That left me alone in the lab with tools, tables, the machines I used to fabricate parts, and the computers I used to design and monitor the machines.
I reached out and used the nearest mouse to click to accept the call.
The picture changed from the FBI seal to Agent Lim’s actual FBI office—which could have passed for a professor’s. By that I’m not talking about Dr. Strazinsky’s which was organized and clean, I’m talking about the sort of professor where you have to take books or piles of paper off one of the chairs if you want to sit down.
His desk had several piles of paper on it, most of the paper inside thick manila folders. He also had a few Heroes’ League action figures on the desk, one of them an older one from the 1970s. The rest had been manufactured within the past year. The board had shown us the designs and asked us for our opinions.
Isaac Lim grinned at the camera from behind his desk. “Nick, you’re going to be surprised to hear it, but you just made my life a little easier.”
I moved the mouse so that the pointer no longer rested on his face. “Really? That does surprise me. It seems like I mostly make your life more complicated.”
He laughed hard at that. “You’re a superhero. Making my life more complicated is a given, but sometimes it makes my life easier in a completely different way. Case in point, you’re now on a list that you probably didn’t even know existed.”
Beyond whatever list Stapledon program students got on, I didn’t know of any other, so he was almost certainly right about that. “What list?”
He leaned forward toward the camera. “The Bureau calls it ‘The Mad Scientist List,’ but that’s not the real name. The real name is the ‘National Atypical Intellect Threat Assessment List.’ Basically, it’s a list of anyone who shows evidence of being smart to the point that they’re a threat to national security.”
“How did I get on that—” I didn’t even finish my question before figuring it out. “Did Dr. Strazinsky report me to you?”
Lim nodded. “More or less. It’s bigger than that, though. Dr. Strazinsky and other profs like him routinely slip questions that normal college students would find it impossible to answer into their classes.”
“And people like me fall for it and answer. Are the questions from supervillains or are they designed by a committee for the purpose of catching people?”
I watched as he smiled a little harder. “Good question. We do have a committee and we do adapt them from equations supervillains created.”
I sighed. “So now what? I’m on the list. What happens now and how does it make your life easier?”
Lim smiled wider if that were possible. “That’s the good part. Once we find people to put on the list, we don’t waste them. We’ve got a Stapledon like program for them, but it’s a little less direct. We direct their energies in ways that will get them a good income and do the country some good. In a few cases, we direct them toward areas where normal people need the help—like creating spaceships that can go through the alien gates or spaceships that can defend us from aliens attacking.
“That piece of the program’s newer, but it’s getting results. They used to keep people on this list away from high tech out of fear that they’ll get inspired in a bad way. So far, that hasn’t been an issue.”
He paused, frowned and looked directly into the camera. “Here’s where you come in. We’ve got a joint public/private project where alien technology that’s fallen into our hands is getting analyzed by experienced scientists as well as interns from the mad scientist list. It’s not something that we’d put kids from the Stapledon program into because we don’t want to draw attention to them, but it’s too late for that. You got on that list all by yourself and you’re someone I trust. So I’m sending you in. You need to do an internship for your engineering program at school. This will count. It’s a win-win. We both get something we want. For example, I get to send someone I trust into a program I wouldn’t normally get access to.”
I nodded. “What are you sending me in to investigate?”
Lim stopped smiling. “That’s where this all becomes a little less fun. Some of us in the Bureau have begun to worry that the Nine have their fingers in this particular pie. That’s what you need to find out. And it’s a little more complicated even than that. The Hardwick family companies own a piece of the company that’s in this joint venture. It’s not as if Russell Hardwick himself will show up, but it’s not impossible. You’re going to have to forget you’re the Rocket while you’re on this. Pretend that you’re just a kid with an internship. Don’t take the law into your own hands. Gather information and deliver it to us. That’s it.”
Taking a break from being the Rocket sounded like a relief. Chris had made appearances as the Rocket while I was in space. He might be willing to while I was doing this internship. “Okay,” I said. “I’m in.”