Chapter 194

Esme Stone sat with a damp cloth in her lap. It had previously contained ice to soothe a headache, now all that remained was a slightly-wet forehead and a well-soaked cloth. Memory alterations didn’t usually take so much out of her, but for all his insistence that the procedure occur, Nick Campbell’s brain had fought her tenaciously. She sipped a glass of ice water as Dean Blaine entered his office and took a seat. He was anxious to hear her report, but he’d still allowed her time to recover before interviewing her. Esme was thankful they’d chosen  him for this position; he wore it better than many others had. She trusted him, trust both his intentions and his judgment, even without being able to read his mind. That was why she’d honored his request when she’d have refused anyone else.

“How did it go?” Blaine probed gently. His body language was relaxed; he sat back in his chair with his hands resting on the desk. Eager as he was, he forced himself to be calm for her. Things like this were why she also liked him, as well as respected him.

“It went rough, obviously,” she said at last. “I’ve met minds more willful than his, but not often, and not for a very long time. I think I was able to get everything, but I could only manage to see bits and pieces of it.”

“Such as?”

“Such as, he’s taken precautions against having his mind wiped. He documented his activities in extensive summaries at the end of each semester. Names, powers, histories, everything he learned about his classmates was recorded. Even wrote one about this semester last week and messengered it to himself. He’s counting on that to reconstitute his memory.”

“We knew he’d try something,” Blaine reminded her. “Since he figured out the memory wipe, it was inevitable he’d attempt to circumvent it. Still, written records, that’s surprisingly risky.”

“He used a code,” she elaborated. “One he made up, one with no cypher. If he doesn’t remember it, then he’ll have to crack it before he can access those files.”

“Great, that should buy us all of ten minutes,” Blaine sighed. “Professor Pendleton appraises his cryptanalysis skills at a genius level, and I’ve got no inclination to disagree.”

“There’s ample time before he gets to Vegas. We can have them destroyed before he arrives. It’s not like this is our first time facing such a hurdle.”

“True.” Blaine drummed his fingers on the desk without any bit of rhythm. “Let’s proceed here first. Was there anything else worth noting?”

“I’m not sure. I told you, he was able to block me from seeing all his memories of his time here.”

“Yes, though that shouldn’t have impacted the obfuscation.”

“It didn’t. No, the thing is, he chose a few spots to fight me off the hardest. Obviously I don’t know what they were, but the strange part is that he didn’t bother defending the things that most other students try to hide. Minor violations of the rules, interpersonal relationships, even a psyche delve he took over Halloween, those he gave no significant defense to keep hidden. Nothing more than his mind’s rebellion in general.”

“So whatever he wanted to keep secret, it probably wasn’t something as inane as who he has a crush on, or what bartenders in town don’t check for ID.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Esme concurred.

“That means either it was important, or he just thought it was important. Given who we’re talking about, I’m more inclined to bet on the former. I’m also sure it pertained to the HCP if he was determined to keep it from you. That damned kid, why not just come tell us?”

“Maybe he thinks we couldn’t be trusted,” Esme suggested. “He liked you and Sean, but he was also keenly aware of how people can be compromised without even knowing it. Even for someone immune to telepathy.”

“Maybe,” Blaine grudgingly admitted. Three years ago he would have called bullshit. Three years ago he also would have sworn he could trust George and Persephone with his life, let alone with his students.

“There’s one other thing I should probably mention,” Esme said, interrupting Blaine’s drifting thoughts. “When he sent his latest summary, he also sent instructions for certain pages of the older ones to be torn out and burned. He was very emphatic that no trace of them remain.”

“Well, that about cinches that then. Looks like he purposely got himself memory wiped,” Blaine surmised.

Esme nodded. “That was my conclusion too. Sometime between winter break and now he realized a piece of information that he felt was too dangerous for anyone to have, even himself. That was probably why he protected certain memories from being seen. He didn’t want us putting together what he realized.”

“Sounds likely, but I’m surprised he’d go to such trouble, then allow someone who can see his memories access to them.”

Esme let out a chuckle. “That part was a surprise to him. He didn’t know you had someone who could view memories; he thought all we could do was erase them.”

“Too bad it didn’t give us an edge,” Blaine said. He quickly caught the possible meaning of his words and clarified. “Not that you didn’t do great work as always, Esme. I know it’s much harder for you to see protected memories than to obscure them. We all have to work in our limits, and I thank you for what you did.”

“Any time,” she replied. “For most of it.”

“Ah. I take that to mean you were successful?”

“I believe so. It wasn’t easy, but I think it’s done. You know that if the board finds out about this, even that you asked me to do it, it will be the end of both our careers?”

“You’re tenured,” Blaine reminded her, giving a gentle smile. “So I think I’d be the only one out on his ass.”

“I’m serious.”

“I know. I appreciate what you did, and I promise I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t think it necessary.”

“Good. Try not to make a habit of this.”

Blaine held up his right hand. “Hero’s honor.”

“That you won’t ask again?”

“That I’ll try.”

“At least you’re honest,” she said, setting her damp cloth on his desk. “I’m going to bed so I can rest. Want me to have a crew of Cleaners dispatched to Nick’s casino on my way out?”

“No, I don’t think that will be necessary,” Blaine said. “For now, I’m going to play along. I want to see just what it is the boy has up his sleeve.”

“Maybe what’s up his sleeve is a plan to blackmail future Heroes with the information he’s stockpiled,” Esme pointed out.

“Maybe,” Blaine agreed. “But I somehow doubt it. Nick is, if anything, more ambitious than that. And if I’m wrong, well... we have a contingency program for those situations as well.”