The others had left the office after the meeting was done, but Professor Pendleton lingered. Dean Blaine didn’t admonish him or even encourage him to vacate. Instead he poured two healthy glasses of dark liquor and slid one to his employee. The day’s revelations, real or not, struck home for these two in a way the others couldn’t truly understand. Globe might not be dead. That was a game changer. Especially for his former classmates.
“I always said it was fishy. We’ve been around too long to know that you can never confirm a kill without the body.”
“Localized gravitational vortexes don’t leave much evidence,” Dean Blaine pointed out.
“They also shouldn’t affect someone with Globe’s power.”
“I think having his arm torn off would distract even the most focused of minds.”
“Maybe,” Professor Pendleton conceded.
“Maybe,” Dean Blaine agreed.
Both men sipped their drinks in silence for a few moments. Professor Pendleton shifted uncomfortably. “You know what gives me the shivers? I mean, the real, deep-down-in-my gut quake of fear that it might be him?”
“The kid. Vince. If Globe did somehow survive and go live off the grid as a hobo, the smart thing to do would be staying alone. Minimize exposure. Picking up some child, some Powered child at that, and raising him as your own, tactically it makes no sense. It would be a tremendous risk with no logistical upside.”
“All true,” Dean Blaine concurred.
Professor Pendleton took another gulp of his drink. “And it’s exactly the kind of thing Globe would do.”
“He was always the best of us.”
“Until he killed Intra,” Professor Pendleton pointed out.
“There is one upside to this if he is alive, you know. We have a chance to get answers, to find out why he did it.”
“I’m not sure that’s really an upside.”
“Because if whatever it was could drive someone as decent and powerful as Globe to do all this, I’m afraid those might be answers we don’t want.”
Dean Blaine didn’t have a reply at the ready for that. Instead he topped off both their glasses. Staring into the swirling brown depths, he realized how little sense his world made anymore. Things had been so different only a few decades ago.
“Globe,” he muttered to himself.
* * *
“Yeah, because of how my powers affect things in a radius,” Blaine explained.
“They do, but you also have that direct attack thing you can do. I remember when you made Victor spend a whole weekend as a human. I thought he was going to climb the walls by the time his power came back,” Joshua chuckled.
Blaine laughed too. It might have been a bit harsh, but Victor had downed all of their beer and thrown up on the sofa. It seemed like a harmless way to get some revenge.
“So you don’t like it?”
“It’s not that; I guess it just doesn’t seem like it fits you,” Joshua explained.
“Well, let’s hear the one you've been kicking around then.”
Joshua flashed him that award-winning smile. “Intra,” he said, spreading his hands out as if he was framing the word.
“And you gave me guff over Globe?”
“Think about it. Intra literally means ‘within.’ What better way to encapsulate my abilities?”
“I don’t know, how about Molecular Control Man?” Blaine tossed out.
“First off, I control my body down to a molecular level, but it’s more than just shifting atoms around. Secondly, there already is a Molecule Man.”
“Yeah, new guy that works in Seattle,” Joshua elaborated.
“I’m out of touch.”
“Most seniors have bigger stuff on their mind. Only reason I remembered is because of my recall.”
Blaine nodded. He hated Joshua a bit for that aspect of his abilities. Being able to conjure any memory perfectly at will made school almost a waste of time for Joshua. He could read the textbook on the first day of class, skip the rest, and still ace every test. Not that he ever did: he was prompt and studious in every endeavor. Somehow that just made it worse.
“Well, if Globe is so bad, what would you recommend?”
“Again, it’s not bad, it’s just not right for you,” Joshua protested. “If I had to think of a good name for you I’d go with something like Zero.”
Blaine’s eyes narrowed and his good humor began to evaporate.
“Oh, don’t give me that look. I don’t mean as an insult. I mean it like a mathematical zero.”
“Basic multiplication,” Joshua said, turning and taking in the view off Clarissa’s balcony once more. “Anything you multiply by zero becomes zero. It turns any number, no matter how large, into an empty theoretical hole. That’s kind of what you do to the rest of us.”
“By that explanation I’m also an empty hole, seeing as I am the zero they interact with.”
“Somebody is feeling sensitive tonight. It’s just supposed to be symbolic.”
“It seems like a stretch.”
“Better than going literal. Or do you fancy being known as The Deactivator? Perhaps something a little sportier, like Power Down?” Joshua suggested.
“Okay, okay, you’ve made your point. I still think I can do better than Zero.”
“Find what fits you best,” Joshua said. “Then ignore anybody who doesn’t get it. That's what I'm trying to do.”
“So I should stick with Globe?”
They shared a laugh at that, and Joshua turned to head back inside. Miriam would be waiting for him with a warm kiss that tasted like peppermint. Blaine still remembered that flavor; there were nights he woke from a good dream and swore he could taste it on his lips. Those kisses belonged to Joshua now. The only ones Blaine could still enjoy were in the better-preserved portions of his memories. He tried very hard not to be bitter about the happy greeting that Joshua was going back to. Sometimes he almost succeeded.
“Hey, let me know if you do decide to use something other than Globe,” Joshua tossed over his shoulder as he reached the door.
“Well, it’s a bad fit for you, but I think it would be perfect for someone else.”
Blaine didn’t have to think hard to figure out who Joshua meant.
“Tell him he can have it.”
“Yeah. I’ll find something that feels more like me.”
“Thanks, Blaine, you’re a solid guy.” Joshua shut the door carefully behind him, leaving Blaine alone with the balcony once again.
He stared off at the California sky and tried not to think about how right now the woman he loved was wrapping her arms around that blonde bastard’s shoulders and pulling herself close to him. Part of him wanted to kick the door down and scream about how she had made a mistake. Part of him wanted to leap off this balcony just so he would feel like he was doing something. Part of him wanted to cry. Instead he just kept staring at the sky.
“Zero.” Blaine tested the word on his tongue. It seemed curiously appropriate, because at this moment that was exactly what he felt like. A nothing. A forgotten, empty hole.