After dinner, people had options. The schedule showed a dance in the room where we’d eaten, and that there’d be movies in the auditorium. We also had the option of going down to the shopping area on the second level, or even wandering around the ground level where people lived.
That last option came with a warning to be respectful, remember that we were guests in the compound and to stay off people’s property.
It didn’t say that we’d get in trouble, but reading between the lines, it seemed likely.
Probably the only way to avoid annoying people would be staying on the sidewalks, and never venturing off public paths.
Left to myself, I probably would have gone to the movies, but Haley didn’t see one she wanted to watch.
Not wanting to separate, we went to the dance for a little while, maybe an hour. Vaughn, Jaclyn, Courtney, and Cassie were still there when we left. Daniel and Izzy had left already, and I was pretty sure that they were going to Daniel’s room.
Bearing in mind that Daniel and I were rooming together, that meant that our room was off limits. Daniel and Izzy might not be making out, but remembering what I’d felt when Daniel and Izzy touched… Well, I didn’t feel a deep need to go check on them.
Haley and I walked to the shopping center on the second level. It was after nine by then, and the only shop open was a convenience store called “24/7.”
We bought bottles of pop, and walked around.
I’d gotten a look when we’d driven in but not a great look. The area between the shops and the ledge had been turned into a park. On the far end, a few kids played at the playground–which could have been anywhere. Almost empty at this time of night, lights kept it illuminated.
I considered asking Haley if she wanted to go over there. The swings might be fun anyway.
While I thought about it, a twenty-something woman flew up and over the ledge. A small child flew with her. They landed and went to the swing set.
At that point there were still a lot of swings, but it wouldn’t have been private.
Instead, I said, “You want to go over to the ledge?”
“Sure,” Haley said, and we did, walking over the recently mowed grass to the edge of the second level.
Even though it looked like you might be able to walk over the ledge, that wasn’t true. Some kind of clear barrier blocked people from that particular mistake. I guessed it might be glass or plastic, but if they’d used a more interesting material I’d need a sample to find out more.
“Nick,” Haley asked, “what are you doing?”
I’d been tapping on the barrier.
“Sorry. Just thinking.”
Leaning forward, she rested her arms on the barrier, and looked out at the streets and houses below. It could have been anywhere in the United States. Well, almost.
“Thinking about what?”
“A bunch of things. First, whatever material this is. There’s a clear barrier above us, and this might be the same stuff…”
“But also,” I continued, “about the compound. Did you know Denver regulates which days you get to water your lawn?”
Haley turned away from the ledge to look at me. “No.”
“I think that that’s a thing all over the west. I think I even read somewhere that one city didn’t allow people to water their lawns at all during a drought. I don’t know if it was Denver, but it might have been. Anyway, the compound’s got a big park, and its all green, and the lawns down below are all green. Do you think they ration water at all?”
Haley peered down at the lawns. “I’m the last person to ask.”
“I didn’t really expect you to know, but anyway that’s not the only thing I’m thinking about. The Stapledon program borrows a bunker. I’m not sure where it is, but just like this place, it’s more like a hotel or an expensive retreat center or I don’t know. It feels like there’s a lot of money involved. They could have made it less comfortable, and it still would have been comfortable.”
Brushing her hair away from her face, Haley said, “Isn’t that the way it works though? Everyone in the League got richer except maybe Giles Hardwick. Your Grandpa worked on other supers’ devices. Giles gave my family some cheap loans for their restaurants. Jaclyn’s grandfather got hired in with the city of Grand Lake thanks to connections with Giles. I don’t know about the rest, but it seems like a lot of supers get richer because of what they do.”
I nodded. “Giles got richer too. My grandpa did some anonymous work for the Hardwick’s medical imaging company. It put them significantly ahead of their competition.”
Haley froze for a second. “There’s Rocket technology in X-ray machines?”
“More likely ultrasounds. And I think you’re right that’s how it happens. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing. Wealth seems like it divides us from normal people on its own, but normal people aren’t even allowed into a compound.”
Haley nodded slowly. “I get that. I wonder how often people here go out into the normal world?”
I nodded. “That’s what I wonder too. There’s no reason to. The store’s open all night, and there’s a grocery store that’s open all day.”
She didn’t say anything for a little while. When she did, she said, “I’ve been thinking that it’s nice to be here. It’s nice not to have to worry about secret identities or hide anything.
“I’ve spent my whole life worrying about what would happen if I change in the wrong place, but here no one would care.”