Dreams are weird things. Even when they feel totally real, even when you're dreaming about something that really happened, things that make perfect sense and feel totally natural to you turn out to be utterly surreal when you wake up. You surface out of the dream wondering just what the heck was going on in your subconscious.
All that is by way of explaining that Lord Raptor didn't really serve us chilled monkey brains at dinner that day in his headquarters. There was also no course that involved slitting open a dead python stuffed with baby eels. We actually got chicken fingers and french fries, for the record. I guess Lord Raptor didn't trust us with the good silverware.
Actually, he didn't trust us, period. We sat next to him, one of us on each side, but his chair was separated by a shimmering curtain of pure force that I didn't think even Captain Light could bust. At least, not before the hundreds of armed soldiers charged us; we were at the grown-up's table, but this was a full-on mess hall for Lord Raptor's troops. I counted eight hundred men in all, not counting the kitchen staff. (Lord Raptor had a guy behind the force field with him, passing him food and drinks from a hatch in the wall. I'm not sure if it counts as paranoid when you have a guy who can punch a hole in the side of a battleship sitting next to you and glaring angrily.)
"You might not realize it," he said conversationally between bites of monkey brain, "but I'm actually something of a philanthropist." (No, I wasn't freaking dreaming that. He actually said that to us.) "I want to bring about a new Golden Age of prosperity for the American Empire. My men, my fortress...these are just sensible precautions, that's all."
"You're a petty thief with fancy toys," Captain Light replied. He wasn't eating, just sitting there with his arms folded and his face set in a stony glare. (I, um, kinda was eating. Hello, hyper-metabolism!) "Tell yourself whatever lies you like, that's never going to change."
"Thief?" Lord Raptor actually smiled behind his helmet, his eyes twinkling with mirth. "Definitely. Petty? Anything but." I had a weird flash of insight, a sudden understanding of why all those supervillains in the comics and the Bond movies talked at heroes instead of just killing them. He was a total narcissist; in his head, this was just the first act in some kind of mental script that ended with us giving in and admiring his genius. He wanted validation, and we were a means to that end.
"My Exploratory Corps--the men you see around us--do you really think they would remain so committed to simple looting and plunder?" His arms swept out as if to encompass all of his mercenaries in a giant hug. "No, they are true patriots to a man. Patriots who want their fair share of the prosperity they bring to the United States, of course, but that's part of the American Dream."
"Let me guess," I snarked. "You're going to take over the world? Enslave the lesser races, subdue the indigenous peoples, and strip-mine the natural resources of all the piddling countries out there that have the nerve not to speak English?"
"Oh, my dear girl, you wound me!" he replied. "My new America will merely be the first among equals. Once my new technology has been perfected, a whole new frontier will open for the human race. A frontier filled with vaster and more exotic resources than the human race has dreamt of in all its vistas of exploration."
"Oh," I said. "So your men aren't in this for the looting and plundering. They're in it for the noble harvesting of the resources of a vast new frontier. And I suppose this exotic new frontier has, perhaps, a few natives already living there before you discovered it?"
"To be honest," he said, "I'm not entirely sure. We've only been able to sustain the dimensional portal for a few seconds at a time, not long enough to send a team through. We need more capital and resources before we can begin to truly explore. That's why we--"
"Loot and plunder," Captain Light said. "But you don't enjoy it." He and I exchanged a glance. If the force field hadn't been between us, I would totally have high-fived him.
"No, it's a regrettable necessity that takes us towards a greater good," Lord Raptor said. "Much like the bombs I have at the ready, should Washington decide not to fund my plans."
TO BE CONTINUED...