Chapter 168

                “You going to be okay?” Dean Blaine pulled on his suit jacket and cleaned his glasses, preparing to depart the underground bunker. It was almost time to start getting things ready, and as the dean of the HCP he could hardly afford to miss so much as a single meeting. Even if it meant sharing space with a traitor.

                “I’ll be fine, I’ve known something was up with Blake since the day he and Charles told us Shelby ‘died’ from complications with the experiment. I never bought it. There was always something off about them, the story, the way it all hung. Even if I didn’t have proof, I was too good of a Subtlety Hero not to trust my gut.” Professor Pendleton paused, looking up from his pile of printed documents. “The question is, are you going to be okay? My half-brother and I have had a frosty relationship since I got here, but you two are amiable colleagues, even if you didn’t trust him enough to bring him in on this. Can you keep that up, knowing what he did?”

                It was a fair question, one that Dean Blaine had been asking himself quite a bit in the last few days of Winter Break. He wasn’t trained in Subtlety like Sean, would he be able to smile at the man, to laugh at his jokes, to pretend he didn’t know he was working alongside a Hero who’d abused his position to kill an innocent man? Ultimately, Dean Blaine wasn’t sure he could, which was why he’d found a mental cavern to take shelter in.

                “Technically, we don’t know if he is a killer,” Dean Blaine said. “We have the testimony of one source, and while so far everything we can check is lining up with the story we got, that’s still not enough to condemn him just yet. If what happened to Globe teaches us nothing else, it’s that we need to be thorough and not take the word of someone just because we want to trust them.”

                Professor Pendleton said nothing for several seconds, merely putting his papers neatly together and getting up from the table. “If that’s what you need to think to get through this, then more power to you.”

                “You disagree with my assessment?”

                “No, the lesson was good, you’re right there. But Blake did it. I know him; I know how close he and Shelby were.” Professor Pendleton sighed softly, just under his breath. “I used to envy them, you know. We were all family, but those two were real siblings, twins at that. Much as I loved them both, I was always an outsider looking in. There’s nothing Blake wouldn’t have done if it meant saving Shelby, and that includes killing Intra.”

                Dean Blaine finished cleaning his glasses, then reached onto the table and pulled off a small briefcase. His day in their hidden bunker was nearly over, it was time to get moving once more. After all, HCP classes resumed tomorrow, and there really was a lot of work to be done. But this was important too, and he didn’t want to leave the task half-finished. “Sean, if we decide to trust Abridail, if we feel like going forward on looking for Globe, you know who we’ll need to talk to.”

                “She’s been around for years now and not given a single indication she was in contact with him,” Professor Pendleton pointed out. “Hell, she just spent Christmas with us. You really think Clarissa can play something that huge so close to the vest? Why would she have accepted all of our invitations?” There was a brief moment of silence as Professor Pendleton actually considered the question before answering it himself. “Because if you want us to think you’ve got nothing to hide, then you pal around with us like nothing is wrong. Shit… you might be right.”

                “None of us were accepting of the idea that Globe could turn into a ruthless killer who slayed his best friend, and she denied it from the outset.” Part of Dean Blaine wished he’d been a little more stubborn in his convictions now, had held fast to what he knew to be true about Globe’s character. But Globe was far from the first Hero to fall, and it was something that he’d been conditioned to accept. Not that it lessened the guilt of turning his back on a friend. “If Globe was innocent, then Clarissa would have believed him. And if she even suspected he was alive before George’s jailbreak, she’d have searched for him. She’s our best bet, if we decide to reach out.”

                “Pretty big ‘if’ you’ve got there,” Professor Pendleton replied. “I can make an appointment with her, if you like. Invent some pretense about another Lander event, the sort of thing she’d be inclined to say yes to if she wanted to keep her cover.”

                Dean Blaine shook his head. “No. No lies, no guile, no tricks. If we use Clarissa as a go-between, then we do it the right way: with trust and friendship. She, Globe, you, and I, we were all Heroes once. And friends. It’s time we started to act like it.”

*              *              *

                Ralph Chapman had never been the trusting sort. Even before he changed his career path to the DVA and began calling out the Heroes who would have skated free from their mistakes thanks to clout and popularity, Ralph had always been one to shake someone’s hand while watching for a knife in their other. It was an attitude that had served him well in politics, but had proven more troublesome dealing with Heroes. Respect and trust were large elements to their world, which was somewhat expected given the bonds they forged on the battlefield. Meeting everyone with suspicion put him at a disadvantage in every interaction he had with them. Perhaps that was why, when Mary had actually come to him, he’d been willing to show a bit of faith. Not a huge amount, but enough to formally requisition the services of a DVA teleporter for the afternoon. It was a small show of trust, in the grand scheme of things, but he hoped it would bear some manner of fruit.

                His faith turned out to be well-placed, as the door to his meager office swung open to reveal Mary along with the unmistakable Vince Reynolds. The men locked eyes for a long moment before Ralph gestured to the two small folding chairs stuffed into the room.

                “Vince, why don’t you come in and have a seat? I think it’s time you and I had a long overdue chat.”