Deeper In: Part 9

“Wait. What do you think they’re likely to do? From my experience they’re likely to break in and look at the birthing chambers or worse.”

She raised an eyebrow and looked up at me, saying nothing.

“Their minds had been messed with, but they weren’t puppets. Whatever the Mayor told them, they decided on their own that it was worth trying to take out the whole Heroes’ League at once—including Jaclyn. Even untrained, she’s out of their league. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was only the second time that they were doing it under the Mayor’s control. The first time, I think they did it of their own free will.”

She sighed. “They’re not my first choice in mentors, but they’re not complete idiots either. I’m pretty sure they’ll see that with the Feds involved, it’s not a good idea to go in guns blazing. Besides, they know people. We’re talking about Abominator designed assassins. They’ll know who to talk to to find out if anyone’s sighted any and someone at the Michigan Heroes Alliance will know how to warn people without losing control of the information.”

I frowned. “I hope you’re right.”

“Me too. And please don’t take this wrong, but did you tell anybody?”

I shook my head. “You’re the first person. I haven’t even told Vaughn or anybody on my team.”

I stopped and thought about it for a second. Stephanie stared at me. “Who did you tell?”

“No one, but I did ask Victor if there had been any progress on user-interface right afterwards. He didn’t seem to make any connection. He just went on to ask me to ask me if I could program. I told him I could and he said, he might have me write some code.” 

Stephanie took a quick look to the left and right. “What is he having you code for? I’ve been doing the coding for the UI team.”

“I think it was something about psi-helmets. I guess they’re useful in connecting with the birthing chamber and he wanted me to tweak the code if the original programmers were busy. It might be connected with whoever’s visiting from the last lab to have the birthing chamber?”

“Oh God,” Stephanie shook her head. “It sounds like it’s ‘secret project’ time again.”

She explained before I could ask her what she meant. “It’s like this: every now and then, the higher ups have an idea, but they don’t want to share it. So they put together a team and place them on some other teams’ project without telling them.”

“Oh. I don’t want to take your project.”

She shook her head. “You’re not. They’re doing some weird new thing on their own now. You need to keep your eyes open and figure out exactly what the project is and who’s involved. There’s going to be someone from higher management and a middle manager—Victor, obviously. But who else? And is it normal business stuff or is this from outside? This might be the Nine’s project.”

I considered that. “What happens if it’s normal business stuff?”

She cocked her head. “Then someone’s trying to make someone else look bad by getting farther on their project than the original team did. Even better, you can bet someone’s going to get fired when it’s over.”

“That doesn’t make sense. If people learned all the stuff they need to know to work here, it’s a huge waste to fire them like that.”

“Well, yeah,” Stephanie said, shrugging. “It’s stupid, but if you’re playing political games and don’t have to pay for it yourself, you don’t care about that. This place runs on cash from the government and investors like Hardwick. It’s not going to get better until our executives feel some pain when they fire someone for no good reason.”

I didn’t have anything to say to that.

Stephanie shook her head. “I guess we’re done. I’ll tell you what Red Bolt and Future Knight decide to do—especially if it’s dumb. Do you have anything else?”

My mind went back to a few days before when she told me about Emmy and Sandy. “You know a lot of synonyms for sex.”

She laughed. “Oh yeah. My mom wouldn’t let us use the word. She’d always say ‘have relations’ or something else that isn’t really any better. So I rebelled and I made a special point to find euphemisms that were worse than just saying it. It seemed funny, so I memorized a bunch from a list.”

“It’s impressive that you still remember them now.”

Looking toward the trail that would bring her to the hotel, her mouth twisted. “I was a little snot. Anyway, you probably shouldn’t make the helicopter wait for you.”

“True.” With that, we went our separate ways. I followed the sidewalk back to the front of the main building. As I walked around the corner, I could see Vaughn waiting at the helipad, but the helicopter wasn’t there yet.

Much closer to me, Emmy walked out the front door of the main office, her hair blowing a little in the breeze. I waved at her.

Normally quick with a smile, she didn’t seem like herself. She didn’t seem to notice, staring straight ahead and walking slowly, one step ahead of the other.

When I said, “Hey, Emmy?” She turned toward me with start and I recognized tears glistening around her eyes.

“Are you okay?” I asked, aware that I hadn’t even given her a chance to reply.

Sniffling, she said, “I had a bad day. I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow. Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal.”

The scrunched up expression on her face as she said it gave lie to the last sentence. I had a guess as to what might be wrong, but didn’t feel comfortable pushing her to say more. 

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

She nodded and walked down the trail toward the hotel where they kept the employees’ cars.

10 thoughts on “Deeper In: Part 9”

  1. Nick is such a terrible secret agent! Not only should they not be discussing their findings onsite (what if the place is bugged, or someone has super hearing?) but he used Jaclyn’s real name in a discussion of a public superhero battle. I know they both have the stapledon block, but I guess that’s only as good as their own idea of security…

    1. Yeah, I don’t know why Nick and Stephanie have to keep doing their updates with each other on site and in person. As I recall, Nick has super-secure Hero League communicator phones that he personally created and programmed. Just give her one of those and talk when they’re off-site.

      That said, look, it’s the superhero genre. You can’t nitpick “realism” too much. Characters have conversations where it’s most dramatically appropriate. On the other hand, if the goal is to give a sense of paranoia and insecurity to this Book as Nick grapples with not knowing who might be an agent of the Nine, having him act a little more paranoid and worried might help!

    2. This looks a worse than it is—largely due to a mistake on my part.

      During their first conversation, I specifically mentioned that they took precautions. Stephanie’s specialty is creating sensory input that affects the mind—symbols that cause someone to freeze and do nothing, sound that forces people to not listen. She specifically used the latter option in the last conversation.

      Similarly, Nick can use his equipment to generate white noise that will make words hard to distinguish from a distance or when recording equipment is used. He used that during the first conversation they had as well.

      In writing this, I asked myself, do people need to be constantly reminded of this during every conversation they have? If I mention it every time, it’ll become boring and repetitive.

      On the other hand, when each repetition is weeks or even months apart, people are likely to forget it was ever mentioned.

      I decided to go with skipping it. Clearly it needed to be repeated a couple more times before it became boring and repetitive.

  2. Sorry about this but it just struck me. But why is Vaughn at Higher Ground? I know he is on his internship too. But he was premed the last I recall. And would only switch to business if he found it too hard. Which the way he was practically breezing through it, didn’t seem likely. Did I miss something?

    1. If I remember correctly, there is more than one company in the complex. Vaughn is at one of the medical ones.

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