Chapter 243

                It had taken a lot more work to get this job than it should have. Anyone looking at the situation objectively could see that Sean Pendleton was the logical choice to fill the role: he had the least to lose if things went awry and the most training in how to keep his secrets even against other Supers. Yet Blaine had still wanted to take on this task himself, even if it put his tenuous opportunity to rise up the DVA’s ranks at risk. That was the trouble with Blaine, in Sean’s opinion; he was never as good as delegation as he needed to be. Be it back in their days as students, in the actual field, or working as the HCP’s dean, Blaine always tried to brave the worst, most dangerous jobs himself. It was respectable, in the sense that no one ever felt like he was putting his own interests before others, but it was also annoying as hell when he refused to acknowledge that letting someone else take the risks had a better chance of working out.

                In the end, it was scheduling that finally won the battle. Dean Blaine was in high demand with Intramurals right around the corner and the time required to get Professor Baker ready to take over for him. That wasn’t even counting all the meetings with the DVA over getting security increased to make sure no one took a cue from the Sons of Progress and tried to strike when all the schools were gathered. As things stood, the dean of Lander simply couldn’t up and vanish for a few hours. It would raise too many questions, and at this point suspicion was something they had to avoid at all costs.

                The fuckup former prisoner, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly so essential to the HCP’s operations. True, if he went off-the-grid without notice and popped up in some other country then alarm bells might go off, but Sean had been loyally serving his sentence as a professor for years now. Beyond that, there was nothing inherently suspicious about where he was going. Over the past year he and Blaine had been re-establishing old friendships, and the one with Clarissa was no secret. She’d even come to speak to an HCP class as a favor to them. So who was going to think much of him taking a day out of his weekend to go visit an old classmate?

                A few people, probably. Sean had been in the Subtlety game long enough to know that there was someone out there ready to call in a squad for recapture every time he took too long in the bathroom. But what mattered was how out of place the whole thing looked, and that part he had minimized. Without cause, the most that would be spared to watch over him were some bare-bones monitoring personnel, and that assumed they didn’t just toss a bug onto him and call it a day. That sort of thing might have been tricky to deal with under normal circumstances, however today they had an ace up their sleeve. Anyone who tried to spy on Clarissa’s house was only going to see the two of them having a nice, boring conversation and trying to plan a trip for what remained of their classmates. That was the illusion that Globe would be projecting around them.

                Sean arrived a few minutes late, out of showmanship rather than necessity. He wasn’t known as a prompt man, so there was no sense in making it seem like this meeting somehow merited higher consideration. After two knocks, Clarissa opened the door, scowl on her face as she ushered him inside and chided him for being late. They kept up the pretense for a few minutes, until she changed the topic toward refreshments. Sean paused, ostensibly thinking over what he would like to drink. Seconds later, a new voice spoke.

                “You asked for a glass of whiskey, and Clarissa reminded you it’s barely 11 in the morning, so she’s going to bring you coffee instead. I can fill you in on more details before we leave.” From the shadows of an unlit hallway stepped a familiar figure, one that Sean had spent a long time never expecting to see again. He looked good, all things considered. Tired around the eyes, but that was always true of Phil. Otherwise, he seemed normal, like he could pass for a mundane stranger instead of legendary criminal. Except for the missing arm, that part gave him away.

                Until this moment, Sean wasn’t sure exactly what he was going to say to his old friend. So much had happened in the time between their last meeting, so many losses and revelations. Ultimately, it turned out that no words came immediately to mind. Instead, Sean stepped forward and wrapped Phil in a strong hug. Phil returned the gesture, putting a good amount of force into the one-armed embrace.

                When they finally parted, Sean’s tongue found itself moving once more. “When you busted George out of jail, you had your other arm back. I thought maybe you’d found yourself a strong healer.”

                A touch of sadness flashed in Phil’s eyes. “No, I don’t think it’s a wound that needs to be healed. It’s the price I paid for taking my best friend’s life, and a daily reminder of what I owe in penance. I just create and manipulate a prosthetic one for when I’m working. Practicality has to win out in those moments.”

                “That sounds more like something I’d say than you.” Sean pulled fully away from the hug, putting some distance between them. It was good to see Phil again, but that didn’t change the fact that they had a lot to discuss. All he and Blaine were going on were the second-hand accounts of hallucinations conjured by a dream-walker. If they were going to build real trust, to work together on finding Shelby and exposing Charles, there were a lot of gaps to fill in. “Been up to anything interesting over the last decade or so? Adopt a kid, form a secret cabal of renegade Supers, maybe bust into the HCP digging for classified info?”

                “All of it, and so very much more. Although I didn’t create my group, not really,” Phil corrected. “I just found them, gathered them, and discovered a purpose we could all work toward together. If anyone created them, it’s the corrupt people in the Hero system. I’m not the only one who has been wrongfully cast-aside or hurt. However, I’d prefer to let them tell you their own stories in their time, it’s not my place to share another person’s painful secrets. Anything you want to know about me, though, I’ll be glad to answer. It’s the very least that I owe you.”

                That was disappointing, Sean had hoped to leave here with more information about their prospective allies, but maybe he’d still get some tidbits about what they could do. Overall it wasn’t a huge loss, the big questions were all for Phil anyway. There was so much to understand, so many pieces to put together. The logical method would be to simply have Phil go through the whole story from his side. Prudent as it might have been, there was something more pressing on Sean’s mind, a question that had been burning in him for years upon years. There were days it threatened to destroy him, and times when it was all that kept him moving forward. Now, finally in the presence of someone who might have an answer, Sean found he didn’t have the self-control to take the logical route. His question would be asked first, or it might tear its way out from inside his chest.

                “Do you know where Shelby is?”

                Phil’s eyes darted briefly to Clarissa, then back to Sean. “No, and in a way, yes. We don’t have the geographic location or anything like that, but based on the small amount of intel we’ve gotten it seems that she’s being kept in the same place where the Powered treatment is being worked on. If we find my brother’s lab, we find Shelby.”

                It was the answer Sean had expected, if not the one he secretly hoped for, and for the moment his question was soothed back into submission. “Let’s talk more about that lab. And the treatment. All of it, really. Bring me up to speed here, tell me everything that’s happened to the great and powerful Globe since he supposedly died.”

                Clarissa turned toward her kitchen. “I’ve heard this story already, so I’m going to put on some coffee. Trust me, you’ll need it.”