I woke up the next day in my own house and my own bed. I’d been living there since my junior year of college by that point so it felt normal to think of it as mine as opposed to my grandparents. I’d even decorated to a degree.
When we’d cleaned up the base below, we’d found a sign that hung in front of Grandpa’s business. It said, “Joe Vander Sloot, Consulting Engineer.” His name was on the first line and title on the second, both in gold letters against a black background. Knowing the Rocket suit’s colors, I’d wondered if it were a subtle nod to his alter ego, but it might be colors that fit the look of the business.
It might have been both, but it was five years late to ask him.
Anyway, I’d hung it on the wall to the side of my bed. It might have been a subtle nod to both of our alter egos, but more likely a nod to his memory, that there was once a man named Joe Vander Sloot who the world knew by another name. I can only guess what he or my grandmother might have thought about me hanging the sign in their bedroom, but I hope they would have understood.
Not that I had any time to think about that. Someone knocked on my door, saying, “I know you’re awake, may I come in?”
I knew her high-pitched and relentlessly cheerful voice before Tara finished the first word. Living in the same house with her for the last couple of years had been like living with a younger sister who was taller and stronger, smarter than I was when she wanted to be, and capable of beating me in a fight whenever I wasn’t wearing the Rocket suit.
Checking to make sure I was in pajamas (I was), I said, “Sure.”
She opened the door with enough force that it could have slammed into the wall if she hadn’t hung on. Leaving the door open, she walked in wearing khaki shorts and a button-down shirt with a pattern of flowers in all the colors of the rainbow. Calling it loud was an understatement.
She sat down on the bed next to me, “What I know is that it was Armory. You gave him to the FBI and didn’t tell them everything. You kept the Abominator relic and didn’t tell them why you brought the new girl here.”
She stopped there, grinning at me.
We hadn’t explained any of that to her last night when we landed. She was fully capable of picking it up from a combination of our expressions, tone of speech, physical clues, news reports, and what she knew of our mission before we left.
“I’ll tell you the whole story,” I said, and I did.
She listened, sometimes laughing and asking questions, but just as often expressionless, silent, and maybe learning more from what I said than I intended to say. When I was done, she got up, kissed me on the forehead the way she might have if I were five, and said, “It sounds like you’ll have a busy day. Don’t forget that team practice is at three. And bring Yoselin. It sounds like she’ll be sticking around for a while.”
She closed the door behind her on the way out, and I decided it was time to get up. The conversation had been a little weird, but not outside the norm for her. As the child of two genetically engineered super-soldiers who’d spent her childhood in hiding when she wasn’t training to fight, her socialization must have been spotty.
It might explain how we got along as well as we did even if my social awkwardness came from another place.
Half an hour later, I’d showered, put on clothes, eaten a donut out of the box Vaughn (according to the yellow sticky note) left on the counter, and took the hidden elevator down to Heroes’ League headquarters, walking over to my lab.
Amid the tables, fabrication machines, 3D printers, tools, boxes, barrels, and piles of materials lay a cardboard box. Daniel had floated it out of the jet and into the lab without touching it. Inside was a rust-red circular tablet my implant had informed me was a piece of a “godkiller” device.
Knowing that the Xiniti had found pieces of the device in places where Abominators investigated Artificer ruins and that the Abominators had used Artificer “DNA” in their creations, I had a theory that the Abominators used the “godkiller” device to find, capture, and/or kill Artificers so they could extract what they wanted from them.
I stood next to the counter where the box sat, staring at it, trying to plan my approach to investigating it, and wondering if there were any more pieces on Earth and what they did.