It felt like he’d set half the city on fire.
It wasn’t true, of course. He’d burned down a couple bars and a car dealership. Giles and Chuck had taken a restaurant and the warehouse.
They’d gotten into a rhythm after the first two buildings. Romy would fly through to make sure that nobody was inside. He would break through the door and spray the inside with trails of the flamethrower’s fuel. It didn’t take much to start it burning after that.
Doing the car dealership had been a little like making popcorn. The ones that exploded tended to blow up in clusters with a couple more going even after he’d thought they were finished.
They’d left Monroe’s garbage collection business for last, planning to meet there.
The business wasn’t much to look at, especially in the dark. Surrounded by old brick factories and warehouses, “Monroe’s Garbage Collection and Removal” boasted a squat, brick building that was large enough to fix garbage trucks inside plus space for administrative offices. It sat in the middle of a parking lot half filled with garbage trucks. Lights on the building illuminated the parking lot and the chain link fence that crowded the edge of the sidewalk.
Joe and Romy stood on the roof of the factory across the street.
“Think they’re on the way?” He said.
“They can’t be long,” she said.
Neither of them were looking at the building they’d come to burn.
South of them, near to Grand Lake’s harbor, a warehouse burned. They couldn’t see flames anymore, but earlier they had reached past the roof. The sound of sirens had ended not too long ago.
“The fire department’s having a long night,” Joe said. “I hope no one gets hurt.”
“If Chuck’s doing his job, there won’t be any reason to get hurt.”
Joe laughed. “No hard feelings about his sense of smell?”
“If anything I should thank him. Imagine what might have happened if he hadn’t caught me.”
Knowing the answer already, he said, “Have you ever thanked him?”
“No, and I don’t think I will while he’s still hinting I might turn you over to the SS.”
“He’s more up to date than that. I’m sure he thinks you’ll turn me over to the Russians these days.”
She laughed briefly. Very briefly.
The wind picked up, blowing small snowflakes across the roof.
“Cold?” Joe asked. “We could fly down to the street.”
“No, but I think that if they don’t get here soon we should start without them.”
They waited another ten minutes. Joe watched in the direction of the harbor, hearing police sirens and wondering what that meant.
Romy’s hand sunk through the Rocket suit to touch him on the shoulder. “Let’s finish it,” she said.
“You’re right. They can take care of themselves.”
She faded, becoming transparent and rising a foot above the roof. “I’ll go first,” she said.
He watched her fly toward the building, becoming invisible as she crossed the street.
Starting the jetpack, he rose into the air and crossed the street, landing next to the building. He considered flying up to the roof to get a better view, but decided not to.
He walked around the side of the building, no longer able to see the road because of the garbage trucks parked between him and it.
Someone had placed a wooden dog house next to the building. Joe checked inside, but couldn’t see a dog. The mound of blankets, old towels, and shed fur inside argued that the dog had been there recently. Hopefully someone had taken it home. It was too cold to sleep outside, he thought.
Deciding that this was a good spot to stay out of sight, he leaned against the wall and waited.
Romy stepped out next to him a few minutes later.
“There you are,” she said. “I went through their files but didn’t find anything new since Tuesday. It’s all yours now.”
“You didn’t happen to see a dog?”
“The dog? No. It’s always outside.”
“It doesn’t seem to be here now. I guess it’s time to start the fire, but, could you check on what’s keeping the other guys?”
Soundlessly, she flew away, disappearing into the brick wall across the street.
It didn’t take long. He broke down the door and sprayed the offices inside with fuel. He left the repair bays alone. Then he took to the air and hit the garbage trucks and the building with fuel from above. The liquid splashed on the building’s roof and ran down the side of the trucks.
Hovering over an empty section of the property, he raised his arm toward the building, set the flamethrower to burn, and clicked the button on his palm that started the stream.
He had sprayed a lot of fuel on the building’s flat roof and it went up with a roar, creating a massive cloud of smoke. He wondered if anyone had heard.
The garbage trucks went randomly. One exploded. For the others, the fuel just burned, blackening parts of their metal bodies and cracking the windows.
He wondered if he should go back and finish them more thoroughly, maybe shoot a few bullets through the windows, but decided not to. The point had been made. He’d just done thousands of dollars of damage. It might be covered under insurance, but what he could burn down once, he could burn down twice — assuming the documents Romy had been collecting all week didn’t put Monroe and his people in jail.
A large, dark shape ran away from the trucks into the open area of the lot.
It stopped, turned to look back at the building and the trucks, then bounded to the chain link fence, pausing in front of a door. It had been chained shut.
Huh, Joe thought, the dog. Where had it been hiding?
He thought about carrying it over the fence, but discarded the thought. If he let it out, he’d either have to bring it home or let it wander the streets. If he left it, the firemen would get it back to it’s owner or bring it to a shelter.
He flew toward it, hovering some twenty feet away. He couldn’t guess the breed, but suspected he wouldn’t be able to guess in broad daylight either. It struck him as a mutt the size of a great dane.
It stared up at him, then turned its head to the street.
He heard footsteps. Big ones.
Joe followed the dog’s gaze. Something huge and almost human shaped ran up the street toward him. If he didn’t know better, he would have guessed it was his suit’s older brother.
Fifteen feet tall, the machine’s chest and head easily cleared the fence. Joe looked it over. While, it had superficial similarities to his own powered armor, it was an entirely new design.
The Rocket armor simply amplified his own strength. From the way the new machine moved and the loud whine as it approached, he guessed that multiple engines did the work, but, however jerky its movements, it moved quickly.
Dull gray, its limbs and torso seemed to be shaped almost entirely of rectangles. A massive gun hung under the right arm while a metal screen covered much of what would have been the face.
Joe had seen his picture in the paper, but now he saw Man-machine in the steel reinforced flesh.
Out of Man-machine’s loudspeaker came the words, “LEAVE THE DOG ALONE! What are you going to do? Burn him like you did everything else?”