Chapter 193

                Eliza was seriously debating the idea of protesting. She didn’t trust the orders, not that she ever took anything Nick said at face value, but this was a step too far. Was he really expecting her to swallow a bullshit assignment like this? “Guard duty. You want me on guard duty.”

                “I’m making contact with an enemy who very well might have assets of his own in place; ready to respond the moment he knows he’s compromised. It only makes sense to put some protection on the most likely targets.” Nick barely glanced at her; he was straightening his tie in the mirror and checking his hair. Despite what loomed on the horizon, he’d decided that this was still a good time to take Alice out for a date night. It was the most effort Eliza had ever seen him put into romance since… actually she couldn’t recall him ever working so hard at courting a woman. It was sort of sweet, or would be if she didn’t feel like there were better ways they could be spending their time.

                “Look, I don’t mind guarding someone when the occasion demands, that’s not the issue here.” Eliza snatched up an empty beer bottle from the coffee table, duplicating it a few times until there was an empty six pack in front of her. “I’m confused on why you’d want me for this because while I’ve certainly got some skills, my ability is to make more of stuff. Useful, sure, just not that powerful in combat. So why is it you want someone like me guarding Vince? I’ve heard you guys talk, I know he’s one of the toughest people in your class. What the hell is going to be stronger than him but weaker than me?”

                Finally satisfied with his tie, Nick pulled his collar down, smoothing it out until it was symmetrical and crisp. “That’s not the sort of thing you’re guarding Vince from. If they were dumb enough to burst in swinging then I have no doubt old Silver would whip whatever poor bastards came after him halfway to hell. In terms of raw power, Vince is hard to stop once he’s motivated to fight. The trouble is that he’s not nearly so resilient against people who go for the head. That big trusting heart of his makes him gullible, especially where his dad is concerned.”

                “You think they’ll try to tempt him into leaving?” Eliza asked.

                “I think I’m about to tell a mole that his cover is blown, and there are any number of ways that could play out, up to and including pulling out of Lander while taking as many resources from us as possible. Vince would never turn on his friends, and anyone who’s been around him for five minutes knows that. However, I’m not sure he could resist the chance to see his dad again if it was offered, and once he’s gone there’s no way of telling if we’d get him back.” Nick finally turned from the mirror, checking his watch to ensure they still had time before Alice’s arrival.

                “So your job is to make sure no one has the opportunity to make that sort of approach,” Nick continued. “Take him out for food or coffee; I know you two are still friendly so that shouldn’t raise any red flags. Then just keep him occupied until you hear from me that it’s all clear. Give it a three hour cutoff though.”

                There was no need to ask why Nick was imposing a time limit; Eliza already knew the answer quite well. In situations like this cutoffs were important, because there was always a chance that the meeting would go poorly and someone would get killed. If that someone was Nick, a cutoff ensured she wouldn’t be stuck waiting all night. Plus she’d be aware that the mole was on the attack, which gave her a better chance of surviving long enough to escape.

                “You’re taking Jerome for backup, right?”

                “At a distance, but yes. I’d prefer to keep anyone with useful powers away from this kind of situation. Jerome’s talents will be better put to use behind the scope of a rifle. It might not be enough to save my life if things go south, however it will probably ensure I don’t head to the afterlife on my own.” Nick certainly didn’t appear that worried about the possibility, not that Nicholas Campbell was ever one to openly broadcast his emotions.

                As much as Eliza still didn’t love this situation, she could see Nick’s point. In terms of raw physical power, there was almost no one Globe’s people could send who would be able to take down an HCP senior without a hell of a fight. If they used trickery or manipulation, on the other hand, Vince was indeed a potential target. Even if it galled her to be away from the action, she couldn’t find much fault in Nick looking out for a friend. “Be honest with me here, what are the chances this turns ugly?”

                 Nick walked over to the window, glancing out presumably to check for Alice’s arrival in case she’d shown up early. “We’ve got better odds than we usually take these kinds of gambles with. Aside from the kidnapping, Globe’s generally never been hostile to us so it stands to reason his people might not be either. There’s also the possibility that I’ve picked the wrong target and the whole thing will be a bust. If it does come to blows… well I’d like to say I’ll stand a good chance, and based on what I remember about our target’s skills from the HCP that would be true, but there’s always the possibility he’s been sandbagging to keep from drawing attention. Probably best to assume that if it comes to a fight I’ll have to focus on tactical retreating.”

                “You could take one of your friends along. Hell, Alice has the skills to help put pressure on the mole and the power to stop him if it goes south,” Eliza suggested. “Why not bring her in?”

                With a turn from the window, Nick shook his head. “Too dangerous. Maybe not physically, but she’s got a lot to lose. All of them do. If I pull this off, I’ll be establishing a relationship with a wanted criminal. While that’s fine for someone like me, it could be toxic for a new Hero should the truth come out. No, this is just us, Eliza. You and Jerome are the only ones I can call in for this. So are you in, or do you have more objections? Alice isn’t going to be a lot longer.”

                “Of course I’m in.” Eliza didn’t quite snap at him, although it was only thanks to concentrated willpower. “I still wish you’d tell me who the mole is though. In case things do go bad, I’d know who to put the hit on.”

                “Which is part of why I’m not telling you,” Nick replied. “That, and to keep the telepathic targets as limited as possible. This is not the kind of fight the family needs to be getting mixed up in. I’m on my own on this one. If it goes bad, then let it end with me.”

                “Even if I agreed to that, which I don’t, you know your other friends wouldn’t just shrug their shoulders once they saw your corpse. They’d tear half the country apart looking for your killer. The only question is whether they’d put him in jail or in the ground.” Eliza had a hunch it would be the latter, though it would depend on which of Nick’s friends found his murderer.

                The sound of an engine in the parking lot rang out, and Nick went to check the window once more. Despite the fact that she couldn’t see outside from her vantage point on the couch, Eliza instantly knew Alice had arrived. Few other things drew that kind of smile to Nick Campbell’s face.

                “You’re quite right,” Nick agreed. “Which is why I’ll do all I can not to die. But just in case I do, it only seemed proper to spend my potential last night alive with someone who makes me happy. On that note, you’re dismissed, Eliza. I’m done with work for today.”