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The Red Rook - Chapter 6 - A Few Things Before I Let You Go

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You don't get to choose what piece you are, only how you play the game...

You'd think that being stronger and tougher than everyone else at Centurion High would go down in the plus column. And it had, as far as the athletic crowd was concerned. Enough that the jocks forgave Penny for her preference to hang out with a small clique notorious for being hardcore board-gamers and role-playing eggheads. But it seemed like a small consolation.

Maybe it's because Penny just wants to be appreciated for her brains rather than her brawn. Or maybe she hangs out with the nerds because of Michael. Michael—her childhood best friend and the boy-next-door—certainly appreciates Penny for her smarts—and maybe, sometimes, she wants him to appreciate her for more than that. Penny's been spending a lot of time with Michael recently, helping him to take up his dead father's superhero identity. Besides, despite Michael being a straight up genius, he's "common sense" challenged.

If that wasn't enough, Penny's superhero mother has ramped up her passive-aggressive campaign to convince Penny to take up the mask and start crime fighting; her two younger sibs—almost as strong and tough as Penny—are superhero crazy; a series of mysterious attacks seems to be targeting Penny directly; and her other best friend is dating Michael. (e)

Back to Chapter 5

Chapter 6: A Few Things Before I Let You Go

Michael pulled the backpack down, slipping his arms through the straps as I helped guide it into position and snugged the straps down. I heard the faint sounds of servo-motors locking down the backpack and connecting its hoses and other internal plumbing links. The suit seemed to grow, hoses pressurizing like great veins running under its white skin. He pulled the hood up and fitted the mask and goggles into place. He buckled on the utility belt, then disengaged from the silver umbilical, knees flexing as the full weight of the backpack settled. Only then did he give the thumbs up gesture. I returned it. If I didn’t know Michael was inside the suit, I would have thought the Dispenser was back from the dead. Well, I suppose he was.

I headed for the command console and its high-backed chair. It looked like I had been right about Zircon Man’s fate. The Squad was taking turns batting the red, blue, and gold supersuited D-lister around. It was painful to watch, but he knew the risks when he had signed up for the superhero gig. Three other monitors were flashing, name bubbles attached to more supersuited crooks. Hopefully somebody else was going to deal with them. Michael and I were going to have our hands full making sure the new Dispenser didn’t end up being pounded to a pulp like Zircon Man. Or worse, meet the same fate as the first Dispenser.

I seated myself in the high-backed chair facing the console. I went through the prep routine, all the while wondering if Liz had felt the same tingles of anticipation and worry as I was now feeling. I pulled on the sound isolation headphones and adjusted the mic. I pushed aside my doubts and punched up the video feed from the suit. The six cameras integrated into the suit’s headgear created a panoramic view of the Lab in the lowest band of monitors. Michael was halfway to the door of the air-cannon capsule on the southern wall. We couldn’t afford haste at this point, so I radioed, “Systems check.”

It brought him up short. He turned to face me, and I heard his sigh of exasperation before he said, “Roger, systems check.”

I pulled up the status screen and started through the list. “Communication links?”

“Of course the radio works, we’re using it.”

I was tempted to say, “Don’t rush into battle, remember what Dragline did to Achilles?” I settled for, “This is serious, Michael.”

“Comm links. Check.”

I could almost hear the “if it will keep you happy” in his response.

“Video link? Check,” I said, answering my own question. A few key strokes ran the row of monitors showing the suit’s view of the Lab through infrared, visible, and ultraviolet spectrums. “Cold-fusion bottle?”

“Reading 90 kilowatts, pushing 200 kilowatts for peak output. Nominal neutron flux.”

“Primary pump?” I queried.

“Online,” he answered.

“Secondary pumps?”

“Online.”

“Main tank pressure?”

“756 atmospheres.”

“Pneumatic power-assist?”

“Check.”

“All mission-specific reservoirs reading?”

“100%.”

“Now you can go kick some ass,” I said.

“Thanks, I plan to.” he said.

I triggered the capsule door. It opened, and he stepped in. The massive air cannon’s tank was full and ready to fire. The suit’s telemetry flashed a warning when Michael inflated the shock balloons. The cannon’s barrel was fixed vertically, so there was no targeting to adjust. He was ready for launch.

“Fire when ready,” he radioed.

“Roger, three second countdown,” I said. A surge of adrenalin hit me when I flipped back the transparent plastic cover shielding the air-cannon’s red firing button.

“Two.” I moved my finger over the button, taking a steadying breath, part of me wishing that I was about to take flight.

“One.” I pressed it. The air-cannon made a nearly sub-sonic cough that I felt through the Lab’s floor. The Dispenser was in flight.



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