If I had to choose one word to describe him, it would be “professional.”

Clean-cut, clean shaven, and wearing black jeans, shirt and jacket, the man pointed a submachine gun at me.

“What’s that in your hand?” He used the gun to indicate my right hand, the one that held the controller.

I decided not to bother to reply, putting the controller back into the pouch.

“What do you think you’re doing? Pass that thing over here.”

Shrugging, I tried to think of my next move. The classic answer would be to knock him unconscious, but he hadn’t done anything other than point a weapon at me.

That’s not much of a threat.

Of course, it was possible that he might have armor piercing bullets that actually worked against my armor.

“So,” I said conversationally, “do you work for Martin Magnus?”

“Do you have a hearing problem? Give me that thing or I’ll shoot you.”

He stepped toward me.

I smacked the muzzle of the gun with my left hand, forcing it to point away from my body then grabbed the top of the gun with the right hand, and yanked it away from him.

Unfortunately, it was on a shoulder strap. So in yanking the gun away from him, I’d pulled him toward me and he took advantage of it, diving into me like a linebacker and catching me in the stomach with his shoulder.

I fell over. He landed on top of me, pulled himself up and punched me in the head.

It didn’t hurt. The helmet took the blow, but it was still a strong punch, easily in line with what Cassie had thrown at me in practice.

I landed an open-handed strike to his face, knocking him unconscious. Then I rolled him off me and stood up, checking him over.

His trigger finger pointed at an odd angle relative to the rest of his right hand. I must have done that when I pulled the gun away. Looking at it made me a little queasy. I turned my attention to his head, hoping I hadn’t cracked his skull when I struck him.

His face seemed to be normally shaped and didn't give when I touched it. Without an X-ray, that was as far as I could go.

Anyway, he seemed to be breathing normally. With any luck, whatever gave him that strength also gave him some kind of help in healing.

I could hope.

Originally I’d been planning to let the bots do a quick once over and then let the bugs report after that. Now, I could count on people removing anything interesting as soon as he either reported in or failed to.

Leaving him on the sidewalk, I started the rockets and flew up to a balcony on the wing to my left. I ducked under an arch while floating over the railing and landed in front of a door. It was locked. Punching through the window next to the doorknob, I reached in and unlocked the door.

I walked through a guest bedroom that ought to have been in a motel—all carved wooden bed and dressers, a couple paintings, a big television, a radio, and no clutter or personal items.

From there, I went out the door and down the hall, following information from the controller. I had to break the door open to get in, deciding as I did it that I ought to learn how to pick locks.

But even as I thought it, I was inside.

If possible, it was weirder than it looked from the robot’s perspective. From where the robot had been, I had seen the books, the skulls, and the jars of preserved animals, but I hadn’t noticed the number of plastic containers filled with different colored dust. The refrigerator turned out to be stocked with animal parts (I closed it quickly).

Another thing I noticed was that though it used glass beakers and test tubes just like I remembered from chemistry lab, the beakers seemed much larger. Whatever Magnus did in this lab, he clearly did in bulk.

The books were another mystery. An entire shelf held three-ring binders filled with photocopies and pictures of writings in other languages—Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sumerian cuneiform, and others I didn’t recognize. Near them were another shelf of grammars and dictionaries.

The rest of books seemed to be a mixture of the anatomy, biology, and chemistry.

I had no idea what to do next. It was obvious that this all connected somehow to Vaughn’s grandfather. It also seemed obvious that the ancient writings were somehow useful in creating whatever Magnus worked on in this lab, but the overall picture was not coming together.

In an ideal world, one of the books on the bookshelf would be The Book That Explains Everything. Unfortunately, if such a book did exist, it appeared to have been checked out. What’s more, I had no chance of going through this much stuff quickly.

Unfortunately, I had an idea. I didn’t like it much, but it was the only idea I had.

I activated the cell phone I’d recently wired into the suit, placed a call to one of the numbers I had on speed dial.

“Hey Isaac,” I said, “I was wondering how good the FBI is at confiscating property for no good reason?”

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About the author


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 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.

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Cestarian @Cestarian ago

"I had no idea what to do next. It was obvious that this all connected somehow to Vaughn’s grandfather. It also seemed obvious that the ancient writings were somehow useful in creating whatever Magnus worked on in this lab, but the overall picture was not coming together. "

Seriously how much of a moron is this protagonist? It's blatantly obvious he's manufacturing the 'elixir' thingy in here... I don't know what kind of mystery you're trying to build up here man, but you failed to build any sort of mystery right from the start, there has never been anything that can't be easily deduced in this book up till this point, except that the protagonist is a complete moron and can't even calculate 2+2. I wonder how the hell such a moron fixes a supercar and superbike, or how he's gonna fix a superjet too.