“Okay,” I thought through my options. “It sounds like we’re going to get a lot more out of this if we work together. We’ll have to hash out something. I don’t know when. Where are you staying? Obviously, we don’t have time to do it now.”
She glanced toward the door again. “We don’t. It’s not as if they have any reason to be suspicious, but if we take too much longer they’ll remember this later if either of us ever does something suspicious.”
Turning her head back to me, she crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m staying here in the employee housing. I’ve got my equipment hidden in my car and off campus.”
“Okay. I’m in Grand Lake. Is there any chance you could drive south and meet with us? I can give you an address.”
She nodded. “I’m sure I can. They don’t watch us all the time. Am I meeting the FBI or the Heroes’ League?”
“Great.” She waved me toward the door and we went back in.
The birthing chambers were still on the screen when I got back to my computer, but I had a handle on it. She showed me a few more of the pieces they were working on. My implant identified them devices for genetic research, weapons, Abominator survival gear for living on Earth, and a few “unknown” items. Some were too damaged to be identified. Others were outside the contents of the implant’s database.
Each item the implant labeled as “Unknown artifact” made me a little worried. They had a lot of them. Bearing in mind that they were likely hundreds of thousands of years old, I could hope that they didn’t work.
It was an awfully long time for something to stay in good repair. I could tell myself that anyhow, but all I had to do to get a little nervous again was to think about Cassie’s gun.
She’d found it in one of the Nine’s hideouts where it had sat for years without turning on. Soon after she’d walked in, it contacted her and offered itself up for her use—hoping that it would be used to kill as much as possible.
Even as I began to wonder if I should get Cassie down here, the implant made me aware that it had several different techniques for contacting Abominator devices and a knowledge base of things I might try. It wouldn’t work with everything, but it worked with many of their devices.
“You’re zoning out,” Stephanie looked over at me.
“Don’t worry about it. We’re done for the day anyway. It looks like Emmy’s here to pick you up.”
Emmy stood in the lobby, smiling at me as I noticed her, and walked over to my cubicle. “It looks like you’re getting settled in. Here’s your ID.”
She handed it to me.
As I took it, she asked, “Is Sandy around?”
“Why,” Stephanie asked, “do you need him for something?”
Emmy shook her head. “No. Just curious.”
Stephanie caught my eye and smirked. Then she looked up at Emmy. “You’re just curious. Do you want me to text him that you’re here?”
“No,” she put her hand on my shoulder. “The helicopter leaves in fifteen minutes. It’s a little early today because they need it in Grand Lake.”
“Okay,” I stood up, still thinking about Stephanie’s smirk and wondering what was going on there. It didn’t take long to come up with a theory. Sandy had hugged Emmy before he’d hugged me even though they might see each other several times a day.
Did she have a crush on him or were they in a secret or semi-secret relationship? If they were, hugging me might have been a way to give him cover to touch her—which meant that I might be able to avoid it in the future if I walked in alone.
As those thoughts went through my head, I walked back with Emmy, talking with her and meeting up with Vaughn. Soon after that, Vaughn and I were on the helicopter, talking about what we’d done, but not in detail until we touched down at Hardwick Industries’ Grand Lake campus.
Even then we didn’t say anything about what we’d seen until we sat down in my van. With the windows closed, we drove away and then Vaughn said, “Oh my God, what’s going on with Emmy? Is she one of Tara’s people?”
Keeping my hands on the wheel as we merged into traffic, I said, “I don’t know, but she’s something. Either she’s one of the True or maybe she’s the first proto-True—the one whose genes were used to make them? Either way, they’ve got an Abominator birthing chamber in the labs. I don’t know if it works, but that’s what the Abominators used to genetically modify humans into superhumans.”
Vaughn stared at me. “Whoa. So they could do it? They could make the True right here? That’s nuts. That’s not even why Lim sent us in. What else have they got back there?”
I merged onto the freeway, joining the long line of cars in Grand Lake’s rush hour traffic—the kind that made “rush hour” something of a misnomer.
By that I mean it was slow. We were moving at five miles per hour, stuck in the middle of SUVs, semi-trucks, and small cars. The smell of air-conditioned air combined with a hint of exhaust filled the van.
Tamping down the urge to transform the van into a catmecha and fly away, I said, “Nothing else as freaky as the birthing chambers. They’ve got an old Abominator power impregnator, some weapons, and a bunch of Abominator equipment. The implant didn’t recognize all of it. I have no idea how much of it works or if any of it does.”
Vaughn whistled. “That beats my internship by a long shot. I’m helping the administrator of our medical equipment lab. There’s nothing special going on there—not unless it’s a cover for Higher Ground. I wouldn’t be surprised if Uncle Russ was using them for something dirty, but I’m not seeing it so far.”
“One more thing,” I moved the van about ten feet further down the highway, “you know who else is working there? Stephanie from Stapledon. The inventor whose lab was near mine and who used to date Gordon—Gifford’s older brother. She’s working with Red Bolt, Future Knight and the Michigan Heroes Alliance. They think Higher Ground’s connected with the Nine too.”
Vaughn shook his head. “I don’t care what Lim told you. No matter how much he wants information only and no fighting, there’s no way this ends without the lab blowing up.”