Vaughn and I took his car to Hardwick Industries downtown offices and the helipad after class. It felt a little showy to ride there in a Porsche, but it wasn’t my Porsche.
It had the additional advantage of not leaving my van where it could be inspected by Hardwick’s people. The van passed as a normal van, but if anyone started poking and prodding it, they’d discover that the material wasn’t quite metal. If someone who knew the model of van it was supposed to be measured it, they’d discover that the measurements weren’t quite right. Worse, they might figure out that most of what you could see underneath was a facade.
You’d think that knowing the problem, I’d be able to solve it, but it wasn’t that simple. I’d designed the van to shift into several different vans as well as a giant catmecha version. Even with nanotech, there are limits to how far you can go.
In the end though, leaving the van in a parking lot that I knew people familiar with alien tech might walk through would be asking for trouble.
Thus, the Porsche, and driving down the road with Vaughn asking, “Do you need me to do anything? I could have a thunderstorm roll in. With enough thunder and lightning, everyone would be looking out the windows instead of paying attention to your bots.
“For that matter, I could set up a tornado. If everyone’s heading for inside walls to hide, they’re not going to be looking for bots.”
The wind blew through the windows over the engine’s persistent hum. “That’s not a bad idea, but I’m thinking a definite no on the tornado. They’ve probably got evacuation procedures that include the artifacts. I wouldn’t put it past them if some artifacts disappeared permanently. You’re not the only weather-controlling super out there and some of them aren’t heroes.”
Vaughn snorted. “Tell me about it.”
Thinking about his grandfather, I said, “Sorry, but you know what I mean.”
Accelerating, Vaughn whipped around a blue Volvo wagon that had made the mistake of moving too slowly, bringing us into the left lane of a two-lane road.
I tried not to think about the small truck coming at us head-on as Vaughn eased us back into the right lane. “You know Uncle Russ got Grandpa’s powers too. I’m not saying they won’t be worried about people with lightning and weather powers, but I’d be surprised if they were the biggest worry.”
I didn’t point out that Lucas, Vaughn’s cousin and Russell Hardwick’s son, also had the same powers. Vaughn knew it. “I suppose that depends on whether ‘Uncle Russ’ and Higher Ground are more worried about the Heroes’ League or the Nine.”
Turning onto Hardwick Industries’ campus, Vaughn slowed the car to pass his keycard in front of the reader and wave at the guard. With glassy buildings, manicured lawns, and the company parking lot around the corner, Vaughn added, “All I’m saying is that if you need a distraction, all you have to do is text me. If there’s one thing my powers are good for, it’s distractions.”
After that, he parked the car and we waited for our ride at the helipad, hanging out and making the odd joke. I wondered what our grandfathers would think if they could see us. They’d been lifelong friends before Giles Hardwick betrayed the original Heroes’ League.
Forty-five minutes later I’d entered Higher Ground’s lab, heading straight for the birthing chambers as I’d been told in an email Stephanie sent me.
As I stepped through the “airlock” into the main room of the lab, I knew the place felt different. It took only a moment to realize why. The birthing chamber platform had twenty people standing in front of it.
All of them were lab employees (including Victor and Stephanie). The one person who I didn’t recognize did strike me as familiar. Where had I seen her before?
A light-skinned woman in her early to mid-forties with short brown hair, she could have been anyone. Something about the intensity of the way she looked at the birthing chamber sparked a memory, but I couldn’t say where it came from.
The Xiniti implant came to my rescue. A translucent label appeared under her face saying, “Dr. Valerie Griffin, electrical engineer with a specialty in investigating galactic technology including Abominator artifacts. She’s human, born and located on Earth. She’s believed to have Galactic connections. It’s unknown whether or not she is knowingly involved with agents of the Human Ascendancy, but she does know individual agents on sight. Some of these agents are connected to the Nine, an Earthling criminal organization with connections in the Galactic Alliance and Human Quarantine.”
The Xiniti records went on longer, detailing specific points at which she’d come to the attention of Xiniti intelligence services. I didn’t have time to absorb every last detail, but there wasn’t enough to peg her as anything more than an engineer with unintentional connections to crime.
All the same, I knew who she was. She was the leader of the Medford lab that studied the birthing chamber platform a couple years before. We’d saved her family and the lab from an attack by alien mercenaries searching for Abominator artifacts.
She’d given Vaughn, Cassie, Amy and a few more of us a tour of the lab before the government had appeared to grab the birthing chambers. I tried to remember anything she’d told me then, but Stephanie’s voice interrupted me.
“Over here, Nick.” As I walked over to her, Stephanie continued, “Dr. Griffin, this is the last member of our team, Nick Klein. He’s an intern from Grand Lake University. He’s here as part of the same program I mentioned earlier.”
Dr. Griffin held out her hand, smiling. “Hi Nick, I’ve heard good things about you.”
Reminding myself that she couldn’t possibly recognize my voice because the Rocket suit had modified my voice to sound like my grandfathers’, I shook her hand. “Thanks. I heard they were bringing in someone who knew more about the birthing chamber platform.”
She laughed. “I don’t know much more, but I think I can help. People underestimate how alien alien artifacts are.”
Behind her, the platform glinted bluish-green in the light. I’d thought she’d be coming next week. Why was she here now?