Chapter 107

                “They don’t know much,” Mr. Numbers said.

                “Enough to be dangerous, which is far more than I would have preferred.” Dean Blaine sat a few chairs down, between Mr. Transport and Professor Fletcher. The latter was brought in more for his experience in his prior career than for his teaching input, as what lay before them was a matter that demanded serious consideration. If nothing else, the room’s fifth attendee spoke to the gravity of the situation.

                “I find it quite intriguing that despite knowing the Sons of Progress are interested in these Powereds, your company is still holding firm on its refusal to divulge any information about the process.” Ralph Chapman certainly didn’t look amused, though he did seem to be spreading out the files and pages set before him, reveling in the fact that they were finally using a proper meeting room instead of the renovated broom closets he had to deal with.

                “More of a ‘can’t’ than a ‘won’t’ situation,” Professor Fletcher told him. “Our company was contracted by the scientists for the acquiring of equipment, selecting candidates, locating and mind-wiping medical staff; essentially our people handled all the practical needs. However, none of the working grunts were ever actually brought in on how the procedure worked. The man at the top might have been, but he’d likely have signed more non-disclosures than even the DVA uses, given the potential income that procedure has to generate. Most Powereds would pay almost anything to become Supers, which means whoever found a way to make it happen would be crazy not to try and protect their method.”

                Ralph rustled some more papers, a clear bid for buying time. “That’s what your bosses keep saying in response to inquiries from our department. No information to provide, and even if there was they’d be unable to give up unless the DVA presented formal legal cause. And you all know damned well that the minute we do, this procedure’s existence becomes a matter of public record.”

                “That assumes you could even get the necessary warrants and court orders together, which is unlikely given your lack of evidence of wrong-doing on our part,” Mr. Numbers said. “Senator Malcolm might have been able to manage the task, he certainly had enough sway and favors to call in, but with him gone and no clear leader emerging from those jockeying for his position, it would be a difficult task to accomplish.”

                “I’m sorry, did you just imply that we have no evidence of wrong-doing? Because as I see it, snatching someone off the street without a DVA sanction and threatening them with torture sure seems like great cause to haul you before a committee.” Ralph’s fidgeting stopped; he’d clearly been waiting to bring this up since the meeting began.

                It was Mr. Transport who replied, placing a hand on Mr. Numbers’ shoulder before the shorter man could speak. “Threats are just that, Mr. Chapman, threats. Maybe if there was physical damage you’d have a case, but as it stands I think everything we did easily falls into our role as the Melbrook students’ bodyguards. If you really want to push the issue, however, then feel free to drag me up there. I was the one who insisted we react swiftly and forcefully, both because of the information gathering opportunity I was presented with and because that sack of shit was stalking someone I care about. Haul me in, if you like. Let’s see whether the people who often look to us for protection of their own loved ones think I was too rash. Even if they do, I’m nothing but a small-fry. It won’t get you any information about the Powereds’ procedure, and it won’t bring us any closer to catching Crispin and his bastard followers.”

                “Mr. Transport has cut to the meat of the issue,” Dean Blaine said. “We can have our respective pissing contests on our own time, what matters most is that we now know the Sons of Progress are aware of the possibility that Powereds can become Supers. Assuming this Randolph fellow was telling the truth-”

                “He was,” Mr. Numbers interjected.

                “As you’ve reported, yes. Anyway, from his testimony it seems like they’re digging for proof right now, snatching for a loose thread to pull on. While I don’t disagree with your actions, Mr. Transport, I must also point out that you’ve effectively told them they’re on to something the moment you took their piece from the board. Maybe they don’t know exactly what, but Sally Daniels is now essentially confirmed to be connected to powerful people.”

                “We’re already putting a protective detail on her,” Professor Fletcher said. “And that’s on top of the neighborhood Supers she lives near. No one is getting close to that woman, I promise.”

                Dean Blaine shifted slightly, re-angling his chair so that he could meet the eyes of everyone in the room. “Glad as I am to hear that, it barely scratches the real issue. If the Sons of Progress gain confirmation that there is a way to turn Powereds into Supers, and strategically we have to assume they will, then we must be ready to counter them. No doubt they’ll try to uncover the secret for themselves, using it as a recruiting tool to bolster their weakened ranks. That would be a hellish outcome, as we’ve got no shortage of Powereds with axes to grind against the world, but even just them knowing the procedure exists could cause problems. We all believe that taking ample time to study the test group was the right, safe course of action. But I’m not sure the public will agree, especially all the Powereds out there desperate for a cure. If the Sons of Progress find a way to make the procedure public, to frame it as the DVA and the HCP hoarding such a breakthrough for their own purposes, it could seriously impact the public’s trust in us. We need to be ready with a rebuttal, if not a plan to get ahead of them.”

                “Blaine… are you proposing we preemptively go public?” It wasn’t often that Ralph Chapman allowed himself to show surprise, but in that moment his mouth was hanging open like someone had grabbed his jaw and yanked downward. “You know as well as I do what a madhouse that’s going to make things. For us, for the HCP, and especially for your students.”

                “I’m not saying it’s the best plan out there, just pointing out we might need to be ready to make that call, if the situation demands it,” Dean Blaine replied. “It was always going to come out eventually, though it would have been nicer to make the announcement when we had full-fledged Heroes to point to as shining examples of what the procedure could gain society. Maybe letting the public in on the secret now is a mistake, maybe it’s something we can work through. I just want everyone to be prepared so that when Crispin’s people make a move, we can do whatever is necessary to counter it. Can you run that up the pole in Washington?”

                Quickly gathering his files, Ralph tucked them into his briefcase and snapped it shut. “I’m obligated to, even if I don’t agree with the necessity of it. Just be ready for a lot of pushback. Most of Washington will share my caution.”

                “Never in my life have I even once expected the government to act with speed or courage,” Dean Blaine assured him. “This is mostly an attempt to get them ready for the hard choices that might be coming down the line. At least if they have warning, they may decide what sacrifices they are willing to make. Professor Fletcher, I’d also like you to speak with the company’s higher-ups. While I understand the need for secrecy, if you could impress on Mr. Lamont the importance of the situation, perhaps there are some details even seemingly trivial ones, he’d be willing to share with us.”

                “I can try, but don’t expect much,” Professor Fletcher said.

                “I’m well-acquainted with his tight-lipped reputation.” Dean Blaine turned to Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport, who were waiting patiently for their own assignment. “As for you two, Ralph isn’t entirely wrong about you over-stepping, good intentions or not. I think I’m going to move up my class about your company, with you both making a special appearance as my guests. It will be a good refresher on exactly what you do, and what limits you are meant to play by.”

                “So you’d prefer we hadn’t grabbed the man stalking Roy and Hershel’s mother?” Mr. Numbers asked.

                “Oh heavens no, I just wish you’d gone through the proper channels to do it,” Dean Blaine said. “Because then, I could have been there, and right now there’s nothing I’d love more than to squeeze information from one of Crispin’s lackeys. It would be a nice placeholder to tide me over, until I can get my hands on the man himself.”