He stepped away from the Grey Giant’s unconscious form and waved us to follow him off to the side of the highway.
As we stepped off the blacktop, Cassie said, “What do you suppose he wants?”
I had no idea.
“You,” he was looking at me. “You’re not the real Rocket, right? Because seriously, you fucked up. This guy’s way out of your league. You should have withdrawn and called us—or hell, even Rhino over there.”
Larry was talking with the police a couple hundred feet behind him.
“I called 911,” I said. “It took ages before you got here.”
“You don’t call 911. We’ve got a number for stuff like this. You call it before you go in and we’ll have someone available.”
He sounded tired, as if he told me this already a couple times and I’d somehow forgotten.
“What number? Seriously,” I said, “is it in the phone book? Do you put it on billboards? I’ve never seen this number. We had no idea that he was here. We just thought we were dealing with Syndicate L—you know, normal people with guns. This was just our bad luck.”
“Besides,” Cassie said, “if this is a mess, it’s not the Rocket’s fault, it’s mine. I called him in at the last minute.”
“Mine too,” Daniel said. “I thought we’d done enough recon.” Daniel took a deep breath. He looked tired.
Guardian scowled, suddenly reminding me more of a pissed off coach than a superhero.
“I look at you,” he said, “and it’s pretty obvious you’ve been into the Hero League’s stuff. Hell, you’re probably related to them. But you know what? You’re not them.”
He glared at each of us in turn.
“They,” he continued, “were an experienced combat team. You are a bunch of kids taking a break from your homework to ‘fight crime.’ If you don’t want to remember that your mistakes can kill people, then do us all a favor and go home.”
He emphasized the last two words quite loudly. Behind him, the growing crowd of police, costumed heroes, civilians, and reporters all began to look in our direction.
“Tonight you had this guy next to a bunch of abandoned factories and you drove him toward a commonly used highway, knocking out power for I don’t know how many city blocks as you went. If you’d done any research at all, you’d have had back up. Our number is on our website.”
He looked me directly in the eye.
What could I say to that?
“If you want to do this,” he said, “get serious. This isn’t about glory. It’s definitely not about money. It’s about keeping thugs like that guy off the streets.”
Then he turned, glancing toward where the Grey Giant’s human body was being loaded into a Box—one of those small trucks specially modified for holding supers.
“Because if you don’t get serious,” he said, “you’ll probably die young.”
Everything else after that is a blur of police and press questions. I answered the police, ignored the press and we all flew back to headquarters. Daniel and Cassie left for their homes after cleaning up and changing into street clothes.
I stayed, checking the suit over for damage in the lab. Then I went and sat at the table in the main room, turning on the TV.
The massive room filled with a massive screen seemed wasted on one person. The trophies hanging on the walls or covered in glass cases told the story of a team twenty years gone.
I flipped through channels on the big screen, finding more coverage of tonight’s activities than I really wanted to see. I got to watch myself get smacked across the highway and Cassie slash the Grey Giant via the Channel 10 Choppercam. Meanwhile the reporter talked about a collaboration between “what may be a revival of the Heroes’ League and Chicago’s Midwest Defenders.”
It sounded better than the real story which would have been “Clueless local heroes saved by jerks from Chicago.”
When they shifted to the main news desk to discuss how long the power would be off in the downtown area, I shut off the TV. I didn’t need to hear more.
While I walked around HQ, shutting off the lights, I heard the door to the sewer exits slide open and then a familiar clanking. I found Larry removing the head to the Rhino suit in the main room, dumping the helmet on the table in front of the TV next to a pizza.
Then the rest of the armor snapped open. I’m not sure how. He stepped out of it, wearing a grey coverall similar to a flight suit. With shoulder length hair and a bit of a gut, Larry doesn’t look like your average pilot. On the other hand, Larry’s costume doesn’t allow him to fly.
“Hey Nick. Free pizza. I’d have brought beer, but then I’d have to arrest myself or something.”
“Where’d you get the pizza,” I asked, but that’s not what I was really wondering. I was wondering how he could get at the money to pay for a pizza. So far as I can tell, his armor has no pockets.
He grabbed some pizza out of the box. “Antonio’s. You know, just around the corner? They usually give me a freebie when I get on TV. Mind if I turn it on?”
Despite the fact that I did mind, I said, “Go ahead.”
It didn’t take that long to find a channel showing Larry (as the Rhino) knocking the Grey Giant on his back. Actually, we found several—including footage from the idiots in the mini-van.
I got to watch the Grey Giant slap me straight into the pavement on CNN.
“Oh geez,” I muttered.
“Yeah,” Larry said, “bad break there. You’re still walking though. That’s a plus.”
“It doesn’t change the fact that I suck,” I said. “I mean, what did I do this whole time? I got knocked out of the fight twice and didn’t really hurt the guy at all. Daniel at least tripped the guy once and Cassie probably could have killed him by herself.”
“Ah, don’t beat yourself up,” Larry said. “Trust me kid, there are people willing to do that for you.”
Larry pulled another piece of pizza onto his plate. “Besides, you stopped the Grey Giant from going after the van. If he’d thrown it at somebody, the guys inside would be pushing daisies.”
“That’s something,” I said, “but in the meantime we managed to knock out power for half the downtown and chased him down a highway. Guardian was right. We didn’t plan at all.”
“Is that what this is all about?” The expression on Larry’s face was hard to read, but it tilted toward annoyance.
“Look Nick,” he said, “Guardian’s an ass. I missed what he said back there, but you guys did all right for the first time out as team. Did I ever tell you about the first time I ever faced an actual supervillain?”
“Well okay,” he said, “Mind if I take the last piece?”
I was okay with that.
“So here I am,” he said, “ Fifteen years old. I’ve taken out a couple muggers, busted a counterfeiter, and I’m ready to take on the world. I’ve upgraded the Rhino suit and I can throw trucks if I want to. Hell, I’m just looking for the chance.
“I hear on the radio that some supervillain—I think his name was Electroman—is downtown blasting away at the police with lightning bolts. So I run down there. I’m going to take him on. I show up running eighty miles an hour and ready to punch him into next week. The moment I get out in front of the cops, the guy sends I don’t know how many volts of electricity straight into the suit and burns out everything in it.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. I was frozen in place. I had to stand there while the wiseass laughed and told me I should rename myself the ‘Coat Rack’.”
“Did he get away?”
“Nah,” Larry grinned. “About that time your Grandpa showed up and clobbered him. He got blasted a couple times too, but his armor had better protection. He took the guy out.”
Larry didn’t stay much longer. After he left, I finished shutting everything down, got into the elevator, and traveled to the surface.
The sky was clear and I could see stars through the trees that lined the street. The air felt warm. It was one of those fall nights when you wonder whether or not summer had ended. I walked away from Grandpa’s aboveground lab, a bungalow next to Veterans’ Memorial Park.
I’d received the bungalow in Grandpa’s will. It had passed without remark in a will reading that included giving away several million dollars that no one had realized Grandpa had.
A few cars passed me. A dog barked. I saw the glow of the David Letterman Show through somebody’s picture window.
I knew that Larry had told me that story to make me feel better, but for the moment it had worked.
The night hadn’t been a complete disaster. In the end, the Grey Giant had been caught. Cassie had gotten her chance to take on Syndicate L and we had won that part of the evening hands down.
I walked up to the side door of my parents’ house, pulled out my key and unlocked it.
Inside, it was like any other night. My dad sat in a chair in the living room, books on the floor and his laptop on his lap. My mom was already in bed.
“Back a little late,” he said. “What were you doing?”
“Nothing much,” I said. “Just hanging out with Cassie and Daniel at Grandpa’s lab.”
“Try to be in before eleven next time.”
Next time, I decided, the Rocket would have to do a better job at making his curfew.
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Bio: Jim Zoetewey grew up in Holland, Michigan, near where L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books in that series. Admittedly, Baum moved away more than sixty years before Jim was even born, but it's still kind of cool. Jim didn't attain his goal of never leaving school, but did prolong his stay as long as possible. He majored in religion and sociology at Hope College, gaining enough credits to obtain minors in ancient civilizations and creative writing—had he thought to submit applications to the relevant departments. He attended Western Theological Seminary for two years. He followed that up by getting a masters degree in sociology at Western Michigan University. Once out of school, he took up the most logical occupation for someone with his educational background: web developer and technical support. Simultaneously, he finished all but three credits of a masters in Information Systems, a degree that's actually relevant to his field. He's still not done. In the meantime, he's been writing stories about superheroes and posting them online at http://legionofnothing.com. He's still not sure whether that was a good idea, but continues to do it anyway. He's also not sure why he's writing this in the third person, but he's never seen an author bio written in first person and doesn't want to rock the boat.