In the Public Eye: Part 33

“Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it?” Vaughn said. “You’d never believe it, but my grandfather’s personal stuff never burned.”

“It must be the only thing that didn’t,” I said.

A layer of dark soot seemed to be everywhere, mixed with bits that crunched when I stepped on them.

“Nah,” Vaughn said, “The side tunnels didn’t burn. That’s where I found the stuff that I handed over. Let’s go.”

We turned left, walking toward the wall opposite the wall with the cells, and avoiding the worst of the destruction in the middle of the room. I watched the dome as we moved, thinking it might be interesting to go inside the dome or possibly try to find Grandpa’s old cell.

“Did you want to go into the dome?” Haley asked. “I’d like to.”

“A little,” I said, “but this is really more important.”

“You want to hit it on the way out?” Vaughn asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“Say,” Vaughn said, “did you ever hear why the dome blew up?”

I’d asked my grandfather once — sort of. He’d been pointing out how he’d made some component solve two different problems. Then he stopped talking. I asked him why. He’d said, “Just thinking that solving two problems works better in engineering than life.” He paused. “Back when Red Lightning captured all of us, he wanted me to construct a machine to increase his powers. I had to occupy Red Lightning’s people and I had to free the team. I set the device to amplify his powers past any hope of control.”

That was the most he ever told me about it.

“My grandfather sabotaged it,” I said, wondering how many details I should share.

“My grandfather,” Haley said, “said he couldn’t tell whether Red Lightning or the machine inside had exploded. Just suddenly he saw Red Lightning erupt out of the dome, surrounded by fire and lightning, and everything began to burn.”

Vaughn muttered, “Lousy way to die.”

Haley glanced toward me, then toward Vaughn and said, “After everything he put everyone else through, he deserved it.”

“I know,” Vaughn said, “I’m not going to argue. I didn’t even know him. I was just thinking that I’m glad I’m not going to be talking about this with my mom. She’s freaked out enough already.”

We passed out of the main area, walking between two huge vats. I guessed they had to be twenty feet tall. Smaller vats and tables covered with test tubes were near them, the test tubes mostly shattered.

Unlocking a steel door, Vaughn led us into a hallway. From the main area outside, I would never have expected the hall to look the way it did. It could have been transported from someplace in Europe — like maybe the Palace of Versailles. Paintings covered the arched ceiling and more paintings hung on the walls. Gold paint covered the woodwork. I assumed it was paint. It may have been gold.

A closer look at the pictures made me realize that even if the Classical style fit, the subject matter did not. The pictures showed men in suits or workman’s clothing, women in dresses, and children playing. All of them were white (except for the servants). They went about their daily business, working, cooking, cleaning, all of them smiling. It might have passed for a series of paintings about daily life in the 50’s and 60’s except that every picture included one man or woman wearing a red, Roman toga.

At the end of the hall, the final painting showed a man sitting in a chair. Golden light surrounded his head and people bowed before him. He bore a resemblance to pictures I’d seen of Vaughn’s grandfather.

“These pictures are really weird,” Haley said.

“No kidding.” I stared up at the ceiling.

“Oh yeah,” Vaughn said. “I shot up in here once. You would not believe the stuff that went on in my head.”

We followed him into a room. Except for the bookshelves and desk, it looked like the hall. Red Lightning appeared to share reading tastes with Martin Magnus. The bookshelves held books in languages I didn’t recognize, books on translating ancient languages, and a long line of handwritten journals (organized by date).

“This is where I got the stuff I gave Magnus’ people,” he said. “I didn’t give them much. You’re welcome to the rest.”

“I’ll need to come back with a bag or something.”

Haley picked the first journal off the shelf and started flipping through it. “If we were in Harry Potter,” she said, “I’d end up possessed by this book.”

“Which would make me what,” Vaughn asked, “Malfoy?”

“Have you read them?” I asked Vaughn. “Do you have any idea why he did any of it?”

“Not really. I’ve read bits of them. They’re all pretty normal up till about two years before he gets zapped with the Power Impregnator. After that they just get batshit insane.”

“So there’s no reason?” I said. “He just goes crazy? That’s dumb.”

“Ever read ‘Breakfast of Champions’ by Kurt Vonnegut?” Vaughn asked. “There’s a character in there that goes crazy and starts killing people and Vonnegut blames it on bad chemicals in his brain. In the book, it’s funny.”

“That doesn’t sound very funny,” Haley said.

“But see,” Vaughn said, “it’s Vonnegut. He’s funny as hell.”

12 thoughts on “In the Public Eye: Part 33”

  1. I will be looking out for this Breakfast of Champions. Seems like a good read.
    I wonder if anything constructive will come out of these journals?

  2. Beware of taking recommendations for fiction from characters rather than the writer (if only because I’m not at all above having a character like something that I think sucks)…

    In any case, it’s a book that I’ve read that I could imagine Vaughn enjoying.

    I enjoyed it myself because Kurt Vonnegut is funny, but given a choice, I’d recommend “Slaughterhouse Five” as a first Vonnegut book if you haven’t read his stuff before.

    Also, (assuming you haven’t read him before) it’s worth mentioning that Vonnegut’s work is as full of political/social commentary as it is humor so be warned.

    As for the journals: We’ll see.

  3. “But see,” Vaughn said, “it’s Vonnegut. He’s funny as hell.”

    You got that right, Vaughn.

    Actually, my first experience with Vonnegut was “The Sirens of Titan”, and it worked well for me. Another good starting point is “Welcome to the Monkeyhouse”, since it’s all short stories.


  4. Oh Vonnegut squee!

    That’s actually on my list to read, but I’ve only read Slaughterhouse Five (poo-tee-weet?) and Cat’s Cradle.

  5. Cat’s Cradle is a book that I enjoyed immensely without ever rereading. I probably ought to reread it.

    One of these days I fully intend to read the novels I’ve somehow missed (“Player Piano,” for example. Also “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater”).

  6. I feel totally left out, I’m not a Vonnegut fan.

    I never thought so much good drama good be generated just by having the heroes journey through the site of the final battle.

    So much is written into that
    1) Just what the HELL made a superhero wig out and then imprison his own buddies like slaves??
    2) The paintings on the wall gave me shudders
    3) Is Vaughn’s blase about his granddad’s cuckooness just masking his horror/disgust/worry over what he did or is it that he can’t wait to go even more cuckoo than his granddad and really make everybody’s life miserable.
    4) Haley is subtly but surely developing protective feelings for Nick.
    5) The scene in which Nick and Vaughn discuss their grandfathers’ final face-off…..chills, baby, chills.

  7. Oh, and the scene where Red Lightning dies (gives new meaning to his name).

    I swear as I read it, I could hear the Star Wars music playing while the heroes shield their eyes from the glare, and Red Lightning can only scream that “this isn’t over Rocket! You hear me you traitorous son-of-a-bitch!” And then he just flames out, and the heroes all jump on Nick’s granddad and hug him like he’s the greatest hero ever, but all he can do is pick up Red Lightning’s burnt medal/ring/whatever and sadly mourn, “Why Giles, why, did it have to end this way?”

  8. Oh man. I’m sure you’ve got it all worked out how this stuff all happened, Jim, and I just can’t wait for it, but Bill’s idea of it all is just a great little scene, I spat tea across the room reading it. Do you write anything yourself, Bill?

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