“It sounds like they were close enough that they should have kept it somehow—not that I think we shouldn’t have it. It just seems inefficient to have us start from zero on it and only bring them in a couple years later.”
Victor shrugged. “It’s the government. I think I heard that they moved it someplace so secret that it practically disappeared for a year and half. Except people do know it exists and what it does. According to government records, when the supers fought the Abominators, the Abominators used it to create clones, engineer new supers, modify supers that already existed, and even heal their people.
“It’s too powerful to bury and Sandy’s got pull, so we got it.”
“What kind of pull does Sandy have?” I kept myself as calm and as much like a normal, curious person as I could. Any name Victor mentioned could put us on the trail of the Nine’s agents.
Victor held up his hands. “I don’t know. I don’t pay attention to how the suits get things done.”
Having the source of influence being a mystery felt more like the Nine than anything he’d said so far. The whole setup made more sense when viewed as one of the Nine’s operations than the government’s. They’d put powerful alien artifacts into a private company staffed with people from a program they’d created to identify potential mad scientists.
It didn’t seem like the kind of thing an agency worried about public relations would think up. It did seem like something that an organization that didn’t care at all about public relations and cared only for results might think up.
On the other hand, by the time a government agency satisfied a program’s intended purpose, all relevant laws, and competing bureaucratic and political interests, it might not look pretty from a public relations standpoint.
Victor nodded in Stephanie’s direction. She was talking with a group of people, two of whom wore ties. “It looks like she got caught. I should show you around until she can join us.”
He took me around the rest of the room. To my relief, I didn’t make an implant mediated connection with any other technology and while my implant did recognize devices, I didn’t see anything else as worrying as the birthing chambers. On the other hand, that might have meant that the worst stuff wasn’t out.
I didn’t know.
With most of the tour over, Victor led me to a line of cubicles near the far wall. “When you’re in the lab, you’ll be working here. My understanding is that you’ll be helping with analyzing the materials used because we’re trying to reverse engineer them. You’ll also be helping analyze the devices’ design when we have one we can see inside.”
I thought about it. “That sounds about right. I’m majoring in electrical engineering and materials science. I started double majoring in electrical engineering and chemistry, but then I realized that materials science was what I was really interested in. Fortunately, there’s a big overlap in courses, so switching wasn’t hard.”
Victor grinned. “It sounds like you’ll fit in around here. Most people know at least two scientific disciplines—sometimes three or four. Stephanie told you about my IT and linguistics background, but I’m sure I got hired because of my interest in genetic engineering and bioinformatics.”
Even beyond the birthing chambers, that was what the Abominators were all about. They’d remade their own variant of humanity to supply themselves with superpowered soldiers. Victor’s claim made sense.
Victor sat down at one of the cubicles and logged in to the computer. His desktop background showed Harley Quinn posing with a baseball bat.
He opened a few programs, one of them for email, and then looked up at me. “You know Stephanie from somewhere, right?”
I hoped he wasn’t going to ask for details. They’d set up Stapledon to maximize deniability about what it really was, but if he wanted details we’d have to coordinate our lies.
“Sure,” I said. “A bit.”
Victor itched his beard. “Is she with someone? Because I’ve hinted we should get together and she changes the subject every time.”
“Oh,” I wondered how much I should tell him since she hadn’t. “I think she got out of a long term relationship. So maybe she’s taking a break from dating.”
His mouth twisted. “Well, fuck her then. She could have said so.”
Maybe in that moment, I should have pointed out that he didn’t deserve any explanation at all and that changing the subject was an answer if he thought about it. At the same time, I didn’t feel quite right lecturing a near-stranger ten years older than me about basic human behavior.
So, I didn’t and watched as he showed me how to log into programs I’d need to use. It seemed to me that he typed harder than he had to. By the time he’d shown me a few things, he’d calmed down and when Stephanie walked up, he asked, “How’d it go,” with no hint of anger.
She laughed. “We’re getting more funding for the birthing chamber project. Maybe they’ll let us share a little with everyone else. On the linguistics side, it’s all one project. How are you guys doing?”
Pointing at the screen, Victor said, “Take a look. I got him into everything important. Next week, he should be able to be useful.”
She smiled. “Excellent. Thanks. I’m glad you showed him around. Whoever showed the last intern around left her with half the accounts and permissions she should have had.”
“Not my fault.” Victor leaned back in his chair. “I’m pretty sure Sandy was still handling IT himself back then in addition to being CEO and a team lead. Too many hats. I’m glad he cut back.”
Giving a snort, Stephanie said, “Me too, but I’m wondering if he might not be busy enough. How are you doing, Nick?”
I shrugged, “I can log into a lot of apps. That’s something.”