Chapter 169

                Vince looked wary, which was not only forgivable but downright prudent, as he glanced over to Mary. She gave a brief nod, and that was all it took for him to sit down in a chair offered by Chapman. Bless him and his trusting heart, she was going to miss spending time with him, and the others, down in these concrete walls. It was a true loss to her, and she felt it dearly, but even now she knew the cost of staying would be higher than she could handle. Moments like these were the toll she paid to get out while she still could.

                “Mr. Chapman,” Vince greeted as he settled into his chair. Mary followed his lead, shutting the door firmly behind them. The two were looking at each other, both thinking a myriad of different questions but unsure of how to best proceed. Well, that was why she’d come along in the first place.

                “Vince, you should know something upfront: Ralph didn’t call this meeting. I did. We’re all aware that there’s a lot of DVA interest in you, and Ralph is sort of the face of that. But as the only person to have seen inside both of your heads, trust me when I say there’s more common ground here than you might think. I put this together because I want you two to stop seeing yourselves as at odds with one another.”

                “We’ve had meetings before,” Vince told her.

                “Not with me in them.” Mary reached over, easily able to slap a hand on Ralph’s desk in the tiny room. “Here’s the deal: Ralph has some stuff he wants to talk to you about and show you, Vince. You’re free to ask questions on those topics or whatever else you want. The one rule that I’m here to enforce is a simple one: no lying. Whatever you say to each other, make sure it’s the truth, or I will call you out on it. Both of you. Ralph is pretty good at managing his thoughts in general, but I’m betting that in the spontaneity of real conversation I’ll be able to catch a few red flags if he fibs. It’s been over a year of this weird stalemate of not trusting either side, so today we’re trying something different.”

                Vince and Ralph stared at one another, not with hate, but with caution. She knew what they were seeing. Ralph looked at Vince and saw living destruction personified, while Vince saw in Ralph a man who judged him for the actions of his father rather than his own. They were both right, in a way, yet also wrong in so many others. A myriad of misunderstandings, all from people’s desire to keep their true thoughts private.

                “What do you have against me?” Vince was the one who spoke, of course. Only he could be so unapologetically bold in a moment like this. “I know you all think my father is bad, but I’m not the only child of a criminal to come through the HCP. I read up on it last year. There have been plenty of Heroes who talked about having Super parents who broke the law. Why do you put so much attention on me, specifically?”

                Mary could feel the lies and half-truths flitting through Ralph’s mind, but as he turned his eyes to her they quieted. For now, at least, he seemed willing to play along with the honesty game.

                “There is a big difference between someone having a parent who was a criminal Super and having a parent who is a Hero that turned traitor,” Ralph said. “But in the spirit of this meeting, I’ll tell you something Vince: Globe is why you came to my attention, not why you stayed there. I believe that you haven’t had any contact with him, I really do. Globe isn’t the issue here. You are. Or to be more precise, how dangerous your power is.”

                Vince blinked in surprise. “My power? It’s strong, sure, but I’m not really all that special. I’m not even at the top of my class.”

                “Sometimes you are. Have you ever watched the tape of yourself from sophomore year? When Nicholas Campbell used Rich Weaver to tweak your brain and convinced you that you were fighting monsters? It was quite incredible, you know. The brutality, the efficiency, you cycled through different energies so fast they nearly seemed concurrent, and you absorbed energies that we’ve still yet to see you replicate. It’s hard to say that version of Vince wasn’t near the top of his class, at the very least, and you’ve only gotten stronger since then.”

                Slowly, with his gaze darting to Mary, Vince nodded. “I’ve seen the tapes, more times than I can count. I didn’t know they were students though. I’d have never attacked fellow human beings like that.”

                “Never? That’s a strong word, Vince.” Ralph had his hands on the edge of the desk, gripping it tightly. “Especially coming from a man who had to be talked out of killing someone not even a year ago.”

                Silence fell, and Mary wondered if things had already spun out of control beyond saving in the first few minutes. But she underestimated Vince, as he nodded once more, this time with conviction.

                “I’ll own that. The man you’re talking about killed my friend, someone I cared about, and in the heat of that moment I wanted to take his life away as payback. I’m not proud of that temptation, Mr. Chapman, but I don’t look back and wish I’d killed him either. It was a hard situation, and I nearly fell short of who I want to be. That’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life, a memory I keep with me at all times. Because next time the temptation comes, I want to be ready for it, to use my shame over what I nearly did to keep myself from failing the same way again.”

                “This is the problem with you, Vince.” Ralph’s hands had loosened their grip on the desk, and his posture seemed to have slackened. The fiery spirit had plainly gone out of him in the face of Vince’s brutal honesty. “The normal you is like this: considerate, measured, and willing to take responsibility for his mistakes. It endears you to people, makes them want to root for you. Allows them to turn a blind eye when you send up warning flags that should be noticed. I want to make one thing clear here, above all others: I don’t dislike you on a personal level. You’re a good kid who is clearly trying his best. But the issue here is not a personal one, it’s a pragmatic one. An issue of safety. If you’re willing to come with me somewhere, I think a visual example will be a little more helpful for our discussion.”

                Mary could already see where Ralph planned to bring them, so when Vince turned to her she signaled her approval. This was a good idea, because the truth was, as much as she loved Vince dearly, Ralph did have some valid points. And if Vince did make it to Hero status, Ralph would certainly not be the first DVA agent to voice them. Better he saw it plainly now, so he could decide how to proceed.

                Ralph hit a buzzer on his intercom, and seconds later a tall woman in a dark suit opened the door. Together, the three of them got up from their seats, walked over to her, and vanished.