Chapter 26

Neil stood outside in the dark, the cold wind biting his limbs. Shaking, he rubbed his arms together and moved his legs around, trying to generate some warmth. While he worked on warming up, Neil looked around and mapped out his surroundings.

“No roads, no lights, no humans, hell, no animals,” Neil thought to himself, “I think I’ve found what I’m looking for.”

Rubbing his arms in vain, Neil let a grimace creep up on his face. He hadn’t expected to be out this late, or he would have packed some warmer clothes. He ducked behind an old shed to take cover from the wind. It helped. Neil started to lean against the shed, but the rotting wood felt like it would give. Before the whole thing buckled and caved in, he stepped back.

Neil got down to his knees and unzipped the giant duffel bag he had been carrying. As he unzipped the bag a bundle of electronics and wires pushed out of the overloaded duffel bag.

As he struggled to assemble the components in the dark, Neil found himself musing about the left turn his day had taken. Testing and calibrating electronics in the cold at an abandoned farm in the middle of the night wasn’t really what he had in mind when he woke up today.

On the other hand, for the first time in a long time, Neil felt well-rested. Between moving from the hotel to a loft, having his first successful dust-up with a bad guy and having to run from the cops, it had been a hell of a week. After all of that, Neil rewarded himself by not setting his alarm.

Waking up at 2 p.m. left Neil feeling great. He didn’t even feel guilty for bailing on a self-defense course. He took some extra time to stretch before he got out of bed and enjoyed the slower pace. As he exited his room, the smell of coffee caught his attention.

As Neil walked toward the common area in the loft, he tentatively called out for Tom.

“Tom, you around?”

“Yeah, Neil, I’m in here.”

Neil squinted as he looked down the hallway. It was so dark.

“Tom, would it kill you to turn on a light or open the blinds on some of those big windows? I know it’s dingy in here, but those windows are so high up we can open them and still have privacy.”

“I like the dark,” responded Tom halfheartedly.

“I can’t even find my way over there!”

“Fine,” responded Tom. The lights flicked on.

As Neil headed over, he stopped by the coffee machine and got himself a cup. He grabbed one for Tom as well and headed over to Tom’s workbench.

“Got you a fresh coffee, Tom.”

“Thanks. How’d you make out last night?”

“Well, another headset fried.”

“Yeah, I know. I don’t know what to do, you’re basically a small electromagnetic pulse generator whenever you get scared. You completely overload the circuits. I think I have an idea for this one though.”

Neil sat down next to Tom and let out a sigh.

“What’s up, Neil?”

“Just thinking. You’re right. I don’t have control of my nerves and that means I don’t have control of my powers. Also, even though things went okay last night, a lot still went wrong.”

“You can’t beat yourself up, these things take time.”

“I know, but time is something we don’t have a lot of. I’d have hoped I would have progressed faster. I can’t help but think that Conrad is making progress while we stand still. I don’t feel like I’m ready to confront him. Who knows what he might have waiting for me in the lab! Maybe he’s cracked my powers or maybe he’s figured out how to defeat me!”

“I sincerely doubt that. I’ve been listening to the scanner and there’s no talk of anyone else like you back home. On that note, though, it was pretty awesome how the police kept talking about you on the scanner.”

“How is this good news? I’m sure Conrad is smart enough to be listening to police scanners!”

Tom nodded. “Yes, he’s probably looking for us, but I doubt he has the resources here that he does back home. Even if he has something that can defeat you, it’s not like he can move the lab here. Hopefully that means that he’ll send smaller groups of thugs on to our turf and we can deal with them one by one.”

“Yeah, great plan. All we need to do is sit and wait while he puts this town in jeopardy too.”

Tom rolled his eyes. “You worry too much,” Tom paused for a second before gasping and continuing. “Oh, Neil, guess what, the cops kept calling you electric man.”

“Electric man? That’s terrible.”

“Yeah, Neil, it’s terrible. That’s exactly why you need to choose a non-shitty name before one like that sticks.”

“I’m not choosing a name, Tom. Besides, nobody rational is going to start calling me electric-man. That’s not going to stick.” Desperate to change the subject, Neil motioned to the table in front of him. “Anyway, what are you working on over here?”

“Before we get into that, I wanted to know if we could talk about the costume. Could we get rid of the coat?”

Neil felt a smile creep on his face as he relished the thought of being rid of the coat. He responded abruptly. “Absolutely.”

“Um, easy there, let me finish.” Motioning to his computer screen, Tom continued. “Could we replace it with something like this? This wing suit”

“What?” Neil could feel his face contorting as the relief wore off. “You can’t be serious.”

“I know the coat has been bulky, but if you want to jump off a building, that’s the way to do it.”

Neil shook his head. “No. Absolutely not. My arms and legs are webbed in that design. I can’t possibly fight using that. It’s even more impractical than the coat.”

“Yes, but as I said, If you want to jump off a building, you’re going to need something parachute like.”

“Even if I could make that work, what would we be looking at for a safe fall height?”

“No clue, Neil. No clue. Maybe 200m? I’m going by what these base jumping web pages say. I’m guessing here. Really, I wanted to talk to you before I went too crazy with it.”

“Well, if you’re designing it, what about building something like that into the coat? I’d prefer bulk over webbed legs!”

“Neil, dude, I’m a physicist, not a seamstress.”


“So, no. I’m not going to pick up a sewing machine and make you a coat parachute thing. Maybe this isn’t a great plan. Maybe only climb buildings with pipes you can use as fire poles?”

“Come on, I want to be able to silently swoop down on someone. It might come in handy.”

“Yeah, and we’re discovering how impractical it is. Maybe the swooping is something cool for movies and that’s about it.” A devious smile crept onto Tom’s face. “That, or it’s specifically something a hero would do. Pick a name, and I’ll figure something out for you.”

Neil rolled his eyes. “Back to this? Really? I’m not picking a name.”

“Then you’re not going to swoop.”

Letting out a sigh and throwing his arms into the air, Neil turned away to leave.

“Wait, Neil, wait. I’ll see what I can do. Don’t get mad. I was razzing you because I had something fun to share with you.”

Tom got up from the computer and walked over to the workbench. Looking back over his shoulder, he beckoned for Neil to follow. Shrugging, Neil walked over as Tom pulled the drop cloth off of the table.

“I’d been waiting for parts. I’ve had this idea for a while. There’s an irony factor I think you’d appreciate.”

As the drop cloth crept out of the way, Neil got a good look at the table. As he recognized what he was looking at, he saw an ear-to-ear grin on Tom’s face.

“Are those plasma-ion cannons?”

“Yes, they sure are. They’re not quite our original design, but they’re everything we wanted. I figured you needed a ranged attack and I figured that it would really piss off Conrad to use his idea against him.”

Tom grabbed one of the cannons and passed it over to Neil. He surveyed it intently. The center cannon was as big as his fist with a handle inside of it. He slid his hand into the back end of it and grabbed the handle.

“You’ve put your hand in it backwards, Neil.”

Neil looked at the cannon in his hand.

“I can’t be. The proportions are wrong. If I put my hand in it that way, my fist protrudes through the center cannon and the outer revolving cannons are too far back.”

“I made it, just trust me.”

Neil took the cannon off and turned it around. As he slipped his hand into it the right way, he could feel a thumb trigger near the handle and an index finger trigger on the handle. He squeezed his index finger but nothing happened. He clicked the thumb trigger. The center barrel snapped forward, hiding his hands. At the same time, the revolving barrels snapped forward and out.

“See, Neil, what did I tell you?”

“Wow, that’s really cool. It retracts.”

Neil clicked the thumb trigger again and the barrels snapped back in.

“That’s a cool mechanism, Tom.”

“I ordered everything from different companies, so don’t worry about it being replicated.”

Neil noticed cables hanging down from the cannons. He traced them with his eyes and they connected to large spikes. He looked at Tom.

“So, what’s with the spikes?”

“If this is going to work it’s going to need a ton of power. I don’t think you’ll get enough through your skin. I’ve attached some probes. You’ll jam those into your skin and tighten these leather straps to keep them in place. One on your bicep, one on your forearm.”

Neil grimaced. “Sounds painful. How well do they work?”

“First off, I imagine the persistent electrical burns on your skin would hurt worse than some pokes. As for how they work, hell if I know. You’re the only power source capable of running them. It’s not like we have a generator here.”

Neil nodded. He started to lift the probe towards his arm.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Neil?”

“Trying these things out, that’s what.”

“Not in here. I couldn’t exactly tune them or test them out. They could level the building! You’ll need to calibrate them.”

“I’m sure they’re close enough that I won’t vaporize the building.”

“Still, you’re not testing those in here.”

“Where should I go then?”

“Well, I don’t know. Somewhere not too flammable? Just take this duffel bag, jam everything in here and go field test it somewhere else. Somewhere off the beaten path?”

The cold wind brought Neil’s attention back to the farm. Neil realized that he had finished assembling the cannons and that he was ready to do his testing.

Neil took a look at the probe ends and the leather straps. They looked like watch bands. Without over thinking, Neil put the cannon on his arm, pulled the wires back to size them up. Leaving a bit of slack for movement, he jammed the first set of sharp probes into his forearm a couple inches from his funny bone. He gritted his teeth and forced the pain away as he tightened the leather strap just below the elbow.

“That’s one of four,” he said to himself through his still-gritted teeth.

Before he went further, Neil tried to move the cable around to see how it would weather in a fight. He tugged on the cord as if he was an assailant. It stayed attached pretty well and even the strongest tug only produced some mild discomfort.

Still, as the wind chilled him, Neil decided he would talk to Tom about some kind of tight fabric to protect his arms from the wind and to keep the cables tight to his skin to prevent a thug from pulling the cables.

Once Neil readied himself to try again, he repeated the process on his upper bicep. Just like last time he tightened the leather strap. As he did, he noticed some indicator lights blink on.

Talking to himself, he remarked, “Well that’s a neat touch, but we’ll have to disable those. Last thing I want is to have blinking LEDs on my arms.”

Grabbing the other cannon, he repeated the process. The dread and expectation made him hesitant to strap it on, at first, but he was surprised at how well it went. It took him no time to get strapped in.

“I was worried it would be hard or impossible to put the second one on, but it seems like Tom thought of everything.”

Neil let out a big sigh.

“Let’s see how this works.”

Neil clicked the thumb triggers and watched the barrels snap forward. He was still in awe about how cool the whole process seemed. He stood there for a bit trying to figure out how to power the damn things. He thought about the incandescent bulbs, but the same thought processes that lit the bulbs wouldn’t get the gun to work.

He thought of other things, thought about his father, about Rebecca, nothing seemed to work. As the time ticked down he started to feel more and more rushed. He double checked the cables, tightened all the straps, even slapped one of the cannons against his leg in frustration. He found himself wondering if Conrad was running into similar setbacks. “Probably not,” he said to himself. “Conrad is probably making progress. He’s probably found some other gullible scientists like Tom and I. He’s probably well on his way to replicating my powers.”

He could feel his skin get warm from the frustration. The thought of Conrad making progress made him feel sick to his stomach. He progressively found himself getting more and more angry, until he realized that the revolving barrels were spinning.

The LEDs on the side of the gun were glowing. There was a bar with red, yellow and green indicators. Neil assumed that this showed the level of charge and that green was good.

Pointing his hands at a large rock, he tightened his index fingers on the trigger. A beam fired out of each hand, hitting the rock and reducing it to powder.

“That’s a promising start. I’m going to need to test both of them individually and calibrate them, but this is a good place to start.”

With a smile on his face, Neil realized that this was the edge he needed. Even if Conrad made another person like him, that guy wouldn’t have a ranged weapon like this.

He grabbed a small toolkit from the duffel bag and set to work on calibrating the cannons. He would need to take these into action tomorrow night.

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1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

Tonight I am trying something new by doing a flashback to join what would be two short chapters into one. I don't know if the jump to and from the flashback is clear enough, would love some input.

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

Updated semi-infrequently

I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

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