Chapter 3

Nicholas Campbell tossed the final empty box into his apartment complex’s dumpster with a curious sense of satisfaction. The moving company had done most of the real work, what little there was with moving into a furnished apartment, but he still felt as though he’d accomplished something by emptying the few boxes of possessions he’d brought with him. They’d been stored in closets and chests as appropriate, leaving a home that was far too organized to pass as the domicile of a regular college junior. He’d have to muck up the place before having anyone over, such was the onus of blending in. At least his new persona wasn’t trying to fly below the radar in a program filled with superhuman teens and recent post-teens. All he had to do was convince those around him he was living a regular college life. Well, almost everyone.

He’d barely gotten the door closed before a light series of knocks echoed from the other side. Momentarily Nicholas considered locking the door and ignoring it, but pursuing that option would cause him more headache than it was worth. Had it just been the two people he knew were standing outside to contend with then there would have been no issue. Unfortunately, they were not alone; they carried a directive from Ms. Pips, and that meant even without being there she was still telling him that these employees were to be treated with respect. Respect was a very important thing in their world, almost as important as money.

“Yo,” Eliza greeted as Nicholas pulled open the door, throwing up a peace sign and walking in without invitation. She’d lost the biker gear and thrown on jeans and plaid top unbuttoned and tied in the middle. It made her look like a slutty farmhand.

A strange twitch rippled through Nicholas’s mind as he felt like he knew someone who would approve, but then came up empty on who. Right, it was probably Roy; he affected a southern persona, according to the notes. These twitches were a cause of confusion for Nicholas, his brain kept reaching for information in a place it was no longer allowed to access, then having to reconcile from data he’d only read. It made for a slower thinking process, which Nicholas considered unacceptable.

“Afternoon,” said Jerome, walking in a bit more tactfully. Despite what one might expect from the name, Jerome was clearly of Asian heritage, though Nicholas had never been able to quite figure out exactly which locale. No one knew his real name, except perhaps Ms. Pips, which was effectively the same as no one knowing. He’d been caught stealing food from the buffets when he was ten, but ambition, and a useful ability, persuaded The Family to offer him work rather than take the crime out on his flesh. Jerome must have appreciated how rare this opportunity was; the man was beyond reproach in his dedication. He was also proper and polite, which annoyed Nicholas to no end.

“You may as well come in too,” Nicholas sighed, swinging the door open wider to accommodate Jerome’s mighty frame. Whatever his genetic ancestry, it was definitely one that favored large builds and to which muscle came easily. “I doubt I’ll be getting rid of her anytime soon.”

“Why thank you, I’d love a beer,” Eliza called from the couch. She was looking through his bookshelf and had already managed to destroy its alphabetic arrangement. Oh well, he would have had to do that himself eventually.

“So sorry to disappoint, but I haven’t had the chance to swing by the store.”

“You sure? Check your fridge.”

Nicholas did just that, also looking in the shelves and the cabinets, confirming what he’d already suspected. All were full, stuffed with food and supplies enough to last a week or so. He’d only been down at the dumpsters for seven minutes, tops. This was pretty impressive work.

He tossed Eliza a beer, helping himself to a gin on the rocks. That much, at least, he’d put in the cabinets himself. Jerome got tossed a beer as well, though he politely set it on the table. Jerome didn’t drink, so it would ultimately end up in Eliza’s stomach, but propriety demanded Nicholas make him the offer as a host.

“Not bad,” Nicholas said, settling down in a chair that needed severe ergonomic overhauling to be comfortable. “Are those going to dissipate in three days?”

“No, you got the originals,” Eliza told him. “Though I did duplicate a few of the better items for us.”

“I expected as much.” Eliza was a Super, one with a very useful talent that made her The Family’s best counterfeiter. She could create duplicates of any non-living object she held. These copies were effectively real; they could be taken apart, would pass any examination, and were molecule for molecule identical to the original. The only difference is that hers would dissipate after seventy-two hours, or when she wanted it gone, whichever came first. “Ms. Pips give you a key?”

“Yeah, but I picked it anyway. You need a better lock, I cracked it in under twenty seconds.”

Nicholas frowned. For the price of the rent, he’d expected at least somewhat decent security. Evidently this place thought being a few blocks from campus made it worth the exorbitant cost.

“I’ll look into it. Any word on Nathaniel yet?” These two had arrived and moved in a few apartments down a week earlier, their assignment to keep watch and see if they could find where the orange-eyed fuck was holing up over the semester.

“Nothing so far,” Jerome said. “We don’t think he’ll show until classes actually start, and even then he might come late.”

“We doubt he gives two wet fucks about his G.P.A. or perfect attendance,” Eliza added.

“Right. At any rate, the Evers family has ample holdings in the area, including a few hotels, so it is possible he could move into any one of them without notice, and we don’t have the resources to watch each one.”

“Good, that would be a waste of time,” Nicholas said. “He isn’t going to break into my house in the middle of the night, or if he does, it won’t be to attack me. They could take a shot at me in Vegas if they just wanted me dead. Even our family’s reputation doesn’t stop bullets.”

“So you don’t think he plans to kill you?” Jerome asked.

“Oh no, I’m positive he plans to kill me, but that’s an outcome, not a plan. Nathaniel and I have been having these matches since were kids. Matches that he, incidentally, always loses. Nathaniel wants me dead; however, he wants it to happen in a way that doesn’t start a war. Even more than that, Nathaniel wants to beat me. That’s the only reason for him to take this route. He can’t let me die without at least one mark in his Win column, so he’ll undoubtedly engage us in some drawn out game of wits and subterfuge.”

“Sounds like a pain in the ass,” Eliza muttered. “I guess there’s no other way to deal with him though.”

“Of course there is,” Nicholas replied, taking a sip of his drink. “I don’t owe him anything, certainly not entertainment when I have enough on my plate. I have no intention of playing whatever games he comes up with.”

“So, then what’s the plan?” Jerome asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Nicholas shot back. “When he comes to confront me in some idiotic manner, I figure out the game he is trying to play, then I do what I’ve always done best. I cheat.”