Chapter 82

                In a weekend so far filled with constant worry and strain, it was a small mercy that for the next few hours nothing of note occurred. Violet dug through the internet and found obscure drinking games for every awful movie Nick had lined up, then began to drag others into her festivities. Thomas, one of the rare openly sober party goers, was sent on a run for ice somewhat early on. There was no actual need for it, Eliza could duplicate frozen water without drawing attention, but it was an important precedent to set if she had to explain away a few missing partiers later on. A fight nearly broke out between two of the mundanes, but as temper’s flared they were suddenly closed in on all sides by tense, ready bodies, and some primal aspect of their minds registered that perhaps violence was not the answer after all.

                The one thing that mattered the most did keep happening, and that was Eliza doling out drinks while keeping a careful eye on her non-paying customers. She’d water them down if needed, more than once handing out actual water with a spritz of club soda, but overall she was successfully keeping the party nice and liquored up. Not everyone was drinking, of course, but those who were helped to create a general rabble and atmosphere of chaos, making it all the harder to keep track of what anyone aside from the person directly in front of you might be up to.

                Nick, Alice, and Mary didn’t wait to slip away when the party began to crash. Too many eyes would be roving about then, looking for bedding or friends. No, they departed separately, each making a quick excuse to whomever they were speaking to and then vanishing as the party raged in full swing. This moment, amidst the height of fun and revelry, would be their best chance to go away unnoticed. And, should the absences be noted, Jerome and Eliza had been left behind with quick excuses to buy them time.

                The apartment they were heading to wasn’t registered to Nick, Eliza, Jerome, or anyone affiliated with their Vegas family. Enough digging would uncover that it was rented by a corporate housing subsidiary on behalf of a company that didn’t actually exist. It was on the ground floor, down a few hallways, close enough to the party to return easily while still far enough away that there was space to lose a tail. Nick was the last to arrive, taking his time to do one last tour of the area for peace of mind. Though there were a few counter-measures in place, most of the professors had to keep their distance from this project. A bunch of students partying was one thing, but the moment one of the HCP teachers was in the same vicinity suspicions would be raised. Which was why it put Nick a touch more at ease to scout their surroundings for himself, even though Jerome had done a sweep not five minutes prior.

                He walked in to find Mary and Alice already laying on two of three cots lined up next to one another. Near them stood an impressively unremarkable woman, a talent only someone who knew the value of such skill could appreciate, and Mr. Transport. The woman, whom Nick was forced to assume was Galina, gave a brief nod of greeting, then motioned for him to lock the door.

                “I won’t waste time with preamble,” she said as soon as the last deadbolt was fastened into place. “You all know why we’re here, and we have precious little time to work with, so unless there is anything you need to report, I suggest we get this started. Everyone ready?”

                Nick looked to Mary, who in turn looked to Alice. Both Nick and Mary were needed for this, but they were only secondary aspects of the plan. It was Alice who would bear the brunt of it, who might learn things or face truths she was happier never knowing. If anyone had the right to call off this plan, it was her.

                “We’re ready,” Alice replied, laying down on the cot and reaching out for Mary’s hand. “Once we’re all linked, put me under. I want to go get some god damned answers.”

*             *             *

                Will’s mind was not on the party, regardless of the fact that his body had been dragged out by Jill and the rest of his housemates. It was nice to know that she’d still be living with them, even once she was no longer in the program, but all the same her decision to quit the HCP had far from put Will in the mood to party. If anything, only his Subtlety training was keeping him from being as morose as Alex, who’d perked up a bit since the sit-down with Selena. Will was glad to see his friend more cheerful; it had been long overdue, though he did hope this didn’t herald the beginning of those two trying to get back together. After all that had passed between them, it would just be a recipe for more heartache, and Will wasn’t sure Alex could withstand it at this point.

                Wandering as Will’s brain was, he was still paying attention to his surroundings, a habit ingrained in him from both the constant combat and Professor Pendleton’s endless training. Between that and the lack of alcohol in his system, it didn’t escape his notice when Alice, Mary, and Nick all seemed to slip away in rapid succession. He was sure something was up, with that group there almost always was, but he made no effort to investigate. For one thing, Nick was not the sort of person Will wanted to cross without reason; he recognized a dark ruthlessness behind those sunglasses that had mirrored what bubbled up inside him on occasion. And for another, Will didn’t particularly consider it his business what they were doing. He’d certainly had reason to keep a few secrets of his own from time to time, and so long as their activities didn’t get him or the people he cared for hurt, then they weren’t his problem to worry about.

                What did concern him, however, was a brunette near the edges of the crowd, one who seemed a bit too anxious for this long into a party. She wore a simple jester costume with a brightly colored mask, and seemed to be hanging to the sidelines, constantly scanning those having fun. The woman looked young, a bit too young for the crowd, actually. Granted, he could only see so much of her face so he might be wrong, but Will still felt like something was off about her. Even if he couldn’t tell what it was, yet, he turned his worried mind to the task of keeping an eye on her.

                Regardless of how he was feeling, Will Murray would be shamed as a Subtlety major if he allowed a spy to walk freely in their midst.