Chapter 22

                There were a lot of things Dean Blaine didn’t care for in the renovation of his school, dozens of DVA agents scampering about being highest on the list. Still, that didn’t mean he hated every aspect of it, and as he rode a lift down past the dozens of floors set aside for training, he found himself grateful that they’d given him a bit of say on what other improvements could stand to be made. Arriving at his destination, the doors opened, dozens of biometric scanners making sure he was actually the dean, and not just some Super with an illusion or mimicry in place. The purpose of his visit was banal, but the wrong person with this equipment could spread the sort of misinformation that would cause a lot of damage.

                Before him, the large room flickered, four other figures materializing at the conference table already waiting for him. They were projections, nothing more, but full-body ones that made teleconferencing almost indistinguishable from meeting with people in person. Across the nation, in four rooms just like this, the other HCP deans were seated, seeing a projection of him walking into the room. Dean Blaine quietly made his way over and sat in his chair, turning on the tablet built into his table.

                While some might have seen the room as overkill, and they weren’t entirely off base, the assault of Lander illustrated the importance of staff being on hand as much as possible, especially their deans. In previous years these discussions would take place by everyone flying to meet in one dean’s HCP, but this allowed them to replicate the experience without leaving their schools weakened. It was a touch paranoid; however, paranoia was the name of the game after what had happened in May. Being caught unaware once was a mistake. Twice would be unforgivable.

                “Blaine, so nice of you to finally join us. Kathleen and Margaret were both on the verge of slipping out to grab cocktails.” The man who spoke was lean and wiry, with a perfectly groomed mustache stealing the focus of his entire face. Across the table, a woman with copper hair and matching eyes flipped up the finger.

                “Blow it out your ass, Wesley. You were the one wanting to sneak a nip. Maggie doesn’t touch the stuff and I was smart enough to bring my own with me.” She held up a clear bottle with golden liquid sloshing about inside.

                Dean Blaine resisted the urge to put his head in his hands and start massaging his forehead. Instead, he calmly cleared his throat and turned to the woman unscrewing a cork from a bottle. “Dean Bishop, I’m quite certain the rules for these rooms dictate that no food or drink is to be brought inside.” Though, truth be told, Dean Blaine was dearly wishing he’d thought to bring something for himself. Maybe next time. “And Dean Fox, please stop teasing Dean Bishop. She might not be here to throttle you in person, but we both know she’s not above booking a plane ticket.”

                Dean Fox, the man with the immaculate mustache, looked over at Dean Bishop, who was drawing her thumb across her neck in an exaggerated gesture. “Just trying to keep things interesting,” he muttered, a small concession the group had long ago learned to take as an apology.

                “Blaine, if you get the chance to talk with the tech people, I’d love to have someone install a mute function on these things.” This time the speaker was a towering man, hair more gray than black, with the sort of imposing aura that made people unconsciously avoid touching him even in the most crowded of public settings.

                “Request noted, Dean Jackson. In all honesty though, I doubt it will be approved. Too prone to abuse, especially with certain parties.” All eyes in the room didn’t exactly swivel toward Dean Fox, though many side-eyed glances were certainly sent his way.

                “Blaine, how long are you going to keep up the formality? We all know we’re deans. You can drop the pre-fix.” This speaker was a woman who seemed wholly unremarkable, save for the streak of green running through her hair. There were no flowers growing out of it, today, and given her relaxed dress and abundance of beads, it fit well with the image of the aging hippie that she projected. It was a real one, not a mere affectation, although she’d had to jettison ideas of peace more times than she could count in her Hero days.

                “Formality is important,” Dean Blaine replied. “Especially in these circumstances. I know you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere, Dean Silva, but given what we have gathered here to discuss I intend to stick with our proper titles.”

                “Blaine, did no one tell you?” Dean Bishop leaned forward, smiling with the sort of grin that would have set a criminal’s fear response into overdrive. “We got them to get rid of the auto-recording feature. These meetings aren’t being logged.”

                “They aren’t? Well thanks be to the god of educators, whoever they might be.” Dean Blaine leaned back in his chair, loosening the tie around his neck and getting in a good stretch. “You lot could have told me that earlier, you know.”

                “We figured you were in the loop,” Dean Jackson replied. “You are the one who got the DVA to agree to make these things.”

                “Yes, well, things got a bit hectic after that, and I haven’t had the chance to keep abreast of every change.” Dean Blaine punched a few buttons on the tablet, bringing up the schedule for this month’s HCP dean meeting. While most educators didn’t need to share information so frequently, the ever-shifting nature of their world meant that regularly comparing notes was an invaluable practice. Learning about new powers, unknown facets of existing ones, and how to properly train them made it well worth the three hours every month he set aside for this task. Plus, it was nice to talk to the only other people in the world who understood what his job was like.

                “Now then, looks like we’ve got the normal stuff for the first of the year; the new freshman ability discussion taking up the bulk of our time. We’ve also got a new defense protocol comparison to see who has the best practices in place, and the rest of us replicate them. But it looks like the top of the list…” Dean Blaine trailed off as he read the numbered bullet, then glanced up to the faces of his colleagues.

                “Aren’t we far too early for that?”

                “New DVA policy,” Dean Bishop informed him. “We have to choose early enough for them to tack on all kinds of extra security, and arrange replacements while we’re gone. Nothing left to chance, not anymore.”

                “I suppose that’s a fair concern,” Dean Blaine said, tapping on the bullet and bringing up several documents full of information. “In that case, it seems the first issue on today’s docket is one we have annually. Which school will play host to this year’s Intermurals?”