Chapter 107

               When the door opened without so much as a knock or a call, Dean Blaine didn’t really need to look up in order to guess who it was. There were several people who would enter without knocking, a realization that made Blaine wonder if he needed to be tougher on propriety, but they would all announce themselves in some fashion. Only one person authorized to be down here would walk in silently. He looked up anyway, of course, because while HCP security was some of the best in the world, one never took anything for granted when dealing with Supers. Thankfully, it was precisely the woman he’d expected to see, Professor Stone. She locked the door behind her, took a seat, and arched an eyebrow in unspoken question.

                “We’re as secure as we can be,” Dean Blaine told her. “It’s possible some new tech has been invented or there’s a power my own can’t squash, but so far as is currently possible this meeting will be private.”

                Professor Stone gave a curt nod. “I thought you should know that Nicholas Campbell and Ralph Chapman are on paths with a high potential to collide with one another.”

                “How did he find out about Campbell? The records of those who leave the program are sealed unless one has specific permissions.”

                “Chapman has no idea who Nicholas is,” Professor Stone clarified. “All he knows is that Vince was kissing Eliza Tracey on Halloween, and she’s connected to Nicholas. The investigator keeping tabs on them wasn’t able to discover their identities, but he did tip them off to his existence and put them on Chapman’s trail.”

                Dean Blaine paused to consider the situation. While Chapman and his fellow DVA counterparts had kept an eye on them since the year’s inception, Esme Stone, legendary telepath and tenured professor, had been keeping watch over them. She’d kept Dean Blaine in the loop regarding Chapman’s deviation from approved resources. Technically speaking, it was enough to get him thrown off their case, but that would just result in getting a Chapman replacement that might not make such easy mistakes. They’d decided to sit back and watch, see if he would hang himself when given enough rope. But tangling with Nicholas Campbell wouldn’t be hanging himself; it would be burning his house down with his family inside. Nick Campbell, perhaps, would have shown more restraint.

                “What are the odds Nick will make it back before things with Chapman come to a head?”

                “Fair, at best. It depends on how long they wait to go after the investigator, how long he can hold out for, and how well Chapman has covered his trail. All of this is assuming Nick comes back at all. I didn’t exactly make it easy,” Professor Stone reminded him. “I’m still not convinced that it was the right thing to do in the first place. He deserved to be expelled; you know that as well as I do. The level of manipulation and immorality he showed with his stunt was staggering.”

                “It was. Twisted, horrible, and coldly effective, that was Nick Campbell’s final exploit as well as the one that summarized him so perfectly.”

                “Then why did you ask me to leave him a path back?” Not for the first time, or even the hundredth, Professor Stone wished she could have just the smallest of peeks into the mind of Blaine Jeffries. They’d worked together long enough that she trusted him, but trust and understanding were very different animals altogether.

                “To this day, I’m not entirely certain myself,” Dean Blaine said, leaning back a bit in his chair. “Maybe it’s because, despite his fluid morality, Nick’s grand finale was done for unselfish reasons. Perhaps I didn’t want to seal away some tidbit of information he might be holding onto. Most likely though, it was simply realizing that those kids are going to face an uphill battle throughout their entire lives, especially if they become Heroes. Vince is feeling it first because of his history, but sooner or later all of them will end up under fire without good reason. It’s the price of who they were.”

                “And you think Nick Campbell can change that?”

                Dean Blaine gave the barest whisper of a smile. “I think Nick Campbell can do many things. But no, I don’t expect him to change the world’s opinion somehow. I just think they will fare a lot better with someone like him watching their backs. Someone a bit more… dynamic in his problem-solving capabilities.”

                “The company already exists to handle those sorts of situations,” Professor Stone reminded him.

                “Yes, but there are Supers all throughout it, Supers with their own personal prejudices. Having someone like that wholly on their side might make quite a bit of difference. This is all speculation though. As you said, the way back for him is not an easy one.”

                “Should I try and curtail them from finding out about Chapman then?”

                “No.” Dean Blaine said. “Let’s just keep an eye on the situation. Ralph decided to go outside of the system. I think it will be an excellent object lesson for him to discover what things are like in the real world. I don’t want to see him utterly destroyed, but he could stand to gain a bit of perspective.”

                “That’s why I like you, Blaine. You aren’t as soft-hearted as some of the other deans have been.”

                “Thank you, I think. I suppose while we’re on the subject, I’ll go ahead and ask: anything suspicious from Clarissa?”

                “Not that I picked up on,” Professor Stone said slowly. “I listened to her thoughts as much as I could while she was here, and I never heard anything too suspicious.”

                “Too suspicious?”

                “Well, when she realized who Vince was the son of, her mind flew off in a bit of a tangent. Memories and fantasies all swirled together. Otherwise her mind was clean and on-topic.”

                “Which ultimately tells us nothing,” Dean Blaine said, fidgeting with the heavy pen in his hand. “Clarissa is a trained and experienced Hero; she knows how to keep her surface thoughts disciplined when she’s around telepaths.”

                “Or she really has nothing to hide,” Professor Stone pointed out.

                “I dearly, desperately want to believe that. But Globe has a teleporter on his side, the little bit we know of his activities makes that clear. It’s someone powerful, and Shimmerpath was one of the most versatile teleporters to hold the Hero title.”

                “There are other teleporters out there.”

                “Sure, but none of them have been in love with Globe since before he wore the cape.” Dean Blaine set the pen down, watching it roll across the hard wooden surface before coming to a rest. “All I can do for now is keep her close and hope something clears her. I appreciate all you’re doing, by the way. We’d be lost in the woods without you, Esme.”

                “You’ve got the students’ best interests at heart, Blaine. So long as that remains true, you can always count on me.” Professor Stone considered something for a moment, then continued. “But try not to call on me before I’ve had my coffee. I’m not as young and eager to greet the morning as I used to be.”

                “I’ll make a note,” Dean Blaine replied.