Isaac turned his head to look down the hall—or so I assumed. The gray wall on my screen could just as easily have been outside.
“That’s a lot of questions, and I’m in the middle of something. We’ll have to make this quick.
In the background a series of baritone horn blasts sounded. An alarm?
“Do you have to go?”
“No. It’s been like this for the last hour here. Let’s try to cover what we can…
“To get the easy stuff out of the way first, I don’t know anything about Logan. We did the initial interview once the juice wore off, but we passed him on to the CIA’s labs because they had better facilities. I don’t know what happened after that. Do you need to know?”
Did I need to? Not really, but it would have been nice.
Keeping my voice quiet so that it wouldn’t be heard outside the van, I said, “Just curious. I haven’t seen him since then.
“Then about the Stapledon program—nope. We can’t take anyone else. We’re on our way to go over our budget already. They’ve been running anybody with the right connections through the M.E.D., and between that and the kids with new powers we’ve got the biggest class ever. We set aside ten times as many slots in the program this year and used every one of them. They won’t open any more.”
Isaac sighed. “So this friend of yours with the powers, what kind does he have?”
“Appearance. She can change what she looks like, and I guess quite a bit inside herself too.” I paused, trying to think of something that might persuade him. “It’d be useful for undercover work.”
He nodded, not showing any special eagerness.
“If she wants to use her powers, I’d tell her to join the military.”
“They’ve been testing their people. They’ve put a few into Stapledon—people from the military academies mostly. We suspect they’ve got hundreds of people using power juice now. It’s legal for military use. Plus, that way they’ve only got powers while they’re in the service. They only run people they can trust through the M.E.D’s.”
“OK. What’s an M.E.D.?”
“Metahuman Expression Device. It’s a better name than ‘power impregnator.’”
“That doesn’t take much.”
Isaac grinned. “Can’t argue with that. Anyway, have her contact a military recruiter, or wait for a year, and we’ll get her into the program. In the meantime, keep her off the juice. If she gets caught, the program won’t take her.”
I couldn’t see Courtney joining the military, and convincing her to wait would mean I’d have to tell her I was the Rocket.
“Um… Any chance we could run her through an M.E.D.? That way she’d have powers and wouldn’t be tempted.”
“No,” Isaac said. “Not quickly. She’d have to pass the background check, and after that, she’d be at the end of a very long line. If you want it to happen, you’ve got the pull, but we’re still going to consider whether it’s worth the risk.”
“Huh.” I thought about that. “Is there any way she could use power juice legally?”
“In the long run, yes,” he said, making another quick check to the right. “Not now though. We’re still working on the details of that. Right now, we’re getting it off the street.”
“Why? The obvious, Nick. It’s hard enough for your average cop to handle a supervillain. We don’t need three times as many.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of ‘Why now?’”
“Not a bad question. It’s politics. Last spring we floated the idea to the big guys in the superhero community. We thought they’d be all for it, but they weren’t. Some of them didn’t like the idea of the government regulating powers, but a lot of them… Well, you know how they say powers skip a generation?”
Isaac smiled, quietly amused at something.
“It turns out they don’t. It’s just difficult to make them active. A lot of supers had started letting their non-powered kids use power juice to get around it. Once we learned that, we offered them the use of M.E.D.’s and that was the end of the problem.”
So basically Courtney would have to wait until the rush on the government owned power impregnators was over. I could probably get ours working with her powers before then.
A boom came from Isaac’s end of the connection. He kept his cool, but said, “Is that all?”
“I think so.”
Looking squarely into the camera, he said, “Good. Then I’ve got something important to pass on. The Nine have something big going on, and we’ve good reason to believe Cassie’s a target.”
Crud. I’d forgotten to bring up Cassie’s “brother”…
“Nick,” he said. “We’re putting people in place to watch all of you, and in case you’re thinking of taking the Nine on, don’t. They’re not Syndicate L. They’ve got powered people throughout the organization, and even the normal people are armed with advanced technology. Plus, we’ve reason to believe they’re trying to reverse engineer Abominator tech.”
“OK. We’ll call you if we see anything.”
“You definitely will,” he said, “and we’ll send in the Midwest Defenders. The word is that the mission is being run directly by one of the Nine. Let us handle it.”