Chapter 299

                It looked as though Charles was merely sitting at his desk, slowly draining a glass of scotch. Partly because he was, in fact, doing exactly that. But he was also doing more. Charles Adair was waiting. The calls were all in place, the contingencies activated. If the final seal was breached, he’d have to be ready. Should Globe make it that far, then they entered the end game. Charles would only have a few chips left to play, limited tactics he could throw out to try and salvage things.

                Perhaps salvage was too strong of a word. The spectacle had already grown too large, digital chatter was deafening. The lab’s location was known, and the DVA was running around trying to figure out what to do, so no matter how this shook out they were going to search it. Destroying the evidence was an option, explosives had been laid for such a contingency, however not even that was guaranteed to keep determined Supers from information they wanted. Besides, he couldn’t risk such a tactic, not with Shelby still in there. No, this was almost certainly the end of his fiscal spider-web. These things tended to snowball, and Graham DeSoto wasn’t a man who could be bought off, so killing the investigation was a lost cause.

                None of that really mattered, though. Charles liked luxury, always had, but it was a side-effect. A show built up to explain his ruthless business expansion. The only thing he’d really cared about, the reason he’d started all this, could still be saved. Even if it wasn’t by him. That was the thing about fighting good guys, they played by the rules and conducted themselves with honor. A fine habit as far as the public was concerned, but one that opened itself up to exploitation.

                The pale woman with a streak of blue in her hair appeared without warning in front of Charles’ desk. He didn’t so much as shake the glass in his hand, Charles had been expecting this. “The alert triggered?”

                “Yes, sir. Shelby Adair has been moved from her bed, and reports from the field confirm our guards abandoned the bottom of the compound. Instead, they are going to try and hold Globe at the exit.”

                “Pointless.” With a deep gulp, Charles finished his drink and set the empty glass onto the desk, replacing it in his hand with a silver gun plucked from a drawer. “No one ever listens when I tell them you can’t stop Phil. I keep trying to tell people, and yet all of them think they’ll somehow be the one to do the impossible.”

                “What orders would you like me to convey, sir?”

                Charles rose from his desk, tucked the gun into a special pocket on his suit jacket, one custom made for just this purpose. “Anything I had you say would be a waste of breath, so you won’t be bothering with that lot. Instead, you’re going to take me there, to where the fight is happening.”

                “Sir, I’m not sure-”

                “Hush. This is how it has to be. I don’t expect you to understand that, so stick to doing as you’re told. I bought your service, not your counsel.”

*             *             *

                Once the truth was out, there wasn’t any need for the deans to delay. A former Hero was breaking into a hidden lab to free the truth from a massive secret conspiracy. If that wasn’t the kind of situation that called for the response of Heroes, then it was hard to imagine what would. The only slightly difficult call had been whether or not to bring any of the professors along. Ultimately, Dean Blaine couldn’t bear to weaken his school by leaving it undefended; this happening didn’t mean another hate group was incapable of launching a strike on the campus. It was the sort of situation those sorts would happily take advantage of, given the chance. Plus, with Professor Pendleton suddenly missing and himself heading to the lab, Dean Blaine already felt like he was leaving Lander compromised. Thankfully, the glut of Heroes who had come to watch Intramurals were still there, so they would be able to pitch in if anything happened.

                Getting there would be simple, one of the benefits from traveling with the head of the DVA. Graham only had to make a call and in no time a pair of teleporters were there, ready to hop them to the field. It was a far cry from Dean Blaine having to take coach flights, but he didn’t complain. Such were the benefits of position, and if it got him to the battle even a second faster than Dean Blaine was fine with it.

                The only pause they took was a brief, five minute changing session, which Graham spent arguing down all of his underlings who kept insisting that he couldn’t actually go into the field. It was a fight they were going to lose, because that was what happened to those who tried to go against Captain Starlight. Dean Blaine paid that little mind, he was more intent on completing his own task.

                It was a quick process. Faster than it should have been, but years of practice and habit didn’t fade that easily. Almost a year since he’d done this last, and it still felt like only yesterday. Putting on his armor, his suit, his costume, it was like stepping into a new skin. The skin of another person, one kept deep inside the understanding administrator that was Dean Blaine. Because this version of him wasn’t a teacher, wasn’t thoughtful and patient. This part of him was born from being functionally mortal in a world of the nearly divine, the piece that struck hard and fast, because hesitation would almost certainly lead to death. This part of Blaine didn’t have the luxury of patience and kindness. Sometimes, bits of it slipped through, even without the costume, but this was different. This was him giving over to it, trusting it to keep him alive at least long enough to see the job finished.

                Slipping his helmet on, Dean Blaine vanished into the mantle of Zero, a change he’d hoped to never make again, yet deep down had always known he’d have to. Before he could leave, a knock came on the door, revealing Dean Silva. She grew her own costume, thick bark forming an armor over her skin with a dense moss serving as a thick padding in between bark sections.

                “Been a long time since I saw that suit. I heard some of the people you put away used to have nightmares about it, say they could see that white circle coming for them out of the shadows.”

                “Are you really one to talk about nightmares? I’ve walked in on entire gangs who would throw down their weapons if they even heard Overgrowth was in the same town as them,” Zero replied.

                “What’s wrong with nightmares? From what I saw, you’ve raised a whole crop of them.” She crooked a finger, motioning that it was time to head out.

                “Let’s go give the poor bastards in our way some new ones.”