Between the blue t-shirt that appeared to be a pajama top and the wrinkles in his khakis, Dr. Nation was the closest to disheveled I’d ever seen him. He’d obviously come straight from bed, and thrown on anything in reach.
It could have been worse, I told myself. He might have come in a bathrobe.
Dr. Nation leaned over Stephanie, and picked up the glowing metal weapon, aiming its face away from him and us. After a moment, he turned it off.
Then he checked Gordon’s face. It was red where he’d hit the rock wall. He touched his hand on Gordon’s arm, checking Gordon’s pulse, nodding and giving a small smile as he found it. Then he looked at Haley. “How long does your poison generally last?”
She pursed her lips. “That’s hard to say. It depends on how big they are, and how much I put into them. With the normal amount, people are out for at least ten minutes.”
Nodding slowly, he asked, “And did you give them the normal amount?”
Haley grimaced, and said, “I… think? It was a bit of a blur.”
Dr. Nation stood up, one side of his mouth raising in a hint of a smile. “Then I’ll assume that we’ve got ten minutes. Why don’t the two of you tell me what happened?”
He sat down with us next to one of the tables, pulling out a chair, and leaning back.
We told him everything, and didn’t hide the fact that we’d been spying on them with the roachbots—though I did take a moment to fly the roachbots back to my lab while they were still sleeping. No need to risk Gordon and Stephanie noticing.
Dr. Nation grinned as he saw the bots land on the table. “I’m sure your grandfather would wish he’d thought of that.”
He shook his head. “But back to the matter at hand… We’ve got files on everyone, and I suspect I know who they sent the emails to. Her older sister is part of a group that calls itself ‘The Coffeeshop Illuminati’.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’ve never heard of that group.”
Haley glanced over at Stephanie and Gordon. “They’re still out. I think they’ll be down for closer to half an hour—which is good. I’ve never heard of them either.”
Dr. Nation picked up a roachbot, staring at it as if he were thinking of taking it apart. Putting it down, he said, “There’s no reason you should have. They aren’t a team in the conventional sense. They’re spread out, some active superheroes, some civilians, but they’re young, powered, and they want to change the world.”
He sat back in his chair, not saying anything for a little while. I glanced at my phone. It was after one in the morning.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m surprised they haven’t attempted to recruit the League. You’d add immediate credibility to their group. They don’t have much of a public face.”
Haley glanced over at Gordon and Stephanie. “What are they about?”
Dr. Nation smiled. “Nothing especially new. Human rights. Democracy. Rational thinking. I’m sure I would have loved them if I’d found them in my teens or twenties. I can’t say too much against them even now—at least not in terms of ideals. The question isn’t what you believe, but what you do after that.”
He stopped leaning back and sat up. “Haven’t you ever listened to the news, and heard about an innocent person in some foreign prison? An aid worker, a political dissident, or maybe some poor hiker? And haven’t you thought for a second about getting them out? Why don’t you?”
I shrugged. “Mostly I tend to assume that breaking into a prison is easier said than done. Plus, if the government’s really terrible, they’ll take it out on anyone connected with the person I break out. A government diplomat or even Amnesty International’s got a better chance of getting them out without the collateral damage.”
“Exactly,” he said. “And right there, you’re showing more sense than they are. In the same situation, they break into the prison and get them out. Now I’m not fully giving them the credit they deserve. They do their best to shield the friends and family from repercussions, sometimes getting all of them out of the country at once. Still, there’s no denying the Coffeeshop Illuminati don’t wait for diplomats.”
He stood up. “Well, I should carry them back to Stephanie’s lab. I’ll have a better conversation with the two of them there than I will here. Why don’t you two go to your rooms?”
* * *
It felt a little awkward the next day when I passed Stephanie’s lab, but we managed to both pretend not to see each other. I especially didn’t look toward the covered “pictures” on stands—which I definitely should have asked Dr. Nation about. I suspected I’d seen what the small version could do.
With school off for the rest of the week, I spent half the day in the lab and the rest hanging around with friends.
On Saturday morning though, I walked down to the lab to find an email from Hal. Based on data it was collecting, the AI gave a 90% chance that someone would be attacking the Turkmenistan regime within the next twenty-four hours.