It was the first time I could think of that Jaclyn got involved in a case. She’d always had a kind of “take it or leave it” approach to the Heroes League since we’d reformed. For this, she took the same approach she took toward homework — focus.
Within half an hour, we knew who the Maniacs were, and what they’d been doing for the last fifteen years. With a of couple exceptions, they’d been in jail. Jack Maniac and Christine Maniac apparently still robbed banks together. Jason and Chucky Maniac were in jail. Freddy had died.
“The names are all from 80’s horror movies?” Jaclyn said. “I get Freddy, and Jason, but where did Jack come from?”
“Nicholson, maybe?” I looked up from the monitor, and Double V’s entry on the Maniacs. “I don’t know what the name of the guy he played in ‘The Shining’ was, but Jack Nicholson’s pretty scary by himself.”
Looking back at the screen, I continued to read. It hadn’t been a power heavy group. They appeared to be mostly dependent on gadgets — the ball, paralysis rays, light power armor, a couple mechs, and some disturbing looking knives. The equipment list sounded a lot like what we faced with Syndicate L. I wondered if they’d gotten preliminary versions of the same stuff, or if one of them had created it.
The connection with Man-machine didn’t seem obvious.
The ball had disappeared near the end of the summer crime spree. Double V’s online database didn’t have anything about it, but had a lot of coverage of the Maniacs’ final battle as a group. Some guy who called himself Justice Fiend took them out in a three day battle that leveled a couple buildings in Louisville, Kentucky. I vaguely remembered that he was a big deal in the 90’s.
In the end, the police accounted for most of the Maniacs’ loot and equipment. They never found the ball though.
Jaclyn looked up from her terminal. “Did you find anything that would explain why Man-machine had it?”
“Me neither. We should ask Isaac to arrange a visit with him.”
“We could. Do you want to call him?”
“I’m allowed to? It seems like you’re the only one he talks to.”
I sent her an email with his contact information. Then we left, both of us hurrying to our homes for supper.
She probably made it on time.
I arrived after everyone else had finished, escaping a tongue lashing only by saying, “Superhero stuff.” After that, both my parents went on as if nothing had gone wrong.
My dad blinked for a second and looked confused, but my mom kept on talking to Rachel about places she might find a summer job.
After supper, I did homework. Through the wall, I could hear Rachel practice her guitar and sometimes talk to people on her phone.
I did the calculus on autopilot, read a chapter in my physics textbook, and then a few chapters in Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Occasionally I stopped and thought about the ball, wishing that I’d had the chance to start testing how the paralysis rays worked. Understanding them would be great, but I’d be happy if I could just figure out a good way to shield against them.
I speculated how they might work several different times before I finished reading, probably doubling the time it should have taken, and finally gave up on the physics. I knew it anyway. I just had to familiarize myself with the equations they wanted me to use for the test. My own modified versions probably wouldn’t make the teacher happy.
Jaclyn called as I turned the final page of Dickens. I picked up my cell phone.
“Nick. I talked to Isaac. We’ll head straight to Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility tomorrow after training.”
“Okay. Just the two of us?”
“Is there anyone you want to bring?”
“Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? He’ll slow down our travel time though.”
“We could take the jet. It’s ready.”
“I don’t think the prison’s got a runway, Nick.”
“It can do the vertical take off and landing thing. Sort of. Grandpa worked in some alien tech.”
“Oookay. If you can fly it, take it. I might beat you out there though.”
We said our good-byes and hung up.
I got another call almost immediately, this one from Chris Cannon.
“Damn, Nick, what happened? You were behind me there and then you were gone. And then I heard on police band that they’d called in the Heroes League. Did they catch you?”
“Yeah and no. I missed your exit, and Accelerando caught up with me. I managed to ditch her, and hide the ball at my Grandpa Vander Sloot’s house.”
“Isn’t he dead?”
“Yes, but we’ve still got the house. With the Heroes League and the police looking for the ball, I’m thinking maybe I should keep it for a few days, and then bring it back some night. Maybe Friday?”
“Good idea. Things might cool down by then. I hope so, anyway. I was just watching SuperTV. Ever heard of Justice Fiend? He’s coming to Grand Lake.”
* * *
I stood at the back of the studio, waiting for people to get out of workout clothes. As the dressing room held maybe two people at once, I’d be waiting for a while. A copy of the Grand Lake Sentinel lay on a table near the dressing room. I picked it up.
Any other time, the whole business with the ball, and an unidentified super running down the highway would have gotten the front page in the Grand Lake Sentinel, and been the lead story on local TV news. With power juice taking the nation’s attention, it ended up on the bottom left of the front page.
The Sentinel’s headline was “Power Juice Massacre.” Some guy with laser eyes had burned down twenty people in a Pittsburgh McDonald’s before the King of Storms stopped him.
I shook my head. Hopefully the kid hadn’t gotten hurt doing it.
Daniel walked up to me. “So who all is going?”
I started thinking about it.
“Just Jaclyn, you and me then,” he said.
“Going where?” Cassie had been talking to Travis and Haley, but she turned toward me.
“They’re going to visit Man-machine in prison,” Rachel said, stepping out of the dressing room. Then she explained why.
Cassie listened, then said, “You are not leaving me out of that.”