The meeting didn’t last too much longer. We agreed that Stephanie and I would coordinate what we were doing and keep everyone informed—especially Vaughn. He’d be in a better position to help or be hurt than anyone else.
Haley and I went out for a walk after that, coming back later to talk and play with the dog.
Agent Lim called while we were sitting in my lab. We’d been waiting for him. I’d passed an audio file of Tara’s story over to him with her permission.
The FBI seal flashed off and Lim’s face appeared. From the background, a bookcase filled with books and decorated with Heroes’ League collectible figures from the 1970s and 80s, I guessed that he was in his home office instead of at work or an FBI operation.
Nodding at the two of us, he said, “Nick, Haley, good to see both of you.”
He glanced around, no doubt checking our background before smiling. “The lab? It’s nice to see it in use. What are you working on?”
He pointed his finger toward the table behind us. I turned around, reminding myself of what I’d left there.
Turning back to the screen, I said, “Micro-spybots. I don’t know yet what they can or can’t detect, but I’m going to need something as small and as impossible to detect as I can manage one way or another. Thus the 3d printers and teeny conveyer belts. They’re too small to comfortably put together by hand.”
Lim shook his head. “It’s too bad we can’t officially buy your equipment. I can think of places where I’d love to test your bots.”
Taking a breath, he said, “But let’s get down to business. I listened to what Tara said, and I’m relieved not to have heard anything new there. We interviewed the two of them extensively when she and her father escaped Infinity City. It’s one of the reasons that we wanted to investigate Higher Ground.
“I was more concerned that none of us ever noticed Emmy’s resemblance to the True, but then I looked at the pictures our people were using to look for potential True…”
Lim shook his head. “We were handing out pictures of Tara and other True as adults. If we knew what we were looking for, we would have been handing out pictures of them as 12-year-olds. Before their final growth spurts, they look more like Emmy. We’re in luck that you happen to be friends with her and set up her residency…”
He trailed off and paused long enough that I began to worry. Haley touched my knee and gave me a look.
Lim picked up an action figure of Captain Commando, shook his head and put him down. “I should just say it. This mission isn’t entirely on the books. My last call, the one where I told you that bringing in Vaughn was optional and totally your decision? That was on the books. This call isn’t.
“I’m not using a Bureau phone for this call. I’m using one that a super made me. It’s more secure and imitates the Bureau’s phones when it has to. It is right now. I’m using it because some of the people here must be working for the Nine. Infiltrating governments is what they do, so I’m trying to use the work that’s on the books to get the Nine’s people to out themselves.
“I’m using the off the books calls to keep you informed. For the future, assume any call I make is on the books. I’ll tell you directly if it isn’t. Second, keep the rest of the League’s involvement off-screen. Don’t talk about it and make sure Stephanie doesn’t talk about it. I’m sure the Nine will expect Nick to call on the League for help, but they won’t be sure if all our official calls are with Nick and Vaughn.”
“Huh,” my heart raced as I thought through this added complication. “Is the mission the same? Are we still just observing?”
Lim’s mouth twisted. “It’s almost the same, but it’s more complicated. This is the problem. You’re there to find out if the Nine are involved or if it’s someone else. If the Nine start making True with Abominator equipment, I want you to tell us, but if you can’t you may have to destroy it or steal it. Maybe you can bring Cassie in and sabotage it. I don’t know, but ideally, you’ll do it without anyone knowing it was you.
“We need you to think like a spy.”
While I began to think through the ramifications of that, Haley frowned and then asked, “Wouldn’t it be safer if you destroyed the birthing chambers now?”
Lim nodded. “It would be, but I’m not authorized to do that and there are people who want those birthing chambers for science or so that our country stays ahead in understanding alien technology. I can’t destroy it without a clearer threat.”
The curl of Haley’s lip hinted that she didn’t find that reason good enough. “Aren’t they at all concerned that it might be too late before they have a reason?”
Lim rapped his hand on his desk. “I’m concerned, but that’s not my only concern. This is big enough that I might get the Nine’s people to stick their necks out if I play it right. Nick’s the one on the ground. He’ll have to follow his best judgement to stop the True’s creation, but the best solution will be the kind that doesn’t leave a trail back to him or me.”