Sitting there, I still felt everything I’d been feeling before he’d told me this was a test and I’d passed. My stomach still turned and my heart may have slowed a little, but I could still feel it beating. I didn’t know what to do with my arms.
It wasn’t as if I needed to punch someone, but it didn’t feel right to place them on the arms of the chair. I didn’t know what would feel right, but up in a blocking position was the first thought that came to mind.
I’d spent too much time fighting people today.
Letting myself take a breath or two, I said, “You sound like you’d prefer it if we were living back in the 50s when my grandfather’s team was sometimes fighting both the criminals and the cops.”
Working Man shook his head, “I don’t want to fight cops. They’ve got a hard enough job. It worries me that the Feds set up a program that sends supers into government service. It seems like it’s designed to pull as many people permanently into the armed forces and other agencies as they can. Even the ones that don’t will have a positive impression and personal connections inside.
“I’ve got to say that I like the idea that they’ll be better trained and not have to pick everything up the hard way. They teach you the basics of being a combat medic. I don’t even want to think about how much that would have helped me when I started.
“My problem comes when I start thinking about the Nine and the Dominators. I’ve heard that you’ve faced their handiwork.”
I nodded, “More than once, I think, and as I said, not just on Earth.”
Images popped into my head of a woman’s head exploding and of the head of the engineering department. He’d been fine in the end, but I’d heard from Daniel that the man had been working for the Nine for years.
“Right,” Working Man said. “We know they have people in government. We suspect they’ve reprogrammed a few heroes. We don’t know how many, but exposing new heroes to government means exposing them to an unknown number of the Nine’s agents, both willing and unwilling. That’s what I’m afraid of. Even if we didn’t have the Nine to worry about, I’d still be nervous because I think the supers serve as an important check on anyone in government who wants to take more power than they’ve been given already.
“With the Nine to worry about, my fear is that supers will be recruited before they even know it.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking back to the Mayor and how he’d taken over heroes who’d come to Grand Lake as well as people in the federal and state government, calling out the National Guard to fight us. The impression Daniel had was that the Mayor had taught himself with some help from the Cabal. If that was what a low-powered telepath with a talent for mental manipulation could do, I could only wonder what the Dominators could do over time.
I made a mental note to check on whether the man was still in prison. Even if he had no connection to the Nine or the Dominators, he’d be a prize recruit and even more so if someone ran him through a power impregnator.
Resisting the urge to do an internet search on whether or not he was still in prison, I asked Working Man, “So, now what? Are you hoping I’ll go through my post-Stapledon program residency with enough fear and suspicion to avoid having my mind messed with? We’ve already got our own mental defenses that the Mystic set up. I don’t know if they’ll be enough against the Dominators. We haven’t ever gone up against them where they’ve been the main enemy as opposed to shadowy background figures.”
Working Man nodded, “It’s worth trying. They’re everything I fear most in an opponent. I’ll take fighting Syndicate L over them any day. The worst Syndicate L gets is finding out your true identity and threatening those you care about in your normal life. The Dominators can make you serve them without even knowing it.”
As I absorbed that statement, I realized that somewhere over the conversation I’d relaxed. It didn’t say good things about my life that a conversation like that could be relaxing, but there we were, “I’ve got another question. I get that you wanted to leave me suspicious of authority figures, but doesn’t telling me what you were doing afterward work against that? If you’d really wanted to traumatize me, you might have fired me after all that and let me find out that I’d passed the internship later. It seems like explaining yourself might make me reinterpret the whole thing.”
Working Man shook his head, “No. I wanted to teach a lesson you’d remember. I didn’t want to be cruel. I respected your grandfather more than that. Besides, it wasn’t all an act. I really am stubborn and I prefer to do things my way. Bringing in your friends is a risk and I don’t want them here, but in this situation, it’s a risk that kept you alive and I respect that. All I want is that you use your own best judgment and not let authority figures intimidate you.”
He pushed his chair back and stood up, “We should rejoin the group.”
A part of my brain that might be referred to as my inner smartass suggested that I might start thinking for myself by refusing to leave the chair in his office.
I stood up. My inner smartass doesn’t get much use.