Stephanie stood next to me, watching and wearing an expression I guessed to be somewhere between concern and fear.
I glanced over at the buildings, wondering if they had any way to hear what we were saying. Then I pulled a control pad out from inside my sleeve and into my palm, setting my sonics to produce white noise loud enough that it would obscure what we were saying. I’d tested it with a variety of shotgun microphones and Haley’s hearing.
“You can’t tell anyone about this,” I told her. “Especially not the Coffeeshop Illuminati or Gordon.”
Her mouth quirked. “Definitely not Gordon because we broke up this summer and I won’t tell the Coffeeshop Illuminati because I can’t. Remember Stapledon’s mental block? I can’t tell anyone anything about you.”
I felt myself frown. “It didn’t stop you and Gordon from handing our plan over.”
Her face tightened and she sighed. “Look, I’m sorry about that. We were worried about all those people dying in Turkmenistan and your plans for taking out their government were brilliant. We should have talked it over with you, but it did work out in the end…”
She almost sounded like she was trying to convince herself.
“After we removed The Thing That Eats from power in Turkmenistan and nearly had it take over Grand Lake, yes. Then it worked out.”
She nodded. “I heard about that. We had no idea he was there and I’m not sure what we could have done about him. What happened in the end?”
“I’m pretty sure I killed him. You can’t know for sure about something that powerful, but there’s a good reason to think it’s dead.”
She frowned for a moment. “Good. I can’t change what we did, but I’ll promise you that I won’t do anything like that now. I don’t know why you’re here, but I know why I am and I think we’re going to have to work together.”
I thought about what she’d said. In some ways, trusting her seemed like a bad idea, but she wasn’t lying about the Stapledon telepathic block on revealing someone’s identity. It didn’t prevent her from screwing me over in any other way, but on the other hand, the fact that she’d graduated from the program meant she had some level of credibility.
I decided to trust her, but watch her. “Here’s what’s going on: I have Xiniti technology in my head that instantly gives me knowledge when I see something it recognizes, but sometimes it’s too much knowledge at once. It’s a little bit of a challenge to shut it down. I was deluged with what the Xiniti know about its history and how it works.”
Her eyes widened and she glanced from side to side. “That’s not what I expected. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe an illness, but how did that happen?”
I shrugged. “We killed a Xiniti criminal during the Hrrnna attack a couple years ago and they made us citizens of their nation as a kind of reward.”
“That’s so crazy. Okay, I’m here because I’m doing my residency with a couple Michigan heroes—Red Bolt and Future Knight—do you know them?”
I blinked. “Yeah. I ran into them once back when we restarted the Heroes’ League.” I didn’t add that they’d been implanted with suggestions to capture us by the then Mayor of Grand Lake and we’d had to fight them.
“Well, they got a tip that Higher Ground was searching for alien artifacts. It wasn’t strictly illegal because they’ve got a contract with the government to study them, but they also know that the Nine have been looking for alien artifacts, so they sent me in.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Why are you here?”
“The League has a contact in the FBI. He set things up so that I’d get an internship here because he’s worried the Nine might be involved.”
She nodded. “It’s nice to know Red Bolt and Future Knight aren’t the only ones worrying about it. Red Bolt does this fake accent thing and Future Knight says he spent time in the future, but he doesn’t know anything that’s going to happen… I’m not saying they don’t know what they’re doing, but sometimes I wonder how I got stuck with them.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Every time I’d run into them they’d been mind controlled, so I’d never experienced them when they weren’t deluded.
I don’t know exactly what my expression was, but she read it in a way that led her to respond with, “That look isn’t making me feel better.”
I shook my head. “I’m sure they’re good people. We just ran into them in a weird situation. Um… So what happens if it is the Nine? What I’m supposed to do is collect evidence and stop there. This is too big to bring in the Heroes’ League. What are you doing?”
She glanced over at the door to Higher Ground’s offices. “We should get back in before anyone gets worried about us, but give me a second–I’m not trying to dodge your question. Right now, I’m gathering information. I think they’re planning to hand it over to the Michigan Heroes Alliance.”
“What about the Coffeeshop Illuminati?” I asked, watching her face for any hints she might be lying.
She didn’t give me anything to work with, saying, “I don’t want to mess my residency up. If I thought they could help, I’d ask before I brought them in.”