The next day, I got an email from Dr. Strazinsky and the Engineering department chair, Dr. Hansen. That interested me on several levels. First, because I’d been expecting an email from the department secretary with my internship information. Second, because while my engineering department adviser had to sign off on whatever internship I got, neither Dr. Strazinsky nor Dr. Hansen were my departmental adviser. Third, getting an internship meant getting information from a contact at the business, but didn’t mean a meeting with the departmental chair or anyone in the department once they’d accepted you and you’d accepted their offer.
If I hadn’t talked to Agent Lim, I’d have been worried, but as it was, I walked into Dr. Hansen’s office at the appointed time (three o’clock) with a good idea of what was going on.
Dr. Hansen had a corner office with a good view of the grounds from two of the four walls. Like Dr. Strazinsky, his office felt organized. All the books had been placed on the shelves that covered the walls. A few potted plants had been placed in corners of the room, giving the office a less drab feel than your average prof’s.
I wondered who watered the plants—Dr. Hansen or the departmental secretary. Giving each plant a quick look, I was relieved to find that my implant didn’t identify any of them.
It might seem paranoid, but, knowing as I did that intelligent plants worked for the Galactic Alliance’s intelligence services, it was worth a look.
Dr. Hansen smiled at me. Nearly seven feet tall with thinning blond hair, Dr. Hansen looked like the basketball player I’d heard that he had been in college. Twenty years past that now, he glanced over at Dr. Strazinsky.
“You,” Dr. Hansen told me, “just got lucky. I don’t think you have any idea how lucky you’ve gotten. You’ve been offered an internship from Higher Ground, a startup associated with Hardwick Industries. Higher Ground has a contract with the federal government to study alien artifacts, something that many of the best and brightest of our scientists want, but most will never get. Dr. Strazinsky’s the only person at our university who’s ever had that chance and now you will too, if you want it.”
He glanced over at Dr. Strazinsky and Dr. Strazinsky swallowed, saying. “I didn’t tell you everything when we talked, Nick. After our conversation, I shared your answers with a few friends from when I was working for the government. They told me that this internship was available and agreed that you qualified for it.”
Taking a breath, he said, “Dr. Hansen is right that this is an opportunity for you that scientists all over the world will envy. I hope that you’ll consider it. It won’t just look good for you, but also the department. We’ve never had any of our students placed in something that big—before or after they graduate. I’d say that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, but it isn’t if you take it. It’s possible that you’ll be able to make a life out of understanding alien technology. We’ll be investigating it for years.”
Dr. Strazinsky paused, watching my reaction and biting his lip. Dr. Hansen watched me from behind his desk where he’d sat down, unmoving.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll take it if they’re offering. I didn’t even know that was possible. I had no idea anyone was studying alien technology in West Michigan—at least not first hand. It is first hand, right?”
Dr. Strazinsky exhaled and Dr. Hansen gave him a look, but replied to me. “I assume. I doubt they’ll let you pick it up without filling out half a dozen forms and legal releases. This is the government after all. I wouldn’t doubt that it’ll be there in the building though. I’m sure you’ll mostly see pictures and look at the inside indirectly, but Dr. Strazinsky might know more.”
Shaking his head, Dr. Strazinsky said, “It’ll all depend on what they have. There are some pieces where we basically understand what they can do even if we don’t understand how they do it. There are others that might be for personal hygiene or they might be nuclear bombs for all we know. I’m sure they won’t pass out anything unfamiliar or that we know to be dangerous, but they might let you handle the more familiar and innocuous devices.”
“That sounds about right,” Dr. Hansen said, pulling a pile of paper from the side of his desk into the middle of it.
“I’m glad you’re interested, but because you’re interested we have to have you read and sign these forms.”
I stared down at the paper. “I’d thought you were joking about the forms. That’s a big pile.”
Dr. Hansen grinned. “It’s not so bad. You won’t have to sign every page, but you’ll have to initial a few. Think about it as practice for signing a mortgage.”
Dr. Strazinsky laughed. “It’s less paper than most mortgages.”
I took the pen Dr. Hansen handed me and leaned over the pile of pages, signing where it was needed.
After I’d signed a few pages, Dr. Hansen said, “There’s one more thing I should mention. You’re going to have to drive about an hour north of here. I hope that doesn’t cause problems. The university will try to help if it does.”
I stopped signing and looked up. “It shouldn’t be a big deal. I’m living in the same house with Vaughn Hardwick-Jones of the Hardwick family. He’s got an intership that’s probably in the same complex. I’ll see if I can ride with him.”
Dr. Strazinsky blinked and looked at me as if grown a third arm. “Oh. That’s an interesting connection. I didn’t know you… uh… knew people like that.”
Raising an eyebrow, Dr. Hansen gave Dr. Strazinsky a look. “I’m sure what he means is that the Hardwicks are big donors to the university and we tend to forget that their kids have friends just like anyone else.”
“It’s not like we’re anywhere near that well off,” I said, “but our grandparents were friends and my grandfather did work for Hardwick Industries.”
Then I started signing papers again. All of that was in the public record, I told myself. I hoped I hadn’t revealed anything accidentally.
“Excellent,” Dr. Hansen said. “Dr. Strazinsky will be your faculty contact with regards to this internship. He’s the only one on the faculty with a security clearance high enough to read about what you’re doing.”