We worked better together than separately.
We’d noticed this before. During my sophomore and junior year, we’d collaborated on projects for Science Olympiad. Design came most naturally to me. The details of working came most naturally to him. We could both do both, but if we got stuck on how to fit a bunch of wires through a small space he came up with the solution more quickly than I did. By contrast, I typically came up with simpler, more elegant designs.
I say typically, because in this case I was more familiar with the tools, whereas Chris had clearly been looking over his grandfather’s designs, and knew how they worked.
It still felt like Science Olympiad though. When I was a sophomore and he was a freshman, he’d been assigned to my project. Even three years later, he still let me be the final word on the major design decisions, just like I let him be the final word on the process of putting things together.
All that being said, we both gave each other a lot of suggestions — which was good, because I’d always thought he was just as good at this as I was.
On the whole, I enjoyed it. I’d decided not to do Science Olympiad this last year because I just didn’t have time. In that moment, I regretted it. I’d missed the collaboration.
One thing that made it particularly interesting was comparing Chris’ and my grandfather’s design philosophies. My grandfather had constructed the Rocket suit knowing that he would have to operate far behind enemy lines, and might not be able to refuel. He’d designed the Rocket suit to amplify his own force, and recharge the batteries using his movement.
Man-machine’s powered armor had been designed postwar with the assumption that a way to refuel and repair would be nearby. Man-Machine’s suits had been larger, stronger, and faster on the ground, their force generated by machines instead of the wearer’s own motion.
At least that’s the general difference in theory. In practice it became muddier. They’d both analyzed shattered versions of each other’s armor after fights, and that left a mark on their own designs.
Everything felt familiar, but a little bit off.
All the same, it didn’t take us long to put things together — two hours at most.
Chris put the exoskeleton on over a green costume. Whoever had made it, the costume seemed to be similar to the stealth suit — good for bullets, but not too much more than that. The exoskeleton completely covered his lower arms, legs and back in a metallic gray, but left his chest unprotected except for a strip across his upper chest and shoulders. The mask that went with it provided night vision, targeting, and protection.
“Is it comfortable?” I asked.
“It kicks ass.”
He dashed to the far side of his grandfather’s lab. Empty except for the machines we’d been using, he had the space. The suit seemed to have been designed for a maximum speed of two hundred miles per hour. Jaclyn, and probably Jody too, could run several times that fast, but it was quick enough for a human with a normal reaction speed.
He ran back to me and stopped.
“The boots rock. They don’t feel like add-ons. I think we’re ready for the next step. We ought to test them outside.”
“Yeah. They work great in here.”
“Sure. Let’s do it. Um… Before we do though, I’m curious as to why you want to put a suit together anyway?”
He stood for a moment, thinking.
“This sounds crazy, but I didn’t think about it. I just wanted to do something with the gear. I mean, what would you do if your grandpa left you something like this?”
“I’m sure I’d figure out a way to play with it, but from the news, you’d think that everyone instantly picks a side and starts fighting.”
Chris pulled up his mask. “Yeah. Fuck that. I don’t have a burning need to bring anybody to justice, and I’m not going to take on the Rocket in his memory.”
“I didn’t expect you would, but why not?”
“Besides the other eight people on his team? Grandpa isn’t someone I’d go out of my way to avenge. He was a jerk. At family gatherings he’d usually start shouting, and disappear. Except for my dad, no one stayed in Grand Lake. The family didn’t go into business with him. Mostly people went there to see Grandma.”
“Seriously? How’d you learn about all this then?”
Chris smiled. “Well, that’s the crazy part. After he got caught, tried, and sentenced, he became less of an asshole. Don’t know what his deal was, but now he’s talking about being Man-machine, and he’s in a better mood.”
“So he just volunteered that the FBI had missed some stuff?”
“He hinted at it when I brought Grandma to visit him in prison one weekend.”
“What does she think?”
Chris put the mask back on. “She doesn’t know. That’s why we didn’t park in front of her house. You want to watch me test this thing?”
“I’m not going to see much. If it’s as fast as it looks, you’re just going to disappear.”
“You’re right. Hey, we should work something up for you too. Then you could follow along.”
I thought about it. It would be cool, but, I said, “I don’t want to put you to any trouble. Do you think the ball still works? I could try to follow you in that.”