but couldn’t tell me. So I went back and did some more extensive research. It was so extensive, in fact, that I discovered the thing you were hoping I wouldn’t find. Just wanted to let you know. Toodles.”

With that Nick was gone, leaving only a very flustered professor whose grin had vanished like a ninja in smoke.