“I’ve looked over your file, Mr. Voss, and I must say, you could have done very well in life if you’d chosen to stay in the law-abiding portion of the private sector,” the assistant district attorney said, flipping open a dense brown folder. She was a plump middle-aged woman whose sense of style far outstripped what most fashion designers likely idealized when making their lines for the next season. She dressed sharply but professionally, and accessorized effectively to draw attention to her eyes and hands, features that were, he had to admit, striking on their own.
“There wasn’t anything out there for me,” he replied, hands folded politely in his lap. He couldn’t precisely spread them out on the table, being shackled together and linked to cuffs on his ankles, which hung just below the hem of his orange DOC jumpsuit. “Trust me, I looked.”
“I don’t buy that,” she said, looking down at her papers. “It says here you graduated in the top ten percent of your class from Dakota State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications Science. You played running back for their football program in sophomore, junior and senior years.”
“I was a backup all three years,” he said, looking down at his hands. “College isn’t quite the same as high school, Ms. Anderson.”
“You were All-American in high school,” she pointed out, looking him in the face.
“So were half of the skill position players on my team. We were state champs two years running. That tends to happen.”
“Any reason it didn’t translate to the college game, Mr. Voss?”
“Yeah, there is. Kids in college, they’re not competing to get an easier ride through school anymore, they’re competing to make millions of dollars in the pros. I was plenty good, but just not quite good enough, not at football. And please,” he said. “You can call me Warren at this point.” ADA Anderson nodded slightly, flipping to the next page in her file.
“The Hero Action Committee agents caught up with you and your associate, Ms. Riffkin, just outside of Minneapolis, Warren. Where were you heading with all of that money?”
“Canada,” Warren said. “We had contacts who said Infernus Rex was looking to take on some new crew. We figured it was just city authorities after us, maybe federal. We didn’t know HAC people were onto us, not until the raid.”
“So you expected you’d make it away pretty clean.”
“For the most part, yeah,” Warren said. “We weren’t hurting anyone along the way, paid cash for everything, kept to little out-of-the-way places. We kept our heads down.” Anderson looked once again in her file, flipping through a few pages and reviewing something written in her own feminine, curling script.
“I can see that. The HAC agents’ reports say both you and Riffkin were courteous to everyone you came across, non-confrontational, and even used non-lethal weapons in your own defense during the raid. But you did break three agents’ legs and another’s arm, as well as multiple ribs, Mr. Voss. There’s also the matter of your association with the supervillain known as The Zapper, one which you carried on for four years.”
“Allegedly,” Warren said.
“No, Mr Voss, we know it for certain,” Anderson said, opening her briefcase, shunted to one side of the table near her left elbow. She withdrew from it several printouts and slid them across the table toward Warren, whose own name was highlighted in pink, a few lines below Zoey’s. “This is a roster chart, Mr Voss, taken from the mainframe in The Zapper’s base of operations. As you can see, we knew about you and Ms. Riffkin almost as soon as we had The Zapper in our custody.”
Warren plucked up the sheet and glanced at it, recognizing right away the structure on it. He felt a twinge of disappointment as he looked at the names and numbers assigned to each on the first page. The second, third and fourth pages had more names, but each one was assigned, instead of a number, a couple of letters, ‘FS’. He knew what this meant, having helped develop the spreadsheet in the system; ‘Foot Soldier’.
“So you knew to come after us,” Warren said, tossing the pages down on the table between himself and the ADA. “But why me, huh? Zoey I get, she’s a Two, there were only three of them, pretty high up. But I’m a Three, there were almost a dozen of us. Why focus on me?”
“There were other files on the mainframe, personnel files. Ms Riffkin’s indicated that she was carrying on a romantic relationship with you,” said Anderson. Warren felt his lips curl up in a snarl, forehead furrowing.
“Those files were encrypted,” he said. “There were dozens of failsafe programs in place to destroy them all if someone tried cracking them.” Anderson gave him a weird little smile and tilted her head to one side, chuckling.
“The folks at HAC don’t just work with the big name heroes, Mr Voss. Have you ever heard of a man they call Technobabble?” Warren shook his head slightly. “He can literally talk to machines, and computers are his favorite kind.”
“Shit,” Warren muttered. He knew where this was heading.
“Now fortunately for you, the HAC director hasn’t been able to convince Congress or the courts to accept testimony from machines through Technobabble as admissible in a trial, because he spent quite a few hours with Zapper’s battle tanks and assault vehicles as well,” Anderson practically growled. “The judge wouldn’t look at them, but I’ve had the last twenty-four hours to read some of what he wrote down for me. If it could be allowed, you’d be looking at several life sentences.”
Warren held his tongue, hands once more pulled down into his lap. “I assume there’s a deal on the table here, yes,” he finally asked after a couple of minutes’ awkward silence.
“There is. Spiral City is one of the municipalities in this country which participates in a little-known program called Henchmen’s Anonymous.” Warren couldn’t help the burst of gut-laughter that escaped him then, a true and goodly fit that held him for half a minute before he calmed down enough to shake his head at her, smiling like a loon.
“You’ve got to be fucking joking me,” he said, still giggling. “Like Alcoholics’ Anonymous, but for henchmen?” Anderson nodded and pulled a black covered pamphlet out of her briefcase, dropping it on the table in front of Warren. The smile quickly faded, and Warren flipped the pamphlet open to its first page. “This is ridiculous,” he said to himself.
“There are some other conditions, of course,” Anderson said. “For starters, you will be barred from employment of any sort in the public sector, for life,” she said. “You can run for elected offices up to and including state legislature, but nothing more. If you try, your original charges will be revisited.”
“Okay. What else,” Warren asked.
“You will have to remain a resident of the United States for the duration of your time in the program, preferably in the city where your criminal activity took place. It will be easier for law enforcement to keep tabs on you this way.”
“Wait, keep tabs on me,” Warren asked. “So I’m going to be, what, under constant surveillance?”
“Very nearly, yes,” Anderson replied. “Mostly it’ll be passive in nature, and local agencies will try to be unobtrusive. You don’t have to disclose to any potential employer your enrollment in the program or affiliations with The Zapper or any other henchmen, but nobody will be compelled to keep it a secret if asked.” Warren thought about all of this, tapping the pamphlet on the table.
“What’s the alternative,” he asked.
“Fifteen years for assaulting a federal officer, three for each HAC officer you injured in the raid,” Anderson said. “And before you ask, no, there wouldn’t be any kind of upside to that.”
“How long do I have to stay in the program,” Warren asked.
“Until a sponsor in the program reports to us that you’ve completed Step 7,” Anderson said. “At that juncture, we’ll seal all records regarding your activities under the command of The Zapper and construct a civil service background for you to utilize in the future, probably through the Post Office. It isn’t much, but consider your options.”
Warren flipped open the pamphlet once again, scanning briefly the 9 Steps of Henchmen’s Anonymous. He set the pamphlet down and met Anderson’s gaze. “I believe I’m done considering.”