We agreed to meet again on Monday, and then everybody left.
Well, almost everybody. Haley stayed.
I walked into the lab and started pulling out the parts for the anti-paralysis/mind control devices. Thinking back on it, I don’t remember being in a particularly bad mood, but I wasn’t in a good one. The rest of the afternoon and the evening stretched before me. I had to finish them that night because if something came up tomorrow, one of us might die.
And I still had homework to do.
Haley watched as I pulled boxes out, putting them on the counter, and the table.
“Would you like me to stay? I’m sure I could help somehow.”
“I doubt it. You’re not technical. I don’t know if I could explain what I need to explain more quickly than just doing it myself. You can stay, or go. It probably won’t make much of a difference.”
“Oh,” she said, and while I couldn’t describe exactly what about her expression changed, I realized that I’d hurt her feelings. “I’ll go.”
As she began to turn around, I said, “No. Wait. If you want to stay, I’d like you to.”
She stopped, and turned back. “If you want me to stay.”
She stayed, and she did help. I don’t think I got any more done with her than I would have without her. Talking while we worked probably removed any benefit of extra hands.
Not that it was bad. It just wasn’t faster.
We were talking about Vaughn’s open house when she said, “It was strange seeing Sean there. If things hadn’t gone the way they did last summer, I might have been there with him.”
She put down the small cylinder she’d been working on. “You’re so different. You get angry or happy, but you don’t show it. He was sweet, or mean, but I could always see it.”
“Mean? While you were dating? Not after?”
“Not always, but sometimes. And don’t tell me I shouldn’t have put up with it. I know. Travis told me the whole time we were dating.”
She stopped, looked down, and picked up the cylinder again.
“I think I must have thought I could fix him. His father was horrible to him, and to Sydney both. I thought I might make things a little better. I don’t know… It was stupid.”
“Marcus showed me a little bit of what it’s like there when he was going through the recordings. I suppose there’s a reason he acts like he does.”
“I’m sure he’s got a lot of reasons, but I’m not going to worry about them any more.”
She put the cylinder into the box with the rest of the finished devices.
* * *
I came back to HQ on Monday after school.
I felt tired. On Sunday night, I’d worked on homework after getting home, finally getting to bed at one in the morning.
Getting back to work on Heroes League stuff did not feel like a welcome break from normal life. More than anything else I wanted to go running, or something else that got me outside.
Instead, I sat down at one of the computers at the table in the middle of the main room, and started linking together the programs that would take the roachbots’ recordings, transcribe them, and search them for keywords.
It took two hours before everything worked, but it did in the end.
I set it to go through all the recordings from the weekend. Marcus and Rachel had marked where they’d stopped. I also set it so that the programs would go through all the recordings we’d made on the off chance that they’d catch something Marcus and Rachel hadn’t.
Then I went home for supper.
When I came back after supper, I found Marcus in the control room. He’d scanned in one of his drawings, put it up on the wall screen, and was editing it pixel by pixel.
He’d drawn a sunset over the playground at Veterans Memorial Park — in black and white — but it felt like a sunset anyway. Thanks to the wall screen, it dominated the room.
Given that the team meeting wasn’t supposed to happen until eight, I’d expected to find the place empty.
He turned away from the drawing as I walked up to the table.
“Nick, you got the transcription working. That is the best thing that’s happened to me in weeks. Do you have any idea just how little happens to these people? It’s like you’re listening for hours before you get anything interesting. I came here thinking I’d end up fast forwarding through hours of sleeping, but instead, I got to draw.”
“Did you notice if it’s finished? I set it to scan through the weekend.”
“I don’t know. I just noticed it was going, and walked away.”
I pulled back my chair, and sat down. It wasn’t done with all of them, but it had found a bunch of my keywords in some conversations at Russell Hardwick’s house.
I looked them over. I needed to pick better keywords. Four out of five conversations didn’t amount to much of anything, but the fifth?
“Marcus. I’ve got something. Do you mind if I put it on the big screen?”
“Go for it.”
The roachbots’ cameras still needed work, but they were better than the previous version by a little.
Despite the roachbots limitations, I got the impression of an expensive room. All the furniture seemed to be wood, including the bookshelves covering the wall. From the dim light to the left, I guessed that one wall might have windows.
Two men stepped through a door into the room. They were talking, but they talked too faintly for me to understand what they said.
Ray sat down in a chair in front of a desk. Russell Hardwick sat behind it. Both of them were now in range.
“So,” Ray said, “how are you going to sell this to the kids? You’re not going to tell them that they’re going to be trained by an escaped convict, are you?”
Hardwick laughed. “No. Not even all of the adults are completely sold on that, and they know what we’re facing. I’ll get masks for you and the others. What I wish is that Julie’s mother, Shirley, had survived. Julie can command people with her voice, but Shirley had enough control that she could have suggested that you were someone else, and no one would have remembered anything different.”
“Masks?” Ray gave a short laugh. “Now that’s ironic.”