I turned around to find Vaughn in my latest version of the Storm King armor. Black with a storm cloud on his chest, it included flaps to catch the wind he generated. Yoselin wore her own armor, the red triangle, white star, and blue and white stripes might almost pass for a patriotic US costume if you didn’t think too hard about it. The backpack and streamlined half-cylinders running up and down her arms and legs hinted at a refined version of her father’s armor’s air manipulation tech.
Neither of them wore their helmets, but it was plain they were both prepared for practice.
I caught Yoselin’s eye, “I know you’ve got Abominator tech at home. It can’t be that much of a shock.”
She grinned at me, shrugging and raising her hands as she did, “We do, but not that much. Well, maybe just as much, but I didn’t expect to see it. You know what happens with implants. When you have too many things you’ve never seen before, it all comes at once.”
I nodded. I was far too familiar with that one.
Vaughn turned toward Yoselin, “You’ve got one of those things too? I’m beginning to feel like everyone’s got one but me now.”
She put her hand on his shoulder. Winking at me, she said, “You should talk to Nick. He might be able to make one for you.”
Raising his eyebrow, Vaughn looked at me, “Seriously?”
I shook my head, “I don’t know. That kind of thing isn’t really my specialty, but I’ve got a general sense of how they work now. My implant can give me basic plans for them. I’d just have to figure out some substitute materials… It’d be cool, but you’d be putting an experimental device in your brain.”
I didn’t mention the Abominator implant factory in the storage room. Given humanity’s position as servants in their empire, it was a given that it produced medically safe implants. Given the Dominators’ prominence in the Abominators’ empire, I’d be more surprised if their implants didn’t include triggers the Dominators could use. With my implant’s help, I might be able to find them. It was worth a thought.
Vaughn laughed, “No, thanks.”
Then he looked over at Chris, “If you’re here for practice, you’ve only got five minutes to get into armor.”
Chris looked over at me, “Well since I can’t take a look at the tablet, I might as well. I’ve got spare armor in the lab.”
“I’ve got to put the key back in the safe,” I said. “So I guess we’re both walking back.”
Nodding toward the middle of the room, Vaughn smiled at Yoselin, “Then I guess we’ll wait for you there.”
She gave me a wave as they walked away.
As Chris and I walked toward the lab, he asked, “Are they going out?”
I’d had my suit absorb my helmet after talking to Kayla, so I didn’t have the suit’s 360-degree vision to work with. I turned my head to watch them. They were talking and laughing.
“It’s only been a day since she’s been here. I don’t even know how long she’s going to stay. She’s here because she wants to see whatever we do to the Nine and Dominators through to the end. There are no guarantees that we’ll ever get anywhere with that. Lim’s got our best lead on the subject and while we did get a few things out of his head before handing him over, we haven’t even gotten started there.”
Chris shrugged, “Just asking. Vaughn’s not dating Amy anymore and they seem to get along. Plus, and I’m no authority on this, but I think a lot of straight guys would go for her.”
I grinned as I remembered something from before the island, “Weren’t you going on a date with someone named Paul before we left?”
He blushed, “We’ve been on a couple of dates. It’s no big deal right now, but I think it’s going well. Hopefully, this stuff doesn’t mess it up.”
We entered the lab and he pointed toward the line of powered armor and buckets of blocks running down the far wall. I didn’t argue with him. I’d been lucky that Haley and I found each other at the beginning of all of this. We didn’t have to lie about why we needed to leave and suit up midway through a date or why we’d be unavailable for the next week. We’d suit up and go in together.
I put away the keys in the safe and then stopped next to one of the buckets, setting my suit to change into the full Rocket suit, feeling the suit expand and alter itself, becoming larger and stronger, and adding the rocket pack to the suit’s back along with sonics, the laser, and loading up roachbots.
To my left, Chris stepped into one of the barebones exoskeletons and stood next to the bucket, absorbing half the bucket in a half a minute. I watched as the suit grew half a foot in size and widened, taking on the blocky look and gray, flat texture of a Man-Machine suit. In public, his grandfather had been my grandfather’s nemesis, the supervillain version of the Rocket.
Out of costume and the public eye, their frenemyship had been more complicated.
“Wow. Are you going to make that your standard look?” I motioned up and down at the suit.
“Is it going to bother you? I’m trying it out.” The tenor of his voice didn’t quite match the solidity of the armor.
I shook my head, “No. It’s a classic look for your grandfather if that’s what you want people to think of… What does he think?”
Chris stepped back from the bucket and began to walk toward me, “He loves it. Man-machine began as a hero. He made his first suit as a kind of tribute to your grandfather and only became a supervillain by mistake—at least the way he tells it. I like the idea of redeeming the name.”
Kayla’s voice sounded over HQ’s intercom, “Thirty seconds until teleport.”
We looked at each other and ran for the door. I made it through first, bolting across the floor, dodging trophy cases, and hearing the thump of Chris’ armor hitting the concrete behind me.
A small crowd stood in the middle of the room and I knew every one of them. With only one exception, I’d made their equipment. Vaughn and Yoselin were still talking—though Vaughn turned to point at Chris and me as we ran. Daniel, Cassie, Marcus, and Sydney stood on the near side of the crowd. Jaclyn’s dog Tiger stood in the middle, large enough that his head was at the same level as mine when he was on all fours.
Tiger barked as Chris and I reached the group. Seconds later, the scene changed. We stood together near the edge of a forest and we weren’t alone.