My grandfather told me once that war was long periods of boredom broken up by moments of terror. From the stories that the original League told about World War 2 and their experiences afterward, it sounded right.
Knowing that, it’s not so much of a surprise to learn that after the Hrnnna’s disappearance, the Xiniti’s trip through the gate they normally guarded, the annual inspection of the Jay and Kay, and my own frantic call to Agent Lim saying that I had Figured It All Out nothing happened at all.
I went through the week wondering if we’d be invaded, or worse, bombed from space.
Neither occured, and we ended the week with a normal Stapledon weekend.
Well, normal for the fairly loose definition of normal I’d been living under during the last few years–the kind of normal that puts you in a position to fight evil alien space horses.
This week’s Stapledon weekend fell into exactly that definition of normal.
What kind of normal was that exactly? Well, we were near New York City, home of the Yankees, the Metropolitan Opera, many of the world’s great museums, Broadway, clubs where cutting edge bands played, and we weren’t looking at any of it. As per standard operating procedure, Stapledon had flown us in on a cargo plane that secretly carried passengers, and put us up in an old factory they’d converted into apartments
Friday evening found us walking into a truly massive old factory. It was surrounded by our dormitory and six other old buildings, tall chain link fences topped with barbed wire, cameras, and signs that said, “Property of the U.S. government. Trespassers will be prosecuted.”
None of the buildings appeared to be much more than old, brick factories, and unused ones at that. I’d never have looked twice at them before now. The street lamps shone bright, illuminating the empty yards around the buildings. As a group, the entire Stapledon program walked toward the middle building, all of us following Isaac Lim. Walking through the big double doors and into a big room that could have easily fit the first floor of my parents’ house.
Old rusted machinery sat next to worn wooden tables on a floor made old boards that groaned under our feet. It looked as though the room hadn’t been used since the 1930’s.
On the far end of the room two rusty, iron doors stood, chained together. The chain gleamed grey as did the padlock.
Agent Lim stopped in front of the doors, waiting while we all gathered, the floor creaking under our boots. I stood next to Daniel, both of us in winter coats even though it was warming up–relatively speaking. For March, forty degrees wasn’t bad.
Izzy stood next to Cassie and Jaclyn. From the lack of interaction, I’d begun to guess that whatever talk Daniel and Izzy had after we’d fought the robots hadn’t gone well.
Not now, Daniel thought at me.
I might have followed up on it, but Isaac Lim started talking. He raised his hands for silence, and then lowered them as we became quiet. In his suit and tan overcoat, he looked every inch the stereotypical FBI agent.
“Everyone, thank you for your attention.” He stopped and gave a quick grin. “We’d always intended that this be part of your education at Stapledon, but in light of recent events, it’s become even more important.
“All of you know about NASA’s attempts to build a jumpgate safe spaceship out of purely human technology that satisfies the Reclamation Alliance’s standards for new members. You’re probably aware that we’ve failed every single inspection so far. All of those spaceships were constructed in Florida at Cape Kennedy. I’ve nothing against NASA, but you and I both know that those ships won’t be worth much in a fight.”
I shared his evaluation. I’d seen pictures of the ships sent to inspection the last few years. They looked like the standard NASA spaceship–all white except for the identification, and the U.S. flag. No weapons. No armor. Bearing in mind our history, that wasn’t something that would help us pass inspection.
Isaac waited, giving us a moment of silence before moving on.
“You’ve likely seen the news or watched SuperTV and know that we have better spaceships than that, ships we can’t pass off as our own work–the Heroes League’s jet, for example.”
People nearby glanced in our direction.
I thought I heard Sean’s voice then. I didn’t catch his exact words, but he sounded annoyed.
Isaac put his hands in his overcoat’s pockets. I’d already done the same. It wasn’t a warm room.
“We need to make those spaceships somewhere, and as some of you have already guessed, this is it.” He pulled his right hand out of his pocket and gestured toward a long section of wall.
It sunk into the floor, disappearing except for a few metal beams.The section hadn’t just been long, but more than two stories tall. The effect was electrifying.
We’d been standing in dim light, but it was like day on the other side of the wall. Light flooded the room as the sound of people talking and even shouting carried over. Forklifts hauled pallets of material–boxes, sheets of metal, barrels of liquid.
Skeletons of partially completed spaceships were scattered around the room–several of the Defenders podjets, and a podcarrier.
I wondered what sort of equipment they had, and how much they knew about the machine races.
Isaac stepped toward the opening and waved everyone to follow. “Everyone follow me, stay close, and no matter how interesting it looks, don’t touch anything.”
He caught my eye as he finished the last part. Then he led us inside.
It was everything I might have guessed. More than anything else, I was surprised how much I recognized. I smelled a few chemicals that I’d had to follow Grandpa’s directions to recreate. I wondered where they got them, and if, somewhere out there, there were factories devoted to making the stuff.
Isaac led us to the middle of the room which seemed strangely empty until we arrived, and noticed the railing. The railing went around a rectangular hole half as wide and almost as long as the building. Three metal bridges crossed it, but I noticed how accessible the bolts connecting the individual sections were. They’d been designed for easy assembly/disassembly.
The moment I reached the edge, I understood why. I also understood why they were only assembling small spaceships here. Three more levels, each at least as large as this one, lay beneath the surface. On the lowest level, a partially built spaceship filled much of the space. I looked to my left. The door on that end of the building was large enough that the ship could fly out. I wondered if any already had.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Isaac asked.
A few people cheered.
His gave a satisfied smile. “Right here we’ve got the potential to protect our world. Recent events have shown we can’t count on anyone else. Now, some of you might be wondering why we’d put a high profile target like this in the middle of one of our most populated cities, and why I’m showing it to you now.
“Well, the first decision was above my pay grade so no matter what I might think of it, there’s no use complaining. The second question is more interesting. In a war, we’ll need to protect this spot, and so we’ve brought you here to run some drills.”