He could hear the voice, and he understood it was attached to a person, but for some reason, he couldn’t bear to lift his eyes from the paper in front of him. It was too much. All of this, it was more than he wanted to bear. He’d quit the Hero world for a reason, after all. Asking him to shoulder so much pain was unfair; it was downright cruel. Yet, he knew he was going to have to do exactly that. He’d have to raise his head, tear his eyes from the list on his desk, and bravely soldier forth. The blood, battle, and chaos weren’t the part that truly showed what people were made of. It was when the dust settled, and one had to carry the weight of what they’d seen, done, and failed to do, that the real test began. He couldn’t afford to fail it. Even if he did, the weight wouldn’t vanish. It would only fall on someone else to carry.
“Blaine,” Professor Pendleton repeated. “The DVA committee is asking for you.”
“Thank you, Sean.” Dean Blaine lifted his head up, turning away from the document he’d been staring at for the past several days. It was a list of every life, Super or human, that had been lost in the attack. The media had been in a frenzy, waffling between an outpouring of sympathy for the deceased, issuing a call to arms against the Sons of Progress, and blaming the HCP for not better protecting its campus. Students were leaving in droves, all final exams canceled in the wake of the tragedy. After conducting their own research, the DVA had moved on to interviewing the Lander staff, assessing if any fault lay with them.
“For what it’s worth, Chapman hasn’t turned on us,” Professor Pendleton said. “He told the committee that he authorized the use of students and HCP grounds for evacuations. I was sort of expecting him to say he had no idea what we were talking about.”
“Ralph Chapman has no reason to lie,” Dean Blaine replied. “For one thing, in a situation like this, telepaths will doubtlessly be employed if stories clash. For another, I’d be surprised if he isn’t up for a commendation. Regardless of how he might act toward one of our students, he paved the way for us to save countless lives that night. Ralph did nothing wrong. None of you did. Rest assured, the fault for what happened does not lie on any of your shoulders.”
Dean Blaine left the room, heading toward the area the DVA had turned into a makeshift office. No matter what they said to him, he already knew the truth. He was the one charged with keeping this school, and, most importantly, its students safe.
He was the one who had failed Lander.
* * *
“How are they holding up?” Owen Daniels, sans his Titan mask, set a bag of take-out from a nearby Mexican restaurant on the Melbrook kitchen counter. He hadn’t felt up to returning to Brewster yet, not until he knew for certain that Hershel and Roy were safe. This paternal desire was somewhat complicated, however, by their lack of desire to see him.
“As good as we can really hope for,” Mr. Transport said. “Alex has effectively moved in; he’s slept on the boys’ lounge couch every night since the incident happened. They’re all down, of course, but each is dealing with it in their own way. Roy and Hershel have been training non-stop; Chad went back to his usual routine. Vince, Mary, and Alice have mostly been sitting around, occasionally talking about what happened. Sometimes Thomas, Jill, and Will come as well. They’re processing this as best they can, I think. I wish classes weren’t canceled. It would help if they had something to take their mind off things.”
“Summer break technically starts in a few days anyway. They were going to have to face boredom eventually,” Owen pointed out.
“I know, I just want to help more,” Mr. Transport said. “Mr. Numbers is being used to try and track down whoever was leading the attack, but it’s a tall order. None of us even saw his face, and the only name people would give us is ‘Crispin.’ Assuming that’s a real name, it’s still not much to go on.”
“Right now, every Hero in the world wants that guy’s head on a pike. And since the Sons of Progress were nice enough to claim credit for the attack, we know where to start asking questions.”
“That’s all well and good for revenge, but I don’t know that it will help them move on,” Mr. Transport said.
Owen nodded and began unpacking hot dishes from the paper sack. “Right now, they probably feel helpless. They’ve put in all this time training, and yet, when shit got real, they weren’t able to protect all those people. Some of them even got their first taste of what real defeat in the field is like. Truthfully, they don’t have any reason to feel ashamed. Those kids saved so many students that would have died without them, and those amped-up bastards were far out of their league. The one I took down managed to hurt me with just a punch. He probably could have effortlessly killed most other strongmen.”
“The feeling of their actual accomplishments isn’t much compared to the weight of their perceived failures,” Mr. Transport said. “You speak like this happens to most Heroes at some point, though. How do you usually get through it?”
“Normally, it doesn’t happen on this big of a scale,” Owen admitted. “And the truth is, some people don’t get through it. Facing the fact that no matter what you do, people will die, is enough to break certain folks. The ones who come to terms with it usually find solace in working harder, and train their asses off. The more powerful we become, the more people we feel like we can save. I won’t say it’s the healthiest mindset, but it lets a lot of us get out of bed in the morning. That’s something.”
“Perhaps there’s something we can do along those lines,” Mr. Transport said. “After tomorrow, I mean.”
“Smart call. No sense in making progress before then.”