Cassie sat back on her bed, leaning back against the pillow. “So, when’s it going to be ready?”
“Uh…” I thought about that while the suit continued to post messages about testing the systems.
“Well, there are a couple different issues. The first one’s easy. The second is going to depend on you. See, first off, I need to get the suit’s boot up time down to something reasonable. Right now you can get it on in maybe a minute, but by the time it’s done testing everything, twenty minutes have gone by.”
Her eyes widened. “Are you kidding me? That’s worse than when you put the suit on by hand.”
“I know, but I’m using a really lousy testing algorithm. I went with one that checked individually for whether each section connected, but there are better ways to go. I’ve got another algorithm that checks a lot faster. I’m thinking five minutes or less. In fact, if things go well, I think I could make full boot up end shortly after the suit’s assembled.”
“Yeah?” Cassie sounded doubtful. “I’ll be satisfied if you manage to get it below five minutes. Oh, and what about the second thing?”
Deciding not to explain why I thought simultaneous boot up and assembly might be possible, I said, “Well, the second thing is what you want in the suit. Like we could put in a blade like your dad’s sword, or roachbot storage like my suit. I wouldn’t recommend either of those because people might guess who you are, but if you’ve got any ideas, I’ll take them.”
Cassie shook her head. “I don’t have any special ideas… I’d like to be able to take out something big, but I want to be able to do non-lethal takedowns too. Can I call you back on that?”
“Sure. I’ve still got the boot up problem to work out, but don’t take forever, okay?”
Cassie smiled at me. “With something like this? Believe me, I’m not going to wait.”
With that, she adjusted the phone’s position, and said, “So, how are things going in Grand Lake?”
We’d had a Stapledon weekend, and shared a distance learning class during the week. “Not much different than they were on Sunday,” I said. “Just normal, you know?”
“Seen Vaughn lately?”
“Sure, in class and at practice with Lee on Wednesday. Plus Stapledon,” I said.
Conversationally, Cassie said, “He’s feeling a little left out.”
“I don’t know why,” I said. “I’ve seen him a bunch of times. It’s all been hero stuff, but I haven’t been avoiding him or anything.”
Cassie shrugged, “You know I haven’t been around at all since Rook kidnapped me. I think it bugs him that he wasn’t part of the mission to get me back.”
“He was hurt. I don’t remember exactly how, but it was bad enough that Alex healed him at the next Stapledon even though he’d been to the doctor.”
Cassie shook her head. “That’s not all of it though. He mostly feels like he hasn’t seen anybody in the League except when they have to see him.”
“Oh,” I said. Come to think of it, I hadn’t hung out with him in a while. Most of the time when I had, it had been with Cassie, or when we’d had a team movie night, or decided to go do something after we’d been all at HQ for some reason.
I’d barely done anything with him since October, and we were a good chunk of the way through January.
“I’ve been kind of focused on homework, and well, really focused on this. So I’ve barely seen anybody at all except Haley.”
Cassie frowned, “Nick, there’s more to a team than practicing together. We’ve all got to feel like a team.”
“Everyone’s all split up right now—different colleges and everything. I’m sure we’ll all feel more connected when people come home for the summer.”
She shook her head. “Remember Stapledon’s summer term. It’s required.”
“It’s what?” Then I remembered. “Oh, yeah. We’ll all be gone for the summer. At least we’ll be able to reconnect then.”
“Too late,” Cassie said. “Anything could happen between now and then.”
I was about to argue, and then I thought about my conversation with Rachel. “Hey Cassie, there’s something you should know that might happen soon—“
I had her full attention, but I didn’t keep it.
She didn’t keep mine either.
Information ran across the bottom the screen—not the suit’s screen. That still showed boot up messages. The monitor on the counter had the words, “Identitities confirmed: Haley McAllister, Sydney Drucker, Camille Salazar.”
“What’s going on?” Cassie asked.
“Looks like Haley just came back from patrol with Camille and Sydney.”
“I’ll let you go,” Cassie said. “Say hi to Haley for me.”
“Sure,” I said. Then I turned away from the monitor, and headed for HQ’s main room, still wearing the armor. It wasn’t as if I had a choice either. The armor wouldn’t come off until it got completely through the boot up sequence—another minor flaw that I’d have to take care of.
It took a few minutes before they came out of the tunnels. The big steel door opened, and Haley stepped out followed by Sydney and Camille.
The local paper had described the group of them as a “strangely warped version of Charlie’s Angels.” The only similarities I could see is that both groups contained three females.
Haley, my girlfriend, was about five feet tall with dark hair, and a generally cheerful expression. Normally she wasn’t intimidating at all, but she was wearing her grey, Night Cat costume, had grown fangs, and shifted her hands and feet into claws.
Sydney stood seven feet tall, but only because she’d surrounded herself with strangely fluid metal. Normally she wasn’t much taller than your average high school girl.
Camille looked the most normal of all of them—black hair, light brown skin. Out of her orange and white costume, she looked surprisingly like Sydney (who was blond and light skinned). They were half-sisters, so no surprise there.
As they noticed me, Sydney said, “Who’s that?”
Sniffing the air, Haley said, “I don’t know… Nick?”
Her confusion wasn’t hard to explain. I hadn’t shown the suit to anybody, and to make it easier to identify problems, I’d set the suit’s default color to white, but outlined the borders of each piece in black, making it resemble a jigsaw puzzle.
In short, it didn’t look like a Rocket suit at all.