There was black everywhere. Tears streamed down faces and tissues were being passed around. Dean Ditmar stepped back from the podium and sniffed back his own tears. This was the absolute worst part of his job, Daisy could see it on his face, but worst of all, it was a part these young students shouldn’t be exposed to yet. That really pissed her off.
Accountability was crucial after events like the attack by Seif al-Din and this bombing. They needed to know that everyone was ok. At the end of last year everything was ok, this time it wasn’t.
Daisy looked stoic in the back of the room with the rest of the professors. She had to go out and buy a black dress for the event. The saleswoman’s cheerfulness had irritated her to the point she just grabbed the first thing in her size and left. It wasn’t that woman’s fault, she didn’t know what the outfit was for, and Daisy knew she was just being bitchy, but she felt she had a right to be.
She’d lost a lot of friends in her long life, a lot of Heroes, but never before had she lost students that she’d helped mold. When everything was over, and everyone accounted for, the HCP had lost three students: one junior and two freshmen. Daisy didn’t know the junior beyond seeing him in the hall, but she’d had the two freshmen in her class, and was still compiling the latest power evaluation on both of them.
The parents had already come and picked up their children’s bodies. One family wanted nothing to do with the HCP at all. They believed the institution had killed their child. Daisy expected a lawsuit because that’s what people did now-a-days when they were hurting, but she also knew it wouldn’t go anywhere. It was an outside activity that the student chose to go to, but that wouldn’t stop the bad press and congressional investigations that would fall on the Dean’s head.
The other family was much more receptive. They met and prayed with the Dean, and thanked him for everything he’d done for their child. They knew what she was getting herself in to when she joined the HCP, and always knew that this was a possibility. They just never thought in their wildest dreams that it would be this soon.
The junior didn’t have any family. They’d all died in a fire when he was young. He’d bounced between foster homes but was now a legal adult, so the HCP staff was taking care of his remains. That was the least they could do.
<There was nothing any of them could have done.> Daisy thought as she watched the students begin to stand and file out of the small sanctuary on the bottom levels of the HCP.
Even a fully-trained Hero would have trouble surviving a dumpster that suddenly exploded next to you, or a building collapsing on their head. You needed the right power set to survive, and sadly, these students didn’t.
Daisy clenched her fist at the thought of the helplessness all of them must have felt in their last moments. Not only for themselves, but for all the people around them that they could do nothing to save. The DVA, FBI, state and local agencies were still hard at work on the bombing case, and so far the death toll was just over one hundred. The worst part of all of it was that they only had one of the three culprits in custody, and Stal wasn’t the type of person you could force to give you answers. It was dangerous for anyone weaker than Iron Giant to be in the same room with her.
“You ok?” Craig’s hand gently came to rest on her shoulder.
“Yeah.” She started a few breathing exercises Dr. Johnson had given her to control her anger. It helped, but didn’t extinguish the slow burn in her gut.
“It sucks a place so beautiful is only used for the saddest occasions.” Craig glanced around the room.
The room was plain but tasteful, like most Heroes turned out to be. It was part chapel, part mausoleum, and a general sanctuary for those who’d lost someone. Carved into the white, marble walls were names and dates, and on the small ledges in front of some were little mementos. Daisy scanned a few.
<Full name…Hero name…dates of birth and death…and few words of remembrance. Is that all we end up with?> It wasn’t often that someone who was virtually immortal contemplated mortality, but it was just as somber for Daisy as when a normal person did.
The only difference between the recently fallen and these Heroes dating back to the beginning of the school’s HCP was that the students didn’t have Hero names. Posthumously, they would be honored as Heroes with all the rights and privileges, but that didn’t bring them back. Not even Hollow could do that. Most of the small spaces behind those names were empty, with the past Heroes being buried elsewhere, but she knew at least one spot held remains.
As part of the remembrance ceremony, the junior’s ashes had been placed in the marble and sealed away. That had been the toughest part for many of the students. They didn’t see the freshmen bodies after their death, so it was abstract to them. This wasn’t. This was something they could see with their own eyes and reach out and touch.
<Doctor Johnson is going to be busy today.> It was a sad truth.
Daisy watched as the students filed past. Some were openly crying, some were helping their friends, others were trying to be strong and failing, and some were trying to be strong and succeeding. At the moment, it didn’t matter what their reaction was. What mattered was how they went forward from here. Daisy expected to see a few people drop out of the freshman class once break started. They just wouldn’t return for spring semester, and she didn’t blame them. It wasn’t until junior and senior year when the professors really started to hammer home that this was really dangerous work that Heroes were doing.
Slowly the space emptied, until only the professors were left. Robin and Marshall Kirk plopped down in the front row of seats. They’d been able to hold it together, but with the students gone Robin finally broke down. The Hero known as Force Field blamed herself for what had happened. Security was her job at Mr. Morningstar’s funeral, and the villains had turned her power against her. Daisy could still visualize the explosive force of the bombs ricocheting off the energy barriers and back down into the people. It was impossible to tell if it had injured or killed more people, but Robin didn’t care. Even though they’d adapted quickly to the villains’ plan, people still died, and Robin blamed herself.
Marshall just sat there consoling his wife. Life was hard enough for them. Both were twenty-plus-year veteran Heroes. Their son was a dangerous Powered locked away in a special facility, and on top of that they now had this on their consciences. Daisy was pretty sure retirement was right around the corner for the both of them.
Grace wasn’t looking too happy either, but her expression was more anger than anything. She was working with the Protectorate, and not being able to find the other perpetrators was frustrating her as much as Daisy.
John and Maria just looked sad, but Miles had a spark in his eye. Daisy knew he was beating his big bush of contacts for any word on Wraith or Nightingale, and that was what his enthusiasm was all about. He was a Subtlety Hero who was in his element. It had nothing to do with where they were or what they were mourning.
“Thank you for coming,” John started once the students had taken the lifts back up to the higher HCP levels.
Most were done with exams for the semester and would be heading home. A few still had some final tests to take before heading out, and just about everyone wanted one last workout in the HCP’s facilities before weeks at home. Good cooking and the holiday season didn’t lend itself well to staying in shape. The first week back in January would be a rude awakening for the freshmen.
“Here are everyone’s assignments for the break. I’ve set up a watch rotation for the campus, and have coordinated with a liaison back at Protectorate HQ.” John passed out a paper version of the schedule, but Daisy knew she’d have an e-mail waiting for her back in her office.
She also noticed that she and Grace were scheduled to patrol infrequently.
“Daisy, Grace, your primary focus is your work with the DVA and Protectorate. The best defense is a good offense. Find Wraith and Nightingale and the school will be safe.”
<Not so sure about that.> Daisy remembered what Seif al-Din had said to her, and knew peace was an illusion until he was out of the picture.
“We’ll be meeting daily to exchange information and keep each other up-to-date on our separate investigations.” John’s eyes lingered on Miles, who rolled his eyes and nodded back at the Dean. The Subtlety Hero had a tendency to vanish and not reappear for days.
“If there are no questions,” John paused and looked around the room, “then your time is your own. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
The small meeting broke up and everyone headed out. Daisy took the lift to her office and got suited up. She was heading into town to coordinate with the DVA. Grace was coming with her. The rest of the teachers were staying at the HCP to coach students through their last few workouts and finish up any paperwork that the DVA demanded be turned in by the end of the semester.
All of it had an undertone of loss to it. Daisy saw it in everyone’s faces and movements.
<Never again,> she promised herself as she pulled on her black mask. <Never again.>
I’m trying to keep up with weekly posts, but it might be another two weeks before Chapter 46 goes up because of my training schedule. I’ll keep you updated.
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