Talk turned back to who people were going to the prom with. Vaughn and Cassie were both going, but not with each other. Kayla either wasn’t going or didn’t have a date. Either way, she didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t hear what the rest of the guys were doing, but maybe they didn’t say.
When Keith heard I was going with Haley, he said, “You should go to a restaurant with Courtney and I before prom.”
I glanced over at Courtney, hoping that she might look a little bothered by the idea, but she said, “That would be fun. We’ve barely seen you this year, and we’d love to meet Haley.”
“I’ll talk to her and ask what she thinks.”
I ended up leaving the cafeteria with Chris Cannon and followed the crowds toward classes.
“Get this,” he said as we walked down the hall and then up the stairs, “Sean asked me to make him some armor. People must have heard that I’d gotten a lot of my grandfather’s equipment back.”
“What did you say?”
“I’m not going to help that jerk out. If I’m going to construct powered armor, it’s going to be for me.”
He looked around, checking if anyone was close.
“They didn’t get all of my grandfather’s designs. He told me about a compartment where he’d hidden the new ones.”
That’s what I needed. In addition to drug addicts with powers, why not have Chris Cannon running around in the new and improved version of Man-machine’s armor?
Checking around me, I said, “I bet the FBI would notice if you put together a Man-machine suit.”
He shook his head. “Of course they would. They’d probably figure out a way to charge me too.”
We stopped at his locker for a moment.
He pulled out a few books and a notebook and turned to me. “Here’s what I should do. Grandpa had all kinds of escape pods in his armor over the years. I should build a costume around that. Kind of like how the Rocket has that stripped down version of his suit? The one with the laser guitar?”
“Yeah. I know what you’re talking about, but don’t you think they’d notice that too?”
“No. He made a separate cache of that stuff. The FBI never found it.”
“Yeah, wow. You want to help me put together some of it? I could use the help.”
I stood there for a moment, then said, “Sure. When?”
* * *
I didn’t go over to Chris’ house after school. We decided next week would be better. After school, I went home, did homework, picked up the tuxedo from the shop I’d rented it from, and went over to League HQ after supper.
Haley called me on break from work, and I explained why.
“Did you ever watch ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer?’ People die at dances. I’m trying to figure out what I can bring along that’ll allow me to stop somebody, but also won’t make it very obvious that I did it, because it’s not like I’ll have the chance to change.”
In the background, someone asked, “Got a light.”
“Sorry, no,” Haley said.
To me she said, “Just a second.”
A few moments later she said, “I had to move.”
She didn’t say anything for a second. Then, “My costume won’t fit under my dress.”
“It’s okay. I can’t bring much either. You could leave it in the car, or maybe a backpack?”
“I don’t want to bring a backpack.”
“Right. Do you think we could get away with bringing your grandfather’s car?”
“Oh, let’s do it. The car changes color. Turn it red and no one will know.”
She paused for a moment. “But I really wish we didn’t have to bring anything.”
We talked about a few other things after that like eating with Courtney and Keith beforehand. To my surprise, Haley sounded interested.
“That sounds fun. I’d like to meet friends of yours who aren’t… you know…”
Would she be meeting friends? I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d call Keith. We were both interested in in superheroes and we talked about that. We had a kind of rivalry when it came to grades. I didn’t care about what his were, but he really wanted to beat mine. Outside of that, I didn’t seek him out.
We hung up later when she said, “I’ve got to go. Break’s over. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
That left me sitting alone among the memorabilia and dustbunnies in League HQ, wondering what tech to bring along to prom. I turned on the SuperTV channel and sent the signal to the big screen on the wall, not for any useful reason, but mostly because I could. Then I pulled up an inventory of the League’s possessions.
I ruled out using anything recovered from magical villains on general principle. That kind of stuff tended to turn the user evil, or crazy, or leave them possessed by an evil, crazy spirit from beyond the grave. And anyway, we didn’t have the good stuff.
In terms of major items, we had the broken wand of the Super-Sorcerer, but, I didn’t know how to repair it. We also had the melted ring of the Evil Beatnik. In theory, I could have recast it, but it’d probably just cause him to come back more powerful and less square than ever.
I looked through the technological items. We had more variety there, but the variety turned out to be a variety of partially broken ray guns — nothing subtle and nothing that I could trust.
I’d have to use my own stuff.
Of course, maybe I was looking at the problem the wrong way. Maybe the question I should be answering wasn’t, “How can I act without revealing myself?” but, “How can I get away and change into costume?”
As I thought about that, I became aware of what was on the screen at SuperTV.
They showed a big fight in Los Angeles. I saw the South California Defenders fighting armored people that I guessed might be Syndicate L. Though they carried guns, they also appeared to be powered. Laser eye blasts took out one of the Defenders flying personnel carriers. Meanwhile, Alex, Jenny and Brooke fought alongside Raptor, Alex’ father (Preserver), and Technomage.
The picture faded out, leaving a journalist saying, “Syndicate L appears to be supplying power juice to its people. We’ve got Dr. Randy Henson here to answer some questions about that and what the government’s report means. Dr. Henson, knowing how rare people with the potential to use the power juice are, where are they getting them from?”
“That’s a good question, but an easy one to answer. In addition to the government’s information on how to construct the power juice, the report also contained a list of cities the United States where people with powers tend to cluster. Now obviously that includes large cities, particularly New York and Los Angeles, but surprisingly, it also includes a few small towns scattered across the country. The government tracked down the genealogy of a number of the people who they caught working for the Cabal after the Heroes League exposed them last fall. Even more interesting is that they tracked the ancestry of the people in the small towns there to some very specific and very isolated small towns in Europe. It looks for all the world like a breeding program that’s been going on for more than four hundred years.”
They went on to discuss it further, but I stopped listening.
Not that it wasn’t interesting. It was. It just didn’t surprise me. Red Lightning had taken the juice’s formula from the Cabal. Why couldn’t he take their breeding program as well?
Anyway, I’d had an idea. Two actually. One had to do with the roachbots. The other had to do with Night Wolf’s car.