Chapter 197

                “You want to kill George? Have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. I can think of no shortage of people who wouldn’t mind slugging the guy a few times, but murder, that’s a new one.” Nick wasn’t entirely sure he bought this story, however Adam didn’t seem to be lying. Granted, the young man had fooled the entire HCP staff for years so he was obviously talented at deception. Nick still prided himself on sensing a bluff though, and nothing in Adam’s expression was giving away falsehood. “Mind if I ask you why, exactly?”

                “It’s kind of a long story. One I’d like to tell in private,” Adam replied.

                In response, Nick lifted his hands to gesture around at the empty, or almost empty, church. “I’ve got this bad boy rented all night under a name no one would associate with you or I, and I’m going to assume you’ve got enough skill that you made it here without being followed. If you’ve got a better idea for a private place to talk, I’d love to hear it.”

                There was a stretch of silence, one that lasted so long Nick wondered if Adam was going to reject his offer of discussion, before Adam finally gave an answer. “You’re the type that looks up everything on the people he deals with. Friends, enemies, all of it. So should I take it as a given that you know about what happened to Ralph Chapman’s children?”

                “Raze and Relentless Steel were on the job, a fight got out of hand and Raze made a mistake that brought the whole damn bridge down, taking a lot of trapped civilians with it.” Nick had learned the story of Ralph’s motivation long ago; it was a necessary precaution to take when working with someone he didn’t fully trust.

                “That’s the story,” Adam said. “But it’s not the truth. Things were bad on that bridge, frantic and panicked like you can’t even imagine. Lots of mistakes got made in the heat of battle. Having the training I do now, I can even understand how things reached the point they did. However, it wasn’t Raze who brought that bridge down. Relentless Steel was the one who took a dangerous shot and missed, blowing out one of the main supports and triggering a collapse. It happened behind a pile of mangled cars, the sort of place with virtually no witnesses, unless you count a small scared kid who got separated from his family hiding under a truck. Because of my position, I was the only one who saw how it really went down. That proximity to George is also what saved my life; he caught me as the bridge was falling out from under us. Even used his booster legs to slow our fall, giving me the treat of seeing my family, so close they could have heard me if I’d cried out, as they fell with the cars and rubble into the cold water below.”

                 Either Adam was a hell of a liar who’d decided to swing for the fences, or he was telling the truth, and every bit of Nick’s training had him leaning toward the latter. A year or two ago he might have dismissed the idea that such a massive shift of blame was possible, but after what he’d seen happen to Globe Nick knew just how viable such tactics were. While he didn’t fully believe Adam yet, he was curious to hear more of the tale.

                “George was always a bit of a bastard, but that’s a far cry from blaming a fellow Hero for his colossal screw-up.”

                “Much as I want the man dead, I can’t say that part of the blame falls on him.” Adam was looking away in brief intervals, past Nick and the church to a day that was long since passed yet had never truly left him. “I didn’t understand at the time, but apparently Raze had been looking into some things that powerful people didn’t like. That includes the supposed villainous turn of his former classmate, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. Couple that with the fact that his power of raw destruction made the public a little nervous, and the destroyed bridge was just the opportunity someone needed. Nobody knew what really happened except for me and George.”

                “I’m a little surprised you didn’t speak up.” It wasn’t quite an accusation on Nick’s part, although it was a bit closer to one than it could have been.

                Adam lowered himself into a pew, spreading his arms out across the hard wooden back of the bench. “I would have, if given the chance, and I’d probably have died for it. When the DVA agents arrived on the scene they pulled Relentless Steel off to the side. Once he came back he was in human form and pale as I’ve ever seen him. He told me that no matter what happened, I was never to talk to anyone about what I’d seen. That it would be the end of me. Someone had tampered with the evidence before the DVA got there and sent false reports up through the system. By the time they arrived Raze was deemed guilty and no one was going to believe otherwise. If we made trouble or asked for a telepath, we’d almost certainly end up dead or framed too.”

                Slowly, Nick walked over to a pew on the opposite side of the aisle and mirrored Adam’s posture, taking a seat and spreading out. While it looked like he was getting comfy, the truth was Nick wanted to make sure Jerome had a clean line of sight from wherever he was in the rafters, just in case the conversation unexpectedly went south. “I feel like I’ve been a pretty accommodating listener so far, but that last bit is pushing it a little. You expect me to believe that Charles Adair has a network of spies constantly keeping tabs on Heroes and getting rid of them if they drill too close to his secrets?”

                “Given what you know about Charles, I’d be amazed if you didn’t already assume that,” Adam shot back. “But you’re missing the point. Charles used wealth and power to influence a system by compromising individuals; he’s not the first or last person in history to figure out that equation. While some aspects of that company who created you are genuinely helpful to Heroes, like what Numbers and Transport do, others exist to protect the company’s existence. That means making sure the wrong people don’t stir up too much trouble. Do you want to know why Globe has followers? It’s not just that he’s a good leader, or charismatic. It’s that everyone on the team has either seen or experienced the broken parts of our system. Bringing down Charles isn’t just about proving Globe’s innocence; he’d never fight this hard for something that selfish. It’s about showing the world the truth, and forcing those in power to start dealing with the corruption.”

                “Quite a lofty goal, although given what I know about Globe that fits the bill.” Nick could believe that man of taking on nearly any goal, practical or not. It was a trait he’d obviously passed on to Vince.

                “I’m not sure things will go the way they want, even if they do take Charles down, but that’s not my concern. All I have to do is help get them to that point. When it’s over, I take George’s head from his shoulders. That was the deal we struck. Once he’s brought it all to light, and hopefully cleared Raze’s name, George is willing to let me kill him. I don’t think he’s ever forgiven himself for that day on the bridge, and he shouldn’t. I’ll grant you it’s not the easiest path I could have taken, but he’s too strong for me to kill on my own, so this seemed like my best shot.” If Adam felt any remorse for his murderous intent, it wasn’t showing, not even in the deepest parts of his eyes.

                “You want to kill him that bad, after he saved and, I’m just guessing here, helped raise and train you so you’d be skilled enough to pull off this job?” Nick asked.

                Adam gave one quick, curt nod. “He killed my family. I don’t really have to explain more than that to you, do I?”

                He had Nick there. Blood for blood was gospel in Nick’s world, had he been in Adam’s shoes Nick had little doubt he’d have pursued the same course of action. Oh, he’d have been smarter about it and not gotten himself in so deep, but the end goal would be the same: retribution for what had been taken.

                “I suppose that’s fair, and if George is on board it’s not my place to question the deal. That brings us to the more important question, however: whether you and I are enemies, or allies.”