On Saturday morning around 6 a.m., I drove the Ball over to Man-machine’s lair. It was far too early to get up for a Saturday, but it was the best time to go.
Taking the Ball apart turned out to be a bit of a pain. Chris and I kept on discovering new wires and cables to detach from the back of the dashboard, but then we discovered an access panel for the weaponry on the outside of the Ball.
Granted when you’re making weaponry for supervillains, making access panels clear and obvious probably isn’t the highest priority, but I still wished it had been a little higher up on the designer’s list.
Once we got the dashboard back in place, we activated the button that opened the access panel.
The front of the bottom section of the outer shell fell at my feet, giving access to a button on the inside shell that opened straight to the guts of the weaponry.
I understood how the laser worked more quickly than I expected. I’d used similar technology in the guitar.
What surprised me about the paralysis ray was just how familiar I turned out to be with its design. The paralysis ray wasn’t exactly what I would have imagined a “ray” would be. Like most people, I imagined something based on visible light, or at the very least, radiation.
The device caused paralysis using low-frequency ultrasound to stimulate the brain into creating the kind of paralysis that prevents sleeping people from physically reacting to their nightmares.
At least that was what it looked like. Between removing the dashboard, putting it back in, making sure the various cables were still connected, removing the access panel, looking over the paralysis “ray,” and talking about everything as we did it, we easily used up the six hours I had available.
All that, and getting donuts around 8 a.m.
I had to go, and I still didn’t fully understand the details.
“Well,” Chris said as we closed the access panel, “you’re halfway there.”
“Maybe less. I’m still trying to figure exactly how it works.”
Chris shrugged. “You can always come back. I’ll be here a lot. I’ve been thinking of modifying my suit.”
“I thought you weren’t even sure if you’d ever put it on again.”
“I might not, but it’s still fun to mess with it. It’s kind of like modding a car, you know? The difference is I know this doesn’t have to be street legal.”
“True. It’s not going to be any kind of legal. Are you thinking about a codename at all?”
“I shouldn’t be, but I have. Trouble is, all of them suck. The first thing I came up with was Laser Rod… The suit’s got one, but you know that’s just asking for jokes.”
“But on the bright side,” he said, “I checked the registry, and it’s available.”
“I wonder why.”
“Yeah. Well, it’s not like it matters.”
“However much it sucks, at least you know it. Did you hear that Sean’s group called itself ‘Justice Fist’?”
“As in fisting? That’s the worst name I’ve ever heard.”
Haley picked me up at the end of the block. She could have picked me up at Chris’ grandmother’s house, but that would have gotten weird since Chris’ grandmother didn’t even know we were there.
Haley came by in her mom’s Trans Am which was cool. As we drove off, I thought about improvements I could make to it. Not that I would. I had more sense than to turn Haley’s mom’s car into… something.
As I leaned forward to check on some details to aid my daydreaming, Haley said, “Nick, don’t do it.”
“Whatever you’re thinking about doing.”
“How did you–”
“You were mumbling to yourself, and it looked like you were inspecting the glove compartment.”
“I wasn’t going to do anything much. Sorry.”
She looked like she wanted to say something more on the subject, but she didn’t. She turned back to the road and asked, “What happened at the meeting yesterday?”
I told her, finishing with, “The crazy thing about it is that they seem to expect us to make friends with Sean’s group, and then once the law changes, I’m supposed tell them to stop. I really don’t think they will. It doesn’t matter how much influence I have. They’ll still have their parents telling them to do it.”
Haley slowed the car, and stopped at a stop light. “Do you really think they’ll outlaw it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t follow the news all that much, but people are scared about the juice. I think I saw footage of Logan from prom on TV again yesterday, and that was two weeks ago.”
“Where did they get it?”
“I think it must have been from somebody’s cellphone.”
The light changed, and Haley followed the cars forward.
She paused as the cars ahead of us started moving and then said, “Let’s just go to lunch. Do you still want to go to Solid Grounds?”
I did, and we got there within a couple minutes.
Lunch time on Saturday at Solid Grounds was a total crap shoot as to whether or not it would be busy. On that particular day, the place was maybe half full — ten or fifteen people, most of them our age.
Trance music played over the sound system.
I bought lunch — soup and some sandwiches wrapped in plastic.They weren’t bad. I also bought coffee, which was really the whole point of going to Solid Grounds in the first place.
We sat together next to one of the windows and ate. I tried to think about something we could talk about in public, but nothing came to mind.
My first hint that things were about to go wrong came as Shannon walked in with her cousin Julie. She didn’t go into the back to get ready for work either. The two of them bought coffee, and pushed three two person tables next to the far wall together. Then they sat and talked, sometimes laughing.
I wondered who else they were meeting.
As I watched them, Julie noticed me, and smirked.
Minutes later, Sean, Dayton, Jody, and the girl I’d seen with them before walked in.
I considered leaving. We had every right to stay, but it probably wouldn’t be fun.
“Haley,” I began.
“I know. I saw them. I’m not going to leave just because they’re here.”
We didn’t have the opportunity. After Sean and the others got drinks, he said, “Julie, get them out.”
Julie turned her face toward us and in a strange tone said, “Leave.”
We stood up and started walking for the door.
Over at their table, Shannon said, “But they’re not even done.”
“Don’t forget your coffee,” Julie said.
We got our drinks, and found ourselves standing on the sidewalk before we even had time to think.