The Atoner frowned, “I don’t think so.”
Time stretched and Dr. Transylvania began to open his mouth to say goodbye when The Atoner said, “Talk in my office, Doc?”
Dr. Transylvania nodded and they got up from the table, walking out of the concrete-walled room as Mistress Madness muttered, “Looks like the grownups are going off to have a private conversation.”
The Atoner smiled at her, “If it’s important, we’ll let everybody know afterward. This is a team. Doc and I don’t run this team. We all do.”
Ape Nasty gave a booming laugh, waving at Dr. Transylvania, “See you, boss. Let me know the plan when you’re ready.”
The Atoner shook his head but opened the door for Dr. Transylvania and they walked through another gray hall, through a steel door, and into The Atoner’s office. An unfinished gadget shaped like a shiny, black ball lay on the Atoner’s desk. Partially disassembled, circuitry and wires were visible inside. Other pieces sat on the desk around it.
Neither one sat down. The Atoner stepped behind them and shut the door, inadvertently standing in front of what Dr. Transylvania thought of as the Atoner’s Wall of Regret.
A framed poster of the Des Moines Titans hung in the middle of framed newspaper articles of their biggest successes hung on the wall. In the picture, the men and women were happy, healthy, young, and beautiful. In the present, they were all dead except for the only survivor who stood in front of him—their killer.
It hadn’t been the Atoner’s fault. He’d been controlled by a super that the press initially called “Mind Wedgie.” He’d called himself Mind Whip. The only reference to this part of the Atoner’s history was a framed article with the headline, “MIND WHIP EXECUTED.”
“Vladislav,” the Atoner said, “I know that you mean well, but you were sounding like a supervillain in there. I know the team won’t report you, but when I hear you talk like that, I get worried about what you’re going to do. Ape Nasty’s got a bomb in his head and I know there are agents whose silver bullets have your name on them—not to mention the blood thing. Don’t give them an excuse to use it. We’ve done good work together. I don’t want to end it prematurely.”
In moments like this, Vladislav had no choice but to remember that the Atoner believed that he, Vladislav, was somehow a good man, “Colin,” he said, “I will not let this stand. The Nine destroyed my storage area. The government may own it now, but there are things inside that I need. The authorities promised I’d get them back, and now they don’t know if they exist. The Nine attacked and I know they weren’t the main target, but if the Nine knew I wanted them, I have no doubt that they’d destroy them intentionally.”
Colin nodded, “What is it? Is it personal? Technical? How important is it to keep secret?”
Vladislav said, “All of that. The FBI knows what to look for, but I don’t trust all of them. The Nine have their hooks into too many people—including Agent Spitz, I think.”
Colin looked down, but when he raised his eyes, he said, “I think so too. I still don’t want you to antagonize him. They have ways to control and hurt you. You know that. I think we need to keep all of this under the radar. If anyone’s a target, it should be me and it needs to be quiet.”
Shaking his head, Vladislav responded, “They have controls on you too—loyalty to the government, respect for authority figures, and an unwillingness to become a criminal. This needs someone with less respect and more experience in defying authority. I can assure you that it will be quiet.”
“Absolutely not, “Colin said. “This will blow back on you. Don’t do anything. I’m going to look into it now and I will be back before tonight’s meeting with Spitz. You, however, will be here all day with a completely clean conscience because you won’t do anything wrong.”
With a nod, Vladislav said, “I won’t do anything wrong.”
Colin looked up at him, “Don’t think I didn’t hear the double meaning in that. You know I’m telling you not to do anything that I would consider wrong.”
Vladislav grunted something that could be considered assent if you wanted to believe he was assenting.
Colin sighed, “Alright, I’m going to see what I can do and you’re going to avoid screwing up the lives of your entire team.”
Colin opened the door for them to leave the room and go back into the world where Vladislav would be a reformed supervillain and Colin would not be the closest thing to a friend he’d had in more than one hundred years.
The Atoner followed him out into the hall and with a wave said, “Think about what I said.”
Dr. Transylvania nodded and walked the other way down the hall to his own office. Pulling the steel door open, he walked in. It felt better than Colin’s bare, monk-like room. He’d had a big wooden desk put in along with rugs, curtains to cover the walls, and crossed swords hanging above the desk. He’d been told it felt medieval, but he knew better.
The medieval era wasn’t quite as comfortable and it took considerably more work to hide from the sun.
As the door shut behind him, he sat down at his desk and picked up the phone. It looked like an old brass phone from the last century except that it didn’t have a cord that led to the wall.
It didn’t need the cord. He’d designed it to work without one, tapping wirelessly into the network he’d designed for his organization. Within a few seconds, he’d used the dial to send the activation code and heard a man’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Get me everything you can find on Agent Phil Spitz. I’m especially interested in any training or protection he has against mind control. Don’t hesitate to use our sources in the Nine to find out if he’s an asset.”