Chapter 302 Sentinel
Aldrich inspected Emmet. As far as mutants went, his mutation was not severe. His skin had a dark green tint to it from his thick, leathery scales. But overall, he was quite humanoid, with a square face, yellow glared slit eyes, and visibly sharp teeth that still made it clear that even if he was recognizable as a man, he still very much had quite a bit of mutant in him.
But more man than monster. Emmet was dressed up in appropriate military garb decorated with badges to signify outstanding heroism and his position as a general.
As far as public information showed, Aldrich knew that Emmet was a war hero who had put his life on the line more times than the average man ever had the balls to do in multiple lifetimes.
Aldrich did not know how much of that was PR, but he could respect a man that could risk their lives for others.
"First, a few questions for Thanatos," said Emmet. "Our reports on you show what you did, but little about who you are, and for you to be part of anything defensible, we've got to know you a bit better.
So, why don't you introduce yourself?
Where'd you come from? Who really are you, under that armor of yours? You showed up in Haven, which is U.S. territory. You from there?"
Jin Woo's voice cut in with a guillotine edge. "I'd like to object to this line of questioning. Thanatos should have a right to privacy. Tychus and I have respectfully tread around personal questions, but it seems that the U.S., as usual, lacks tact."
"I agree with Jin Woo on that one," said Tychus. "Ain't right for a man to get hounded so much after what he's been through, locked up like that after he got done savin' a whole city."
Aldrich understood what was going on here.
Emmet, and by extension the United States, naturally wanted more information on him. After all, the Fortune CEOs had done practically no questioning. All they had done was tossed their offers in the air.
Though Emmet was being friendly, it was obvious that his questioning would soon try to to pry into how Aldrich's powers functioned or how many troops he had.
The questions were meant to mine data. Data to determine Aldrich's threat level.
This reflected the U.S. government's attitude. They treated him as an unknown variable that they still had to figure out whether to oppose or not. Not even the government could directly oppose two Fortune CEOs, so it had cast a yes vote for Thanatos not being a threat.
But that did not mean they did not truly consider Aldrich a threat. It just meant they were pressured to say yes at this hearing.
If push came to shove and the government did deem him a threat post-hearing, Aldrich had no illusion that they could and would make his unlife much harder in both direct and indirect ways.
Indirectly, they could cut off support for Haven. Directly, they could send military force against Aldrich, especially if he rejected the protection the CEOs tacitly promised.
Speaking of, the Fortune CEOs did not try to block these questions out of generosity.
They saw Aldrich basically as their next new shiny and classified project, though less classified in Tychus's case. Even then, if Aldrich was going to be the face of a new hero organization, he probably would not have all his information revealed to begin with.
Naturally, the CEOs wanted to minimize knowledge of Aldrich's abilities, origins, literally everything about him, as much as possible. Because all of that was valuable information on their new project that other competitors could use.
"Thanatos can answer for himself," countered Emmet. He met Jin Woo's sharp voice with gritty calm. "And he can choose to remain silent as well, if that's what he wants."
"General Rye, what's the end goal of all this questioning? Are you going to offer me something? Or do you want me to share valuable information for nothing?" said Aldrich. Again, he wanted to get to the point.
If he did cooperate with the government, where would that get him?
"The point of this second case is to debate how you should be integrated into global defense of which the states is a major part of. I have to mention too that your operations so far have all been on U.S. soil, and as an unknown entity, I'm sure you know how much of a headache that poses for both of us.
I'm no legal expert or even a proper politician, but even a layman like myself understands that it'll be one massive knot to untie.
Unless, that is, we can come to an agreement here." Emmet motioned to Jin Woo and Tychus. "It's all the rage to work for a big company these days. More money in it compared to a government job.
But I'll say this: there are things that the government can do and know that companies, no matter how important they like to think they are, can't get their grubby hands on.
And, I don't know if this applies to you, but I still believe there's some honor in serving your country."
"I see," said Aldrich. This went about how he expected it to go. The U.S. was essentially using the leverage they had over Aldrich - the fact that Haven and all his actions were on U.S. soil - against him.
Granted, the government also offered a job, probably planning to turn Aldrich into a government operative and lab rat.
Aldrich figured he had a good enough read of how things would go from here. The United Front nation states would try to get information from Aldrich, and the corporations would try their best to keep him privatized.
Other countries had less leverage than the U.S. on Aldrich, but maybe they would offer more freedom or more resources to try and sway him from the U.S.
But unless that freedom was absolute, Aldrich did not care about it. He did not want to be anyone's tool. He had fought enough battles and amassed enough power not to bow his head to anyone.
That last part about service to country, that was particularly laughable. As a Dud, Aldrich had been a nobody his entire life, and the government had barely done anything to change that.
Aldrich had no loyalty to any flag. His only loyalty was, as always, to himself.
"I see," repeated Aldrich.
"See what?" said Emmet.
"I see that it doesn't matter whether you're a general, a government rep, or a Fortune CEO. You're all the same. You want to use me for your own good," said Aldrich. "Which is completely understandable. I don't judge any of you for wanting this.
It's simply logical to want the best for yourselves.
But then again, wouldn't it also be logical for me to look out for myself?"
The Operator chimed in. "I will remind the examined that the purpose of this hearing is to determine integration. If you reject motions drafted for you, there will be pushback."
"Pushback? Locked in a cell for a week after saving thousands of lives sounds like pushback already." Aldrich shrugged. "Relax. I'm not here to stand against all of you. If I wanted to, I wouldn't even be here to begin with.
Even now, I could disappear without a trace, and none of you could ever catch me."
An uncomfortable series of looks switched between many of the examiners, though some, the big dogs like the Fortune CEOs and the reps of the bigger countries, did not bat an eye.
They likely already determined that there was no way Thanatos would hand himself over to the authorities unless he had some kind of insurance to get out.
"I want to work with all of you," continued Aldrich. "After all, as you all have so aptly laid out, you have resources and power.
But only on the condition that I be free."
"As an examined, you do not have the right to present motions of your own," said the Operator. "As indicated by article-,"
"Article 44A, yes, I read through the rules for the hearing when I got here," said Aldrich.
"What are you suggesting then?" said Supermind, his hand on his chin.
"Mr. Park, you said before that if I worked with you, I would not bow to anyone under heaven and earth except you, correct?" said Aldrich. "Well, I want to go a step further.
I will not bow for you, or for anyone else here.
If I'm going to be working with you all, for global defense, then it won't be as a subordinate; it will be as an equal."
Supermind's X shaped pupils widened in recognition. The same recognition flickered across the faces of many of the examiners.
Dracul, normally utterly emotionless, faintly smiled.
"You can't mean..." began Supermind.
"I want to be recognized as a Sentinel. I want my own power. My own authority," said Aldrich. "Authority on par with an entire nation. Or a global mega-corporation.
Because that is how much my power is worth."