Chapter 235

               “Dean Blaine . . . are there really no Heroes out there?”

                The dean lowered his phone slowly. They shouldn’t know that, but he was hardly shocked they’d found out. After all, he’d been specifically training them to be self-reliant, ingenious, and determined. In the end, it didn’t matter though. They knew, that much was clear from Vince’s tone, and now he was going to have to quell the flame of action that was no doubt burning inside them.

                “Yes, Vince. I’m afraid whoever has come to our school did so with a fair amount of preparation. The Heroes have been delayed, but they should arrive soon.”

                “Assuming they get through the weird energy barrier and can receive signals through it, right?” Alice was standing next to Vince, a hard look set in her eyes. All of Melbrook was clumped together, save only for Chad, who was currently sitting with Shane and Amber.

                “They’ll break through, have no fear of that,” Dean Blaine assured them. “These are nothing but stalling tactics; once they are hurdled, the situation will be well in hand.”

                “And in the meantime, all we get to do is sit around down here, while all those other innocent people are in danger.” Vince was unexpectedly calm. Dean Blaine would have expected him to be frantic or delivering a passionate plea. Instead, the silver-haired young man seemed almost detached from what was happening. “Dean Blaine, sir, you know we can’t do that.”

                “No, Vince. I know that that’s exactly what all of you are going to do. Fighting crime, especially when other Supers are involved, is a crime in itself. The sort that will get you expelled from HCP consideration. You may not like it, you may even hate me for it, but I cannot, in good conscience, permit you all to go out there. Without the proper training, you’ll just get yourselves killed.”

                “So, we won’t fight.” Mary stepped up next to Vince, her small frame a sharp contrast to his height and wider shoulders. When had these kids grown so big? Dean Blaine could still picture them as the scared freshmen that had been waiting at orientation.

                “We’ll evacuate the students down the lifts,” she continued. “If I can find Mr. Transport, he can start popping them out in groups.”

                “No, he can’t.” Chad spoke from the across the room. “There’s at least one Super, probably more, blocking teleportation.” He turned to Dean Blaine with a somber expression. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing.”

                “That’s all the more reason we should be out there, then, helping to get them down here,” Thomas said. Violet, Jill, and Will all huddled near him; Violet and Jill were bobbing their heads in agreement. Will didn’t echo the sentiment, but from the way he watched Jill, it was clear he would go where she did.

                “It’s a noble sentiment, but you still aren’t certified for rescue work either, to say nothing of the amount of exposure you’d get using your powers out there. You have my apologies, but I’m not permitting you to leave this area.”

                “With all due respect, Dean Blaine, and I really do mean every ounce of respect I’m capable of giving someone, this is our choice. We’re not Heroes under the DVA; we’re still students. If we decide to leave this place, then you can’t stop us,” Vince said.

                Dean Blaine met those sharp blue eyes with his own and stared the young man down. So much damned resolve was in that boy. If he wanted to stop them, Blaine was going to have to play hardball. “That’s right, Vince. You are physically able to walk out of here. And in the process, all you have to do is throw away everything you’ve worked for. Let me take the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ out of this: anyone who walks out that door will be removed from the Lander Hero Certification Program. If not by the DVA, then by me. If you aren’t capable of showing enough discipline to stand by while waiting for reinforcements, then you don’t have any place as a Hero. Sometimes, you’ll have to make the hard calls; consider this an object lesson in that. So, you decide, Vince. Go up there a few moments before the real Heroes show up and sacrifice any hope of helping people for the rest of your life, or sit down and stay on the path toward making the world a better place.”

                The few seconds of quiet that came down after Dean Blaine’s speech seemed to last a lifetime. For a moment, he thought he’d succeeded. Then Vince carefully stepped away from the rest of his friends, over the students who were still sitting, and came up to Dean Blaine. He kept walking until he was only a few feet away, then stopped.

                “You’ve been a great teacher. This has been the best three of years of my life, bar none, and as insane as it’s been, there’s nothing I would change. But you’re wrong, Dean Blaine. If I stand here and do nothing while I know people need my help, then I can never be a Hero. Maybe I’ll get the title, maybe people will love me, but it will always be a lie. Heroes help people. That’s what my father taught me; that’s what I believe to this day. I’m going to go save as many people as I can. Because you can stop me from being a Hero, Dean Blaine—there’s no question you have the authority and power—but you can’t stop me from helping people. No one has the right to take that away from me.”

                “Sometimes, Vince, you’re a real prick about these things.” Roy stood where Hershel had been moments before, lowering the flask back down to his side-pocket. “I mean, how the hell am I supposed to stick around after you say something like that? I’d spend the rest of my life feeling like a world-class pussy.”

                “If you two idiots are going out there, then I’ll have to come keep an eye on you.” Alice followed Roy as he walked toward Vince, with Mary only a few steps behind.

                “Heaven knows what will happen to you lot without me around.” Mary was focused on moving forward, so much so that she nearly missed the people getting up and walking next to her.

                “Truthfully, I’m ashamed I even let myself entertain the idea of staying,” Thomas said. He was right by Mary, with Violet, Jill, and Will in tow.

                “I’m a little embarrassed, but I can’t think of a good Jedi quote for this occasion,” Alex admitted as he started heading over.

                “Come on: ‘Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.’ It’s like the first one that comes to mind,” Sasha said.

                “Yeah, but I don’t see it fitting here. We’re definitely about to court a lot of excitement, but it’s probably the bad kind.”

                Camille hurried over from the corner she’d been jostled into so she could join up with Violet. “I’m sure there are a lot of people up there who need healing. Probably, some of you will too.”

                Around them, many of the other students began walking forward as well, stopping by Vince and Dean Blaine. Not everyone chose to join, but it was well over sixty percent of the students that had been brought down, and almost the entirety of the junior class.

                Just as the movement was starting to halt, one of the final holdouts stepped forward. Chad Taylor walked past the crowd, and past Vince, to stand directly before Dean Blaine, the godfather who had been looking over him since he was a baby. Guiding him, teaching him, all in the tireless pursuit of becoming a Hero.

                “You here to join them, or help me talk them into staying?” Dean Blaine asked. His voice was unnaturally thick. Most assumed it was with fear or frustration; only Chad had an inkling of the true emotion trying to force its way to Blaine’s face.

                “I wasn’t entirely sure until I got here,” Chad admitted. “I have wanted for so long to be a Hero like my father, and for the past several minutes, I’ve been trying to figure out if he would have stood with you, or joined with them. I was unable to come to a conclusion, however. The truth is, I never really knew Joshua Taylor; everything I have of him is stories and anecdotes.  None of that tells me how he’d react in this sort of situation.”

                Chad paused, looked at Dean Blaine, and then turned to face the small sea of faces behind him. “It occurs to me, however, that it ultimately doesn’t matter what my father would have done. I’m going to do what’s right; because that’s the path I want to be on. I’d really like to think my father would have done the same, but I know my godfather would, if the positions were reversed. We’re going up. Please don’t bar our way.”

                Dean Blaine lowered his head, hands that had balled into fists falling limply at his side. It seemed as though he were completely beaten, but when he raised his chin and looked his students in the eyes, they were nearly knocked out by the ferocity in his expression.

                “You’re all still probably going to be kicked out for this. I might have been bluffing, but the DVA has no tolerance for uncertified Supers getting involved in this sort of thing. You’re all idiots, the entire lot of you, and I can’t imagine how any of you got so far in my program. That said, I want you to know how impossibly proud I am of each and every one of you. The DVA might tear you down for this, but in my eyes, you all have the hearts of Heroes.”

                “Actually, I may have a way to help with that.”

                Of all the students that turned in surprise and confusion to the source of the voice, no one was more shocked than Dean Blaine. He’d been through enough hells to learn that sometimes, aid came from the unlikeliest of sources.

                Even still, he’d never have expected to hear an offer of assistance pass the lips of Ralph Chapman.