I don’t get written up. When Baxter sees me, instead of passing on any kind of formal reprimand, he just gives a sympathetic nod. And then I get to go up to the rooftop again and just kind of wait while I stare at a warehouse. The same warehouse. Hotel’s back up here with me. Instead of Hunch, Apogee joins us.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” I say.
She shrugs. “They had to clear my schedule all day to fit in teaching. What was I supposed to do with the rest of it?”
“Something more interesting than filming a warehouse, I’d think,” I tell her.
“Could be,” she says, “but this is where my good friend Teke is supposed to be right now, have you seen him around by any chance?”
I roll my eyes. “Darren asked you to keep an eye on me.”
“He’s fine,” she says, “he’s playing video games. I need the surveillance hours. And, anyway, I had to do a favor for Bartok, after she let me borrow her suit for that thing.”
Hotel’s eyes widen. “That thing where you raced Potato Cannon?”
“Look, whatever,” Apogee says, “obviously they are designed to be intuitive, after all, aren’t they? Better engineer my ass.”
“No, I just mean, I saw the clip,” Hotel explains. “I never figured out what you were doing there, but the look on his face was priceless.”
“I was showing him up in his very latest design,” Apogee says.
“No, I mean, yeah,” Hotel says, “I figured that out with the footage of the flight, sure, I just didn’t think you were flight crew qualified.”
“I’m not,” Apogee says, “that was sort of the point of putting me in the suit. Even a newbie could fly a suit better than that cocksure moron.”
“Is Bartok going to get in trouble for that?” I ask.
“No, she signed it out under ‘recreational use’,” Apogee explains. “Do you know they’re allowed eight hours a month? It seems ill advised.”
“Still have to pay if you damage it,” Hotel tells her. “I know, I used to have interesting equipment to sign out from time to time.”
I almost look over to see what expression he’s making when he says that. Of course, right then someone comes out the side door, and I have to aim the camera, but they scurry back inside before I can figure much out. After a nice long look, but with the shadows facing the wrong way to be much help. Apogee tells the team. It turns out to be a smoke break.
“That’ll make people be careful for sure,” Apogee says. “Anyway, I know that part; Bartok picked me for my quick reflexes. You know, so I wouldn’t destroy the suit.”
“Where is Bartok, anyway?” I ask.
Apogee gives me a sidelong look. “None of your business.”
I shrug. I guess I’ll have to ask her next time I see her.
“She had a concert, dumbass,” Hotel tells me.
Apogee laughs slightly. “Oh, god, for a minute there I was concerned she hadn’t said anything to anyone, and I was like, what, wow, really?”
“It’s a charity event,” Hotel adds, “a bunch of masks are going to play some classical music and stuff, do you not read your memos?”
“What,” I say, “the memo we got three, four months back about something that cost $800 a plate? Yeah, I’m definitely wasting my night on one of those.”
Hotel grumbles, “well, she is your teammate, I thought you might be invested.”
Oh, right. “She wasn’t then; I’ve been on this team for, like, a week.”
“Bartok can play the violin,” Apogee tells me as she tries not to laugh.
“That explains the name,” I admit.
“Does it?” Apogee asks. “I haven’t exact figured out your naming schema.”
“Well, I’m just named for my specialist position, then numbered,” Hotel says.
“That one I got,” Apogee tells him. “Teke’s just named for his power, too.”
One of the garage doors on the side of the warehouse opens up, and I tense a little, hoping we’ve caught a truck, but, no, it’s just a little car. Probably not a shipment, but, still, a lead. I snap stills of the license plate as fast as I can, hoping one of them will resolve legibly. It speeds away. I send off the number (two good photos, actually) and go back to watching the building through the closing door.
“I think she meant real names,” I tell Hotel. “First names. Last names. Middle names, maybe.”
“I don’t know, the middle names are kind of the same,” Apogee says. “I mean, they aren’t special, are they? They’re just, you know, picked from the set of first names union last names.”
“Not special,” I agree.
“Could be special,” Hotel disagrees. “Like Danger or Justice or something.”
“I think Justice may actually be a name,” I tell him.
“Is it?” he asks, “I’ve never met anyone named Justice.”
“Have you ever met anyone named Eunice?” I ask.
“Point,” he agrees, at the same time Apogee says, “wait, Eunice, too?”
“Oh, that one you have, though,” Hotel says, sighing dramatically.
“Anyway, I’m perfectly well aware of special case names, thank you,” Apogee informs us. “What, you think we never had hippies trying to go all naturiffic?”
“There aren’t rules to names,” I tell her, “at least not in English. I don’t know about other languages. Some of them must have rules.”
“Can I tell you,” Apogee says, “can I just tell you, how weird it is to go to an alternate universe and no one can give you concrete facts about the rules of the universe and its inhabitants.”
Hotel laughs. “You read way too many science fiction books.”
“And yet, you can immediately tell what I mean,” Apogee says. “Because everyone everywhere expects other people’s planets to be arranged by any metric at all. Really. Any. At all.”
“There’s always geography,” I comfort her.
“That’s true,” Apogee says, “we can always rely on geography. Say, why are people going around inventing new countries?”
“Well, even if they change the names,” Hotel says, “at least everyone’s inside some country.”
“Yup,” Apogee agrees, “good thing you guys got rid of international waters. That sure would’ve made things confusing.”
“Well, you can always categorize by the old standby,” I say, “douchebag/not a douchebag.”
“Convenient,” Hotel says.
“Wow,” Apogee sighs, “our cultures aren’t so different after all!”