Chapter 51

                Despite the fact that it hadn’t been her choice to take the job, Mary had grown to enjoy working at Supper with Supers far more than she ever expected. It wasn’t just because the stakes were lower than what she dealt with in class, although a forgotten basket of breadsticks was far less likely to get someone hurt than an out of control Sim; it was that working there allowed her a glimpse into what life was like for normal people her age.

                Between the other servers, the hostesses, and the myriad of Lander students who didn’t slink away underground every day, she was able to get a full dose of what the most common troubles plaguing her peers were. Initially, this had been done as necessary research, so that she knew what to complain about when the monster of small talk reared its head, but over time she’d found it interesting enough to justify itself. Mary was fascinated by the fact that, while the normal people’s problems were less dire in scale, to their owners they seemed equally as important as those fighting to make their way into the ranks of Heroes. By this point she’d gotten along far enough in her psychology classes to know it was all a matter of perspective, and she didn’t fault them for how they processed challenges. Rather, she often found herself wondering if perhaps there was another scale out there, one by which her problems, and those of her friends, would seem mundane and trivial to someone peeking in.

                It certainly helped her enjoyment that she’d quickly mastered the job, able to keep mental tabs on her tables so that she anticipated their every need. She actually had to hold herself back occasionally; otherwise the service would have seemed a little too perfect. People were paying for the illusion of Supers, not the reality. That topic, always a bit thorny and lurking beneath the surface, was even more troublesome after such a bold move by the Sons of Progress. Most of the time everyone tried very, very hard to ignore the fact that there was a sub-species of human capable of dominating the original version. Heroes helped the matter a great deal, making Supers seem like near-saints, stopping the few bad apples that occasionally popped up. When entire movements appeared, however, it wasn’t quite so easy to deny that uneasy truth: that Supers were people too, and not all of them were content with living in humanity’s shadow.

                More than a few times over the last month, between refills of iced tea and delivering sandwiches, Mary’s mind had flashed to the visions that Abridail showed them. A world torn apart by the divisions of Supers, Powereds, and humans, versus one that still rested in a tentative peace. She was always listening, to the humans and Supers alike, trying to glean some insight into what could steer them toward the less destructive future. Unfortunately, people and their fears were far from uniform, which made finding a single idea all but impossible.

                It was because she had this policy of always listening that she noticed the thoughts directed at her, even though they came from a table that wasn’t hers. She nearly frowned, halting the expression only because she was at a table and that would be poor service. This wasn’t someone she especially wanted to talk to, but he also wasn’t the kind of person it was smart to ignore. Finishing off taking her customers’ orders, Mary made a quick stop by the computer in the back to punch in their appetizers, and then walked around to a small table near the back of the restaurant.

                At night, this was the desired date table, because it was tucked away out of sight, creating a romantic atmosphere. During the afternoon, however, it was nicknamed The Office, because anyone wanting to do work or read while they ate was set there out of the way of distractions. He didn’t have a laptop open or a book in front of him, but it was clear at a glance that Ralph Chapman was here on business.

                “You could have asked to be put in my section,” Mary said. She didn’t sit, even though she knew he was waiting for her to. He could deal with it; she had other tables to keep up with and didn’t need to look like she was slacking.

                “Your section is right in the center of the restaurant; this is a better place for private conversations.” If that was Ralph Chapman’s idea of an apology, it certainly didn’t sound like he was sorry.

                “Those aren’t conversations I have at all in my place of work. If you want to talk about that stuff, you know where to find me.” Mary whirled around to leave, but Ralph spoke before she could get more than a few steps away.

                “I want to know about why Globe took you.”

                Her eyes went wide and she scanned the area, relieved to see that none of the other servers or tables were in earshot. She spun on him, fire in her eyes, only to find him looking completely placid as he took a long draw from his glass of sweet tea.

                “The usual place has too many ears around it,” Ralph said. “I thought this conversation was best had just between the two of us. Now I can have it loudly, or quietly, that’s up to you.”

                “I’m pretty sure this is an abuse of power for a DVA representative,” Mary said.

                “Interviewing a kidnapping victim to try and gain insight into a wanted criminal’s activities? No, that’s well within our spectrum of abilities. True, the venue is suspect, and you could complain about that, but if I can show that it was my only free time in the day then it will be hard to prove anything malicious about it.” Ralph stared at her, stirring his drink slowly, rattling the ice cubes as they smacked against the glass.

                “I’ve been asked about this at least a dozen times, by my people and yours.”

                “They’re the same people, Ms. Smith, don’t forget that. I just have a few follow-ups of my own not already covered,” Ralph said.

                Mary checked around her again. It was still clear, but that wasn’t going to last forever. Sooner or later someone would happen by, and if it was at the wrong moment then more than just her own secret could be slipped. Ralph had her over a barrel, at least for the moment. She tried listening to his thoughts, but all he was thinking about was that the tea was too sweet. DVA agents were apparently taught how to deal with telepaths.

                “Can we at least talk after my shift? Somewhere not in my place of work?”

                “I think I can swing that.” Ralph pulled a business card out of his pocket, along with a ten dollar bill. “Address is on the back of the card. The money is for my server. Tell her to keep the change.” With that, Ralph rose from his seat, polished off the last of his drink, and began walking past Mary.

                “Try to be prompt. I’ve got a lot to do, and I’d hate to reschedule and come back here another day.”