“We didn’t,” observed Max. “It’s a mandatory course.” The remark earned him a ripple of encouragement from the class.
“My sincerest apologies then. But now that you’re here, and seeing as there’s no time like the present—”
“Next week would be better,” called out Toby Powell, a broad-shouldered surfer, pre-med, and the son of some governor. Max had only earned a murmur, but this time the other students laughed at a level proportionate to Toby’s popularity.
“Enough,” said Professor Lyne. The class quieted. “Now, Lockland encourages a certain level of … industriousness where theses are concerned, and offers a proportionate amount of freedom, but a word of warning from me. I’ve taught this thesis seminar for seven years. You will do yourselves no favors by making a safe selection and flying under the radar; however, an ambitious thesis will win no points on the grounds of ambitiousness alone. Your grade is contingent upon execution. Find a topic close enough to your area of interest to be productive without selecting one you already consider yourselves expert on.” He offered Toby a withering smile. “Start us off, Mr. Powell.”
Toby ran his fingers through his hair, stalling. The professor’s disclaimer had clearly shaken his confidence in whatever topic he’d been about to declare. He made a few noncommittal sounds while scrolling through his notes.
“Um … T helper 17 cells and immunology.” He was careful not to let his voice wander up at the end into a question. Professor Lyne let him hang for a moment, and everyone waited to see if he would give Toby “the look”—the slight lift of his chin and the tilt of his head that he had become famous for; a look that said, perhaps you’d like to try again—but finally he honored him with a small nod.
His gaze pivoted. “Mr. Hall?”
Max opened his mouth when Lyne cut in with, “No tech. Science yes, tech no. So choose wisely.” Max’s mouth snapped shut a moment as he considered.
“Electrical efficacy in sustainable energy,” he said after a pause.
“Hardware over software. Admirable choice, Mr. Hall.”
Professor Lyne continued around the room.
Inheritance patterns, equilibriums, and radiation were all approved, while effects of alcohol/cigarettes/illegal substances, the chemical properties of methamphetamines, and the body’s response to sex all earned “the look.” One by one the topics were accepted or retooled.
“Next,” ordered Professor Lyne, his sense of humor ebbing.
A long pause. The topic had come from Janine Ellis, whose eyebrows hadn’t fully recovered from her last round of research. Professor Lyne gave a sigh, accompanied by “the look,” but Janine only smiled and there wasn’t much Lyne could say. Ellis was one of the youngest students in the room and had, in her freshman year, discovered a new and vibrant shade of blue that firework companies across the world now used. If she was willing to risk her eyebrows, that was her own business.
“And you, Mr. Vale?”
Victor looked at his professor, narrowing down his options. He’d never been strong in physics, and while chemistry was fun, his real passion lay in biology—anatomy and neuroscience. He’d like a topic with the potential for experimentation, but he’d also like to keep his eyebrows. And while he wanted to hold his rank in the department, offers from med schools, graduate programs, and research labs had been coming in the mail for weeks (and under the table for months). He and Eli had been decorating their entry hall with the letters. Not the offers, no, but the letters that preceded them, all praise and charm, batting lashes and handwritten postscripts. Neither one of them needed to move worlds with their papers. Victor glanced over at Eli, wondering what he would choose.
Professor Lyne cleared his throat.
“Adrenal inducers,” said Victor on a lark.
“Mr. Vale, I’ve already turned down a proposal involving intercourse—”
“No,” Victor said, shaking his head. “Adrenaline and its physical and emotional inducers and consequences. Biochemical thresholds. Fight or flight. That kind of thing.”
He watched Professor Lyne’s face, waiting for a sign, and Lyne eventually nodded.
“Don’t make me regret it,” he said.
And then he turned to Eli, the last person to answer. “Mr. Cardale.”
Eli smiled calmly. “EOs.”
The whole class, which had devolved more and more into muffled conversation as students declared their topics, now stopped. The background chatter and the sound of typing and the fidgeting in chairs went still as Professor Lyne considered Eli with a new look, one that hung between surprise and confusion, tempered only by the understanding that Eliot Cardale was consistently top of the class, top of the entire pre-medical department, even—well, alternating with Victor for first and second spot, anyway.
Fifteen pairs of eyes flicked between Eli and Professor Lyne as the moment of silence lasted and became uncomfortable. Eli wasn’t the kind of student to propose something as a joke, or a test. But he couldn’t possibly be serious.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to expand,” said Lyne slowly.
Eli’s smile didn’t falter. “An argument for the theoretical feasibility of the existence of ExtraOrdinary people, deriving from laws of biology, chemistry, and psychology.”
Professor Lyne’s head tilted and his chin tipped, but when he opened his mouth, all he said was, “Be careful, Mr. Cardale. As I warned, no points will be given for ambition alone. I’ll trust you not to make a mockery of my class.”
“Is that a yes, then?” asked Eli.
The first bell rang.
One person’s chair scraped back an inch, but no one stood up.
“Fine,” said Professor Lyne.
Eli’s smile widened.
Fine? thought Victor. And, reading the looks of every other student in the room, he could see everything from curiosity to surprise to envy echoed in their faces. It was a joke. It had to be. But Professor Lyne only straightened, and resumed his usual composure.
“Go forth, students,” he said. “Create change.”
The room erupted into movement. Chairs were dragged, tables knocked askew, bags hoisted, and the class emptied in a wave into the hall, taking Victor with it. He looked around the corridor for Eli and saw that he was still in the room, talking quietly, animatedly, with Professor Lyne. For a moment the steady calm was gone and his eyes were bright with energy, glinting with hunger. But by the time he broke away and joined Victor in the hall, it was gone, hidden behind a casual smile.
“What the hell was that?” Victor demanded. “I know the thesis doesn’t matter much at this point, but still—was that some kind of joke?”
Eli shrugged, and before the matter could be pressed, his phone broke out into electro-rock in his pocket. Victor sagged against the wall as Eli dug it out.
“Hey, Angie. Yeah, we’re on our way.” He hung up without even waiting for a response.
“We’ve been summoned.” Eli slung his arm around Victor’s shoulders. “My fair damsel is hungry. I dare not keep her waiting.”