In the first sinking moments of understanding what she’d asked, I thought I might be able to get away with pretending not to know. Then realism set in. She’d realized who was missing from the common areas simply by walking through them and remembering our normal habits—whatever they were.
Lies would be useless. She’d probably be able to match up everything we’d ever said in her presence.
In the face of that, I had no choice.
Sighing, I led with, “It probably doesn’t matter anymore anyway. You know how Turkmenistan’s been in the news lately? Most of the Heroes League was involved with a plan to bug the presidential palace, steal files, and set the regime up for embarrassment or overthrow. We weren’t going to go forward without permission. Unfortunately, someone gave all the stuff we’d collected up through the fourth of July over to Gordon and Stephanie, and they gave it to the Coffeeshop Illuminati, and now, well, who knows what’s going to happen?”
Tara blinked. Given how emotionless she appeared to be, I guessed that the blink might be worth an “Oh my God, you’re kidding me!” from her normal mindset.
Nodding, she said, “That explains a lot. Are you still collecting data?”
I grinned, shrugging as I said. “For all the good it’ll do, yes. I’ve been tempted to turn it off, but then I thought that if things go pear-shaped for the Illuminati, well, at least we’ll know. We might even be able to rescue them if they need it.”
Tara broke. The emotionless mask her face had become changed, her jaw tightening, her skin getting redder. I wasn’t sure if she was angry or about to cry.
“It’s so like them,” she said, fists clenching.
I was beginning to suspect that the impression I’d had of the upperclassmen was wrong. I’d assumed that the smaller classes would have ended up being really close. My guess was that they knew each other pretty well, but liking each other might be optional.
Plus, I could see how Tara might not fit in. She was a little ditzy when she wasn’t using her powers, scary smart when she was, and then there was the whole “daughter of super-soldiers who grew up in Infinity City” thing.
“One of the True got out of Infinity City, and went looking for the man who created them, but in this world, where he hasn’t yet. Stephanie’s sister brought him to the Coffeeshop Illuminati. She didn’t even know what he was.”
Tara’s lower lip trembled.
Not sure where to go with that, I asked. “What happened?”
“My father had to hunt him down and kill him, but it’s okay. He never found the True’s creator, and there’s been no sign of the Abominator birthing chambers he used to create them.”
Whether from thinking about her father, or what the True super-soldier could have done, her eyes glistened around the edges.
Something in what she’d said prompted several memories, and I knew that if I thought about it long enough, I’d be able to pull them together into something that made sense.
My League phone rang, or more accurately, beeped like it did when I had a text. Saying, “Sorry,” I pulled the phone out of my pocket and checked the screen, figuring I’d ignore it if it wasn’t important.
It was a message from Dr. Nation. It said, “Your therapist attempted to have you removed from tournament due to ‘dangerous PTSD.’ Lim squashed it.”
That was weird. If anything she’d be surprised by my lack of PTSD. This kind of a turnaround made no sense. I typed back, “Thanks.”
“What’s wrong?” Tara asked, voice calm.
“Nothing.” I held out my my screen so that she could see. “It was alright even before he texted me.”
Tara read it, and said, “Interesting that she would say something now.”
“Even more interesting that she seemed surprised that I didn’t have PTSD during the actual visit. Her evaluation of me completely flipped between seeing me and now.”
I put my phone back into my pocket, thinking about Abominator birthing chambers. Last year when we’d been fighting the alien invasion, we’d been on Long Island. Near Medford, we’d stopped the invaders from making off with Abominator artifacts that were being studied at a science lab.
One of them had been a platform with tubes. I felt fairly sure it was a birthing chamber. Cassie said that it was used for genetic manipulation, and would even work on someone who was fully formed.
No doubt Cassie had a head start on controlling one, but I felt sure that someone out there could come up with an interface that didn’t require whatever it was that made Abominator created devices identify her as an allowed user.
I’d told Isaac Lim about it, and because of that, the government had taken the birthing chamber after the battle. I wondered where it had gone. Had I prevented the True’s creation or set it in motion?
Tara shook her head. “We should go. You might have to talk to someone about that. And thanks for telling me about your project. If you do need help with it, you can call me.”