Two Down, Two to Go
“I understand you wanted to see me, Professor Vree.”
Laurence Vree looked up from his desk with an annoyed expression at the voice in his head and flicked his office door open with a thought. “Ms Blake. Allow me to congratulate you on the impressive job you’ve done of finding completely unprecedented ways in which to utterly confound this program during your time here so far.” The older man’s voice was heavy with sarcasm, though a mischievous note was also detectable.
“I’m flattered, professor, but I find it hard to believe that I’m doing anything ENTIRELY new.” The younger telepath entered the office with a smile and seated herself across from the professor.
“Really? Because I’ve just finished having the most enlightening of conversations with a former student of this program. Someone you should definitely recall, Mr Benjamin Pelley? Professor Martinez brought him to me after recovering him from the scene of some of the unpleasantness that occurred during your class final.” Vree steepled his fingers as he leaned forward over his desk.
“In all fairness, that situation ended up spiraling QUITE a bit past where it was intended. I mean, we thought Ben might be in a position to hear something going on that no one else would. I don’t think ANYONE could have predicted that he’d actually end up recruited by our attackers.”
“Ms Blake, you’re too intelligent and FAR too perceptive to honestly think it simply Mr Pelley’s end involvement that creates such a predicament for the program, as opposed to what precipitated that involvement.”
“I’m not the first student to seek out a former HCP classmate and reintroduce myself, professor. There were a half a dozen examples of that exact scenario presented during the first year Ethics course.” A contemplative expression crossed the young woman’s face. “Admittedly most of them ended badly and seemed to be presented in order to discourage us from doing exactly that, but not ALL of them did, and the dean did make it clear that it was ultimately up to us if we wanted to take that chance.”
“And you don’t see a slight difference between reintroducing yourself to a memory-edited former classmate, and restoring all of said classmate’s memories of the program?”
“Part of the HCP agreements we all signed included provisions for if we couldn’t be mind-wiped or if the procedure failed at a later date or…”
“There is a DISTINCT difference,” Professor Vree’s tone shifted to be completely serious as he interrupted. “Between a Super whose ability renders them immune to, or able to recover from, memory editing; and another Super having the ability to completely restore those same memories. With barely a year and a half of training no less.”
“Ah, that part”
“Yes, Ms Blake. THAT part.”
“And now the concern is that I’m going to do the same thing with everyone that doesn’t make it to the third year of the program with us.” Catalina made it a statement of fact as she locked eyes with the older telepath.
“One concern, among others.”
The auburn-haired girl sat very still for a few seconds without breaking eye contact with the professor, then she nodded firmly. “That… that’s an interesting proposal. Will the HCP really allow it?”
Laurence sighed. “Etiquette, Ms Blake. It’s quite rude to go rummaging for details at that level, even when dealing with other telepaths. But yes, this has all been approved, after a fashion. The dean informs me that there were some… less-than-enthusiastic responses, but seeing as all of my hard work was likely to be undone no matter what they decided, and with no precedent on the books allowing us to forbid you from doing so, a compromise was reached. Your five classmates that have been accepted to repeat their second year at other programs will be allowed to forgo the memory editing as TECHNICALLY they are still HCP students.”
“And for the other two?”
“Mr Sexton has explicitly requested that you leave the memory edits intact. He believes that the additional details will be detrimental to the new path he has selected for himself. And Mr Rodins has made his own arrangements.”
Catalina’s eyes widened for a moment as she caught some extra details about the ‘arrangements’ Ty had made. “Wow. Erin is not going to be happy about that. So, with everyone in our class covered one way or another, what other concerns do we need to discuss.”
“A concern, and a bit of an advance warning. There were no previous precedents for a policy regarding an HCP student able to reverse HCP memory editing. Now, there is one, and it has a lot of very important people worried. Fortunately that precedent comes in the form of a most upstanding young woman who has an excellent chance of achieving the title of Hero in another two years.”
“So… what exactly is it that they want from me?”
“Quite simple really, Ms Blake.” Professor Vree leaned back in his chair with a smile. “Promise me you’ll never do it again without first acquiring permission.”
Amelia Jacobson sighed softly to herself as she pushed open the front door to the small townhouse she shared with her friends. She knew she should have been happy to receive the news that she’d made it into the third year of the program, but the cold manner in which the dean had delivered the news left her worried. The young woman was so deep in her introspection that she almost missed the sudden movement as she pulled the door shut behind her.
Amelia’s arms shot up reflexively, catching a punch that landed with enough force that it rattled the windows, and even the walls, of the building. The blonde stepped into her attacker, keeping an inhumanly powerful grip on her opponent’s arm as she did so. Her counterattack was abruptly halted by jaw-dropping shock as she recognized her assailant.
“Coach Rachd?” Amelia managed to get the words out after a few seconds of awkward silence, then her expression and tone filled with anger. “What. The. FUCK?”
“Good reflexes, good instinct, form is still a bit amateurish but good enough as long as you keep improving on it.” Rachd’s gravelly tone was quieter than normal as he twisted free of his student’s grip. “So let me ask you the same question, Jameson. Your class final exam, WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” The Combat Instructor’s shout didn’t rattle the building quite as much as the impact from a few moments ago, but it was far more effective at getting Amelia to step back.
“My team scored two of three, and I went head to head with half the class. What else do you want me to say?” Amelia’s tone was defiant, but her slightly slumped posture and lack of eye contact betrayed her nervousness.
“Gauge, Owens, and Andrews when she’s copying you. Those are the ONLY ones in your class that can actually ‘go head to head’ with you. Bullshit illusion trickery is one thing, I get why you fell for that, but why the hell were you sandbagging with the rest of them?” Amelia flinched again at the accusation, but Rachd continued before she could respond. “Christ, Jacobson; you made ME take you seriously in a one on one fight this year. Do you have ANY FUCKING IDEA how rare that is for a second year?”
The blonde girl stood stunned silent for a moment as the coach finished his tirade, then a grin crept onto her face. “I did?”
“Focus, Jacobson.” Rachd growled his response, but looked away in a rare moment of embarrassment. “Do you know how close you came to washing out of the program with that performance?” The grin vanished, and the shocked expression immediately returned. “You think being the top-ranked combatant makes you safe from that shit? You think you can make it as a Hero if you aren’t going to go all out? Do you think you’re doing the rest of your class any favors by going easy on them?”
Amelia shrank a little bit more with each rhetorical question. “I didn’t think-…”
“Yeah, THAT much was obvious.” The harsh interruption pulled the blonde out of her dejected stance to look with irritation at Rachd. “Other thing you probably didn’t think about; most of your classmates are probably smart enough to realize you were holding back with them. Not many bigger insults you can offer someone in this program.”
“It wasn’t like that…” Amelia’s voice trailed off as she stared down at the floor with a stricken expression.
“Of course you didn’t.” The dismissive tone from Rachd drew another annoyed glare from his student. “If we’d thought you were that full of yourself, even for a minute? We’d have bounced your ass straight out of the HCP.
“This is you wake up call, Jacobson. The last one you’re going to get in this program. You pull any shit like this again? You don’t give it your all?” Rachd leaned in close, an evil glint in his eyes. “And next time we have this little conversation I will break every bone in your body before blackballing you from the HCP for good. Clear?”
A trace of her earlier grin made its way back onto Amelia’s face. “Clear, coach. Let me know if you want a practice run at that ‘breaking every bone’ thing.” Amelia met Rachd’s gaze with a predatory look of her own. “No holding back, I promise.”
Rachd snorted derisively at the offer, and turned to stride out of the townhouse. Amelia’s grin widened as she caught a flash of the satisfied smile the Combat Instructor wore as the door closed behind him.
“Thank you, sweet Lord, that that’s FINALLY over.” Scott Jameson let out an enormous sigh of relief as he staggered into his home. “Why do you think they made us go in one at a time to find out if we made it or not? And why the hell were WE the last two?”
“Would you have wanted them to announce it to the whole class at once if you WEREN’T one of the ones that made the cut?” Erin turned back to look at her friend with an earnest expression as she answered with a rhetorical question. “As for why we were last, I think it was a random order. Makes sure you can’t guess if you made it or not based on when you get called in.”
“Makes sense.” Scott flushed slightly as he considered the scenario Erin’s question brought to mind. He’d had long enough to work up quite a bit of dread about not making it to junior year in the program. The idea of that announcement being made in front of the entire class caused him to shiver involuntarily for a moment. “HEY TY, AMES! WE’RE BACK!” The short youth opted to shift the topic of conversation.
“They aren’t here.” Erin glanced about curiously as she realized something. “In fact…” She trailed off as she strode rapidly to the door to Ty’s room and shoved it open.
Scott moved to look past his taller friend and found himself staring blankly with shock. Ty’s normally cluttered room was completely pristine, containing none of his belongings. The sandy-haired youth let out a brief squawk of surprise as he was shoved out of the way as Erin ran to the converted garage that had been her boyfriend’s lab. Scott quickly scrambled to follow, though he felt his feet dragging at the prospect of what he expected to find.
Scott stopped in the doorway, and saw Erin standing in the middle of the completely empty, and spotlessly clean, garage. “Erin, I…” Scott’s voice trailed off as he realized he really didn’t know what to say, and a second attempt to speak was blocked by the lump that had formed in his throat as realization hit him as well. My best friend didn’t make it.
The uncomfortable silence stretched out for several long seconds before Erin suddenly shook herself and then began glancing rapidly around.
“There’s a package in your room that wasn’t there this morning, one in my room too. And my computer is on. I never leave it on.”
Scott took a few moments to process the information, then darted for his room as Erin headed upstairs. The box waiting for him on his bed was huge, with a message scrawled across it in Ty’s barely legible handwriting. ‘Do not open until you’re a Hero. Seriously.’ Scott considered the note for less than a second before ripping into the cardboard. Then he stepped back to stare in surprise at what he found within. A trembling hand reached down and his power latched on to the contents of the box, dragging a brilliant-blue patterned bodysuit into the light. Scott reached forward with his other hand to feel the fabric-like texture of the unknown material, then exerted a bit more of his power and felt it harden into a rigid armor. A folded scrap of paper fell off the suit as it made its way fully clear of the box, and Scott paused to reach down for it.
‘I knew you’d ignore the one on the box, now put it away until you’re a Hero.’ Scott chuckled softly as he could practically hear his friend’s exasperated tone rising from the paper. ‘And sorry, man. I know we were supposed to go all the way together, but I just didn’t have what it-..’
“YOU SON OF A BITCH!”
The scream from upstairs yanked Scott’s attention away from the note and sent him sprinting up the steps. A few seconds later he found himself standing in the open doorway of Erin’s room, watching the tall girl shake with anger as she watched a video playing on the screen. Ty’s face was displayed on the screen, and his voice was faintly audible through the speakers as he concluded what sounded like a very long apology to his girlfriend. Erin turned to look at Scott as the message ended.
“You’re lucky, all he left me was a note.” Scott tried to force a note of humor into his voice. “Well, a note and a Hero uniform made out of some super high-tech material.”
“He gave up. He gave up and he didn’t even tell anyone in advance.”
“So we’ll get Cat, track him down, put his memories back together, and then you can kick his ass. I might, but to be fair it is a REALLY nice suit.” This time a smile briefly made its way onto Erin’s lips before she shook her head.
“He didn’t just washout, Scott.” The tall girl reached down to her keyboard and reset the video message to roughly its halfway point.
“-o I’ve decided to finally accept the DVA offer. To work on the next generation of materials for Hero uniforms and weapons. I negotiated a pretty sweet security clearance into the whole thing, so no mind-wipe for me. But I can’t make direct contact with anyone in the HCP until after they graduate, or washout. So, seeing as there’s no way you’re going to washout, I guess this is it for the next two years. I’ll understand if you don’t want to see me again after… but I’ll be waiting for you. Even if you decide you hate m-…”
Erin stabbed a finger at the keyboard to cut off the message again. “He gave up, and now he’s running away for the next two years. TWO. YEARS.”
“Did you check and see what else he left for you yet?” Scott’s question was mostly rhetorical, as he could see the untouched package sitting on Erin’s bed from where he stood, but it did draw her attention to the cardboard.
Erin strode over to the bed and glanced at the scrawled message on the outside. “Yeah, sure.” The tall girl mumbled to herself before tearing the cardboard open.
Where Scott had found a brilliant-blue suit, the very color he’d had many conversations with Ty about during bouts of naive dreaming about becoming a Hero, the bodysuit Erin produced was translucent and quite a bit thicker than Scott’s. A long rod, seemingly made of incredibly clear glass, dropped out to roll along the carpet with a heavy thud; and a thick manila envelope landed a moment later.
Erin stared at the rod for a second, then reached down to pick up the stuffed envelope. A brief examination later, and Scott watched as his friend started giggling, in spite of an obvious effort to keep her angry expression in place. After giving up her losing battle, Erin laughed out loud even as tears streamed down her cheeks, and she held out the envelope for Scott to inspect.
Inside Scott found a huge bundle of spa certificates, and a tiny handwritten note.
‘104 weeks until I can visit you, 104 spa days. Please don’t kill me. -Ty’
The sandy-haired youth found himself laughing and crying along with his friend.
The petite girl sat quietly in her room, staring intently at the small card held in her hands. Across from her, her dark-haired roommate watched her just as intently.
“You’re sure about this, Alex?” Alexandra Andrews looked up as her roommate broke the silence. “I mean, she’s my mom. I think I would have known if she…” Beulah trailed off.
“I’m sure. Cat is sure too. Whatever your mom does, there’s WAY more to it than she’s ever told you.”
“Why wouldn’t she tell me though?”
“To keep you safe?” Alexandra shrugged as she responded. “You live with your dad, here in the US, in a completely different world from her.”
“But you think she can help, with this?”
Alexandra shrugged again. “A lot of the trails seem to be leading out of the country. Heroes don’t have much latitude, or ANY really, to operate outside the country, so a lot of them never really develop any contacts or connections. Cat’s been following the investigation, more than she’s been letting on. I’ve been helping.” The blonde let out a deep sigh. “All of them are hitting dead ends. Everything about the attack on Overton leads back to another dead corporate executive, the exact same as it did at the end of the first year. We need to try something WAY outside the box. For Iris.”
“So… why are we waiting?” Beulah looked suddenly eager. “Let’s call in some international favors!”
“I’m… a little nervous about calling your mom, to be honest.”
The Israeli girl stared at her roommate for a second, then blinked across the room and snatched the card from her hands. A second later, Alexandra found herself staring at her cellphone as the ringing emanated from its speaker.
“Hello, Alex! I was wondering when you’d call.”
The blonde girl swallowed hard before she responded. “Hello, Mrs-…”
“Dahlia, dear Alex. Call me Dahlia. Have you finally decided to call in the favor I owe you?”
“Yes, mom, she has.” Alexandra found herself biting back a giggle at the surprised sound that emanated from her phone. “And we’re also calling in a favor on behalf of our friend that can’t do it herself.”
“Our friend, Iris, did what I did. But no one got there in time to rescue her, the way I was.” Alexandra’s voice was quiet as she spoke into the stunned silence. “And everyone that’s supposed to be finding the people who did it, they keep hitting dead ends. We think you might have some ways around those dead ends, and some avenues that no one here can use. Can you help us?”
“You’re talking about that bombing, aren’t you?” Both girls were surprised at the shift in Dahlia’s tone, as the question was coldly analytical. “The girl who died, that was your friend, Iris?”
“Yes mom, it was.”
Silence stretched out for a long moment before Dahlia’s voice emerged from the phone again. “Beulah, darling, bring me every scrap of information that has already been dug up. Everything you can get your hands on at least. If there’s still someone out there to find, I’ll have something for you by the end of the summer.”
The middle-aged woman smiled viciously as she leaned back in her office chair and watched the various news stories play out on the room’s monitors. The death of Lee Brieten, and the rapid dissolution and selling off of his companies that followed, was already yesterday’s news. Not a single peep from her people inside the FBI, DVA, or Attorney General’s office that any of Lee’s personal information had been retrievable either.
See Edward? THAT’S how you erase a trail. Joyce gloated to herself as she flicked the monitors off and turned to her computer. Joyce had taken the cover-up a step farther than her old accomplice had planned, and she’d protected Patrick as well as herself from discovery. It was a play she took a great deal of pride in, as it was unlikely that it had been anticipated by anyone that mattered.
“We may have hated each other before, Patrick, but I’m willing to let bygones be bygones. Especially since neither of us really remembers why we hated each other so much, and we can bond over how much MORE we should both hate Edward for betraying us like this.” As she spoke, Joyce opened up her encrypted email program.
Hesitation struck her as she tried to determine what she could possibly send to Patrick in order to initiate a new partnership. Is there any chance he’d trust anything sent to him like this? I sent myself complete dossiers on everything and even then I could hardly believe it, but there was so much…
Epiphany flashed across Joyce’s expression, and she quickly deleted the address line of the email to replace it with one for a very trusted, very discrete courier service. “Nothing I send you in a simple message could possibly convince you of anything, except perhaps that it’s time to flee the country and vanish. So let’s lay it all out and see if you’ve got the balls to help me take down Edward, or if you’ll just run anyways.” A final click, and the message was away.
By this time tomorrow, Patrick would either be her accomplice once again, or out of the game completely.
Elena Martinez leaned back in her chair with a dark expression on her face. The last deadline had come and gone, she couldn’t come up with any more excuses to put off assigning all of her second year Subtlety final scores. With a deep sigh she reached down to open the drawer that held the old fashioned grading book she insisted on using. Best Subtlety student in decades, and now I have to fail her-…
Elena’s train of thought cut off as a thick envelope fell out of the notebook as it came clear of the drawer. The Subtlety Instructor felt a huge grin forming on her face as she recognized the neat, swirly handwriting on the outside of the envelope.
“Well well, Ms Blake. It seems you aren’t going to fail without at least making an attempt.” Elena shook her head, and forced her head clear.
She needed to be impartial about this. Catalina Blake had opted NOT to simply complete the final and pass the class the normal way. Whatever this was, it needed to be genuinely incredible. Elena couldn’t allow her personal feelings about the young telepath’s exceptional abilities to cloud her judgement here. With a deep breath, the Subtlety Instructor opened the envelope, and reached in to remove its contents.
Elena found herself surprised to be holding a stack of, what appeared to be, Polaroid photos. The one on the top of the stack was of the smiling face of Catalina Blake, with a brief note scrawled on it.
‘Hope this impresses you, best I could come up with.’
The Subtlety Instructor smirked at the cocky vibe she got from the note. An expression that vanished immediately when she looked at the next photo in the stack. A rather innocuous picture showing the front of a small credit union in Adair, Oklahoma. The next photo drew a nearly terrified expression, of a safe-deposit box with the number clearly visible, and the next of a key in the box’s lock with the lid held just barely open. Suddenly frantic, Elena began shuffling through the stack of photos as quickly as she could. The pattern repeated six more times. A picture of a small town bank or credit union, a safe-deposit box number, and then that box slightly ajar.
At the bottom of the stack was another hand-written note.
‘There are two more banks; one in Mt Vernon, WA and another in Grand Ridge, FL. I didn’t have time to get access to your deposit boxes there, so I hope the seven I did get were enough. I know the broad strokes of what’s in them, but I didn’t pull anything out to learn the details. I hope this impresses you, Professor Martinez. And don’t worry, I won’t be slacking off. Next year will be even MORE impressive.’
Elena stared at the note for several minutes, reading the lines over and over before carefully folding it, and placing it and the pictures back in the envelope. A flick of her fingers opened her nearly forgotten gradebook to the correct page, and a hand that shook slightly entered the final grade for her sophomore class.
“I’m holding you to that, Ms Blake.” Elena spoke to the empty office as she closed the notebook and picked up the envelope. She had to drop off the former in the dean’s office, and drop the latter into an incinerator. THEN she had a lot of banks to visit.
Elena smiled again to herself as she vanished. The Subtlety Instructor found herself looking forward to how Catalina Blake planned to impress her next.