Chapter 165

                “I don’t see why I have to quit.” With the Black Hole costume gone, he was just Blake once more, a man having a sizable drink with his brother-in-law. There was no air of celebration to the scene, both men looked weary and worn, as though it had been days since they last saw sleep. Charles was bearing it better than Blake, yet even he had red eyes and was in need of a shave.

                “If you’d like to switch roles that’s fine. That does assume, of course, that you’re capable of raising the tremendous funds needed to covertly pay for our research, managing all of the assets now on our payroll, and let us not forget organizing the hunt for my brother.”

                Blake snorted into his glass. “We can leave that last part off. I got him, Charles. We both saw it connect.”

                “Did we? Or did we see him warp the light to create a mirage? Perhaps he neutralized the gravitational force as it descended on him and then blended in with the ground. Maybe he used some other method we haven’t devised yet. Globe, Phil, is powerful beyond our sense of the word. He literally warps the reality of everything in his sphere of influence. Now you’ve seen that as a teammate, and occasionally caught glimpses of it in the HCP. I grew up seeing that power in action, Blake, and trust me when I say it is not one to underestimate, an issue compounded by it being in the hands of someone as determined as Phil.”

                “He’s not unbeatable,” Blake replied. “He still has to be paying some attention, and he can’t change anything he doesn’t know how to manipulate. Do you think he spent hours, or more likely days, researching gravity and working out how to nullify my attack just in case I turned on you all?”

                At first, Charles said nothing, turning his still-full glass in his hands several times. “The mere fact that you need to ask me that, rather than already assuming it to be true, is why I’m the one who’ll be organizing the hunt for Globe. You must not underestimate him. Ever.”

                “I think you overestimate him.” Blake didn’t bother turning his glass; he just downed a deep gulp from it.

                Something like laughter, a painful and twisted cousin to the sounds, came from Charles’s mouth. “Impossible. To say such a thing implies I’m believing him capable of something that he can’t do, and I’ve met precious few things in this world that my big brother couldn’t accomplish. No, he’s out there, Blake, and I’ll believe that until I find concrete proof that he’s passed. Because that’s the prudent way to proceed.”

                “If you want to waste your time, that’s fine, I just don’t see why I have to become an HCP teacher,” Blake protested.

                Alice, Mary, and Nick all exchanged a brief glance at one another. Professor Hill might not be their favorite educator, but he’d always been competent and seemed at home in his role. Had he never even wanted to be there in the first place?

                “You’ll have some time. We need to get you, and I, through more intensive telepathy-resistance training as soon as possible. We won’t even float the idea of you moving into education until then. But it has to happen, Blake. Our Hero careers are done anyway. We just watched two of our teammates fight, Intra being killed by Globe before himself getting killed by us. That’s the official story, so it’s going to seem strange if we’re back on the streets next week acting fine. We have to take an extended leave, during which time I’m going to focus on my business and you’ll discover that your true passion lies in educating the Heroes of tomorrow.”

                Tilting his glass back, Blake finished off his drink. “That still feels like a lot of hoops to jump through just for computer access.”

                “Blake, we just murdered one Hero, possibly two, in order to get a brain which will fuel highly illegal human experimentation.” Charles’s tone was heavy, and for a moment Alice wondered if he was about to kill Blake. Even knowing it didn’t turn out that way, she couldn’t quite shake the feeling of looming danger. “From here on, we are in the seas of extreme peril. Discovery means our undoing, and if we go then so goes all hope for Shelby. Our best asset is compartmentalization. We keep everything disconnected, making sure nothing ties together and ourselves as distant from the actual work as possible. After all, we can’t accidentally let slip information we don’t possess. But there will still need to be a full log of all the data if we’re going to see progress. And there is literally nowhere more secure than an HCP’s digital storage. Professors can put information in freely but several layers of approval are required to take anything out. It’s like tossing the evidence into a bottomless pit, only one that we can get our files back from with a little networking and bribery. Even if the files were somehow raided, without clearance they’d be too encoded for anyone to crack. It’s the safest storage option available, and it comes with the added benefit of making you seem more trustworthy. Who would question the integrity of an HCP professor?”

                Blake replied to that, or at least his mouth started moving, but the sound seemed to cut out like on a busted TV. Not long after, the image flickered and began to fade.

                “It seems our time is out once more,” Abridail said, his voice echoing despite the lack of nearby vast spaces. “Today, however, you have seen all I intended to show. There are many smaller moments that contributed to your current situation, but they are only pieces that helped shaped the larger scenes. You know now what truly happened to Shelby Adair, as well as the truth about Globe and Intra. Alice… I’m sorry.”

                She shook her head, nearly losing sight of Abridail as the world steadily faded. “I’m not. This wasn’t exactly easy, but I’m glad I know the truth. Even if it means realizing that the Adair legacy is one of betrayal and murder.

                Abridail smiled at her, a smile that lingered as the rest of him continued to fade. “There have been good Adairs as well. Your grandmother worked hard for her family, and Phil was by all accounts a true Hero. And you, Alice, are part of that lineage as well. The Adair legacy is in your hands to shape now. Perhaps you’ll bring something good back to the name. If it helps, know that your mother has always believed you will do just that.”

                Then he was gone, as was the dream world as a whole. Slowly, Alice lifted herself up from the mattress, groping around until her hand closed on a glass of water. She downed it swiftly, then refilled a few more times while Nick and Mary did the same. The cottonmouth side-effect of Rich’s power really was annoying.

                It was Nick who spoke first, to the surprise of no one, as he polished off his third round of water. “Well, that’s at least one more mystery solved.”

                “Way more than one by my count,” Alice pointed out.

                “I’m not talking about what Abridail showed us.” Nick put his glass under the cooler, refilling it one more time. “I meant our little mystery from freshman year, when someone, presumably Globe-related, used Mary’s kidnapping as a distraction to steal files out of the HCP system. Or do you think there was some other batch of data Globe wants as badly as proof of what Charles did with Intra’s corpse?”