Chapter 63

                “A complete dead-end? This isn’t like you Sherman, usually you let nothing stand in your way.” Crispin reviewed the files, printed out papers that had been brought to him in his insulated safe house. They told the same story he’d been hearing for weeks, that underground accounts suggested five Powereds had been in fact made into Supers, but no one had the slightest idea about the details surrounding the procedure.

                “And I won’t stop this time either,” Sherman assured his leader. “Though someone took great pains to keep the information secret, they must have made a mistake somewhere along the line. I will keep picking at the details until I can uncover it for you, sir.”

                Crispin gave a half-nod, mind still focused on the information he was digesting. “Whoever put it together had some serious funding. Memory-wipes on every member of the staff who worked on the procedure, a facility that was purchased and then demolished as soon as the work was done, to say nothing of the costly medical equipment you’ve found broken in the rubble.”

                “A hefty investment indeed, though nothing compared to what one could reap from selling the conversion to all the Powereds out there who long to have control over their abilities,” Sherman added. “I daresay many would spend their life savings just for a chance at being human. To become true Supers, there is precious little they wouldn’t part with.”

                “But only if it’s safe, and it works,” Crispin said. “That’s why they did it in a small batch, I assume. Run the beta-trial, gather the necessary proof of function, and then sell it to the world at large. Putting them in the HCP though, that is a stroke of marketing genius, assuming it’s true. Have we been able to confirm anything about that?”

                Sherman turned his gaze down toward the rough concrete floor. “No, sir. The HCP and DVA were always difficult systems to crack even the slightest files of, and after our assault they’ve become nigh-impregnable. Rumors say that the test-subjects are at Lander, but there is also chatter that they’re in Sizemore and Korman as well. Misinformation is obviously being spread to conceal whatever the true location might be, if they are in fact enrolled in the HCP at all.”

                Slowly, Crispin lowered his files to the desk, thinking carefully over everything they’d learned about Lander in the lead-up to the assault. “Tell me something, did we ever receive confirmation on how Nathaniel Evers died?”

                “He found amidst a pile of our mercenaries, throat cut,” Sherman replied. “The general consensus is that he was either mistaken for a student, or, as his bank account proved him an associate of the Sons of Progress, tried to assault a Hero during their infiltration and was neutralized. At least, that’s what his family was told.”

                “Which is quite curious, really.” Crispin had a far-off look on his face; the kind that Sherman had learned meant his leader was deep in thought. “By the time I amplified him and sent him off, most of our mercenaries were already fallen. And with the power he was wielding by then, he should have been able to escape even a trained Hero. Nathaniel was many things, but senselessly brave was not among them. Knowing the fight was lost; I’d think he would have turned tail and run. In fact, I can only imagine one reason why he might have stayed and fought.”

                “Nicholas Campbell,” Sherman said. No one who’d worked with Nathaniel had escaped hearing that name; it was cursed on a nearly hourly basis. Nathaniel hated Nicholas with such fervent passion that he’d never cared about the fact that he was being used as a pawn in something much grander. All he wanted, all he’d demanded from the deal, was the opportunity to put Nicholas Campbell in the ground. Certainly, the boy had had plans for what came after, but those were always secondary to the burning fire of hatred he kept stoked at all times.

                “Exactly. Nicholas Campbell. Nathaniel’s old rival from Vegas. Excuse me, Nathaniel’s old Powered rival from Vegas. Who up and decided to go to an HCP school roughly three years ago, seemingly out of nowhere. Who we had people confirm charged onto campus during the attack, not away from it. Who might have bested Nathaniel, even in his augmented state.” Crispin let the words flow gently; they were coming as quickly as his brain could drudge up the carefully tucked away details. “That, to me, seems far more like the actions of a Super than a Powered.”

                “It is possible, sir. Though, forgive me for saying so, unlikely.” Sherman hated to disagree, but it was his job to provide as accurate of information as possible, even if it went against what Crispin was thinking. “Given that Nathaniel and Nicholas both had deep connections to organized crime, the latter being allowed into the HCP seems like quite the longshot. Even the odds of him being selected for the beta group of such a procedure are exceedingly slim. If it went wrong, whoever organized it would have very powerful enemies seeking vengeance for the death.”

                Crispin set his hand on the files that had said so much more of the same thing: that they were stuck for leads. “I understand that it’s a longshot, and I know snooping near an HCP campus is now exceptionally difficult. Just do a little digging for me. We don’t have much else to go on for the moment anyway; this is the perfect time to spend a few of our resources grasping at straws. If something more promising turns up, we can shift our efforts toward that. Until then, it couldn’t hurt to do a bit of reconnaissance. For the sake of our dear departed colleague, Nathaniel, if nothing else.”

                “I’ll find someone capable of handling the task,” Sherman said. It would be tough, the Sons of Progress was a shadow of its former self, the enraged Heroes had more than seen to that, so personnel was a precious commodity. Still, Crispin was right, thin a chance as it was, if this paid off it would do more than just restore the organization to its former glory.

                If they could uncover the secret of turning Powereds into Supers, it could throw off the shackles humanity bound them with once and for all. That future, one where Supers took their rightful place as rulers rather than servants, was worth some risk. Even if Sherman had to do it himself, he would see Crispin’s orders carried out to the very end.