I had to come up with a response that fit her opening, but I didn’t know what her cover was. I decided to be vague and let her lead. “I didn’t expect to run into you here.”
No doubt guessing what I was doing, she gave a catlike grin. “I graduated. After you graduate you have to get a job and I got lucky enough to get one here.”
Emmy looked from one of us to the other. “How do you know each other?”
Stephanie said, “We got the same scholarship. You know one of the ones where people meet up on the weekends?”
Emmy shook her head. “You were in the same program as Stephanie? I’ve heard of those scholarships. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
Problem solved. I knew that Stephanie was here under her actual name or at least her first name. In addition, I mentally thanked whoever had set up the Stapledon program. They’d set up other scholarship programs with the same pattern of regular meetups with other students, allowing us to blend in.
“Anyway,” Emmy added. “I have a few other things I need to finish this afternoon, so I’ll leave you. Don’t forget to pick up your ID on the way out, okay?”
“I won’t,” I told her.
“Don’t,” she started to walk away, giving me a wave. “Bye.”
When she was gone, Stephanie said. “She’s nice, isn’t she? Does she remind you of anyone?”
“Yes.” I didn’t go any further than that.
“Me too. Let’s talk about it later.”
We spent the next few minutes going over forms I’d have to fill out before going to the lab the first time, a checklist of the procedure I’d have to follow before touching the alien artifacts that they’d collected. She also showed me the database of information about the artifacts we’d collected.
“Technically,” she said, “I can’t let you into the database until after you get your security clearance, but I can show you a picture of our lab. It’s already been cleared to go on our brochures for investors, so don’t expect to get too much out of it.”
The picture filled the screen. It showed a big room with concrete walls on one side and a long glass wall on the other. In the middle of the room stood a collection of human-sized, transparent tubes in a blue-gray base. On the floor near it stood a chair made of the same blue-gray material that reminded me of the power impregnator.
I knew the collection of tubes from more than one context. Back when Cassie, one of my friends, had been captured by the Nine, they’d created something similar out of current human technology and attempted to use it to clone her, but that wasn’t all.
Later, we’d encountered a laboratory silently sponsored by the Nine where scientists were attempting to figure out a device exactly like this one. Cassie had identified it as an Abominator birthing chamber, but she had an organic structure in her brain that allowed her to contact and control Abominator technology.
For all I knew, this might be the same device. I didn’t know what had happened to it after we left, but I suspected that the FBI might have taken it away.
At the time that we’d encountered it, I hadn’t had a Xiniti brain implant. This time, it only took the picture for my implant to identify it as an “artificial womb for human slave creation and modification.”
A tidal wave of additional information waited for me to tap it. Even without dipping into it, I knew that this was the model they’d used to create their armies. The implant recommended destroying it if there were any hint that someone understood how to use it.
Beside it, the chair that I’d guessed might be an Abominator version of the power impregnator was anti-climactic. The implant noted that it was used for activating latent powers and that humans on Earth had already invented comparable or even more effective devices on their own.
I took advantage of the moment to breath slowly, keeping my breathing controlled as I did my best to avoid drowning in information about the Abominators. I could delve into that when I got home.
Breaking through the noise in my head, Stephanie said, “Are you okay? Why don’t we get some air?”
She helped me out a side door that must have been nearby. I was too distracted to pay attention to detail. Whatever the Xiniti wanted their soldiers to know about Abominator artificial wombs, they must have felt it was very important because it took all I had to shut it down.
By the time I had, I found myself standing in the grass between the forest and the buildings with Stephanie asking, “What was going on in there? You can’t have that happen when you go into the lab because they’ll notice. God knows what will happen to you after that, and for that matter, me.”