The heels of my shoes clicked smartly against the floor as I approached the double doors of the Oval Office. I paused for a moment outside the doors, checking my hair and running my eyes one last time over the contents of the leather file in my hands, and then stepped through.
“Sir? I have the latest reports,” I called out to the high-backed leather chair behind the President’s desk.
The chair slowly rotated around. I carefully avoided rolling my eyes. The last intern to roll his eyes at the theatrics of our leader had ended up “volunteering” as a test subject for an Explosive Growth Ray, intended to boost meat production by super-sizing cows and pigs.
“Ah, the latest reports, yes,” the man sitting in the chair repeated, the words sounding slightly metallic coming from behind his mask. Through the two eye slits, dark pupils watched closely as I approached, offering the leather folder out to him. A hand, covered by a blackened metal gauntlet, accepted the folder from me and flipped it open.
Our leader set the folder down on the desk in front of him, but those dark eyes remained locked on me. “So, what’s the news?” he asked.
He made a short, impatient gesture, uncomfortably similar to gestures I’d seen him use to order minions to execute hostages in the old archival footage tapes. “You’ve read the whole thing, I know. So give me a status update.”
“Well, we’re making great strides in many areas,” I began, electing to start with the good news. “Thanks to Magneto’s work with recycling and augmenting metal, our construction boom is still providing job growth. Analysis of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits is still ongoing, but scientists are fairly confident that we’ll have synthetic substitutes ready for phase II of FDA trials by the end of this year. And a new joint venture between Loki and Kingpin is claiming that they’ll have portals open between all major cities by next quarter, although we know that Loki’s never been good with deadlines.”
The robed and masked man waved his gloved hand again. “Yes, yes, I’m aware of that,” he grunted. “What about the heroes?”
Despite my attempt to keep my face calm and blank, a brief grimace flashed across it. “Yes. Well.”
Those dark eyes watched me for another second, and then the man behind the desk rose up to his feet. Instinctively, I took a step back, and I heard him snort. “What are you worried about, girl?”
“Er. I heard about the last intern,” I said, keeping a close eye on his gauntlets. I knew he had a laser mounted in one of them, but I couldn’t remember which one.
“Oh, him? Trust me, he had it coming,” the man insisted. “I’m not planning on hurting you. Go on, take a seat.”
Still feeling a little on edge, I let myself sink into one of the chairs in front of the desk, crossing my legs and smoothing down my skirt self-consciously.
Behind the desk, the man turned to stare out the tall windows behind him, clasping his gauntleted hands behind his back. “They fought us,” he said, his words a little grander, a little softer, than when he’d been speaking to me. “They insisted that our new ideas would destroy their old world, destroy everything they fought to preserve.”
“And indeed, they were right.”
The man – the king, I amended my thought, remembering his official title – shook his head slightly. “We destroyed the trappings of their old world – the disease, the hunger, the sickness,” he said, staring out at the sunny day beyond the window. “We used our powers for the greater good, fixing what we found broken – even when that meant remaking society itself.”
“You’ve done a lot of good for the world,” I spoke up, wanting to contribute. “Poverty, hunger, communicable disease – we’re already seeing so much benefit all across the world-“
“Yes,” he nodded. Behind his back, I saw one gauntlet tighten into a fist. “And yet, they still fight back.”
I sensed the man’s mood darkening, but like a true storm, I couldn’t see a way to divert the gathering energy. “They insist that what we are doing is bad, that it doesn’t match their ‘traditional values’!” he growled. “They now lead campaigns of fear, of ignorance and bigotry, of destruction and racism against us!”
Turning back abruptly to face me, he slammed a gauntlet down on the desk, making the entire sturdy wood piece of furniture shake. “Heroes!” he spat, his eyes blazing behind the steel mask. “They call themselves heroes! They have no right to the name!”
I stared, transfixed, into the merciless eyes behind that mask. I’d always been drawn to power and influence, and I knew that the man before me possessed both in absolutes. I’d watched his ascension, cheered for him at the polls, listened to his old speeches.
He had brought the very opposite of his name to our country, and then to the entire world.
After a minute, the burning rage in his eyes dimmed, and he sank back down into his chair. “The news, Sue,” he stated, folding his gauntleted fingers together beneath his chin.
I nodded, snapped out of the trance of his words. “Yes. We froze Wayne Enterprise’s accounts, but we’re still receiving reports of the vigilante, mainly conducting industrial sabotage. Most of the supers have moved south, setting up strongholds in more rural areas where our military forces cannot reach them. They’ve launched several more attacks; the full list is in the binder.” I recalled the long list of industrial targets, fusion energy factories, synthetic medicine centers, and other areas that had suffered attacks.
The most powerful man in the free world nodded, and I heard a sigh escape his lips behind the mask. “Heavy is the head,” I heard him mutter to himself under his breath.
When he raised his eyes to look at me again, however, any trace of weakness was once again scoured away. “Talk with the Joint Chiefs about troop movements – we’ve got them hemmed, but now we need to close the trap,” he declared. “Use the robotic droid systems for reconnaissance – we can’t risk more human lives.”
“The Doombots, sir?” I clarified.
He nodded. “We thought that we’d won,” he said reflectively, leaning back in his chair. “But we didn’t know how much higher we’d still have to climb.”
I waited a beat longer, but no other comments were forthcoming. He didn’t dismiss me, but I knew that our conversation was at an end.
Rising up from the chair, I turned and headed out of the office, leaving President Von Doom alone once again.