Looking down at the words on my phone, I wrote back, “What?”
Three dots that indicated that she was writing appeared. I waited. Then more words appeared, accompanied by a beep. “There’s a file cabinet in Sandy’s office and he shoved a bunch of folders in there when I got close to his desk. Don’t know what’s in there, but he didn’t want me to see it.”
Even as I thought about my reply, she added, “Might not be the Nine, but it’s worth a look.”
I wrote back, “Right. Want to talk here? Tomorrow night after work?”
Seconds later, “Yes. Seven?”
That worked for me. I put my books and computer into my backpack, took the elevator upstairs, and went to bed.
* * *
Checking email on my phone after I saw an email from Dr. Hansen, head of the Engineering Department. Could I drop by his office after class? I had an hour between classes that morning that I’d been planning to use to read ahead or start my Calculus problems, so the time worked, but it wasn’t convenient.
I replied yes. This had the feel of an order instead of a request.
Dr. Strazinsky left no sign that he thought that I was in trouble or even that he knew about the meeting. He lectured, reminded us that we had an assignment listed on the class site, and then class was over.
I arrived in the Engineering Department and walked over to Dr. Hansen’s office. The door was open. I leaned in and knocked on the door.
Dr. Hansen looked up from his laptop and waved me in, saying, “Please close the door.”
As meetings with authority figures go, those are words that start unpleasant conversations more often than they start pleasant ones. At the same time, Dr. Hansen didn’t look angry to me. He stood up, drawing himself up to his near seven-foot height. It might have been more intimidating if he weren’t thin as opposed to muscular. Also, he was holding out his hand for a handshake.
Ignoring that part of my brain that had been suddenly reminded of Tara trying to teach Tiger tricks (“Shake? Shake? Yes! Good boy! Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? Yes, you!”), I shook the professor’s hand.
We both sat down.
Closing his laptop, Dr. Hansen looked over the desk at me. “Nick, this isn’t about you. We’ve had no complaints. Everyone says you’re doing a good job, but—”
And there I expected him to end the sentence with, “we’re ending the internship,” because that would have been a mess.
Instead, he ended the sentence with, “—there’s been a security breach at Higher Ground. Someone’s been taking recordings inside the building and your name was specifically mentioned in one of the videos. That doesn’t mean that we think you took the video, but from what was said you were in the area when it was taken. So, it falls to me to ask you, did you or anyone else you know at Higher Ground take video inside the building?”
I’d already triggered my implant to help in case I couldn’t remain calm on my own, but the implant didn’t notify me that it was helping as I said, “No,” with what I hoped was a convincing level of calm.
Dr. Hansen nodded at my response but kept on talking. “That’s good to hear, but I can’t leave it there. Hardwick Industries is one of the major places we place interns. Losing their confidence would do our internship program major damage. That’s still true if there are problems with one of our interns with the Higher Ground because there’s a connection between the two companies.”
He watched me as he talked, seeking signs of a guilty conscience, maybe?
In my head, my implant received notifications from my phone. It hadn’t been as hard to make a connection as you might think, allowing me to give alien technology some of the same features as an Apple Watch.
I’d received a message from Lim on the encrypted network Supers used. It said that another team had been assigned to this investigation and that he’d been required to share the videos with them. “But don’t worry, your name isn’t associated with the video—just the mad scientist list and our investigation. That’s bad enough, but we think it’s likely they’ve guessed you’re working with us from the beginning.”
If I weren’t already trying to look as calm as possible, that might have shaken my composure. I’d have read the entire message, but for the moment, this was enough. Anyway, Dr. Hansen hadn’t noticed that I’d been distracted. He’d kept on talking, “I’ve read that you know people there now. One is a friend from before—”
“I knew Stephanie a little from my scholarship program, but more now,” I added as he talked.
“Right, but you know other people there too, not from your scholarship program, but since you were hired. Are any of them or anyone you know involved in espionage against Higher Ground or Hardwick Industries?”
He stopped, watching me, eyes wide, mouth in a scowl.
If his expression had become more intense, I knew why. As he’d asked the last question, he’d touched the pin on his tie. As he did, the implant recognized the sounds as, “Dominator command inflections,” and my glasses began to vibrate, making sounds designed to be outside the human hearing spectrum, but also capable of blocking out the sounds that would have forced me to answer his question whether I wanted to or not.