After Vaughn and I went back to the house, I headed immediately down to my lab because I wanted to talk with Isaac Lim. I’d told Vaughn about how I’d now become the “lead” and only programmer on Higher Ground’s birthing chamber remote control project (or whatever it was called).
He’d stared at me long enough that I worried that he wasn’t paying attention to the road. “Let me get this straight—you’re duplicating Cassie’s Abominator Citizen’s Mark with a psi helmet?”
Shaking my head and looking forward, hoping Vaughn would take the hint, I said, “Not exactly. I think her Citizen’s Mark gives her total control of the device. From what I understand, the psi helmet would give the user the default level of access the Abominators gave normal users. I suspect that would still be more than we’re comfortable with.”
Vaughn nodded. “If you’re right and they’re using that assassin thing you found, I’d say yeah. We should bring Cassie in. Then you can make the psi helmet work, but she’d be able to lock the chambers down so that they can only make what you let them make.”
We exited the freeway, rolling down the circular ramp and coming to a stop. Cars and trucks filled the road. Watching as Vaughn waited for an open spot in the stream of vehicles, I took the moment to respond.
“I thought about that, but she’s in Washington D.C. because the Nine are looking for her here. That and they can protect her more easily there.”
Nodding, Vaughn gunned the car, fitting it into a smaller space than I would have attempted, causing the guy in the pickup truck behind us to lay on his horn.
“I get that,” Vaughn slowed, giving us more space from the car ahead and prompting another series of beeps from the car behind. “But maybe it’s time for her to come back. The birthing chambers big. It could create the True, but think about it. Higher Ground’s got a lot of stuff. Sure the birthing chambers are bad, but for all we know, they’ve got stuff that’s even more disruptive that they haven’t figured out yet. Cassie could shut them all down.”
Within a few blocks, the neighborhoods had changed from old factories, car repair shops, and old houses with flaking paint to old houses with green lawns, new paint, or aluminum siding. We were getting closer to home.
“That’s a pretty good idea. If it were just us and Agent Lim hadn’t asked me to watch and not act, I think this would be worth bringing Cassie in. As things are, I texted Lim and I”m going to ask him what he thinks we should do.”
Vaughn nodded. “Yeah. That makes sense. Bringing Cassie in might blow the ‘secret investigation’ wide open. She’s generally not too subtle about how she handles things. Let everyone know how that meeting goes, okay? I’m pretty sure the rest of us don’t want to be surprised.”
Vaughn wasn’t wrong about Cassie. She wasn’t subtle, but he wasn’t either. As for what he’d said about me? Well, he had a point. I did sometimes forget to tell people things.
“I’ll tell everyone what happens and if we need to have a team meeting after that, we can.”
There wasn’t much to say after that. Once I went down to my lab, I logged into the computer, setting myself available for calls, and poked around the lab, trying to think if I needed to design any more bots and wondering what my current bots had picked up.
It didn’t take long for Agent Lim to call and I picked it up immediately, watching as the black screen dissolved into Agent Lim’s home office. He frowned as he looked at me.
“I got your text that we should talk and that we should do it the most secure way possible. What’s going on?”
Remembering back to the last time we’d talked, he’d told me that he was talking to me over an unofficial system because he didn’t trust the official systems, implying that the Nine might be bugging the official phones.
“It’s Higher Ground. They want me to program a psi helmet to connect to the birthing chamber they’ve got. Worse, I can do it. They’re having problems because they don’t fully understand Abominator and Galactic Alliance standards for programming a mind to machine interface. I do. It’s in my implant.”
Lim blinked. “No kidding? They gave you an implant? Shit. Look, I know that aliens use them, but it never occurred to me that they’d give you one. The rest of the team too?”
“Everyone who went to space with me.”
Isaac leaned back in his chair. “Well, I hope they’re not listening in. The Xiniti seem to want us to survive, but they don’t need to know everything. Do you think they are?”
I checked. “The implant says it’s not programmed to give regular updates about me beyond notifying them if I die.”
Lim frowned. “I hope it’s telling you the truth. Anyway, so what did you want to ask me?”
“I’ve been thinking maybe I should sabotage the psi helmet. I’ve got more than one way to do it—programming the psi helmet wrong is the most obvious. Beyond that, I’ve got my own backdoor into the birthing chamber, so I might be able to slow down their access from that direction. Plus, there’s always bringing in Cassie. She’s got total access to everything.”
Lim placed his chin on his hand. “Let’s think about that. First, let’s start by saying that bringing in Cassie is an absolute last resort option. That opens up all new ways this op could go wrong. Plus, I don’t want to tangle with her mom. She’s already isn’t happy that we’re sending you in.”
Cassie’s mom was some kind of big deal in the CIA.
“Next, do you have any kind of evidence that someone’s trying to create the True? Did someone say it and did you record it?”
I felt myself slump on my stool. “No. We think that the Higher Ground investor that died was killed by an Abominator assassin creature that’s easy to get access to in the DNA library, but we don’t have direct evidence. I know the creature’s details were accessed but don’t have any way to know if one was created—but I do know they had time to make one. Beyond that, Emmy, Hardwick Medical’s administrative assistant, looks like Tara’s smaller and weaker twin.”
Lim shook his head. “That’s something, but it’s not enough. If that’s all you have, I’d say that you should give them what they want. You don’t have to be quick about it, but right now they’re a government contractor in good standing and you’ve signed a contract to work for them. If you deliberately sabotage them, and we can’t prove they were doing anything wrong, you might be sued for breach of contract and we might not be able to protect you.”