Chapter 44

                “I’m curious, does this clandestine organization have any sort of requisition forms, or do I just submit my order verbally? Because, honestly, that seems like a great way to let a lot of things fall through the cracks.”

                The others had barely gotten in their seats when Nick spoke, taking charge of the meeting before it could properly begin. He, along with Dean Blaine, Mr. Numbers, Mr. Transport, and Professor Fletcher were gathered in the abandoned Hero bunker, the same place they’d had all their off-the-books-meetings since Nick’s mental resurrection. Often, Professor Stone and Professor Pendleton joined them, but sometimes it was just impossible for everyone to slip away. Better to give reports later than risk discovery. Secrecy was everything here.

                “It depends on what you want,” Dean Blaine told him, already too accustomed to the outbursts. “If it’s something standard, I can probably get it whenever I have to order more equipment and Sims, a very regular occurrence as you can imagine. If it’s something special, that could be a little more difficult.”

                “Truth be told, I’m not totally sure which camp it fits in,” Nick admitted. “Basically, I want one of those sleepy-time head bands like Coach George used on Mary freshman year.”

                “Ah.” Dean Blaine glanced at Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport briefly. “Those are a bit of an issue. They’re classified as forceful Super suppression gear. Not much use in a real fight, since you have to get it around their head, but once it’s on you can contain almost any Super indefinitely. The indefinite part is why the DVA regulates them carefully, if that tech fell into the wrong hands it could be dangerous for a lot of people. Lander has some on hand, a necessary safeguard when training young Supers, but if one were to go missing it would be quickly noticed.”

                “From your look at these two, I’m guessing they have a couple as well, just in case one of us ever totally lost it.” Nick turned to Mr. Numbers, who nodded confirmation.

                “The trouble with ours is that they’re hardwired to send a signal to our organization the minute one is used. That wasn’t originally the case, but after Mr. Transport and I stepped in freshman year, there was concern that we might try to cover it up if one of you needed suppressing, so precautions were implemented.”

                “Let’s take this a step back,” Professor Fletcher said. “Why do you need a knock-out band in the first place?”

                “That much I’d think was obvious,” Nick told him. “For Alice.”

                “You might want to elaborate on that,” Dean Blaine said. “And be thankful that Sean isn’t here. I doubt he’d take kindly to you suggesting we incapacitate his niece.”

                Nick sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Look, I’m not saying Alice needs putting down, but we all know that right now there is exactly one, count them, one real thread we have to pull on. Abridail, the mystery man from her dreams who seems to have all the answers we’re after.”

                “Who has them, and was very emphatic about not giving them to Alice,” Dean Blaine reminded him.

                “Right, but let’s say that just maybe that’s changed,” Nick replied. “For argument’s sake. Now we can’t keep using Rich to put her down, even he’ll catch on eventually, but Abridail doesn’t seem to show up unless she goes into the weird coma state. I figured one of those sleep devices was as close as we were going to get to replicating what he does.”

                “Actually, that’s exactly the wrong direction,” Mr. Numbers corrected. “Those bands work by shutting down everything non-essential for life, creating an almost dreamless sleep, like a perfect blackout. Near as we can figure from seeing how Rich’s ability works, he dials up the mind’s processing, but turns it inward, trapping it in its own delusions.”

                “Well shit. Do we have a device that does that?” Nick looked back and forth around the room, genuinely curious to see if he’d get an answer. One never knew what the tech geniuses of the world were cooking up behind the scenes.

                “Not that I’m aware of, and I’m one of the first people who would be made aware of exactly that sort of thing,” Dean Blaine said. “There are some other options available, but they won’t be easy, so I’m going to need a little more than ‘for argument’s sake’ to justify going down those routes. What makes you think having her talk to Abridail again will be worth the effort?”

                A wry grin wriggled onto Nick’s face. “Her? Nothing. She did a great job getting so much out of him already, but we’ve reached the limits of what guilt and diplomacy can accomplish. No, now that we know Mary can drag folks along into dream states, I think it’s high time that I had a discussion with this Abridail fellow.”

                “Mary’s power is hardly news,” Mr. Transport said. “Why now? Why is this the time when you suddenly think you can get more out of him?”

                “Because I’m not going to try and appeal to his humanity or goodness. I’m going to do exactly what I spent a lifetime being trained to,” Nick said. “I’m going to make a deal.”

                “You’re obfuscating.” Dean Blaine leaned forward, locking eyes with his former student. “I’m keenly aware that trust doesn’t come easy to you, so let me make this clear: What you want will require cost and risk from me, and I am more than willing to pay both if it gets us closer to our goal, but not without a solid reason. Cards on the table, or find your own resource.”

                Slowly, Nick reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a thick wad of folded paper. He slid it down the table’s polished surface, where it came to a stop inches in front of Dean Blaine, who began to unfold it. He read through each page carefully, taking in every detail before handing it off to his right, where Professor Fletcher began to peruse the document.

                “Solid enough?” Nick asked.

                “It’s still a bit of a stretch,” Dean Blaine said. “We don’t even know if that’s the right person.”

                “Near as I can tell, everything lines up. Yes, I could be wrong, but we’re never going to be certain if you don’t help me get that meeting inside Alice’s head. Besides, I’ve got a good feeling about this one.” Nick smiled again, though this one was less showy. It was quick, and cunning, much like the young man who wore it.

                “And lately, I’ve been learning to listen to my hunches.”