“We need to do something.”
Mr. Numbers looked up from his stack of reports to find Mr. Transport standing in the doorway. Though when they were first given their apartment at the rear of Melbrook it had seemed amply spacious, Mr. Numbers had found himself wishing he’d demanded a bit more square-footage through the years. As a man accustomed to living on his own, having a roommate, even one he was good a friends with as Mr. Transport, had grown to grate on his nerves.
“Is there an impending threat?” The question was pure formality, if something were truly amiss Mr. Transport wouldn’t have been so collected about it. No, he’d have come bounding in trumpeting the issue without pause, which meant this wasn’t anything dire, assuming it actually was anything at all.
“Not an external one, but I’m worried about the kids,” Mr. Transport replied.
“You know they are all past twenty-one now, adults in every sense except that they still can’t rent cars. ‘Kids’ may no longer be a fitting term for them,” Mr. Numbers pointed out.
“I’m going to remind you of that when Carmen is their age.”
Mr. Numbers frowned, albeit slightly. Fond as he was of his niece, if she took after him in personality as she did in abilities then her teenage years would turn her into a… handful. He preferred not to think about the fact that Carmen was aging, hoping that the magic of ignoring something would suspend her in youth forever.
“What are you worried about this time?” Mr. Numbers asked, pushing past the remark. “I’ll admit, there is plenty to be concerned with. They are fighting for spots in a highly competitive class, their last trial seems to have shaken them all to some degree, and obviously the issues with Alice’s mother and Vince’s father are constant sources of stress for them.”
“Right… all that stuff too,” Mr. Transport said, nodding along as Mr. Numbers listed out only a few of the issues facing them. “But I’m mostly concerned with the fact that I don’t think they’re really having fun anymore.”
“Mr. Transport, please show yourself out so I can return to my real work.” Mr. Numbers’ voice came slightly muffled, since his lips were only a few inches from the desk, an unfortunate side-effect of having heavily dropped his head onto said desk moments prior.
“Don’t be an ass about it, you know what I mean.” Mr. Transport didn’t budge to leave; rather he moved even closer. “When these kids first got here, sure there was a lot on their minds, but I feel like they were still enjoying themselves. The magic of actually being able to control their powers, the wonder of being in the HCP, the thrill of competing for a spot as a Hero; it all kept them buoyant in spite of the forces trying to push them down. Now, I don’t know, they seem grimmer. Harder. Like they’ve started losing sight of just how miraculous the things they can do are.”
“That’s because they’ve begun to understand the price that comes along with those abilities, at least on this path.” Mr. Numbers raised his head from the desk, since it seemed for once theatrics would elicit no reaction from Mr. Transport. He would need to try another approach. “And I’m not sure how you’d possibly take that knowledge away from them, nor if it would be prudent to do so even if you had a method.”
“Look, you don’t need to tell me how hard Hero work is. We’ve both been around long enough to know what’s waiting for them. But they haven’t. And I’m worried that if we don’t try and remind them to find some moments of joy amid all the harder ones then they’re going to burn themselves out. Once they graduate, I can’t help them with that lesson. For now, though, it’s still in my power.”
The ever-present analytical aspect of Mr. Numbers’ mind diced apart Mr. Transport’s words, examining them from hundreds of angles and calculating how best to respond. Mr. Numbers was at a crossroads, in terms of strategy. He could harshly rebuff his co-worker, and Mr. Transport would soon leave. However, Mr. Transport would continue bringing this up, over and over again, causing constant interruptions until he was properly dissuaded or his ideas indulged. On the other hand, if Mr. Numbers heard him out now, and sacrificed some of his afternoon to helping, the matter would be done with. That made the logical decision rather obvious.
And, if he were being truly honest with himself, perhaps Mr. Numbers did see a small amount of validity in what Mr. Transport was saying. Just because Heroes ultimately grew hard and ruthlessly pragmatic didn’t mean they needed to start out that way.
“Very well,” Mr. Numbers said, moving his stack of reports to the side. “Tell me what you have in mind.”
* * *
“Globe showed up with a child in tow, augmented your abilities to previously unimagined levels, and then vanished unseen by any other people on campus. Does that accurately sum up the events?” Dean Blaine asked.
“From my perspective, yes,” Nick confirmed. “There’s really no way to be certain he didn’t talk to anyone else before me, although I think I’d have known if he did after.”
“How?” Professor Pendleton asked. “This campus was scoured by Supers with sense-based abilities we can’t imagine, and none of them found so much as a single clue Globe was here. How would you know if he’d talked with anyone else after you?”
Nick tried to find how to explain it, which was made more difficult by the fact that he wasn’t even sure he understood himself. “I can’t… thinking back on that time is sort of a blur. Like a night where you get blackout drunk, and there’s only a few brief flashes here and there that you use to piece things together.”
“This new state was akin to intoxication?” Though it was somewhat off-course, Dean Blaine couldn’t help himself from being curious. He’d always wondered what a power like Nick’s could do if properly trained and marshalled. Having it enhanced to such a degree was a fascinating insight into the possibilities it might offer.
“Other way around,” Nick said. “It’s like this me is the drunk one, and that version was in such a higher state of thinking that my lesser mind can only grasp bits of it. But as to how I know he didn’t talk to anyone else… his line, his path, it didn’t touch any others. At least, not directly. Please just take me at my word on that, I’m not going to be able to put it better and trying to think back to that moment is giving me a headache.”
“Let’s assume you’re correct for now then,” Dean Blaine said. “This raises so many more questions. Who was the enhancer boy with him? Why did Globe come to lend aid, even from the shadows? And, of course, the old one that always seems to be nagging at the edges of these discussions, who in the hell is feeding him the information about what goes on here?”
“If we assume that the Intra incident painted Globe in a false light of guilt, then the ‘why’ questions are easy,” Nick said. “He’s a Hero who didn’t want to see HCP students hurt. Even if he is a bad guy, he might have done it just to protect Vince. As for the kid, I’ve got no idea, and I’ve done some digging for answers already. But you’re right about that last one, Dean Blaine. I think we’ve had a spy in our midst for more than long enough.”
Nick drummed his fingers once on the table, and then smiled with a wide grin that would have sent shivers down the other men’s spines, had they not already seen far worse.
“It’s about time we flushed that mole out, and I think I’ve finally got just the hose to use.”