“Yeah,” I tried to think of something to say. “That would be great.”
Even as I said it, I thought that sounded kind of stupid, but Sandy kept on smiling, so I guessed that it was close enough to an appropriate answer.
His smile faltered. “I’m sorry I can’t take you over to the labs today. There’s been some kind of snag with your security clearance. They tell me it’s coming but it’s not here yet. It’ll be okay, though. The stuff we work with is so secret that almost every single one of our clearances has had a snag somewhere in the process. It would be strange if one didn’t.”
“I hope there’s no problem…” I let the sentence trail off. I wasn’t worried. If I knew anything about Isaac Lim over the past four years of working with him, it was that he knew what he was doing. If they had problems with clearances, he’d have made sure they had one with me.
He put his hand on my shoulder. “There shouldn’t be any problem. According to my sources in government, you’re our ideal candidate—brilliant, squeaky clean record, and a hard worker.”
Deciding to play ignorant, I said, “How do they know all that?”
He shrugged. “It’s the government. I’m sure they told you about the question you answered, but there’s more than that. Don’t be surprised if the FBI dropped by to ask questions of your relatives. It’s essential for a position like this. We can’t give people we don’t trust access to this technology.”
“Makes sense,” I told him.
“That’s right. It’s too important to the future of humankind to get into the hands of supervillains and other criminals or even to a business that’s solely interested in profit. We’re more than that. We’re thinking about the future of humanity and asking where the human race should be in ten years or even twenty.”
I nodded. “I like the idea of a long term perspective.”
“That’s right. You and I and everyone in this company is a visionary. We’re plotting the course of humanity for the next one hundred or maybe even one thousand years. Imagine that. That’s the power of the technology that we’re hoping will come out of this place.”
He stepped back from me, eyes transfixed on some far horizon—maybe the future. Who could know? “I’ve got plans for this company in the long term, but in the short term, I need you to fill out a few forms that Emmy has for you and then we’ll give you a taste of what’s coming. A few of your future co-workers will come back from the lab and show you what they’ve been working on. I think you may even know one of them.”
I raised an eyebrow. Assuming Vaughn wasn’t an option, I didn’t know anyone who worked here.
Sandy stepped back, “I’ll leave you in Emmy’s capable hands. She’ll get you set up and show you where your desk is.”
Then he left through the door in the lobby he’d come in.
I turned toward Emmy.
She let out a breath and smiled at me. “Isn’t he wonderful? Most of the time working for Higher Ground is the best part of this job. Come on!”
She let me to a cubicle that was empty of people but full of equipment—a laptop, two monitors, headphones and a phone. Next to the laptop lay a small pile of paper and a pen. “It’s nothing unusual—the state, federal, and local income tax forms. You’ll need to fill out all of them and then do your best to do nothing while looking like you’ve got something to do—standard first-day stuff. I’m going to go find someone to show you around—virtually, at least. You can’t go into the lab until your security clearance checks out.”
With that, she left and I filled out forms. It wasn’t that hard. I’d had to fill them out before. By the time I was done, Emmy had returned, leading a familiar looking woman in her early twenties over to my cubicle.
In the first moments that I saw her, I didn’t know why I recognized her. She had long black hair, light skin, and appeared to be amused to see me. She smirked as she pulled a chair out of the cubicle across from mine, and pushed her glasses further up her nose. In a move I suspected was typical for the company she wore a t-shirt and jeans.
That’s when I knew where I’d recognized her from. Her name was Stephanie. She’d had a lab near mine at Stapledon where we’d been training to be superheroes. There, her specialty had been designs that hacked the human brain, causing you to freeze or fall asleep. I knew she’d developed helpful designs as well, but I hadn’t become as familiar with them.
Like Tara, she’d graduated this year and should be doing a required residency with a superhero team. Working here didn’t qualify for that, but this might be the kind of place a superhero team would investigate.
“Heya, Nick,” her smile widened as I recognized her. “It’s been a long time. I volunteered to do your orientation when I found out you were here.”
One other thing about Stephanie–back when I’d known her in the Stapledon program, she’d been part of a shadowy group called the Coffeeshop Illuminati. Without any kind of government authorization, they’d toppled Turkmenistan’s government. I wasn’t sure if they were an official enough team that she could do her residency with them, but I could easily imagine that she’d still be working for them unofficially.
They were a group of supers who believed supers should do more than stop crime. While that might be true, I thought vigilante foreign policy was a step too far.