“We take the business seriously, but not that seriously. Mostly, I mean. At his worst, I don’t know what Grandpa Hardwick did. He was pretty far gone near the end. For all I know, maybe he did kill people.”
“I don’t know,” I told him. “I’m not up on what happened internally at your family’s companies during the worst of it. The funny thing is that right up until the end, my grandfather was still working on stuff for your companies—first, because he didn’t know and after he found out because he didn’t want Giles to know he knew.”
Shaking his head, Vaughn said, “I know. His patents are the basis of our ultrasound technology.”
Sitting up straighter, I thought about that. “I wonder how similar that tech is to my sonic weapons? Grandpa tried to make the designs different enough that it wasn’t obviously the work of the same person.”
“No idea,” Vaughn said, “but I’ve never heard anybody say that the Rocket designed our stuff. So I guess it worked.”
Another thought passed through my mind. “Hey, so if we do find out that your Uncle’s working with the Nine, how bad does it get on your side of things? It would have to go to the Feds first before anything else happens, but after that, they’d go public somehow.”
“Yeah,” Vaughn paused. “It wouldn’t be fun. I guess it depends on how public it gets. If only our family knows, he might be able to get around it. He’s got his supporters, But still, if he’s publicly linked to the Nine, he’ll be thrown out. No company wants that kind of publicity. Even if it’s only known inside the family for a while, there’s a lot of people who’d try to expel him preemptively.
“Don’t get me wrong. It would be messy. Really messy. Once you’re 18, you can vote your share of the business and it’s not a publicly held stock. So, it’d be family lobbying family and Uncle Russ pulling in favors or maybe even trying low-level blackmail and stuff. And I’m old enough to vote my share now, so I’d be in the mix.”
He stopped. “Wow. Holy shit. I almost wish you hadn’t asked me. I mean, I’m all in, but this is going to get crazy if it turns out to be true. If the Nine are involved, they might go after my family on his behalf. So it’s probably good that I know. We can plan for it, right? We can get the League involved and keep everyone safe somehow. I don’t get along with everyone in my family, but I don’t want anyone to die—not even Uncle Russ.”
Vaughn’s forehead furrowed and he met my eyes.
I needed to say something. “At the very least we can put bots near your houses to watch out for everyone. Plus, the Feds have to have a system for this. They protect witnesses all the time.”
Nodding Vaughn said, “I’m sure they do, but you remember what happened the last time they watched out for us—they left when no danger showed up before Haley’s Christmas party. Plus, they pulled people to help fight aliens when Ray and the Cabal were after us. We’ve got to do it ourselves too. I mean, the family’s already got security, but we don’t know that the Nine haven’t infiltrated them just in case. That’s their thing.”
With all the stories about Vaughn I’d heard secondhand in high school and his stint in rehab for drug and alcohol addiction, it wasn’t hard to dismiss him as a spoiled heir, but he wasn’t. He was thinking it all through and it didn’t surprise me at all that his college entry test scores had showed it—to his parents’ shock.
His choice to join the Stapledon program, allowing him to avoid being dependent on them for money to attend college said something too.
“We’ll do what we can,” I said. “At the very least, we can watch everybody. We’ll just have to do it in a way that doesn’t raise suspicion. If we plug the streams into Hal, I don’t know what he’ll notice, but a lot more than you or I would.”
I paused, thinking about it. “He’d probably even like it on some level. Whatever research he’s doing on human behavior would probably benefit—even if he is doing it mostly so he can predict our moves in combat.”
Vaughn started nodding before I finished talking. “I like the idea—not the part where we hand over the secrets of the human psyche over to an alien AI, but you know he’ll do a better job than we would. I mean, think about it. He might be able to predict what Uncle Russ is doing before we figure it out—not to mention the Nine.”
“Alright,” I said. “I guess that’s what we’ll do then.”
Vaughn grinned and sat back in his chair, easily the most relaxed I’d seen him since the conversation started. “Cool. Uh… Did Lim tell you where our research labs are?”
I shook my head.
Vaughn paused, watching my reaction with a growing smile. “It’s an hour north of here. That’s what it took to put it right on Lake Michigan. So, you’ve got a long drive every time you work or… You ride to work with me. There’s an executive jet that flies up there a couple of times a day and if I put in the word, you can come along.”