Chapter 241

                Something was off. She could feel it as soon as she stepped through the door of the house. Much of her time in the HCP was blurry, but some aspects of it were more deeply ingrained than mere memories. Jill trusted her instincts; she could sense the presence of strangers in her home. Mentally readying herself, she reached out to some of the security measures Will had installed through the house. Whoever had come here looking for trouble, they were going to find a fuckload more of it than they’d expected.

                “Miss Murray, I’d ask that you please calm yourself.” From the kitchen stepped a short man in a black suit. She knew him, he was always with the Melbrook group, and they’d allowed Jill to retain memories of them.

                “Mr. Numbers, right?” Her nerves weren’t soothed yet, nor did she stop reaching out to the security system. Familiar or not, this guy had still busted into her house, and that didn’t speak to pure intentions.

                “That’s right, and the gentleman over in the corner is Mr. Transport.” Mr. Numbers nodded to the other end of the room, where a taller man in a nearly matching suit had stepped into view. “First off, let me assure you that we have not come to do you any harm. We simply needed a chance to speak with you privately, and this was the most expedient solution.”

                From across the room, Mr. Transport piped up. “Plus your friends are going through a sort of recruitment today, so it seemed fitting to have this meeting.”

                “A recruitment?” Jill’s eyes darted from one to the other and back, trying to wrap her head around the day’s sharp turn into the unexpected. Her afternoon plans had been margaritas and homework, not dealing with a pair of near-strangers conversationally ambushing her. “What does that even mean?”

                “For them, it means that they are talking with agents about their potential future as Heroes. For you, it means we would like to take a few minutes of your time to talk about a different kind of career path. One that is not quite so glamorous as Hero work, yet comes with rewards all its own.”

                Not entirely letting go of her connection to the house’s defenses, Jill set her backpack down on the floor and walked over to the couch, taking a seat. Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport moved in closer, but stayed a healthy distance back, giving her ample space. Once she was comfortable, Jill motioned to the nearby chairs and the men sat.

                “Look, I get that you probably didn’t mean for this to seem as creepy as it did, but you really need to work on your approach strategy.”

                Mr. Transport shot Mr. Numbers a dirty look. “I told you we should have called ahead.”

                “We find that people are often more receptive to new ideas when they aren’t prepared for them. Surprise opens up the mind,” Mr. Numbers said. “However, I do apologize for interrupting your day. If you’d like to put this off, we can come back another time.”

                “No, you’re here, and I doubt this will take long. Let me save us all some trouble: I don’t want to be a Hero. It wasn’t easy to come to that decision, and I’m not going to pretend part of me doesn’t wonder ‘what if’ about staying in, but every time I think back to why I left I know it was the right call for me. So I’m not interested in Hero work, okay?”

                “We are keenly aware of your feelings, its why we came to speak with you.” Mr. Numbers pulled a card from his pocket and handed it to Jill, who snatched it away carefully. “Full health benefits, 401k, paid travel, and the chance to make a difference. Plus if you turn the card over you’ll find your starting salary.”

                Jill flipped it over and coughed loudly. “Heroes don’t make this kind of money.”

                “Some do through merchandising, although you’re correct that their government salary isn’t nearly at this level. But we aren’t government workers, officially. We’re part of a company with government contracts, and we’re compensated appropriately,” Mr. Numbers explained. “The Hero system is as much about image as it is about action, Miss Murray. Those big, costumed battles in the public eye are vital to shaping the nation’s view of Supers, but such a system is not tenable on its own. There are other sorts of tasks to be handled, occasionally entailing the kinds of things that no Hero could ever be caught doing. Sometimes that means extracting hostages before a Hero can enter a scene, sometimes it demands we deal with information leaks in a forceful manner. Our job often varies, however two things remain constant: we work to keep the world safe, and we do not engage criminal Supers publicly.”

                “That sounds like what Subtlety Heroes do,” Jill pointed out.

                Mr. Transport shifted in his chair. “There is some overlap, remember that the Hero system is a constantly evolving one. But there’s more than enough work to go around. Plus, Subtlety Heroes tend to largely concern themselves with localized threats to their team or city. We take a broader approach, going where we’re needed. We also focus on human threats as much as Super ones, whereas Hero work tends to slant one’s priorities to the Super side.”

                “You are a talented woman, Miss Murray,” Mr. Numbers told her. “Your power is exceptional, with a multitude of uses, and you had the incredible level of determination required to reach Year 4 in the HCP. In the weeks to come, you should brace for interest from many parties. If the CIA doesn’t already have a plan to approach you, I’d be shocked, and the FBI won’t be far behind. Technology is one of the few weapons humans have against Supers, and you can control it. That makes you valuable.”

                “Maybe you shouldn’t have told me that I’m about to get wooed by a bunch of people if you’re trying to recruit me.” Jill looked at the numbers on the card again, making sure she wasn’t reading them wrong. She wasn’t. “Then again, you did come with one hell of an opening offer.”

                Both men rose from their chairs, and Mr. Transport stepped over to Mr. Numbers. “Actually, the fact that you’re going to get courted is why we came now. We wanted you to have all the information possible when it came time to pick a path for yourself. See, Mr. Numbers and I didn’t have a lot of choice when we got recruited; we needed the company’s help. Ultimately it worked out fine for both of us, but we’ve never forgotten how it felt to be painted into a corner like that. Now that we get to do the recruiting, we make sure our potential employees know they have a choice.”

                “I appreciate that, I do. But if I’ve got all these options coming my way, why should I pick yours? Tell me what sets you apart.”

                “A multitude of things that we can get into at a later date, once you have had time to think things over,” Mr. Numbers said. “The key difference, however, is a simple one. Ours is the only job offer that can provide you the chance to keep watching over your brother. If you want to help Will, to be part of his Hero-life, then ours is the company for you. Think it over. We’ll be in touch, but next time we’ll call first.”

                They were gone without another word, leaving Jill alone in her home with nothing but a business card and a lot more confusion than she’d been prepared for.