Chapter 188

“If I didn’t know better I would swear your real ability is creating giant shitstorms,” Dean Blaine said as he walked in the door. He was worn and weary; the last few hours had taken a toll equivalent to several days’ worth of work. Professor Pendleton was hot on his heels, shutting the door behind them as they entered. To his credit, Nick sat calmly at the table where he’d been restrained since the climax of the match.

It had been about three hours since the incident that had left a large chunk of the arena smoldering and many of the sophomores bound for the infirmary. Dean Blaine had done his best to handle the fires, both literal and metaphorical; however, the surprisingly nonplussed young man sitting in front of him was still the biggest issue to deal with.

“I don’t think I need to tell you why you’re here,” Dean Blaine continued, taking a seat across from Nick. Professor Pendleton chose to remain standing. “However, for the sake of procedure, I’m obligated to do so anyway.” He produced a small device from his pocket and clicked a button near the top. A red LED light flickered on immediately. Nick had seen enough recording devices to recognize them with ease. This one hadn’t been concealed at all, and he had no doubt there were a few scattered around this concrete room purposely placed out of sight.

“Nicholas Campbell, you have been accused of threatening the life of Rich Weaver, using improper force on a clone of Julia Shaw without confirming whether it was the real student, and overtaking Vince Reynolds’ brain then making him use dangerous levels of force on his fellow classmates,” Dean Blaine recited. “Do you understand the charges that have been leveled at you?”

Nick spoke at last, the first words he’d uttered since his amplified monologue on the battle field. “Not only do I understand them, I confess to all of them.”

Dean Blaine resisted the urge to show any outward signs of surprise. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Positive,” Nick replied. “I told Rich I’d cut his throat with the broken plastic shard from my sunglasses. You can check my coat pocket if you don’t believe that I’ve got it. I whacked Julia in the cranium with enough power to do serious brain damage if it hadn’t been a clone. I might have even killed her. As for Vince... well, I think my confession there has already been witnessed by plenty of people. Still, for the sake of record, I admit to forcing Rich to place Vince in a delusion where he believed he was fighting inhuman beasts to protect someone innocent. Vince is no more accountable than any other victim of mind or body control; any crimes he committed are considered to be mine under the precedent set forth in The State versus Magical Mind Master. If you need to check the case for it, I believe it occurred in nineteen sixty seven.”

“Of course you already memorized the legal precedents,” Dean Blaine muttered to himself. “Okay, Nick, you’ve confessed. I don’t suppose you’d care to tell us why you did all this?”

“The first two crimes were merely to facilitate the third. Vince needed the chance to show what he could do. I wanted to give him that chance. This was the best method I could come up with.”

“Bullshit,” Professor Pendleton snapped. “I’ve taught you for a year, I know how brilliant you really are. There were other ways to do this, and you could have found them.”

“Maybe there were better ways,” Nick conceded. “Then again, maybe those ways came with different costs. Ones that I didn’t think were worth paying. Or maybe I’m not quite as smart as everyone seems to think, and I couldn’t find them. I guess we’ll never know.”

“Actually we will,” Dean Blaine corrected him. “This investigation will certainly merit the use of a telepath.”

“I think my lawyer will disagree,” Nick replied. “Telepaths can only be officially used against the subject’s will when they are under investigation. You can’t claim to be investigating me, I already confessed. In fact, official use of a telepath on any of the parties involved in this, now that all the charges have been confessed to, would be a violation of their fourth amendment rights and grounds for a very aggressive lawsuit.”

Dean Blaine felt his hand clench into a fist involuntarily. “Let me guess: you’ll be sharing your legal resources with all involved should that occur.”

“It is the least I can do to make amends for my awful actions in the arena today,” Nick said, sincerity all but dripping from his voice. The educators were not impressed.

“I suppose that’s all there is to say then,” Dean Blaine noted. He reached over and turned off the small device with a casual gesture. Once the light was off, he turned back to Nick with a firm look in his eyes. “All right, Nick, now it’s just the three of us. You want to tell me what the hell you were really thinking out there?”

“The truth is very close to the lie,” Nick said. “I wanted to help my friend. This was the path that minimized risk and maximized potential for success.”

“So you torched your potential future to try and save Vince’s,” Professor Pendleton summarized.

“Gentlemen, the time for deception is over; let’s not pretend I had a clear path to graduation. I might be smart, fast, and adaptable, but my power is never going to place me in the same class as people like Chad, Vince, or Alice. I probably would have made it through this year, and even that would only be due to Professor Pendleton’s glowing recommendation. Passing third year would have been a long shot, and making it into the final ten was almost a certain impossibility. I was never going to walk down the stage and hear them call me a Hero. Vince, on the other hand, has a real chance at that dream. More importantly, he’s the kind of person who should be wearing that title.”

Nick paused for a moment, a rare unintended theatricality. Honesty was hard for him; it took actual effort to coax the words forth.

“It’s no secret to you two where I come from or how I was raised. I spent most of my life believing everyone had an angle, that even the best people in the world were still capable of selfishness and deception. Vince is the first person I’ve ever met who doesn’t fall into that category. He isn’t perfect, but most of his mistakes are due to lack of understanding or fear of hurting someone else. I’ve seen him put other people first without a second thought more times than I can count. The way I see it, if someone is such a decent human being that he can make a guy like me have a little faith, then that’s the kind of person who people should be looking up to and calling Hero.”

“I get it,” Dean Blaine said, much of the fire gone from his voice. “Sean and I came up through this program, too. I understand how you can arrive at the decision to put someone else’s well-being above your own. The problem facing us right now is how to deal with the fallout from your actions.”

“You have to expel me,” Nick said plainly. “I have to be forcibly ousted from the Hero Certification Program.”

Dean Blaine and Professor Pendleton exchange a brief glance. “That would be standard protocol; however, there is something you need to understand about what happens when we do expel a student.”

“I figured it out already. I’ve known since freshman year.” Nick sighed and reached up to adjust the sunglasses that were no longer on his face. Well, at least he didn’t have to worry about breaking that habit.

“You’re going to erase my memory.”