Chapter 62

                The costume rested on Alex’s spare bed, furniture meant to be inhabited by another student if he hadn’t sprung for the single occupancy dorm-room. Not many seniors were left in university housing, most had moved off campus to rent houses or apartments, stifled by the rules of the dormitories that prevented things like passing out drunk in the hallways. Alex had stayed for so long because he had no reason to leave, at first. His closest friends lived on campus as well, and with all the time he spent at the HCP it made more sense to be within walking distance. Near the end of last year, he’d been considering the need for a different home, somewhere with a little more privacy and a cleaner bathroom for when Sasha stayed over. Then the attack came, and suddenly Alex couldn’t bring himself to leave this dormitory. He told himself it was because he wanted to be here, always around, in case another attack came. And some part of him knew that was true.

                It just wasn’t the whole truth.

                Though Alex’s eyes were closed, he could still sense the costume, or rather the bare-bone-beginnings of what ultimately would become his costume. There wasn’t much time left to craft one, he’d purposely put off the act of picking up this outfit for as long as possible, but now that he was committed to the choice he was going to do it well. If nothing else, he took pride in his costumes, regardless of what they were. No discount Halloween store off the rack ensemble was going to cut it for him, no sir. He’d be spending as much free time as he could finding ways to improve and augment his outfit before the Halloween party arrived.

                Letting out a deep breath, he pushed the thoughts of patterns and designs out with the air. That would all come later; right now he had a different task. Keeping his body still, he narrowed his focus, trying to work deeper into the mysterious energy that he used to locate and move objects, what he’d always considered to be the Force. For a long time, it had only been a point of pride, something he felt to be true and preferred others to recognize. In the long run, it hadn’t really mattered if he was an advanced mind or a Force user; the effects were nearly the same. There was a bit of unusual variation, but as the professors constantly reminded them, every power was unique.

                Now, things were different. Alex couldn’t be content with just believing what he wielded was the Force. He needed it to be true. Because what he was trying to do, no telepath on earth would be able to manage. So far as he knew, this went outside the realm of anything an existing Super had been capable of accomplishing. It was uncharted ground, and all he had to guide him was his power, bolstered by a relentless belief that what he wanted was possible.

                It had been months, and still no progress could be seen, yet Alex remained undeterred. Whether he was a Jedi or not, whether his task actually was impossible, he couldn’t let those thoughts inside. All he could focus on was the effort at hand. Because if he let himself give up, accept that it couldn’t be done, then Alex knew he’d fall apart. And he wasn’t entirely certain he’d be able to put himself back together again.

*             *             *

                Every check had come back clean. Well, not clean clean, these were still college students after all. Amongst the highest members of the Take Back Lander campaign Will had managed to uncover four speeding tickets, two Public Intoxication arrests, and one off-campus suspension for fighting in high school. That last one had seemed promising, since it belonged to none other than Kennedy Dawson herself, but digging into the records made it clear that she was fighting in self-defense and had been punished only because of a zero-fighting-tolerance policy.

                What wasn’t showing up, no matter how deep Will dug, were any connections to anti-Super groups like the Humanity First movement. He’d been sure that their type was lurking in the shadows of this somewhere, offering guidance or funding to students not savvy enough to recognize the fact that they were being used as pawns. And yet, everything continued coming back clean. Will had even gone the other route, seeing if perhaps it was an anti-human group using Take Back Lander as a way to make Supers seem more sympathetic. Again, nothing but dead-ends.

                It wasn’t bad news, really. Will sat at his computer; resting his fingers on the custom keyboard he’d crafted to perfectly fit his hands. If there was no bigger threat at work, then the campaign would likely continue to fizzle out and lose steam. Already, he and Camille had noted a roughly thirty percent drop in meeting attendance when they showed up, which was actually making their own investigation more difficult. The smaller that group became, the harder it was to exist on the sidelines. He could always switch to remote work, but there was something to be said for getting the read on a room in person. If the pattern held, there might not be much need for reading the room though. All in all, coming up so dry should have been good news.

                But Will didn’t trust it. Maybe the campaign was organic, grown out of terror from last year’s events. It was easy enough to believe. In some ways, he didn’t even blame them. Most of what he saw in the meeting’s attendees wasn’t hate, it was fear. Given what the campus had been through, there was good reason to be afraid. All the same, even if Take Back Lander did have benign origins, that made it all the more tempting a target. True, it could peter out and die as people lost interest, however, if someone with a little vision did happen to take notice, they might recognize a grassroots student movement as the perfect vehicle to further their own causes.

                Logically, it was unlikely. The idea was convoluted, and would be difficult to execute. Will might have dismissed it outright, save only for the fact that manipulating the movement would be exactly what he would have done, were his situation different. Professor Pendleton had told them time and again to always assume their enemies were equal to, if not smarter than, them.

                Pulling open a new file, Will began to search the history of some of the other meeting attendees. Perhaps it was paranoia, perhaps it was caution. Either way, he refused to let Lander be caught off-guard again. If he found nothing, then that was a blessing. But if he found a threat, then he would be ready to meet it head-on.