The viewing room was going wild. Everyone was yelling, most cheering, some were shouting in pure shock. Somewhere along the line, it had failed to matter who represented what school, as the Heroes and students alike found themselves absorbed in the spectacle. Only a few people maintained their calm, and one such duo was standing near the window, watching as a bloody Vince limped his way off the battlefield.
“Did you really expect Vince to figure all that out just from giving him a set of playing cards?” Alice asked.
“You’ve already learned the first rule of Subtlety: always pretend you knew how everything was going to play out. Unofficially, though, there’s an easy thing about helping people like Vince; mainly that they never really require that much help. A shove here, a reassurance there. He just needed a reminder and something to puzzle over to keep him from getting stuck in his own doubts, eventually Vince was always going to reach a conclusion that helped. That’s the only kind of meaning he’d ever be able to find in a last-minute gift from his best friend.”
Taking a quick glance over his shoulder, Nick noticed that no one was paying much attention to the lifts. “I assume he’ll be a few minutes, no way a fight like that doesn’t come with a lengthy debrief, so I think I’m going to slip upstairs and see if I can deliver the news before anyone remembers to tell Professor Pendleton.”
“Not sure you’re allowed up there anymore,” Alice pointed out.
“You are almost certainly correct. All the more reason to go celebrate with my old class while no one is paying attention.” Nick could tell Alice was suspicious, and he didn’t blame her, but there wasn’t time to try and explain why he felt compelled to head toward the gym. “Oh, and in case I don’t get back before Vince does, tell him that I already know what he’s thinking, and yes, Shuffle is as good a name as any for a Hero. I was hoping he’d land on something more dignified, but a simple, straightforward concept probably fits Vince best anyway.”
Nick didn’t give her a chance to respond, slipping through the crowd as a path to the lifts opened. He made it in without incident, hitting the buttons to take him back toward the gym. It was over. Intramurals was over, and nothing had happened. Sure, he’d been able to help Vince a little, but this wasn’t something that seemed important enough for the weeks of a nagging hunch that demanded he be here. And worse, the feeling wasn’t gone yet. That was why Nick decided to break for the gym: it felt like a place he should be. Perhaps there was another attack on Lander coming, bold criminals deciding to attack the Heroes head on. That didn’t explain why Nick felt that he should be there though, Lander currently had enough Heroes on hand to repel a modest army, and with countless more ready to move if someone went for an HCP campus.
None of it made sense, which meant the only viable answers were that something completely unexpected was going to happen, or Nick’s new intuition ability wasn’t as reliable as he’d thought. It was certainly possible, the power had scarcely been tested, and what had happened so far could be chalked up to coincidence, or even normal, non-power-related luck.
That influx of doubt lasted precisely until the lift arrived at the gym’s floor, doors opening to put Nick face-to-face with Professor Pendleton and Shimmerpath. They’d been running down the hallway, clearly in a hurry, but stopped as soon as their eyes fell upon the former Lander student who shouldn’t have been there.
“Came to tell the class that Vince won.” Not much of an explanation, but it was a way to open dialogue.
“I let them know already. Ran out while everyone was celebrating. Something tells me great minds think alike.” There was something off about Professor Pendleton. His usual calm, apathetic demeanor was slipping, a panicked edge sharpening every word and movement. Virtually nothing got Professor Pendleton this rattled. Nothing except the subject of his missing sister, and the man who’d faked her death.
Nick could have slapped himself in the skull, he felt so stupid. He’d been so wrapped up in Vince and the others that he’d let his vision slip from the bigger picture. If Globe had a chance to go after Charles Adair, what was the best day to launch an attack with the lowest chance of DVA or Hero involvement? Intramurals. And since he had a mole at Lander, Globe would know exactly when that event was taking place. It was all so obvious, when Nick actually looked at the situation critically. The stranger part was that Shimmerpath was here, clearly taking Professor Pendleton. Why would they strike after the event was over? They wouldn’t. No, the far more likely scenario was that things were going badly, and Shimmerpath was here to get back-up.
“Raid on the Adair lab not going well?”
Shimmerpath looked at him in shock, but Professor Pendleton only let out a snort. “Finally put it together, huh Nick? I was wondering when you’d get it figured out. If you’ll excuse us, we need to get going. There’s not much time before that place becomes the most active spot in the Hero world, and I need to have Shelby out by then.”
Was this it? Was this the whole reason he’d had the urge to be here, just to act as a witness to Professor Pendleton’s departure? No… that couldn’t be all. Nick noticed that Shimmerpath’s face had shifted, the shock giving way to a scrunched brow signaling deep thought.
“He said your name was Nick. Nick Campbell, right? The kid who got expelled sophomore year helping Vince?” Shimmerpath took a step closer, her voice instinctively lowering. “The one with the power of luck?”
“It sounds a lot more special than it is. All I can do is control the general flow of good or bad, not that helpful outside of specific situations.”
“I’d say it can be very helpful, and has been before. Last May, for example.” Shimmerpath was looming over Nick now, maybe to intimidate him into being honest, or perhaps because she thought he was going to run.
“That was a special occasion. I’d been amplified way beyond my normal limits. I can’t manage anything close to that on my own,” Nick explained.
The intensity of Shimmerpath’s stare didn’t lessen, the lone change was that it darted to a watch on her wrist. “A few minutes. I’ve got a few minutes left. They’ve got a few minutes.” Shimmerpath was chewing on her lip, looking between Nick and the watch. “Phil trusted you that night. He believed in you because his son believes in you. I’m not Phil, though, I don’t trust that easily. Give me a reason, Nick. I’m ten seconds away from betting everything we have left on you, because you might be the only person left who can really change things. So give me a reason to believe the way Phil and Vince do.”
At long last, Nick’s stomach finally settled. This was where he was supposed to be, this was the chance encounter his intuition had been leading him toward. This was a point where history could pivot, depending on what he did. Shimmerpath was a trained Hero who was clearly on a clock. There was only one tool to reach someone like that, even if it was one Nick rarely leaned on: the upfront truth.
“Shelby Hill is the mother of my girlfriend, the adopted aunt of my best friend, and the half-sister of my favorite teacher. If you don’t want to trust me, and yeah fair enough I get that, then trust that I would never hurt the people I love. They all care about her, which means dollars to donuts those idiots will find a way to get themselves involved in this before all is said and done. So I’d better be there to make sure they all get through it, Shelby included.”
“Well, you’ve obviously got confidence, if nothing else. Maybe a little too much, even with your reputation.”
“No one has ever accused Nick of abudant humility, but he usually delivers.” Professor Pendleton set a hand on Nick’s shoulder, drawing his attention. “You’re not a student, so I can’t order you to stay, and after what you told us about how you helped last year I’m not sure I’d even want to. But make sure you understand what Shimmerpath is asking. This isn’t a school exercise. You follow us, you risk very real death.”
“That and a cup of coffee makes up my morning walk in Vegas,” Nick shot back. “Now hurry on in here, from the way she was checking her watch I’m guessing time is a factor.”
Professor Pendleton and Shimmerpath joined Nick in the lift, heading to the surface to pick up Joan. Their course was set for danger, so there was no point in putting off the departure.