I own a boat. I don’t mean that my parents bought it for me. I mean I own one, with my own money. It’s not called “Little Ricky” at least.
There’s a lot of shipwrecks in the Atlantic ocean. Society has been sailing for years and years. A guy like me, who can dive to any depth and poke around in the wrecks without the cumbersome equipment of deep-sea divers or submariners, can get to a lot of interesting and valuable stuff. My family helped me find a market for some of it, and then gave me tips on investing the money I made. So now I have my own yacht. It’s outfitted for other recovery efforts, but sometimes I go out when I want to be alone.
Today I’m out, but I’m not alone.
Silver Seven let us go. The military didn’t throw us in jail. The cops didn’t press charges. I want to think that my parents didn’t just buy off the right people. I figure it’s not that, because everyone’s here. Guardian Ghost, the latest in a long line of patriotic avengers, looking like a shadow in his hat and coat. Sabine, the speedster, with the dark goggles over her face, hair tied back, and a crazy grin as she watches us. The strange dirt-covered person who calls themselves Midge Leafstone, and is looking curiously at everything, and trying to keep their balance as the yacht rocks. The mystery woman, Setsujoku Hisako, who says the least of any of us, but whose hard-light holographic technology is clearly native to the city.
Ghost took off his mask. I guess that’s a sign of trust. I don’t recognize the kid underneath, except he looks Hispanic. Sabine is pale, but with the black hair and and crisp accent of someone from Silverline’s international population. I can’t say anything about Midge except I’m not sure if they’re a boy, a girl, neither, both, or something else. They dress like a country farmer, overalls and simple spun clothing, pockets bulging with oddities such as rocks, Pez dispensers, and even a felt mouse toy. Hisako looks Japanese and sounds like it, but there’s something weird about her, something about the way she stands or moves. It’s like she’s a feral cat caught in the middle of a bunch of friendly dogs.
Ghost says something I’d been thinking just then. I don’t think he meant it. Maybe we’re all wondering. “Hisako… Are you an inventor, or the daughter of an inventor? Your tech is unfamiliar to me.”
Why is this human asking this question? Thankfully I have a cyberpathic link with the computer in my starship, lazily orbiting the planet. I put the question to it, as I have many times before.
> answer inquiry in the context of a plausible human cover story
< YOU ARE THE DAUGHTER OF AN INVENTOR NAME SETSUJOKU YOSHIRO
“Ye-yes,” I answer. “Setsujoku Yoshiro was my father.”
“Interesting.” The human in black steps back, and faces the rest of the group. “My name is Miguel. I trust you all. If that trust is misplaced, there are ways to remedy this revelation. Mr. Cleveland, thank you for the use of your boat.” He nods to another human, the one whose skin rather than clothing is black, who is constantly smiling. He is identified as ‘Ricky Cleveland’, also known as ‘Pelagos’.
“Sure thing, Mr. Ghost!”
‘Miguel’ - callsign ‘Guardian Ghost’ - returns his attention to the other humans, and to me. “This group worked surprisingly well together. And the case isn’t over yet. We found a thumb drive on the science pirates.”
I casually cross-reference the terms. “Science” is of course the methodical inquiry into natural processes, undertaken on any civilized planet. This planet still uses the primitive falsification strategy for hypothesis-evidence loops, not having mastered the more productive post-quantum deduction technology necessary for a truly spacefaring society. “Pirates” indicate groups of outlaw individuals who engage in organized robbery when not on land. The compound term seems applicable: a gang of individuals interested in stealing the products of science.
I notice that Miguel is staring at me. The computer helpfully flashes a summary of the conversation:
< MIGUEL WISHES TO KNOW IF YOU WILL DECRYPT THE ENCRYPTED CONTENTS OF THE MASS STORAGE DEVICE IN HIS HAND
“Of course. Leave it to me.” I take the unusual device from the gloved hand.
> explain the relevance of the term "thumb drive"
< THE TERM REFERS TO THE DEVICE'S RESEMBLANCE IN SIZE AND SHAPE TO THE HUMAN THUMB
> so they do not craft these from the thumbs of some kind of biological specimen that was evolved to support native computing capacity?
Clearly there is much more to learn here. I nod to Miguel, in what I hope is the correct gesture.
Hisako nods to me. I know I’m taking a big chance on this unknown, but somehow I feel confident of her good intentions. I can’t read thoughts, but I get hints.
As she starts fiddling with it, I turn my attention to the grubby tomboy type in the overalls. “Midge, right? That’s an interesting name.”
“You from around here? Silverline, I mean.” They have some kind of shrinking power, and birds carry them when shrunk. Some kind of mutant ability.
“Yep!” They’re smiling brightly, and it’s a little weird. I’m not used to smiles, except when my little sister Katia is up to something.
“Right. Is there uh, a way to reach you if … if we need to work together again?”
Midge scratches their head. “Can you talk to animals?”
“Uh…. no, I don’t think so.”
Does this kid not have a cell phone? What the hell? “Listen. I’ll give you a communicator. All of you, actually. Here.” I reach into a pocket and pass out the Gladwell radio earbuds. I keep them for emergency situations, when I need to coordinate with an ad-hoc group and they don’t want to share their comms with me. I demonstrate the behavior of the device. Everyone seems to get it except Midge.
“So I put it in my ear, and then… just hold a finger next to it?” they ask.
“Yes. Then just talk into it. You can give it voice commands too.”
“Is it some kind of bug?”
“No, of course not.” The question catches me off guard. Are they more security-conscious than they let on? Is this all a front? I make a mental note to keep tabs on them.
It’s not a bug! Huh. It looks like a curled up millipede to me. That’s okay! I put it in my ear. It doesn’t wriggle. That would be distracting.
I try holding a fingertip near my ear. Closer, closer - hey! There’s a noise! It’s like wind chimes.
“Hellooooo?” I say.
Miguel, the boy in black touches his ear, the way I’m doing. “I hear you, loud and clear.” I hear him twice, actually! There’s the one time where he’s talking to me, and once more when the little millipede tells me what he said.
He offers one to the pretty girl, the one with the long hair in a ponytail. Mia! She has a nice name too. She doesn’t want a millipede. Why not?
“I need my hearing. Do you have an external one I can wear, that won’t block the ear canal?”
Miguel shakes his head, but he promises he’ll get one made. He gives her a place to meet!
As Miguel walks away to share millipedes with everyone else, I sidle over to Mia. “Hi there!”
“Mia’s a great name! I’m Midge.”
“Call me Sabine when we’re together as superheroes, please. It’s… you know how hero code names work, right?”
“Nope!” I really don’t!
“Oh.” She stops and tilts her head. “Well. It’s a name you give to people, to avoid giving your real name. Or to have a shorter, simpler way of introducing yourself. There’s other reasons, but those are good enough.”
I’m supposed to lie about Home, so that makes sense. “I should have a code name then!”
Mia - nope, Sabine grins. “Yes you should. How about… ‘Sprout’?”
I think it over. “Sprout sounds nice too! Do code names always sound nice?”
“Not always. It’s most important that they be unique, not pretty. But if they can be both, why not?”
“And I’m Astralis.” This is from another girl, the one with the glowy stuff. “A code name. For superhero purposes. Is… that … correct? Good?” She always looks so stern, but now she’s so uncertain! It’s weird, but I smile anyway, because she picked a pretty name too.
“It’s great!” I call. Beside me, Sabine nods with a grin.
Miguel is done passing out millipedes. “Right. Astralis. Guardian Ghost. Pelagos. Sabine. Sprout. How do you all feel about becoming a team, at least temporarily?”
I look from face to face. Ricky - Pelagos - is beaming with joy. Sabine looks less certain. I can’t see her eyes, but she’s pulling back like she’s not sure. But she nods. I nod too, because a team sounds good and I’m a mutant and mutants have teams. And finally Astralis nods.
Sabine rubs her hands together. “Right. While we’ve got ourselves a yacht, why aren’t we partying?”
I’m still not sure what to make of their faces. I can rez looks of confusion, and glances from one person to another. Do they not get this? We won! We went up against science pirates, we got a major victory against them, and then we went up against CiCon and Silver Seven, and they let us go! This is great!
“Whaaaat?” I ask.
I hear Miguel’s voice. “I think it’s okay to celebrate, but I don’t want to lose sight of our objective as a team either. The gang was working for someone. We have a responsibility to find out who, and what they were really after.”
I rez the girl, Astralis, tensing up. She knows something. Or she experienced something? Daughter of an inventor - maybe someone who secretly worked with the Science Pirates to get high-tech stuff to work on? Is that why she’s so secretive?
“You folks are free to use the boat as you like,” says Pelagos. I like him already.
“I’ve never been on a boat!” says Midge. Sprout? I like Sprout, it’s a cute name for a cute person.
Hmm. Maybe they can thaw the ice around Miguel? Or Astralis? Ricky seems pretty thawed already, but is kind of an eager beaver. He could use someone more mature, reserved. Well, really, that’s still Miguel or Astralis. Maybe.
Too soon to tell!
“I… don’t have time to party,” Astralis announces. “I have my own mission. It cannot wait.”
“Maybe we can help,” Ghost offers. Ooh, good!
“I… am not comfortable sharing the details of it with you at this time.” Astralis looks away. Aww! There’s a secret. If the Guardian Ghost and his predecessors have any kind of rep, it’s getting at secrets. He’s not going to give up on this one.
“Hey, your stuff is probably expensive, right?” Pelagos is joining in. Good! “I’m doing okay financially. I can probably help, if you need, if you want that is.” I can rez his body language, note the reluctance and uncertainty. Awww, he’s awkward too! This is perfect.
“I… will let you both know, if your services can be of use.” Astralis’ voice sounds strange, like before. English is definitely not this girl’s first language. I can’t place the accent either. Her name is Japanese, to be fair.
“Great. Well right now, we need your help decoding that thumb drive,” Miguel says. “If you can do that for us, I think we’ll do whatever we can in return.”
“I will need access to… certain… equipment,” Astralis announces. “I will handle the decoding soon.”
“Time to party, then!” Pelagos whoops. “I got cold soda in the fridge. Come on, relax, you all earned it!”
Oh yeah. This team is going to be great.