Off Campus: Part 5

That brought back memories–at least one memory anyway.

Two years ago, back when we’d begun to get the first inklings that something was wrong with the city’s mayor, and that he might be part of something bigger, I’d flown to Chicago and checked out the house of someone we thought might be his associate.

Dark Cloak had been waiting for me outside, bitterly unhappy with how he’d been treated by the FBI, and warning me that they’d use me and discard me.

The way I understood it, that perspective required some seriously selective memory. His girlfriend had been killed by the mob, and he’d gone on some kind of rampage, killing off mobsters until the FBI caught up with him and made it clear that he had to stop.

He stopped. They didn’t prosecute, and he’d gone into therapy with my dad–which is less coincidental than it sounds. Dad’s semi-famous for his work with troubled adolescents, and Grand Lake is about two hours north.

I’d wanted to ask him about that when I met him, but I’d been worried about exposing my identity to him.

Apparently, he knew it now.

“Wow,” I shook my head, absorbing the information. “You seem happier than the last time I ran into you.”

He grinned, and for the first time I looked at him. He had full lips, a strong jaw, and grey eyes. I could imagine women finding him attractive. He wore a emerald green, button down shirt made of a shiny material that made me think he was comfortable with attention.

Granted, that might be a little much to learn from a shirt.

“I was in a bad place,” he said. “Everything had gone wrong, and I had to figure out what to do with myself. I’m sure I came off as a bitter has-been with delusions of grandeur. Sorry about that.”

I put a few appetizers from the buffet onto my plate. “I wouldn’t have put it that strongly. Honestly, I barely thought about it afterward.”

I checked around me. None of the staff appeared to be in hearing distance. “You are in Stapledon, right?”

He grinned again. “I was supposed to be in the class before yours, but I spent a couple years dealing with my issues.” He air quoted the last word with his fingers.

He put his hands in his pockets. “It wasn’t bad being a normal guy with no special responsibilities, but now I’m back. I’m in your girlfriend’s class.”

“It’s a big class,” I said.

“No doubt,” he pulled a hand out of his pocket and picked up his plate of food. “Hey, I just saw someone I wanted to say hi to. I’m sure I’ll talk to you more tonight.”

He stepped away from the table. “Oh, and if the Stapledon block lets you, tell your dad thanks. He was a great therapist. I was a lousy client.”

“Sure,” I said.

He started walking toward the group of Stapledon students talking near the door–Gifford, Hunter, and Haley had been joined by two more people–Keith and a girl I guessed had to be Zoey.

Keith didn’t look much different than I remembered him from high school–a tall, skinny guy with light brown hair. His fashion sense hadn’t changed either. He wore a brown t-shirt with the logo of the United Heroes Society–New York City’s longest surviving superhero team.

Zoey stood next to Keith, clutching his hand. Her skin was so light I wondered if she’d ever been in the sun. Her hair was just as light. In fact, it was almost transparent. As I looked at her I realized that her skin glowed softly–so softly I almost didn’t notice.

I caught it only because the metal ring hanging from her lip reflected more light than it should.

Hadn’t Courtney said something about Zoey going through the power impregnator? Either she was ignoring Lim’s request to avoid using powers or hers came without an off switch.

Going from no powers to being permanently changed had to be a challenge.

I began to walk toward the group myself when Keith disentangled his hand from Zoey’s and walked straight for me.

“Nick, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were the–” Instead of “Rocket,” his voice dissolved into a series of gurgles. Clearing his throat, he looked around the room before continuing in a softer voice.

“You’re the Rocket. Why didn’t you tell me once you knew I had powers?”

Of all the things that I thought he might want to say if he ever discovered I was the Rocket that was not on my list.

I don’t know what expression my face wore, but I said, “Well, right after I learned what you could do, you were in the hospital, and after that things got crazy busy. You remember how the mayor was part of the Cabal? Well, what was left of the group were trying to kill us for months after that, and by the time they were gone school was over. We were barely in touch after that.”

Keith frowned. “I would have stayed in touch if you’d told me. I could have helped you guys. I’m tough, fast, and strong.”

“Yeah,” I said, trying to think how to get the conversation onto any other track. “You’ve got to remember though, that all I saw happen then was you taking power juice, and then breaking your arm. I didn’t want to put you into more danger. You wouldn’t have been ready for it.”

He kept the volume down, but his voice became more intense as he talked. “Was it the power juice?”

7 thoughts on “Off Campus: Part 5”

  1. I got the impression that it was more along the lines of them being casual friends and he didn’t really respect the guy’s judgement after publicly showing off the power juice. Of course, the ability to break your own arm is of limited utility in a fight.

  2. Typo:

    “I would have stayed in touch. if it were about that I could have helped you guys…” – ‘if’ should be ‘If’? Also, this doesn’t quite make sense to me.

  3. Actually, so far, only Izzy got invited from outside of the families; everyone else figured it out on their own (Kayla, Chris, Courtney) or was former Justice Fist (Camille, Sydney)

    One wonders if Keith dried up completely before his Power Impregnator run…

  4. [[One wonders if Keith dried up completely before his Power Impregnator run…]]

    Now, now, that’s just a theory. So far it hasn’t been proven that the Power Impregnator can drive people crazy, with or without power juice. Why, that gun on the mantlepiece has gone completely unfired. I’m sure that the threat of thousands of superhumans, trained by the government, going completely evil and crazy will go completely unfulfilled.

    (wink)

    Yeah but seriously, it’s going to be pretty sad if all of these characters that we’ve grown to know and like (er, or at least know) end up subject to a horrific mental degeneration that forces Nick to put them down like mad dogs. …but that would be a pretty cool menace to end the entire story.

    We’ll see, I guess

  5. I’m behind, I know, but for the book, I think an ‘a’ is needed before ‘girl’ in this phrase:

    Keith and girl I guessed had to be Zoey.

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