Claws & Eyes: Part 8

I stared at him. “Seriously? I’m supposed to help them do it? Isn’t there a point at which we intervene?”

Lim frowned. “There is. When we know before someone might die, we intervene, but even then we try to do it without blowing our cover if it’s possible. Right here, we don’t have that. We’ve got a body that might be be connected and we are following up on that. We don’t need you to do it.

“We’ve also got a problem that has destroyed humanity in alternate universe and that puts this whole operation on a lot of people’s watch lists for a lot of different reasons. The problem is that some of the people whose watch list it’s on are not in it for the right reasons.”

Lim stopped, looking into the camera and saying nothing for a moment. Then he took a breath, sighed, and started to speak. “Last time we talked I told you why we needed to sometimes use alternate methods of communicating—like this one. It’s a given that the Nine have infiltrated the FBI or the Justice Department. A secondary purpose of this operation is to find out who’s watching this op, if anyone’s trying to hide the results, and who attempts to get control of Higher Ground’s research.

“When we know that, we’ll have some clues as to who’s been compromised around and above me.”

Lim stopped and looked out the window to his right, responding to a noise I hadn’t heard or movement I hadn’t seen. Turning back, he said, “That’s the big prize and if I want it, I’ve got to live as if I don’t know anything. Sometimes I might want to act, but choose not to because I’m only going to get one shot at some of these people. If I act too soon, they’ll know I’m looking. I’m going to need you to do the same thing.”

His voice stayed low, but he spoke with more intensity than I could ever remember hearing from him.

“I know you want to act,” he continued, “and I get it. In fact, I might have to take advantage of it. For me, the fact that you’re vigilantes and you can choose to ignore the law is your real superpower. You’ll be able to act when I can’t if the necessary legal permission don’t come through because the Nine don’t want them to.

“But you won’t be able to act if you act too soon and they figure out that they’re being watched by the Rocket and the Heroes’ League. Count on the fact that they’re watching for you. Between Cassie breaking into their secret research facility and getting the gun—something that has to eat at them—as well you fighting Rook off and getting her back after he captured her, they have to fear you by now.

“That and you can be confident that Rook’s waiting for his chance to get you back for blowing up his hand.”

I thought about that, running through bits of it in my head. “Alright. I guess I’ll work on the helmet. I’m just going to act as if I didn’t have access to the Xiniti’s work on it and pretend to fight for every piece of it.”

Lim nodded. “That’s the way to go. Make progress, but don’t make so much process that they begin to suspect that you’ve got an implant. There are people out there that will try to steal it and won’t be bothered that they have to remove it from your brain first. Do you have anything else?”

“I did plant some bugs today. I’ve got them in the conference rooms as well as management’s offices. I’m sure that’s not the only place they’ll talk about secret things, but that’s where I’ll get the best recordings.”

Smiling, Lim said, “That’s what we need—unambiguous proof of whatever it is they’re doing. That’s the best news I’ve heard so far this week. Now, later on in this, it might be that we’ll want to sacrifice a bug if they begin to get suspicious. So you’ll want to come up with an alternate design and be ready to place them in more obvious spots.

“Oh, and one more thing. We’re going to have to do a fake report on the regular line just in case someone’s watching. You’ll want to mention that you’re planning to install bugs. Can you be ready in an hour from now?”

I thought about it. The only thing that would interrupt was homework. “Sure.”

Not long after that, we ended the conversation. I started up a few printers to make bot parts and worked on my calculus homework. I continued working on that after the second (fake) call with Isaac.

Around eleven at night, I considered wrapping it up for the night and I did, but not in the way I expected.

I heard the sound of voices—Vaughn and Amy laughing about something. Then heard Sydney laugh with them. I got up from my stool and walked out of the lab in time to see Amy and Vaughn step into the elevator that would bring them back up to the house.

I knew I’d heard that they weren’t dating anymore, but seeing her leaning into him, I wasn’t sure if I’d heard that right. Sydney, meanwhile, stood next to the team locker room. The metal that had encased her flowed off of her body, forming into a gray blob of steel, leaving a slim, pale-skinned girl with blond hair that went halfway down her back.

A friend of Haley, she waved at me before going into the locker room. That left me alone with Chris–who’d stepped out of HQ’s hangar and made a beeline for me as I stepped out of the lab.

A few inches shorter and stockier than me, Chris wore a gray Heroes’ League costume that I knew he used as a flight suit under his version of the Rocket suit. He wasn’t wearing the mask that went with it, showing his blond hair and grinning face. “Hey Nick, we should talk. It’s been forever.”

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