Chapter 293

                Nick had barely left the viewing room when another set of lift doors opened, revealing a crush of DVA agents clamoring to get out. They somehow stampeded their way into freedom, all rushing over to Graham DeSoto and whispering with surprising ferocity. The rest of the room took notice, especially when Graham’s face went from surprised, to annoyed, to a solemn expression that had far too much gravity for a simple HCP tournament. He whispered back to them, then scanned the room.

                “Where is Dean Blaine?”

                From Graham’s left, Titan stepped forward. “He went to congratulate Vince, and Dean Jackson is down there talking to Conrad. Post-final match discussions, as usual.”

                “Right, of course.” It almost seemed as though Graham had momentarily forgotten Intramurals was happening around them. “Titan, please wait here. When Dean Blaine and Dean Jackson arrive, tell them I have taken over the teleconference room to have a meeting and they are expected to join as soon as possible. The situation is urgent. The rest of the deans, and Casper, please follow me.”

                It didn’t escape Alice’s noticed that Angela looked a bit hopeful as Graham was doling out orders, despite the fact that none came for her. Alice and Angela’s eyes met when Graham led the deans to the lift, Angela giving a brief shrug as if to say she was used to it. Alice certainly wasn’t, and she didn’t trust the fact that Nick had vanished moments before things got interesting. Knowing him, there was no chance that was coincidence. What was going on? And how much did Nick already know? They’d be having a long talk about him keeping her in the dark when this was over, but for the moment Alice’s bigger concern was assessing the situation.

                Something big was going down. Something that had the head of the HCP calling a meeting with all of the deans. There were plenty of explanations for that, anything from another attack on campus to an Armageddon Super popping up half the country away. That was the lie Alice kept telling herself as she waited for a new development. She didn’t believe it, but it helped keep her calm. Alice needed to stay like that, collected and ready. If history had taught her anything, it was that when the time came to make a move or a choice, she probably wouldn’t get much time. She’d have to be ready for it. That was part of what it meant to be a Subtlety Hero.

*             *             *

                As far as derelict bases went, it wasn’t bad. Comfy chairs and couches, good roof overhead, solid walls to help with the temperature. Nick had seen far worse hovels people had hidden in through the years. The only disconcerting part was the young boy who leapt up from a sofa as soon as they appeared, purple energy crackling across his skin and eyes. Nick recognized the kid on sight. Most of the night Lander was attacked had been burned into Nick’s memory, and Globe’s amplifying lackey was certainly no exception. He didn’t seem as composed this time around, which was a tad odd given the difference in circumstances, racing up to Shimmerpath as soon as they’d stepped through the portal.

                “You’re running behind, I’ve got a few minutes left to use this. And where are the others? Are they hurt? Are they…” His eyes began to fill with tears, but Shimmerpath dropped down to a knee and pulled the boy in for a hug.

                “Relax Quentin, it’s fine. We had to split up, you knew that was a possibility. We’re about to go back in, we just needed you to amplify someone first. This is Nick, and he’s going to be a big help to us.”

                “We’ve met,” Nick tossed in.

                “Nuh-uh.” The kid barely glanced at Nick, his attention solely on Shimmerpath. Maybe he didn’t remember Nick from that night, or maybe it had been Adam that Nick actually saw, one couldn’t rule anything out with a mimic. As the child finally pulled away from the hug, he managed to start speaking again. “I can’t use my power on him. Globe’s not here. Globe has to be here. It hurts too much without him.”

                The pain. Now Nick remembered the warning from last May. Quentin’s power apparently hurt quite a bit for those receiving it, and Globe used his ability to take away the physical aspect. Nick could still recall how stretched and out of sorts his mind felt afterward, if his body was going to experience something similar it seemed highly likely to be unpleasant. Was this an oversight? No, one look at the set expression in Shimmerpath’s eyes made it clear that she’d known what she was asking Nick to do. A cold move, one Nick could respect, even if he was a bit annoyed. They didn’t have time to try and talk Quentin through his little moral roadblock, though. Which meant it was time for Nick to lean on a classic method of negotiation: flat-out lying.

                “You don’t need to worry about that, Shimmerpath knows you couldn’t amplify someone normal without Globe. That’s why she brought me. See, my power is special. It becomes what I need it to. And in this case, I need it not to hurt, so it won’t. I’m the guy they call in for these exact situations. Go ahead, juice me up. I’ll be perfectly fine, won’t feel so much as a twinge.”

                “Really?”

                “Of course. You know how great these people are, didn’t you think they’d have a plan for this?”

                Quentin wanted to doubt him, the uncertainty was flickering in his eyes, but Nick was an adult, an adult acting with the sort of surety only adults were supposed to wield. The child’s eyes looked to Shimmerpath, who nodded, then to Joan, who did the same, albeit a tad more hesitantly. Oddly, he didn’t so much as glance at Professor Pendleton, who must have seemed like a tall stranger looming in the shadows. Quentin’s resolve started to cave, he was a good kid, did what he was told and believed what adults said. Slowly, still wary, he began to reach for Nick’s hand.

                “It will take about ten seconds for him to fully charge you,” Shimmerpath said. It was a warning, plain as day. If Nick showed that he was in pain, Quentin would probably stop. No matter how this next part hurt, he was going to have to pretend to feel nothing for the full ten seconds. This wasn’t a situation where a partial charge might be good enough. Nick was planning on strolling into a fight between two brothers of incredible power, he had to walk in there with every advantage he could get. Even that might not turn out to be enough.

                “Whenever you’re ready.” Nick sat in a chair with his hand resting on the arm; standing risked his body seizing up and giving away the charade. At least sitting, all he’d have to focus on was keeping his head upright.

                Slow and steady, Quentin’s hand crept along, until he finally laid it down in Nick’s open palm. With one last worried glance to Nick, Quentin took a deep breath and began to let his power flow.

                In the first second, Nick nearly bit part of his tongue off shoving down a scream. The smile on his face was shaky, and beads of sweat were forming around his brow, but Nick looked right at Quentin and nodded that everything was okay. While it wasn’t a celebrated part of his training, Nick had been educated in how to handle pain. It was a necessity, given the world he was being groomed for. Much as he’d hated it at the time, part of Nick dearly wished he’d had more of those lessons.

                Because as bad as the pain had been at the start, it was only growing worse with every passing moment. And he had to keep smiling.