I spoke over the comm to Bloodmaiden. “Lim’s going to send Paladin here. That or he’s going to bring you to Paladin. Either way, you’re getting help soon.”
“Thanks.” It was a little hard to make out the word.
Switching away to our general channel, I addressed everyone. “Could someone make sure Bloodmaiden’s comfortable?”
“I’m better off than you think,” she said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her push herself up into a sitting position on the brown grass. She gave a little gasp as she became fully upright.
Jaclyn turned her head away from the prisoners on the ground to look at her. “Don’t do that. You’re only making things worse.”
Bloodmaiden shook her head. “I’m not. I can still fight. I’ve got lots of power to work with right now. I can’t heal myself, but I can preserve myself… long enough.”
Then she pulled herself to her feet.
Jaclyn stared at her. “You’re crazy.”
Bloodmaiden shrugged, and said in a low voice, “You’re hurt too.”
Glancing over at the door to the building, Jaclyn said, “Not as badly as you.”
She’d noticed the same thing that I had–everyone was coming out of the building now.
It would have felt a little strange walking past Bloodmaiden as she lay on the ground, and making conversation with these people, but since she wasn’t… I walked across the grass toward Dr. Griffin.
She blinked as she noticed something behind me. Using my HUD’s extended peripheral vision, I noticed Cassie walking toward where Jaclyn and Izzy guarded the prisoners. Cassie had her hand on the gun.
Dr. Griffin watched the gun, and then asked me, “Is that what I think it is?”
Lacking a better response, I said, “I don’t know.”
She noticed the Xiniti’s body, and the silvery armor lying on the grass. She didn’t say anything about that. In her place, I would have been hoping that we’d neglect to collect it before we left.
“So,” I asked, “what did the aliens want with your lab?”
She turned away from the dead Xiniti, and said to me, “We research alien artifacts. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. We don’t advertise it, but we’re not trying to keep it secret either.”
“I saw the shield,” I said.
She deflated. “It was a desperation move. We knew it was a shield, but we didn’t know what it did. I don’t know exactly where it came from. One of our donors had access to it and said we should take a look at it. It was so close to working that we barely had to do anything. We figured out how to turn it on last month. We’d been hoping to start reverse engineering it soon.”
She looked at her building, and at the gap in the wall that one of the ships’ beams had burned from the top of the second floor to the ground.
“We won’t get the chance now. They destroyed something inside it when they were shooting at us.”
She stopped, looking back toward her husband. He was holding the two children’s hands, and talking to them.
One of them, a girl, waved at us. The boy nodded at something his father said.
Dr. Griffin turned back to me. “I can’t believe we all almost died. I got a call from one of our supporters in the National Science Foundation, and he said that we should hide, and if we had any way to hide the artifacts, we should hide them too.”
I nodded. “And thus the shield.”
She took it as permission to continue talking. “We were so lucky. If he’d never called, they would have been able to take everything before you even arrived.”
I thought about that. How lucky was it? Could it simply be chance, or had the Nine supplied them with an Abominator shield knowing that they’d likely be able to fix it, and use it against a threat? Plus, how likely was it that they’d be called with a “just in time” warning?”
Not very likely, I decided. Even if someone in the NSF did know someone in the FBI, there wasn’t much of a chance that they’d be told about an attack by aliens soon enough to do anything about it.
No, most likely her contact had something to do with the Nine. Ditto the donor with the entropy shield generator.
Did she know it? I doubted it. She’d have done more to hide the connections at the very least. Of course, it could be that she had hidden them, and told me complete lies.
Still, from what I’d seen of her, that seemed less likely.
I decided not to worry about it, but realized that if she wasn’t knowingly involved with the Nine, someone had better tell her who her research was ultimately serving.
Well, maybe. Come to think of it, the Nine were probably keeping tabs on her 24/7. Any member of her staff could be one of their operatives.
Of course, now that she’d come to the attention of the Hrrnna, and the Feds, who knew what would happen next?
I could guess. The Feds would want to impound everything, and the Nine’s operative would want to sneak the best stuff out.
Crap. How had this gone from battle to intrigue?
Dr. Griffin cleared her throat. I must have spaced out noticeably.
Before I could say anything, Vaughn walked up, and waved at the kids. The kids waved back.
Giving both Dr. Griffin and I a grin, he said, “Sorry about how useless I was after I moved the ships. I had to catch my breath, and the next thing I knew the Xiniti was running everywhere. I’d have helped but you were all too close together for a lightning strike.”
“Storm King?” Dr. Griffin held out her hand and Vaughn shook it. “I can’t say I expected to see the Grand Lake Heroes League here.”
Vaughn smiled again. “It comes with the job. We didn’t expect to be here either, but people needed help, so we’re helping.”
Dr. Griffin pointed at Izzy, and Bloodmaiden. “Are they new members?”
“No,” I said, “just friends of ours.”
The Stapledon Program was supposed to be secret too, but how secret could it be after all this?