Not Exactly Hogwarts: Part 2

I wasn’t sure what I could do about that. Alex and his dad probably had good reasons for what they did. It wouldn’t be a good thing if something major came up, and they were too tired to help their team because they’d spent all day in the hospital healing people.

Realistically, they’d probably be better off allowing scientists to study how their healing worked with various illnesses and injuries than actually healing anybody.

I hoped they thought that far ahead.

We had ten minutes to stare at the accident. Unfortunately, if anything, the line of cars seemed to move slower as we neared and finally passed it.

The paramedics seemed to be doing everything they could, and even as we began to leave the accident behind, another ambulance arrived, driving along the side of the road.

I wondered if that was a good sign or a bad one. Did they send ambulances for dead people? If they did, did they bother to turn on the lights and hurry?

The blocked off section of highway ended, and initially traffic sped up, but after a minute or two we were in five mile per hour traffic.

I stared down at the speedometer, not quite believing it.

“Got it,” Haley said. “I checked Google, and there’s a giant red line on the highway, and it goes for miles. I looked it up, and they’re doing construction about five miles from here.”

From the back Vaughn said, “But hey, here’s the good news. There’s no red line on the toll road.”

Cassie laughed.

Jaclyn said, “Thanks Vaughn, I’m sure we all feel much better now.”

I checked the speedometer and watched as an electric train passed us on an elevated railway. I wondered if the line went to Castle Rock. They appeared to be moving pretty quickly.

“This stinks.” Haley frowned. “The schedule says that we’re supposed to eat at 6:30. I don’t think we’re going to make it.”

Cassie sat up in her chair and pointed back. “We just passed an Ikea. Jaclyn could run back, do the super speed thing and get meatballs.”

Jaclyn eyed her and said, “You can go get meatballs.”

Vaughn leaned forward, almost up to the two of them. “I know you’re joking, but I’m getting hungry. If we aren’t going to make it in time for supper, we should figure something out.”

I looked up at my mirror, and looked back at everyone. “I kind of have a plan, but there’s a problem. You know how they try to sneak us around? Fly us in in cargo planes, and everything? Well, this isn’t going to be sneaky. It’s actually going to be kind of loud.”

Jaclyn looked up at the rearview mirror, and met my eyes. “How loud?”

I thought about it. “We’d stand a pretty good chance of ending up on the local news. Possibly national, if SuperTV finds out about it.”

She shook her head. “No.”

Haley began to ask, “What are you planning to—“

Cassie talked over her. “I’d say do it. The media’s been covering the program constantly since New York. I bet they even already know we’re coming. My mom told me there are six hundred people in the program now. I don’t think they can hide it like they used to.”

Not giving anyone else time to speak, Haley said, “Why would we get on the national—“

In all fairness to Vaughn, he probably didn’t hear her, but he spoke over her too. “Don’t worry about it,” he began as Haley glared at him.

Oblivious, he continued, “I’m watching the news on my phone. There’s crowds of people waiting in front of the Castle Rock Compound right now. You’re not going to make any more news than when the buses arrive.”

Glancing over at Haley, I said, “I made a few modifications to the van. You know how when we went up against Rook, he did some damage, and I decided to fix it? Well, even though it looks pretty much the same, the seats are almost the only holdovers. I made it self-repairing like the Rocket suit, and then I realized that I could do a lot more than that.”

The van got quiet while I talked.

Jaclyn asked, “What?”

“Well, you know how the suit changes form now? I made the van into a transformer, but not with a capital ’t.’ I don’t know who owns the Transformers, but I’m sure they have lawyers.”

Haley raised an eyebrow. “What does it transform into?”

I shrugged. “Kind of a giant cat? I thought about doing a giant Rocket suit, but it sounded easier to make a four legged animal run.”

Haley closed her eyes for a second, and said, “Well, I’m just glad you didn’t go with that mouse mecha you told me about.”

“Not a chance,” I said. “It looks a lot like Mickey, and Disney’s got lawyers too.”

I turned back toward Cassie, Jaclyn, and Vaughn. “Do you think I should try it?”

Vaughn nodded. “I don’t see why not.”

Jaclyn frowned. “I can think of a few reasons, but I’m sick of being stuck here. Do it, but change back as soon as you can. I don’t want to get in trouble for something minor like this.”

“Yeah,” Vaughn said, “if I’m going to get in trouble, I prefer something major. It makes for a great conversation starter. In high school, all I had to do was tell people that I was the guy who got drunk and trashed Sean Drucker’s car, and they knew who I was instantly.”

Cassie turned around herself, looking more serious than normal. “You don’t want to go that way again.”

He shook his head. “C’mon Cassie, you know better than that. It mostly sucked, but I don’t think I’m wrong. My minister talked about some theologian who said if you’re going to sin, sin boldly. I figure the guy’s got a point. You’ve got to own it, you know?”

I have no idea where the conversation would have gone from there. The car behind me started beeping. The car in front of me had moved forward ten feet, but I hadn’t, depriving the man in the Honda Civic behind me of ten feet of marginal improvement in his life.

He beeped again.

“Ok everybody, two things. First, we’re all about to get pushed a little closer together, so don’t worry about that. Second, keep your arms close to your body. Putting them on the armrests should be great.”

I tapped on the screen on the dashboard to start the transformation sequence.

“Nick,” Haley said, putting her hands on the armrests, “What happens if our arms aren’t on the armrests?”

“Probably nothing,” I said.

“Good,” Haley began.

“But,” I continued, “they might get ripped off. Well, except for Jaclyn. She’ll probably break something.”

I clarified that with, “Something in the van. She’ll be fine.”

At the sound of Jaclyn’s groan, Cassie’s snort, and Haley beginning to say, “Nick—“ I responded with, “Don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine.”

I pressed the final confirmation button as the car behind me really started laying on the the horn.

“What about the luggage?” Vaughn asked.

“Oh crap,” I muttered. “We probably should have—“

I would have said “put that in the cabinets,” but at that moment the walls hummed, coming closer together. At the same time, the dashboard shrunk, changing its layout and Haley’s seat moved toward mine, our armrests almost touching.

From the humming and scraping noise behind us, I guessed that the algorithm that handled forming the cabin was working. The scraping was probably the luggage. A quick check of the rearview mirror/screen showed that the cabin was roughly oval shaped, as expected, and that Vaughn was at the back. The cabinets and our luggage had disappeared.

I was pretty sure we’d find the luggage in the cabinets when we changed back.

I hoped I hadn’t left it on the highway, and resolved to check the rearview screen as we left.

On the bright side, the guy behind us did stop beeping when the van developed four legs, claws, and a tail.

31 thoughts on “Not Exactly Hogwarts: Part 2”

    1. The Kickstarter is still going to happen, but I’m stuck on the video. I’ve done three versions so far, and don’t like any of them. As of yesterday, I talked to a friend who edits video for a living, and he’s going to make some suggestions after looking at the current version.

  1. Yo Nick, the lawyers representing Tomy Company, Ltd, owners of the Zoids franchise called, you may wanna activate your own lawyers to stall.

  2. There is definitely a certain irony in Nick of all people wondering if the healer supers are best using their powers for the benefit of the world. As an inventor super, he grapples (or would if he thinks about it) with much the same problem. Would the world be better off if he spent more of his time building machines to solve regular problems rather than better versions of the Rocket suit?

    I like to think that this is his subconscious’s way of letting him consider the question without having to think about it as relates to himself.

    1. I don’t know, as he’s saved the world I think that couts as doing more goo than normal stuff. World saving> QoL improvement for a bit before world goes kaboom

  3. This raises interesting questions. How is copyright handled in a world filled with superheroes and the supernatural? This really limits the heroes when they try to choose a name since all the good ones are taken already – by fictional characters. So are most costume designs, weapons, techniques, spells etc…
    … shouldn’t the person who actually built a real mech count more than a company who used that image to sell toys? This could become difficult since most hero teams like the League sell merchandise.
    Somehow it feels wrong if heroes have to make changes to their costume/name/armor/mech/weapons/gadgets just to differ from toys. It’s even worse when those changes make them less effective.

    Actually, how do big companies handle it in our world? I’m sure most car designs have been used one way or another already. Do you have to be a designer working in the industry to be able to claim that some new car uses your design? Or is it enough to have a bunch of drawings in your DA gallery? ^^

  4. A couple of possible typos, but otherwise a great story as usual!

    We had ten minutes to stare the accident. Do you want to add a “at” ie. We had ten minutes to stare at the accident.

    You know how when went up against Rook Maybe add a “we”, ie You know how when we went up against Rook,

  5. Richard: Thanks for the typos. Fixed.

    Daemion: That hits at least three different areas of law–trademark, copyright, and likely patent law too. Too many to write about on my lunch hour. I’ll write a little tonight.

  6. Jim, have you considered starting up story buffer to work with? Most comics I know have a few weeks’ worth of comics in the buffer so that if the author takes a vacation or something the buffer can just keep going. Which would also mean that you wouldn’t have to stay up to like 2 AM just to get your stories up in time.

    Which are great, btw.

    1. Randakar: I have had buffers on a couple occasions. Unfortunately I don’t do a very good job of keeping and maintaining buffers. I do agree that it would be better though.

  7. I do love the way Nick thinks, both about engineering challenges, like say, turning a van into a giant robocat and his solution to the tedium of being stuck in a traffic jam.

    Also, giant robocat on a busy highway? Yeah, they’re definitely going to attract just the tiniest bit of attention.

  8. Jim: That would be awesome.

    Archidel: Personally, I would have gone with a flying van. Anti-grav and some rockets in back. Or something like the cars in Back to the Future.
    Although if the robocat can move (and fight) on its own, then it would be clearly superior to a flying car.

  9. Daemion: From a pragmatic point of view I would agree with you that a flying car would have been better. Rule of Cool though says a flying van could hardly beat a giant robocat.

  10. There’s a very simple reason why Nick didn’t make it a rocket-van. Cops see a van flying, they’re going to come after the people in it for drugs. That’s some Pink Floyd shit.

  11. I don’t see why people think that the van can’t fly in cat form. It’s even possible that Nick has installed a drive system that seems to generate rainbows.

    The Nyanvan lives!

  12. Daemion: The way I assume things work with regards to the law and superheroes is as follows…

    Copyright: Allows you to copyright a specific piece of work (writing, art, music…). It does not allow you to copyright a name. Thus you could theoretically call yourself Batman. You could probably even recreate Batman’s equipment. After all, the comics just picture it. They don’t patent it. You might even be legally ok with this up until the point where you start making money by selling stuff. Then you’re screwed unless you use a completely different symbol, and costume. You probably can’t use the Batman name either because I bet DC’s trademarked it.

    Trademark: Allows you to trademark a name or symbol for a specific purpose. For example, if DC did trademark Batman, it might only be as it appears in a particular font (or bat symbol) and only as it applies to comics, roleplaying games, novels, and movies. It would be funny if they hadn’t trademarked it as a symbol for someone who fights crime, but in our universe, they wouldn’t have to. They may well have anyway.

    Patents: Patents would apply to inventions, but they only matter if you’re selling the invention or trying to patent it. That also assumes that you have some idea of how the invention works. Superheroes often wouldn’t bother. I imagine that a superhero would be fine unless they tried to make money off a device or patent it. Then they’d be in a position where other companies might point out the various patents in their own portfolio that apply to the device.

    On the other hand, superheroes just by existing would make excellent examples of “prior art” in a field, making it impossible for companies to patent things that superheroes had already obviously come up with on their own.

    Any readers who are actually lawyers can feel free to chime in on this one…

    The funny thing about this is how much having a secret identity (if it’s really secret) totally screws the system. Basically, let’s assume someone is actually as powerful as Superman, takes the name, copies the costume, and goes out to fight crime. If they have a working secret identity, who is DC going to sue?

    My assumption is that supers in the Legionverse avoid well known comic book superheroes’ names and symbols for two reasons:
    1. They’d eventually like to make money off selling their likeness, or don’t want trouble with the law.
    2. Who wants to even try to live up to a name like Superman or to Batman’s reputation? You couldn’t. No one could. Plus, you’d have to deal with relentless mocking by the media and the public.

  13. Jim: Thank you very much. That means Nick could have built a Transformer or Gundam but selling merchandise of it would become a legal nightmare. I like that he’s thinking ahead and comes up with stuff that is unique instead.

    Archidel: Yes, Rule of Cool applies. It’s the same with BattleMechs, really. I remember having a similiar discussion years ago because it turned out that tanks have the same or even more armor than ‘Mechs, use the same weapons and are just as mobile – but cost only a fraction of a BattleMech.
    The only advantages we could come up with were that ‘Mechs only require a single pilot, are able to manipulate the environment (if they have hands) and can do hand-to-hand combat. Or at least kick enemies.

  14. I found it interesting that Nick thinks the Van may have understood what to do with the suitcases even if he didn’t tell it to do something… AI? I’m curious what the “Cat” would do with extra items – bury them in the median?

    Finally, how will the Cat help with highways with no median and solid Traffic. Will it leave footprints on all the black cars?

    1. Notto: It’s less that Nick expects the van to understand what to do than that he wrote the algorithm that tells it how to form the cabin, and what to do with the stuff that doesn’t fit after it hits the appropriate dimensions. It’s supposed to put it in the cabinets, but initially he just had it drop the extra stuff out of the back.

      That way he could stand outside as it happened and watch exactly what it expelled. He probably found every case in which he’d set it to expell something instead of dumping it in the cabinet, but the van is still a work in progress, so maybe not…

      Oh… And Everyone: The PCS Choose Your Own Adventure story continues…

  15. One difference is that mechs pack more weapons and are more mobile. And I don’t recall armor generally being a threat to mechs. Most of the time, it takes a lot of skill or only the heaviest of tanks to pull that off, and they’re just slightly harder glass cannons at that.

    Now, what’s really depicted as a boogeyman for mech pilots are infantry with inferno rockets. Heat is a problem for mechs, so rockets that basically napalm the machine are not fun for pilots. It’s even worse if the rockets hit the cockpit, too. Then the pilot has a choice between roasting in the cockpit or trying to eject while covered in napalm.

    Of course, while infantry can take out tanks, most mechs treat infantry as little more than a slight annoyance.

    Then they run into Clan Elementals, which are infantry in power armor…

  16. Hi Jim,

    I was wondering something.
    I play D.C. Universe Online, it’s a D.C. comics based MMORPG.
    I was wondering if it would be okay for me to build a character based off of one of your characters.

  17. It could make for an interesting way to slander someone though, extending on the “trademark” comment – you dress up like them or start leaving their calling cards around. This might be why it’s good to have a team or at least a sidekick, so that someone’s got your back. Their universe also seems pretty twitchy about names, from the data registry, right to “King of Storms” going after “Storm King” back then. (I’m a little more interested in the ‘meta’ aspect, in that yeah, including Micky Mouse in an online story is probably a bad idea.)

    Sidebar, whenever Nick says “Probably nothing”, be a little extra cautious. Cool scene overall.

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