Dance of Shadows: Chapter 18

Dean Diane Goddard had a feeling today would be one of those days. That instinct was confirmed by a pounding on her office door. The Dean reached out and steadied a small, precariously balanced sculpture on her desk before it fell over. Then, calmly, she said “Come in.”

Professor Ava Stevens opened the door. The petite blonde stalked inside, followed by two students. Ava gestured emphatically to a pair of seats before the Dean’s desk, causing the chairs to scoot outwards, swing around and promptly scoop up the students. Another thought shut and locked the door.

Dean Goddard just spread her hands on the surface of her desk and waited patiently for an explanation.

“I’m afraid to report that Nate Insley has been outed, Dean,” Ava said, immediately dropping the news on the desk.

The Dean looked at the two students, sophomores named Mike Cavil and Ashley Nesbit. The two dated if memory served. Right now, Mike looked immensely worried while Ashley just looked angry. Dean Goddard opened her desk, pulled out a booklet titled ‘HCP Code of Conduct’ and flipped it open to page seventeen. Scanning down quickly, she found the right paragraph and read.

“Harassment on the basis of any protected characteristic is strictly prohibited. Under this policy, harassment is verbal, written or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of his/her race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, genetic information or any other characteristic protected by law or that of his/her relatives, friends or associates, and that: (i) has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning environment; (ii) has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s ability to learn; or (iii) otherwise adversely affects an individual’s educational opportunities.”

Dean Goddard set the student code of conduct on the desk, turned it around to face the two students and folded her hands together. “Were either of you unclear on any point of this policy, Mr. Cavil, Ms. Nesbit?”

“No, Dean Goddard,” they said together.

“Would you like to tell me what happened then?”

“It was an accident,” Mike said, glaring at his girlfriend. “I was on the phone with Julie, coordinating our shifts when Julie…it was an ethical discussion, Dean, like we have in Ethics class. She thinks he’s the Ringmaster’s son from what he can do. I agreed with her and just wondered out loud if Nate might be immune to the Ringmaster’s power because they have the same ability. I thought Ashley had gone to class already since she wasn’t there but she was in the kitchen and overheard.”

“Way to throw me under the bus, Mike,” Ashley muttered.

“Your thoughts throw you under the bus,” Ava said, her voice sharp with irritation. “Mike knows better than to try mitigating what happened. Ashley, tell the Dean what happened next.”

“I just texted a few friends to ask if they knew anything about the new kid, Nate. I asked Sheila, she’s the Mechanical Genius of our class, I wanted to see if she could dig up anything about him online. She’s the one that pulled out these fringe references in really old reporting on the Ringmaster before he went rogue. By that point, her team spotted her research and…”

“The cat was out of the bag, I see.” The Dean sighed. “Mr. Cavil, Ms. Nesbit, please tell me in your own words if you’ve otherwise broken our harassment policy.”

“No,” Ashley said immediately.

“Not exactly,” Mike muttered. Hastily, he added “I mean, I don’t like him. He’s kinda pitiful, Dean. Like someone’s kicked puppy. If not for that ability of his, I’d have written him off as a loser already. He looks like he’ll break in half if the wind blows at him too strongly. I don’t think he has what it takes to make it in the HCP.”

“I believe my certified and experienced faculty can make that determination without your consultation, Mr. Cavil.”

“I haven’t said anything to anyone other than Julie,” Mike said, his right hand involuntarily squeezing into a fist. “I try not to talk to Nate, kid has enough problems as it is.”

“Other than being outed as the son of one of the most infamous villains still at large?”

“Uh, yeah.” Mike wiped his palms against the denim of his jeans. “He’s…you know, anxious. Gets social anxiety. You know, too many people for too long and he starts hyperventilating and has to shut himself in a bathroom until it passes. He’s terminally paranoid about his ability. You should hear his thoughts sometimes, it’s like this loop cycle of regret and fear that goes over and over again.” Reluctantly, the sophomore’s face softened. “I mean, who wants to live like that? I just make it worse whenever we talk so I stopped trying. I think he’ll fail out but he doesn’t need me adding to it.”

Dean Goddard lifted an eyebrow at Professor Stevens, who squinted slightly and then nodded once. “Very good then. I suppose I’ll need to remind all classes of our harassment policy. That’ll be all, Mr. Cavil, Ms. Nesbit. Be on your best behavior from now on.”

“That’s it?” Ava asked, surprised despite her ability to read the Dean’s mind.

“Professor Stevens, I’m afraid mere disclosure of a student’s parentage does not constitute breech of policy. It has to create a harmful environment, interfere with his learning or remove opportunities for Mr. Insley.”

“Diane…Dean Goddard,” Ava said, recovering swiftly from the unprofessional stumble. “They’re going to eat him alive.”

“And that is behavior I can act on,” the Dean said. “It’s not illegal to possess a lethal ability. It’s only illegal to kill someone with one without due authorization from the Department of Variant Human Affairs. Although Domination is included on the Class A listing of restricted abilities, it’s not illegal for Nate to know how to use his ability either. In like fashion, it’s not a violation of school policy for the student body to know what his ability is or where it came from. It’s only a violation if they intimidate, interfere or block him on the basis of that knowledge.”

The Dean traded looks with Professor Stevens until her brother’s ex-girlfriend relented. Then she dismissed the students and their teacher with a taciturn return to completing the paperwork on her desk. Some of it anyway. If there was one surety in life, it was that more paperwork would materialize to replace the work done.

Dance of Shadows: Chapter 17
Dance of Shadows: Chapter 19

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