Chapter 162

                The room was fading, a new scene taking its place but still far too blurry to make out, when Alice felt a squeeze on her hand. She looked down to see Mary gripping her fingers tightly. “You okay? That can’t have been easy to watch. I’m sure Abridail can give us a few minutes if we need them.”

                “No. We’ve only got so long, there’s no time for breaks.” Alice noted that her voice sounded a touch strained, so she forced herself to take a deep breath and relax. “Besides, I always knew Charles was a bastard. I just didn’t know the lengths he was willing to sink to.”

                “Be that as it may, he’s still your dad, even if you’re trying to break that connection. Watching him do that to Chad’s father…” Mary trailed off, squeezing Alice’s hand again rather than finding the right words to close her sentence with.

                Nick walked over, pausing briefly to stare at Abridail, who was standing still with his eyes closed, conjuring the next scene for them to view. “You know, people give things like greed and wrath a bad wrap. Sure, they’ll cause plenty of folks to make some poor short-sighted decisions, but in the end they lack staying power. Now love, on the other hand, love is in a whole different category. Love is what can truly turn people into demons.”

                Turning from Mary, Alice narrowed her eyes at Nick. “Are you trying to say that what he did was okay because it was motivated by love?”

                “Whoa now, I’m not even close to saying that.” Nick threw up his hands in mock-surrender, even going so far as to take a half-step back. “Let’s be very clear here: Abridail was right, what we just watched your dad do was unforgivable. He backed a good man into an impossible corner by threatening a child, a baby really. I worked with some twisted, ruthless fucks in Vegas, and even we had the rule that kids were off-limits. In no way do I think you should forgive or justify what Charles Adair did. But I do believe there’s merit in recognizing the fact that we’re not as far away from becoming him as you might want us to be.”

                “You really think any of us could do something like that?” Alice asked.

                “Today? No. Life is long though, and we haven’t been through the same trial that Charles has. Speaking as someone who just said goodbye to one of the only constants in his life, there were some dark times over the past few weeks. Times when, if the right person had made me the right offer to turn Gerry healthy or bring him back, I might have made a bad call. All I’m saying is that as much condemnation as Charles deserves, let’s not act like we could never end up there. Recognizing that potential for weakness in ourselves is how we keep it from sneaking up on us.”

                As much as Alice wanted to disagree with Nick, to say that she would never be capable of such a thing, she knew better. Subtlety had been doing more than teaching Alice to sneak around and read faces; it had educated her in the fluid, often murky, concept of morality. Sometimes situations demanded a bad action to reach a good outcome. She’d made those calls herself in her Blonk training, and had found success through them. If the person she loved most in the world was in the balance, if she felt she was the only one who could help, if the guilt of the situation were sitting atop her shoulders… no, she still couldn’t see herself doing what Charles had done. But that was Nick’s point, in a way. No one ever could see themselves going over to the side of the wicked, until it happened.

                “His actions are impossible to forgive, but not impossible to understand,” Alice said, echoing Abridail’s words from their last session. “What I don’t understand is how things went wrong. With the plan as we heard it, Joshua should have died, Globe would never know what happened, and that’s it. Instead, Globe was labeled a traitor and thought to be killed, while Intra died with his reputation more or less still intact.”

                “I’ve got a few guesses on how things went down, but something tells me we won’t need to wait for very long to find out.” Nick pointed to a nearby bit of the slowly building world, where two forms, though still blurry, were beginning to grow more distinct. As their image sharpened, it became easier to see the costumes of Globe and Intra standing in an evacuated street. Several feet away, there was a strange ripple through reality, and then, somehow, a rooftop with Black Hole and Charles Adair, now clad in his Alchemist costume, looking down on the show below.

                A sheen of sweat covered Abridail’s forehead as he finally opened his eyes. “Rather than show you the same event twice, I felt it was more practical to condense both viewpoints so you could watch them happen simultaneously. As much as the world has always wanted to hear the conversation of these two in Intra’s final moments, what occurs as most of their team looks on carries importance as well.”

                Alice intended to tell him to start, but her eyes got caught by the team of Black Hole and Alchemist. It was strange to see her father and an HCP professor decked out in costume. They looked so grand, so… well, heroic. Like the sort of people who could be trusted. Because they were supposed to be Heroes, the ones people turned to when all hope was lost, beacons of power and dedication to keeping the world safe. Yet at least one of them, possibly both, was orchestrating a plan to murder an innocent man and harvest his brain. In that moment, for possibly the first time, Alice understood why the HCP was so grueling and tested so much of who they were, both in character and skill. For a Hero to turn bad meant the entire system was called into question, and people’s faith would be shaken. The HCP had a duty to make sure only the most deserving wore that title, a duty they’d failed to fulfill in the case of Charles Adair.

                “Okay Abridail, when you’re ready, start it up. Let’s see what happened with Vince’s dad all these years ago.” Alice turned her back on her own father, though she did stay close enough to hear if he spoke. Any information could prove useful down the line, especially if Abridail thought Alchemist and Black Hole’s discussion was important enough to recreate. Whatever Charles said next, whatever he did, she would face the truth of it head on.

                The world around flickered slowly into motion, as Globe and Intra began to speak.