Faerieland: Part 18

With a gait that was graceful and strong, but not quite human, Haley crossed the distance to the doorway, stopping next to the doorframe.

Amy’s wards made it appear that no one was in the room, but Haley had let the wall block their vision of her. She, in turn, didn’t try to look out the doorway. She closed her eyes, turned her nose slightly upward and sniffed.

At moments like that, I wished that Daniel were around. He’d be able to tell me what she’d smelled without risking asking her aloud.

I stood up. It was a risk, but if someone did walk through the doorway I wanted to be in the Rocket suit.

Haley turned and glared at me, holding up her hand, palm in my direction.

I stopped moving.

Outside, the heavy footsteps began moving away from us, heading for the common room’s far exit. After a minute, I couldn’t hear them anymore.

A little bit after that, Haley looked me in the eyes. “What were you doing?”

“Going for the full suit. I’m not that noisy.” I wasn’t. Lee had taught me the basics of walking quietly.

Haley frowned, taking a step away from the wall. “You’re not, but it wasn’t worth the risk. You remember the Cabal kids in my class? The three you fought at the beginning of year? They were outside.”

Even in the full suit, I couldn’t take one of the Cabal’s reservists in a straight fight. Those kids were obviously related to the reservists. In Lee’s demonstration, we’d defeated them by getting them into the air where they had no way to use their strength.

Using Vaughn to do that underground had obvious problems. All the air in the complex would be affected. If anyone thought about it, it’d be a beacon saying, “Here’s Vaughn!”

Samita looked from Haley to me. “I heard about the Cabal on the news of course. How bad were they?”

“Terrifying,” Haley said, clenching her right hand. Muscle rippled under the gray skin of her forearm. “They were strong enough to damage the Rocket suit, practically impossible to hurt, and regenerated.”

“Lasers punched right through their skin,” I added, “and the new suit’s got lasers, but I obviously can’t use them.”

As I said it, I knew that Lee would be telling me, “Better them than you.” If there was no other way to survive, he’d want me to kill them, fellow students or not. I wanted to avoid that.

“Sean?” I said. He turned his head toward me. His mouth twitched. “We’ve got a supply room, and I know for a fact that there are steel ball bearings there. If we’ve got to fight somebody, you can—“

“Hold them in the air. Got it.” Sean stood up. “I remember your demo.”

As rude as that might have been, he’d been ruder. I led him out of the lab, and we walked in silence, passing the two labs to the left of mine. The Cabal kids had left the lights on.

When we neared the third doorway I said, “This one,” and we walked around the corner and inside. The lights went on as we did. It was about three times the size of my lab and all shelves. Brown, cardboard boxes filled the shelves. Bigger cardboard boxes filled the middle of the room.

We walked through the aisles between the middle boxes and the shelves. I noticed the boxes of ball bearings on the far end of the shelf we were passing. They’d been ordered with someone in mind, and I doubted that person would be able to use them after this. On the other hand, if using them avoided our deaths or anyone else’s, it was worth it.

I pointed the boxes out to Sean, and watched as the boxes floated off the shelves. Sean barely appeared to be concentrating. He turned to me, asking, “Do you think there’s a backpack around here somewhere?”

I thought about it, realized where one might be, and walked around the end, and saw an already open box of backpacks. I grabbed one and brought it back to Sean.

He’d already gotten a lot of the ball bearings out of their plastic packaging. They floated in the air, hundreds of thick metal circles waiting for the right machine.

Sean held one in his hand and appeared to be looking through the partially open side—probably at the steel balls inside. “You know,” he said, “when you said ball bearings, I was thinking about the balls.”

I shrugged. “We probably have a box of balls for ball bearings somewhere.”

“Don’t worry about it. These things are good enough.” He frowned, then sighed.

I handed him the backpack and he opened it, letting ball bearings stream inside.

When he’d filled it enough, the zipper zipped itself shut.

Sean looked up from the backpack. “Hey, dude. I thanked you for getting my sister healed.”

“Yeah,” I said, wondering where this was going.

“I don’t think I ever apologized for everything before I knew who you were.”

“You don’t have to.” I waited as he put the backpack on his back, floating it upward and sticking his hands through the straps.

“I do.” He said. “I was being an ass. I didn’t have to.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. The last time Sean had tried to talk about this, I’d hung up on him. I hadn’t wanted to deal with it. I couldn’t say I wanted to deal with it now either. Back then he was on the verge of being thrown out because he’d attacked me. Now, wanting to apologize for what he’d done before he knew who I was, made it sound as if the Rocket were the real me instead of a mask I wore.

More to the point, it sounded almost as if he were apologizing because here at Stapledon, unlike high school, I was known and generally liked.

On the other hand, whatever his motivation, apologizing was better than not apologizing. I felt sure my dad would be telling me to take the apology—if I could ever tell him about it.

“Thanks,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”

13 thoughts on “Faerieland: Part 18”

  1. Hey everybody…

    As ever, here’s the Top Web Fiction link:

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=the-legion-of-nothing

    Beyond that though, I thought I’d mention that I interviewed Jeff Dee and Jack Herman on Monday night for the next PCS podcast. They created one of the first superhero roleplaying games Villains & Vigilantes, a game that has been referenced a few times in this story. I played it often in middle school, high school and even college.

    Not that that’s really relevant, but it makes me happy.

  2. “stopping next to doorframe” THE?
    “remember that Cabal kids” THOSE?
    “We’ve got supply room” A?

    and voting

  3. Nick would probably know this, even if Sean didn’t, but wouldn’t he refer, at least in his head, to ‘ball bearing races’, rather than metal circles?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_%28bearing%29

    (Yes, I voted. 🙂

    Typo(s):

    “The floated in the air, hundreds of”, shouldn’t that be ‘They’?

    ““We probably have a box of balls for ball bearings”, should that be ‘of’?

    1. Dreamer: Nick might well describe them as “ball bearing races” in his head, but as I wrote the section, I was more concerned about people not knowing what ball bearings looked like and chose to describe them instead.

    2. Nick would also probably have known how easy it would be for Sean to strip the balls from the bearing. Break the cage, and the balls can cluster together, enabling the inner race to move to one side and separate.

  4. to be fair, balls are often used alone inside of tracks that are integral parts of the spinning machines, and in those cases are also called ball bearings on their own.

    1. A ball bearing is a bearing which uses balls. The balls are commonly called ball bearings — this is technically incorrect, but it’s what most people call them. They’re even advertised that way.

  5. Hello Jim! I caught up to LON a month ago and have been following your updates since, and feel like commenting for the first time. This whole universe you have weaved is a bit of a fantasy kitchen sink, but its amazing how you can make elements as diverse as magic and technology and superhumans and dimensional aliens and machine races gel so well together that they still make up a coherent story.
    Thanks for writing! I’ll be keeping up and hopefully commenting regularly on future chapters from now on 😀

    1. Kaeyl: I’m glad you’re reading. I’m always a little worried when people have to make the move from reading the archive to reading the twice weekly updates. You seem to have done so–which is great. Hope you keep on reading.

      It’s not that hard to mix science and fantasy in superhero stories. I think the key to doing so is not introducing it all at once. If you give people time to absorb one and then introduce the other, they’ll be able to handle it.

  6. I’m like the evil Continuity fairy or something… back in Demo Part 7, Nick’s lab was wired against sound. He was talking to Haley in his lab, and she couldn’t hear anything outside (the implication being anyone outside couldn’t hear inside as well, even Izzy). Except in the last part, heavy footsteps were heard outside, and in this part, Haley is worried about Nick making noise inside.

    I foresee a couple possibilities — back in Demo, Nick said “Amy worked up a shield against listening, and I worked up something with sonics that should help”. So it’s possible that Nick didn’t have the sonics on here, or that with the compound on lockdown, that aspect got nullified. (I’m assuming Amy’s aspect is still in play, because here “Amy’s wards made it appear that no one was in the room”, though I guess there could be a different listening part to the ward). And it SORT of makes sense that they’d turn the listen bit off, since it’s not one-way, and they’d want to know who’s approaching. But there’s no mention of that aspect of the shield here at all.

    Somewhat related, I parsed the phrase “Haley had let the wall block their vision of her” as Haley had let the wall block the WARDS vision of her (which seemed weird) as opposed to the vision of anyone in the common area.

    I also find Nick’s reaction to Sean’s apology here interesting (in a good way); I think Sean is being more sincere than Nick is maybe giving him credit for (perhaps in part because Sean has seen Gordon’s dislike for The Rocket up close – Nick isn’t necessarily “generally liked”). But Nick’s in character – he has some difficulty accepting admiration generally, and he’s used to looking for a hidden motive where Sean is concerned. Eh, then again, I could also be projecting, because this scene is a bit similar to one in the serial part I’m publishing tomorrow.

    Oh, and yeah, good call on describing the ball bearings – my mind immediately went to small metal spheres first, and it wasn’t until the description of circles that I thought, derp, this is a tech lab, I should have realized.

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