With this update we resolve a cliffhanger… Also, remember how I said it was longer than I expected? Figure it’s twice the length of some.
In superhero cartoons, the square-jawed leader describes the plan and all the other heroes recognize its wisdom. Then they go out and trash the baddies.
It doesn’t work that way in real life. If it does, it’s only with grown-ups.
Cassie had called a “Special Emergency Team Meeting” last night via email/IM/cellphone until she got everybody. The idea being that there should be a team response to the Mayor’s accusations of me and to the growing negative media coverage.
Travis (who seemed to think that he was the square-jawed leader) suggested a raid on City Hall in which we would force the mayor to explain what was going on, give it to the media, and emerge the heroes. Daniel and I shot that down. First, because a telepathically forced confession probably wouldn’t hold up well in court. Second, because that sort of thing only worked on “24.” Third, if it didn’t work, we’d all end up looking like a bunch of power-mad freaks.
Cassie asked, “Does anyone else have an idea?”
“Kind of,” I said. “It’s a variation on the last suggestion. Sort of.”
I described the idea I’d had in study hall. I wanted to use the roachbots to bug the mayor’s house, car, office and anything else I could manage. People looked interested enough at the beginning, but I got distracted and ended up describing technical problems I’d had while redesigning the robots.
Travis, Haley, Daniel, Jaclyn, and Cassie managed to look politely interested (until Cassie started flipping her phone open and shut). Strangely, Marcus seemed to be taking notes. Well, I thought he was. The notebook turned out to contain a drawing of a knight spearing an enormous cockroach with a lance.
Vaughn watched music videos on one of the command consoles, muting the sound. What he was supposed to be doing was checking the cameras to see if Future Knight had managed to track us here.
I noticed all of it, but sometimes I can’t quite stop myself from talking about certain things. I finished saying, “but I think it’ll work well if they don’t overheat.”
For a moment, no one said anything.
“Bugging the place sounds like a great idea,” Daniel said, breaking the silence. “It’ll save me some work. My dad wanted me to sit on the roof and listen for anything interesting. Thing is, I already have been and haven’t turned up much.”
“Alright,” Travis said. “So after we collect the dirt, then what?”
“We hand it over to my dad,” Daniel said.
“I was just thinking we should handle it ourselves,” Travis said.
Daniel scowled. “This isn’t something we can afford to screw up,” he said.
“Long term, we need to be able to do this ourselves. Your dad can’t be our training wheels.”
“What have you got against my dad?”
“Whoa,” Jaclyn said. “Time out. I did not put off homework to come here and watch you argue.”
Cassie almost simultaneously said, “Maybe Daniel’s dad could come here and–“
The doorbell rang.
My command console’s monitor showed Future Knight standing next to a bearded man in a red, medieval themed costume–Red Bolt. In short, where my grandfather had managed to hide his identity for more than forty years of active service, I’d managed to hide mine for about a month and half.
Vaughn said, “It’s them.”
I could have pointed out that Vaughn would have seen them earlier if he hadn’t been paying more attention to Shakira’s dancing, but I didn’t.
Vaughn sent the picture to the wall screen and we could see them from three different angles. They rang the doorbell again.
With a wave toward the elevator Travis said, “Nick, get up there before they knock down the door. Haley go with him. The rest of us should suit up and take whatever tunnel will get us up there fastest.”
From Haley’s expression, I guessed she might be thinking the same thing I was, that being, “Who gave you the right to tell me what to do?”
I wasn’t going to argue with him though. We didn’t have time.
The elevator from Grandpa’s house to HQ barely fits two people. If you happen to be Travis, it fits one. Haley, despite being his sister, is shorter and smaller than I am and so we both fit.
“He gets so bossy sometimes,” Haley muttered as the door clanked shut.
The elevator rolled upward, stopping with a jerk in Grandpa’s workroom. Then the walls sank into the floor.
The doorbell rang yet again. A voice I didn’t recognize said, “Prithee, Sir Knight, let us smash through the door.”
“Oh jeez, Red,” Future Knight said, “can you save the shtick for the civilians?”
Grandpa’s workroom was in the back of the house so we had to run through the kitchen into the living room in the dark. I turned on the lamp next to the couch and flicked on the porch light.
Then I opened the door, finding myself once again eye to faceplate with Future Knight.
“So we meet again, Nick. Where’s the rest of the choir?”
“In the basement playing ping-pong,” I said. “I’m sure they’ll come up soon.”
I could hope.
“Great,” he said. “Mind if we come in? I’m sure you don’t want a couple of superheroes standing on your porch.”
“No,” I said, “why don’t you just stay on the porch? I’m sure this won’t take long.”
I couldn’t see Future Knight’s face, but just behind him, Red Bolt looked annoyed.
Keeping his voice friendly (as friendly as a computer-processed voice can be), he said, “OK. Sounds good. I’ll make it short for you and your lady friend.
“You’re young, so I don’t expect that you think about this much, but the only reason the government is as hands off as it is about heroes is that we police our own. Now you’ve just attacked a member of the government. You may have Mindstryke and the Rhino telling the papers that you’re nice, but over on our side of the state, we’ve decided you need some supervision.
“I’m empowered to offer you this on behalf of the Michigan Heroes Alliance–you take one of us on your team as an adviser and we’ll do what we can to make this all go away. If not, I’m empowered to take you in and give you to the cops.”
Under other circumstances, I would love to have someone on the team with experience, but this way?
“No,” I said. “We’re not taking on mentors and you’re not taking me anywhere.”
“Use your head, Nick. You’re outmatched. I’m in armor. You’re not. I’ve got Red Bolt behind me. You’ve got a little girl.”
Next to me Haley said, “A little girl?”
Ignoring her, he continued, “You’d be going two on two with us and all you’d get out of it is a criminal record. Think about it.”
From outside, I heard the sound of wind followed by the scraping sound Jaclyn made when she tried to stop.
Red Bolt glanced behind toward where Jaclyn stood on the walk.
“Three on two,” I said.