Chapter 140

               Mary’s face was stoic as she emerged from the stairwell, a few singe marks on her uniform as well as a torn coat. She’d wanted to be graceful and precise in her strategy, showing she had more than raw telekinetic strength. The sudden time crunch had robbed her of that, forcing her to lean on the skillset she knew so well. In a way it might have ultimately been a better tactic, because the shattered Sims left in her wake were an excellent reminder of just how powerful the short brunette woman truly was.

                “And with Mary Smith’s exam, today’s trial is complete,” Dean Blaine announced. “I want to congratulate you on an all-around excellent showing. Results will be posted after the winter break, but I should remind you that actual combat rankings are only re-calculated between years, so you won’t see any shift on that front. For those of you with classes, head on up and end your year well. For those of you already done, take the rest of today as a nice long rest. You’ve all earned it.”

                 Dean Blaine exited the room, followed immediately by the professors. Presumably they had some post-exam evaluating to do, or at least a secret clandestine meeting to get to. As professional educators of the highest caliber, it would be unthinkable to suggest they were all off to celebrate the end of the semester with a large supply of liquor and fine wines.

                The class began filtering out, moving in small groups as they discussed who had done what with their friends. Before anyone in the Melbrook area could move, Mary held up her hand to draw their attention to her. She remained silent as people filtered out, waiting until only Vince, Roy, Alice, and Chad were around her.

                “Chad, you know we all think of you as a friend, right?” Mary asked.

                “I have grown to believe so, yes. And I feel the same toward all of you,” Chad said.

                “I’m genuinely happy to hear that. Okay Chad, as a friend I’m going to ask you to do something. Please don’t ask me to explain it, and please don’t question why. Just trust that I’ve got your best interests at heart for now.”

                Chad gave a small nod of understanding. Perhaps he would have been more surprised at the vague and mysterious words of Mary if he were not familiar with these students’ penchant for getting embroiled in non-conventional situations.

                “Go to class, or back to Melbrook, or wherever you need to go. We have to go do something else, and I can’t tell you what that is. You just need to trust me.”

                “Trust is a two-way street, as the saying goes,” Chad said. “Your desire to get me away indicates a lack of it on your part.”

                “I promise to explain everything; just later. Any question you want, answered to the fullest.”

                There was a pause as Chad contemplated the suggestion, then he turned and began heading out of the room. Before he crossed the threshold, he turned back to his dormmates and spoke a few parting words.

                “If you need me, I’ll be near my phone all day.”

                Then Chad was gone, and the remaining three students stared at Mary uncertainly. She waited several moments, until she hoped Chad had walked far enough away not to overhear her, though with his hearing that was impossible to gauge. After what she hoped was long enough, Mary continued, dropping her bombshell with no preamble or warning.

                “We have a serious issue. Nick needs our help, and we need to get to him right away.”

                “You mean Nicholas,” Alice corrected.

                “No. I don’t.”

                The curiosity that had been flickering in each of the students swelled into genuine blazes, burning in their chest even as they forced themselves to hold back from asking too much in this public environment.

                “What’s happening to him?” Vince asked immediately.

                “I’m not totally sure. I’ve only been getting bits and pieces. The one thing I do know is that he’s in danger of being totally erased. No more Nicholas with bits of the real deal shining through, no more knowledge of who we are; nothing. It will be like it was supposed to all along; the Nick Campbell we knew will completely wiped.”

                “No. Not this time.” Vince’s body grew unnaturally still. It was a testament to Dr. Moran’s sessions that he managed to keep all the energy contained within him. Not so much as a whisper of fire leaked out of Vince’s body, but his eyes burned all the same. When he spoke, it was barely above a whisper, yet it was the sort of whisper that could make gods and kings shift in fear. “I’m not losing my friend again.”

                “We all feel that way,” Alice said.

                “Damn right we do,” Roy added. “So how do we save him? I’m guessing Mary’s got some sort of scheme cooked up.”

                “Scheme is probably the best word for it,” Mary said. The confidence and power she’d displayed in the trial was gone, now nerves finally found their way into her voice. “I have a very long-shot of an idea that probably won’t work.”

                “Well that’s just perfect.” Alice noticed the looks the others were shooting her and quickly clarified. “No, I wasn’t being sarcastic. That really is perfect. If we’re going to rescue Nick, it should be with some crazy-ass long-shot of a plan. It’s only appropriate.”

                A small laugh escaped Vince’s mouth in spite of himself. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. That’s the sort of thing he’d cook up if he were here with us. Count me in Mary.”

                “I haven’t even told you what the idea is,” Mary pointed out.

                “Doesn’t matter,” Roy said. “We trust you. You lead, we’ll follow.”

                Mary looked at Alice, who rolled her eyes. “Come on, do you even have to ask?”

                “Everyone quickly change out of your uniforms and into your street clothes. If you take longer than five minutes to get to the lifts, I’m leaving you behind. Time is not our friend today.”