As Victor’s speech ended and the class began filing out, Will moved with them, mind already on his next destination. After a few steps, however, he began to notice that he was being pulled backward. It wasn’t a strong tug, in fact it was quite easy to miss if one weren’t especially perceptive, but it was there all the same. One quick glance around the room confirmed the culprit; Alice Adair was staring at him from several feet away. No sooner had their eyes locked than she made a quick motion with her head, tossing toward one of the halls that ran alongside the gym.
Will gave a slight, nearly imperceptible nod, and the force pulling him back abruptly vanished. He had an excellent idea of what Alice would want to discuss, though he was unsure what answer he would give her. Alice was powerful, after seeing her fight in the last exam only an idiot would question that, but Subtlety often required more than raw power to succeed. She could as easily be a liability as an asset, if he agreed to team up with her. Ultimately, it would be her pitch that decided things for him.
After killing a little time in a nearby bathroom, waiting for the rest of the class to wander off, Will made a path toward the side hallway where Alice was waiting.
* * *
“Crushed it!” Victor announced, slamming the door to Dean Blaine’s office open as the two stepped through. A few feet behind, walking with a curious mix of weariness and excitement, was Professor Pendleton.
“I will say that I think the talk went well,” Dean Blaine agreed. “The students seemed receptive to what you were saying. I hope that, when the inevitable comes for some of them, they are open to finding success and happiness with your organization.”
“Are you kidding? I’ll bet I have a few ask me about getting contracts before I leave the school. Money, fame, and you don’t risk death. Who could resist?” Victor asked.
The truth, as all of them knew, was that every student in attendance could resist, and would. There was a reason Victor didn’t give his speech to those lower than juniors; before that point there were still those seeking glory over duty. By the time they made it this far, each and every Super in the HCP was dedicated to becoming a Hero, no matter what other offers might come their way.
“I don’t know, if none of the boys tried to follow Clarissa home, I doubt you’re going to sway them,” Professor Pendleton said.
Immediately, Victor’s eyes grew wide and his bravado withered. “Cl…Clarissa was here? You found her?”
“Not easily,” Dean Blaine said, giving a scathing glance to Professor Pendleton. Old a joke as it might be, teasing Victor about his crush just seemed cruel. “I had to reach out to a lot of people that don’t like being found in order to set up a meeting. She’s done the best she can to vanish from the Hero world.”
“Can’t say I blame her, poor thing.” Victor walked over and sat down in a normal, measured way. It was a stark contrast to his usual bullish behavior. “After Globe and Intra died, that just left her, Black Hole, and The Alchemist for the DVA and media to pick apart. Since she was the only other one from the Class of Legends on the team, those jackals refused to believe she didn’t know something. Enough of that hounding, especially after losing two friends, and any of us would have flipped the bird at this whole costumed world.”
“She’s doing much better now,” Professor Pendleton assured him. Much as he liked to rib Victor, it was no fun to actually bring the big man down. Clearly, his last jab had struck closer to the heart than he intended. “Had a bit of life in her eyes again. Hell, a few times she almost seemed downright happy.”
“Happy, huh? I’ll cross my fingers and hope that’s true. After what she went through, the woman deserves a bit of happiness. Like the rest of us have found.”
“Ah yes, I was known throughout my cell block as ‘The Joyful Jailbird.’” Professor Pendleton took a seat besides his old friend and classmate, a wry grin on his face.
“And I, in my time as dean, have learned that this is quite literally one of the worst jobs in the entire Hero community. Do you have any idea how hard it is to corral just south of a hundred Supers, many of whom are freshmen, when they are under the influences of alcohol, sexual attraction, and living away from home for the first time? Honestly, the fact that not one HCP school has devolved into a drunken fire orgy is a credit to the Heroes that have gone before us.”
Victor tilted his head. “A drunken fire orgy?”
“Every year something in the river trip gets set on fire. Even when no one present has flame based powers, it still happens. Every year. I honestly have no idea why,” Dean Blaine said. “I just know that if those kids ever do cave to all their post-pubescent instincts, there’s going to be fire involved.”
“Well at least our class didn’t… oh, nope. Phil and Joshua lit up some trees during a drunken sparring match,” Professor Pendleton said. “Only way we got away with it was thanks to Casper healing the trees.”
“Back when Casper wasn’t such a pain in the ass,” Victor said. “And, of course, before Joshua was dead and Phil was a damn fugitive. Maybe a little fire wasn’t so bad, by comparison.”
Dean Blaine and Professor Pendleton exchanged a brief glance. They’d been waiting for the conversation to take a certain turn, one that was inevitable when these three people were together, and now it was here. With a slight clearing of his throat, Dean Blaine began to speak once more.
“Actually, Victor, I was hoping to speak with you about the whole Globe incident. Learning he’s still alive has opened up new questions, ones we are seeking answers for.”
“You and half the Hero world, I’ll bet,” Victor said. “What would I know, though? When that went down you and I were on a team half a country away. We only saw the others at team-ups and reunions.”
“But others were working in their city,” Professor Pendleton pointed out. “Heroes that have since gone on to retire, and some of whom decided to keep paying the bills by playing in the SAA.”
Victor’s broad face tightened as realization dawned. He leaned forward carefully in his chair, considering the expressions on both men before him. “So, that’s what this is about. You want me to use my influence to tap some intelligence resources.”
“It does seem more likely that those with any memories would talk to you before a DVA representative,” Dean Blaine said. “And after all, isn’t trading intelligence what friends do?”
Victor suppressed a sigh; there was no point in it. He’d always known the bill for all those leads Blaine gave him would come due eventually, though Victor had really been hoping it would just involve a nice dinner and a gentleman’s club. Blaine had him over a barrel; all he could do was play ball.