Sylvia is very reluctant to let go of the idea she lighted upon.
"It all makes sense," she stresses. "Why else would Jeff not be able to remember anything? All the memory gaps; they're specific to events surrounding Lord Dominator. She must have caught up with him and brainwashed him."
Wander steers Jeff away from the trashcans and tries to point out that really, there can be a whole slew of reasons the ex-villain is so wonky in the head.
"But mind control explains your encounter with her too!" Sylvia insists, "You were on board her ship, but you said you never saw anything. You must have met her – You were brainwashed into forgetting!"
"Auuhh, maaaybe, but-"
Sylvia's eyes fill with compassion. "Oh, buddy - she's clouding your judgment."
"No-" This is bad, very bad-
"I always wondered why you didn't want to help her, the way you help other villains… now it all makes sense. She was stopping you from doing that."
"And…" here, too many pieces fall into place. "on the planet that got destroyed, you…" Realization breaks across her face. "You knew she was going to attack."
Wander shrinks away.
She gazes imploringly into his eyes. "Wander, how did you know?"
"I-I uh, gosh Syl, um-" It becomes difficult to meet her horrible suspicion.
"She had to have – sent you a, a telepathic signal or, or something-"
"Syl, I don't know if-"
"But then you would have known she could do this mind thing. You would have to have known."
Doubt, disbelief, "but – but you would have told me, Wander."
"I…." He looks anywhere but at her, because it's much much too hard to meet that heartwrenching expression.
"I knew," he whispers.
Sylvia's expression crumples, and Wander rushes to rectify himself, "sh-she didn't brainwash me – I didn't tell because she said if I told, she'd kill you! W-well she didn't say that exactly but it sounded an awful lot like that, and I didn't want you to get hurt-"
"Oh, Wander." He thinks she's gonna be mad, at first. He braces himself, only for Sylvia to wrap him up in a tight hug.
"Syl! What's this for!" Wander giggles, a bit nervously and a bit happily.
"You had me all flarpin' worked up! I was thinking she'd scrambled your brain or something, but it turns out you were just worried about me all along." She holds him under his arms and he grins at her.
"So y'aren't mad at me?"
"Not in the slightest, buddy. Well-" Sylvia's expression darkens, "would have been nice to know what we were up against. But I understand why you didn't tell. I'm not mad. Just relieved you're all right."
"Well, I'm not mad at you either!"
"Why would you be mad at me?" She asks wryly.
"Uh… well, gosh, I don't know! But I just want you to know I'm not mad."
Sylvia laughs. "Don't ever change, Wander."
Worry still gnaws at him, because Sylvia had figured it out and she wasn't supposed to, but time keeps ticking on anyway. There's the matter of dealing with Jeff, firstly, and they decide to bring him along with them, mostly because Jeff doesn't seem to be capable of accomplishing much on his own.
"Do you think he'll recover?" Sylvia asks, days later.
"Sure he will!" Wander tries to believe what he says and fails. He's convinced Jeff will only get better if Dominator wills it. It doesn't seem like Dominator wills it. He's not sure she wills anything but destruction.
A few more planets are destroyed, and it begins to feel like they're always running. That any planet they might visit could meet its end in another day or two. That every place they see, they see for both the first and the last time.
Part of Wander wants to go visit Dominator again, to try to convince her to stop. Part of him would be happy to never see her again. Mostly, he feels restless. Trapped while the galaxy gets smaller and smaller.
Wander isn't good about being trapped. And he's not good about being helpless while people die in troves. The need to do something, to help in a more substantial way than just evacuating, arises. There's nothing he can accomplish away from Dominator aside from damage control. If he met her, though….
Wander's scared to. For a lot of reasons, but mostly because Sylvia knows now, and Wander's pretty sure Dominator won't be happy about that.
There's an inkling of a thought: why does Dominator care? If she's so powerful, why bother keeping her powers on the down low? But the thought that she has a weakness is so absurd that it quickly flits away.
Instead, only the fear lingers, and the growing need to do something. It's two more weeks of watching the galaxy shrink and its inhabitants suffer before Wander decides there is no choice.
One night, with Sylvia curled up and Jeff staring blankly into a forest, Wander sneaks off the planet and seeks out her ship.
The galaxy, now three-fourths empty, is a very enormous place to go looking for one single spaceship. The conclusion that logically follows is that it would take a lot of time and a lot of guesswork to find Lord Dominator.
Now that he isn't trying to avoid her, he finds it frighteningly easy to know exactly where to go. As if there's always been a line connecting them, and now little bits of information are filtering through. For example, her ship hovers roughly 10,000 miles from the planet Ziziks. And the planet is destroyed.
He also knows the inhabitants of the planet hadn't had any similar foresight. They had not known, had not evacuated.
When Wander finally approaches, the empty husk of the planet chills him to the core. Dominator makes it very hard to forget that she murders on a massive scale.
Wander slinks up to her ship with new caution in his heart, new awful respect for her destructive capabilities. But still, something must be done. If nobody does anything, she'll destroy the entire galaxy. And then, no doubt, move onto the next.
So he enters. The halls are yawning, dark, warm. He huddles in the very center, so as to keep far away from the walls that pulsed and thrummed with lava, but then he feels very isolated, very out in the open, and it sends shivers up and down his spine. Everything is very dark. Even the lava veins in the walls are unusually muted, their bright vibrancy subdued into a deep cinnabar hue. Wander realizes he's been holding his breath. He sighs out quietly, hardly daring to disturb the strange sacred aura that possesses this place. He creeps deeper into the ship, unsure of where he might find Dominator. Unsure that she wouldn't just appear behind him and grab him.
A shadow shifts against the wall.
"Hrk!" Wander skitters away and throws his arms in front of his face.
Nothing makes a sound.
One eye peeks open.
It's not a shadow – it's a bot, and it only seemed to move because of the shifting of shadows as Wander walked. It's very obviously not moving, as its legs are curled beneath it, and all the fiery orange lines that decorate the bot's armor are now dull, while its eyes are nearly black.
Is it dead? Wander steps closer, heart thrumming. The thing is enormous, terrifying – but less so now. Not dead, no…. it looks more like it's sleeping –
Then Wander understands. Why the ship is so dark, the colors muted, everything quiet. Sleeping.
Then, on the heels of that thought, she sleeps?
It's silly to believe she doesn't: everyone does. But still, the thought surprises him. And confuses him. Sleeping is such a mortal thing to do, such a vulnerable thing to do. It…. it didn't fit. With her.
He creeps past the bot. Now that he's here, he can't locate Dominator's exact location. All he had been able to do is locate the ship itself, and now he feels very lost. Cavernous empty halls, dozens of bot husks, racks of weapons; all this he passes without finding Dominator.
The sound of rushing lava starts subtle, then grows louder. Wander has a dreadful suspicion he's meandering far away from the most used portions of the ship, and into territory that Dominator herself does not often tread. But why he feels that way is unclear.
The coal-colored walls gently bleed into more molten oranges. Wander stops seeing bots. He begins to worry he's lost – perhaps the ship is an inescapable labyrinth, perhaps he'll be stuck here, always trying to find his way out, finding nothing, seeing nobody, for an eternity.
The thought quickens his step, and he turns left, right, left, left, right, and nothing looks familiar. Then he steps past the entrance to a cylindrical chamber. He pauses. And he takes two steps back, peering into the chamber.
There's a person sitting in the middle of the room.
"Lord Hater!?" Wander yelps.
Hater doesn't answer. Wander's not entirely convinced he can. The villain best-buddy good friend is straight-backed, stiff-limbed, round-eyed. He's staring at the wall.
Wander slips into the room. "Hey, Hater! Boy, it's great t'see ya! See, I just couldn't stand for what Dominator's doin' to the galaxy, so while Sylvia was takin' a nap, I decided hey, why not talk to Dom, an' try t'get it all worked out, but I've been runnin' around in circles on this ship and I'm startin' to be worried there's no way out, and that I'd b'stuck here forever, well – gosh, I'm just glad t'see ya!"
Lord Hater doesn't respond.
"Watcha doin' here? I mean, it's not every day ya run into your best friend on a wacky galaxy-destroyin' lady's ship! I kiiinda thought I was the only one who'd swing by to say hi. Were you tryin' to make friends too?" His voice is finding new, frantic octaves.
Hater doesn't seem to be aware Wander even exists in the room.
"Oooo-kay!" Wander laughs. "Well, how about I'll play ya a song! That'll wake ya up, right?" Wander grabs his banjo and launches into a clumsy tune while he dances around Hater's motionless body. "Hey Hater don'tcha know? You're the greatest friend, whenever I see your smile I just gotta grin! Hey Hater don't'cha know, you're the strongest-"
What are you doing? Groggy.
The strings twang harshly; Wander nearly drops his banjo. "Dominator!"
Grop. Disoriented. How'd you -?
She doesn't phrase the question in coherent words, but she doesn't need to. Wander answers, "well, I just walked right on board!"
Not supposed to be able and flarpin furry spoon and then ow because she slid out of bed and landed on her ankle wrong. Dark, black room but she doesn't need to see to know – just three more hours, couldn't he have waited three hours – too flarpin early – worth destroying? dumb furry face anyway but also – notsobad hurtcurious (kindgood?) (Dom) nobody shortened it before – grop, where's my shirt?
Wander blinks. "Dom-"
I'm wearing pajamas you dolt (getting up for your stupid)
Every second she wakes up further, and every second the background noise is more stifled, until it's utterly silenced. Mental control, Wander realizes. Does that mean she always actively focuses on not projecting her thoughts? That seems…. Exhausting.
It's a trait you should learn. The words are barbed.
"'msorry for wakin' ya up," Wander says, feeling a little funny talking to thin air.
Ugh, don't even bother. You and your mopey apologies. If you were actually sorry, you wouldn't have come.
"W-well, I didn't know you were asleep, an' if I had known that, I maybe would'a come another time." Or maybe not, because waiting might mean another planet getting destroyed, and the thought makes him cringe.
Sometimes talking to Dominator doesn't feel like talking to someone who destroys galaxies for fun. Sometimes, he almost forgets. He had forgotten just now, but when he looks into Hater's empty sightless eyes, he remembers. Most of all, he remembers how shiveringly ecstatic it felt to annihilate a planet. His queasiness returns.
So, not a social visit? You found the cargo.
"What didja do to Lord Hater?"
Don't get your panties in a twist. He's fine. Same as all the other villains here that aren't worth killing.
There are others? Just how many people does she have trapped here? "This ain't right," Wander insists. "You gotta let 'em go, Dom! Nobody deserves t'be locked up like this!" Whatever this was exactly, considering that Hater wasn't actually physically locked up or restrained in any way.
Jeez, relax. I'm getting there. Give me like, two minutes to get some clothes on.
Oh. Wander does his best to not focus on the connection between his and Dominator's mind, in case there's any risk of him seeing anything indecent. It just isn't polite to go peeping on other people like that.
"I might be a nerd," Wander says, "but I won't let nobody say I'm a peeping tom. Everybody's got boundaries, and they deserve t'have them respected."
She doesn't deign this with a reply. A short few seconds later, he feels her presence, heavy and suffocating in the room, like a blanket wrapped around his brain, cotton stuffed in his ears.
He tucks his wrists close to his chest and sidesteps nervously away from the door. "H-hi Dom."
Her hair is tousled, her eyes tired. She yawns, and brushes the surface of his thoughts.
"You really like this loser, huh?"
Wander's gaze flits back to Hater. Glassy emotionless eyes. Blank stare. Wander forces out, "his name's Hater."
"Ugh, I know. He made sure to scream it at me while asking me out. Added a lot of extra titles though. I mean, Monarch of Mayhem? What? Who needs that pile of flarp?"
"Well, that sure does sound like Hater," Wander has to admit.
"Right? I mean, I've seen my fair slew of irritating admirers, but I've never had someone literally scream at me for a date."
Wander lets out a faint chuckle. "Gosh, Dom, I'm sorry. I keep tryin' to help him out, 'cause I think a girlfriend would do him a load of good, but – well, he usually captures me and then he pretends like he's gonna torture me instead! Makes it awfully hard to get him to listen to some romantic advice."
"But he can't hurt a fly. Classic!"
"Well, naw, it's just a game he and I play! He acts all fierce and scary, an' I'll quiver and shiver."
"What a loser. I knew he was all talk, but it's even dumber to hear the kind of games he played to make himself feel better."
Now that, that's a little harsh, and doesn't sit quite right in Wander's chest. "I dunno if y'should talk about people like that," he tries nervously.
"Oh, better call the police. Oooh wait-" she hits her forehead lightly, "totally forgot that I killed them, yiiikes. What are you gonna do now?"
Wander rubs his arm. "Gee, y'don't gotta be mean about it. L-look, Hater's all right, isn't he? He's gonna be okay?"
Her regal regard passes over Lord Hater. "If I want him to be, I guess."
"S-so, he can get better." It's just a matter of convincing her to want him better. "Does that mean Jeff can be too?" He has to know that all his friends will be safe.
"Jeff? Who is – oh! You found that useless heap of a villain! What was he doing? Hitting his head against the wall?"
Wander sticks out his lip in stubborn silence, but Dominator breaks out laughing, "rifling in trash cans? Oh man! I wrung out his head like a sponge. You know what's really funny? He never even fought. I invited him over and he came all on his own. To reform me. He wanted to talk about peace and love –"
"Dom," Wander squeaks.
"like, can you imagine? He was almost as dopey as you. Easiest thing in the word to scramble a few wires."
"Dom, he's my friend!"
She rolls her eyes, "you're friends with like, everybody. That basically means you're friends with nobody."
"That ain't true! Havin' a lot of friends doesn't make any friendship less meaningful. Love an' friendship don't work that way at all. It ain't like you've got only a certain amount of love. It's more like, every time you get another friend, you find you got more love than you had before."
"That is singlehandedly the most sappy thing I have ever heard-"
"It's a wonderful thing, Dom, if you'd just-" but his mind slips to Sylvia because bestest bestest buddy and that isn't good because – quickly he tries to divert his mind, focus on something else, not on what he's trying to hide –
Her red eyes widen like a child about to get cake. "Oooh, you have a new secret. Let me see-"
"Dom, NO!" By the time he says this, it's already too late, as she finds the memory, fresh and recent, brimming at the forefront of his mind.
Lord Dominator's expression goes blank. "So your pet horse figured it out."
Everything inside Wander collapses. If Dominator hurts Sylvia now, it will be all his fault, for not keeping the secret better- Wander prostrates himself before Dominator, hands clasped together pleadingly, "Dominator, please don't hurt Syl, I didn't mean for her t'find out, and I tried not t'let her learn, and she's not done anythin' wrong, please-"
"I didn't think she was that clever, but I guess seeing Jeff must have made it more obvious…." Her brows furrow and Wander very much doesn't like her expression.
Wander whimpers. "I can't stand t'see anythin' bad happen to her, Dominator, if y'gotta hurt someone, hurt me-"
"Ugh, shut up." However the news might bother Dominator, she swiftly shakes off her surprise. "Honestly, your groveling gives me a headache. I'm not going to hurt Sylvia. You think I actually care that she found out?"
"W-well, I… yeah." Wander gazes at her in confusion. She'd been so intent on keeping her powers a secret from Sylvia, right? Why is she suddenly acting so blasé now?
"Look, I just told you to keep it a secret because it's funny watching you try to lie to your friends."
That didn't really seem like the right answer-
It is, she insists, and he believes it is.
"Gee Dom, I'm so glad you don't mind!" Wander crows. "Here I had my guttyworks all knotted up thinking you were gonna hurt Sylvia and well – I'm just grateful, that's all."
"Great to hear it," Dominator smiles coolly. "Now that you know I have only good intentions in my heart…. I have a proposition for you. I'll let your little friend Hater here free…. And Jeff…. If you take me to meet Sylvia."
A/N Oh, Wander. He's already encountered several of Dominator's weaknesses but he hasn't realized it yet.