Haaaappy Sunday, everyone!
Well, it’s superbowl-day, so… yay? Enjoy that if you watch football. I’ll just be over here.
But hey, I’m just happy we’re getting the trailers for Mission Impossible and Solo.
-enough current events, back to the story-
Last week we heard a wonderfully evil plan from our villains. Shall we see how our heroes are doing, not knowing this information. Yes, let’s.
If you’re behind, catch up here.
Actually getting somewhere
For being such a laid back guy, I didn’t expect Charles to be such an intense trainer with my powers. Over the next couple days, aside from the lectures on keeping my temper and all, Charles moved on in my training to getting my endurance and fine-tuning with the powers.
Because, no kidding, lighting myself on fire actually wore me out really quickly at first. Before I actually was able to practice some restraint at letting it out.
I learned to actually control the flames quite a bit more. They still flared out of control when I got mad, but under normal circumstances, I was able to light individual fingers up at will. Able to aim things better. Able to channel the energy more effectively.
And really, though he worked me to exhaustion each night, I was really grateful for Fernsby coming by and showing me the ropes of this stuff. Because seriously, I was the opposite of experienced in this sort of stuff.
Dallas dropped by a little bit to help out sometimes. We needed some forcefields and his experience for a few other training exercises. Liza helped where she could and found the way the nanites worked fascinating.
Bad News . . . was a little more antsy around me when I lit on fire now. He was quieter for a day before actually getting a bit of his smile back and talking too us. He still acted guilty and fidgeted with his hat more than normal. And he’d lost his sunglasses in the scuffle at the opera, so it only added to the odd effect of not quite having the News we were used to.
He wouldn’t go into detail on what Franklin had threatened him with. Just “bad, wacked out stuff, man”.
That was all I got. I wasn’t sure what to do. He said he’d be okay.
Just as long as I stayed alive, he was okay, I guess.
He wanted to go and get my car for me, but seeing as we were brothers in outlaw-dom at the moment, Dallas got the car instead. I’d left it at the opera, but still had the keys with me, so it was fairly easy to just hand them over to him. SPI agents could do a lot without being pegged with suspicions.
My break didn’t last nearly as long as I thought it would. Two days and Franklin gave me a call. He was all apologies about the “whole thing of bringing News in”. He claimed he had no idea we knew each other and never would have done it if he knew.
Apparently, the next Silverwing meeting was at one of the members’ houses. A guy named Jay Strauss.
He said this time it wasn’t any particular security precautions, but since most of the other Silverwing members knew this guy anyway and had been hanging out at his house, it would be best to meet there. Plus, it was a ways out of town. Would probably be easier for me to get to, with my face again being a target for any nearby law enforcement.
So, with a better grip on my powers, and the mission to just record something without completely ruining my equipment again, I was off to the meeting.
We were getting closer to the date Dallas had projected as the “big move” date. And nothing like the Twin Bombing was going to happen again on my watch.
I craned my neck a little, slowing my speed as I saw the small, green pickup parked by the side of the empty road. The lighting was dim, since the sun had just gone down, but I could still make out the form next to the truck.
Dallas was already out of his car and sat against the fender, waiting for me. He straightened up to give an awkward wave as I approached.
I waved back, pulling the car off onto the rough gravel shoulder next to his car. I pulled up into park and unbuckled. Just a quick gadget dropoff here, since he’d just gotten off of work and hadn’t been able to get me the recording things before now.
I popped open my door and stood out of the car. “So, what’re the fancy gadgets this time, Dall?”
Dallas rubbed at the back of his neck as he went around to the back door of his pickup. “Well, I couldn’t get . . . I’m sorry, I couldn’t manage getting too good of quality things, actually. I did get the same things as last time, however . . .?” he picked up a little shoebox from the seat and turned towards me. He flipped the lid open to show another little black lapel pin and a worn, red baseball hat, identical to the one he’d given me last time.
I pulled the hat out and turned it over. “Less complications. I don’t have to learn how to work another doodad. This should work great.” I stuck it onto my head, jamming my cowlick down against my forehead.
Dallas nodded, looking relieved. He picked up the lapel pin and handed it over before putting the box back in the car.
“Thanks,” I stuck it sideways onto my jacket pocket like last time. “All set then. I’ll get you that recording if it kills me.”
Dallas opened his mouth and closed it again, looking alarmed for a second before totally catching my joke. “Please . . . don’t. Just stay alive.”
I laughed a little. “I’ll try.”
“Good,” Dallas rubbed his hands together. “Also I . . . stopped by the Fernsbys really quick before I came over here. Charles said I should tell you to remember you’re not as much playing your actual self during the meeting. This is more of villainous-you that you’re trying to be. It should make it a little easier to go along with.”
I nodded. The way Dallas discussed me now versus me when I was on the revenge rampage for my family as different people . . . I liked the sentiment, but it did weird me out sometimes.
I checked my watch. Or, well . . . News’s watch that he’d let me borrow. “Well, I should probably get going if . . .”
“Wait!” yelped a small voice.
Dallas and I froze.
There was the rustling of a tarp being thrown aside from the back of Dallas’s truck and a small head poked up over the edge, hair sticking out in all directions. Leif grinned, showing his missing front teeth.
Dallas gasped. “Oh no. Leif, you didn’t . . .”
Leif swung himself out of the back and landed on the gravel, the soles of his shoes making a crunch sound as they hit the rocks. “I stowed away.”
I stared at him. “Did a pretty good job of it, too . . .”
Dallas put a hand to his head, his eyes wide. His voice dropped lower, like he was talking to himself. “I drove all that way . . . with a child alone in the flatbed?” He looked back at Leif. “That’s dangerous, Leif. You could have died!”
Leif spread his hands, a look of annoyance on his face. “I didn’t die. I just wanted to see Wolf again. He didn’t come for the weekend. And I heard Dad on the phone.” He snapped his attention over to me, a huge grin spreading across his face. “You can shoot fire now?”
I raised my eyebrows at him, hesitating before I nodded. “Sort of.”
“Cool.” Leif ran over to me, grabbing at my arm and looking me over intently. “Can you breathe it? Like a dragon? Can you light yourself on fire like the Human Torch?”
“Well, no breathing it. But I can do the Human Torch thing, yeah.”
Leif squeaked with excitement. “Can you do it for me?” He tugged on my sleeve harder.
I laughed. “Well, you gotta let go, buddy. I can’t do it with you hanging on me or else we’ll have roast Leif.”
Leif hopped back, pulling at his hoodie strings and watching me eagerly.
Dallas raised a hand as if to protest, but I shook my head at him. Nobody but us was around here. And it might be nice to let off some of the energy beforehand anyway.
I pulled off the hat, setting it on the ground next to me, then straightened back up and focused on flaming up my arms. Not using up too much energy. Heat flared up, flames glowing in the fading, dusky light around us. It worked just like I’d been practicing it.
Leif gasped, edging closer to stare.
I raised my eyebrows at him, waving one flaming hand. “Guess we won’t need much of a campfire on camping trips anymore if you just bring me along, huh?’
“No way!” Leif laughed incredulously. He tilted his head one way, then the other. “How is it not burning you? Is it fake flames? Can I touch?”
I cut the flames off, dropping my arms. “It’s real flames. Something like a little shield goes up around me so I don’t burn my clothes off, though.” I ducked down to grab the hat again.
“That is. So. Cool.” Leif muttered, running his hands up through his hair and still staring at me.
Honestly, with all my beating myself up about how disappointed and horrified the rest of my family would have been at their mutant son, Leif’s enthusiasm made me happier than it should have. I laughed as I put the hat back on and reached over to ruffle his hair. “Glad you think so, peanut.”
Now that I was no longer on fire, he grabbed onto my arm again. “Could I come with you? And see the other guys with cool superpowers?”
I shook my head, pulling my arm away to put over his shoulders instead. “Not this time. Gotta go in and record some stuff. I’ll take you to see them all once they’re behind bars, deal?”
He looked doubtful, twisting his mouth to one side as he looked up at me. But he shrugged. “Sure.”
Dallas just stood there, still petrified at the thought of having brought Leif along in the first place. He managed to get his voice to work a little bit. “I really think . . . Wolfgang, you should be going . . .”
“Yeah,” I pulled away from Leif, tugging his hair one last time. “Go home with Dallas, bud. And wish me luck.”
“And I need to call Mr. and Mrs. Fernsby and tell them he’s okay . . .” Dallas muttered, pulling out his phone. He gave me a nervous smile. “Good luck, Wolf.”
Leif saluted in a sloppy mirror of my usual farewell to the Fernsby household. “Okay. Come show me more fire stuff later?” He backed towards Dallas.
He grinned his gap-toothed smile and gave me a double thumbs-up before dashing back to the flatbed of the truck.
“No, no . . . Leif, get in the backseat, please,” Dallas protested, chasing after him.
A louder version of Peter for sure. I laughed to myself. I stuck my hand in my jacket pocket and headed back to my Mustang.
The time showed on the clock as I started the engine back up. Eh, I might be a few minutes late.
I watched Dallas’s truck pull back out onto the road and head away in the opposite direction of where I was going.
Actually, I was kind of glad that Leif showed up. It might have seemed like a distraction, but just seeing that little face again sort of . . . well . . . brought up what I was fighting for again.
These were the actual guys who orchestrated the death of the rest of my family. And the two remaining Dankworths could do a victory dance on the remains of their crumbled empire after this was all over.
I grinned and put the car back into gear, steering down the road. Just get the recording tonight and it’d be a done deal.
I followed the directions I’d scribbled on the side of my hand, and after a while more of driving, my headlights swung across the open gates to a long driveway. I slowed up as I turned in.
Lights mounted at the top of each gatepost, shining down on the swirled metal that made up the two gates. The paved driveway went straight across a flat stretch. It seemed to be a common theme with this group, but again, this house had all the sleek, unpredictable angles of modern architecture.
I wrinkled my nose a little. Eww.
Though there was a nice view of mountains around, from what I could see from the outlines in the dark. And some trees. At least it has setting to its advantage.
After another minute of critically observing the structure, I pressed my foot down on the gas, puttering down the smooth strip of blacktop.
The large garage was already closed up, so I guessed it was full. A few other cars were parked around the outside at the front. I pulled up to the side, parking partly against the grass. Giving my hat brim a quick tug and clicking the button to turn the camera on, I grabbed my keys and stepped out of the car. My fingers brushed across the silver wing hanging from my key fob and I rubbed my thumb against it as I stuck it in my pocket.
I started walking the short distance to the house. Lights from a couple of the windows shone out into the dark. It looked surprisingly unpopulated for a meeting place, considering the cars around. I couldn’t see anybody in there through the windows.
I looked over my shoulder for a second, double-checking on the cars that I’d seen. Yeah, at least three other people here, not counting the cars that were probably in that huge garage. I didn’t see Franklin’s gold Cadillac, so that was probably where that was.
I strode up the steps two at a time, getting to the front door. After a second to turn on the microphone, I rapped my knuckles against the sleek metal of the door.
There was the sound of heels clicking against the floor, then a lock being unlatched and the door swung in.
Maxine stood there, her dark hair swooped up into an elegant hairdo and her makeup perfect as it had been before. Her silver wing tattoos shimmered in the light through the sheer fabric on the sleeves of her shirt.
She smiled as she saw me, looking relieved. “Hey, I’m glad you could make it, dude.” She stepped aside to let me in.
I nodded, coming inside at her motioning. “I’m glad you’ll have me back. I mean . . .” it took a bit of effort to force out the rehearsed apology, but I straightened my back and went with it. “I’m really sorry about the other night. I just . . . it was a real surprise and I wasn’t thinking straight, it just . . .” I gestured around with one hand, mustering whatever other heartfelt words I could.
Maxine shook her head, waving one of her thin hands dismissively. “Oh, no, no. I’m sorry, Wolfgang. That was a horrible mistake on Franklin’s part. It won’t happen again. I’m really sorry, that shouldn’t have happened.” She rested a hand on the sleeve of my jacket for a second, her dark eyes soft with sympathy. “I can imagine that must have shaken you up. You weren’t ready for that, were you?”
Well. Of all the expected outcomes. She was almost a better liar than Franklin.
I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times, unsure how to respond. “I . . . no. Thank you. I mean, ‘thank you,’ not ‘no thank you.’ I’m just . . .” I cleared my throat and swallowed. “Glad to be here now. Let’s let the past be the past.”
“Of course,” Maxine’s wide smile broke across her face again and she took her hand down. Her red fingernails scratched slightly against the sleeve of my jacket, making an unpleasant sound.
I forced a half-smile back, turning slightly to look around the interior of the house. All the chrome, white and weird angles that you’d expect. Just as plug ugly as the outside. “Well, this is a pretty nice place you’ve got . . .”
“It’s Jay’s place,” she corrected. “You know, Jay Strauss? He’s a tech wiz. He got the technology manipulation power with the superpowers.” She walked over to my side as I continued to look around.
“Ah, right,” I scrounged my memory for the face that went with those superpowers. “He was . . . the one with the glasses, right? Kinda skinny guy.”
“That’s him.” Maxine nodded. She motioned for me to follow her and started off down one of the halls. “He’s not with us tonight, sadly. Had to go take care of some business with Franklin, so neither of them will be joining us. I briefed them in beforehand.”
I followed Maxine’s lead down the white-lit hall, trying not to show the relief I felt at that statement. And evening without Franklin wasn’t exactly going to break my heart at this point.
Maxine reached a fork in the hallways and turned down the left hall. The tapping of her pencil-thin heels echoed off the white walls. I followed, unconsciously making the extra effort to keep my shoes from making much noise.
This was a lot smaller than most halls. And I wasn’t particularly appreciating the lack of windows. I swallowed, pushing back the tight feeling in my chest. Important mission, remember? Focus on that. The meeting room will be bigger.
Maxine finally stopped at a door to the side. Her fingernails clicked against the knob as she took a hold and twisted it, pushing inside. She looked back at me with a smile. “Right in here.”
She slipped in and I poked my head in after her.
Okay, wow. No. Not a big meeting room at all.
This was like . . . small bedroom size. No windows and . . . oh joy, a nice domed ceiling. That didn’t bring back any sort of bad memories.
I felt my heart rate spike against my will as the memories of standing inside that bombshell came back. I winced.
Everyone else, the small group of about fifteen, sat around talking with each other quietly. Maxine stepped in without a problem, taking a seat on one of the chairs in the group.
I took a stiff step after her, not closing the door behind me. “I-Interesting architecture here . . .”
“It’s the most secure room in the building,” Maxine replied. “The door can even be camouflaged to blend in with the wall in case of emergencies.” She delicately crossed her legs.
I put my hands in my pockets and nodded. “Mm. Nice.”
I considered asking if I could just stand by the open door. Be a guard for any intruders or something.
But if I did that . . . I might not get a good enough recording.
Great. Just fantastic.
I took another slow step in towards the last remaining chair, pulling in a deep breath while the door was still open.
Maxine gave me a concerned look. “You alright, dude?”
I shrugged, taking my seat. “I . . . yeah. Not a problem.”
She looked back at the door for a few seconds, then around the room.
“Claustrophobia?” another businesswoman asked. I tensed, but she kept talking. “Yeah, I don’t have it, but I wondered if that might come up with this sort of room.”
“Oh.” Maxine gave me a sympathetic look that made my stomach curdle, but I managed to keep my expression the same.
“Well,” she looked over and waved a hand. “This won’t take long, okay? There are open vent systems that circulate fresh air twenty-four-seven. It’ll be fine. You gonna be okay?” she tilted her head to look at me.
I gave her a tight smile back. “I think I’ll be fine.”
I looked away as someone else closed the door, keeping up a pretense in my mind that it was still open.
“Alrighty then,” Maxine clasped her hands together and set them in her lap, looking around the group. “Well, we’ve had a few hangups, but it looks like we’re past all that now and we should be ready for the end game. Two days people!” she held up two fingers in a peace sign, grinning.
Applause smattered through the room. A very enthusiastic, considering the crowd. And they were actually smiling. I followed suit with a bit of clapping.
“Now,” she put her hand down. “We ended up moving a lot of the stuff to this place, just since we really didn’t need that big of an auditorium since we’re breaking up into sectors for this next part. We’ve got more of the central base going on here, so we still have the switchboard. That’s what’s nice about making these things portable.” She pushed to her feet and walked over to the wall, putting her hand against a little handlebar sticking out. It clicked into place as she turned it to the side and I saw lines appear around the edges of the panel as it popped out from the wall.
I shifted my position so the brim of the ballcap was facing her direction, taking in a breath through my teeth.
“I know you guys all have bits and pieces of the whole thing, so we’ll just do a quick summary here.” Maxine pulled on the handle, letting the door drop down to reveal the panel of switches inside. “So we all know Mansley was the one that took the big initiative of starting the Hero Project. He also had say in creating the nanites, along with a few of our other folks. Well, there’s a certain bit of programming installed in those little buggers . . .”
She brushed her hand over the controls, resting her fingertips on a green lever. “See, we’ve got more than just the two modes of ‘on’ and ‘off’. There’s also the one that . . . well, was made for just this purpose. You want villains? Easy, evil people to take down and make yourself heroic? Flip this switch, and all those former supermen turn into monsters.”
My blood went icy. I bit my tongue hard. Holy smoke . . . Fernsby?
“All those justice and freedom ideals just . . .” she gestured around her head. “Poof. Violence, dude. It’s all they want. And we can target them in on particular people from here beforehand. It’s near peak nanites technology and this information has been sitting dormant for years, just waiting for us to use it.” Maxine smiled. “And of course, you all have your own assigned superheroes for taking out. It’ll happen in waves somewhat. First wave is two days from now. All you guys but me and my right hand man will be off to fight the baddies before we take our turn after that.”
She pointed around the room, naming off the heroes and the states they all had assigned.
I resisted the urge to fiddle with the microphone. Please be catching every last word of this . . .
“ . . . and Dankworth, it’s only fair that you get Amazing Man.” She laughed, the corners of her eyes crinkling. “Might take a little bit of convincing for the crowd, but keep those fire powers of yours under control . . . protect the public and throw Fernsby in the clink before he can wear himself out too much. You’ll be a hero in no time.”
I nodded, giving her a genuine smile, but not for the reason she thought. “Great.”
Maxine put the panel back up. “So that’s the basic rundown. And we should be activating at noon, two days from now. We’ll give this country some really impressive heroes to look up to.” She grinned, strutting back over to her seat and taking it again. “Are there any questions?”
I was almost glad for the tight feeling in my chest that muffled the urge to laugh.
I do. Can anyone start a stopwatch for exactly how long it’ll take Dallas to throw all you jerks in jail?
I could barely wait to call him once I was out.
Ah, all downhill from here right?
Let’s see how that goes on Thursday when we jump back to Dallas.
See you all then,