Chapter 146

               The first thing he realized was that he was no longer in his apartment. He wasn’t much for ancillary comforts, but a quality mattress was something even Nick felt was important. The bed beneath him was hard, barely squishy enough to qualify as a proper cot. As his eyes opened he noticed the burning glare of fluorescent light attacking his retinas, confirming his suspicion that he was no longer in his own home.

                “Doesn’t it figure: the one time I actually need a pair of damn sunglasses and I don’t have any on hand.” Nick pulled himself up to a sitting position slowly and surveyed the room. It was largely bare, with a few other cots scattered about and a single steel door as a point of entry. There were no windows dotting the cinderblock interior, all illumination came from the gently humming lights thrumming overhead.

                “Forgive the lackluster accommodations; we couldn’t very well take you to a Lander facility.” Dean Blaine was sitting on a cot a few feet away, Professor Pendleton at his back. He actually did look apologetic over the setting, which was more than Nick expected.

                “Yeah, I guess breaking rules on campus would be sort of asking for it,” Nick agreed. He spun carefully around on his cot, testing to see if the extended rest had left him with stiff joints or dizziness. As far as he could tell, he was in tip-top shape. “Where is this place, anyway?”

                “An old recovery station for Heroes,” Dean Blaine said. “Back in the beginning, before people got used to the idea of Heroes, our kind was fighting back a nearly endless sea of Supers who thought they could crush the system before it took hold. The fights were bloody, dangerous, and frequent. Heroes sometimes had to find places to lay-low and heal in safety, so sporadic shelters were set up in all major metropolitan areas. Almost no one uses them anymore, we’ve graduated to fortified bases, but they do still come in handy from time to time.”

                “Like when you have to secretly transport five unconscious bodies out of a near-campus apartment so your pet telepath can tinker around in one of their heads,” Nick said. “I take it Transport kicked in on that front?”

                “I will neither confirm nor deny the involvement of anyone beyond myself, Professor Stone, and Professor Pendleton. We are the only people outside your group of friends who you should feel comfortable displaying knowledge in front of. On that note, I suggest you think of a good excuse to give your body-guards, they were certainly quite shocked to find you all had vanished in the span of a blink. To them and everyone else, you are exactly as unaware of the Super world as you’ve been since last semester ended. ”

                Nick smiled; a lazy expression the stretched across his face like a cat in a sunbeam. “That’s why you made them seeking me out one of the conditions to crack open my head. Any curious parties will have done telepathic sweeps during that time and come up clean, now it will seem perfectly natural to pal around with my old friends.”

                “Glad to see a few months of quasi-slumber haven’t dulled your mind,” Dean Blaine said.

                “On the subject of my friends, where are they?”

                “Moved to another area for their own debriefing. You’ll all be cut loose of here soon; we just have to be certain they understand the extent of the situation. Besides, there are some things we need to discuss with you that are not for prying ears, not even those of your friends.”

                “I take it no telepaths will be overhearing us then.”

                “Unless they have a level of ability I’ve yet to encounter, then no, they will not be.”

                “That explains why you stuck around, but why is Professor Pendleton here?” Nick asked.

                “I’m here to give you your syllabus, as well as your assignments for over the winter break,” Professor Pendleton said.

                Nick tilted his head a few degrees to the side. “Did I get re-enrolled and no one told me, because I’m not going back to eating dorm food. You can just reseal my memory right here and now.”

                “No, you’re good and out of the HCP forever,” Professor Pendleton said. “But surely someone like you didn’t imagine that getting your memories sprung was going to be free. You’ve got a capable mind and some interesting intelligence resources. As of today, your new part-time job is helping us gather information about Globe. We’ve got a lot of questions, and it’s time to start finding some answers.”

                Dean Blaine rose from his cot, stepping aside so Professor Pendleton could come around. “I’ll leave you with your teacher to get your new assignments and syllabus while I check on the others. Have no fear of being overhead; I plan to stay close enough to keep any errant telepaths at bay.” Dean Blaine strode across the room and exited through the thick steel door.

                He walked down a small hallway, also made of cinderblocks and without windows, for several feet before he found Esme Stone waiting patiently.

                “I told them Nick needed to get checked over before we could release him, and that they’d see him later tonight. They weren’t thrilled, especially not Mary, but they left with Mr. Transport.”

                “Her skill at sifting through thoughts seems to be growing every week,” Dean Blaine noted. “The information gathering she pulled off in her exam was nothing sort of spectacular. They’re all coming along so fast.”

                “Exceptionally so,” Professor Stone agreed.

                “Well then, let’s not beat around the bush: what were the results?”

                “All of them.”

                “You’re certain?”

                “I’ve been doing this long enough to know a resistant mind when I feel one.” Professor Stone didn’t quite snap at the dean, but her tightened expression made it clear how she felt about being questioned. “Even dragged into a dream by Mary, each and every one of their minds was unnaturally resistant to being broken into. I had ample time to check it out while talking with them, and while each could be accessed with enough effort, it took far more effort than it should with any normal person or Super.”

                “Mental resistance is not unheard of, even among humans,” Dean Blaine pointed out.

                “But it’s rare, very rare, and for it to be present in five people unrelated by anything save a mysterious procedure…”

                “No, you’re right. We have to assume it’s connected.”

                “The question is: what does it mean? I’ve never heard of anything besides meditation exercises that increased a person’s mental defenses. There’s not a single physical technique I’m aware that would do such a thing.”

                “True, but up until three years ago there was no technique to turn a Powered into a Super either,” Dean Blaine said. “I think it’s time we got a little more aggressive in finding out exactly what was done to those children.”

                “About time. I was wondering how long you were going to let that mystery slide,” Professor Stone replied. “When do we start?”

                “After Christmas,” Dean Blaine said. “We’ve had a long semester, and I think a little downtime will be good for everyone.”

                “Plus Miriam will hang you out to dry if you miss the holidays,” Professor Stone added.

                “Yes, that too.”