“No reason you should remember me. Like a lot of people I attended your grandfather’s funeral, but not as myself, and I wasn’t around much during the years when you were your grandfather’s lab assistant.”
That had to be how it looked from the outside. “After the Rocket’s retirement as a hero, he stayed home and worked on devices for the community with his grandson as an assistant.”
It was accurate as far as it went, but it felt less like my life, and more like I was an appendage to Grandpa’s.
“Now,” Dr. Nation continued, “let’s talk about the program. What we expect is ridiculous. We expect you to become at least semi-competent at police work, military combat, and fire and rescue operations. You’re going to be better at some than others, but you’ll have to pass minimum standards at all of them. Plus, we’re requiring people to learn about alien technology and magic.”
“I’m going to learn magic?”
He shook his head. “You can’t learn to do magic without a gift for it, but we can train you to recognize supernatural creatures, devices, and spells.”
“Huh. That sounds interesting.”
“I know. I wish I’d known anything at all about it when I started, but that’s not everything. You’ve also got to choose an area to specialize in. I’m assuming that will be technology?”
He’d opened a folder with my name on it when I sat down. With that, he crossed out “TBD” where it appeared next to “Specialization:” and wrote “Tech” next to it.
I thought about it. “Is that alien tech or regular technology?”
“Both. And since it’s official now, it’s time to discuss examples of your work. What did you bring?”
I’d brought my guitar hero controller (complete with hidden laser and exploding charge), and some roachbots. We spent the next half hour going over how they’d been constructed and how I used them.
He’d opened the back of the guitar,and was looking it over. “Blowing up the guitar when you fire the shaped charge is very rock and roll, but it leaves you without a weapon.”
“Well, it was more of a concept weapon than something I actually intended to use. Kind of taking an idea and seeing how far I could go. I’ve used it, but it’s been more accidentally useful than intentionally useful in some ways.”
“I can see that, and honestly, I shouldn’t complain.”
“Ever heard of ‘Yellow Burrito?’ Up until the early 80’s, that was me.”
“Yeah. Wow. You were in the Heroes League in the mid-70’s, right? You were out of San Francisco, and all your stuff was burrito themed. Uh…”
A guitar hero controller with a laser had to be hundreds of times cooler than the “Burrito Gun,” right?
He gave a lopsided smile that made me think he might be embarrassed. “It made more sense in the 1970’s, or at least it seemed funny,” he said. “Besides people underestimate a guy with burrito themed weapons.”
I would have.
“You knew my grandfather?”
“He was great, Nick. Best teacher I ever had. They invited new kids into the League all the time. I’d bet half the faculty of the Stapledon program cycled through.”
I wasn’t sure how to take that. I knew they’d had a lot of members outside the core group. I’d never realized there were that many.
“They never said, but I’m sure they wanted the new kids to be prepared.”
* * *
Still thinking about my meeting, I went back to my room, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and headed for the hotel’s gym. It had a floor with a track running around the outside of the room, and weightlifting equipment in the middle.
A total lack of powers wasn’t going to stop them from getting a baseline on my physical abilities.
Never mind that they were irrelevant. If I had anything to say about it, I wouldn’t ever be facing anyone without armor. The closest I’d come to doing that had been fighting Ray early last summer. I’d worn the stealth suit, and it had still been too close.
I thought about it more. There had been that time when Vaughn and I were attacked by two different groups of guys while we were out running. Plus, I’d had to fight Sean, Dayton, and Jody all at once before they got powers.
OK. Maybe getting a sense of my unassisted physical abilities might be useful.
I’d been attacked a lot last year.
When I got near the gym, I noticed that no members of the hotel staff were near it. When I stepped inside I knew why.
People with physical powers were still being tested.
They’d walled off a section in the middle of the room with plates of a black material I didn’t instantly recognize. Seriously strange and bulky machines filled most of the space, and all of them were being used. Some of the people running on the track hit speeds that wouldn’t have been out of place on the highway.
Meanwhile, all the regular exercise machines had been moved into a small corner of the track.
Vaughn sat on a stationary bike, sweating, and looking annoyed. They’d taped some sensors to his chest and arm. The wires led to a laptop on a table.
He wasn’t the only one either. Daniel sat a few bikes down from Vaughn, steadily pedaling, and barely sweating at all. I wondered if he’d started later, or if he’d tricked his body into performing better than it should.
From within the crowd of people on bikes, someone said, “Nick!”
I followed the voice, and noticed Jenny Nakamura getting onto a bike. She waved at me.
A woman in green scrubs taped a sensor to her arm.
“Hey,” I said, simultaneously noticing that no one here seemed to have physical powers.
The woman next to Jenny said, “Nick Klein?”
“Why don’t you get on this bike over here?”
I walked over to the bike next to Jenny’s. That would be okay. Maybe we could talk?
A noise came from the bike on the other side of mine. Tall, blond, and pedaling hard, the guy looked familiar.