Chapter 245

                Clarissa was right; coffee had been a good call. Phil talked for a large chunk of the morning, about faking the death of Globe, going into hiding, finding and raising Vince, ultimately faking his own death again to keep the boy away from the operatives Charles had sent searching for Globe. From there, it was more wandering and living below the radar for a couple of years, until chance brought him back into contact with an old friend who was also on the run: Gerard. The Hero once known as Raze was missing, presumed dead by many publicly, and living in the shadows where he could. Neither were quite sure why no one used a tracking Super to run him down, but their best hunch was that nobody wanted Raze dragged into the public eye, kicking up a fuss and contradicting the existing story. As long as he stayed out of sight, he got to keep on living, if one could use that term to describe what he was doing.

                From there, things spiraled outward. Both had thought themselves anomalies, but now that they knew two Heroes had been screwed over by the system it wasn’t hard to guess that there might be more. Tentative, careful feelers were sent out, and over time they found more of their lot. Not all were willing to fight, however some passed word on to others that they knew. Slowly, the group came together, a band of those the Hero world had forsaken set on exposing the corruption to the world. George had been a surprise when they discovered he was fishing around in the same pools of information; both had taken it as a given that he was in on Raze’s fall from grace. After meeting with Phil, George joined the movement and brought Persephone along as well. Some who the system had betrayed were left in their positions, on the condition of silence. A condition neither George nor Persephone could bear any longer.

                Through the tale, Sean marveled at what Phil had done. Most would have rolled over at being turned on by their own brother, or gone mad with rage and sought revenge. Only the few like Phil would marshal tragedy into motivation that could be used, harnessed, to pull out the source of the corruption by the root. He didn’t go crazy over what had been done to him; rather he resolved that he would be the last to experience such a travesty. This was the reason that people followed him, the same reason why even in the Class of Legends Phil had stood out.

                “…and after we compared enough notes, it became clear that the only way to bring this out into the open was to expose something huge, by someone so connected and influential that it would thrust every major decision of the last few decades into suspicion. When we uncover Charles’s crimes, we can show how much manipulation went on in the shadows. It should be more than enough to warrant independent investigation under close public scrutiny. If it goes well, then perhaps some of those hurt by the system can have their lives back, but at the very least this should make it harder for those kinds of tricks to be pulled in the future.”

                Sean drained the last of his coffee, thinking over the plan carefully. This was the other side of Phil’s mentality, the part that was problematic. He was too optimistic, too hopeful. As much as that could give him the willpower to do incredible things, it also clouded his judgement at times. Intra had been the more pragmatic one, tempering Globe’s idealist nature with reminders of how the world actually worked.

                “Look, Phil, I’m on board with this. I want to make that clear from the outset. You’re searching for my sister and trying to topple the bastard who took her away from me in the first place. If the plan to do that involved busting into the Pentagon I’d still be with you. But there are powerful people with a lot to lose out there. Charles is a lynchpin, and dragging his sins into the light will absolutely get things moving. You need to understand that it might not be enough, though. Cover-ups happen, and where there’s enough money and influence there’s always a few ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ cards to play. This will shake things up, no question, but I don’t think it’s going to be the silver bullet you’re hoping for.”

                Despite the harsh reply, Phil didn’t seem bothered. He was still smiling, still more cheerful than any man who’d endured his life had a right to be. “Trust me, I know. If there’s one thing Intra’s death taught me, it’s that things are never as simple or easy as we want them to be. I understand that this is probably only going to be the first blow in a long battle, but I can still give us an advantage by making sure the initial strike is a strong one. From there, I’m going to have to trust others to carry on the fight. People like Graham DeSoto and Blaine in the DVA, and you in the HCP. Not all of the people I found are on this team. Some of them are still out there, waiting for the signal that our battle has begun to take up the fight in their own ways. I get it, this is the beginning, not the end, but this is still my part to play. I have to do my best with it.”

                “You make it sound like you’re not going to be around for whatever comes after,” Sean noted. Across the room, Clarissa wordlessly rose from her seat and stepped away for a moment. That simple action gave away the answer before Phil opened his mouth.

                “I won’t be. I can’t be.” Phil lowered his eyes from Sean’s, looking down at Clarissa’s coffee table. “Even if I get exonerated for Intra’s death, and that’s a big ‘if’ off the bat, I’ve still broken too many laws. Avoiding arrest, busting into a prison, accessory to attempted kidnapping, and that’s just the ones most people know about. There’s no version of this where I’m not locked up once the dust settles. At the very best, if things go perfectly to plan, I’m still going to end up in a white jumpsuit for the rest of my life.”

                His eyes lifted from the table, meeting Sean’s once more. “And I’m at peace with that. I’m never going to be a Hero again, not after everything that’s happened. At least this way I have the chance to go out making a difference one last time. Making the Hero system better for all the people who still need it, still trust it. Making sure my son never ends up in the same position that I did. For all of that, a few decades in prison is a small price to pay.”

                “You deserve better than that.”

                “I killed my best friend. I don’t deserve even the happiness I’ve gotten.” Phil took a moment to collect himself before continuing. “I trust you, Sean. I’ll tell you everything we know, everything we’ve got planned, bring you fully into the circle. But I have one demand in exchange: keep the kids away from this. I know you had to use them to get the messages from Abridail and that’s fine, let that be it though. Enough futures have been lost already; I want your word that theirs won’t end up on the chopping block. I think my son and his friends are going to do great things for the world one day. I can’t rob them of the chance by letting them get caught up in the last generation’s dirty laundry.”

                 “I won’t bring them in any deeper,” Sean promised. It wasn’t technically a vow to keep them fully away from the action, because he knew such words would be meaningless. Those kids had a talent for finding their way into trouble, and it was entirely possible they’d stumble into something on their own. Sean could only push them away to the best of his ability.

                Phil seemed to get it, or to take Sean on the spirit of the promise more than the words themselves. He took a long breath, chanced a brief glance out the window, and then leaned in slightly. “We’re close. Very close. And if all goes well, we hope to have the data decrypted by our next real window for action. The day when the HCP, and the DVA, will all have its attention focused on something other than us.”

                Years of working in and teaching Subtlety weren’t for nothing, as Sean instantly connected the dots Phil was setting out. “Intramurals. You want to strike the lab while the DVA’s focus is on security for Intramurals.”