We told Lee after the performance. He (as Ben) had walked down to the bar to grab a beer.
Haley got up before I even noticed where he’d gone, and made it halfway across the room before I had time to even think. She didn’t talk to him for very long. When she came back, she told me, “He said to wait and he’ll come over.”
He did, eventually. He drank his beer, flirted with one of the women tending bar, walked to the back, and into the men’s bathroom. When he came out of the bathroom, he appeared to be white, in his twenties, and wearing a button down shirt that was open at least a button further than I’d ever worn any shirt.
He sat down next to Haley, and he didn’t need to tell me that his name was Ryan. I already knew it.
“So?” He asked.
“You told me to let you know when the Executioner got out of jail.” I switched the station to SuperTV. They were holding a roundtable discussion between retired heroes and villains with literal blow by blow coverage of Ray’s escape. They would advance the video one frame at a time, halting to discuss technique, tactics and strategy.
We didn’t watch it very long.
“Well,” Lee (or at that moment Ryan) said, “you’ve got your work cut out for you. You’ve got three, maybe four groups that could go gunning for you, possibly together. Anyway, I teach classes tomorrow morning, so here’s my suggestion — I’ll meet the team at HQ around one in the afternoon. Then we’ll talk it through.”
He got up. “Later.”
You know how in movies stressful situations cause the male and female leads to comfort each other, invariably leading to sex? So far as I can tell, it doesn’t work that way in real life.
Not for me anyway, and not like I expected it to.
After Lee left, Haley drove me home, and though we did sit in the car holding each other for a while, we didn’t kiss goodnight.
My stomach felt uncomfortable, and we gave each other a quick hug. Her end of the hug felt a little too hard.
I walked into my house with an entirely different feeling than when I’d left it. When I’d left, Prime’s threats had been overrated. When I got back, I felt full of the realization that if Ray’s team treated me like they had Solar Flare, this might be one of the last nights I’d see my parents alive.
I managed to fall asleep, but didn’t stay that way. I woke up at five in the morning, and after ten minutes, couldn’t bear to sit awake in bed anymore. Finally, I left a note to my parents and walked to Grandpa’s house. I slipped a note for Rachel under her door.
I spent the next few hours working on the communicators. The parts I’d ordered had been dropped off at the downtown storefront the day before. If I couldn’t do a thing about the Executioner, I could at least do something to keep my mind off the subject.
The communicators were little more than modified roachbots. The roachbots already had the ability to take in sound, images, video, encrypt the information, and send it home. I just had to modify them to be more like phones. I went with a design that stuck to the wrist, and only worked with the voiceprint of the owner — except to call 911. Making the touchscreen durable, and waterproof turned out to be a challenge, but Grandpa had created a number of materials that worked for that.
The trouble was that we needed to contact each other when we weren’t in costume. That’s why I’d ordered cases that looked exactly like everyone’s normal cellphones. It’d be less obvious that everyone had two that way.
It would have been nice if we’d been able to keep the old rings, necklaces, and so on, but we needed to pass more information now. Besides, the old stuff would still work. It might be nice to have a backup.
Or, it might be a security hole. I’d have to think about that.
Around eleven, I realized a couple things. First, that I still had a lot of soldering left to do, and second that I still hadn’t eaten breakfast. I took the elevator back up to Grandpa’s workroom in the house, and grabbed his old bike from the garage. After I pumped up the tires, I biked to Donutville, and bought a couple donuts.
On my way back, I thought about the last time I’d gotten up this early and done something technical. I wondered if should call Chris. Chances are he’d already seen the news. If he hadn’t though, he deserved to know. He’d been sighted with me in costume and out. If Ray’s people came for me, he’d be on the list.
Still thinking as I biked, I decided that what Chris really needed to do was finish the next version of Man-machine’s armor. He’d gone with something different mostly out of fear of the FBI, but I could talk to the FBI. He needed to have the most powerful suit he could — especially if Syndicate L brought mechs into this. Man-machine’s suits had practically been mechs anyway.
I called him with my cellphone when I got back to Grandpa’s house.
Chris answered, “Nick, what’s up?”
“Did you watch news yesterday?”
“You remember what I told you about the Executioner? The team’s out of jail, and I’ve got some ideas that we probably shouldn’t talk about on the phone.”
“Shit. Yeah, I’ll come over.”
“To my Grandpa’s place.”
“You got it.”