Sean wasn’t all wrong. When it came down to it, he really could be useful fighting anybody using advanced technology. One big electromagnetic pulse could take out computers—assuming they weren’t protected. The robots we fought were pretty resistant to EMP’s, as I remembered it. They weren’t entirely resistant though, and it might be that he could put more energy into a pulse than a roachbot had available.
For that matter, if the ships were made even partially of metal, he could throw them around, or possibly make them structurally unsound.
The only reason I wouldn’t put him on the front lines is because they could take him out practically instantly.
His costume could stop bullets, but not much more than that. Lasers, plasma, or any kind of energy weapon would turn him into a highly charred human burrito, or given that humans were supposedly most similar to pigs’ meat, possibly sausage.
I kept my eyes on the book, aware that I’d stopped reading five minutes ago, wondering if maybe I should get up.
I couldn’t say that I was afraid of drawing their attention. Sean had almost been kicked out his first weekend in the Stapledon program when he lost his temper and attacked me. If he did anything to me, he’d be out of the program. Period.
Still, I didn’t want trouble.
They’d kept on talking as I thought, and I’d missed all of it, but Jody’s voice cut through everything going on in my head.
“Sean,” he said, lowering his voice, “look over there.”
I barely heard him, but I heard him.
Then I heard Dayton’s voice at the same volume, “Dammit Jody, let it go. Sean’s on probation. Do you want to get him kicked out?”
Sean sounded tired. “Dayton’s right. Leave him alone. It’s not fucking worth it.”
Jody snorted. “Don’t be pansies. Do you see any cameras here? There’s practically nobody around. It’ll be his word against ours.”
“Uh, wait,” Sean began.
“And they’ll believe him. Remember who his grandfather was? Don’t be an idiot.”
I could hear the frustration in Dayton’s voice.
In a harsh whisper that was hard not to hear, Jody said, “He deserves to be taken down a peg then, him and all the rest. They all think they’re better than we are.”
Dayton made a sigh that was audible even from where I was sitting. “I haven’t had any problems with them. You come at them with a huge chip on your shoulder, bro. If you talk, you’ll find they’re mostly okay.”
“Yeah?” Jody said. “So are you on their side? You going to report us?”
Sean didn’t give Dayton time to reply. “Jody, stop. He’s not going to say anything, but you’re going to—“
The floorboards hummed, and the book flew out of my hands, landing on the floor, and sliding until it hit the leg of one of the chairs. Part of a page remained in my right hand. I stared at it, and then I stood up.
Turning toward the sound of the voices, I saw Dayton, Jody, and Sean standing in the center aisle that split the lobby in half.
It had to have been Jody, but he’d moved so quickly that I hadn’t even seen him take the book out of my hand. It couldn’t have been Dayton, and Sean would only be an option if the book had metal inside it somewhere.
Dayton stood with his mouth partially open, hands in his pockets. Sean didn’t say anything, keeping his face completely blank.
Jody smiled so briefly I wasn’t completely sure I’d even seen it.
Judging from how no one else in the room even moved, no one else in the room had seen anything. To be fair to them, the chairs had been scattered randomly around the room, and a lot of them had high backs and even sides. Whoever had bought these chairs had been going for privacy.
I couldn’t see many people, but I could only see the legs of the ones I could see.
I thought about saying something to Jody, but what was I going to say? I couldn’t think of anything that would help, but if I made it boring, he’d leave.
Without the Rocket suit, I wasn’t going to have any chance of punching him. Of course, if I did punch him while wearing the suit, he’d probably die.
No, I’d go pick up the book and leave. I’d talk about it with Daniel when I got back to the room.
I turned away, and took a couple steps toward the book. As I reached down to grab it, I felt wind blow across my face, and the book skidded across the floor, traveling at least twenty feet.
In the distance Sean gave a choked laugh.
I wanted to hit him, and if he’d been in reach, maybe I would have.
Instead, I followed the book, my shoes hitting the wooden floor harder than they needed to. The book stopped near a cluster of chairs, stopping next to the only person in this section of the lobby.
I knew her. Jenny Nakamura had short black hair, light brown skin, and a round face. She wore a button down shirt over a black turtleneck, and was reading while hugging her legs to her. Given that she lived in California, she was probably cold.
I noted that the book in her hands was Crime and Punishment.
She looked up from her book, noticing my book where it had come to a stop on the floor, and then me. The first words out of her mouth were, “Nick, what’s wrong?”
Not looking toward Sean or his friends, I spoke softly, “You’ll see when I try to pick up my book.”
I bent down again, and reached for the book, again feeling air brush my face, and watching my book slide away. This time was different in one major way though. I heard muffled pops as everywhere around me filled with copies of Jenny, all of them standing so closely to each other that no one could squeeze between them and holding balls of fire in each hand.
Caught between Jennys about ten feet away from me, Jody tried not to get close to the fire.
One of the Jennys handed me my book. I found the ripped page inside, and placed the piece I’d been holding within.
Unable to find a weak point, Jody turned around until he finally met my eyes. “Shit.”
The Jennys around him looked at him as if he were some lower form of life.
He turned toward Sean and Dayton. “Guys? Help me here.”
They started walking toward the group of us. Sean said, “Let Jody go. He was… joking.”
A Jenny turned and asked me, “Was that funny to you?”
Watching Jody twist around, still looking for a way out, I said, “No.”
Jenny said, “I’m going to tell someone on the staff,” and one of her stepped away from the crowd.
Sean stared at the copy. “Wait,” he said. “Don’t.”
Holding his hands out in a pleading gesture, Dayton said, “I know Jody did the wrong thing here.”
Several Jennys gave him a dirty look. “There’s nothing you can say to me that will stop me.”
Not liking what I was about to say, I opened my mouth. “Let him go. We don’t have to tell anybody.”
She stared at me, “Are you really going to put up with this?”
I shook my head. “No. I’m going to say something if this ever happens again, but I won’t right now.”
I met Sean’s eyes. “Did you hear that? I”m not going to say anything about this unless you keep it up.”
“I didn’t do it,” Sean said.
“That’s true,” I said, remembering the conversation, and his laugh as the book had slid away from me, “but you didn’t do anything to stop it.”