Vaughn frowned, “What about the other engineers? Should we warn them? They warned Steve. I know they’re not good people, but should we let all the other ones die? Maybe we have to go after the Nine’s people first?”
I felt my jaw drop, “Yeah. I was just thinking about keeping Uncle Steve safe. We ought to do something.”
Uncle Steve shook his head, “That’s going to be hard if not impossible. I don’t go by Steve Vander Sloot on my government jobs. I use different names every time and so do the rest of them—the ones that work for supervillains with any regularity.”
I thought about that, “How do you get jobs if no one knows each other’s name?”
Uncle Steve sighed, “I shouldn’t tell you, but now that I think about it, you should probably know. You know about Syndicate L and the Nine? Organizations that large need people that they know are willing to work for less than legal organizations. There are websites for recruiting people with different specialties—including engineers.”
“Wait,” Vaughn said, his mouth dropping into a half-smile, “there are supervillain job websites?”
Uncle Steve nodded, “I can show you them later, but that’s why we’re not going to have an easy time with it. Everybody goes by their username. There are recommendations from people you’ve done jobs for. Plus, you’ve got a reputation score that your former employers can give points to… I don’t even use my own account. I’ve got accounts that another guy created for the government. The earliest recommendations were from a supervillain who later went straight… Anyway, the important thing is that you recognize that we’re never going to get a hold of any of those guys.
“Anyway, when I’m sent in, it’s to look at the technology. They’re not expecting me to get to know everyone. The guy who contacted me was an exception. We’ve worked together on a couple of different jobs. He’s got the number of a voicemail I use for that kind of work—not my phone.”
Tara leaned forward in her chair, brushing her hair out of her face and frowning, “I need to think about that. I should have asked you how you got your jobs.”
She closed her eyes for a few seconds, but then let out a breath and opened them, “Do you know who owns the websites you mentioned?”
Uncle Steve shook his head, “It’s not the sort of thing you ask about, but they looked professional and they work.”
Nodding, Tara said, “I don’t have enough information to know, but the Nine has funded large websites before. I think it’s possible that they own or have invested in one or all of them. If they have, they’ve had the opportunity to use them to figure out who the users are. If they know you’re a federal agent, they’ll make you a higher priority. If they know you’re here, they might use you to work against the Heroes’ League even without knowing your relationship to the Rocket.”
Uncle Steve pursed his lips, saying nothing at first, but then, “I shouldn’t have come home.”
“You couldn’t have known,” I said. “Besides, it’s not as if the Nine weren’t coming in this direction anyway. We’ve been pissing them off lately.”
He laughed, “I’ve been following the news.”
“So,” I said, “I guess Uncle Steve disappears, maybe into the basement. I just hope they didn’t have anyone following him already.”
Raising an eyebrow, Uncle Steve said, “The basement? I’ve slept in worse places. And by the way, I know how to look for tails. I didn’t see any. I’ve also got equipment to detect bugs and other kinds of surveillance. I have been using it even at home because I’m always using it.”
While I didn’t miss the last part of what he said, I found myself stuck on the first part. When I’d said basement, I meant the headquarters under my house. He didn’t know. I looked over at Vaughn and Tara and they were already grinning.
“We’ve got something to show you,” I said, and stood up.
He looked over at me, “Sure.
I led the group of us to the back of the house, down the stairs into the basement. It still contained boxes from my grandfather’s engineering business, a desk that he’d used, toolboxes, magazines, and metal filing cabinets. We walked down the path to the clear spot on the concrete floor. I waved him over, indicating that Steve should stand next to me in the spot with a square indentation.
“Sure,” he said. “You know, I don’t remember seeing this spot. I think dad covered it with… something—“
As he said that, the retinal scanner flashed red light into my eyes, four walls shot up from the floor around us, and the elevator car sank into the floor.
“Whoa,” he said as we felt the drop begin.
It would stop only when it reached headquarters. There, the door opened, giving him his first view of Heroes’ League HQ. Different than when I’d first seen it, the cardboard boxes had been removed, the clutter of the League’s trophies had been reduced to a few of the more impressive ones, and the olive green carpet had been replaced.
Now the table and desks in front of the giant screen on the other side of the room stood on a new, dark red carpet.
“Oh,” Uncle Steve said, “I had no idea this was under our house.”
We stepped out of the elevator and the doors shut behind us, humming its way upward.
My phone, which doubled as a League communicator, began to ring. Even as I pulled it out of my pocket, my implant grabbed the caller’s ID. It was Sean Drucker AKA The Power, leader of West Michigan’s other hero team… What was it called? I hoped it wasn’t Justice Fist again.
My implant gave me the answer. It was Justice Fist.