Chapter 175

                Code-breaking, technology-hacking, anything to do with the digital or puzzle-based, all of it was in Will Murray’s ballpark. There was little he couldn’t do with tech, given enough parts and prep time. But he’d learned long ago that the human side of the equation was not his strongest point. Even after booking as many training sessions in the Blonk as he could, Will had succeeded in only becoming marginally better at catching facial tics and discerning which fake assets were trustworthy. The failing didn’t surprise him; he’d never been especially good with people. If not for Jill constantly dragging him out to proper society, he probably would have spent his whole life in a basement surrounded by electronics. Through discipline and study, Will had learned enough to get through basic social interactions; he’d managed to make his own friends by the end of high school. But what he needed now wasn’t someone half-competent. For this plan, he needed an expert.

                Staring at his computer screen, Will looked at the roster he’d compiled of his classmates, even though he knew most of it by heart. No real names were used, of course, and the whole thing was written in a code just in case his computer was ever hacked by someone with equal tech-skill to his own. Still, all the pertinent information he needed was at his fingertips. Mary’s departure from the program, while sad, had also opened up whole new avenues of attack. Dealing with Kennedy Dawson and her movement was treacherous territory; he couldn’t risk involving anyone else in the program. Only he and Camille were known to them, and that was how it would stay. People who’d left the HCP, however, were a whole other matter. They didn’t have secrets to betray, though they were threads that a smart and resourceful enemy could pull on to unravel the secrets of their friends. He needed to use them carefully, and at just the right times.

                “Yo, I finished the job.” Jill appeared at his doorway, earlier than expected. It was easy to forget how much free time she had to work in now that the HCP wasn’t eating so much of her days. Will felt a pang of sadness at the thought, followed by one of relief. It was still strange to picture entering the Hero world without Jill, but part of him was glad she wouldn’t be putting herself in danger.

                Jill walked over and set a piece of paper down in front of Will. On it were a few numbers and usernames hurriedly scribbled down. “I connected every bit of tech those people had to the backdoors you wanted. Some needed password and username crap so I made things up on the fly. With this, you should be able to remotely access everything they have: cell phones, laptops, I even made a path to one of those digital step counter things that connect to the Internet. Part of me feels like I should tell you how incredibly illegal this shit this though.”

                Smoothing out the paper, Will read carefully, making sure he could discern every digit and letter before Jill left. “It’s not illegal. It’s Subtlety.” He paused, considering his own words. “Okay, fine, it’s illegal. That an issue?”

                “Not for me, I’m more than happy to do my part to take these fuckers down. But you’re still in the running to be a Hero. Shouldn’t you be careful with stuff like this?” Jill asked.

                She wasn’t wrong. Gathering information, pretending to be one of Kennedy’s group, all of that had been on the right side of the law. What he was doing now, let alone what he was planning, crossed the line. Will had been over that line before, not often, but enough. He knew the ground there was perilous, even more so now that he had so much to lose. Yet all the same, whenever he considered backing off Will’s mind wandered back to the night in May when Lander was attacked. Not the chaos, or the bloodshed, or even seeing Sasha’s body. No, what rose to the forefront of his memory was Vince, standing across from Dean Blaine, willing to sacrifice his future to do the right thing in the moment. Will knew he was never going to be a moral bastion, and he understood that many would look upon his methods with rightful disgust. But if he didn’t do what he could, when he could, to protect people who deserved it, that was when he would fail to be a Hero.

                “I’m in the Subtlety program,” Will told his sister. “If they didn’t want me working around a few systems, they shouldn’t have made a major out of it. And don’t worry, I’m being careful. The only ones I’m working with are people I can trust.”

                “Be more careful, for me. I’m loving the free time, but I don’t think you’d take leaving the HCP as well as I did.” Jill patted Will on the back, then headed toward the door. “Let me know if you need any more help. Just because I’m not in the program doesn’t mean I don’t have my friends’ backs.”

                Will sat after she left, staring at the screen and mulling over her words. There was something there, something he could use, and as he distilled it further down a curved grin appeared on his face, lit by the white glow of his monitor. Now that was an angle he could get some mileage out of. But, like every other idea he’d considered so far, it had the same failing: Will was going to need a face. Someone to represent the opposition to the Take Back Lander campaign. Someone dangerous, and skillful, and trustworthy. Someone who exceled at the other side of Subtlety, someone who could do with people what Will could do to electronics.

                Although Alice did technically have the skillset required, Will couldn’t bring himself to drag her into this. She would help if he told her the situation, but she shouldn’t. Those five already seemed to have enough on their plate with all the sneaking around, and besides, he’d already decided that no more active students should get involved. Gambling his own secret was one thing, and Camille had come into this on her own. Bringing in someone else was a different matter. But there was still a candidate out there. One who checked off every box with the exception of the criteria that was probably most important: trustworthiness. Given his few options, however, Will was going to have to take what he had and make peace with a higher level of risk. Besides, for all the faults this man had, he was generally considered to be loyal to his friends. Since they were the ones in danger, that meant Will could probably trust this fellow to stay somewhat in line.

                It seemed that Will was going to have to reach out to another former HCP student. He just hoped Nick Campbell was up for playing a bad guy.