17.1 - Meddling Kids [Joe's Tale]

So once Roddy had woken up, he seemed to care less about how things had wrapped up back in Costa Rica. Or about Tahi. Or about me, for that matter. He was just all jazzed up about going to see his beloved Powertronic.

You’re not a fan?

Well, I mean, I guess I thought he was all right. Sorta flashy, maybe kinda shallow – so no wonder Roddy liked him. I mean, dude’s in the HHL, all the collectable cup sets at the 7/11 – I know, 'cause Roddy showed me his collection – stuff like that. Sorta Hollywood kinda hero. Even before …


Well, I’ll get to that. So Roddy’s all excited, 'cause it’s Friday before the Big Day, and there’s gonna be canapes and stuff. And he says we have to get in uniform.

What did you think about that?

Well, it’s not like I got much uniform to complain about. I mean, Mette picked me out this Hawaiian shirt she thought I looked good in, 10XL, but I knew Roddy’d be pissed about that, and I was thinking, y’know, we’re kinda representing the school. So I put on the athletic shorts, biking shorts kinda, that they made up for me. School colors, but with “Tomb Patrol” along the sides.

How did you look?

Well, they were – kinda tight. But, I guess, respectable. Roddy’s in the same outfit, same colors and material, but it’s all over him. He’s even got this little mask. Him, he looks like a super-hero. Me – more like a gorilla in tight shorts.


The others weren’t all that thrilled and kinda blew it off. Kiln wears his normal clothes, only with one of those KA-CHOW! shirts they sell bootleg for Overdrive fans. In red, of course.

Of course.

Yeah, it’d look kinda silly in metallic beige or something. Alex, they just wear a dark hoody, like nobody’s gonna notice them at all. Mette – she’s got on something that doesn’t look like a uniform, though she, uh, moved pretty well in it. Think Jillian picked it out for her.

Did you ever get that note to her?

No, I couldn’t–make the words right. I mean, make them make sense. I figured I could talk with her, that would be easy, but we hadn’t really, um, had a chance.


So the campus shuttle takes is to HHL HQ, and the doors are all open in front because it’s a big event, Halcyon Founders Day. Parties all over town, but we got the invite to the HHL, because Powertronic, so that’s where we were, doing the slow motion walk through the lobby.

How do you feel about the HHL?

I mean, big-time heroes, right? Save lots of lives, do lots of good. I mean, there’s the stuff in People and US and Meta, stuff like that, just like movie stars or politicians. But … well, I’ve done some hero stuff, and doing that, in the spotlight, for the stakes they fight for – that’s gotta earn some respect. Or that’s what I thought. More on that in a bit.

All right.

Powertronic’s down in the lobby when we come in – not sure if he’s there to meet Roddy, or is just hitting on a cute security guard. But he spots us, kinda saunters over, all big smiles, finger guns, like as movie star kinda thing, greeting us, greeting Roddy, making jokes, serious schmoozing kinda guy. Could see what made Roddy like him. Almost made me laugh, but that’d be rude.


So I play it cool, intro myself. I can tell he’s kinda impressed by my size.


Well – maybe not. But nice to think he was. Anyway, he asks about Gothwitch, who Roddy had been gonna bring, but Roddy says she had a thing, so it’s just us. Or that’s what we thought.

What–ah, another item for later.

Well, it all makes more sense if I tell it like a story. Anyway, all sorta folk in the lobby, and Powertronic says he’s gonna give us a tour, which, okay, that’s kinda cool. Around then, I notice Alex’s looking kinda twitchy, all subtle in their hoody, but looking around at everyone carefully, and when we get on the elevator, they nudges me over a bit and stands behind me against the wall and buttons, so I figured it was some sorta spy stuff.


Yeah, kinda made me wonder, but if AEGIS was spying on the HHL, no skin off my nose. As long as there was no orbital death laser involved, right?

Um, right.

And Roddy’s keeping up this constant chatter, which is keeping Powertronic distracted, which could have been intentional, him helping Alex, except Roddy’s always keeping up a constant chatter. And he’s asking Powertronic about Blackbird, which is kinda sketchy cause it was on the cover of Meta last week that she had dumped him and was going out with Overdrive, which maybe explained the way he’d frowned at Kiln’s shirt.


So Powertronic is talking all about how cool Blackbird is, then the elevator opens up, and he asks whether we want the tour or hit the buffet, and everyone’s drooling at the buffet except Roddy, who’s almost like he’s a five year old at Christmas and want to tour all the things. So we leave the chicken tendies and start the tour.


And it’s like one of those Reality TV shows where they’re showing off some bazillionaire’s house that has a gym on every floor and two swimming pools on the roof. It’s really cool, really impressive, really hi-tech, and really a lot of money I wonder could’ve been spent better, y’know? And it all ends in Heroes Hall.

I’ve seen pictures of that.

Everyone has. And it’s even more impressive in person. The big table, the big monitor screens, the huge picture window looking over City Hall and the Central District (and that turns into a monitor screen). All very cool. And Powertronic has been talking up a storm, so even Roddy can’t get many words in edgewise, which tells you something.


So Powertronic offers to let us sit in the chairs, which is cool, but … well, none of them are assigned, but I’m kinda worried about …


Well, breaking it. I mean, I thought that was the worse thing I could do, break one of the HHL’s chairs. But PT is all, hey, Golem sits there, the Mighty Boulder, St. George, all these other really big guys, so he says the chairs can adjust and – well, it does.

Was it comfortable?

Well, physically, yeah. Like it adjusted to my weight and movements and all that. Very cool. But emotionally, I mean, I both really want to be there, but didn’t think I could ever be there. Suddenly it was like, a big case of, what do you call it, psych term, um, impression syndrome?

Imposter syndrome?

Yes! Yeah, that makes a lot more sense. Imposter syndrome. Like, I didn’t belong there, and if they knew what I really was, things would get really ugly, really quickly.

So did they?


They did?

Well, not 'cause of that. But … okay, so all of a sudden, two more HHL come in, Sigrun the Viking and Blackbird. And Kiln’s staring at them like they’ve seen a ghost, and PT is staring at them like he just swallowed a bug, and Sigrun’s like in charge and snapping out orders to Blackbird, all “Status!” stuff – and displays pop up at the chairs where we’re sitting, and the windows get dark and Blackbird sits down and starts typing – and then Sigrun spots us and tells all the displays to turn off, and Roddy says something looking at his display, and then he’s staring at her, and he’s got this face like I don’t know what, he’s gone pale, but his expression – I know it can’t be good, so I call his name. Almost forget to use his code name, but –

What did he do?

He says, “Why the hell is Tiffani in one of your cells?”

Um, what?

Yeah, kinda what everyone was thinking. Powertronic gapes, and then looks at Sigrun, and she’s looking daggers back at him, and then he says back to Roddy, “Who?” and Roddy’s eyes widen and Blackbird is typing even faster and–that’s when the shit, excuse me, really hit the fan, y’know?

Go … on …

Roddy – Sync – is suddenly on the move, sliding from his chair under the table, rolling to his feet and running for the door, but Blackbird, she’s moving, too, and there’s this blur of feet and elbows and hands and Sync is sassing her and then does this backflip and is racing for the doors to the room.

So then Blackbird’s turning to run for the table, and whatever’s going on, she’s gonna try and stop him with the keyboard, so I stop her.

Wait. You were … backing Roddy, Sync’s, play?



I know. I mean, Roddy’s such a jerk sometimes, and he’s got huge impulse control problems, and he annoy the snot out of me – but … I heard what he said. And I know he and Tiff – Gothwitch – got a thing. And something’s wrong here. And he’s taking action – I know he’s not running, so I’m guessing he’s dashing off to the rescue, ta-dah – well, he’s gonna be a hero, least I can do is back him up. We’re team mates, right?


And I knew it was the right thing to do, especially since I kinda felt I owed Roddy, for letting him be injured fighting that stupid moose. And – well, I was angry. And I know that’s not the best way to make decisions, but it felt good.

What is it about Roddy that … provokes such a strong reaction from you?

I dunno. Everything, I guess.

But if you have to list off three things …

Well, he’s like – not serious. Most of the time. That moment there, when he was asking about Gothwitch, was like as serious as I ever seen him. Most of the time it’s laughing and bragging and talking about stupid stuff. Annoying.

So he isn’t broody, but instead seems to enjoy life?

Yyyeah, put it that way, it doesn’t sound as bad. I just wish he wasn’t so in my face about it.

What else?

Well – he’s good. I mean, he’s got the moves – I’d never seen someone move like Blackbird, and he just Bruce Lee’d his way all around her. Didn’t attack, but didn’t take a serious hit. Dodge, block, dodge, dodge, deflect, all martial arts. And I know, 'cause I keep getting stuck sparring with him in class, and I can bend rebar and use it as a toothpick, but if I can’t lay a hand on him, doesn’t mean anything.

So he’s proficient, even though his actual powers are relatively limited.

Which makes me sound like a jealous jerk.

Does it?

I just – he’s like – everything I’m not. And the stuff that I’m not and don’t wanna be, it just really annoys me. And the stuff I’m not but wish I was, that’s even worse. And he’s really obvious about it. And he does these crazy things, and I don’t know if he’s punking me or just kinda weird. I mean, I do something stupid or ordinary and he calls me his best friend, and I dunno if he’s serious 'cause he’s just a freak, or it’s some long game prank, or what?

Is he actually that manipulative?

Sometimes. I think. I guess. I mean, for a long time seemed like he was trying to sort of control me? Manipulate my behavior? I mean, I look back on it and can’t remember what exactly led me to that conclusion, but it’s always colored how I felt about him. Maybe trying to psych me out, sparring – or maybe I was just reading something not there. I dunno.

Well, food for thought, anyway. Anyway, now that you’ve returned to normal size, continue your story.

Oh, did I --? Um, sorry.

Not to worry, Joey. Continue. Um … you were confronting Blackbird.

Well, kinda-sorta. I knew she was gonna do something at that keyboard, maybe had been before Roddy started moving – he slid through the door last second before it slid togetther shut with that big boom and hiss of some sort of really big lock.

So what did you do?

I slammed my fist on the table, hard, smashing the keyboard and display. If she was gonna do something to sound the alarm or something, I was stopping her. At least until she chose another seat, but I was hoping it would at least give her pause.

I see. What about the others?

Well, Blackbird skids to a halt, and Sigrun is starting to glower at us instead of Powertronic, and PT like jumps and squeaks a bit when I break the table, which was not a good look on him. Alex, he’d been moving around, doing some sort of spy stuff, probably, and hoping nobody was looking at him. And Mette’s gotten up to help Roddy, too, and kicks her chair over at Sigrun and – yeah, that kinda flopped.


And Sigrun, her eyes get really wide at someone doing something like that to her, like she’s this big, super-important person, which I guess she kinda is, but acting like it’s really uncool. And she stomps her foot and screams “Enough!” And she starts lecturing us like kids, how we’re interfering in important grown-up stuff, and we should sit down and be quiet or there’d be “consequences.”

Did you?

Hell no. I mean, first, I’ve been yelled at by my Aunt Edie, and this Sigrun’s got nothing on her. Second, I was angry, get it? Not the right time to tell me to be a quiet little kid. She wants to spank me, she’s gonna have to do it herself. And, of course …

Of course …?

Well, Mette was there, and I’m not gonna back down in front of her. Especially since Mette’s looking really scared, which only makes me angrier.

Do you think not backing down in front of your – of someone important to you, that that’s always the wisest of action?

Probably not. But this time … well, add in all the other stuff, I did what I did.

What of the others?

Well, Alex sits right down, but can’t tell if they’re scared or just being subtle, y’know. But Kiln just shakes their head, and start that magic glow. And Sigrun’s glaring, and Blackbird’s eyeing me, and Powertronic, he’s kinda backing up so he’s out of Sigrun’s line of sight, the coward.

And you?

Me? I was just getting bigger, getting ready for what came next …

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