“It’s a pleasure to see again, Dean Allen,” Congressman Walter Nelson said with a fake politician’s smile while shaking the dean’s hand.
“You too,” John Allen said with an equally fake smile.
“Quite a mess your band of misfits have made,” he said, the smugness rolling off him in waves.
“You believe Mr. Price is complicit in this…breech?”
“What, you think it’s just a coincidence that he was at both locations?” The dean remained silent on that; it was odd. “Shall we sit and begin?”
“Sure,” the dean said simply. He took a seat on the side of the table with Dr. Gibson, Agent Shields, and Diane. While on the other side, Congressman Walter Nelson, one of his aides, and a high level DVA official in an expensively tailored suit, an expensive haircut, and a physique that suggests one-time hero. Nobody at the table spoke for what seemed like awhile, until finally the congressman did, probably because he’d gone too long without hearing the sound of his own voice.
“So this seems all pretty simple to me. Anthony Price has some connection to the unknown Halloween attacker and he attempted to use that relationship to break his mother out of the Alcatraz Maximum Security Super Prison,” he said and seemed like he truly believed it. This however, left everyone else in room speechless.
“Uh, excuse me?” Dean Allen asked. “You think he was…the mastermind?”
“More likely another pawn. But he’ll have answers,” Nelson said.
“There is no evidence to make such a massively bold assertion,” the dean said. “He has been under the highest levels of mundane and psychic surveillance for months and there has been no hint of treachery. Plus, if the plan had been to break his mother out, why is she not out? The teleporter easily bypassed the prison’s defenses, why couldn’t they take someone else out?”
“Obviously the advanced tech shackles the prisoner was wearing functioned according to specs and Mr. Price didn’t account for them.”
“I don’t even know where to start with all that,” Diane said. “Dr. Gibson and Agent Shields searched his mind after the incident. There was no collusion detected.”
“Seems clear to me he and his partners have found a way to shield their thoughts.”
“His partners?” the dean asked.
“The rest of that…house.”
“So now all of them are criminals?” the dean asked.
“Isn’t that the whole point of this freakshow? That they are all criminals?”
“None of them have any sort of criminal record,” Dean Allen said more calmly than he felt.
“Regardless, this is the second breech of top level security in as many months and it is centered on them. This needs to end.”
“That’s not your propagative Congressman. That is a matter for the HCP and DVA,” the high level DVA official said. “Our purpose here today is to conclude weather Mrs. Price is in violation of the agreement that her son signed and thus if he is to be removed from the HCP. If necessary, we will once again look at the viability and security of the Sizemore program, but not here and not now.”
“Very well…” the congressman said. And so it went for more than four hours.
After it finally ended Dean Allen stood around with the rest of his party, ready to portal them back to where he’d picked them up from. “Do you want me to tell him?” Dr. Gibson asked.
“No, I think I should be the one to tell him,” the dean said. “But you do have to be there for the other thing.”
“Maybe it should be me,” Diane said, “I should have fought harder for him.”
“You at least gave him a chance,” Dean Allen said.
“It’s not fair,” she said.
“Tony should not have signed that paper without reading it. Perhaps not the kind of mistake that should cost him everything, but a lesson he should have learned none the less,” Agent Shields said.
“How about a little sympathy Carter?” Diane asked him.
“He made his bed, he needs lie in it.”
“It wasn’t his fault,” she said.
“Doesn’t matter, it’s done.”
“Alright,” the dean got their attention. “Diane, I’ll send you back to your family. Carter, back to the house. If you could refrain from telling the rest of the house about this. Let them have the rest of their holiday.”
“Fine, don’t really talk to them anyways.”
“Okay…and Ron, I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning and we’ll tell him.”
“Wouldn’t you like him to have his holiday too?” Dr. Gibson asked.
“I promised I’d tell him the outcome as soon as possible. Plus, if I just left that hanging over his head without giving him an answer, his holiday would not be good.”
“Alright, I’ll see you then.”
Tony didn’t sleep well, he tossed and turned all night waiting for the news. So he was groggy when he opened the door to find Dean Allen and Dr. Doctor Gibson standing on his doorstep. It was the presence of Dr. Gibson that gave Tony pause. Why would he need consoling? It felt like it was going to be bad news.
“Tony?” the dean asked, breaking him out of thoughts. “May we come in?”
“Oh sorry, sure,” he said stepping aside.
“Is your father here?” the dean asked.
“No. He already left for work. Would you like to sit down?”
“Sure,” he said, “Probably better this way. Tony…” The dean started and paused, looking concerned. “I have some bad news.”
“What!? No! She didn’t try to escape!”
“I know, we all believe the memories we saw were accurate, but what you signed…I’m not here to admonish you for wanting to see your mother, but you should have read it. Mrs. Greene fought for you, and although it was near ironclad, she found you something.”
“What?” Tony asked hopefully.
“Not that. I’m sorry, but you are going to be expelled from the HCP.”
“But…” Tony’s lip quivered as he tried to process. “What’s the good news?”
“Diane was able to work it out so that you can reapply next year. It’s not going to be a lifetime ban.”
“Will I have protection and a scholarship?” Tony asked, conflicted about losing his first opportunity, yet having a second chance was huge and he was relieved.
“Some. We’ll still need to cover up your connection to your mother because it would mess everything up for the others and the program if professors from other schools started asking questions about your past to those here that don’t know. However, there will be no scholarship and if you do get back into a program and happen to reveal the existence of the program, the consequences will be severe. It was actually a huge point of contention for an annoying politician and I’m happy to stick it to him on this. So as such, I am going to write you a recommendation.
“Trust me on this, a recommendation from me will all but guarantee re-entry into an HCP. But you have to decide if that’s something you’d like to do. Many people have no desire to redo even a small part of freshmen year and I’m not going to stick my neck out if you’re not willing to apply yourself.”
He only had to think about it for a few moments, “yes, thank you. I need to do this for myself and the others. And I will apply myself, I promise.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Dr. Gibson said. “There is something else though, well several things that have to be worked out. There is something we don’t advertise to our students. When someone is expelled, some of their memories are wiped.”
“Which ones?” Tony asked concerned.
“We have to remove the names of every member of the HCP and we blur their faces.”
“All my friends? I won’t remember them?”
“You’ll remember everything you did with them, how you felt about them, but you won’t be able to remember who they were. It’s hard to describe. I’ve had it done to me for some memories I’ve seen, but never with my friends, so I may not be the best source.
“We also remove the locations of lifts, any powers you’ve seen from your professors, and the address of the house you were living in, so you can’t go stalk your former housemates. Although that’s a little complicated too, since it gets hard to eliminate all your memories from your walk to and from school. So even a few minutes of thought could probably get you in the ball park. So don’t try and reach out to them, if they want to try to reconnect with you that is their prerogative. We don’t really want former students to have any contact with current students. Which is why we usually encourage students to transfer to another school. But, I think you have an opportunity here.
“You can return to Sizemore and try to start things back up with El, without lying. You could now tell her you were in the HCP, although the villain program still needs to be kept secret, so you have to decide if that lie is too much, but think about the opportunity.”
“So I can return to Sizemore for the rest of the year and then move to another HCP university next year? And I can tell El about the HCP?”
“Yes, technically you can tell her. And I have no problem with you coming back to Sizemore, if that’s what you want,” the dean said. “But…there is still a moratorium on telling her or anybody any details at all about anything specific in the program. Can’t talk about the lifts, or the professors, or the training, or even how large the facility is. If you cross that line the consequences will be severe and there will be no coming back from that.”
“I’d like to get back with El. I wonder if she’d even have me?” He said to himself.
“Well as soon as we leave you should figure that out so you can then decide if you want to come back to Sizemore. Being there while missing that other part of your life will be hard, another reason we encourage transferring, if you don’t have her to ground you, I’d strongly encourage you not returning.” The dean said, “And don’t worry about the time, we’ve become masters at transferring students and can do it at a moment’s notice. So we’ll give you until the new year to decide.”
“It’s time Tony,” Dr. Gibson said somberly. “It is going to feel strange, the less you fight it the easier it will be. But, even the smoothest wipes cause a bit of a headache. Afterwards you’ll pass out and when you wake up you’ll remember this conversation but not our names, faces or powers and I know you’re going to try and force yourself to find a memory of it, but it won’t work and the more you try, the harder it will hurt, and if it gets bad enough you’ll pass out again. So, you know, don’t try and force it.” He held out his hands for Tony to take, letting him take that final step himself. After about a minute he drifted off to sleep.
John and Ron left Tony sleeping on his couch and exited onto the street; they’d have to go a ways to find a good place to portal out from. They could have left from inside, but they had some things to talk about. “We never really had a chance to talk about it,” Ron said, “But it is weird that she went to exact place Tony was at. That has to imply he was the target right?”
“Yes, it does imply that, but it’s so unusual.”
“What are you thinking?” Ron asked.
“It attacked the Halloween party and despite having several opportunities, she didn’t kill anyone. Then she gets into a maximum security prison and does, nothing. I think it is about the locations, not the people.”
“Can’t it be both?
“Sure, but hear me out. The warehouse represents the minimum level of HCP security, still puts most banks and museums to shame, but lowest level. Next would be maybe DVA offices and then after that the administration building of a prison. Next step after that is something like the actual prison, but the finally level, short of maybe the white house, is the HCP. What if she’s just testing the defenses as it were, and this is a prelude to a full scale attack on the facility?”
“You bring this possibility up with someone higher up on the food chain than me?”
“Not yet, but I will.”
“And what if it’s the other way and this is about the seven?”
“Then I really have to wonder why. And Tony? Of all of them, his mother would have by far the fewest enemies. She’s never hurt anyone and never stole from private citizens. She’s more folk hero than villain, so who’d have an ax to grind to with him. If on the other hand it’s about the program as a whole and someone is breaking, I don’t know how many laws, that’s a conspiracy and one that’s just as troubling.”
“There is no best case scenario here, is there?” Ron asked.
“Well, there is one. The congressman could be right and this teleporter is/was after Tony and the whole thing is over now.” The dean said, but Ron just stared at him like he was out of his mind. “Well, it’s not like I believe it. It’s just the ‘the best case scenario’.”
“So then if it’s not that. Then it is either someone who hates the concept of those students here so much that they are willing to destroy the HCP to protect it. Or, someone is using the paranoia surrounding them to test the limits of our security for some other nefarious purpose? Am I missing anything?”
“Almost certainly, but those are the biggest and most troubling,” John said.
“Okay, so what are you going to do about it?”
“Change all security protocols?”
“Well obviously, but you don’t really think that will work, do you? And that wasn’t the ‘what are you going to do’ I was asking about. You can’t do what you need to do if you keep keeping your staff in dark. How are you going to explain why Tony is gone and that your Halloween attacker dropped in on him in a prison?”
The dean took a long moment to answer, “I can lie about the reason Tony won’t be returning. I can say the DVA thought the one who broke into the prison was connected to our attack, which is why they told me about it. Then I can present my theory about testing defenses and go from there.”
“What if it’s the other theory, that it’s about the seven…six. Without the facts you put them at risk. Plus you do know you have a former subtlety hero on staff right? You give him any piece of information about a prison attack and the pieces will drop into his lap faster than you could blink. And again you can’t not tell him; it’s too dangerous.”
“So, what do you suggest? I wasn’t happy about getting this test case dropped in my lap, but I want to see it through,” John said.
“You nor the DVA could have foreseen these attacks. You have a greater obligation to the whole of the HCP than you do to this experiment. I’m not fluent in the charter that create the certification program, but I do know that the safety of your students trumps almost everything else. So you’re clear ethical and legally if you want to tell the rest of your staff. But I have another suggestion. Phil is both the problem and the solution. He is the one who designs, test and runs all security. If he were the one to make these changes, then nobody would bat an eye. I propose that you bring him in and work with him to keep the students safe. It perseveres the data in 5 of the six professors. That should count for a lot in the long run.”
“Maybe…” the dean said and went quite. A few blocks later and they found a spot to disembark from, first sending Ron home and then the dean heading out on his own errant.
The dean knocked on the plain white door of the plain white house in the cookie cutter neighborhood, where three out of every four houses had a minivan or a sedan in the driveway. It was the most same neighborhood you could find and this house was the most average. Phil Young opened the door in pajama bottoms and a tee shirt, his hair perfectly messy. He looked like he’d just rolled out of bed, but the dean wasn’t fooled. Phil was a hero, non-active, but far from retired. Which meant he was up before the sun and had likely run ten miles and lifted for hour. There was no way he rolled out of bed at ten after ten in the morning, even on vacation. But as a subtlety major it would be the image he’d want to sell to the neighbors. John thought it was beyond stupid to spend twenty minutes making yourself look like you just got up, so you could go outside and get the paper, where maybe one neighbor would see you and maybe give it more than a literal second of thought. But, that was what those heroes did and there would be no changing his mind on the subject, so he didn’t dwell on it.
“Hi John,” Phil said. “Are you here about the prison break-in by our Halloween attacker, and that it happened in the same room where Tony was visiting his thief mother and that somehow got him expelled?”
The dean was speechless, even knowing who Tony really was was a shock at the moment, but which shouldn’t have been, considering who Phil was and had been in the hero world. But, the other things happened less than 24 hours ago and less than ten people knew everything Phil had just said, John just couldn’t fathom how he could know everything. “How long have you known?”
“About what your seven are? From about an hour after you were handed their files.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I’m not in the business of giving up information so easily. You didn’t need to know that I knew, so I didn’t tell you,” Phil said.
The dean wanted to yell at him for that, but people in glass houses… “I need your help and I want to bounce some things off you,” he said instead.
“Sure, let’s talk.”