Chapter 163

“… and lastly, this conversation will not be recorded. There will be no records of it in any capacity, save only for the memories we retain, and even those may need to be removed or altered at a later date. By sitting here, by joining this effort, everyone, myself included, recognizes these terms and consents to them. Does anyone disagree?”

Dean Blaine’s eyes swept the table, not expecting any objection, but prepared for one regardless. When things got serious, when people truly reached the point of no return, it was impossible to be certain how someone would react. In this case, he was fortunate: no one broke rank. With a small, almost imperceptible sigh of relief, he continued.

“Then the first order of business is to debrief Nick Campbell.”

Nick was sitting across the table from Dean Blaine, in between Mr. Transport and Professor Pendleton. The soft glow of fluorescent lighting reflected off the sunglasses set in front of him. Though he’d worn them in, this underground base was too dim for him to navigate properly with them on. It would take weeks of practice before he was able to deal with low-light environments while wearing them once more.

“I’m going to take a guess, and say you mean I should spill my big secret. The one that I thought was too dangerous to be found in my head. That’s the one you want to me just spit out, right here, exposing everyone to.”

“Everyone here is trained, competent, and abreast of the risks,” Dean Blaine replied.

“Maybe so, but I’m not sure it needs to be shared,” Nick said. “This whole secret taskforce is about Globe, the coaches, and the mole in the HCP, right? My secret doesn’t directly pertain to any of that. I’ve never been worried about Globe. What I know could piss off a totally different, far more dangerous enemy.”

Dean Blaine would have loved to have glanced at Professor Stone to see what she was reading from Nick’s mind, but his neutralizing field encompassed everyone in the room. While it meant they were safe from abilities that might overhear them, it also meant things like telepathy were off the table. He tried to think of how best to phrase the counter-argument, but Professor Pendleton beat him to it.

“Right now we’ve got nothing but disparate data, little events and pieces of knowledge that don’t fit together. You might be right, your thing might be completely unrelated, but it might also tie together other pieces we know in unexpected ways. We’re currently in the dark, and that means we have to grab onto every tidbit of information we can get. So talk.”

“If that’s what you really want.” Nick drummed his hands on the wooden table, carefully looking over the few faces in the room with him. They were people proven trustworthy, presumably, but once upon a time the same might have been said about George or Persephone. Still, sooner or later he would have to speak up. If these were the people who composed the inner circle, then he would just have to make do with it.

“I first realized something was wrong when I was breaking down our team dynamics last year. When stepping back and independently assessing each member of every team, my own included, I noticed a variable that didn’t make sense. One of my team wasn’t the same as the others. She wasn’t on the same scale of power, not by a long shot.”

“You’re talking about Mary,” Professor Fletcher surmised.

“Wrong direction,” Nick said. “Alice. Alice was a four on my scale, plus she had no other discernable skills or talents. That made her the weakest member of the entire HCP class, and without much room for growth.”

“The current scores would disagree with you,” Mr. Numbers pointed out.

“Yes, thank you Captain Obvious. I know that Alice is incredibly powerful now, but we aren’t talking about now, we’re talking about then. And back then, Alice was so weak that I had to really ask myself how she’d even gotten into the HCP in the first place.”

“Fliers have demonstrated great usefulness before,” Dean Blaine said. “Though, admittedly, most of them got through in the Subtlety category.”

“Look, you’re all missing the point.” Nick picked up the sunglasses and began absent-mindedly fiddling with them. “Whether Alice would be a good Hero doesn’t matter, not so far as this discussion goes. My point is that, so far as anyone could possibly know, she was too weak to ever be a serious danger to others. Add in that she grew up in a house with every manner of protection, and that makes her an anomaly.”

“I see. You aren’t talking about among the Hero class,” Dean Blaine said.

“Exactly. She’s the oddball among us test subjects, the former Powereds. Vince is a walking natural disaster, Mary was in so much hell from voices that she lived in the woods, Hershel was losing his mind and Roy was heading toward jail, at best, and my own prodigious abilities have caused countless dollars in damage throughout the years. We were all trouble, for ourselves, others, or both. Alice was just a girl who floated when she got too happy. She clearly didn’t make the test group on the same criteria as we did. Having met her father, I’m guessing he used his money and power to force her through.”

“Spot on,” Mr. Transport confirmed. “Charles Adair decided she would be in the program, and he wields enough clout that Mr. Numbers and I had to go along with it.”

“You can hardly blame the man, he saw a solution to his daughter’s problems and wanted to help her,” Professor Stone said.

“See, I’d agree with you there, but it ignores one major issue: we’re the beta group. Maybe the alpha, I don’t know for sure,” Nick admitted. “What I do know is we’re the first successful batch. I’ve scoured every source of information I’ve got, and if there any other converts before us then they must have held that test in the arctic and killed every survivor. Now I’m no expert on biology, but I did read the fine print on the releases we signed, and it strikes me as very odd that a man with that much power would demand that his daughter be in highly experiment and dangerous first trial. Not just demand it, but use his resources to force her in. Why not wait and make sure it was safe first?”

“Charles Adair is highly influential, it’s possible he got his hands on the research and believed it would work,” Mr. Numbers pointed out.

“It’s possible, but going all-in with the only family he’s got left?” Nick set the sunglasses back on the table. “I’m a crazy gambler with the power of luck, and not even I’d take that chance.”

“Nick,” Dean Blaine said, his tone steady as he stared at the cunning young man spinning his web of words. “Please move on so that we can see the point you’re drawing toward.”

Nick nodded. “Like I said, I noticed this early in our sophomore year. Then Alice had her Halloween incident when a head-walker name Abridail said her mom was alive. We all discounted it as a weird dream, because most of us have lost people we love and understood how the subconscious would do that. Of course, when Vince’s Big Papa went and confirmed the guy’s existence, that changed everything. It meant that her mother might really be out there, and that caused me to re-examine the facts as I knew them.”

“Why would Shelby being alive change what Charles did?” Professor Pendleton was damn good at hiding his feelings, but even he could scarcely contain his anxiousness to see what Nick would say about his little sister.

“Because Charles Adair loved her,” Nick said simply. “He loved her so much that he founded the largest Powered charity in the world in her memory, though he likes to hide that fact as much as possible. When I’ve learned about Alice’s home life, when I did that research for you last Christmas, everything I found pointed to a man who dearly, desperately loved his wife. And at the end of sophomore year, I began to realize just how terrible of things we can do for people we love.” Nick didn’t need to mention his own mind-wipe and expulsion, or the level of murderous reaction he’d been able to coax from Vince. Everyone here already knew what he’d done, what he was, and that ruthlessness was at least part of why they’d brought back him back from oblivion.

The room waited silently as Nick took a moment to compose his thoughts. “Some of you may disagree with the theory I reached, I’m the first admit it’s somewhere between shaky and insane. That said, the fact remains that if I am right, even a little bit, it’s dangerous information to have. So, let’s look at the fact we have before us. Here’s what I had strong reason to know: Shelby Adair was a Powered. Shelby Adair was still alive. Charles Adair had the money and influence to fund research on how to turn a Powered into a Super. Alice Adair was crammed into the first trial of the procedure despite the risks involved.” Nick paused for just a second, licking his lips in a rare display of nerves. “And… Alice Adair is, genetically speaking, the closest living person to Shelby Adair.”

“No… not even Charles would go that far,” Professor Pendleton whispered.

“Say it, Nick. Say what you’re hinting at plainly. If you’re going to make the accusation, then have the courage to speak it out loud,” Dean Blaine said.

“Fine.” Nick let out a small sigh. “None of us; Vince, Mary, Hershel, Roy, or myself, none of us were part of the real experiment. We were a cover, a reason to hide what was truly going on. Patching up Powereds who were dangers to society and themselves, that’s not a hard sell to make. But the truth is that we were just tacked on extras. There was only one real test subject for the procedure; one person the Charles Adair wanted to see the effects on.”

Nick ran his fingers through his sandy hair, and looked at the room of faces once more.

“I believe that the only reason this procedure exists is because Charles Adair wanted to test it on his daughter before using it on his wife.”