On Monday night, Vaughn, Cassie, and I sat together in “Criminology 101.” We weren’t alone. Julie and Shannon were with us.
We sat in a darkened room, looked up at the screen, and watched the professor talk. This would have been normal for a distance learning class except for a few details. First, we were sitting in League HQ. We could have been sitting in a room at the University, but then we’d have been sitting together with Sean, Dayton, and Jody.
It would have been a little awkward for all of us in a variety of different ways. Awkward for me, because Sean and I didn’t get along especially well. Awkward for Cassie and Vaughn, because they were friends of mine and knew Sean. Awkward for Julie and Shannon, because they had been on a team with Sean.
The other detail that made things a little different from your typical distance learning class was that the professor on the screen was in costume—specifically, a brown costume with a texture that suggested feathers.
Before he’d retired, people called him Chicago Hawk. In class, people still called him Chicago Hawk.
The lecture hadn’t been bad either, but it had also been three hours long. Presumably that saved the program money—they only had to set up the equipment in the various universities once a week, right?
“Remember,” he said, his voice scratchy, “that’s eighty pages to read by next week. I’ll know if you’re not prepared. And don’t forget that next weekend we’re all meeting in person. You should have already received your instructions.”
After the screen blacked out, Julie threw back her head, leaning back in her chair. “Eighty pages? Doesn’t he realize we’ve got other classes?”
“I’ll take the reading over calculus any day,” Vaughn said. “I’ve got problems due on Wednesday.”
Pushing herself up, and out of the chair, Julie said, “I haven’t even touched calculus yet. Hey Shannon, are you ready to go?”
She grabbed her books, and stuffed them into her backpack.
Shannon smiled a little, and said, “Almost.” She turned toward the table where Cassie, Vaughn, and I were still sitting.
“Thanks for telling us you were having classes here. It would have been really weird to sit with Sean and the guys after everything.”
Julie picked up her backpack, and hung it over her shoulder by one strap. “I don’t even want to think about that. At least I can avoid him when we’re meeting in the big group.”
As Shannon and Julie walked away, I reflected on how different they were. They were cousins, but they weren’t much alike. Shannon had dark hair, wore clothes that never registered in mind, and seemed to be in a good mood most of the time. Julie had light hair, wore clothes that seemed to show a little more skin than average, and complained a lot.
Okay, maybe that wasn’t fair to her, but that was my impression.
Once the elevator door closed and started carrying them to the surface, Vaughn said, “Did you know Julie and Sean were dating last year?”
I turned toward him. I don’t know the expression on my face, but Vaughn grinned as I made it. “No,” I said. “That’s about the worst couple I can imagine.”
Vaughn threw up his hands. “Not my fault, but yeah, it was pretty bad.”
Cassie shook her head. “Over. Topic closed. Let’s move on. My mom’s practically got me under house arrest since the attack last week. Nick, do you know anything?”
“Nothing I haven’t told you. We’re being watched by the Feds, and they’re keeping us safe, I guess. At least that’s what Isaac says.”
Cassie snorted. “Just like we were when Ray or Prime’s people came after us? I’m not impressed.”
I sat up a little straighter in my chair. “I know. I told you what he said.”
Vaughn looked over at each of us, “Who do you think the Nine are sending? There are a lot of those guys. Could even be Dr. Mind, right? That guy was permanently after your dad.”
Cassie frowned. “Vaughn, Dr. Mind’s dead. He died in the same raid where Dad and the League found me.”
“Right,” Vaughn said. “I forgot.”
I tapped away at the keyboard, calling up Dr. Mind’s Wikipedia entry, and displaying it on the twenty foot tall screen. “That was always really bizarre. The original Captain Commando versus a brain in a jar? Usually he had piles of minions or powered armor, but it was still pretty weird.”
Cassie stared at the table, not listening to me. “I heard him talk about someone called Six or Sixer. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Who’s that?”
I searched for the Nine on Google, but didn’t find anything I didn’t already know.
“It says here,” I said, “that the Nine call the higher ups by number to confuse outsiders.”
“It’s working,” Vaughn said.
I skimmed across the entry, and decided I’d have to look at the Feds’ information to get anywhere.
“It might be their powered armor guy,” I said. “I’m pretty sure Rook was one of Dr. Mind’s followers.”