Prologue: Part 4

                Mr. Numbers ducked a shower of sparks flying from the nearby crew, hopping so close to Mr. Transport that he nearly bowled the taller man over. Mr. Transport took the cue and swung wide, giving Mr. Numbers enough room to steer clear of the men working tirelessly on the lift system.

                “Do we know where they’ll be going yet?” Mr. Transport asked.

                “I’m sure someone does,” Mr. Numbers replied. “The only thing I’ve been told is that the exits had to be moved. At least, all the ones that were used to bring down civilians.”

                “I imagine it will still be quite difficult for the students to slip away, now that their classmates know the system they’re using to vanish from plain sight.” Mr. Transport flipped through the pages stacked on his clipboard carefully. “No helping it, though. Not unless Lander is willing to spring for full-time teleporter.”

                “Even then, there’s no way to coordinate with so many student’s schedules,” Mr. Numbers pointed out. “But don’t be surprised if they try and get you to fill in on occasion.”

                “Sadly, I fear that’s already begun. I’ll have to make sure and start turning them down more. The last thing we need is for them to depend on me while we’re on assignment.”

                The two men, still wearing their usual suits, continued down the hallway of Lander’s underground, carefully avoiding more contractors from the Department of Variant Human Affairs. On top of re-directing the lifts, they were also incorporating emergency escape routes to various points on and off campus. Similar renovations were occurring at the other four HCP campuses, as no one wanted to be caught in a situation where they were pinned down again. Mr. Numbers had even heard rumblings that the backup security designed to test if a campus had been cut off from communication was having it’s time lowered from every hour to every fifteen minutes. No one was taking any chances with the HCP, or the Heroes it produced, looking vulnerable again.

                Once had done enough damage.

                “Any news on the dorm situation?” Mr. Numbers asked.

                “The school board was set to pass the new regulations quietly, but it seems a student activist group brought the issue out into the public eye. Heaven only knows how they found out about it over summer.” While Heaven might have known, Mr. Transport had no doubt how they’d found out. He’d been the one to send the e-mails and place a few careful fliers, not that any of it would trace back to him. “Looks like they’re rallying the students who live in town over summer and refusing the let the issue go uncontested.”

                “Good. After we finish today’s meetings, let’s swing by and see if there’s anything we can help with. Discreetly, of course.”

                “Of course,” Mr. Transport agreed.

                Turning a corner, they arrived at the door to Dean Blaine’s office. Inside was the rest of Lander’s teaching staff, as well as a few representatives from the DVA. These lackeys were at least the silent type, here to observe and report, not interfere. Both men considered them a pleasant alternative to dealing with Ralph Chapman, though neither said it out loud.

                After his help last year, Lander’s most bothersome DVA agent had earned a small, begrudging, kernel of everyone’s respect. It didn’t mean they enjoyed him, but it did halt them from being quite so vocal with their dislike.

*             *             *

                “Senator Malcolm, if I may-”

                “Ralph, your arguments have been heard, logged, and noted,” the senator snapped, turning to face the younger politician head on. “Now I may only have a short time left as the DVA’s acting chair, but I’m still in charge, and I say the exemption is allowed.”

                Around him, the room of agents, assistants, and general help watched silently from their seats at the conference table. The gentle whirr of an old projector hummed as it struggled to keep the image up on the drawn-down white screen. Everyone waited to see if Ralph Chapman would let the matter pass, or keeping pestering like he had on so many others.

                “I just worry that it sets a precedent,” Ralph began once more. He’d barely gotten the words out before Senator Malcolm replied, his voice no longer as controlled or cultivated.

                “You’re god-damned right it sets a precedent, and I’m glad it does. If some crazy sons of bitches storm an HCP campus, killing civilians and targeting our students, then they get to have a break on the cuts. Or is it your opinion that after being attacked by madmen and burying one of their own, we should have forced the students to take their final exams?”

                Senator Malcolm turned his gaze from Ralph to the stenographer who was dutifully typing notes as well as recording the session. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that this meeting was on public record, and anything said in it could be used freely in the future. Senator Malcolm was on his way out, he could swear and take stands as much as he liked. Ralph Chapman, on the other hand, still had ambition. His words mattered, to his future self if no one else. And coming down hard on people who’d gone through a tragedy was a risky stance to take, Super or not.

                “No, sir,” Ralph said at last. “I was just advocating some extra testing at the start of term to get their numbers in compliance with the other programs. If people think Lander is getting special treatment, it’s only going to hurt them in the long-term.”

                “The graduating number is still the same, and at the end of this year all the classes will be cut back down to regulation size. Given what Lander’s been through, I’m not going to ask more of them than we do from the others.” Senator Malcolm looked down at the papers in front of him and carefully checked a few figures.

                “Besides, with the way we’re getting hammered out there, classes being too large might be the opposite of our problem.”