Eventually, I finished signing all the papers. My hand didn’t hurt, but that was more of a surprise than an expectation.
When I signed the last one, I looked up, handed Dr. Hansen back his pen and asked, “I understand that you talked to friends in government about me, but what made me qualified for this? I mean, this is secret enough that only Dr. Strazinsky can read my internship reflection and that I have signed a mountain of papers saying that I won’t tell anybody about this except for people on my projects inside Higher Grounds or that have a top secret security clearance plus codewords that will be defined later.
“I’d be surprised if I have Top Secret clearance. I’m pretty sure they have to do some kind of investigation for that to even be possible. I’m not trying to get out of it or something, but it just seems too easy. You know what I mean?”
I hoped I hadn’t blown my cover there, but it seemed like a question a smart person who didn’t have the behind the scenes information I had might ask.
Dr. Hansen and Dr. Strazinsky looked at each other. Dr. Strazinsky spoke. “We had to move quickly to make sure you get into the program. If they did the kind of investigation that the FBI usually does, you might lose weeks out of the semester. They’ve done a quick one already. You don’t have much of a record, so they don’t need to do as much as if you’d been involved with anything illegal. I think they’ll continue investigating for a little while after everything starts, but you don’t have anything to worry about there.”
I wondered if the FBI brought in telepaths or even artificial telepaths. I’d seen agents wearing psi helmets before. Of course, given the Heroes’ League’s relationship with the FBI, they probably didn’t even investigate. They just told them they had.
“Okay.” I looked at each of them. Dr. Hansen kept on smiling the same confident smile. Dr. Strazinsky’s smile slipped and reformed.
In moments like that, I wished that I had telepathy.
“I guess I’ll go then. When does everything start?”
Dr. Strazinsky said, “Tomorrow at one. It’s on the top sheet of paper. Did you take that?”
I looked down at my hands. I had, but I’d forgotten to read it. I held it up and waved it so that I could see it. “Yep.”
He smiled for a second. “And you planned for a year-long internship, right? This one goes from September through to April of next year with the option of becoming a summer job if you both want that.”
I looked down at the piece of paper. It did say that. Anyway, I’d planned on a year-long internship this year and arranged my schedule accordingly. Aside from that, I knew I wasn’t going to do an internship there. I had another one planned through the Stapledon program and anyway, six months of deep cover would likely be as much as I could stand—assuming we didn’t destroy the company.
“That sounds great,” I told them, gave them another wave and walked out the door.
Once I was out in the lobby, it struck me as an odd way to leave. I hoped they didn’t think I was an idiot. On the other hand, if they thought of me as a smart guy with a way to go in social skills, it would make them less likely to suspect I was a spy.
If only that were acting.
* * *
Around 12:30pm, Vaughn and I stood next to the helipad at Hardwick Industries Grand Lake campus. They had a shiny glass and metal building on the edge of Grand Lake. It stood in the middle of five other shiny glass and metal buildings since this was Hardwick Industries world headquarters.
Vaughn’s lip twisted. “You know how I told you we’d use the jet? It turns out that the jet is only for special occasions like when most of the executive leadership goes up there. Most of the time, we’ll be riding the helicopter.”
“No problem. I’m not disappointed. I’ve been in jets before. I can even fly them.”
Vaughn laughed. “Yeah. No kidding. Don’t tell the pilot. He might be able to tell you know too much.”
I might have shushed him, but we were the only people standing on the green grass next to the pad.
As I wondered if I could continue the conversation without the two of us discussing stuff that shouldn’t be discussed in public, the helicopter appeared above one of the farther buildings.
Black with tan stripes running down the length of the chopper, the helicopter had a longer body and smaller windows than I’d have expected. I wondered if it were armored, but I didn’t see any sign of weapons. It interested me though, that whoever had bought it expected to be attacked.
I wondered if this was a general anxiety or if they had a specific idea of who they might be attacked by.
Soon, it landed in front of us. One of the doors opened and a man waved us to come inside.
The answer might be in there, I told myself, and Vaughn and I carried our backpacks across the helipad.