The teacher stopped writing on the board and sighed. Right in the middle of a lesson. She walked over to answer the phone hanging on the wall. "Yes?" she said politely. After a pause, she nodded at the message. "I'll tell him." She hung up the phone and looked at James. "Your mother's here to pick you up. Take your backpack with you."
There were whispers of 'lucky' as he got his things together. He didn't have a doctor's appointment today. Had something happened to his dad? He stuffed his books in faster.
He almost ran to the main office and gave his mother an anxious look. She smiled, but it looked strained and didn't relax him at all. "Mom? What's wrong?"
"Nothing, honey. There are some people who want to talk to you." She'd already signed him out and they left the building.
He got in the van and put his backpack beside him. "What's going on?" he asked, buckling his seatbelt.
"We can't talk about it," his mom said. She gave him a worried look. "We're sorry, honey, but they said they'd explain it when we got there."
"Who's they?" he asked. She pointed to the van in front of them and he read the back. MPD.
He sat back in his seat and stared. Magical Practices Division. What did they want with him?
James knew he was normal. He got B's and C's in school, had a little sister, and a family that drove him slightly crazy at times. He rode a bike, played videogames, and had a few friends to hang around with. He was of average height with brown hair. He didn't wear glasses or any kind of jewelry. What had he done to attract their attention?
They reached the building and James found himself and his parents escorted inside. A lady at the desk smiled at them as they approached and gave them the sign-in sheet. James was so nervous that his handwriting was worse than usual.
If James expected a dark room with a single chair and a glaring light hanging overhead, he didn't get it. Instead, they were taken to a small conference room and offered doughnuts and something to drink. His parents got coffee and James settled for a soda. He had a doughnut from the box on the table while drinks were passed around and introductions made.
The man in charge sat down and opened a folder. He slid it over to James. "Would you look these over and tell me if you remember anything?"
James slid the folder closer and read. Test grades, arcade scores, even normal everyday things like talking himself out of a teacher giving him detention. Were these people stalking him or something? After the second page, he nodded. "Yeah, I did that. Am I in trouble?"
The man smiled and shook his head. "No, James." His attention shifted to James's parents. "Do you have any evidence of magical occurrences or abilities in your family?"
James's mom frowned. "No."
He cleared his throat. "You do now."
A really long explanation later, James had tests done. They proved he wasn't psychic or manipulating the cards in any way. He was just lucky.
The MPD gave him lots of paperwork to fill out. He registered with them, got information on support groups, and they offered to train him to be more specific.
His parents weren't sure if they were supposed to do anything different, but they told him they still loved him and not to worry about his ability. His life went back to normal. That afternoon could have been a daydream for him.
James graduated high school and went on to college. He tried not to use his skill, but it couldn't be denied. It was something as easy as breathing to him and about as voluntary.
He struggled to finish two years of college and quit. He'd switched majors, gotten different part-time jobs, but nothing seemed to spark his interest as much as the MPD. He talked his idea over with his parents and they agreed.
He signed up with the MPD for the improvement classes the next day. They offered him paid training, a guaranteed job, and he'd be using something he was born with.
Four months later
An MPD courier pulled up to the hotel office and parked the car. "Well, here you are."
James nodded and opened the car door. He got his bag out of the back and the driver left him there without another word. He watched the car disappear out of the driveway and sighed. He looked at the piece of paper in his hand. "I didn't think it would be this informal," he muttered. "Just dropped off like a package." He shifted his duffel bag on his shoulder and moved out of the parking lot before he got run over. He stopped in front of a hotel room and checked the number. 002.
James sighed and looked around at the buildings. "So 305 is... where?" He started walking down the sidewalk and found a set of stairs into the building. Three floors later, he looked for Room 305. His head swinging back and forth looking at room numbers, he located the right room and paused in front of it. This was it. The first meeting between him and the group he was going to be working with. There were three of them, including a mage who was on the news all the time. A big name in the MPD. He tugged down his shirt and knocked on the door.
"I've got it!" a male voice called from inside the room. The doorknob twisted and an eager face looked at him. He frowned, looking down at James's hands. "You," he said slowly, "do not have my pizza. You are not pizza delivery."
"Uh No," he said, tilting his head up to look the guy in the eyes. He did look familiar, though. The black hair he'd pulled back to keep it out of his eyes was right, but wire frame glasses
"Darn," the man said. "I'm not psychic, so you have to tell me who you are. But," he said, raising a finger, "if you are a minion of evil, I will drown you in the bathtub like I did the last one."
"Don't believe him!" another male voice said from inside the room. "He offered to pants the last guy and then the minion said he'd like that."
The man at the door turned his head back toward the room. "And then I zapped him and made his hair look funny." He grinned at James. "So who are you?"
James stared for a moment. "James."
The man frowned. "James who? And why are you at this door?"
"James Heiderson. I was assigned to an MPD group that's supposed to be here ?" Truthfully, he had his doubts at this point. They were joking around like some of the people he'd avoided in college. The jokes that were played on freshmen weren't nice. He hoped it wouldn't happen here.
The man's face lit up and he backed up, waving him in. "James, you're in the right place. Come in, we saved you a bed. It's not in this room, but all of us are. Unless you want to meet your bed more than us ?"
James shook his head, then walked in and looked around. Standard hotel room. Two beds, one nightstand, a bureau, television, and a small table. There was another guy sitting on the bed and a woman at the table. He shifted his bag again and said, "Hi."
"I'm Erik," the man who had been at the door said. "Nice to meet you. If you think I look like the guy on all the broadcasts, that's because I am." Before James could react, he had gone on. "You signed all the privacy statements, right?" James nodded. "Good, I can let you in on the big secret. I'm not the one who does all the grand mage battles." He pointed to the girl sitting at the table frowning at the laptop in front of her. "She does. That's Sandy."
The blond-haired young woman at the table turned and looked at James with mildly interested brown eyes. "Hello. Papers, please." He walked forward and gave them to her. Sandy shuffled them until she got to the ones she wanted. She leaned her cheek on a fist while she read. "James Heiderson, just turned twenty, two years of college." She frowned at a page and gave him a doubtful look. "You want to expand on this specialty of yours?"
Sandy took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Expand means to tell me about it in more detail."
James shrugged. "If there's a bomb attached to a doorknob I'm about to open, it doesn't go off."
"Good to know. What else?"
He reached for the papers and she let them go. He found the one with the description and pointed out the right section. "There."
She read them and shrugged. "You might be useful." She looked up and gave him a smile for reassurance. "Don't look so worried. Save that for the first time after you wake up in the hospital. We asked for another person and they don't give us another mage, but you. Someone who's lucky."
The guy on the bed grinned. "We can use some good luck." James looked at him when he started talking. "I'm Lee and your roommate tonight. I'll give you the checklist on working around us."
Erik snorted. "We'll do it together. Guy thing."
Sandy rolled her eyes. "And what if you miss something?"
Erik grinned at her. "Okay, James. First thing you have to know. Do not fall in love with Sandy. She will beat your head against a wall if you do. But you can look at her as an object of lust. All the better villains do."
"Except when they're gay," Lee interjected.
Erik nodded. "With that exception. Do not call out her name in your sleep or she will smother you with a pillow." He held up a hand and grinned. "Personal experience." Sandy growled. "But I was having a nightmare about her evil twin. Not a nice person to be around."
"I don't have an evil twin," Sandy said through gritted teeth.
Erik winked. "You did in this nightmare. And you don't ever want to meet her in person."
"Two," Sandy said, glaring at Erik. "We joke around and use a lot of sarcasm. If I say I'm going to kill Erik in a highly inventive way, I'm probably not. No matter how much he may deserve it."
Lee sighed. "Three, if Sandy gets in a grand deathmatch with an evil overlord, a dark mage, a spork-"
"The spork one was cool," Erik told James.
"-do not get in her way." Lee paused. "Unless your luckiness kicks in and you have the urge to throw yourself in the way so that she doesn't die. That sort of thing."
Sandy put her hand over her eyes and then turned to lay it over the back of the chair. She glared at the men and said to James, "Anything else, just follow their lead."
Erik beamed at her. "Excellent point, Sandra Dee! James! To the ice machine!" He picked up the empty bucket and James put his bag down to go with him.
The door shut behind them and she gave them a few seconds to move down the hall. "Opinion?" Sandy asked.
Lee tilted his head. "Young. His first assignment. Not sure of what to make of us yet and dropping him headfirst into the sarcasm wasn't helping." He smiled. "But if he can deal with Erik's sense of humor, your attitude, and my physical problem, he might do okay."
"Hopefully, he's lucky enough not to die in the first assignment we get." She printed their newest assignment out and gave it to him.
He scanned it and nodded. "A nice easy one. Mostly my job, so he can watch something nonlethal."
"Sandy's really cool once she relaxes around you," Erik told him after filling the ice bucket. "Lee's good once he sees you're okay with him." He smiled. "And me? As long as you don't try to get me killed, I'm fine." He frowned. "If you don't pull me along when the door opens up with the spiky bits of metal below, I'm going to push you in."
James nodded, putting quarters in the snack machine. He'd had dinner, but he didn't know if they stopped for breakfast. A cereal bar would do in a pinch. "So Sandy does all the battles?"
He nodded. "Yeah, she does and she kicks ass doing it too. But they put my name in the footage and we mostly look alike during a battle anyway. If we don't, they do some camera stuff and make it look that way." He grinned. "She doesn't want the attention and I get all the babes."
"How does the news know?"
Erik sighed. "Some of the dark mages and evil overlords think everything they do is newsworthy. They hear that the MPD has sent someone, they make sure to get good footage of it. Stupid really."
They took snacks back to the room for everyone to eat. Erik put the ice bucket down and lined up the plastic glasses to put ice into. "Pizza came while you were gone," Sandy told him. "I took the money out of your wallet." Erik nodded and they sat down at the table to snag slices while they talked.
Sandy explained their next assignment and James nodded. A ghost. He'd never met one before.
"They're mostly easygoing," Lee told him. "We talk and I explain the problem. We try to find something that works for both of us."
"It's diplomatic," Erik said, wrinkling his nose. "What he's not telling you Go ahead, Lee."
Lee sighed. Tact, Erik. "Sometimes they get angry and need more persuading."
"And sometimes we have to get dirty," Sandy said.
"Lee does the 'banish from the mortal plane' shtick." Erik grinned. "Without the sparkly Hollywood effects"
Lee looked to the ceiling for help. It didn't fall on Erik's head. Pity. "That is the last option. But yes, it is an option." He looked at the clock. "I'm about ready to turn in. James?" The youngest of them looked up. "If you're tired, I'll show you where our room is."
James nodded and looked around. He found his duffel, picked it up, and straightened. He paused when he saw Lee with a cane over his wrist.
Lee smiled and put the cane down so the end tapped the carpet. "It's just down the hall." James nodded and followed him out the door.
Erik counted to three and cracked the door to listen to the conversation.
James looked at the cane, then his eyes flickered up to Lee's face. "I apologize in advance if I upset you, but it's either keep staring and wondering or ask. Why do you have a cane?"
Erik grinned and pushed the door open. "I like this one, Lee!"
Lee chuckled and turned. "He's straightforward and to the point. Why wouldn't you?" He smiled at James. "I'd rather be asked than stared at. How about we get us both into the room before I go into the story?" James nodded.
Lee unlocked the door and leaned in cautiously. One never knew if a minion had crept in while he was gone. When no one sprang out at him, he checked the bathroom and beside both beds. Satisfied that no one was there, he sat down on one of the beds. He held the cane and drew in a breath. This was potentially a long conversation. "I have a cane, because of bad balance. I also see things. Seeing things that other people can't is also upsetting and I'm unsure of where the ground is at times." He laughed shortly. "Bad balance combined with a mage making the ground shake is liable to land me on my ass."
He took off his shoe and then his sock. Pulling up his jeans a bit, he held his leg out to give James a physical explanation. "My leg curves a little. It's been corrected by surgery, but this is as good as it's going to be." He patted the cane. 'That's why I carry this."
Lee gave him a surprised look. "Usually, people are embarrassed."
James shrugged. "I am, but it's stupid, right? You're making the best out of this and I shouldn't feel bad because my legs work."
"That's a very adult way of looking at it." He gave him a suspicious look and winked to show he didn't mean it. "I do caution against trying to carry me. Unless I'm unconscious, I'll hit you with the cane and protest at the top of my lungs that I'm not a girl."
James laughed. "I got it. Don't fall in love with Sandy, don't pick you up, and don't leave Erik to the mercy of the metal spiky things."
"Do I want to know ?" Lee tapped his cheek and slowly shook his head. "No, I don't. I've got to check my email if you want the shower first."