By mid-afternoon, the news was on every station and splattered across the internet: The Sons of Progress had officially been fully-dismantled following the capture of the group’s leader. Reactions were largely positive, to no one’s surprise, although a few other fringe groups were treating the revelation as a call to arms to step up their own activities. Even these were subdued though, as seeing the Sons of Progress entirely wiped out was enough to give even the most zealous of potential replacements pause. After all, the Sons had been so good they pulled off the only successful attack on an HCP campus, and it had taken the Heroes less than a year to jail them all in retribution. It was a good reminder that anyone who stood against the DVA and the Hero system should be prepared for war, because that was what would be waiting for them.
On Lander campus, classes were canceled following the news break. It was already close to the weekend, and the administration knew how powerful the announcement would be to their students. For so many who’d lost friends that night in May, this offered some sense of closure. It would never be enough to heal the wounds from those losses, but at least now they knew it was over. But in the HCP, classes went on as usual. Heroes didn’t have the advantage of taking time away from their job, and more often than not they’d have to learn to live without that closure.
However, at the conclusion of the day’s gym period for the seniors, Dean Blaine was waiting for them with an offer for those who wanted to follow him. The entire class did so, taking the lifts down, past all the other nooks and secrets of the HCP, to the bottom floor where the stone wall filled with names lived. Sasha’s family had blamed this place for her death, and in their hearts no one was sure they were wrong, so they respected the wishes to stay away from her grave. This wall, and her name, was their place to mourn her. Even if her remains were elsewhere, this was the place most believed her spirit would dwell.
One by one, they went to the wall. Some spoke a few soft words of farewell, or triumphantly told her it was over. Others said nothing, at least out loud. With Dean Blaine there, no telepath would know their thoughts, not that anyone would have been so crass as to listen anyway. Tears were shed by many, some even managed a few laughs in their turn at the wall, reminiscing on some inside joke that had been lost along with Sasha herself. There was no judgment; they all understood that they had to grieve in their own way. And that they each had to find a way to grieve.
Because as much as this moment was about Sasha, it was impossible not to notice all the other names written along the wall. All the former Lander Heroes who were already lost. Names that they would eventually join, one day. They might be the Class of Nightmares, but they were still mortal. Every one of them would die, and for some of them it would happen in the field. For those who remained, there would be more ceremonies, more tears and stunted laughter, more goodbyes that came too soon. This moment, in a horrible way, was part of their training. Perhaps the most important part. The ones who couldn’t learn to cope with this loss and grief would be torn apart by it.
It had already happened to stronger Heroes before them.
* * *
Casper was not a man accustomed to waiting, but for once he didn’t make a fuss about it. There were few people money couldn’t buy influence with, however the head of the DVA was at the top of the list. Partly because of that position, and partly because he was Captain fucking Starlight, the man who’s merchandise never went out of style. His net worth probably dwarfed Casper’s own, and that was with all the charitable contributions he’d made through the decades. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t a long one, as Graham DeSoto entered the room still on the phone, barking a few brief orders before snapping it shut.
“Casper, good to see you again,” Graham greeted.
“And you, sir. It’s always an honor.” He’d have expected the thrill of meeting a living legend to wear off after the first time, yet his hands insisted on being sweaty from nerves all the same. With a discreet wipe on his jacket, Casper shook the man’s hand firmly. “I also appreciate you using my real name. Some of the others insist on sticking to the old terms.”
“Nothing to worry about there. I’m a firm believer that those names are more than just fake identities we create to mask ourselves, they’re terms of respect. I’d never call a man who flies around selling his services by a Hero’s name.”
That was… not quite the reply Casper had expected, but he nodded along anyway. It wasn’t as though Graham had said anything false. Casper knew what he was and what he did for a living, and had no qualms about it.
“Since you’re clearly aware of how highly I regard my time, perhaps we can jump to the heart of the matter. What did you need from me? I can take you down a few more years if required.”
“Appreciate it, but I’m good as is. If I start getting younger at regular intervals, people will accuse me of trying to hold this position indefinitely, and that’s bound to get some folks riled up.” Graham dropped his phone into his pocket and then pulled out a slip of paper. “No, I asked you here because we’ve got a prisoner with no idea how he was captured because his brain was messed with. The popular theory is that it can’t be healed, but I figured I’d call in the best to try anyway, just in case.”
Casper had been wondering if this was related to the fall of the Sons of Progress, and with that one statement from Graham he could make a good guess as to who he was here to treat. “If I can’t heal them, they probably can’t be healed.”
“There are always new Supers getting abilities, I’m not going to assume I’ll always be the best,” Caspar replied. “But for right now, I seem to be, so there is the matter of my fee. Reversing your age is one thing, I consider than an honor, however I am running a business and I can’t come in for every person who needs patching up.”
With a nod, Graham handed the slip of paper from his jacket over to Hallow. “We’d never get approval to pay your fees directly; you know how governments are, so I’ve got another proposition. I called some friends who work for the IRS now and negotiated a tax break for you. Every time you heal for us, it counts as donating your time to charity, and you gain a healthy write-off. That work for you?”
There wasn’t much to read on the paper, but Casper scanned it twice anyway just to be sure. It was less than he’d normally charge, however the fact that it would be coming as a write-off meant he obviously wouldn’t pay taxes for it. That made the offer more tempting. With enough healing, he might get his tax bill down to five digits.
“I’ll want to negotiate a standard amount before the next one, probably a little higher than this. For today, though, I have a question: am I about to go work on Crispin?”
“Technically I think I’m supposed to run you through a bunch of forms before disclosing that, but screw it. Yeah. He doesn’t know who caught him, and a lot of people are really keen on getting that information,” Graham said.
There was a slight pause as Graham DeSoto stared at him. “I think we just got a huge win, one that we desperately needed, and I’d really like to put it away. But we’ve got to at least try, so I figured it made the most sense to call in the best. If you healing him kicks over another bee hive, then it is what it is.”
Casper rose from the chair and set the paper back on Graham’s desk. “I’m ready to see the prisoner when you are. Although I have to say, if his brain has been thoroughly wiped by someone who knew what they were doing, I’m not that confident about my chances of repairing the memories. So no charge for today. This one is on me.”
Something in Graham’s expression shifted. “A freebie? That’s pretty unlike you, Casper.”
“Maybe so,” Casper said. “But once, I went by a different name. A name that I earned at Lander, the place that bastard attacked. If I can do something, even just proving that he can’t be healed, to put an end to all of his antics, then I will. I’ll do it for the pleasure of getting to see him caught and chained with my own eyes. That’s payment enough for this round.”
“Careful. You keep talking like that, I might slip-up and use your other name.”