Alice rose early Saturday morning, so early, in fact, that she interrupted Mr. Numbers and Mary playing their usual game of chess. By the time she’d gotten in the night before, everyone was sleeping, so there’d been no opportunity to give anyone a run-down of what transpired on her date. Even a year ago she might have kept the incident to herself, but after everything with Vince she’d decided that keeping the higher-ups abreast of what happened was for the best. She gave Mr. Numbers a complete account of the night’s activities, not bothering to ask Mary to leave since the telepath would pick it up anyway.
Mr. Numbers listened attentively, asking questions only when necessary, and otherwise letting Alice tell her account. Once she was done, he walked briskly to the apartment of he and Mr. Transport, roused his sleeping friend, and escorted Alice to see Dean Blaine. He paused briefly, to inform Mary that he remembered exactly where the pieces on the board were and that he’d know if she moved them around. Mary swore an oath of chess-based morality, then the two men in suits vanished, taking the still bed-headed blonde girl with them.
Mary sat alone, in the common room, a look of uncertainty on her face. She’d known Nicholas was on campus, and that Alice was intrigued by him, but the events of the evening didn’t quite add up with what she’d heard in his thoughts. With Mr. Numbers occupied, perhaps it was time to play a different kind of game.
* * *
“The good news is that you didn’t do anything illegal,” Dean Blaine informed her once Alice finished giving him a run-down of the previous night’s happenings. He, Mr. Numbers, Mr. Transport, and Alice were all sitting in his living room, an informality he would never have tolerated in circumstances less dire than one of his students being attacked.
Her eyes widened in surprise, evidently that possibility hadn’t even occurred to her.
“Fighting criminal Supers is the job of Heroes,” Dean Blaine reminded her. “There are very serious penalties for Supers who try and take up the job without proper certification.”
“But… he was attacking my friend.”
“I didn’t say the law was perfect, only that it was the law. Here, thankfully, it was rendered moot by your assailant's clearly-stated intent to do you harm. Supers cannot go looking for a fight, however, using their abilities in self-defense has been deemed within their basic rights,” Dean Blaine explained. “So, assuming you’re telling the truth, which we can confirm with a telepath if needed, there’s no reason you’d need to see any charges filed against you. That’s the good news.”
“The bad news is that if he turns me in, I’m out,” Alice said.
“Correct,” Dean Blaine confirmed. “While I don’t disagree with your use of power, the secret identity rule is an HCP standard for good reason. It teaches you restraint, how to live among humans and blend in with them, gives you a clean slate to launch a Hero career from, and most of all educates you on how to solve problems without resorting to your abilities. What you did, while understandable, puts you at risk. But there is a bright spot to consider.”
“I’ll take what I can get,” Alice said.
“The man who learned about your powers did so while attacking you and another citizen,” Dean Blaine reminded her. “Busting a Super in the HCP is not a small thing, and we don’t take anonymous submissions. If he does come forward to expose you, he will be immediately arrested for assault as well as any other crimes we can tie him to. From what you’ve told me, and what I know about Mr. Campbell’s previous lifestyle, there is a good chance Nathaniel Evers is smart enough to be aware of these consequences and avoid them. It would not surprise me at all if he never spoke of the incident to another soul.”
“Not turning me in, maybe, but why would he keep the whole thing a secret?”
It was Mr. Transport who filled in this gap for her. “The male ego, especially at your age, is a fragile thing. Even knowing he was beaten by someone undergoing Hero training, the thing that he’ll likely focus the most on was losing to a young, blonde, girl.”
“That’s idiotic,” Alice commented.
“That’s boys, at least boys in their late teens. Not everyone has their gender biases forcefully beaten out of them by trained professors,” Dean Blaine reminded her. “In this case, it could work to your advantage, so cross your fingers and hope that Mr. Evers is the prideful sort.”
“There’s almost zero chance he isn’t,” Alice said. “Especially knowing he runs in the same circles as Nicholas.”
“Ah yes, the other portion of the evening I wanted to speak with you about,” Dean Blaine said, jumping on her words immediately. “While there is no rule forbidding it, I trust you understand the risks you are taking by associating with Nicholas Campbell?”
“Professor Stone went over them at length with me, and I made sure I was comfortable with them before I ever approached him.”
“I was not speaking of risks related to the HCP,” Dean Blaine said, correcting her misassumption. “Nick Campbell, for all the strange wonder that he was, no longer exists as we knew him. You are not the first HCP student to try and reconnect with someone who has been forced out of the program. Even in cases less severe than his, it rarely ends well.”
“Did you ever try to do it?”
“Once,” Dean Blaine admitted. “A close friend I had during my freshman courses. I tried to reconnect with him, to rebuild a friendship on the ruins of his somewhat scattered memory. It wasn’t the gaps in his recollection that sank the efforts, however. It was the distance in the lives we were living. You don’t realize it, because all of your friends are in the HCP, but your world is tremendously different than that a normal human’s. The gap between normality and your life is the hardest thing to overcome, even when dealing with people who used to be a part of the HCP.”
“You make it sound like connecting with any non-HCP students is impossible.”
“Not impossible,” Dean Blaine said. His mind flashed with a memory of Miriam in her youth, the girl he hadn’t been able to keep with him as the HCP grew more intense. He’d failed to bridge that gap too, but Joshua had accomplished it, making it seem almost effortless. It could be done… by some. “Not impossible. Just very hard.”
“I’d hardly be much of a future Hero if I shied away from a challenge,” Alice pointed out, her eyes set in determination.
Dean Blaine smiled patiently. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t be.”