Chapter 188

                “Two months. You couldn’t give me even two months in this job without laying a conspiracy implicating one of the world’s wealthiest men, a possible future war, and the framing of a legendary Hero at my doorstep. Which isn’t even touching on you going around the DVA and allowing an expelled student to keep their full memories. Honestly Blaine, if Casper had dialed back my clock any further I’d probably slug you for this. Might still, if I get the urge.”

                Despite what he hoped were joking threats of violence, Dean Blaine felt like Graham was actually taking the news rather well. It had been a lot to cope with, and he knew that, but the new head of the DVA had taken it all in with a stoic, only occasionally worried, expression. The room in Graham’s base was simple, an underground concrete cell not unlike the HCP’s structure, only deeper and denser. Part of Dean Blaine wondered if he was actually seeing the prototype for his own building, but the idea was too big to properly deal with at the moment. One of the few things the room did have, however, was a coffee maker, and as Dean Blaine told the story Graham had gone through a pot and a half, with Dean Blaine only drinking a single cup. Apparently Graham wanted his full focus for their discussion, and understandably so.

                “I didn’t really mean for it all to go like this, but when two of my people betrayed me I started digging. By the time I looked up, I was so deep I could barely see daylight anymore.” Laying it all out had been a strange experience for Dean Blaine as well; it wasn’t until he had to unpack everything that he realized what an insane amount he’d been trying to tackle on his own.

                “That’s how it usually happens. You start pulling one thread and suddenly you’re hip deep in yarn with a big ball of it rolling your way. As the head of the DVA, I have to say that what you’ve done is blatantly against the rules, shows questionable judgement, and is grounds for extreme disciplinary actions.” Graham paused for a moment, taking a hard look at Dean Blaine with those eyes that had seen too much. “But as a fellow Hero, I can’t say I’d have done things much differently. Digging up the truth and confronting it is part of what we do. For the moment, and just for the moment because this is an issue we need to deal with, let’s skip over the particulars of how you got to this point. Instead, let’s look at the situation as it stands. Charles Adair killed Intra using Globe as an unwitting tool to find a cure for his wife. Turns out it works, and that cure might very well usher in the next world war, only this time it will be Supers, former Powereds, and humans instead of nations. Meanwhile, Globe is trying to dig up proof to expose his brother, being helped by at least Relentless Steel and Mood Swing, if not more. Oh, and as a fun side dish one of the first Powered test subjects happens to be Globe’s adopted kid. So you tell me, Blaine, how would you handle this in my position? Let’s see if you’ve got the brains to be a good employee after all.”

                Dean Blaine blinked in surprise. “Wait, do you still want me to work for you?”

                “Maybe, depends on how you answer this question,” Graham replied. “I’m not stupid; I knew you were the kind of man who did whatever it took to see a job finished. Doesn’t really make sense to be angry at you for showing the very traits I wanted in an employee.”

                “But I broke a lot of rules,” Dean Blaine objected.

                “That’s one way to look at it. Or you were working a top secret mission for the DVA, at the direct behest of Senator Malcolm. Since you both suspected the organization had been compromised it was kept off the books, communicated only between the two of you directly. Of course, when I took over he read me in on the situation. I think, if asked, Senator Malcolm will happily corroborate this story, assuming I give him a call first. We parted on very friendly terms.” Graham didn’t smile with mischief or give Dean Blaine a wink; his expression was perfectly matter-of-fact.

                “That’s a pretty big lie. You don’t think someone in the DVA who is unhappy with your position might try to call bullshit and bring in some telepaths?” Dean Blaine asked.

                Graham nodded. “They might. But we’re all well-trained in how to control our thoughts, and if worse comes to worse I know some people I trust in my head. They’ll rewrite our memories so that even we think it’s true, not that I imagine it will come to that. If we bring Globe out of the cold and expose Charles Adair’s corruption of the system no one is going to dare question how we did it. So, Blaine, if you were the head of the DVA right now, how would you go about dealing with this issue?”

                It was a question Dean Blaine had asked himself dozens of times on sleepless nights. The initial impulse was to launch a full-scale investigation, turn over every stone until the truth was uncovered. But Charles had deep pockets and too many friends, mounting an open offense on him was tantamount to declaring war on a nation without cause. They needed the proof first. “I don’t suppose you have a way to secretly access the HCP computer systems so we can get to those buried files?”

                “I do not,” Graham said. “Partly for pragmatic reasons, we have an IT department that handles the authorization and de-encryption, none of which I’m qualified to do. Part of it is also built into the DVA power structure though. No one, not even the lead, is allowed unfettered access to those systems. It’s to make sure none of us get into the information brokering game on the side. I can get you to the files, but not without someone probably tipping off Charles.”

                “I figured as much.” Dean Blaine tried to step back and look at the situation. There were an abundance of potential next steps; however they’d gone about as far as they could on the word of a dream-walker and a bit of corroboration. It wasn’t just the world that would need proof; Dean Blaine realized that he needed to know for sure as well. And now that he had the DVA’s potential blessing, it might be time to go to the best source they had for it. “I think, in your position, I would reach out to Globe. Not openly, of course. I’d use someone disposable, like an HCP dean who’d already broken a lot of rules and could have the whole scandal laid at his feet if things went awry. Have that person try to contact Globe, let him know there are people willing to listen if he’s willing to talk. We have to start separating truth from fiction, to figure out who our enemies and who our friends are. Globe might be one of the only people who can give us that.”

                “If he’s willing to talk at all, and you can manage to find him when the entire DVA has come up short.” Graham didn’t sound dismissive of the idea, more like he was bringing the issue to Dean Blaine’s attention. “You know we’ve got nothing to offer him, right? Even if it’s true that he didn’t kill Intra in the way we thought, he’s avoided capture, broken into a jail, and organized the kidnapping of an HCP student. Not even I could get away with pardoning him from all of that, at least not so soon in the job. Do you think he’ll be willing to talk knowing that even in our best scenario, this ends with him behind bars?”

                “If he’s still the man I went to school with, even a little bit, then he’ll still help,” Dean Blaine said. “And judging from the kind of son he raised, I think it’s safe to say Phil hasn’t changed too much.”

                “What about you? I just offered you a way out of this, and now you’re proposing to put yourself in deeper instead.” Graham was staring at him intently again, searching Dean Blaine’s expression for a glimmer of doubt or falsehood. “How far are you prepared to take this, Blaine?”

                Dean Blaine considered the question for several moments, turning it carefully over before answering. “To the end. Whether it was Charles or Globe, one of them is responsible for Intra’s death. I’ve spent Chad’s entire life watching him grow up with only a memory for a father, and I owe it to him to see that justice is done. I’ll take this as far as I have to, Graham. To the ends of the Earth if needed.”

                Graham rose from his chair and walked over to the coffee pot, pouring himself another mug. “You know, I’d heard the tales about you, but I wasn’t entirely sure I believed them. Even Heroes tell fish stories. Seems I was wrong on that account. You’ve got every bit as much gumption and grit as they say. Get me some proof, Blaine. Some lead to work with. I’ll shelter you as best I can, but be careful. I’d hate to lose an employee with so much potential before he can even officially take office.”

                “I haven’t actually accepted the job yet,” Dean Blaine pointed out.

                “Sure you haven’t.” It was fleeting, but for a moment Dean Blaine was almost positive he caught a wide grin on Graham’s face just before it turned out of sight.