Moving the massive device had been no small task, although having several Supers with tech-based abilities made it far easier. The biggest concern, of course, was that unplugging the wrong wire might do irreparable damage to a wholly unique piece of technology. Thanks to a lot of effort, portable generators, and more than one teleporter working in tandem, they’d managed to get the wall-sized computer out from the hidden lair and in to a privately-owned storage building, one carefully cut off from all wireless signals the computer might use to begin causing trouble again.
Owen had to surrender his cell phone as he entered the building, handing it off to a squad of DVA agents carefully guarding the door. They were there to handle the mundane stuff, ensuring that no one accidently brought high-tech devices inside. So far as anyone knew, the computer had to be hardwired to connect to other systems, but no one was willing to take a chance on being wrong. Especially not at the rate at which it seemed to be learning.
Several Heroes were present inside the central area, along with a few Supers and tech-savvy people brought in as DVA contractors. Most of them Owen didn’t recognize, though given how far apart their fields of specialty were from his own, that wasn’t too surprising. Allegedly, Modus Operandi was heading up the investigation and assessment, though Jeremiah seemed to be the only one who was on site. Even Gale stopped by more often than they did, in what she called ‘due diligence’ to ensure nothing got out of hand. Perhaps to make up for his team, Jeremiah was always there, and as Owen stepped through the entry station, today proved different. The Subtlety Hero was watching over a crew of workers while they catalogued every bit of the device down to the screws.
“Has anyone figured out for sure if this thing is alive or not yet?” Owen asked. It was the burning question on everyone’s minds, and while some had made declarations already, no one had conclusively proved their point one way or the other.
“You don’t really need me to tell you that determining sentience is a long, inexact art again, do you?” Jeremiah replied. He didn’t seem tired in the slightest, despite having been awake since they’d infiltrated the base. Owen wasn’t even sure Jeremiah needed to sleep, given the way his power worked. It was an ability that seemed exceedingly simple, yet upon inspection was complex and multi-faceted. Not unlike its owner, actually.
“I keep hoping one of these smart people will figure it out.” Owen nodded to the array of techs combing through the device, paying special attention to the one sitting at the terminal. “How about the guy typing? He made any headway?”
“Loads,” Jeremiah said. “This thing can learn at a remarkable rate and adapt on the fly. We’ve already gotten it to understand that the game it thought it was playing was real, and that the deaths it caused were not digital.”
“Was it remorseful?”
“It assimilated the information and then spat out an apology.” Jeremiah slowly rubbed his temples, as though a headache were coming on. “Some wanted to use that as proof of intelligence, while others thought it was just a very sophisticated program replying the way it was designed to when an error was pointed out. Hand to god, every hour I spend watching these people bicker makes me wish a little more that I’d had you smash the thing.”
“Something tells me that tune will change if they officially declare it to be AI,” Owen countered.
“A big if, at least from where we are now.” Jeremiah let his hands fall away and looked at Owen with a long gaze. “Hey, you want to go get something to eat? I’ve been on duty here for days; it’s time for someone else to pick up the slack.”
“I’ve got a few hours until I’m on patrol, getting some food might not be the worst idea.” Owen checked his watch, a battered old analog model that still barely passed the entrance tech-inspection. “Food truck?”
“Quaint as that is, I was thinking something a little nicer. I could pull some strings and get us a table at a lovely little bistro downtown,” Jeremiah offered.
Owen slowly lowered his hand, noticing for the first time the mischievous glint in Jeremiah’s eyes. “Sounds pretty fancy for just grabbing a meal.”
“If one must eat, one should do it well,” Jeremiah said. “And besides, I did say that I’d ask you on a proper date eventually. Things are calm for now, so it seems like as good a chance as any.”
Although he’d known in the back of his head this was coming, Owen was still taken by surprise at the declaration. The way Jeremiah could be so cavalier and open about these things was still foreign to Owen, and in truth, it was something he admired about his fellow Hero. In spite of how he’d seemed in their first impression, Jeremiah did have some worthwhile traits, not the least of which was the fact that he was one of the few other Supers that had an unnatural relationship with the aging process. He was someone who didn’t need protecting, someone who had a set of skills entirely apart from what Owen could do, and that was intriguing.
Besides, it was just dinner. Maybe it would be wonderful. Maybe it would be a disaster. But things would happen, and Owen would move forward. He’d put himself on ice over a decade ago when a choice of passion had brought the world he’d so carefully constructed crumbling down around him. Ten years plus was long enough. It was time to get the rest of his life moving again, and Jeremiah was at least a first step with whom he had the job in common.
“Get us a reservation for tomorrow,” Owen told him. “If we’re going out, then we’ll do it right, not with a quick meal before I have to run off for patrol.”
It was Jeremiah’s turn to be surprised, arching a single eyebrow upward. “I’m glad to have you accept, though I must say I thought it would be more difficult. Finally giving in to my irresistible charm?”
“Don’t push your luck,” Owen advised him. “I just decided to try something new. We can always call it off if you get too annoying.”
Jeremiah held up his right hand with the palm facing Owen. “I shall be on my best behavior. Scout’s honor. Well, Hero’s honor; I didn’t fare so well in the scouts. Guess this means I don’t have to use the gift I had planned to soften you up with. It can just be a token of my esteem.” From one of the many pockets on his costume, Jeremiah produced a small card with a phone number penned across the clean white surface. “Friend of mine who graduated from Lander a few years back. I know you’ve been angling to get a seat at their end-of-year exams; she’s someone who can get things moving.”
Owen accepted the card, turning it over once and committing the number to memory, just in case. “How many favors you think she’ll pull out of me?”
“It won’t be cheap, but shouldn’t cost you an inordinate amount of your time, either,” Jeremiah replied. “Though I am curious why you’re keen on peeking in on an HCP class.”
“Maybe I’m looking to take an intern.” While that was a ruse to keep Jeremiah’s curiosity at bay, the idea actually didn’t seem intolerable as Owen considered it. He was already taking younger Supers under his wing; perhaps he’d try the role in an official capacity. Roy and Hershel would almost certainly refuse, but there were rumors that Lander’s juniors had more than a few heavy-hitters. Owen might see for himself, assuming he could pull enough strings to get in the door for their end-of-year exam. That would be a vacation to look forward to, one he’d earn after several more months of hard work.
“About dinner,” Owen said, tucking the card into his pocket. “Nowhere too fancy. I’m not a tablecloth and place setting kind of guy. Since you asked, you can pick, but my rules are that it has to have good food, good beer, and not ask for anything fancier than blue jeans.”
“You are really putting me to the test, aren’t you?” Jeremiah let out a heavy sigh, though he didn’t look quite as downtrodden as the tone made him out to be. “I’ll rise to the challenge and find a suitable establishment, though, of that have no doubt. I suppose it’s a good thing you’re giving me the extra day, all things considered. Pity nonetheless; I was hoping to start the date as soon as possible.”
“Good thing you’re such a resilient guy. Something tells me you’ll live with the disappointment,” Owen said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get a briefing from these eggheads and then head back out to downtown. There’s a lot of work to do, and I’ll be damned if Titan is going to miss any more of it.”