Hitting the Chinese buffet at eleven at night went better than any other part of the evening. I think we both felt a little weird going there in the same clothes we wore to the prom, but we didn’t have anything to change into but our costumes.
So yeah, we were overdressed.
On the whole though, it went better than any other part of the night — no burnt food, no bloodthirsty maniacs, just the two of us.
The next few days were surreal. I got called back both by the police and FBI for details. Haley did too. My dad, a psychologist who specialized in children and teenagers, got called all weekend by parents who wanted advice. Even more called his office.
And then there was the media.
If you were hoping to get completely sensationalized coverage of the event, you couldn’t come up with anything better. People freak out about drugs, threats to their children, and celebrities. So what we had was a teenager, driven crazy by drugs, and turned into a slavering, man-eating ape-thing. Then we had the Heroes League (us!), teenage descendants of well known heroes, stopping him, and disappearing before the police arrived.
The only way it could have pushed more buttons would have been by bringing in racism or terrorists.
Compound that with the on-going national “discussion” (if by discussion, you mean shouting matches on talk shows) about power juice, the social implications of it getting out, the effects on international security of “rogue” countries having more metahumans in their armed forces, the continuing search for the person who leaked the material, and we got a media circus.
The only reason it wasn’t even worse was because Grand Lake wasn’t the only place with problems — just the most visible.
I barely watched the news, and even I’d heard about some talk radio host who’d been quoted as saying people should be tested for powers, and quarantined if they had the potential. Almost everyone thought he was a nutjob, but he wasn’t the only nutjob getting quoted in the media.
Meanwhile, our home phone got more than its share of reporters calling. Isaac Lim had advised me not to do any interviews, and to my parents’ relief, I didn’t.
That didn’t stop reporters from calling my dad though. Local stations called partly because he’d written about teenagers and post traumatic stress disorder, and partly because he was my dad. National programs called because their local representatives had seen him on TV in Grand Lake. Most of them used it as a route to asking about me, but enough of them actually talked about PTSD that he did several interviews anyway.
On Tuesday, in the middle of all that, I met Chris Cannon, and rode with him in his Honda Civic to his grandparents’ house — sort of.
Technically we never entered his grandparents’ house. Chris parked one street over in the same subdivision. The houses had as much character as the houses near Haley’s — big, new homes that were almost indistinguishable.
We walked across the lawn between two houses that differed from each other only because one had a pool, crossing into Chris’ grandparents’ backyard.
Chris’ grandmother lived in a hundred year old, white farmhouse, the kind with two stories and a wide, wrap-around porch. A large, red, storage shed, or possibly a small barn, stood on the edge of the property.
“Over here,” Chris said.
He opened the door and we stepped inside.
The storage shed held exactly what I would have expected to find — a riding lawn mower, rakes, shovels, a trimmer, bags of fertilizer and grass seeds.
Chris walked over to the far wall, touched something I didn’t notice, and a section of the wall slid sideways, opening into a dark room.
“Fake wall,” Chris said.
When we stepped inside, the door closed. Chris touched another button, and the floor moved downward.
It didn’t take long before we stopped and the door opened into Man-machine’s lair. I recognized it from the time Isaac had summoned me to watch the FBI as they took possession of the lab.
It reminded me of Heroes League HQ — just smaller and less cluttered. It had the same concrete walls and industrial power outlets. I also recognized the machines, and the same tools.
The pictures of my grandfather and the analysis of the various Rocket suits weren’t on the wall any more though.
“I still can’t believe they gave anything back,” I said.
Chris shrugged. “Neither can I. Grandpa had good lawyers, I guess, but not good enough to get him off.”
“I guess not.”
Chris led me to the back of the room. “Watch this.”
He rested his hand on a spot of concrete about the height of his head. The wall moved, opening into a room that hadn’t been visible when I came here with Isaac.
It held sheets of metal, wires, half-finished versions of the Man-machine armor, costumes, and devices I didn’t remember ever hearing that Man-machine used — probably backups in case the armor got destroyed.
“What we were talking about before,” Chris said, “was to put together something from the escape suits. Still think that looks good?”
“I won’t know till we’ve gone through this stuff.”
We spent the next thirty minutes going over what we had. Because it had all been meant for escape, we had an easy time finding light armor and things that would move quickly away. Finding something with offensive capabilities turned out to be harder.
Both of us were looking down at a black, ball-shaped pod. We’d found it near the back.
“Well,” I said, “I think we can rule this out for sure. Unless you want your only ability to be the power of rolling away quickly. Still, I bet we could work weapons into it. I’m just not sure how.”
“Right,” Chris said, “and I could call myself the Eight Ball or something. Let’s look at the other stuff.”
A little bit later we did find equipment with potential — an exoskeleton that looked like it had been optimized for running, and a bunch of light generating equipment. In addition to huge, hulking powered armor, light had been Man-machine’s thing, just like my grandfather’s had been sound.
“Now this we can work with, I think.” I picked up a laser rod and its backpack. “We’ll want to attach this to the right arm of the exoskeleton so you don’t have to constantly pull it off a belt, and maybe we could attach that stuff under the other hand.” I pointed at the rest of the pile.
“Also, the mechanism surrounding the feet on the exoskeleton. That’s not going to stand up to repeated use, but I bet we could substitute in the boots from the regular Man-machine armor and maybe its power source.”
Chris looked everything over. “Let’s go with it.”