If you happen to know the right person in the FBI, it’s not that hard to get the stealth suit plus a highly modified guitar controller through airport security.
The Department of Homeland Security guys at Grand Lake’s airport had looked at each other and then at me as the guitar controller (in its lead lined cloth case) rolled through the X-ray machine. The metal detector’s alarm went off as I stepped through too.
I blamed the sonic systems, but the utility belt hidden under my jacket didn’t help.
They waved me on anyway.
“A glitch,” the guard next to the metal detector said to the business-suited woman behind me.
Mom and Dad waited at the end of the conveyor belt. I picked up the guitar case, put my laptop back inside my backpack, and started pulling the rest of my belongings out of the plastic boxes I’d dumped them in.
“I still don’t see why you took that,” Mom said, pointing at the guitar.
“Alex doesn’t have more than one controller,” I said. “This way we can both play at the same time.”
“You haven’t seen each other in years,” she said. “I’m sure he won’t want to play video games the entire time you’re there.”
We started walking toward the terminal, passing the back lit signs advertising PNC bank, Hertz, and the Grand Lake Sentinel.
“It’ll be fine, Mom.”
The flight didn’t go badly. We waited for an hour in the United terminal, then waited on the runway, and then finally we flew, stopping in Chicago, and landing in Los Angeles around midnight.
From there we went to the hotel, a Best Western across from a strip mall that had been styled to look like a pagoda. We waited in the lobby while Dad checked us in, coming back with the plastic key card. He gave one to me and one to Mom.
“You’ve got your own room this time,” he said as he put it in my hand.
“The conference is paying for it. I’m not arguing with them.”
Our rooms were right next to each other, which was okay. I could have watched television. I could have gone online. I could have done anything I wanted, but I’d sat in planes or airports for the last eight hours. I fell into bed and slept.
Mom knocked on the door at seven the next morning, waking me up.
“Nick, we’re going to the conference. Don’t forget to get breakfast. They close the buffet by nine.”
I grunted something, and fell back to sleep, waking at 8:30. Recognizing the time, I pulled on shorts and a t-shirt, and ran down the hall to the lobby/breakfast area. It was like the continental breakfast at every hotel in the country — waffles, donuts, muffins, cereal and your choice of juice, coffee or whatever.
When I finished, I emailed Haley to let her know I’d made it, and then I grabbed my backpack and the guitar and went outside.
The Best Western was on one of those roads that seems to be exclusively hotels, strip malls, and franchises — only in this case some had Chinese characters on the signs. I ended up having to cross the street and go around the pagoda style strip mall in order to change into the stealth suit. I changed behind three dumpsters, using them to stay out of view of the houses just across the fence.
I live a glamorous life.
Then I started up the rocketpack and shot into the sky, the helmet giving me a constant readout of my speed and heading.
I’d done it. For once, I wasn’t going to spend half my spring break at a conference on child psychology. I was going to spend it hanging out with Alex, the son of Preserver, and a hero in his own right.
Following the GPS, I aimed myself south toward the coast.
Flying in Los Angeles was different than flying in Grand Lake. For one thing, the air felt different. I didn’t quite have the words to describe it, but different. For another, the view… mountains in one direction, skyscrapers in another, and if that weren’t enough, the ocean. Also, compared to Grand Lake, there weren’t a lot of trees on the ground.
In addition, the houses seemed endless in all directions, mountains and ocean aside.
I also noticed another difference — air traffic. LA had more helicopters by a long shot. More interesting than that, LA had more people flying through the air. In one sense, it wasn’t a surprise. LA and New York City seemed to have an irresistable pull for metahumans.
In another sense, it still seemed strange to see five different people in the sky and not know any of them.
One of them veered toward me, and he was fast. One moment, he seemed to be halfway across the city. The next, I found him pulling up beside me. He wore a black uniform, complete with badge and arm patch proclaiming him a member of the Los Angeles Police Department. In a concession to practicality, he wore a mask instead of a hat.
As he caught up, I said, “Is there a problem?”
“No problem. I didn’t recognize you. I thought I’d do a flyby and check you out.”
“I’m the Rocket. You can check with the FBI if you want. They know I’m here.”
“One of those kids bringing back the Heroes League? You here for a reason?”
“No. Just visiting people. I know Preserver’s son.”
“No kidding? I’ve run into him. Nice guy.”
Flicking my eyes up toward the GPS readout, I read that we were passing over Huntington Beach, and wondered where his jurisdiction ended. I supposed that he might have arrangements with other cities around LA.
“Hey Rocket,” he said. “I know you said you’re not doing anything, but if you do turn out to be, call us. We don’t want to step on each other’s toes.”
He stayed with me until the house came in sight. Then he veered away. I could still see him even as I began to descend toward the house.