Chapter 164

                “They changed the story after the fact.” Nick was looking at the fading forms of Alchemist and Black Hole, who themselves were staring down at the corpse of Intra. “No witnesses to dispute them, no recordings save for what Charles was apparently already controlling. Rebuilding the narrative would be easy. Fudge a few facts, pay a couple of bribes to people with no idea what they’re a part of, and poof: Globe has turned traitor, killing Intra in the process. Then Charles proposes turning this tragedy into something positive, and that’s all it takes to give him everything he wanted.”

                “Not everything,” Mary pointed out. “He sure didn’t seem keen on the idea of killing Globe.”

                “Didn’t stop him from giving the order though,” Nick said.

                He had a point, Alice had to give Nick that, but it wasn’t as though Charles had been given ample time to consider the full implications of what he was doing. It was a snap decision in the heat of battle, the kind they were training to make. Only he’d chosen poorly. What had shocked her more was how detached Black Hole had been about the entire process. She’d trained directly under Professor Hill for years, she’d nearly taken Control as her main specialty, and she’d never seen such ruthlessness lurking in his eyes. Then again, if he’d managed to fool the entire HCP staff and the DVA enough to give him such a job, it was no shock that he’d be good at hiding his dark inclinations.

                “So… I guess this means Globe really is innocent.” Alice felt strange saying that after everything they’d read and heard about the villain, however the conclusion was inevitable given what they’d witnessed. Some part of her Subtlety training prickled with annoyance, she was taking too much as a given. “Assuming all of this is accurate, I mean.”

                “Charles Adair is a controlled, measured man, but even he cannot escape his guilt in the realm of nightmares,” Abridail told her. “I have watched these scenes play out more times than I can count, and while I won’t swear to the position of every rock and brick in the scenery, the more important bits are just as I’ve seen them in dreams.”

                As the world faded, Nick was pacing, his eyes darting quickly around to scoop up what few details remained. “Let’s see here. Charles got the brain, but it’s not like that was automatic victory. He still had to pay a lot of smart people to analyze it, try and figure out what made Intra special, develop a method for replicating that in Powereds, and then go through incremental testing before rolling it out on actual Powereds.” Nick ticked the fingers off on his hand slowly. “Chad was a baby when this went down, and we were all eighteen when they did the procedure. So we’re looking at about seventeen years and change for all of that. It’s a tight timeframe, unless you’re someone with nearly unlimited funds and the ability to attract the brightest minds, both Super and human, to the project.”

                “There is one thing that bothers me about this, now that we know everything that happened to Alice’s mom: why isn’t Shelby Adair one of us?” Mary asked. “This whole thing was for her, and Charles got what he wanted. He found a cure. Why wouldn’t he have used it on his wife?”

                In that moment, Alice instantly knew the answer to Mary’s question and it made her stomach flip. She looked over to Nick, who’d clearly figured it out as well. A piece of her wanted to lie, to protect Mary from the inescapable truth of their situation. But she’d literally just seen where keeping secrets from the people she loved might lead, and besides, Mary had a right to know.

                “Because Charles doesn’t know he’s found it.” Alice’s voice was gentle, partly for Mary, partly for herself. “Remember, we’re a test group. We always were. That was why we were put in Melbrook in the first place: to keep watch on us in case anything went wrong or long-term side-effects developed.”

                “But the doctors told us it was permanent, that we couldn’t change back, and they really believed that. I could hear it in their thoughts,” Mary protested.

                “And based on whatever information they’d been given, I’m sure they thought it was true. Just like they probably believed it when they told the same things to any guinea pigs who came before us.” Nick paused his pacing, looking over at Abridail who was preparing another scene, then back at Mary. “However, I will say the odds are on our side. Think about it: in both of the timelines Shelby saw the procedure was eventually successful and publicly available. That means there will be a successful test case, and based on the timing it’s a fair bet that we’re it.”

                Alice nodded, the next pieces already falling into place. “But Charles hasn’t seen Shelby’s visions. He doesn’t know for sure that our procedure worked long-term, and given how things went the first time there’s no way he’d take any chances with mom’s brain again. He’s making sure we’re stable, putting us through HCP training to see what happens when we push our limits, watching us run around like trapped rats to be sure that this time, he’ll be able to bring Shelby back.”

                “That’s reassuring, though I do wish we weren’t now all agreeing with the idea that our abilities could fail.” Something darted through Mary’s eyes, something dark and fearful. “I don’t know if I can go back to my old life. I’d sort of gotten used to always hearing the voices, but after this many years of peace…”

                “In none of Shelby’s visions has she ever seen your procedure’s effect falter.” Abridail had his eyes open, although they were only halfway so, and his posture was slumped. All of this was apparently taking a toll on him, last time there hadn’t been so many different scenes to conjure, nor had they come as fast. “That is not a guarantee, as you know she only sees the likely potentials for futures, but it does mean chances are strong you truly have been cured.”

                He raised his arms, and around them the concrete cube where Intra and Charles had discussed things came back into view. Only now, Intra was nowhere to be seen. It was Charles and Black Hole, or Professor Hill as the students knew him, sitting at a table.

                “There are many pieces I have had to leave out for expediency, small chunks I’m trustful you’ll be able to piece together on your own. However, there is one more bit that I feel you need. Proof of what I’ve shown you today, in case your teachers begin second-guessing these events, not wanting to accept the truth about a former friend. There is little evidence to be found, Charles was quite careful in that regard, however not even he was able to destroy everything.”