Standing up and stepping away from the chair, Hardwick grinned wider. “There’s one more thing you should know. Those files you took included records from Red Lightning’s breeding program and how our company assisted him at that time as well as things I’ve done to protect the products of that breeding program—including hiring the Executioner, a known criminal.
“Now what you’re thinking is how much revealing that will hurt me. What you should be thinking of is how far that means I’m willing to go to protect myself and my people. You should also be wondering about the products of that breeding program. You remember Justice Fist and how I bankrolled them? They’re not the only people with powers to come out of that program. They’re just the ones you’ve heard of. You should remember that if you ever come to the conclusion that we’re having problems. I don’t have any intention of ending up like Dean Whiteford. Are you clear on that?”
Ryan stood up behind his desk. As he did, the smile on his face wavered before turning back into a professional, if fake, smile. “You’ve made your point. We’ll give you the time you need, but don’t take too long. Information wants to be free. You never know where it might end up or when.”
Walking toward the door, Hardwick turned to take a long look at Ryan. “I’ll remember that. You should too.”
Then he walked out and shut the door. The recording ended.
I came back to myself in my lab. It had only taken a few seconds, but it felt like a different world. To be fair, it had confirmed almost all of everyone’s suspicions. I’d suspected that Ryan was involved in whatever was going on or at least that he wasn’t one of the good guys. Lim, Vaughn, and anyone on the team had suspected that Russell Hardwick might be involved with the Nine. Stephanie had suspected the connection between Dean Whiteford’s death and Higher Ground.
The idea that someone in Higher Ground’s leadership might blackmail Hardwick into getting the Nine to leave them alone and then bribe him with money and power if he succeeded?
I hadn’t seen that coming. Maybe I should have, but I hadn’t. And then there was the successfully implantation of a Citizen’s Mark. That meant that the whole library and the entire functionality were accessible to someone and it was anyone’s guess as to who.
Well, not anyone’s guess. They’d given us a clue. Ryan had said it was one of the earliest employees. All I had to do was to get a list of who’d been hired and when. Of course, the whole company wasn’t more than five years old. I didn’t know exact dates, but I had a feeling that “one of our earliest employees” could easily cover half the company.
Sandy LePage would probably be the earliest employee given that the company was his idea. It wasn’t impossible that Ryan himself might be the one with the mark and was misdirecting Hardwick.
I did a quick pass down the list of recordings. This one had been the most recent. Even if I went through all the rest of them, I still wouldn’t know what Hardwick had said. On the other hand, going through the rest of them would give me more context and that might make a world of difference.
I went through the others. None of them were as dramatic as that one. Most of them were business meetings where one problem or another was being discussed. For example, the problem of how to store artifacts and allow access while lowering the risk of theft or employee use. Some meetings involved Sandy and Ryan and those sometimes turned into conference calls.
It didn’t take more than a few to realize that if I were in a mood to take notes and associate dates with events that happened after the meetings—maybe by watching them in chronological order and doing more research—I might understand a lot about the deeper workings of the business and discover more crimes in the process.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the mood. Between the homework that had to be done by tomorrow, the implications of the meeting I’d watched, and the gut-level conviction that this was about to get worse, I didn’t have enough attention to go around.
I sent all of it to Lim and then went back to my homework. His people could go through it and get more out of it than I could. After thirty minutes of working on calculus, another obvious move struck me. I sent Tara a link to all of it.
She’d be able to make links between the various facts more easily than could at this moment and if she needed to ask me questions, I had the time—or at least I would later.
A couple of hours later I’d finished everything I needed to finish by the next day and decided I could relax for a little while and then go to bed.
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to relax in the lab though. All the bots, the Rocket suit pieces, and the partially finished experiments demanded attention in their own way. Sometimes this was relaxing, but not when you knew that about an hour away someone with a Citizen’s Mark had access to a warehouse for Abominator devices.
Thinking back to the fight with Art and Zola at Hardwick Industries, I remembered how they disappeared when they got far enough away from the building.
That might have been a supervillain, but it might have been Abominator technology.
As I began to put my books and computer into my backpack, HQ registered a call. It identified the caller as Agent Isaac Lim.