Chapter 226

                Dean Blaine was ready to relax. It had been a very long day, between the trial itself, the mixer, and of course the endless parade of Heroes wanting to talk shop or get some inside info on the next years’ class. By the time his work was finally over and the last of the guests was off campus, it was well into the evening. He stopped at a fast food place on the way home, honest with himself that he was too wiped to cook, and walked in his front door planning on gorging himself on burritos with a side of scotch.

                That plan came to a screeching halt when he saw the figure tied up in his living room. Someone had broken into his house, no small feat given the level of security, and left a bound man behind. Was it a message? A threat? Were they even really gone, or was this a trick to make him drop his guard? With a thought, Dean Blaine extended the area of his power-nullifying bubble and stepped carefully forward. Halfway across the room, he recognized the face of the man sitting there, and suddenly concern for his own well-being was the last thing on Dean Blaine’s mind.

                Crispin, the head of the Sons of Progress, had been delivered to Dean Blaine bound, gagged, and helpless. He’d had this fantasy so many times that for a moment Dean Blaine wondered if he’d fallen asleep at his desk. But no, this was real. This was happening. His dearest dream had just come true.

                First things first, Dean Blaine made sure the blinds were drawn, which they were. That done, he took his dinner into the kitchen and set it on the counter. It would need to be reheated when this was done, but that was a sacrifice he was willing to make. Just before he headed back to the living room, Dean Blaine went ahead and made himself that glass of scotch. No matter how things went, this was a night worth celebrating. He grabbed a few other items too, tools that might not prove necessary but would be good to have regardless.

                Looking at Crispin more closely, Dean Blaine noticed a small parcel resting in the man’s lap. Carefully, he unwrapped it, finding a note, a flash drive, and a digital recorder tucked away inside. Setting the recorder to the side for the moment, he began to read the note aloud, pacing his floor as he did so.

                “Good Evening Blaine. I can’t tell you who this is, and even without my name on it you should burn this when you finish reading it. Crispin’s memory has been purged, so even if he wanted to tell people who captured him, he won’t be able to. Everything you need is on the tape recorder, and there’s a backup on the flash drive just in case. You should listen to it, even though it’s hard. There are pieces that concern you, and people at your school, directly. Crispin won’t wake up until you slap him; we set pain as the trigger to end his trance. No one knows he’s there. Tomorrow, at seven in the morning, everything on your back porch is going to disappear and never be seen again. Probably end up in a volcano somewhere. Whatever is on there is up to you. We trust your judgement. This is my way of saying thanks, for being willing to still believe in old friends.”

                Dean Blaine read the note twice more before going into the kitchen and lighting it on fire. That done, he took his drink and the recorder to his home office where he began to listen. Sometime later, Dean Blaine emerged. He grabbed his phone and sent one email, a message informing Ralph Chapman that they would be having a meeting in the morning. His glass was empty by then, but he decided to leave it that way. A few sips was enough for now. What came next demanded a clear head.

                With more force than was necessary, Dean Blaine slapped Crispin across the cheek. All that kept him from turning it into a real punch was the fear of knocking him immediately back out, and that was no good. Crispin had to be awake for this. It was only fitting.

                Slowly, his head bobbed as he mentally staggered back to the world of the waking. As his eyes pulled themselves open, he got a good look at Dean Blaine and let out a low, resigned, groan. “You.”

                “Me,” Dean Blaine agreed. “Somebody must really hate you, Crispin, otherwise they’d have killed you outright instead of delivering you to me.”

                “I don’t know how you got me out of my bunker, but let’s skip the bluster. I’ve dealt with Heroes before, I know you don’t resort to torture,” Crispin said, gradually regaining his faculties.

                Dean Blaine’s response was to reach down, grab one of Crispin’s hands, and jerk his little finger so hard and fast that they barely had time to hear the bone snap. “Firstly, I am not a Hero anymore. I retired a long time ago. Secondly, different Heroes have different skillsets, and different lines they’re willing to cross. Third, and most important of all, you stormed onto my campus and murdered innocent people, killing one of my students. You have no idea what I’m capable of doing to pay you back for that.”

                To his credit, Crispin didn’t whimper or scream from the injury, he simply stared at Dean Blaine with growing hate in his eyes. “Pay me back? I took one of yours. One. You and your people have torn everything I built completely down to the ground. And for what? Because I’m trying to get our kind to stand instead of bow, to rule instead of serve? You know we’re stronger than the humans, you know that means we’re meant to be above them, but you’ve let them subjugate us instead. They use our own kind as tools to beat us down; I just wanted to show people a better way.”

                Dean Blaine let him talk, allowed him to say his piece. The worst part of Crispin’s words was that they weren’t mad ramblings. He was right, in some ways. Supers were stronger, faster, and more capable than humans. In nature, it would mean they were the superior version of humanity and should take their place at the top of the heap. Plenty of people believed that, some Heroes even discussed the idea from a philosophical point of view. But the problem was that they weren’t wild animals competing with raw strength. Empathy, kindness, mercy, love, these too were human traits. Traits that Supers shared, and that was why Dean Blaine believed in a future of mankind and variant humans living together peacefully. Though perhaps the world could do with at least one less Super.

                When Crispin paused for a breath, Dean Blaine responded. “You talk a good game, even now.” Carefully, methodically, Dean Blaine took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves. “But there’s a problem with your logic, Crispin. You didn’t attack the Heroes. You didn’t try to start a fight with the people you claim to hate. You went after a school, attacking people who were mostly human and barely more than children. That is not the act of a brave or righteous man. If you wanted to take a stand, then you’d have taken it against people who could fight back.”

                 “I attacked a problem at the root,” Crispin countered. “So what if humans died? They’re not good for much else as far as I can tell. And despite what you may think, I do mourn the loss of one of our people. I’m sure she was-”

                The crack from Dean Blaine’s fist striking Crispin’s jaw echoed through the house. “You do not get to talk about her.” He resumed rolling up his sleeves, the task nearly done. “You killed a child, Crispin. By your machinations, if not your hand. One of many who died that night, true, but she was special. She was one of mine. One of ours. I have buried so many friends over the years, and too many students. But that’s the job. That’s the life we chose. Even at their funerals, I have the comfort of knowing they died doing the job they dedicated their lives too. They went out making a difference. She didn’t get to make that choice yet. Not officially, although in her final moments she damn sure showed what it was to be a Hero. You took that from her, and you took her from us.”

                Kneeling down, Dean Blaine was now looking Crispin dead in the eye. They stayed like that for a long moment, until finally Dean Blaine spoke. “Tell me you’re sorry.”

                “What?” The word was slurred out through Crispin’s cracked and already swelling jaw.

                “Tell me you’re sorry,” Dean Blaine repeated. “Tell me how much you regret it. How tortured you are over what you’ve done. Make me believe that there is some level of decency in you worth saving.”

                Crispin said nothing, merely staring back at the Lander dean with naked animosity in his eyes.

                “Good. That makes this easier.” In a motion that could have been missed with a blink, Dean Blaine wrapped his hands around Crispin’s neck and began to squeeze. “Every day. Every day since you killed her I’ve had to go look at that woman’s name carved in stone and know I failed her. Every day I think about how it was my job to keep her, to keep all of them safe, and I fell short. It’s my fault. Your goon may have killed her, but she’s dead because I wasn’t good enough at this job to protect her.”

                Crispin’s body was beginning to spasm as his eyes started to bulge, every part of him silently screaming out for air. But the ties on the chair were well-done, and none of them gave as he struggled.

                “You are the worst kind of monster, and the world will be better off when you’re gone from it. That’s what Heroes have to do sometimes. We eliminate threats so they can’t cause problems for others in the future. My hands already have so much blood on them, it doesn’t seem like any more should matter.”

                The pale, sun-deprived skin of Crispin was beginning to turn blue. Dean Blaine watched him carefully, waiting for the moment when Crispin knew, with absolute certainty, that he was going to die. When it finally came, when the moment of the inevitable finally struck Crispin, Dean Blaine savored it. He’d been waiting so long to see that helpless expression, and it was better than he’d dared to dream. Then, just at the edge of no return, Dean Blaine released his vice-like grip and watched as Crispin took hacking coughs to fill his lungs with air.

                “Every day I have to try and make peace with the fact that I failed her. But killing in Sasha’s name wouldn’t make that better, it would be spitting on her legacy. So you’re going to live, Crispin, because that’s what a Hero is supposed to do, and Sasha Foster was certainly a Hero. Make no mistake though, there is no reprieve in your future. If you think your power will be useful enough to earn you some semblance of freedom, think again. I’m making sure the DVA throws you down the darkest hole they’ve got. And if anyone approaches with an offer to make things better, you turn them down. In fact, you run screaming in the other direction. Because if I get even a whiff of you leaving your cell, I’ll use every connection and favor I have to get in there with you.”

                He leaned in, getting only a few inches from Crispin’s tear-stained and still panting face. “And if I have to go in, I’ll make sure to finish the job.”