A Change of Pace – Chapter 47

“I’ve got nothing,” Becca was surprised to hear the frustrated words come out of Anika’s mouth. Over the last few days it was the speedster who’d been the down-in-the-dumps girl. Becca figured she had a least a couple more days until she had to buck up.

Anika glanced over at Becca with one eyebrow raised. Her girlfriend had clearly read her thoughts, and they were clearly not on the same page. “Fine,” Becca grumbled, mentally promising to have a better attitude. Anika’s grin showed it was a step in the right direction, but none of that helped their current problem.

“All I’ve got is the logical next step,” Anika grumbled, staring at her laptop hard enough to bore holes through it. “It would make sense that Wraith would try and steal another copy of the Marshall’s list, or start tracking down anyone she already knew was on it.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t give us a lot to go on,” Becca agreed, looking at her mostly blank word document.

The assignment of looking into the Supervillain, Wraith, was turning out to be more difficult than they both thought. The reason was obvious, even if they hadn’t figured out why yet. They were both training to be Heroes, and they both had Hero mindsets. If they had done some subtlety work then they might have more leads to follow, but even then, Anika and Becca hadn’t graduated to the point where they could think like villains. Dean Ditmar knew this about the class; which was the entire point of the project. The older Super wanted them to think outside the box. If they could do that now, then they would be able to build upon that in their three and a half remaining years in the program. If they couldn’t, then they didn’t deserve to be Heroes.

Hero work wasn’t helping little old ladies across the street, or rescuing cats from trees. Hero work was dirty work, and you needed to get your hands dirty to deal with it. The dirtiest thinking the freshmen HCP class had done revolved around bedroom activities, and even most of those were relatively tame.

“We need a fresh perspective,” Anika concluded, closing her laptop, and rubbing her eyes. It was after ten, and a thorough ass kicking in physical training wasn’t helping their stamina.

“And ice cream,” Becca added, her speedster metabolism an ever present concern in the young woman’s mind.

“And ice cream,” Anika smiled, leaned over her closed computer and planted a long, lingering kiss, on her girlfriends lips.

Becca wanted more, she needed more, but her girlfriend pulled back before she could worm her tongue through the still unclassified Super’s lips. It had been nearly a week since Becca had gotten laid, and the sexual energy was building to a frustrating point; but Anika had them on lock down. Her mindset was that they needed to focus on studying, not fooling around. The problem was that all Becca could focus on now was fooling around, so the plan was having the opposite effect.

<If that’s the biggest problem I have in the next two weeks then I should be thankful,> Becca thought, biting her inner lip to control her libido. Thankfully, Anika wasn’t listening this time.

Becca and Anika’s relationship had grown since Anika’s powers started to evolve. Getting stronger and faster was something Becca could deal with, but telepathy was something entirely different. Sometimes she didn’t know how Mason did it. Obviously, Becca didn’t spend all of her time thinking about her girlfriend naked, or them doing X rated things to one another, but those thoughts still popped up every once in a while. At the beginning Becca was blushing all the time when a dirty thought crossed her mind. But after several occasions with Anika not reacting, Becca began to relax. Like Kyoshi, Anika was doing her best not to pry into other people’s business; even the one person whose business she was allowed to pry into.

<Seth would just die,> Becca giggled thinking of her dorm mate being in a relationship with a telepath. <Or she’d probably cut of his stick and berries when he thought of other women.>

                The idea hit Becca like a lightning bolt. “Liz! We’ll talk to Liz.”

Becca didn’t need to be telepathic to decipher the frown on Anika’s face. “Come on, Ani,” Becca put her hands on her hips. “We need a teleporter’s perspective, and Liz is the only one who’s going to talk to us; unless you honestly believe that Fiona is going to slip us some teleporter secrets.”

Becca knew that Anika didn’t like Liz, but she didn’t know why. Liz had been nothing but great to all of them. She kept Seth in line, helped clean up around the house, and hadn’t spilled the beans about the HCP. No one had told her about them being in the program, but the girl wasn’t a groundhog that had stuck her head in a hole. Some things were just obvious at this point.

<Maybe that’s why she doesn’t like her,> Becca considered. After all, if Liz wanted to she could end the dreams of five Heroes in training.

It was probably a factor in it, but Becca knew the real reason was because Anika had trouble trusting and feeling. Anika had shared parts of her poop-filled early life, and those had made Becca cry like a newborn babe; but as far as she knew, Anika hadn’t opened up to anyone else. Becca knew her girlfriend well enough to know that it probably wouldn’t happen anytime soon.

“True,” Anika reluctantly admitted to Becca’s earlier point. “But we can’t tell her too much. A lot of this is still need to know.”

“We’ll just throw in a bunch of hypotheticals and be vague,” Becca brightened, skipping back over to her girlfriend and pecking her on the nose. That type of kiss never failed to elicit a smile from the taller Super.

She skipped out of the room, with Anika not far behind. “You mean right now?” Anika blanched. Seth was home, so that meant there was a fifty percent chance they were doing the no pants dance.

“There’s no time like the present,” Becca needed to get this assignment done to do some of her own pants-less dancing, so she had no intention of waiting.

The lack of “oh my gods” was a good sign as they approached Seth’s second floor room. That was good enough for Becca, so she strolled right up and knocked on the door. There was only a slight pause before Seth invited them in.

This was the first time that Becca had been into Seth’s room in a long time; actually, since they’d help Seth move in all his boxes at the start of the semester. The speedster wasn’t sure what to expect, but clothes everywhere and a funky smell were pretty typical boy expectations. Instead, she was surprised to find everything orderly and organized. There were only a handful of clothes on the floor, all female, and the bed was made with military precision.

Liz occupied the bed in nothing more than a pair of yoga pants and a sports bra. Since embracing her sexuality, Becca had started to notice things about other women that she’d repressed in the past. With that in mind Becca couldn’t stop thinking that Liz looked good, real good. Becca’s enforced dry spell wasn’t helping the situation either.

Seth sat at his desk on his laptop. He was probably working on the same project they were, but a quick glance showed that he had a lot more typed up than Becca and Anika combined.

“We’re stealing Liz,” Becca stated matter-of-factly.

Seth didn’t even turn around, and Liz just grinned. “Just bring her back in one piece,” he acknowledged the kidnapping with a wave.

“Please don’t hurt me, I’m just a poor little girl,” Liz pouted and giggled, playing the submissive captive was so not her style.

The teleporter followed them back up to Becca’s room, and settled onto Becca’s unmade bed as she closed the door behind them. “So you want some info on teleporters,” Becca couldn’t stop her eyebrows from rising in surprise. “It’s not hard to figure out, and Seth already drilled me for details,” there was something about the way Liz said “drilled” that led Becca to believe there was a lot more involved than picking the teleporter’s brain. “So fire away.”

Becca and Anika both took their seats and opened up their laptops. It took a minute to organize their thoughts and come up with a few questions.

“So I’m sure you know we’re working on a project,” Becca didn’t go into any detail about what class the project was for. “So we just want to get a look into a teleporter’s brain.”

“Well you got one,” Liz grinned, poking her temple with her index finger a couple times. “What do you want to know?”

“Tell us about your thought process?” Anika took the lead. Her attitude was all business. “Why do you do the things you do? What do you use your power for? How do those two things interconnect?”

“Wow, I feel like I’m back in psych 101,” Liz reclined back on the bed like she’s was in a therapist’s office.

“Well, I can’t speak for all teleporters,” Liz started, her eyes on the ceiling. “I’m not ashamed to admit that my power isn’t flashy or particularly useful, so I can only explain it from that limited context.”

Becca was ashamed to admit it, but she’d always thought of Liz as a bit of a…she couldn’t even think of the right word, and “bimbo” wasn’t it. Becca had never really thought of Liz as smart. She’d seen the other woman be courageous against a knife wielding drunk, she was certainly brave and strong willed for being with Seth, and she clearly had a nympho side that went well with Becca’s hyper-sexual dorm mate. But Becca was now a little ashamed to admit she hadn’t taken Liz seriously beyond her looks and flagrant personality. Sitting here and listening to Liz’s responses was showing Becca that there was a brain behind all that beauty.

Becca felt a hand on her shoulder, and turned to see Anika’s comforting smile. Becca’s girlfriend knew that Becca liked to get herself worked up when she underestimated or didn’t give people the attention they deserved; Becca saw it as rude. Anika’s touch and smile did a lot to make Becca calm down and continue with the interview.

“Teleportation is a power of convenience,” Liz continued without having seen the momentary interaction between Becca and Anika. “If I want something nearby I can have it,” Liz proved the point by teleporting a pen from the table to her hand. “I can’t do a lot,” Liz took a deep breath. “But being able to do little things like this is pretty awesome. Now multiply that a thousand times for the big name teleporters. Heroes like Shimmerpath can go anywhere in the world anytime they want to. Nothing can stop them. Other teleporters are in critical need throughout the world; transporting people to hospitals, ferrying business executives from one meeting to another, and even providing protection for Presidents and Prime Ministers. It goes from a convenient power to an absolutely necessary one. The world can get by without strongmen to lift heavy things; we can get machines to do that for us. But think of a world without teleporters, and tell me it wouldn’t be a worse place.”

Liz’s statement did make Becca think about it. She’d never really thought about what powers are better than others, especially since she was the only Super in her entire town. Since coming to the HCP she’d analyzed powers for strength and weaknesses, but she’d never really thought of prioritizing them from best to worst. Every power was unique, and every power could usually be effectively countered by another; but if Becca looked at it closely, teleporters were pretty special.

“I don’t feel like I’m out of line in thinking some teleporters might have a superiority complex,” Liz had propped herself up on her elbows, and Becca could see a glint in the other woman’s eye. Liz might not be a teleporter on Shimmerpath’s level, but she certainly had pride, and maybe a little ego, when it came to her ability.

“Do you think some teleporters think they can take what they want?” Becca asked. A feeling of entitlement would be a big part of the profile they were building on Wraith.

“I’m sure some of them think so,” Liz grinned, but then teleported the pen from her hand back to the desk. “But not all of us,” her smile grew bigger. “I think it’s a question of convenience versus power. Does a teleporter use their gift to make their life, and the lives of the people around them easier? Or does the person use their power to take for their selfish ambition, or to amass power.” Liz shrugged as she finished the insightful analysis. “But in the end, I think you can say that about any Super with a power.”

“Hmm,” Liz made a lot of good points, and Becca had a lot to think about.

“Thanks for that insight,” Anika was writing furiously on her laptop. Becca realized she was staring off into space, and quickly started to put her thoughts on paper.

“Full disclosure, but I told Seth a lot of the same stuff, so you might want to vary it up a bit. I don’t want your professor thinking you all cheated,” Becca just nodded as she typed away. She was sure Dean Ditmar didn’t want anyone cheating, but summarizing a primary source’s thoughts wasn’t cheating.

Becca knew the information was only a general synopsis of one Super’s view of her entire classification, but it gave the speedster some ideas. <Maybe I should challenge Fiona?> It would only be a one rank jump, but it was better than accomplishing nothing during the first semester.

“I hope that answers your questions,” Liz smiled, and hoisted herself up off the bed. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have to start on some of my own homework. I hope this helped.”

“It was great. Thanks Liz,” Becca cheerfully replied.

“Any time,” Liz smiled back and left.

Twenty minutes of typing passed before a word was spoken between the two women. “I think she falls into the latter rather than the former category.” The conversation was so long ago Becca didn’t remember which was which. Anika picked up on that and explained. “I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got a gut feeling that Liz is more the amass power than make people’s lives better type of teleporter.”

Becca couldn’t stop her frown from forming, but she attempted to be empathetic. “Have you read any mean thoughts?” Anika shook her head back and forth. “Has she ever done anything sketchy that would make you feel she can’t be trusted?”

“Well she did have that gun in her purse,” Anika’s reply was half-hearted at best.

“Angela carries a gun in her purse too, and she could dismember anyone who wanted to hurt her,” Becca picked apart Anika’s objection.

“Has she ever hurt either of us, or even been mean?” Anika reverted back to shaking her head back and forth. “So I don’t see what the problem is with her?” Becca considered another possibility, and had to work herself up to asking the question?

“Is it because I was staring at her?”

Anika’s laugh was the last thing Becca expected.

“Oh, babe,” Anika pulled Becca into a hug that made the speedster feel warm and safe. “If we weren’t together I’d probably be trying to take a bite out of that ass.”

“What!” Becca snorted, trying to pull out of the hug, but Anika wouldn’t let her.

“I know you love me, and you know I love you. That doesn’t mean your eyes aren’t going to wander to admire something as well put together as Liz,” Becca could feel Anika smiling as the taller Super kissed the top of her forehead.

“I bet Liz would let us take a bite out of her butt,” Becca’s hand went to her mouth, mortified that she’d spoken that errant thought out loud.

It just made Anika laugh harder.

Becca and Anika might be a lot of things, but they weren’t cheaters. Was a three way with Liz cheating? That was the magic question, and one neither of them had the stomach to answer at this point in their relationship.

But the thoughts had done one positive thing for them. “Ok, lock down is over. Come here,” the last two words came out in a growl, and Becca squealed with delight as Anika jumped on top of her.

A study break was just what they needed. They’d wake up tomorrow rested, refreshed, and ready to finish their project. Their only regret would be that they forgot to go get ice cream.

 

***

 

“I didn’t do it! I didn’t kill that…” Hunter closed the door behind the hitman before the racial slur could be heard. Considering everything the hired killer had said during the short interview, it would be the most pleasant designation he’d given to the now deceased Ricky Galvani.

“He still sticking to his story?” the policeman standing guard at the door asked.

Normally, a guard wouldn’t be stationed at the entrance to a suspected killer’s interrogation room. But this situation wasn’t normal; this was Chicago, and everything pointed to this being a mob hit. The Family Ricky worked for was already clamoring for blood, and half dozen rival Family soldiers had done little to satiate that bloodlust. In typical Mafioso fashion, the other Family wasn’t going to take the insult lying down. Another three of Ricky’s associates had found their way to the morgue in the past two days. This whole thing was turning into a mob war, and Ricky was at the center of it.

<And I can’t believe I believe him,> Hunter was amazed at his admission.

The evidence on the hitman was ironclad. The man had a history of “authority” issues. He had diagnosed mental problems, was a suspect in a number of other murders, a shell with his fingerprints was found at the scene, and it matched the rifle that had been recovered from his home. The man’s only defense was he was asleep, but there were no witnesses to corroborate that. It was a slam dunk, and everyone knew it.

<But the guy still swears he’s innocent, and I believe him,> Hunter was going on nothing but instinct, and that instinct hadn’t failed him yet. Still, it was tough to take his instinct’s side over the mountain of evidence.

“He’s proclaiming his innocence,” Hunter replied to the cop’s question.

The veteran Hero hoped that the cop wasn’t on one of the Families payrolls. If he was he’d either kill the hitman before he could make it to trial, or he’d end up killing whoever the other Family sent to wack him. Either way, the person guarding the prisoner was in just as much danger as the prisoner himself; and the worst part was that if the cop was clean he was in the line of fire for nothing more than his moral values and a shitty paycheck.

Being a bearer of society’s moral values, Hunter had to respect that about the young man; if he wasn’t a Mob plant. Nevertheless, Hunter made sure to keep the cop in the corner of his eye as he headed for the exit. He hated being suspicious around law enforcement, but sometimes it was a necessity. The Hero knew that went both ways, and the looks he got from half the people in the squad room confirmed that. Those uncomfortable, or downright hostile glances, were split between Hunter and the other two Heroes present.

Absence and Ox were leaning up against a far wall. Ox looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. The big strongman could destroy the building, and everyone in it, if all hell broke loose. Absence looked like she was relaxed on the surface, but Hunter saw the slight bunching of her costume at the shoulder. As another veteran Hero, she could feel the unwelcome just as much as Hunter.

<Sometimes being a rookie isn’t such a bad thing,> Hunter felt envious of Ox for about a second, but brushed aside the emotion when he reached the two Heroes.

“Anything new?” Absence had studied the file on their way over, and the way she asked the question told Hunter all he needed to know.

“He didn’t have anything else to say beyond his previous statements,” Hunter confirmed as he led the way out of the crowded squad room.

“Then what are we doing here?” Absence kept pace with his longer strides. “If this had nothing to do with Wraith then what’s the point.”

“A man still died,” Ox spoke up, but immediately shut up at the pointed glare Absence shot him.

“Ox is right,” Hunter agreed if for a totally different reason. “A man died, and I think the person that did it is not sitting in an interrogation room back there.”

Absence face said it all. She thought Hunter must have a screw loose. With all the evidence against the hitman the only thing left was the judge to bang the gavel and put the man behind bars. Absence probably wanted to say all of that but Hunter had a decade of experience on her, and was a subtlety Hero. If he had his doubts, then there must be a basis for them. Unfortunately, Hunter didn’t have a lot to give her.

“It’s too neat,” he replied to her unspoken question. “Everything fits into place too perfectly. Nothing ever fits into place this perfectly.” It was very thin reasoning.

“The simplest answer is often the correct one,” Absence played devil’s advocate by giving a simplified version of Occam’s razor.

“Nothing in this world is simple,” Hunter chuckled. It was his job to take the simple, make it very complicated, and find the flaw that would unravel everything.

Absence didn’t reply, and Ox smartly stayed out of the conversation. Hunter led the way from the squad room, downstairs, and into an electronic surveillance room. A decade ago this room, and its entire department, hadn’t existed. Since then a network of cameras, computers, and tracking software had been installed to blanket the city. Blanket was a relative term when referring to this particular network’s effectiveness. It was better than some cities, but worse than some; and the bottom line was the blanketing was only effective around thirty percent of Chicago, and partially effective in thirty percent more. Roughly forty percent of the Windy City wasn’t covered by anything more than good old fashion patrols.

“We’re looking into the Galvani assassination,” Hunter handed over his access pass to a tech that looked a little star struck at the Heroes’ sudden appearance.

“Um…yes, sir,” the tech dutifully scanned the pass, verified it, and then asked Hunter what he needed.

Ten minutes later Hunter exited the room with a pile of computer chips and USB drives. Fortunately for the Hero, Galvani had been on the police’s watch list for years. Unfortunately, that meant there was a lot of data to comb through. Hunter had booked some time on a DVA server to query and sort the information he needed, but all the data needed to be uploaded first, and the results looked at with the Mach-one eyeball.

“Let’s meet up tomorrow back at West,” Hunter offered, because Ox looked like he’d rather have a painful bowel movement than go through all the data in Hunter’s hands.

“Fine by me,” Absence replied, giving the big strongman another sharp look when he breathed a sigh of relief at Hunter’s offer. “Drop us off.”

“Sure,” Hunter placed the small data storage devices in one of his many pockets, grabbed the other two Heroes by the shoulder, and teleported them home.

Home for the intern and mentor was a Hero hide out just outside of Vegas. Absence worked solo, but she was well-funded, and the place had been decorated in the garish Vegas fashion that Hunter couldn’t stand.

“I’ll be back at seven,” he didn’t wait for a reply before popping halfway across the country again. He had something he wanted to look at.

Hunter popped back into existence on a windswept rooftop about five hundred meters from the site of Galvani’s death. The door to the roof was crisscrossed with yellow police tape, but it didn’t look like that had stopped any unwanted visitors. There were a few empty beer cans and sandwich wrappers blowing around, probably from some kids who wanted to get buzzed without their parents knowing. Hunter’s eyes noted all of the changes from the crime scene photos he’d studied.

The report said it took two CSI sweeps of the rooftop to find the hidden shell casing hidden in a furrow near the edge of the roof. It was plausible that the hitman would have left the shell behind; unable to find it before he was forced to leave or be discovered. But the explanation didn’t sit well with Hunter.

The Hero started to walk around the rooftop, not sure exactly what he was going to find. He engaged his super power, feeling around him for that disturbance that indicated a teleporter had been here. He didn’t expect to find anything. It had been several days since the shooting, and it was likely that anything a teleporter left behind was long gone. He had to at least try.

The irony was that if Wraith was a weaker teleporter he wouldn’t have found anything. The stronger the teleporter, and the farther they traveled, the stronger the disturbance they left behind. So it was pretty lucky that Hunter picked up the tiniest of relativistic distortions when he looked down one of the vents. No one had thought to look there, because so few people had his power or knew how it worked.

<Clever girl,> he grinned under his African mask, but that grin was short lived. <Who are you?> the countermeasures Wraith was employing were designed to elude Heroes like Hunter. Training like that was nearly impossible to come by because that knowledge was constrained to a handful of powerful people.

Of course, there was no way to prove that the smudge in reality was Wraith. It quite possibly was another teleporter all together; maybe someone the hitman hired to transport him to and from the scene of the crime. There were tons of logical explanations, all of which a defense attorney would be able to exploit.

But Hunter knew. He knew in his bones that Wraith had been here, and that she’d pulled the trigger that had killed Ricky Galvani. < Why?> That was the million dollar question.

Hunter estimated the echo of Wraith’s teleportation was only going to last another few hours; but that meant whoever she was, she was a top tier teleporter. She was probably just as powerful as him, in her own way. Nothing suggested she had a tracking aspect to her power, but the darkness she emitted was a deadly tool if used correctly. Taking into account the armaments she preferred there was no question in his mind he hadn’t seen a supervillain this dangerous since Armsman and Hellgate were running around.

The knowledge allowed Hunter to refine his suspect pool, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The last thing any Hero wanted to report was that the person they were chasing, the person that was going around breaking the law, was actually more powerful than they’d originally estimated. Someone would catch crap for the miscalculation, but that wasn’t Hunter’s problem. His mission was to catch Wraith and bring her to justice.

As far as the Rick Galvani’s case went. Nothing Hunter had seen today was going to do the hitman any good. Everything Hunter felt was a hunch, nothing more. A hunch wasn’t enough to let the man go free, and Hunter had a second hunch that said it was better the suspected hitman sit behind bars.

Five more minutes on the scene failed to reveal any more hidden insight, so Hunter quickly returned to his hotel room in Orlando. He had a long night of data input and analysis ahead of him, and if he wanted to get any sleep he needed to get started.

 

***

 

Angela sat alone in the mercifully silent library. Not the HCP library, the university library. It was late, but since it was close to finals there were still plenty of people present. Angela had found a quiet corner in the rear of the top floor. In the four hours she’d been sitting here no one had come by. The books in the section near here were obscure volumes discussing mundane scientific topics. Those were the types of classes people tried to avoid in college, so this section went largely unused.

Angela had discovered the little oasis of solitude midway through the semester, and she’d done her best to keep it her little secret. She didn’t tell any of her roommates where she was going, or ever tell them she was there when they texted. Tactically speaking it was a mistake. Lack of communication and accountability could be an issue if something happened, but Angela was willing to take that chance.

There was something calming about sitting alone and studying calculus, medieval history, and biology. She’d already finished her HCP project, and in doing so, had been able to get her Psychology 101 final paper completed as well. Tonight was shaping up to be more productive than most.

Every time she checked an item off her to do list she felt a surge of pride. She was about to complete her first semester of the HCP and college. She had straight As in all her classes, and was still the uncontested number one ranked freshman. She was exactly where she wanted to be, and everything was progressing as planned. But that didn’t mean she was without stress.

There were a lot of factors she could control. Her brains and her shifted brawn allowed her greater control of her destiny than many other normal people or Supers. But there were some things that were just beyond her control.

Once Angela typed the concluding sentence into her final History paper, her mind started churning out scenarios. <Goodman, Webb, and Romanoff could be an issue,> she played out the fight in her mind.

Goodman would fire her destructive spheres from a distance while Webb moved in close. They’d hold Romanoff in reserve if Angela defeated Webb and moved against the two female Supers.

                <I’ll have to disengage after I deal with Webb,> Angela knew she’d take damage from the battle, and it was the smart tactical decision, but that still didn’t mean she liked running from a fight. Heroes didn’t run, so why should it be any different in the HCP.

<I might be able to form a loose alliance with Becca, which will get Anika on my side too,> the possibility was intriguing. <The ranking disparity is great enough that it won’t hamper my point totals greatly.> It would be a better idea if she sought them out after defeating a few opponents in solo fights, preferably those in the top third of the class.

She felt the stress building as she saved, and sent the history paper to the printer. A popup window on her screen said that she was fifty third in the quay, so it would be a while before she could collect it. Having free time on her hands this close to the HCP final only set her mind on edge. She needed to find something to do.

The lights in the library were controlled by motion sensors in order to be more efficient. The result was that Angela’s corner was a small cone of light in an otherwise dark corner. The window at her side looked out on a section of street with broken streetlights, which only added to the sensation that darkness was pressing in all around her. If she’d had an overactive imagination, this could be a problem; but Angela was sure she could deal with anything that came at her from the darkness.

So she was surprised when she jumped at the motion lights activated, bathing the surrounding area with light and revealing a visitor. Angela’s mind immediately assessed the threat and possible courses of action.

“Um…hi,” the boy standing at the edge of where the bookshelves met the open study space stuttered.

Angela’s first mental impression was unimpressive and nonthreatening. The boy was her height, with large glasses that covered a large portion of his pale face. He had a few spots on his forehead and cheeks that were stubbornly resisting moving beyond acne inflicted puberty. He was thin with baggy clothes that only made him look even thinner in the library’s light. Angela actually believed he might pass out, he was even shaking slightly.

She automatically dismissed her automatic threat posture assessment. It wasn’t only the big, menacing enemy that you needed to worry about; but also the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The clever enemy who made you let your guard down so he could get close and strike.

“Hello,” Angela kept her voice cordial.

The boy breathed out a sigh of relief when Angela replied to him, and he took a few steps closer. “My name’s Alec.”

He looked like he wanted some sort of a response, so she gave it to him. “I’m Angela.”

This time the boy smiled. The smile did a lot to alleviate the unimpressive categorization that Angela immediately assigned him. It was a big, genuine smile. It was nice. <Stay focused,> she reprimanded herself. Unwilling to let herself be tricked by the intruder.

“I’ve seen you here a lot. It’s a good study space,” Alec held up the armful of books he was carrying. “I like the spot on the third floor over by the Greek and Roman history section. It’s a lot busier than here, but I study better with a little ambient noise.”

Angela took the statement as rhetorical, so she kept her eyes focused on Alec, and waited for him to continue. The silence wiped the smile from the boy’s face, and sent him back into awkward quivering.

“Well…um…I’m sorry to disturb you,” Alec turned on his heel and walked away into the labyrinth of shelves.

Angela watched him go, not quite sure what had just happened. She’d need to report the incident to the HCP professors. A background check would need to be done on him to make sure he wasn’t some infiltrator trying to gather intelligence on the HCP.

<You picked the wrong girl to spy on,> Angela had a plan. She was pretty good at improvising, but when she had a plan she was unstoppable.

She heard the footsteps rapidly approaching form the same direction, and reached into her purse as a precaution. She had her gun handy, but she would just use the pepper spray. It would look suspicious if Angela defeated the boy with her hand to hand skill. Cameras were everywhere, and she didn’t want to jeopardize her spot in the HCP.

Alec appeared again, stopping exactly where he’d stopped before; at the edge of the bookcases and the open study space.

“Um…sorry,” he said, then shook his head like that wasn’t what he’d meant to say. “I just…uh….wanted to know if you wanted to compare notes.”

Alec held up his binder, but he held it up only by the back cover. “Crap,” he cursed, as the unsecure contents spilled out all over the floor. He quickly dropped to one knee and started to pick everything back up. “Sorry,” he apologized for the third time.

Angela didn’t move to help him. This could be a ploy to bring her in close, and she wasn’t going to fall for it. After a few moments of scrambling, Alec was back on his feet with an unorganized pile of crumpled notes in his hands.

“So yeah…we’re in the same Biology class, and you’re really smart; so I wanted to see if you wanted to compare notes,” Alec rephrased his earlier request. “Maybe over a cup of coffee?”

Angela recalled her memory of her biology class and pulled out her phone. One the first day of class, and intermittently throughout the semester she’d taken a photo of the entire class when she walked in. She’d studied the faces of those who sat near to make sure no one new was able to sneak up on her, but she hadn’t been able to memorize all two hundred and six students.

She left him standing there awkwardly while she surveyed and zoomed in on the photo. Finally she found Alec. He sat about six rows behind her and on the far right of the room.

                <If I want good intel it’s better to get it from the source,> her father had taught her that, but unlike her father, Angela was much more capable of taking a hit if Alec attacked her.

“We can grab coffee at a place on campus,” Angela wasn’t stupid enough to go running off with the guy. They still needed to be in a public place with footage she could study later on. “I have forty-five minutes before I need to be somewhere, so that gives us thirty minutes to study after transit and ordering.”

Alec didn’t seem to be thrown by the detailed study itinerary Angela was laying out. That was another good sign. If he put up any argument then that was a clue that he was trying to maneuver her into a prearranged position to ambush her.

“Ok,” the smile reappeared, warming his otherwise sickly features.

Angela gathered her books, but reorganized everything so her pepper spray went in her pocket, and it never left her hand. She walked over to Alec, but stopped ten feet away.

“Lead the way, you have forty four minutes remaining,” Alec nodded, and then scurried off with Angela following at an acceptable distance.

Angela’s mind was busy looking for people tailing her, and judging the proper counter-interrogation techniques to employ against Alec. Not once did she ever realize that she’d just been asked on her first date.

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