Chapter 170

                The wind coming off the bay was chilly; making Vince and Mary glad they hadn’t shed their coats in the trip down to Ralph Chapman’s office. He didn’t wear one as he stood in front of them, occasionally a rogue shiver would run down his otherwise stiff spine, the only betrayal of his discomfort. Then again, as Vince looked past the DVA agent, to the ruined remains of a large bridge set some ways off from a newer one packed with cars, he wondered if perhaps those shivers had nothing to do with the cold at all.

                “They never rebuilt it.” Ralph sounded different than normal. Less detached and authoritative, more human. “Said it was old by that point anyway, made more sense fiscally to just build something new, something safer. That might have been true, but I think deep down they just knew no one would want to commute over a graveyard. So they made the leftovers a memorial, put up a nice plaque, and moved on. It wasn’t that easy for some of us, though.”

                From their vantage point atop the hill, overlooking the bay, the city, and both of its bridges, Vince could see the entire layout. That was probably why they were here, instead of up close. So that he could take note of how many cars were on the active bridge, and would imagine the amount of life lost if it were to be suddenly destroyed.

                “What happened here?”

                “A fight between some criminal Supers and Heroes, like what goes on all over this country every day. Relentless Steel and Raze were hunting down a gang that had been accruing a lot of weapons and Supers fast. Things came to a head, and the fight spilled onto the bridge. Things went wrong. According to the reports and the debriefings, what few there were, it was a lot of little mistakes that piled together, and then one big fuckup. Raze had the power of disintegration, you see. He was going after some Super who’d proven extra tough, built a lot of juice in his attack, and then… missed. Don’t ask me how, I wasn’t with the DVA then and this predates everyone having a camera in their pocket. But he did, and that was the last straw. The bridge’s supports gave, and suddenly everyone: Heroes, crooks, and innocent commuters, went plunging into the drink. Raze and Relentless Steel survived, of course. They were trained Heroes. The civilians were another matter.”

                Vince could see Ralph’s body tightening as he spoke, his spine growing rigid and jaw trying to lock. This wasn’t some hypothetical situation he was using as an illustration, this was real to Ralph. Personal. “You knew someone who died, didn’t you?”

                It took visible effort, but Ralph slowly tilted his head forward. “My daughters. A friend had picked them up because I was stuck at work… they all died. As did hundreds of others, lives that never needed to be lost, never should have been in danger in the first place. Because a Hero made mistakes, forgot his duty was to protect, not to punish. And before you ask: no crook on that Bridge was over Standard-Class. There was never a need or authorization for that much loss of life. It was just a stupid moment where things got out of hand. And it’s why I’m worried about you, Vince.”

                Ralph turned back, motioning for Vince to step forward. He did, leaving Mary and the teleporting DVA agent to their rear. Once he reached Ralph’s side, the older man extended a finger, pointing out to the wreckage that had cost so many people their lives. “Raze needed a lot of mistakes to do that kind of damage. A lot of things that had to go wrong at the same time. But you, Vince, are on a whole other level than he was. If you lost control, if you got angry and vengeful, or just decided to dig in and defend someone you loved, you could easily accomplish that level of destruction in what… maybe two to three blows? I’ve seen you training to use bigger amounts of power; I know you spent the winter at Lander East. Maybe someday all you’ll need is one sloppy punch, one burst of anger, and suddenly there’s a new city putting up a new plaque.”

                “I wouldn’t-” Vince cut himself off. What was he going to say? That he’d never lose control like that? There was a tape proving exactly otherwise, and a super-speed crook who’d nearly been murdered by Vince’s own hand. Denying the potential for anger in himself was pointless. They both knew it was there, and no matter how hard Vince worked to master self-control, he wasn’t sure he could ever say without question that it wouldn’t come out again. But because of that doubt, he was watchful with himself, more so than when he’d tried to deny the potential for such fury existed.

                After a deep breath of the chilly air, Vince started again. “I’m not perfect. You’re right, Mr. Chapman. I might make a mistake one day. I don’t want to. I’m training so hard, both my body in the gym and my mind in therapy, but there are no guarantees. If you don’t trust me because you think one day I might slip up and cost people their lives, then there is nothing I can say to change your mind. It’s a terrifying thought because no one is immune to making a mistake. The idea scares me too. But if you don’t trust me because you think I’m not aware of the destruction I could cause, the people I could hurt, that I’d ever intend to use my power recklessly, then let me assure you that’s not the case. No one knows how dangerous I am better than me. No one takes the threat I present more seriously than I do. One day, something like this might be my handiwork. I can’t promise you it won’t be. All I can say is that I’m doing everything I can to make sure it never comes to that.”

                “Not everything,” Ralph replied. “You could walk away from the Hero game; take that power of yours out of play. Knowing your history of losing control, one could argue it’s the right thing to do.”

                Vince looked out at the bridge, burning the image into his mind. It was something he needed to carry with him, to remember, as ammunition for the next time he felt his anger overwhelming his common sense. “Except it isn’t the right thing to do. I can’t sit on the sidelines, knowing I have the strength to help people. It’s not how my father raised me, and it’s not the kind of man I’d ever want to be. If I saw people in need, I would help. I’d just be doing it with less training and self-control, which makes me more of a threat. I will make you a promise though, Mr. Chapman.”

                Finally, Vince looked away from the bridge, turning to meet the curious eyes of the DVA agent who had been such a pain for the past year and a half. “If I ever do make a mistake like this, if I ever lose control and needlessly cost someone else their family, I’ll turn myself over to you and make a full confession. No one can promise they won’t make mistakes, but I swear to you I’ll always own mine. That’s the best I can do.”

                “That’s better than most, if you mean it,” Ralph said.

                “He does.” Mary’s voice carried from several feet away, causing a confused look to ripple across the teleporter’s face. They were too far out to overhear the conversation, but that was no hindrance to a telepath.

                Ralph considered Vince carefully, searching his face for signs of falsehood in spite of Mary’s assurance. “By virtue of my job, I doubt we’ll ever see one another as allies, Vince. But if you hold true to that promise, I don’t think we need to be enemies.”

                “I will.” Vince paused, eyes darting back to the bridge. “What happened to Raze? Did he stand trial for this?”

                The earnest expression on Ralph’s face darkened for a flicker of a moment. “No. His Hero Certification was revoked, but he managed to slip out of criminal charges thanks to being in the Class of Legends. Kept right on claiming he was innocent, too. Eventually he showed his true colors, they caught him red-handed using his power to dissolve a gold depository’s walls and he went on the run. That’s the trouble with Supers, you see. They spend so much time above the laws of nature; they start to think they’re beyond the laws of man too.”

                “One day, if I make it past graduation and you manage to run Raze down, I’ll help you bring him to justice,” Vince said. “I owe you that much, for helping us last May.”

                A gust of wind blew past them, ruffling Vince’s silver hair. When it faded, Ralph motioned for Mary and the DVA teleporter to come join them. “You’re a good guy, Vince. Just never forget that good intentions don’t excuse bad outcomes. Be better than the Heroes who came before you. Be accountable.”