Unsurprisingly, I didn’t sleep very well after that.
I dragged myself through the next day, almost falling asleep in study hall, barely staying awake during lectures. When it ended, I could at least console myself with the fact that it was Friday and I didn’t have any other demands on my life — probably.
Something did nag at my mind though. I thought I might have forgotten something. I just hoped it wasn’t important.
I caught up with Cassie and Vaughn on the way out the door, and talked through what had happened the night before. I’d sent everyone a yellow alert, and left an email with their League email accounts last night, but I hadn’t gone into detail.
We rode in Vaughn’s car, a not especially new, or fashionable, red, 1998 Saturn.
Cassie turned back to look at me from the front seat. “So how did he know where to find you?”
“I don’t know exactly. I’m just sure he knows I’m the Rocket. The first words out of his mouth were ‘you lied’ as in I lied about not knowing about the Ball. Technically, I don’t think I said anything when he asked, so it’s more a sin of omission rather than commission, but yeah, he knows who I am.”
“I don’t like not knowing how he found you. We need to stop that leak.”
“I don’t think it’s possible. He’s got some kind of magic stalking power. I looked him up in the government’s databases, and one of their psychics thinks he’s half-demon. They suspect his dad was some kind of hunter demon.”
“Hunter demon?” Vaughn said. “You’ve got to admit that that is kind of cool.”
“Not if he’s sneaking into your house.” Cassie scowled, and turned back to look at the road.
“So,” Vaughn said, “you’re going to South High’s prom, right? Sounds like they’re going to be crazy secure.”
“Yeah, I am,” I began, and then I trailed off, experiencing a trail of realizations. Haley’s prom was the week after mine. Mine was last Friday. Today was Friday only one week later. Therefore…
Cassie started laughing. “Vaughn, he had no idea. Nick, did you even rent a tuxedo?”
“I’m okay. I set up the date for this tuxedo when I set up the last one. I do have to pick it up though. Vaughn are you going to mind dropping by the tux shop and um… a florist?”
* * *
Haley called just as I got through the door into my house. “I was going to call you to tell you what time you needed to pick me up yesterday, but I forgot. This week was crazy. I worked last night and lost track of everything.”
I’d just walked in through the side door. My backpack hung on my back. I held the tuxedo’s black plastic bag in my left hand along with the corsage and boutineer, and held my cell phone up to my head with my right.
From somewhere in the house, Rachel shouted, “Nick, the tuxedo shop called. Did you pick up your tux?”
Meanwhile, Haley continued talking. “You don’t have to pay for dinner this time. My dad gave me fifty dollars. He’ll pay as long as we go to Modesti’s Tuscan Express and take a copy of their menu.”
“Free food in exchange for corporate espionage?”
“Sometimes I think that’s the only reason my family ever ate out.”
Rachel stepped into view at the other end of the hallway. “Nick, did you…”
Then she saw the tux, the flowers, and the phone. She smirked, and left.
I’m going to cut to the chase, and say that nothing happened.
Modesti’s Tuscan Express had great food. One waitress did recognize Haley, but they got along. The prom did not get interrupted by anyone taking power juice. In fact, they’d set up security to avoid it. Everyone met up at South High, but they took buses to the Hardwick International Hotel where they’d rented a couple ballrooms. Before anyone could get on the buses, they had to be patted down. No liquids of any kind were allowed on the bus.
Oh, and the buses? They weren’t the standard yellow school bus with hard green seats. These were less than two years old, painted in school colors (red, white, and black), had comfortable seats, and were obviously intended for the sports teams. Our sports teams didn’t have anything like them.
I ran into Jaclyn, and her date (who I didn’t know). More surprisingly, I ran into Marcus who didn’t even go there. He went to a charter school south of town. I didn’t know his date either, but they all seemed to have a good time.
We could have gone to an “after prom” event, but I couldn’t take any more crowds.
Instead, I drove Night Wolf’s car (in civilian mode) down to one of the smaller parks on Grand Lake. The parking lot looked out over the lake. We could see the stars, lights from houses and buildings all around the lake, and boats docked at the marinas.
We talked for while, and then we started to make out.
Cars aren’t as comfortable for that sort of thing as you’d expect given the amount of use high school students give them. We had to be more careful than most people. Not only did we have to avoid the stick shift, and the parking brake, but also buttons that could only be found in a superhero’s car.
Knocking the rocket booster would have been an extremely bad move, for example.
Haley was on top of me, and we were kissing, and mostly in the passenger’s seat, when we heard an explosion followed by a small tremor in the ground.
Haley pushed herself up to look out the back window.
“Do you see anything?”
She shook her head. “It sounded like a building to me. Do you think we should…” She frowned.
“We’re probably closer than anybody.”
“I know. Well, maybe we needed to stop.”
It wasn’t like we were naked. I had my jacket off, and my shirt partially unbuttoned. I’d unzipped the back of her dress, but we hadn’t gotten much farther than that.
She squeezed through the space between the front seats into the back, and passed the stealth suit up to me.
Within a minute we were dressed, and Haley drove us out of the park. I had the guitar lying next to my legs. In the meantime, I sent everyone else a yellow alert, making ready to send a red.
We moved out from under the trees and into the start of blocks of old warehouses and factories.
I’d worried that we might not be able to find the fight, but that turned out to be easy.
We just had to look for the fire.
Just a couple blocks south of the park, one of the factories lay in ruins. One half of it had fallen in, leaving jagged edged brick walls and dark cloud of smoke. Bricks lay in the road. Windows of nearby buildings had shattered.
Haley tried to avoid the bigger chunks while I called 911 to report the fire.
Once we got past it, she stopped the car and I didn’t blame her. We weren’t ready for this.
Justice Fiend faced one of the strangest pieces of powered armor I’d seen in years of following heroes. More than anything else, it reminded me of something out of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
The upper half of the face had been molded in the form of a hockey mask while the bottom of the face had been molded into an insanely wide smile. The teeth were sharp, silvery metal, and shaped like a shark’s.
The armor’s right hand appeared to be an axe with a massive curved blade. The left hand had actually been shaped like a hand, but with metal fingers and sharp tips. A wide barreled gun of some kind hung under its left arm.
I assumed that it had to be Jack Maniac.
Both of them hung in the air above the street, flares shooting out from Jack’s clawed feet.
In the street, a couple hundred feet ahead of us and below them, stood Christine Maniac. It reminded me of Stephen King’s famous, red Plymouth Fury if the car had been reimagined as a Transformer. It was definitely in mech form now. I could recognize bits of the car, but didn’t like the additions. I noticed machine guns, grenade launchers, and the big gun on its shoulder probably belonged on a battleship.
We were out of our league. Way out.
I pointed the car’s eavesdropping equipment in their direction, and we heard their conversation, locking in on it as a deep voice said, “… not going to be like Louisville, this time. You’ll find our equipment’s been upgraded, and there’s only one of you.”
Justice Fiend started to reply, but a familiar voice interrupted it. “Oh yeah? I wouldn’t count on that.”
Sean flew out of the sky and stopped next to Justice Fiend. He wore a green costume with plates of gray metal covering vital spots, and with an open faced helmet. It actually looked good. Someone had gone to a lot of work.
Justice Fiend looked over at him. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the Power.”
I felt my jaw drop. “That name’s got to be taken already.”