Chapter 67

“So, what made you pick a horror movie?” Nicholas asked as Alice’s car sped quickly through a yellow light, barely passing the other side before it turned red. If she noticed or cared about the crime nearly-committed, nothing on her face gave it away.

“You liked horror movies,” she replied truthfully. “I can barely think of a single gathering you didn’t try to hijack and fill with a low-budget gore-fest.”

“If that’s true, it still doesn’t account for why you chose one as our evening’s destination,” Nicholas pointed out. “Something more suited to your own tastes might have been more enjoyable.”

“I… I don’t think I want to answer that question just yet,” Alice said after a slight pause. Maybe, if things went well, she’d tell him why she’d decided to sit through a terrible horror movie rather than take in a piece with actual artistic or entertainment value. Maybe, but not yet. That bit of truth would have to be earned.

“Alright then, let’s change topics,” Nicholas said graciously. “Why risk speaking to me at all? Surely you’re worried I could blow your secret identity and get you tossed from the program. After all, you’ve revealed yourself as an HCP student to someone outside the program.”

Alice actually laughed at that idea, a muffled sound from under her breath. “You know, I thought about that when I decided to come find you. I even felt a little afraid of the possibility for about half a second. Then I realized that there was no way you’d risk doing something like that.”

“Risk? There is no risk at all on my part,” Nicholas pointed out. “There are no consequences to outing an HCP student.”

“None from the program or the school, sure,” Alice agreed. “But you and I spent two years together, none of which you remember. Now I’m sure you’ve got some way to recompile information or something, that sounds like classic Nick, however what you probably didn’t record are all the secrets I’ve gleaned about you over that time. You don’t know how much I know, so there’s no way you’d risk pissing me off and finding out if it’s enough to get you in trouble with your people back home.”

“Valiant attempt at a bluff,” Nicholas informed her. “Unfortunately, you failed to create a believable scenario. No version of myself would ever betray secrets dire enough to put me in jeopardy.”

“Maybe not intentionally, but you seem to forget that you lived under the same roof as a telepath for two years. One who has no scruples about constantly listening to our idle thoughts. One who is my best friend in the world and will happily give me dirt for vengeance if it’s called for,” Alice pointed out, taking a smooth left at speeds bordering on unsafe. If not for her exceptional handling of the vehicle, Nicholas might have found himself fearing a wreck. Instead his terror was all reserved for the possibility of what Mary might have overheard in his years residing with her.

“I accounted for that risk,” Nicholas lied lamely.

“Sure you did,” Alice replied, tone confident and even. Will might currently be the best in Subtlety, and Nick had surely held the crown before him, but no one could accuse Alice Adair of slacking off in her efforts. “And just so we’re clear, you should never use yourself as a litmus test for what Nick would have done. He did things that you would never consider viable options. Nick was closer to one of us than one of you.”

“Such high praises, you must have been quite taken with him,” Nicholas said, keeping his own voice calm. For some reason, being verbally accosted by Alice did not leave a pleasant taste in his mouth.

“I think I spent more time hating, distrusting, being annoyed at, or outright loathing Nick than anyone else in our group,” Alice admitted. “Yes, I was taken with him. He was an outright unapologetic ass more times than anyone has a right to be, but he was one of us. When it mattered, he was one of us.” The car made a light squeal as Alice accelerated into the parking lot and quickly located a space.

This multiplex was located near the outskirts of town. The faded neon glow fell through the windows of Alice’s car, painting the whole interior in unnatural hues. Few other cars decorated the parking lot, there was only so much demand for obscure B-films instead of Hollywood blockbusters. In a way, the building was almost creepier than the movies it showed, years of neglect succeeding where poor special effects failed.

“And what am I?” Nicholas asked, staring at Alice, her blonde hair almost appearing green in the neon light.

“I don’t know,” Alice said, staring at her steering wheel. Maybe this whole thing had been a bad idea. Nicholas was making her miss Nick more, not less. She’d chosen to go see a stupid horror movie because it was where Nick would have tricked her into going, if they’d ever gotten a first date. But they didn’t; they’d had two years together and she’d let so many chances to step up and advance their relationship slip away. Then one day there were no more chances. She wouldn’t risk doing nothing again. At least this time she’d see what possibilities were there.

“I don’t know what you are,” Alice repeated. “That’s why we’re going on a date. I want to find out.”

“I suppose that’s fair,” Nicholas acquiesced, popping open his door and stepping out in the neon-filled night.

Alice took a moment a compose herself, then followed. In the brief time she hesitated, Nicholas covertly checked his phone to see if there were any messages from Eliza. It came up clean, so he pocketed the small electronic device. Eliza and Jerome were both pros; if they were staying silent it meant everything was going to plan. Evidently Nathaniel was still keeping his distance. That was a good thing; Nicholas had no desire to see his night ruined by the orange-eyed freak.

 *              *              *

In the parking lot of Nicholas’s apartments, the flames were finally dying down as firemen doused the smoldering car liberally with water. Several police were on the scene, taking a quick scan of the area and immediately noting the tell-tale signs of a bomb. The car it had destroyed was a mid-size sedan, unremarkable in color or model. In fact, there was only one feature about the vehicle that distinguished it from the other automobiles in the parking lot, aside from having just been incinerated.

Warped by heat and thrown several feet from the blast was the car’s rear license plate. That was not the oddity, the thing that made it stand out. Every other vehicle around had California plates, but these weren’t from the golden state.

This car had possessed license plates from Nevada.