Chapter 175

               As Nick prepared his living room, he took a few moments to make sure everything was properly set up. He’d had Eliza duplicate a few chairs, along with loads of beer and snacks, so there was room for nearly everyone to sit. The television and DVD player were both working fine, as was the jerry-rigged surround sound he’s created using old speakers. Lastly, and most importantly, Jerome and Eliza were under penalty of death if they dared interrupt the evening’s festivities, so the night could go off undisturbed.

                Nick heard them all coming before they ever knocked on the door. It was impossible for a herd that large to move without drawing attention, even if they were trying to be polite to his neighbors. Rather than making them bother with formalities, Nick flung open the front door to greet his friends.

                “Come on in, you damn buffalo. We’ve got some terrible movies to watch.”

                “Just as long as they’re the right terrible movies,” Alice warned. Despite her attempts at a stern face, she wore a cheerful smile as she waltzed into his apartment.

                “You wound me. All this time and you thing I would dare undermine our agreed upon viewing?”

                “All this time and I’d be an idiot to think you wouldn’t try,” Alice shot back.

                “Touché. Lucky for all of you, I gave my word. Plus Hershel agreed to help me organize a slasher marathon somewhere down the line.”

                “Don’t remind me,” Hershel sighed, following Alice in. He had a small bag that Nick already knew was full of collector’s editions DVDs, ones that had likely already been watched dozens of times over.

                “And don’t count the rest of us in for it, either,” Mary added. Unlike Alice, she looked as though she were genuinely trying to suppress grumpiness, rather than feigning it. Still, she held Hershel’s free hand and smiled when he looked at her, doing all she could to hide her disinterest in these awful sci-fi films.

                “I always thought I’d like to be in a slasher movie,” Angela said. “They usually go for the trampy blondes, and I’d love to see the look on some half-baked monster’s face when they got a load of me.”

                Nick had to admit, if only internally, that attacking Angela would likely be the last action of any person, psycho or otherwise. “Pleasure to see you again. What brings you to my humble abode?”

                “Well once I found out you had my boyfriend dressing up in a costume, I just had to get in on this shit,” Angela replied. She jerked a thumb backward, where Chad was talking with her brother. “The real shocker here is that he was able to talk Shane into coming. I’d have had to threaten and scheme for weeks to get him to go along with this sort of thing.”

                “Perhaps it’s because Chad simply asked me that I said yes,” Shane told her.

                “Or it’s ‘cause deep down you’ve always wanted to dress up like a space wizard. Knowing you this long, I’m putting my money on the latter.” Angela headed into the apartment, eyeing the place critically as she did. Despite her carefree demeanor, it didn’t escape Nick’s notice that she was scanning for exits and points of potential attack in this new environment. The girl wasn’t considered the resident Lander champion for nothing.

                “Based on my reading, there are no wizards in Space Puncher,” Chad told Shane. “There are, however, My’rth Na’Garea, which serves as a corollary to what we consider the magus of ancient-”

                “Nope, enough, don’t want to know,” Shane said. “I agreed to come watch movies, not get a lesson about the movies before I even saw them. Let’s just do this thing.”

                Shane and Chad entered, both young men exchanging polite nods with Nick. Officially, Nick wasn’t supposed to know who Shane was, but since this has been an open invite event, and Nick promised not to ask questions, there was no issue with him being in attendance.

                The same was true of Sasha, who was engaged in furious debate with Alex over some point of trivia that Nick neither recognized nor cared about. They exchanged greetings with him, which he returned, though it took effort to hide his surprise at seeing Sasha present. After last year’s team match, she’d shrunk away from them for some time. Then again, she had made amends with Camille and come along on the beach trip, so it wasn’t entirely strange that she’d been dragged into this event too. Of course, the real surprise was that a jock like Sasha had any interest in these movies to begin with.

                The final guests of the evening were Vince and Camille, who looked so damn awkward standing next to each other that Nick was tempted to shout an obscenity, just to shake things up. They were making conversation about work, something about new seating charts, that was enough to make anyone not involved in their shambling attempts at small talk want to grind their teeth together. Or, just tell them to stop dancing about and kiss already. Instead, Nick accepted Vince’s hug, then gave a much less familiar one to Camille, and shut the door.

                With everyone gathered, it was time to kick back, watch some terrible  sci-fi and forget about all the madness of the HCP, if only for an evening.

*             *             *

                When Ralph Chapman stepped into the apartment he had leased near the Lander campus, he made a mental note to fire whoever did security for the building. It was the second time that day he’s found himself staring at a young man who he didn’t know, and this time it was in his residence rather than at some diner. The whole bit was starting to wear a bit thin.

                “Right then,” Ralph said to the young man with bright orange eyes sitting on his couch. “You here to threaten, kill, or deal? If it’s threaten I should tell you I don’t back down easy, if it’s kill then enjoy the short life you have before the DVA catches up to you, and if it’s deal then I’m going to fix myself some coffee.”

                “You should put on a pot of the good stuff,” the young man said. “I’m here to make you an offer that I think you’ll greatly enjoy.”

                “Must be my lucky day then.” Ralph Chapman went to the cabinets and pulled out a bag of his best coffee. On the off case he did end up killed, there was no sense in letting it go to waste.

                “Yes, I’m aware you took a meeting with Nicholas Campbell earlier today. It was while watching him that I became interested in you, and goodness what a blessing that was. You are quite the fascinating person, Ralph Chapman. But forgive me, I should introduce myself. My name is Nathaniel Evers, and I think the two of us are going to be fast friends.”

                “I don’t really have friends,” Ralph replied.

                “No, but you do have enemies, people you want to see destroyed. In that matter, our interests line up nicely. It seems Nicholas cares about some of the people you hold in contempt. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to see something Nicholas loves be torn apart.”

                Ralph pulled out a coffee mug and some of the pink fake sugar packets he enjoyed, then headed over to the couch while the coffee brewed. He took a seat across from the young man and locked gazes with his orange eyes.

                “Why don’t you tell me exactly what it is you’re offering?”

                Nathaniel smiled, a grin too wide and showing too many teeth for it to be taken as any sort of friendly gesture. “I want to help you destroy the Hero students at Lander, of course.”