In my head, my Xiniti implant labeled the helicopter as “Pre-gravitic air transport capable of vertical take-off and landing.” It then followed it up with the word “helicopter” in human and alien languages.
Present in my head, but below my conscious awareness, were examples of different models of copters from different planets. If I wanted, I could call up whatever details the Xiniti high command thought their soldiers might need.
This wasn’t the time to investigate them, but I wanted to. You never knew what you might learn from alien designs for technology you were already familiar with.
A man in a blue suit stepped out of the helicopter, opening the door. A tall man with a bald head, he appeared to be in his thirties and wore a pistol in a shoulder holster. I wondered what rated that level of security. Had people tried to kidnap their executives?
Vaughn might rate a guard. Holding a scion of the Hardwick family for ransom could make you a lot of money if they were willing to pay.
Following the security guard’s lead, we stepped inside and snapped on our seatbelts. They were a little more complicated than car seatbelts, but about the same as the League “jet’s” seatbelts. Vaughn and I didn’t need help.
The guard grinned, revealing a gold tooth in his smile. “When they said interns, I figured you’d need help. Looks like you’ve spent a lot of time in the air.”
Then he sat down in front next to the pilot. I couldn’t see much of the pilot from where I sat, but I could tell that he had brush cut white hair, wore a white shirt with yellow stripes on the shoulders—like an airline pilot.
Keeping his voice low, the pilot said, “The long-haired one is Vaughn Hardwick-Jones.”
The corners of Vaughn’s mouth curved upward for a second.
“Family?” The guard glanced back at us. “That explains it. I’m sure you’ve been in the air more than I have.”
Vaughn shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know. Uncle Russ’ family flies all the time. My mom and dad stay around here mostly.”
The guard turned to me. “What about you? Are you rich too?”
The pilot gave him a sharp look.
“Hey,” the guard said, “I’m not trying to be nosy or anything. Just friendly.”
“No problem,” I told him. “We’re not rich—not own your own plane level rich, anyway. My grandpa was a freelance engineer who did some work for Hardwick Industries as well as other clients. My dad’s a psychologist who’s written a few books. He does okay, but he’s only known among people who read books on parenting.”
Nodding, the guard said, “Parenting books? Maybe I should check those out. I might need them. I’m Ronnie, by the way. You’ll see me riding along on this flight most days. The pilot’s Bud. He’s assigned to this chopper most days.”
Bud spoke for the first time that I’d heard. He had a strong southern drawl. “That’s right and we just got clearance to take off. I shouldn’t need to tell anyone this but keep your seatbelts on. It won’t be a long flight, but if you need to use the bathroom, tell me. I’ll work it out.”
“Don’t worry about us,” Vaughn grinned at the man. “We’ll do our best not to be a problem.”
Bud nodded. “Thank you, sir. Taking off—now.”
I didn’t know how to tell a good helicopter pilot from a great one, but the ascent felt smooth and natural. Soon we were flying past the hangar for Hardwick Industries corporate jet and its runway. Bud pointed it out as we ascended.
Only then did I have a moment to take in the helicopter’s cabin—leather seats, a screen in front of each person, wifi, and a look backward showed that it had in the neighborhood of twenty seats as well as a bathroom.
It was nicer than any of the helicopters that I’d flown in for Stapledon. Most of those were military models. The cabin’s overlay of luxury features made it harder to answer whether or not it had armor, but I would have bet yes if forced to.
It only took twenty minutes to make it to the research labs. From the air, the view fit with everything else I’d seen so far. The Hardwick Industries campus sat in the middle of a block of land next to Lake Michigan. Thick forest grew next to all the roads that marked the borders of their property—including the beach.
The middle of the property had been cleared out and filled with two low, wide buildings, a helipad, and a runway. It was hard to say from the air, but I would have bet that the trees were thick enough that passing cars couldn’t see any of that.
The only hints that people did use the area were the dirt road on the north side of the property and the large white building on the beach. Even from the air, I could see people sunbathing, sailing, and everything else anyone did on the beach.
It was hard to know, but I thought I saw kids.
It was interesting, to say the least. After going to all the bother of hiding their research facility, it didn’t seem likely that they’d put a hotel on the property—unless it was cover. It seemed more likely that they’d house guests there or maybe employees.
I supposed that I could ask. Even as I considered how to approach the question, the Xiniti implant labeled the campus in my head. “Privately held human research facility. Abominator and Artificer civilizations’ artifacts detected but not reported to Galactic Alliance. Internal policy on this issue has been followed instead of official Galactic Alliance policy.”