We were sitting just a few tables away from the entrance to the cafeteria, ensuring that a constant stream of people passed, all of them carrying lunch trays and talking. Andy, Mike and Kyle were having an in depth discussion about whether the new version of Dungeons and Dragons really was a ripoff or not.
It felt like a throwback to last year even though it shouldn’t have. Most days I still ate here. Hanging around with Vaughn and Cassie at school was still more the exception than the rule, and today I had more reason than ever not to stand out.
His name was Future Knight and he circulated around the cafeteria, asking questions, sometimes even cracking jokes. He looked like a thin Cylon (minus the roving red eye)—silver armor reflecting the lunchroom like a mirror. A sword hung on his left side and a pistol on the right. He wore a rifle strapped across his back.
According to an interview in Double V, he claimed to be a normal guy from Detroit who had been pulled into the future, trained to be a cop and then sent back to our time. Normally he worked with a crossbow wielding partner named Red Bolt.
I guessed that Red Bolt must be at a different high school today.
Concentrating on my pizza, I hoped that he didn’t have the ability to notice that I was wearing the stealth suit.
Grandpa had designed different versions of his armor for different situations. The stealth version is little more than a black bodysuit that fits under clothes. It acts as armor, gives a little extra strength, and includes a full power version of the sonic systems. Along with that, there’s an underpowered jetpack that passes as a backpack.
On a practical level, this meant that I could go to school and still feel like I wasn’t completely defenseless.
Chris Cannon, Man-machine’s grandson, sat down next to me.
“Did you see the cape?” His tray hit the table with a clunk, causing his milk carton to fall over on its side. Fortunately, it wasn’t open. He picked it up, opened it, his hands shaking a little, and put in the straw.
Chris knew me from Science Olympiad and ate with me occasionally. It felt a little awkward sometimes, but I suppose that might have been entirely in my head.
“Only just now,” I said.
“He questioned me. He was all friendly about it, but he wanted to know if I’d ever heard what happened to the old Rocket or his suit. I mean it was like he thought I might have it.” Chris sounded just on the edge of shouting or maybe tears.
“That would be… bizarre,” I said.
“No shit,” he said. “Grandpa wasn’t always the nicest guy in the world, but I wouldn’t have beaten him up. Besides in order to have the old Rocket’s armor, I’d have had to meet him first, and have him train me and tell me all his secrets. After which, I’d do what? Commit myself to making up for my grandfather’s crimes? How far-fetched is that?”
“It sounds pretty typical for a superhero.”
He snorted, then laughed.
“Good point,” he said. “How hard do you think it would be to make armor like the Rocket's or my grandfather's?”
There aren’t a lot of sentences I’d less like to hear coming out of his mouth than that one--though, “Hey Nick, watch me crush this car,” is right up there.
“I’m sure it would be near impossible,” I said. “First of all, you’d have to get the right materials—by which I mean you’d probably have to create them yourself and—“
Then I stopped talking. It wasn’t because I realized that I was beginning to go off on a technical monologue that risked exposing me (and giving Chris specifics on constructing powered armor).
It was because Kayla and Cassie were walking past and Cassie had punched me in the arm.
It hurt less than usual. I should wear the stealth suit every day.
“Nick,” she said, “still need a ride home?”
She didn’t really need to ask. We’d arranged it the night before. This was actually a bit of theater that would allow us to avoid explaining why were leaving together after our practices were done.
“If it’s okay,” I said.
“It's totally okay."
They left for the other side of the room to eat with about half of the volleyball team.
After that, Chris and I got drawn into the Dungeons and Dragons discussion.
Sixth hour: Kayla and I both had the same American Literature class. She sat a couple seats behind me and to the left. It’s not normally worth mentioning because it wasn’t as if we ever talked. We didn’t even say, “hi” when we passed each other in the hall.
So when the bell rang, and I dumped my books in my backpack, and walked into the hall to find that Kayla was walking next to me? That was a little weird, verging on uncomfortable.
“Hi,” she said.
I wasn’t sure where to go from there. All I knew about Kayla was that she was a good basketball player, and I watch basketball about as often as I play golf on the moon.
She opened her mouth, closed it, frowned, then blurted, “What’s going on between you and Cassie and Vaughn?”
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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.