In the face of all that, I knew what the first thing I had to do was. Send Lim a message so that he knew that he was right. The Nine had infiltrated the FBI—and by the way, they’d also infiltrated the Engineering Department of my university.
In the grand scheme of things, the FBI was more important to the country, but the university had a more immediate impact on my life. Lim would want to know in any case.
As I walked toward the library—which happened to be near my next class—I thought about what I was going to do this afternoon. I’d been planning to go to work, but was going to work the wisest possible thing I could do? On the one hand, Dr. Hansen had decided I’d passed his test, but if the Nine had someone at Higher Ground and they recognized that I was protected instead of innocent, I’d be in the middle of enough enemies that I’d have no choice but break out the Rocket suit or do something that an average college student shouldn’t be capable of.
I wondered if there might be some way to use my implant to resist whatever vocal tones forced people to follow commands. It would be harder to remove than glasses.
When you considered that I’d gotten the implant from a civilization where they were as common as cellphones, but also one where people used their voices to control nations that spanned multiple star systems, it seemed likely they’d have already figured out how to do that—if it was possible.
A cold wind blew as I walked down the sidewalk through the middle of campus. A few people zipped up their jackets.
Thinking about it more, I realized that I had to go to work. If anyone knew that I skipped after Dr. Hansen interrogated me, they might suspect that I understood what had happened.
The only reason that I shouldn’t would be if Lim contacted me to say that this was enough and the FBI was going in to shut them down.
My heart pumped a little harder at the thought and it struck me that I should tell the rest of the team that the potential existed that they’d have to extract me from the Nine’s hands—preferably before people handed me over to the Dominators.
I didn’t want my mindset “adjusted.”
Not wanting to write out all of that on my walk, I waited until I reached the library, sent a message to the whole group and included the video of Dr. Hansen, something that turned out to be more work than anticipated. It involved sending the video to Hal for conversion, attaching it to the message only after that, and finally sending the whole thing to the group.
The results were predictable. Haley asked me if I was sure I had to go. Daniel told me to make a point of sending a “yellow” the moment I got on the helicopter and that everyone should watch for a red after that.
Cassie wrote that she’d contacted some friends in the D.C. superteams and she could pull some favors and get here somehow.
Other people in the group wished me good luck or to stay safe—including my sister Rachel who wrote, “Are you kidding me? You’d better stay safe. I don’t want to have to explain this to Mom.”
A lot of people had League communicators or a connection to our system now—the original nine of us, some of the ex-members of Justice Fist (Sydney, Julie, Shannon, and Camilla), friends from the Stapledon program (including Tara, Samita, and Rod), Kayla, Izzy, Amy, Chris, and old friends in the hero community (Alex, Jenny, and Brooke).
It felt like a vast cloud, a league of superheroes or even a legion (of nothing in particular), all of them offering help, or at least rooting for Vaughn and me because it wasn’t as if I was going in alone.
On that subject, Vaughn’s post was, “Shit! Lim’s got no idea what we’re walking into either, does he?”
I wrote back, “I doubt it. He just told me that we should go in, but to notify him in any distress call I made.”
Lim had. His message had just appeared in my personal inbox.
He was right to tell me to go in. It felt good to know that I wasn’t going in alone, though. Not everyone could help if I needed it, but enough could that it felt like we had a chance.
It was the best I’d ever felt sitting in one of the library’s line of wooden study carrels. I used my glasses wide-angle view to check around, seeing other students studying, walking off to check out books, or using their phones. I didn’t see the fake maintenance worker or Dr. Hansen.
I also didn’t get any calculus homework done at all. The team’s discussion kept on going even after I left for class and I didn’t try to follow it. It was all I could do to take notes.
By the time it was over, I had enough time to grab lunch at the student union, ride with Vaughn to Hardwick HQ, and get in the helicopter. While I caught a few messages and sent a yellow alert, I couldn’t look at my phone during the ride. There were too many Hardwick Industries’ executives for me to feel comfortable with that and obviously I couldn’t talk to Vaughn about it.
I didn’t see Emmy at the desk when we arrived. That wasn’t such a big deal. She wasn’t always there, but Vaughn and I gave each other a look anyway.
That wasn’t the biggest surprise, though. When I arrived in the lab, I found that the birthing chambers were gone. Seeing my expression, Victor stood up from his cubicle and laughed, “Don’t worry about it. They brought them into another room in the labs for some additional tests. They do that every month. It’s no big deal.”