Once I was off the call with Rachel, I checked the time, and it was seven-fifty something, so I walked toward the lab.
I would have gone there from the beginning if I’d thought it through. I wasn’t quite finished with Cassie’s suit, but I was almost finished, so if I was in the lab when I talked to her, I’d be able to show it to her more easily.
This was great logic, but it didn’t account for one possibility—that Cassie might call a little early—which she did.
I heard the phone ringing from both directions—behind me at the main table, and ahead of me in the lab.
I broke into a run, crossing the old, olive green carpet, dodging forty years worth of the original League’s mementoes, trophies, and awards in their cases. As I did it, I remembered that I’d left my socks and shoes in front of a register in the main room.
Obviously, I wasn’t going back for them, but the lab didn’t have carpet at all.
Grandpa hadn’t seen the point when he knew he’d be spilling chemicals in there. The lab had a concrete floor that he’d coated with a ceramic, preventing spills from soaking into the concrete.
The practical upshot for me? My feet were going to be cold.
I did manage to make it into the lab before Cassie hung up though, and not because I ran quickly. She let it ring.
That gave me time to run into the room, touching my feet on the very, very cold floor, dodge the tables, the fabricators, a row of 3D printers, different versions of the Rocket suit, and the suit’s replacement parts.
I made it to the counter on one of the side walls, pulled myself up on a stool, and logged in. When I clicked on the mouse, allowing the computer to take the call, Cassie appeared on the screen, saying, “Nick, that took forever.”
“You called early,” I said.
Continuing as if she hadn’t heard me, she said, “The only reason I didn’t hang up was because I could see on my phone that you were in HQ. I gave you something like, God, fifteen rings. Not that I was counting.”
“You caught me as I was walking from the main room into the lab.”
“Figures,” Cassie said.
She looked like she always had—nearly white blond hair, and pale skin with a reddish tinge. She wore a hoodie and jeans, as usual. Unlike when she’d lived in Grand Lake, this hoodie was black with blue letters saying “Georgetown Hoyas.”
Whatever a “hoya” was.
In the pixelated view of her phone’s camera, she sat on a bed—one with a big brass headboard. She was in an old house somewhere around Washington D.C. The question was which house. She and her mom moved frequently.
Above the headboard hung a poster for the band “Vincent Sucks.” I’d heard about them somewhere.
She leaned toward her phone. “So what have you got? It better be something good because otherwise I’m not getting out of the house except for school and Stapledon.”
I nodded. “I think you’ll like this.” Setting the camera to follow me around the room, I walked over to one of the tables. A shapeless pile of metallic bits covered most of it. She couldn’t see it, but an even bigger pile lay on the floor below. A line of shiny, metallic chunks connected the two piles.
“Okay, you know how the Rocket suit mostly hasn’t been metal since the early 60’s? It’s a kind of ceramic that my grandfather invented and then kept on reinventing and improving throughout his career?”
Cassie frowned a little. We were already heading into a more technical direction than she wanted.
“I think you mentioned it.”
“Okay, you remember the new grappling hooks aren’t really hooks? The lines stick to walls and stuff, but what’s more important is that you shoot the lines out, and reel them in, and they change back to a kind of goo while they’re inside the gun?”
Cassie’s eyes were beginning to glaze over. “Don’t tell me how it works, Nick.”
“I wasn’t going to. I was just going to explain how they’re different forms of the same—“
She shook her head, “No, no. Stop talking. Show me.”
I took a breath, “Okay, fine.”
I put my hands into the middle of the pile, and felt the armor form around my arms and legs. Seconds later, it had completely surrounded my head and body.
A few seconds after that, the helmet began scrolling messages down the screen
[Section 00000000001: connection made]
[Section 00000000002: connection made]
[Section 00000000003: connection made]
[Section 00000000004: connection made]
And so on—basically forever.
Cassie’s voice cut through the rustling as the sections rearranged themselves, the outer layers building on the inner.
“That kicks ass. I’m surprised it’s not the next version of the Rocket suit. You could put it in a briefcase or something.”
I shook my head. “Kind of, but no. See, I started with it, thinking I could fit a Rocket suit into a briefcase, but by the time I put everything I wanted in the suit, it was the size of a suitcase, and weighed more than I did. I couldn’t lift it.”
Cassie started laughing. She must have been holding her phone in her hand because it wobbled like crazy, showing her bed, her face, the ceiling…
When the picture became steady again, she said, “You are completely nuts. You know that, right?”
I didn’t have an answer for that—which was okay. She didn’t stop talking.
Leaning forward toward the screen, looking the suit up and down, she said, “Does it have to look like that?”
“No. We can change it to make the standard form pretty much however you like. It’s going to be more work for me if the shape’s not basically humanlike, but even there it shouldn’t be too bad. Plus, within limits it’ll fix itself provided you’ve got a spare supply of repair materials. Even better, we can make it look like a motorcycle or car or something for its other form.”
“So basically, you’re making me a transformer.”