_This is set at some vague time in the immediate future, when everything has (ha!) settled down and we “skip a bit forward”. Or perhaps in a closely parallel world, where some luckier rolls of the dice allowed for a bit less of a firehose of drama since Day 1. No real point to it, except to define “normal” for Jason these days …
The hoverdisc settled gracefully onto the worn pavement, its edges just crossing the white stall markers on either side. Not for the first time, Jason wished Dad had thought about parking lots when he designed the thing. Maybe something more like a floating bathtub would have served the four of them better.
Ah, well. It was still a sweet ride.
Gravel on the asphalt ground and crackled under his Keds as he walked over to the Glug ‘n’ Go’s entrance. It was brightly lit inside, and Jason could already see the chips aisle. Harry was hosting tonight’s meeting (at his dad and mom’s insistence – “We’d love to have you kids over, sport! We enjoy getting to know your friends better!”). Jason had long had it drilled into him you don’t show up for a social gathering without some sort of food or drink to contribute.
(“Social customs vary the world over, Jason, but learning to be a good guest will make you welcome everywhere!” “Yeah, and if you don’t like the crap they’re serving at least you can eat what you brought.”)
To Jason’s frustration, he discovered he’d eaten the last bag of nacho cheese Doritos last night while doing some reprogramming of the compound security system (shapeshifters were a pain in the ass to defend against). Thus the side trip to the neighborhood Glug ‘n’ Go on the way to Harry’s. Harry would appreciate him bringing over chips.
He opened the door, a chime sounded and everything – slowed – down –
Nanobots rush to cover me, what, ah, man with a gun, woman behind the counter terrified hands up mouth open to screen, gun swinging around toward me, store empty no bystanders, one ten-foot step nanobot-assisted, backwave my hand, black tentacle lashes out smashes against the gun hand, gun goes flying, probably broken bones in the hand, pull the downward punch that flattens him so I don’t break his skull, just a kid, just a human, picked a –
“-- bad night to rob a Glug ‘n’ Go,” Jason says, with a smile, the bot swarm retracting even before the kid had fully crumpled on the ground before him.
The Hispanic woman behind the counter was staring at him in horror. “It’s okay,” Jason says, holding up his hands. “I’m not here to hurt you.” With a mental sigh he added, “You might recognize me from the car–”
Thunder roared and someone kicked Jason in the back –
– wasn’t afraid of me someone behind me, turning, flowing, nanobots adding to speed and strength and that’s going to hurt in a bit, oh, another kid, gun, bathroom door closing jesus h christ you’re robbing a store and one of you hits the head jeez, another shot but the bots have already calculated where, strengthened armor, absorbing impact, angry the guy just shot me twice dammit, I reach with a hand the size of the Fudgesicle fridge, slam him into the linoleum floor too not too hard gun goes off again, not aimed at me oh god the woman behind, the bots hesitate a fraction of second she cries out, another slam to the floor, I feel something break in him, gun falls free, turn don’t want to see –
The woman wasn’t hurt – not badly. The bullet from that last stray shot had just grazed her raised forearm, leaving a nasty cut, but that was about it. Jason grabbed some paper towels and gave them to her to hold down on the wound, even as he he extended the bots to nab a first aid kit from the nearest aisle, and even as he used his earbud to call 911 to report the robbery, and ask for an ambulance to be sent.
He stood out on the worn asphalt outside the store, having finished giving his statement, blue and red flashing lights making the whole place look like some lunatic dance hall. Weird, about the pause there from the nanobots. Or maybe not so weird – they were designed to protect him, not bystanders. He wasn’t sure he could do anything about that (he always shied back from working on the nanobots – they were way to advanced for him, and he was sure something awful would happen if he tried, even if they were slowly killing him otherwise). He just have to keep the limitation in mind, and work more on “situational awareness,” like Rusty had always drilled into him.
He’d be a little late over to the Gales – he sent a text ahead letting them know – but overall, despite that little hiccup, Jason Quill felt pretty good. It was nice to take care of some simple street crime for once, to help a simple innocent bystander, without it all turning into some sort of socio-political melodrama, or publicity nightmare, or an existential supernatural menace, or waiting for Alycia Chin to step out of the shadows.
It was nice to have (for him) a normal evening.
The security cameras at the Glug ‘n’ Go whirred silently on their gimbels and followed him across the lot to the hoverdisc, watching him intently as they had since he’d arrived.
author: *** Dave H.