The Battle of Grand Lake: Part 1

Kayla sat in a chair in front of a computer screen inside one of the most famous secret bases in the world, and tried to stay awake.

It had sounded more fun when Cassie pitched it to her last summer. Cassie had been grinning the whole time. “We need someone back in the base to do research or call for help or whatever. You need money for college. This way you’ll be able to help, but you won’t have to be in danger, and we’ll be able to hang out all the time like we did before.”

“Before” as in before Cassie got her father’s superpowers, turned cape, and revived the Heroes League.

It was also “before” (though Cassie didn’t know it then) as in before the Nine targeted Cassie, forcing her to relocate to Washington D.C.

That left Kayla sitting in a secret base, a dark musty secret base with old boxes in a big pile, olive green carpet that had been installed a few years before the Reagan administration, and trophies and momentoes that bordered on creepy.

The gauntlet on the stand not far from her had been a weapon used by a Nazi super-soldier. The gun hanging on the wall near the big, flat metal disc could turn you from a man to a woman, or vice versa, but not back to your original gender. You’d grow back to normal gradually over several months.

It was only one of many objects in the room that she’d decided to never, ever touch.

She decided to open up Netflix. She’d finished all her homework during yesterday afternoon’s shift.

The computer pinged.

The square next to Cassie’s name blinked, and then her face appeared on the screen. Square jawed with light skin, Cassie had her blond hair in a ponytail, and wore a Grand Lake University hoodie. “Hey K!”

Kayla answered. “How’s it going?”

Cassie gave a disgusted look at someone off camera. “Badly. If Earth’s ever attacked by aliens, people should hope that we defect. Some of us are more dangerous to our allies than our enemies. Sean dropped a spaceship on us—a fake spaceship, but still.”

Kayla was still trying to think of a reply when Cassie said, “Not that it matters. We’re almost on our way home.”

Not much was visible behind Cassie, but it looked like a big building. People stood in groups, talking.

Cassie looked away from her phone’s camera. “I’d better go talk to Nick. I’ll call you back.”

“Kay,” Kayla said, and the screen went black.

She stared at it for a moment. She knew she didn’t want to be in their position, but being there looked like a lot more fun than being here. At least there would be people.

Something hummed, and it sounded like it was coming closer. She turned around in her chair. A Roomba moved across the carpet, the flat robot sucking up the dust. Kayla watched it for a little while, and then shuddered.

Nick had more than one, and he’d modified them. When she’d asked, he’d said, “I’m calling them Battle Roombas. At least until I come up with something better.”

She’d stared at the robot as it rolled across the floor. “Is it safe?”

“Well, sure,” Nick had said. “To us, but you know the League phone I gave you?”


“Uh… Keep it on you while you’re in here, and you’ll probably be fine.”

That hadn’t made her feel any better.

She touched the mouse, and began to click her way to Netflix again—only to be interrupted by a box that appeared in the middle of the screen. Underneath the words “General Alert” the message said, “As of forty minutes ago, Earth spacecraft detected a planetary bombardment. Guardian and various Defenders groups have been mobilized to attend to the situation. Metahumans should gather their gear and contact their local Defenders unit to find out if their services are required.”

The computer pinged again. Kayla checked the screen, expecting to see Cassie’s response. She had to have seen it.

The square next to the words “League jet” blinked yellow. A text message appeared. “Human,” it read, “I have urgent information for an authority figure regarding an attack on this place. The file is attached to this message.”

Authority figure? She thought about it. Who was even in Grand Lake right now? Everyone over eighteen was in the Stapledon program which meant they were all with Cassie. That wouldn’t do any good at all.

Also, how was it that an artificial intelligence didn’t even seem to know her name?

She shook her head. She clicked on the file, and forwarded it to Haley. If anybody was the leader between Haley, Sydney, and Camille, it was most likely Haley.

Haley texted back a reply. “Is this real?”

Kayla texted back, “Yes.”

Haley didn’t reply. After a short delay, she sent a yellow alert to everyone on the Grand Lake Heroes League channel.

“The League jet has detected that one of the asteroids was aimed directly at Grand Lake’s downtown. Another one is heading straight for New York. The jet’s AI thinks that it’s a feint or a distraction, and Lee agrees. All League members and friends near Grand Lake, please respond.”

Marcus, Camille, and Sydney responded.

A moment later Chris texted, “I’ll help, and my grandfather will too.”

31 thoughts on “The Battle of Grand Lake: Part 1”

  1. One of the little challenges with this story is to check out the various spots where Nick was listening in, and making sure that I don’t skip or contradict anything.

    Actually, there aren’t many spots to work around fortunately. I tried to be careful of that.

    I’m still worried about making mistakes though.

  2. Square jawed [with with] light skin, Cassie had her blond hair in a ponytail, and wore a Grand Lake University hoodie.

    Great opening scentence

  3. “Kayla sat in a chair in front of a computer screen inside one of the most famous secret bases in the world, and tried to stay awake.”

    I don’t know if it would suit your writing style, but I think it reads better as:

    “Kayla sat in a chair. In front of a computer screen. Inside one of the most famous secret bases in the world. And tried to stay awake.”

  4. Either an extra word or missing a word in the 2nd paragraph:

    but you won’t have be in danger,

    Sounds like it should be exciting enough to not make me feel too bad that I still don’t know the rights and responsibilities of a Xiniti. (Like they are responsible for making sure no emerging races get any Alien technology….)

    1. It might be a while before you know exactly what the rights and responsibilities of being in a Xiniti clan are. On the other hand, when it happens, working out the details could be roughly novel length.

  5. Kayla’s addition to the team always seemed rushed and incomplete, especially with how often Nick would forget about her. It seems like it would be a good idea to give her something/someone to talk to or work with. At the least get her a few slightly more interesting jobs.

    Getting Chris to be a background tech guy would fit the bill pretty perfectly. So perfectly that I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet. He can stay at base playing with shiny toys(that wouldn’t be available to him otherwise) while being mostly safe. He and Kayla could hang out and chat if they felt like it, and Nick would have some MUCH needed help with his tech backlog.

    Besides, designated tech guys are just so more efficient. You can get a lot more done if you aren’t also doing combat training, fighting monsters, and recuperating from injuries. This also touches on the fact that Nick is still going to school, which is a massive drain on his time without providing much benefit at all. I’m fairly certain that you don’t need a degree in order to be a superhero.

    Just my two cents. The fact that there has never been a question of whether they should stop going to classes seems really weird to me. Like spending your training time practicing climbing when you are able to fly.

  6. Go go Battle Roombas! I love seeing the off-hand mentions of Nick’s weird little technology tweaks, and how other people react to them. My second thought, though, was… I hope the shower is off-limits for them, as that would be an awkward place to have to keep hold of your League phone (or fend off a Battle Roomba)

    Also, typo: memento, not momento

  7. @masterofbones, you sound like one of those people who thinks that a liberal arts education is a waste of time and money.

    I’m going to assume that can’t actually be the case, since you’re reading this work of fiction.


  8. @HG, it can be, but isn’t necessarily one. It depends on your goals.

    If you want to learn, for a normal person it is a reasonably useful thing. There are more effective routes, but it isn’t useless. If you are a superhero with several genius-level beings willing to help, and are extremely intelligent yourself, it would just be a massive waste of time.

    If you want an excuse to hang out with a bunch of similar people, it can be very effective. One of the most effective ways actually. Connections and social interaction are incredibly useful for almost all walks of life. But seeing as Nick hardly ever interacts with non-capes, and usually only interacts with capes he is told to interact with, or who he knows already, I’m going to assume this is not his goal.

    The most likely of Nick’s reasons for wanting to go to college is also the worst: to get a degree.

    In Nick’s mind, you go to college, and you get your degree. Not for any particular reason, but because that is how it is done. If he was using any other logic, there would have been a question in his mind about it. But there wasn’t.

    Nick doesn’t need a job, so he doesn’t need a degree. He has much better sources of education than any normal college could give him. His fame means that he already has a long list of allies and strangers will be happy to become his allies.

    What is the point of college for Nick? How does he benefit from it?

  9. Besides, why would Nick need a degree to begin with? He’s already inventing stuff decades ahead of anything normal physicists and mechanics are, his inventions seem to work from the first time without the 1% first-time success rate usual for new inventions, he seems capable of designing and building a suit with hundreds if not thousands of parts in a few months rather than half a decade and so on and so forth. All he has to do is sell a few non-combat designs to civilian industry and he’d be set for life.

    I mean, compared to any sort of real inventors he’s orders of magnitude more effective. Merely writing the names of the individual parts for a single car engine, if one could ever do it from memory, would be an entire day’s work. Merely making a sketch of each part with moderate accuracy would need a couple of weeks. Designing those parts at the right dimensions so everything fits and works together… half a year’s work, easy. Actually building and testing those parts? Not really possible for one person.

  10. Don’t forget that he has several mentors that are far superior to any teachers he is likely to find at a college. He has an AI that will teach him if he asks, as well as a universe-hopping eternal being that trains him using fun games.

    But he NEEDS a degree. Otherwise he isn’t a REAL inventor.

  11. Masterofbones: I think you make some good points, but also make a few assumptions that I’m not assuming as I write the story.

    Honestly, a big part of why Nick is going is probably because he assumes that he should get a degree. Also, he genuinely likes school. The pace might not be as fast as he’d like, but there’s enough interesting new ideas that he’s not bored. This is more true in college than high school, and the fact that he’s mostly taking upper level classes due to testing out of many lower level classes doesn’t hurt.

    My picture of how he can create what he does is first that he’s extraordinarily gifted. Second, he’s got access to technologies and materials his grandfather invented or learned about.

    He understands how to use and design with these things, but he doesn’t always completely understand them.

    They allow him to take a lot of shortcuts, but just like in math, where you can sometimes skip steps if you want to, it’s better to know the steps you’re skipping.

    School doesn’t get him all the way there, but it’s the best thing he’s got easily available. I imagine him knowing certain areas very well, but being highly deficient in areas he hasn’t deliberately studied. He’s highly dependent on his grandfather’s documentation in a lot of areas.

    As for mentors… Lee’s nearly unbeatable as an instructor in fighting (and music), but in terms of technology he’s got the equivalent of layman’s knowledge because it’s just not an interest. Granted it’s layman’s knowledge of an immortal being, but while he can give general ideas and explain alternate theories of the universe, it’s short on practical, “how do I use it” stuff.

    The League jet’s AI was created to be a fleet battle simulation AI. It is awesome for that. It’s not a library of alien tech, however.

    The best potential mentors are people in the Stapledon program like Dr. Nation, but he’s busy. Also, Gerald Cannon AKA Man-machine, part of the original Rocket’s rogue’s gallery. He used to be in jail. Also, Larry AKA The Rhino. He’s busy too, but helpful when asked.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  12. >probably because he assumes that he should get a degree.

    Which is what I figured. And find very annoying. Because intelligent people doing things because “they should” is a terrible waste, but it happens all the time. His choices are extremely believable, but immensely frustrating.

    > Also, he genuinely likes school.

    A believable enough reason, though I am fairly certain that it is not the most efficient choice he could make for that goal. Talking with an AI about mathematical theories sounds way more fun than a class IMO.

    >a fleet battle simulation AI.

    Perhaps you and I have different ideas as to what the term AI encapsulates, but when I think AI, I think of a creative, learning machine. A machine that has to know detailed information about mathematics, physics, psychology, engineering, and a reasonable amount of Alien tech. You can’t defend well against something you don’t understand. A machine that can easily download pretty much any textbook ever written with little difficulty. A machine that could search through those textbooks and answer any question Nick had rapidly and in great detail. For someone who thrives on technical details like Nick, this seems like it would be an optimal learning environment. (Perhaps just personal bias. I love the idea of a friendly AI, and would probably encourage any I met to take over the world. Because AI is awesome)

    Overall, Nick’s actions are completely believable. My comments are less about issues I have with the story, and more about what I would say to Nick if I were his friend. That is, if I wasn’t too busy trying to get him to let me talk to the ship. Or go to space. Or look at/touch all the shiny stuff in the lab. Or do experiments with the blades that cut everything….

    He probably wouldn’t let me anywhere near any of his stuff. He is very intelligent after all.

  13. More like how to min-max the guy’s stats. In the real world, having passed university opens a lot of doors. The fact that they should be open to him anyway doesn’t matter; it opens them, without him having to raise his profile by proving it.

    Like Nick thinks way back when somewhere, he doesn’t really need the Stapleton program for training. It’s still great for making contacts and as a line on a resume.

    Efficient use of time? Marginal in some regards. Both still get him things well worth having.

  14. Perhaps I’m a sceptic, but very few people actually go to college to study. You go there to get a piece of paper that says you can be taught stuff, and to stress-test your liver. Used to be also for trying out drugs and gay sex but the times have changed and now those are high school stuff.

    Then again Nick has a terminal case of nerdity so the social dimension is largely wasted on him. Which is a good thing since he still hasn’t figured out that there are other ways to keep one’s secret identity than just mind-raping everyone you meet, such as not telling everything you do to whoever is willing to listen.

  15. Is Nick planning on living off of League merchandise dividends or is he planning on having an actual day job? If it’s the day job, that diploma will be very useful, even if he opens his own business.

    As for having a social life, many nerds find it easier to broaden their social circle in a large college like Nick is attending; not only there are more people there, but since higher learning is not compulsory, college students tend to respect nerds more than high schoolers, and by attending math/engineering/physics/chemistry courses, he’ll meet a lot of other nerds with similar intersts. Finally, Nick is no Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, so even if his social skills are rusty, he’s not actually making enemies just by being who he is.

    TL;DR: University is useful even for gadgeteer superheroes.

  16. Does Nick need college? Surely not.

    Can college teach him valuable lessons as a young man? Surely yes.

    The engineering curriculum might not excite him, but he’s certain to make some contacts with experts in different fields who certainly know more than him about their own narrow fields of expertise.

    Networking. Networking. Networking. Nick makes friends with other engineering nerds, and then for decades, Nick might get phone calls from ex-college classmates:

    “Hey Nick, we were doing a test run with X and ran into Y problem. It doesn’t make sense at all. Then it started, ah, talking to us. Do you suppose you might come and talk back to it? We’d like our lab back.”

    From a super-hero-ey point of view, college buddies are a great way to start story lines, or introduce something quickly. Since this is also true to some degree in real life, it’s doubly-effective.

  17. I think there’s a benefit to getting some grounding in the basics — who knows whether those previously skipped steps will end up providing inspiration for somebody as creative (and impossibly skilled) as Nick? Also, I feel like that’s part of who he is right now, because he doesn’t think of himself as a superhero (much less as THE Rocket). He thinks of himself as a pretty ordinary guy who sometimes has to deal with this or that superhero thing… maybe he’ll end up hero-ing full time and living off his patents, but that’s probably not his plan. His plan is college, because he’s smart and likes learning new things. Short of apprenticing himself to one of the other impossibly skilled gadgeteers on the side of good, he’ll be stuck just bouncing ideas off the League jet. And I don’t think he’s all that comfortable talking with the jet AI (and vice versa).

    Plus, he’s seen how the so-called ‘compound kids’ who grow up just in the supers’ world act… I think he would (if he bothered to put it all into words) see a real benefit to the parts of college that are spending some time around people who aren’t supers, but who still might be interesting to know.

  18. For a kid who supposedly doesn’t need college, Nick didn’t actually test out of all the classes related to what he does. He also has the benefit of being one of the few superheroes who has access to lots of money and either greater than average intelligence, or just the benefits of having learned from a more advanced mentor.

    Take away everything of Nick’s that he inherited or that’s based on something he inherited and you don’t get much of a superhero left. He has quite a bit of privilege, something that can be seen in Sean’s resentment. I’m not saying Sean’s completely in the right, but imagine what it feels like to be so effortlessly second-string despite having a strong powerset or good effort all because the other person had an inheritance.

    Granted, Sean thought he was on the other side of that equation beforehand, but it’s still a certain amount of privilege there.

    As for why a liberal arts education might be useful for even the best of superheroes…riddle me this, riddle me that.

  19. @PG: Challenge accepted!
    Important applications of a liberal arts education for superheroes include:
    – Understanding obscure literary- and historical references in mocking messages left by supervillains, thus uncovering their plot
    – Using rhetoric and behavioural sciences to talk down mentally unstable villains
    – Challenging a villain to a dance-off/poetry slam/banjo duel
    – Running your own cult
    – Solving moral dilemmas in a way you can actually argument rather than merely going by the seat of your pants

  20. Oh Jim,

    I’m going to bother you again!

    I’ve wrapped up Symbiote for now after four books and about half a million words. Started a new series in the superhero genre. Reject Hero. I’m seven chapters in, about 25-30k words.

    Would greatly appreciate a link, if you don’t mind. It’s in my sig.

    I’ll put this a few chapters back from your most recent chapter, so it’s not too blatantly pluggish.

  21. I’m reading this from the beginning, not up to date yet, but I had to stop and say that you missed the obvious name for the modified roombas, which of course is the Doomba.

  22. No, no… Danger Roomba!

    Or does that infringe Charles Xavier’s trademarks?

    Nick may not need his science courses as much as someone without super-powered tech skills might, but that doesn’t mean that college is useless or a waste of time. He might be better served, though, by focusing more on things that he could use that his power doesn’t give him a leg up on – for example, he mentioned at one point that he’s taking a criminology course.

  23. This may be late but I don’t think Nick wants to spend his whole life as a hero and to hav ehis only source of income.
    Especially if he is injured bad enough that the healers can’t undo all the damage (which might be because of a missing limb or magic).
    And shoukd he ever retire he may want to be able to do stuff without having to rely on the Rocket name.

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