My mind raced. Was there a technical fix for this? Set Hal to follow where the email went and delete it from any system that had it? That would create a mess by itself. If it turned out that the recipient had already printed it out or removed the computer from the internet, we might not ever find it.
Haley glanced back at me, but since I was still trying to think about technical solutions, I didn’t say anything.
She frowned, and addressed Stephanie again. “Can’t you stop them? You know these people, right? If they’re trustworthy, they’ll understand it wasn’t your information to give.”
Stephanie’s face twitched. “Do you want to leave a bunch of murderers in charge?”
I raised my hand, and gave a little wave. “No, but that’s not why she’s saying that. We collected that information and we’re still collecting more. We don’t want to go off half-cocked, and besides we already agreed not to do anything without the go ahead from Mindstryke.”
Stephanie opened her mouth to reply, but Gordon’s laugh stopped her. “You’re going to let people suffer because you’re afraid you’ll get in trouble?”
“No…” I made an effort to keep my voice calm. Was Gordon deliberately misunderstanding? “What we were doing is trying to be careful. I’m not infallible. I don’t know everything. What if we try to fix it and misunderstand who’s running the show? What if we come up with a plan that a more experienced group would know was stupid, or needs more people than we’ve got? If the Defenders are in the loop, we’ve got backup.”
Haley nodded as I finished. “That’s why I asked who you gave it to. Do you know they can handle it if things go wrong? Like what if they complete the mission, but make the Russians angry?”
I didn’t give them a chance to reply, adding, “And then what happens after? Are your friends just going to leave and hope things work out?”
Gordon shook his head. His face grew redder as he talked. “This is bullshit! How should we know that stuff? We just handed it over, and I don’t think they even know what they’re going to do.”
“Hon,” Stephanie began, “that’s not—“
He talked over her, taking a step toward me, his fist clenching. “You’re all a bunch of gutless—“
He pulled his fist back. I didn’t know if this was to scare me or if he intended to attack me, but when you notice something like that you’re best off assuming it’s real. I pulled up my arms into a guard position as Stephanie grabbed a metal trinket that had been hanging from the belt of her shorts.
Gordon threw a punch at my head. I caught his forearm with my right arm, and began to redirect his movement into the wall to my right.
As I did that, the trinket in Stephanie’s hand glowed bright, making strange, slowly changing patterns, and I couldn’t look anywhere else.
I stayed that way for an unknown period of time. It seemed like an instant, but the next time I was aware of anything but the light, I realized that both Gordon and Stephanie were lying on the floor of my lab.
Haley crouched next to Stephanie, eyes closed, turning the trinket face down.
“Wow,” I stared down at the back side of the device. It looked like it was made of the same metal I’d noticed in Stephanie’s lab.
Haley turned toward the sound of my voice, standing up and opening her eyes.
“Nick,” she smiled at me.
I pointed toward the device. “What was that?”
Haley shrugged. “I don’t know, but you couldn’t stop looking at it.”
“Right, but that’s a big deal in a fight.” I considered picking up the device, and finding the off button. I’d probably be able to figure out the pattern if I took it apart.
Haley’s mouth twisted, hopefully more in amusement than irritation. “I know it would be. Don’t touch it right now, okay?”
I thought about it. It would be bad if I accidentally looked at it. Worse, if Dr. Nation found me that way and got caught too.
“Okay,” I said.
I looked from Stephanie to Gordon. “What happened?”
“Nothing much,” Haley said. “Stephanie pointed the flashy thing at you, and you stared at it, and froze. Gordon hit the wall pretty hard when you let him go. He’d shut his eyes when it started glowing. I think he might have been better off if Stephanie hadn’t tried to help. I slashed Stephanie and Gordon with my dewclaw, and they fell over before they realized they’d been poisoned. That’s basically it. I had to do it with my eyes closed, of course.”
“Right,” I said.
Across the hall, doors opened. Dr. Nation strolled into the lab common area, passing Stephanie’s lab and glancing inside. He shook his head and walked past, aiming for my doorway.
I had a momentary thought that we could maybe hide the bodies, but I knew better.
Dr. Nation walked up, stopping in my lab’s doorway. He stroked his mustache, and said, “Interesting.”