Unsure as to how to fake being mind-controlled, I said, “No,” answering as if I didn’t know he’d asked a question I shouldn’t be able to refuse.
He paused, still scowling and then asked again. “You don’t know of anyone who wants to know about Higher Ground’s research or about the people who work for the company?”
The HUD in my lenses continued to indicate that the glasses’ sound blocking continued to be active as he spoke—as did my implant.
Deciding that thinking through my answer might hint that I was unaffected, I went with the first thing that came into my head. “I’m sure that many scientists would love to know about the research. I’m sure that competing labs would want to know how Higher Ground got their artifacts. None of them have contacted me to ask, so I don’t know who’d specifically want to know. If I were worried about corporate espionage, that’s where I’d start.”
Dr. Hansen sighed and shook his head. “Thanks for your suggestion and thanks for answering my questions. I don’t have anymore.”
He stood up behind his desk which was my cue to leave. Shaking my hand again, he added, “I’m glad we got to have this talk. Don’t worry about your standing in the internship. Asking you about it was simply a precaution.”
I let go of his hand and said, “Thanks. I get it. It is all secret stuff.”
He followed me to the door and we walked out of his office into the departmental suite. It looked normal. The secretary was at her desk in the middle of the room with a student assistant who was arranging piles of paper on the counter.
Other students were waiting at the doors of other professors. A couple of profs were talking to each other in a corner. I’d taken classes from both of them and they waved at me.
The one thing that was out of place? That was the guy waiting to the right of Dr. Hansen’s office as I came out. On the face of it, he wasn’t completely out of place. Wearing a tan Carhartt and blue jeans, he matched the profile of most of the university’s maintenance workers. The brush cut combined with male pattern baldness and an age I pegged as mid-thirties fit that idea too, but my gut said that this was someone with combat training.
It was something about the way he tracked where I was going without moving his body to watch me—just his eyes. Thanks to the glasses I wore, I had a close to 360-degree view of my surroundings.
He discussed something with Dr. Hansen, eyes glancing in my direction the entire time. As an experiment, I stopped and grabbed a brochure for an off-campus international semester and they both stopped talking to watch until I turned to walk away again.
If that had been all, I might have dismissed it as nothing, but it wasn’t. I knew the Carhartt jacket wasn’t a Carhartt jacket. It was a subtle thing, but I knew the material. My grandfather had designed an early version of it and I’d worked with it when he was training me. This was the kind of material used in superhero costumes and equipment ten years ago.
I might have been able to dismiss that if I’d wanted to, but my glasses were designed to display the results of different sensor types combined into one image just like other Rocket suits. My HUD showed the material as denser than normal—bulletproof (depending on the bullet). It also showed an even denser pistol-shaped object hanging underneath his left arm.
That was the moment where I might have been tempted to run except that I knew that nothing would cue them in more quickly than that. I kept on walking at a normal pace until I got out of the department and even then only walked a little bit faster down the hall until I walked out the front door.
Carhartt jacket guy walked out when I was halfway to the next set of buildings and heading closer to the middle of campus. He didn’t even look at me beyond a glance. Then he walked away, heading in a direction that would take him off-campus within a block or two.
Though he might be trying to throw me off, it seemed more likely that he’d been told I wasn’t a threat. I imagined that if I’d admitted to bugging the place, he’d probably have gotten all the information out of me that he could and then sent me on a walk with Carhartt guy. Whether that would be a trip to talk to the Nine or to my death, I didn’t need to know.
For now, I was free.
I’d been good enough with the implant’s help to convince them that I knew nothing and when I thought about it, Dr. Hansen hadn’t said anything that tied him to the Nine. I’d only known I was being coerced because the implant told me and Lim sent me a message. Aside from that, it had been subtle.
I decided to keep the recording of the scene for later, but if I gave it to Lim, I’d give it to him unofficially.