Haley raised an eyebrow. “But for real, who are they?”
Crossing her arms across her chest, Stephanie said, “They really are in the Marketing Department. Zola’s a graphic designer except she also writes—which means she writes a lot of internal memos from management to the masses. She’s not a bad person. She’s artsy—likes to talk about different periods in graphic design. I went out with her to a few bars when she worked in the lab. I haven’t seen her much lately. She’s been busy with work and learning to use her powers, I guess.
“Now, Art… I don’t know him as well. He worked in the lab too, but I avoided him. He’s the kind of 40 year old guy who’s always chatting up the 20 something women in the company? A little creepy. He didn’t ever do anything that could get him fired, but I stayed out of his way after the first couple times and he seemed to get the message. He used to do programming and analysis in the lab. Now he designs reports for management and some stuff for marketing too. I’m not sure what. Our company’s so small management and marketing are basically one team.”
Giving a shrug, she added, “And that’s pretty much all I know about them. I can tell you a couple stories about going drinking with Zola, but you’re not going to learn anything except that she has too much sometimes.”
Haley gave a short laugh. “Not anymore. It sounds like they gave her the same powers I got—which means getting drunk is going to be a lot harder.”
Stephanie’s brow furrowed and then her mouth twisted. “That’s for the best. She threw up in my car once. It took weeks before the smell was completely gone.”
That gave me the opening I needed. “Tara, what did you mean when you said, ‘they’re not the only ones’?”
She turned, her eyes meeting mine instead of some unknown point in the distance, and her mouth no longer a thin line. “I don’t know. I mean, I know that I meant that they obviously modified other people, but I don’t know who. And I don’t know how I know it.”
She interrupted me before I could ask why.
“Sometimes when I think I put together chains of facts that were too unrelated to notice normally, but sometimes I read between the lines without knowing how I did it. Right now, I know that Art and Zola aren’t the only ones they modified, but I don’t know who the other ones are or what they can do.”
In a tone that was all hers and not even Emmy’s, Tara said, “Sorry,” ending the word on a breathy, high pitched whisper.
Stephanie looked from Tara over to Haley. “Great. I guess we’ll find out what the other modified people can do later, but for now, how would I fool you into thinking what I want you to think?”
Haley bit her lower lip. “Um… I get most of my information on your emotions from your smell. Perfumes help mask scents especially if they’re perfumes that smell like human odors. So a musky smell might help. I’ve learned how to tell the difference, but Art and Zola might not be able to. I can also hear your heartbeat. If it becomes faster, I know you’re nervous or excited. I don’t know what to tell you to do about that. Think calm thoughts?”
Stephanie frowned for a moment, but then she smiled. “I think I can handle it. All I need to do is hack my own brain. I’ll make a symbol that keeps me calm but keeps me alert. It won’t be the first time I’ve made stuff like that. What are you going to do?”
I stared into the distance between Tara’s and Haley’s heads, thinking about my options. “I’m thinking that I’ll use my implant. While we were off-planet, we had the thing substitute the standard language for the Alliance in when we were talking. We didn’t even have to think about it. It translated our intended words into words in a completely different language—which means it’s got some serious hooks into my body, maybe even into things I can’t normally control.”
With a thought, I told the implant to give me blush. In seconds, I felt heat in my cheeks.
As Stephanie said, “That’s pretty good,” I told the implant to let my blush fade.
Even as I did, Haley added, “Can you make your heart speed up? It does that sometimes when you’re attracted to someone.”
“I guess,” I began.
“And sometimes,” Tara said, “you don’t make eye contact with them if you’re feeling really nervous.”
Stephanie grinned. “It sounds like the three of you are going to figure this out. I’m going to drive home. I’ve got some work to do.”
She gave us a wave as she walked out the door of the lab.
“You do,” Tara said.
She wasn’t wrong. “I guess,” I tried to remember the first time I’d met her. Had I done that or had she noticed that from other examples? Either way it was a little depressing.
We worked on it a little while longer until we had an approach that would work. Tara left me alone with Haley and the two of us talked together in the lab, holding hands as we sat next to each other.
“In a way,” Haley told me, “I feel sorry for Art and Zola. Everything they were talking about, I’ve felt too—maybe not in exactly the same way, but I have. Unlike them, I had my grandfather to teach me how to use my powers, and Travis and I could always talk about them with each other. So I knew I wasn’t the first person to feel this and I knew that I was more than my instincts.”
She looked up at me. “I wish I could talk to them—or at least to Zola because it sounds like it bothers her. Maybe after everything is over.”
“Maybe. I just hope she doesn’t go off the deep end before then.” Zola seemed to vary between worried about controlling herself, angry, and nice. At least she’d seemed nice. Overall, it didn’t seem like a good combination.
“Nick?” Haley’s voice broke through my thoughts.
“Sorry. I was thinking about all of this.” I looked at her face. From the way she looked up at me, she seemed concerned, not angry.
“I should go. I still have homework to finish.” She leaned toward me and we kissed.
“That’s okay. So do I and I should also show the video to Vaughn in case he needs to know too.” I let go of her hand and she went to the locker room to strip out of her costume and shower.
We did see each other before she left, but it was while Vaughn was watching the video.
“Stay safe,” she said, poking her head into the lab, and I waved to her while Vaughn said, “Oh, man. This just gets worse.”