Chapter 171

               Dean Blaine was finishing up some paperwork, which he would send away and would be replaced with almost magical speed, creating a cycle he personally considered Sisyphean, when his office door was flung wide open. The bald man standing in the frame was as broad and strong and Blaine remembered him, though his mid-section had begun to sag as retirement took its toll.

                “Zero! Guess who’s back on campus?”

                It was the same way he introduced himself every year, yet time after time Blaine had to fight down the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose when the booming voice roared through his office. Instead, he looked up from his paperwork with a placid smile and motioned for his guest to sit.

                “Victor, always a pleasure to see you, but we’ve talked about this many, many times before. Zero is gone; I’m just Dean Blaine these days.”

                “Uh huh. Tell you what; I’ll believe that just as soon as you start to.” Victor stomped through the office, not out of intent, merely because he was heavy man who knew no other way to walk, and all but fell into the chair Dean Blaine had pointed out. “Damn good to see you again, though. Seems like these talks are the only times we get to hang out anymore.”

                “Time is a commodity that seems to only grow more precious with every year. My students require a good deal of looking after, and I doubt your players are much different. With superhuman abilities come superhuman egos and issues, after all.”

                “You don’t have to tell me, I remember the crazy bullshit from these halls all too well. On that note, got any good prospects for me before I give them the talk?” Victor’s smile was still wide and affable, his body language sincere, but Blaine would have had to be far greener to miss the hungry glint that gleamed in his eyes.

                “Must we do this every year? I’m not telling you where my students stand in terms of advancement, especially given that it could radically change depending on how they perform in their final assessments,” Dean Blaine said.

                “Come on, you can’t throw a few bones to an old friend? Once the failures are announced there’s a damn bum-rush to snap up the best ones. Sure would be nice to have a few leads on where to focus my energy.” Victor leaned back in the chair and rested his feet on the corner on Blaine’s desk.

                That level of gall would have earned almost anyone else an ejection from Dean Blaine’s office, but even he admitted that he held a soft spot for Victor. It was hard not to, even aside from standing on the same stage at graduation, they’d been friends for most of their time at Lander. Victor had even been in the weekly poker game. Blaine knew that his friend didn’t mean to come off as manner less and brusque, Victor simply lacked delicacy in nearly every form imaginable.

                “Feet off my desk, Victor,” Dean Blaine sighed. They’d had this dance many times before, and after so many years he’d allowed himself to begin skipping the middle parts and arriving at the destination they both knew they would reach. “I won’t discuss who is likely to pass or fail, but I could alert you to who would be certainly worth obtaining, should they need a new future path. This assumes, of course, that you will not be using this information to sign them for less than they deserve.”

                “Hey now, you show me one Lander kid, just one, that I’ve given a bad deal to and I’ll show up to the next live game in a bright pink ballerina’s outfit.” Victor did, to his credit, put his feet down as he spoke.

                “True, you are always fair to our students, though I’ve heard of some less than stellar deals offered to the Supers formerly of Korman University.” Dean Blaine’s mouth twitched at the edges as he fought down a smirk. “Any reason why that school’s alumni don’t deserve the same treatment?”

                Victor glowered at Blaine from across the table. “You just love bringing that up, don’t you?”

                “It was the first time someone lost an Intermural match by being ejected from the hemisphere.”

                “It also took them three days to find me and teleport me back,” Victor grumbled. “I didn’t even get to watch the other fights, which were apparently fucking amazing.”

                “That was your fault for tearing off as soon as you realized where you were. If you’d stayed put they’d have brought you back in mere hours.” Dean Blaine reached into his top desk drawers and pulled out the stack of papers he’d prepared in advance of Victor’s visit. Ever since the former-Hero became the default Super Athletics Association representative at Lander, they’d been having some variation of this meeting once a year. “Here are the dossiers on this year’s class. As a still certified Hero, and freelance consultant, you’re held under all the usual gag orders in terms of passing it on.”

                “Read and burn, I know the deal. They gave us a whole course on it when I got my consultant license.” Victor accepted the papers and began to flip through them. “Any you’d recommend starting with?”

                “So far as the usual physical abilities go: Sasha Foster is a super-speeder with mid-range peak acceleration capabilities but higher than normal levels of endurance. Alex Griffen is an advanced mind with exceptional high levels of control, albeit some personality quirks to with it. Mary Smith is another advanced mind; she lacks Alex’s level of control but has more telekinetic force than Heroes that have been on the job for years. Also in the physical group is Roy Daniels, who was a low to mid-range strongman until last year. If you check his latest assessments, I think you’ll find it interesting.”

                Victor’s eyes widened as he flipped to Roy’s page. “That’s a hell of a growth spike. He’s not at the high-end yet, but damned if he isn’t running toward it full-tilt. Damn, with that kind of power he’ll probably make it through. Too bad, I can always use a good strongman, though the advanced minds come in pretty handy as well. Now, forgive me, but I do have to point out that it seems you ignored someone pretty important.”

                “You interrupted me before I was finished,” Dean Blaine replied.

                “Please, if you were going to mention Chad, you’d have told me about him first. He is top of the class, after all. Been there since the very first assessment.”

                It was easy to forget that beneath Victor’s dense appearance and dull features was a mind much quicker than he liked to let on. Even knowing him as long as Blaine had, he still found himself underestimating the former Hero from time to time.

                “Seems you did a little research on your own before our meeting,” Dean Blaine said.

                “Half the reason I even got licensed to consult for the HCP was so that I could be let in on all these little progress reports,” Victor replied, no sense of shame in his still shining grin. “Wouldn’t be very smart of me to go to all that trouble and then not use the perks.”

                “Perks indeed.” Dean Blaine resisted the urge to rub his temples, but only barely. “Chad was left out because there was no point in talking you our about him. You always want to know about the best people to make offers to, should they become available. Chad Taylor does not fall in that category.”

                “Waaaaaait a minute.” Victor leaned forward in the chair, his bulk making it groan as he did. “Are you telling me that you already know Chad’s going all the way? That’s unlike you Blaine, usually you keep it neutral until all tests are done.”

                “Don’t be ridiculous. Chad Taylor is in good standing, but we both know that the senior year will test more than just fighting and tactics. He’s as capable as anyone else of washing out. But, if he does, then he’ll just apply to the program the next year, and the one after that, and the one after that. I didn’t bother bringing up Chad because there’s no offer you could make him at this point that would keep him from continuing to try and become a Hero.