Chapter 144

                “Mary, let me put your mind at ease.” Dean Blaine’s voice was gentler than before. Now that he felt like he understood the situation, he was shifting gears from stern authority figure to reassuring teacher. “What happened to Nick Campbell was the case only for those who are expelled. Students who drop out or fail to advance in the HCP don’t lose everything. They keep their memories of some training, learning, etc. All Professor Stone fogs over are the pertinent details that could be dangerous for a non-Hero to have. Names and faces of fellow students, lift locations, things like that. And you can even retain details about your friends if they’re willing to trust you, which I have no doubt they will insist on. I understand the fear of losing memories, but for situations like this it really isn’t all that bad.”

                 The kindness made it harder. If he’d been annoyed, or angry, she could have dug in and come back at him with the same energy. Dean Blaine being so nice... it was somewhat disarming, hard to find the angle of approach. It struck Mary that that might be the exact reason he’d chosen such a response, but it wasn’t as though she could call him out for being overly understanding.

                “I know how the process works,” Mary said. “I’ve heard the thoughts of enough people who went through it, and you’re right, it really isn’t so terrible. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not happening to me. You see, that’s why I called this meeting early. Because we have another one in a couple of weeks, only you won’t actually be there for it. It will just be me, Alice, Nick… and Galina.”

                The room’s silence was oppressive; Dean Blaine grew so still she wasn’t even sure he was breathing. Slowly, the sound of his motions causing the chair to rustle, he leaned forward and locked eyes with Mary. “To be clear, Miss Smith, are you threatening to withhold aid on our investigation of Shelby Adair if we don’t allow you to retain your memories?”

                “What… no. Of course not,” Mary replied, becoming a touch flustered. This was all so much harder when she couldn’t see what people were thinking. “Why would I make that bluff? There’s no way I’d do that to Alice and you all know it.”

                “Thank goodness. For a moment I feared you were trying to lie your way through a game of hardball.” Dean Blaine’s entire body relaxed as he leaned back. “Very well then, please continue.”

                That was one potential pitfall avoided, thankfully. Now she just had to sell the dean and the professor on her proposal. An idea that was probably far easier said than done.

                “I want to keep my memories, Dean Blaine, for several reasons. First off, it seems dangerous to wipe out any information at this point in the game, especially when we don’t know who the mole in Lander is.” If anyone was surprised that she was aware of the hunt for a traitor, and really why would they be, it didn’t show on their faces. “Right now, there’s no telling who might hold the key to figuring that out, and given how much action I’ve been at the center of I’ve got as much chance of knowing the right detail as anyone else. Aside from that, though, there’s also the risk involved.”

                “Risk?” Dean Blaine asked.

                “Globe kidnapped me once. Even if we don’t know why he did it, the fact remains that he still did. Granted, he hasn’t made any moves against me or the others since, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be approached once my official HCP ties are cut.”

                “I see.” Dean Blaine exchanged a glance with Professor Stone, who said nothing but did give him a small smile in the corners of her mouth. “If Globe did approach you, and that is a big if since he hasn’t approached anyone else who dropped out-”

                “He didn’t kidnap them either,” Mary pointed out.

                “True, but the fact still remains that what you’re describing illustrates the need to wipe memories even more. If you turned against us, with all the secrets you’ve overheard and the myriad of things you know to be dwelling in the minds of students, you could be the greatest potential leak in HCP history.” Dean Blaine didn’t look particularly worried about the idea; it was more like he was just tossing it out for the sake of form. No one there really thought she would turn on her friends; Mary didn’t need telepathy to know they weren’t that stupid.

                “Mary, what you have been offering me are excuses, and somewhat poorly reasoned ones at that.” Dean Blaine paused, staring at her for several long seconds before continuing. “Let’s stop this charade. You know we’ve bent the rules with Nick Campbell, and given your participation in our… let’s call them extracurricular events, you have earned enough trust that I didn’t immediately reject the idea of you keeping your memories. In truth, it would make things simpler moving forward, especially in regards to the Galina project. However, if you want it to be earnestly considered, then you need to tell me the real reason you want to hang onto them. If you can’t even do that, this discussion is over.”

                Not the most encouraging sentence she’d ever heard, but at least the idea wasn’t sunk yet. If she kept attacking from the angles of logic and excuses, it probably would be though. While she’d hoped to build a real case for why she should keep her memories, Dean Blaine was right. These were all just second-thought excuses. Mary steeled her nerves and prepared to use the all-or-nothing technique for these sorts of encounters: telling the truth.

                “No one knows, I mean, really knows, what it’s like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. But thanks to my telepathy, I can come pretty close. I told you I was going to leave the HCP, and that’s true. I’m not leaving Lander, though. My plan is to finish out my degree and then apply to graduate school. Maybe even get a doctorate. Because what I want to undertake requires education, experience, and, above all else, insight. I want to do what Dr. Moran does. I want to be a psychiatrist who specializes in treating Heroes. I want…” Mary trailed off, her words all bunching up on her tongue, becoming too clustered to come out coherently. She paused and organized her thoughts before continuing.

                “I know being a Hero takes a toll. I may never understand it without doing the job, but I’ve at least tasted it. I’ve peeked into the minds of those who wear the masks, and I’ve seen how drained they can be. My goal is to become someone who can help them, who can make their lives a little more bearable. It’s what I did in Melbrook, and I like to think I’m already pretty good at it. After a real education, I might be excellent. But part of that job requires understanding what it is these people go through. That’s why I want to keep my memories, all of them, from Lander. Because everything I’ve been through and heard in others’ thoughts: the fear, the determination, the anger, the loss, all of it is part of the Hero process. I don’t want to lose even a single stray thought. I want to carry all of this with me, use it, build on it, and become someone who can make the world a better place. Not by being a Hero, but by helping to keep them stable, sound, and in the field for as long as possible.”

                No one said anything for a long moment, then Mr. Numbers turned to Professor Stone. “Did she rehearse that with you? Because she didn’t with me.”

                “Nope, I think it came off the top of her head,” Professor Stone said.

                “Thank you, Mary, that was an insightful look into why you wish to keep your memories,” Dean Blaine said. “I’ll consider your request over Winter Break. However, since you told us about your intent to leave here, rather than at Lander, you have yet to formally withdraw from the HCP, and therefore we have no grounds to wipe your mind yet. We can talk about it once you return. Now, if no one has any other pressing business, I need to call Mr. Transport. Some of us are just starting our day.”

                Mary said nothing as he rose from his chair and punched in the teleporter’s phone number. She’d done her best, now it was out of her hands. If nothing else, she still had her full memories for the next few weeks.

                It was what came after those that she had to worry about.