Chapter 111

                With every day that December’s trial grew closer, the amount students trained seemed to increase exponentially, until free time was a functionally fictional concept. The lengths of class sessions weren’t changing; this was effort they put in on their own, well after the HCP had dismissed them each afternoon. Even if no one said anything, even if this was ostensibly just another test, they’d been around too long to need it spelled out for them. The end of a semester was always a high hurdle to clear; odds were good this would be no exception. And, even if they were wrong, it wasn’t as though there was any harm in improving themselves.

                Yet, for as full as the gym and combat cells were in the weeks leading up to the event, on the day before it finally arrived there was nary a single white uniform to be seen outside of class. Determined as they were, every student who’d made it this far in the HCP understood the value in resting the day before a big activity. There was a huge difference between being prepared and exhausting one’s self; those who mistook the former for the latter had since been cut from the program. Even Chad was taking the night off, preparing for a video-chat date with Angela, assuming she didn’t get called away for work.

                Vince planned to do something similar, he’d booked reservations at a nice restaurant for he and Camille later in the evening. It wasn’t the fanciest of places (being a waiter only paid so well) and with all the training Vince had scaled back the number of shifts he took, but he was looking forward to the dinner tremendously. Truth be told, they could have cooked canned soup over an open fire and Vince would have looked forward to it. It was the company that made a meal, not the food.

                Before he could enjoy a nice evening with his… well, Vince was almost certain they were boyfriend and girlfriend, but neither had actually brought it up or said it out loud. Regardless, there was still a task that needed seeing to before he could take the night off. While training might be foolish with the test so close at hand, there were still some preparations Vince needed to take if he wanted to be truly ready for whatever lay in store. For the most part, he’d done all he could in the previous weeks, training with and building up various energies. There was just one task remaining, and he couldn’t accomplish this one on his own.

                Knocking gently on the door to Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport’s apartment, Vince waited for it to open. Instead, Mr. Transport appeared next to him. It would have been startling, if not for the years of practice living with the teleporter.

                “Good afternoon, Vince,” Mr. Transport greeted. “I take it you’re ready to go?”

                Vince pulled the plastic poncho he’d donned tighter around his shoulders. “I am if you are. Did you find any?”

                “When you’ve got most of the world to work with, you can find anything you need.” Mr. Transport held up his phone, showing a digital display of the entire nation. “In this case, we won’t even need to leave U.S. borders. Not that I’d let us anyway, there are more than a few countries who get testy about people teleporting into their territory. One time, I was hopping across Europe, and I ended up-”

                “Mr. Transport, I really do want to hear your story, but is there any way you can tell me once we’re there?” Vince’s tone was polite, he knew too well that he’d just interrupted a man he was asking a favor from. “Camille and I have a dinner reservation to make, so I’m on a timetable.”

                If the interruption bothered Mr. Transport, he had a funny way of showing it. Permitting himself a wide smile and very obvious wink, Mr. Transport glanced at the phone once more. “Of course, of course. I know how exciting date nights can be. Perhaps I’ll swing by and surprise Sally when we’re done. On that note, it looks like our best bet is Washington. Shall we go?”

                “Yes sir.”

                The words were echoing off the dormitory’s walls, but both men had already vanished. True to his word, Mr. Transport clearly wasn’t wasting any time.

*             *             *

                Zipping up his suitcase, Nick hefted it off the bed and dropped it to the ground, where it joined a small rolling bag and a dark backpack. Ostensibly, these were full of clothes and sundries he’d need for over the Winter Break, and while there were a few outfits within, by far the bulk of his luggage had actually been filled with documents. Even with three bags stuffed to the brim, it was a paltry amount compared to what he wanted to bring along. But room was limited, and more than that, there were some things he couldn’t necessarily risk taking with him to Vegas. The smart assumption was that Ms. Pips would see anything he brought into her building, and while these were only small pieces of the overall puzzle, Nick knew better than to underestimate the head of his family.

                If not for Eliza’s cryptic warning, Nick almost certainly would have stayed put through the vacation, using his downtime to make some headway on the numerous tasks before him. She’d been quite adamant he go home, however, and Eliza wasn’t one to turn serious without cause. The most likely reason for the concern was that the Evers family had begun to move for retribution. Ms. Pips would want to keep him far from that, as his presence could hinder talks for peace, but that only mattered if peace was truly a viable option. On the other hand, if things were about to go south, Nick did need to be there. Although he was only a single cog in the organization, he still brought quite a bit to the table. Should the Evers go to war with Nick’s people, they’d find him right there, shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest, driving them back.

                There was, of course, the possibility that he was off-the-mark. Being disconnected from the Vegas loop of information meant there were bound to be new problems and issues Nick hadn’t been brought up to speed on. Maybe a new group was trying to muscle in, capitalizing on the tension between his family and the Evers. Maybe the Heroes were sniffing around, trying to knock a few low-level heads for easy press. Whatever the issue was, Nick would make sure it was resolved by the time break was over. He specialized in fixing things, after all.

                Occasionally as he readied for the trip, a small voice would make itself known in the back of Nick’s mind, one whispering that perhaps the reason Eliza insisted he go home wasn’t due to an outside issue, but an internal one. Every time that voice tried to be heard, however, Nick squashed it down. Obviously the problem was external. It was something easily handled, and everything would be fine by the time January arrived.

                Even Nick, for all the training and observation skills he possessed, was susceptible to self-delusion. And given what the clues fueling that voice were hinting at, it was a forgivable falsehood. Some ideas were too painful to consider, even as a hypothetical.