Chapter 73

With the first round of trials over, life in the HCP settled back into the strange form of normality that occurred when you had dozens of highly skilled Supers training rigorously. For the junior class, little heed was paid to the outcome of the matches, beyond the personal lessons they’d learned. Training regimes were tweaked, new strategies conceived of, but for most of the class it was just like any other battle they’d endured at Lander: they moved past it almost as soon as it was over. There was one notable exception, however.

Will glanced up from his worktable in surprise at the sound of a knock, generally his roommates left him alone during construction time. He set down the soldering gun but left his safety goggles on; no sense in taking them off if this would be a quick meeting. With a few steps he reached the door and pulled it open. To his surprise, it was not one of his housemates on the other side. It was Camille.

“Hey,” she greeted sheepishly. “I was wondering if you had a moment to talk.”

“Of course,” Will said, opening his door the rest of the way. Camille stepped inside, unfazed by the sprawling collection of various electronics spread across the dwelling. It looked like a robot serial killer’s hidden lair, but she’d known Will since freshman year and was accustomed to his cluttered environment.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Camille began. “I was over visiting Violet, and we started talking about last week’s Close Combat trials.”

Will gave her a slight nod. The small girl’s upset, taking out Chad as well as Roy, had needed less than a single afternoon to spread throughout the class. Discovering the sweet little healer was actually packing serious power had left more than a few students rethinking what they believed they knew about their classmates.

“Anyway, while I was complaining about the biggest weakness of my ability, skin on skin contact, it reminded me that I wanted to talk with you about finding something that could help.”

“That depends,” Will said, considering his words carefully. “Are you looking for a way to use your ability without directly making contact with the other person?”

“Well, that would be amazing,” Camille admitted. “But I doubt you’d have anything that could totally repurpose my power just lying around. What I really wanted to ask about was some sort of material that I could wear while still letting me use my ability. The stripping down bit is really freaking embarrassing.”

Although Will had heard her ensemble described as no more revealing than a swimsuit, he understood that for someone as bashful as Camille it was still more than she wanted to show off. This would be especially true if she became a Hero and needed to use her power in the public eye.

“You were correct in that I couldn’t completely remove the contact barrier of your ability. Well, actually, I might be able to, depending on how your ability works and what I could come up with. It would be more prudent to say that even if I could remove that limitation, I wouldn’t.”

This time it was Camille’s turn to nod. She and Will weren’t close friends, but they were friends. Still, they were in competition with one another. That meant he would help with certain things, however he wasn’t going to give her such a supreme edge that it cost he or Jill their chances at graduation. It was one of the boundaries one had to observe when being friends with a tech genius.

“The request for a more modest outfit, however, I will happily accommodate if possible,” Will continued. “There are no guarantees, obviously. Each power is different, and it may turn out that no combination of materials will allow you to utilize your abilities.”

“I understand that,” Camille assured him. “Honestly, I’m just glad for any help you can give. I’d happily take skintight over skimpy.”

“That’s a good thing, because your outfit will almost certainly fall into that category,” Will informed her. “I’ll need to make some testing equipment before we do a preliminary round of trials. We could start sometime next week.”

“Wow, that’s really soon. I appreciate it.”

Will gave her a reassuring smile. “The next trials will, presumably, be in December. I assumed you’d want to be clothed by then.”

“Yes. Yes I very much would,” Camille agreed.

 *              *              *

Nicholas picked up the phone on its second ring. He sat in his apartment, quietly reading through some old files as the afternoon sun streamed through his window. The ringtone was Eliza’s, which gave him a mild sense of trepidation as he put the receiver to his ear. She had been less than pleasant ever since Jerome was roasted (albeit without injury) by a bomb and she nearly killed by goons. He didn’t entirely get the attitude, it wasn’t as though lasting harm had actually come to either of them.

“Got a new girl in the parking lot,” said Eliza’s voice. Instantly, Nicholas shifted gears. This was not a mere harassment call; it was the sighting of someone in their complex who didn’t belong. Ever since his date with Alice, far more attention had been paid to those details.

“Assessment?” Nicholas asked.

“I think she’s a visitor,” Eliza replied. “She’s reading the numbers on the doors, but looks as though she’s not entirely sure what she’s looking for. Appears to be a student, arrived on foot from the direction of campus, so if she is a fake she’s at least playing the part well.”

“Any distinguishing characteristics?”

“Nothing outstanding. Brunette, short, non-descript clothes. No purse or jewelry, not that it means much in the middle of a school day.”

Short, brunette, and seemingly oblivious to things like fashion. A creeping suspicion gnawed at Nicholas’s gut. It was an easy theory to test. He focused on thinking about his apartment’s number, running through the digits several times.

“She’s on the move,” Eliza informed him. “Coming up the stairs. Shit, she’s heading right for your place. Should Jerome and I intercept?”

“No, Eliza, let her be. I’ve expected this visit sooner or later since I arrived.” Nicholas ended the call, then rose from his seat, not bothering to put away the file. In a few long-legged strides he crossed the apartment, opening the door just before the short brunette young woman could knock.

“Mary, I presume,” Nicholas greeted her.

“And you must be Nicholas,” she replied, stepping inside. Nicholas closed the door firmly behind her. He didn’t need anyone overhearing this discussion.