Chapter 184

                “So they made it official?” Dean Blaine almost, almost, offered the seat behind his desk to Graham DeSoto. It felt wrong to put Captain Starlight in one of the lesser chairs meant for guests, even if they were still quite comfortable. But he wasn’t just Captain Starlight anymore, and it was important to establish boundaries early on. As an HCP dean, Blaine was in the employ of the DVA, however that didn’t mean he’d roll over on every issue, even for someone like Graham.

                “Last confirmation hearing happened a few weeks ago,” Graham replied, voicing no complaint as he took one of the chairs facing Dean Blaine’s desk. “Would have been done months prior if not for all the pushback. Seems a lot of the DVA’s higher ups had serious qualms about making a former Hero the head of their organization.”

                “A former Hero with no political experience,” Dean Blaine added. He didn’t mean it as a slight, rather as a compliment. That Graham had forced his way into the position without a lifetime in the department made the accomplishment all the more amazing.

                Graham let out a resigned snort that briefly reminded Dean Blaine of Angela. “Is that how they’re framing it? Listen, I may not have been voted into an office or nominated to a position before, but trust me when I say I spent a big chunk of my life immersed in politics. That’s most of what founding all of this,” he paused to motion to the room and the HCP base around them, “was about. Politics. Getting people to see things my way, or trading favors, occasionally playing hardball. I’ve got more than enough political experience for this gig, and the right people know it. I just made sure those right people took the ears of those in power.”

                Given that the man had managed to create, or at least helped shape, the entire Hero infrastructure, Dean Blaine wasn’t terribly surprised that he still wielded a bit of clout. Even if he hadn’t, there was always the weapon of public opinion. For all the tribulations that modern Supers and Heroes faced, Captain Starlight was a beloved figure in the nation’s history. If he wanted to get involved in something, it would be a damn fool who tried to stand against him in the public eye.

                “Well, congratulations on the new position. I have to say, it’s nice to have one of our own leading the DVA. Perhaps you’ll be able to do away with some of the more… archaic structures.” Dean Blaine could think of at least five things he’d change about the system on Day 1, although for some of them he’d probably need nearly unilateral power. Other things, like giving the HCP deans access to a freaking teleporter for travel, would be easier to implement.

                “Don’t expect me to overturn the apple cart right away,” Graham cautioned. “I’m one man, in one position. Malcolm was on our side too, and he was only able to get so much accomplished. But you’re not wrong about things needing to be changed.”

                Graham looked down at his hands, weathered and strong hands that had slapped down countless criminal Supers and saved untold lives through the years. “When I helped build this system, I built the best one I could at the time. Compromises had to be made; there was no other way to get the Hero program off the ground. The world has changed a lot since back then. Things I didn’t imagine would be possible have slowly become commonplace. Supers wormed their way into all kinds of respectable, beloved positions. Corpies, EMTs, firefighters, athletes, we’re all over the place. And as much as that has helped normalize us in a lot of ways, it’s also served as a constant reminder to the mundane people of the world: anything they can do, we can literally do better. From a stance purely of what we’re capable of, humans are an inferior species to us.”

                While he resisted the urge to visibly react, Dean Blaine did check the switches under his desk to make sure the room was sealed off from outside listeners. Graham was saying things that every Super had thought about, yet almost never spoke aloud. It was a taboo of survival, because if humans ever got even the slightest whiff of an idea that Supers were thinking of themselves as superior their world could turn very bloody, very fast. They’d already seen it happen in other countries.

                “You’re uncomfortable.” Graham was looking him over, eyes sparkling with a drive that hadn’t been there last time the two met.

                “The new head of the DVA just openly stated that humans are inferior to Supers. I’m sure you can see how that might be problematic if the wrong people overheard you.”

                “Which is why I didn’t say it to any of them. Listen, Blaine, the old ways aren’t working anymore. We keep pretending things are okay, but they aren’t. And I think you know that. The Hero system did the job it was designed for: it got the public comfortable with the idea of Supers existing and gave them people they knew they could trust. But the world is changing, and I know you’re smart enough to see the rising tensions. If we don’t do something, I’m afraid eventually this whole system will collapse out from under us. That’s why I said we need a shake-up. We can’t keep using the system that was designed to work half a century ago. There need to be updates, new ideas, new programs.”

                “Are… are you proposing dismantling the Hero program?” Dean Blaine’s question hung in the air between the men, a slice down the room that, depending on Graham’s answer, might never be mended.

Thankfully, he let out a laugh that turned into a cough midway through its lifespan, waving off the idea entirely. “God no, I’m not about to throw out the baby with the bathwater. You think I worked that hard just to start over? No Blaine, I’m not saying we need to get rid of Heroes, but we do need to make things better. Even beyond the issues with humans, we’ve got too many of our brightest stars burning out or getting killed in the field, not to mention that almost everyone walks away from the job with PTSD of some kind. Sure, we make therapists available, but I want to get ahead of the problems, start tackling issues that we, as former Heroes, know will come up before they have a chance too. Heroes have always been reactive by the nature of their jobs; however as the DVA we can do better. We can be proactive.”

The word choice didn’t escape Dean Blaine’s notice. “We?”

“Yes, we. I do get some staff positions to fill,” Graham said. “And I was thinking of filling them with the Hero who had an amazingly low mortality record, the educator who trained up what is inarguably one of the strongest classes in some time, and the man who showed enough kindness to take in the world’s first rehabilitated Powereds into his program. Lucky for me, they’re all the same guy, which means he only takes one spot. What do you say, Blaine? Do you want to go from shaping young minds to shaping the entire Hero program?”