Chapter 199

                Adam took his time considering the question, more than should have been needed by Nick’s reasoning, but perhaps he was making a moment out of it. “Enemies or allies? That is a tough one. If I were dealing with one of the others I think I’d have a ready answer for them. Vince is certainly an ally, whether he means to be or not. There’s no compromise in that one, he takes after his father. Once he got a whiff of the system being corrupted he’d do all he could to bring it to light, even though it would destroy him in the process. Alice I’d call an ally too, she’s proven herself steadfast and dedicated to the pursuit of truth. Roy and Hershel would be harder to predict, but I think between the two of them they’d eventually come down on our side. Mary… well if someone is open with their thoughts Mary is almost impossible to lie to, so of course she’d be our ally. Actually, she was supposed to be on our team from the near beginning. But you, Nick, you aren’t any of them. You don’t have a creed or an easily defined moral center. I’m never fully sure who you’re fighting for, and that makes it quite difficult to say if you’re on my side or not.”

                Thoughtful, well-reasoned, and with a lure about Mary meant to drag the conversation off topic if he wasn’t careful; Nick was starting to realize just how much Adam had been sand-bagging in the HCP. This was a level of intellect he’d never displayed during the trials and classes before. In a way, it was humbling. They’d both been playing the same game, but Adam had proven more skilled at it. He’d made it to senior year without turning so much as a single head.

                “That’s a nice speech, with one glaring hole in the logic,” Nick said. “You know damn well who I’m fighting for. It’s obvious you’re smart enough to figure it out, and even if you weren’t Globe sure was. He juiced me up during the attack on Lander because he knows exactly whose side I’m on. I’m with my friends, the other former-Powereds, from now until the end. So if all of them would side with you, then you can count me as an ally. And if you do anything treacherous, make one single move against them, then I become your very devoted enemy. You’re clearly a capable man, that might be a problem you can handle, but I’d be sure to make as much trouble for you as I could before I was off the board.”

                “I have no doubt you would. But as you said, that only matters if my goals require hurting your friends, so there isn’t much cause for worry.”

                “There shouldn’t be.” Nick rose from his pew. He’d stay clear of the lines of sight for Jerome, but he didn’t feel comfortable staying seated. Better to be moving, to have quick cover to roll behind at a moment’s notice. “And I say shouldn’t because you people have already made a lot of trouble for us. Or did you think I couldn’t figure out who slipped Michael Clark those files with the truth about us during freshman year? A major problem that only seems slight in comparison to the fact that your two associates kidnapped a pair of mine. You’ve already proven yourself willing to fuck us over when it suits your needs, why should I think dealing with you now will be different?”

                Adam’s face was set; neither of the allegations had caught him off-guard. He’d clearly been preparing for this since the conversation began. “Because you’d be dealing with me. George was the one who decided that the best way to cause enough chaos for him to slip away with Mary was by letting out your secret. If she’d vanished that night without a witness to the kidnapping, you’d have all thought she went into hiding just like she did with her home in the woods. It would have been at least a day before anyone grew genuinely concerned, and by then she’d have already been back. Not the plan I’d have used, but George is a blunt man who likes to work amidst panic. I would never do that to you all. Whether you believe me or not is probably going to determine if we’re allies, or just people who stay out of each other’s ways.”

                Were the others making Nick soft? It didn’t seem likely, if anything he felt that parts of him had become more ruthless since he started letting them into his life. Yet here he was, interrogating a man who specialized in deceit and had every motivation to lie… and who was reading as truthful at every turn. There was no way he was being that honest, but either such was the case or he was fooling Nick completely. The second option was valid, if Gerry had taught him nothing else it was to never underestimate his marks, so it couldn’t be dismissed outright. But Globe was the man at the top of Adam’s organization, and Globe had proven himself to be a friend already. The smartest move for the moment was to trust his own skills and believe that Adam was telling the truth, then watch like a hawk for the moment he did anything even slightly duplicitous.

                “For now, I think we can be allies.” Nick sounded sure and doubtless, there was no gain in letting Adam see his uncertainty. “Globe wants what we want: the truth. If you’re on that team, and you do right by us, then I don’t care what kind of weird shit you and George need to work out when it’s done. I do want something from you as a sign of goodwill however: tell me about Mary. Why did Globe try and take her?”

                “Haven’t you figured it out by now?” Adam asked.

                “I’ve got my pet theory, but if I told you then you could just agree. I’d rather hear your explanation and see how closely it lines up with my own deductions.”

                Slowly, making sure the gesture wouldn’t seem aggressive; Adam lifted a hand with two fingers up from the pew. “The plan was a simple one. I’d spent the whole first year watching you all from a distance, sometimes wearing other people’s bodies so you wouldn’t notice, and I’d gotten a good sense of who you all were. Mary presented a unique opportunity, one that we decided to utilize. See, there were only two ways kidnapping her could go.” The middle finger of Adam’s hand lowered, leaving only the index extended.

                “One, which was more likely by far, was that someone would notice she was missing and send up the panic-signal. While everyone else was scrambling, I turned into Coach George. He’d given me all his passwords and I could fool every bit of biometric security, meaning this gave us the perfect opportunity to hack into the database where the information we needed was stored. Obviously, that’s how things shook out. But there was another possibility.”

                The middle finger rose back up alongside the index, making a peace-sign on Adam’s hand once more. “Plan two was that we got Mary away without incident, out to where Globe and the others were hiding at the time. He’d have talked to her, opened up his mind and let her see the truth. When she believed us, which she would, Mary would have fallen on our side. She’s not the trusting type, or at least wasn’t then. That’s why she listened to everyone’s thoughts so frequently. Finding out the system was corrupt wouldn’t even have been a big shock for her. And once she was with us, we’d have had a telepath that could, with a lot of focus and special training, learn to hear specific voices from miles away. That range of hers is amazing, Nick. If she’d been learning to search that sea of thoughts instead of swing around heavy objects I daresay she’d be the greatest information gathering asset in the world. Virtually no one would be safe; they could have their thoughts monitored with no idea it was happening. Keeping a mind controlled takes a lot of discipline, most people screw up at least a little bit of the time. With Mary, the moment that happened it would be game over.”

                “So either way, you get information,” Nick surmised. “Be it through encrypted data or a new mole with spectacular telepathy. Having a win-win is nice, but it cost you George and Persephone to do it. Not the greatest trade to make, given their positions and authority.”

                “In the second option, we’d have kept them in place since the kidnapping would never be discovered. But it was decided that if we did get the encrypted data then the trade was worthwhile. Uprooting Charles is the best shot we have at yanking everything into the light. That’s the main goal of Globe and his people. If you’re on board with that, then I think we can work together. If not, then let’s be done with this.” Adam stared at Nick, his eyes briefly darting upward for a fraction of a second. He knew someone was up there, ready to strike, and he was still delivering an ultimatum. It was ballsy. Nick respected ballsy.

                “Send word to your boss that I’m interested in making some deals. Just me. Keep the others out of this for now,” Nick said. “If things go bad, my reputation can take a little more smearing.”