We spent the next few days bugging the houses and cars of any family members Vaughn thought had connections to his family’s medical interests or worked in medicine.
Giles Hardwick, Vaughn’s grandfather, had had five kids and they’d each had two or three children of their own. Plus, he had a brother and two sisters and they’d had children and grandchildren too. Not all of them stayed in Grand Lake, but by the time we were done on Wednesday night, we’d bugged twenty different people.
Vaughn seemed positively tickled that his older cousins were our targets.
We were on the last house. It was 10:30 PM, and we’d landed behind an older white house not too far from Grand Lake University’s campus. I guessed than it dated from the 1950’s. Most of the houses around campus did. Vaughn was in costume, and I wore the stealth suit, complete with guitar.
According to Vaughn, his cousin’s family had bought the house because it would be cheaper than having their kids live in the dorm. The oldest, Lucas, was in medical school.
Vaughn stood next to me while I let the roachbots out of the pouch on my utility belt. “Lucas was always perfect. Never got in trouble. Good grades. Piles of awards all the way through school — he got into med school — and we’re bugging him because he might be planning to be Red Lightning 2. It’s funny.”
I looked up from the remote control. “I’ve got them in place.”
“Cool. Let’s get out of here.”
I activated the rocketpack, and shot into the night sky, high enough that I could look over the Grand Lake University campus, and surrounding neighborhoods. The lights of their windows, and a few well placed spotlights, made the chapel, the administration building, lecture halls, and dormitories practically glow in the dark.
I’d probably be going there next year. I only had a month and half of my senior year in high school left.
That felt a little weird.
Above the sound of the rocketpack and the wind keeping Vaughn in the air, Vaughn said, “I’m going there next year. You?”
“Yeah, that or maybe Abraham Kuyper College. I got accepted both places.”
“Did you look into the Stapledon program? Isaac Lim sent everyone an email about it.”
“I looked at it. Student loan forgiveness for four years of government service after graduation? If I go to Grand Lake, I won’t need it between what my grandfather left me and scholarships. With Kuyper, that’s another story, but I’m probably going to Grand Lake.”
“I’m doing it. If I’m going on their dime, my parents are practically going to pick my major for me. If the government’s paying, I choose. They’ve got no control.”
“Won’t your parents wonder how you’re affording it?”
“Nah. The government’s got a system where they award fake scholarships, and with my ACT scores, it’ll work. Shit, it’s the ACT scores that are the problem. With my grades, my parents would have been happy if I even got into college, but I got in the top ten percent in my test scores for just about everything. After that, they got way too involved.”
“I didn’t know you did that well.”
“Didn’t try to. Anyway, Cassie’s doing it too. She was planning to even before the email. I think it was part of the deal for her treatments last summer.”
“Maybe I’ll think about it, but it seems like trading off one form of control for another, you know?”
“I know, but I look at it this way. The government can already expect us to show up whenever they want in exchange for giving us access to their databases. This is a little more of the same.”
I felt pretty sure it was ultimately going to amount to more than that, but didn’t say anything. I got distracted.
I’d been monitoring the police band the whole time we were out on the off chance that someone noticed us, and called 911.
No one had, but as Vaughn had been talking, the dispatcher sent cars to deal with, “… a robbery and fight in the Meijer parking lot. Metahuman involvement. Proceed with caution.”
Vaughn and I flew off.
Meijer had several stores around Grand Lake. We flew to the oldest one, the one on the corner of Jefferson and 28th.
From the air, I could see the big, boxy building, surrounded by its huge parking lot. Meijer stores sold everything — groceries, clothing, electronics, building supplies, whatever.
We’d had to cross town, flying directly over Grand Lake itself, arriving at the same time as two police cars and a Box.
The parking lot looked like a disaster had hit. Cars had been smashed and destroyed around the entrance, and group of costumed figures stood around four unconscious people.
At first, I didn’t recognize anybody.
The unconscious guys looked kind of scruffy — a couple were unshaven, one had a chest length beard that went all over. Their jeans and Carhartt jackets looked worn. I guessed they might be in their mid-thirties.
A line of TV’s (with smashed screens) lay on the ground, leading from them into the store. As I got closer, I noticed that one TV had been embedded in the grill of a Ford Bronco, and another, a particularly large plasma TV, had smashed in the door of a semi-truck at the far end of the parking lot.
One of the costumed figures held a rifle. Its barrel had been bent backwards into a “U” shape.
I recognized Sean then, and everyone else almost instantly — Dayton, Jody, Julie, Shannon (the barista at the coffee shop), and that girl I’d seen with them at school.
They had matching costumes, and expensive matching costumes at that. Dark bodysuits with masks covered their faces except for the mouth. Each had a different color combination, but they all had a clenched fist on their chests and a similar look.
They had to have hired a designer for the uniforms.
I’d recognized their costumes’ material before the people. The military used it instead of kevlar. My grandfather had sold the design to a military contractor ten years ago. It was an older version of what I used in the stealth suit.
Between the material and the designer, someone had dropped at least twenty thousand dollars.
As Vaughn and I landed, Sean said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ve got this one.”
Vaughn nodded. “No problem. What’s up?”
I heard the answer, but didn’t pay attention. In the upper right hand corner of my helmet, the Heroes League alert had started blinking yellow.