I ran the ball up and down the room a couple times before I felt comfortable with the controls. We’d had to charge the batteries. Even though they charged relatively quickly, they only made it halfway before we gave up on waiting.
Chris clicked a button, opening a tunnel that led to the surface. Just like the Heroes League’s tunnels, it had concrete walls. Chris ran out first, the machines that powered his legs giving him a massive stride. The clipped sound of his footfalls echoed in the tunnel.
I followed, listening to the hum of the ball’s engine, rolling straight up the tunnel after him.
The ball’s controls weren’t much different from a car’s. It had a steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brakes. The dashboard looked a little different from most cars. The readouts were LED’s, glowing red, probably with the intention of saving the driver’s night vision.
I’d been wrong to believe it didn’t have weapons. It had a laser and the paralysis weapons that the Executioner and Syndicate L’s people had when I fought them in Los Angeles.
The crosshairs of the targeting system glowed slightly on the windshield. I couldn’t find the button to turn it off, though I could find the joystick that moved it.
We came out of the tunnel in the middle of a forest. I didn’t get a good look at the building we came out of, but I got the impression of a barn.
I heard rather than saw the door shut behind us.
Following Chris, I went down a dirt road for little while. Then we turned on to a country road.
While we could have gone toward Chris’ grandmother’s house in the suburbs, we didn’t. We traveled in the other direction — away from Grand Lake. Two story houses on big lots shared the landscape with forest, corn fields, and rows of blueberry bushes.
Chris made good time. The ball’s speedometer showed 90 mph. I noted that the speedometer had space for four digits, and wondered if the first one was just for decoration.
It didn’t take Chris long to find the entrance to the freeway. I followed him up the entrance ramp and onto the road.
When we’d talked about it beforehand, I’d been against using the freeway, remembering what happened when Cassie and I took Night Wolf’s car out for the first time, but he pointed out that the country roads nearby weren’t built for speed.
The ball didn’t have any problem keeping up with him.
This far out of Grand Lake, the traffic had thinned out, and Chris had no trouble finding space on the road. He ran off to the side once when cars blocked both lanes.
I followed, nearly losing control as the ball rolled off the edge into the grass.
Managing somehow to avoid bouncing off into a field, I rolled back into a lane.
Soon after that we both hit 150 mph and kept on accelerating.
About the time we hit 190 mph, we passed a highway patrol car like it was standing still.
The lights and siren went on, but the car couldn’t move quickly enough to catch us.
I pressed down on the gas pedal (electric pedal?) and widened the distance. Then I came up even with Chris. I managed to get the PA system going and said, “Maybe we ought to turn around.”
Through the sound of the wind, Chris said, “There?” He pointed ahead.
We were coming up on one of those dirt connections between the lanes on freeways, the ones with “Authorized Vehicles Only” signs.
We decided we were authorized, and turned.
As we accelerated onto the northbound lane, I wondered if we should have stopped. Most police were understanding when supers did things like this. If we explained ourselves…
Chris got ahead of me, moving in front of a semi and a couple cars. I decided I’d better catch up when my key chain beeped. I dug in my pocket and pulled my keys out. When we’d chosen League alert/homing devices, I’d chosen a 1950’s stylized rocket ship that attached to a key chain. The cockpit blinked yellow.
It didn’t take much to guess what had happened. We’d passed the cop so quickly that couldn’t ever catch up. He’d called it in. The police called League HQ and someone was actually there.
I wondered who, and if I should call to tell them not to worry.
Calling someone while driving wasn’t ever a great idea, and calling while driving at three times the speed limit seemed even worse.
I stuffed my keys back into my pocket, noticing suddenly that I’d missed the exit near Chris’ grandmother’s house. In fact, I’d missed three after that. If I stayed on the highway much longer without turning around, I’d end up downtown.
Annoyingly, the freeway had gotten more crowded the nearer to downtown I’d gotten. It was 6:16. People were still leaving work, or going out to eat.
I decided to look for a way to get off the freeway.
The cars didn’t make it easier, but the ball was ridiculously agile. With the ball’s speed and acceleration, I could make it into any gap I saw.
I rolled off to the right side of the road, passed three cars, and rolled back into the right lane. Then I rolled left, passing into the left lane, and out to the other side of the road. I passed several cars on that side of the road before getting back into the left lane.
A space opened up on my right. I moved the ball into it, getting off at an exit near downtown. Then I followed the road left, crossing under the freeway and getting on via the entrance ramp for the southbound lane.
Surprisingly, the southbound lane didn’t have quite as many cars as the northbound, and I merged with traffic.
Not long after that, Jaclyn, her legs a blur of purple, knocked on the window.
The ball wobbled.
“You in there, stop before I stop you.”
Forgetting that she couldn’t see inside, I waved at her. Then I turned on the PA.
“Accelerando. It’s the Rocket.”
She stared at the ball.
I pulled my keys out of my pocket, placed them on my lap, and sent everybody a green.
The League communication unit on Jaclyn’s utility belt changed from blinking yellow to green.
“Rocket, you need to get this thing off the streets. You have no idea how much trouble you’re in.”
“Can you follow me back to HQ, or do I need to carry it?”
“It’s not mine. I can’t steal it.”
“We don’t have time to talk. Follow me back.”
I followed her. It was easier than normal. She stayed under 200 mph most of the time, and the ball didn’t have any trouble keeping up.
We entered HQ through the hidden entrance in Veterans Memorial Park — not the one in the forest, the hidden vehicle entrance that Larry uses when he brings the Rhinomobile. We followed the rangers access trail through the park until we got up to a hill. The side of the hill next to the trail was nothing but big slab of rock.
Jaclyn said the password, and the slab opened into the elevator that led into HQ’s hangar where we kept all our vehicles — Cassie’s motorcycle, the jet, a rack of small rocketpacks, and some of the larger versions of the Rocket suit…
When the elevator door opened, I drove in, dodging the racks of gear, tools for maintenance, and spare parts, parking it next to Night Wolf’s car, and clicking on the button that caused the parking gear to slide out. Then I opened the top.
“So,” I said, “what’s up with this thing?”
Jaclyn threw her hands up in the air. “I don’t know. All I got from the cops was a team of villains called the Maniacs used it in a summer crime spree about fifteen years ago. The rest of them got caught. They never found this. Where did you get it?”
“Uh… Man-machine’s stuff. I was going through it with Chris Cannon.”
“He was the other guy? Van Kley wasn’t sure if you were with him or trying to kill him.”
She stared at me. “Wait a second, where did he get that stuff? The FBI didn’t give it back to him, did they?”
“No. His grandpa had a secret compartment.”
“Great. So now he’s armed too. Is he with Sean’s people? Wait… Does he know who you are?”
“No and no. I think he’ll be okay. He just wants to play with the technology.”
“Oh, and there’s no way that could go horribly wrong. Don’t take this badly, Nick, but for all the talk about power juice, I think you inventor types are the scary people around here.”