The metallic thunk of something being placed on the stove came over the line. “How interesting is Anastasia? Is this the cousin that babysat us once?”
The trouble with old friends is that they might remember any random piece of your past. On the other hand, he’d at least be able to recognize her in Uncle Steve’s mind, “Yes. She’s the one who watched us um… eleven years ago or something? I’m pretty sure we were ten. Anyway, she might be very interesting. She’s the one who connected Uncle Steve with Armory.”
He let out a breath, “That’s not good.”
“I know. I’m hoping it’s just bad luck, but honestly, the company she’s working for sounds like the kind of place the Nine would be interested in or even bankroll. I’m not feeling optimistic right now.”
I pulled out my sunglasses and turned my head to look down the block, seeing nothing unusual, just midwestern suburbs, a place of mowed lawns, trees with a few leaves beginning to turn color for fall amid the green, and new model cars parked in front of one or two-story houses. A U.S. flag hung by the door of one house, a rainbow-striped gay pride flag in front of another. Yet another displayed the University of Michigan’s yellow “M” against a blue background.
I wondered if the person who owned that house had gone to the University of Michigan or simply liked their football team.
Either way, my sunglasses showed no signs of the Nine or of anything hidden. Better yet, my implant didn’t give me an info dump about aliens or their technology based on anything I saw.
“Yeah,” Daniel said, “given what you’ve been learning about your ancestry lately, I’m hoping she doesn’t have an equal share of whatever your grandparents passed on to you, technical or otherwise.”
“Me too,” I said, and we hung up.
I walked home, thinking about that. The way I understood it, the Abominators had harvested DNA from what amounted to an Artificer’s human avatar and used it in their experiments, allowing it to spread into the human gene pool. My Cosmic Ghost ancestry likely had a similar origin. If I wanted to know more, I should have taken a look at my Grandpa and Grandma Klein to see how active their Artificer ancestry was. In fact, I should have taken a look at Uncle Steve while I was talking to him.
Well, whatever, I’d probably get another chance.
As I walked down the block toward what was now my house and had been my grandparents, I got a text from Daniel that said, “Here.” Thanks to the implant’s connection to my League communicator, it appeared in the upper corner of my vision.
I replied, “Thanks.”
Except for being forty years older than my parents’ block, which had been developed in the 1960s, the street wasn’t much different. It had the same mowed lawns, tended and untended gardens, but smaller houses. The fenced-off park behind the house with its forest, playground, and beach on Grand Lake was the bigger difference.
From the sidewalk, all I could see of the park were trees and the fence in my backyard. Walking up the driveway, I noticed Vaughn’s Porsche and Haley’s Prius in front of the small, white garage—which told me that today’s meeting was happening.
I walked up the steps and through the front door to find everyone except Daniel.
Tara, Vaughn, Haley, Yoselin, and Cassie were in the living room. Vaughn and Yoselin sat next to each other on the old brown couch near the room’s back wall. Cassie balanced on the arm of the couch in a grey Georgetown hoodie and plaid pajama pants. She had one bare foot on the couch and the other on the floor. Haley and Tara stood next to her, the group of them talking.
No one was dressed as if this were a work meeting. Vaughn wore jeans and a “Vincent Sucks” t-shirt. Tara wore a black t-shirt and yoga pants. Out of everyone, Haley and Yoselin were closest and they weren’t very close. Yoselin wore a short skirt and bright, flowery top—perfect for a music festival in the Caribbean. Haley wore a white, button-down blouse and jeans.
Not looking like we were doing a work meeting was completely okay, of course. Work-appropriate clothes would be costumes and blow our cover.
They stopped talking as I stepped through the door and said, “Hey, everyone. I think we’ll have to wait for Daniel, but that shouldn’t be long.”
Then I got another text, “All done. On my way back.”
“Really soon, I guess,” I said and grabbed one of our mismatched chairs—the green armchair.
Raising an eyebrow, Haley pulled one of the folding chairs away from the wall. “You took the good chair.”
“We can switch if you care,” I began to get up.
She grinned and shook her head, “I don’t,” pulling up her chair next to mine.
Tara was pulling two of the wooden chairs from the dining room when Daniel walked through the front door, instantly becoming the only one of us dressed for a meeting. He wore a green button-down shirt and khakis.
Cassie looked him up and down, “Why are you dressed like that? It’s still summer and you don’t have a job or anything right now.”
Daniel made a half-smile that vanished almost as quickly as it appeared, “I’m dropping by my dad’s office—his law practice. He’s there part-time. I didn’t want to look too out of place. Anyway… Before we talk about Armory, we need to talk about Uncle Steve.”
“Uh oh,” I looked up at him. “How bad is it?”
“Well,” he began, stopping as Tara handed him one of the two chairs she’d grabbed and sat down herself.
Placing his chair in front of the TV, he said, “It’s not bad exactly. I checked his surface thoughts and as much below them as I could without being noticeable. His brain doesn’t show any signs of being modified by voice, telepathy, an implant, an intelligent parasite, or anything I can realistically detect. Magic is still a possibility, but I can’t say it’s likely. It leaves hints and I don’t see them. We’d want to bring in Amy to know for sure, but I’m 99% certain he’s okay.”
I could feel a hint of anxiety through the mental connection we had and so I prompted him, “But…”
“I saw the remains of one of my grandfather’s blocks. It shouldn’t work now, but he’s also got a very effective and recent mental shield that someone set up. It looks like a standard shield that corporations or governments use to protect information. He’s an engineer that contracts all over the world. So, of course, he’d have one, but I don’t know who set it up or if they put anything ‘extra’ inside.”