Cassie caught my eye and grinned, “And I’d gotten so used to Nick having the ‘normal’ family.”
I raised my eyebrow, “Normal? Rachel’s currently flying around in space without a spacesuit. Plus, my grandparents were not normal at all at least on one side.”
“Yeah,” Cassie said, “but Daniel’s whole family is full of telepaths. Jaclyn’s older brothers have the same powers she does. Vaughn’s uncle was basically Lex Luthor and his grandfather was Red Lightning—“
Vaughn talked over her, “And Haley’s family owns a lot of pizza places. Some of them offer anchovies. Definite supervillain material there.”
Cassie punched his shoulder hard enough that he bumped into Yoselin who laughed, pushing him off herself.
Saying, “Sorry,” to Yoselin, he turned back to Cassie, laughing, “I felt that. Holy crap.”
Cassie grinned, “That’s what happens when you get tougher, I have to punch harder when you interrupt me.”
Before the conversation could continue, Haley asked, “Is there any way you can get around Uncle Steve’s block?”
Daniel sighed, “Technically yes, but not really. Not without making a mess. Government and corporate telepaths aren’t usually the best telepaths out there, but they’re generally good enough. I’m sure this shield wasn’t designed by the person who put it in, but the design’s simple and effective. It’s good enough to keep people out of his head. If people start hammering it, he’ll know, giving him time to do something about it or maybe triggering a whole set of commands that we don’t want to be triggered.”
“Like suicide,” Yoselin said, her voice level. “The Dominators use that one. I’ve seen it activated.”
Not wanting to derail the conversation, I left that there, “Let’s say for a second that I don’t want to risk triggering any commands. What can we do about it?”
Pursing his lips, Daniel shook his head, “I don’t know. Honestly, there’s nothing about his thought processes that make me think his ability to make choices is affected. There are usually hints and I don’t see them. To me, it looks like the shield was put in with his approval and cooperation.”
He looked at me and through our unintentional, but constant connection, I could sense that he meant it. I hadn’t had any doubt, but it went a long way to making me worry a little less.
“Okay,” I felt myself frown, “I guess we should assume he’s okay with the shield and honestly, it makes a lot of sense that he’d have one. If he’s moving from job to job, he’d want to keep secrets and this would be one way to do it.”
Giving a nod, Daniel said, “If it makes you feel better, there were familiar elements in the block. I’m pretty sure no one I know did the work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my dad had a hand in the design. He might have even trained the person who set it up back when he was in military intelligence. Did your uncle do any government work?”
I thought back, trying to remember conversations and stories across my entire life, “You know, he said that he did take a government contract early in his career. The way he described it, it sounded like a mess. They got interference from both the Pentagon bureaucracy and the general in charge of the project. He said that he decided he’d never take a government contract again after that. I think he did though, maybe a couple more, but not a lot.”
Daniel smiled, “That might be it, then. And if they freshened it up each time, or better, taught him how to maintain it, it would stay useful for his entire career.”
That was true, provided the Nine hadn’t infiltrated the ranks of government telepaths.
Daniel replied I know. I’ll talk to my dad and see what he thinks.
I thought back a feeling of approval and said, “I guess we should talk about what we came here to talk about—Len Jones. Where should we start?”
Glancing around the group, Daniel said, “I don’t remember much of it. I passed it on to you with the idea that your implants would remember. So maybe the three of you can describe what you’ve got and we can try to figure out where Len got influenced and his Armory technology became available to everyone for a price. Think back to the first memory where the phrase, ‘You should be getting paid for this’ appears in what I gave you and see what you get.”
When we were traveling to Hideaway, we used our implants’ ability to simulate the world around us to train. It was much like Star Trek’s holodeck except that it all took place in our minds. This memory used all of that technology to put us into Len Jones’ head—at least on a surface level. Human memory doesn’t save everything like a computer. We weren’t getting all of it, just whatever he’d retained across the years.
Still, it felt real.
We were in a city. I wouldn’t have known it from the skyline, but Len knew it intimately. We were in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The year was 1982, two years before Larry fought Armory and his men on Metafight Island. He was chasing Master Martian. I didn’t get a sense from Len’s memories as to whether this was the first Master Martian or the second. I decided to assume the first. I could look it up later.
Len, as Armory, ran down a two-lane street with tall, red brick buildings. After four years at Grand Lake University, I recognized academic architecture instantly. If the wide sidewalks hadn’t been enough of a clue, the signs would have been. They said UWM, short for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
It was night and clouds covered the stars. Master Martian flew down the sidewalk ahead of us, protected from the cold by his shiny green spacesuit and fishbowl helmet. One of his two antenna pointed ahead and the other behind, aimed in our direction.
There weren’t many students out, but the ones that were ran away from the fight, towards the buildings—the Golda Meir Library appeared to be open—even crossing the street. Len blocked one guy from stepping in front of a car and then kept running, the boots of the Armory suit clanking against the concrete as he took twenty-foot strides to catch up.
He wasn’t alone. Flying next to him, surrounded by a cone-shaped force field, a blond man in mirrored sunglasses and a black and gunmetal gray costume shouted, “Surrender, you alien freak!”
I recognized him. Armory had been on a team with Bullet in the early 80s. Bullet had run the Stapledon Program during my freshman year at GLU, but he’d been dropped without explanation by my sophomore year. He’d had a thing about aliens then too.