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"Why are we going this way then?"

"The tunnel I used to go through collapsed during the rainstorms we got near the end of August. This is the only other one I know about," Vaughn said.

I couldn't see anything. Was I supposed to go down there and locate the gun by the flash from its muzzle? If I was lucky, the gun was fixed and capable of firing in only one direction. If I was unlucky, it had the ability to track targets. My armor did well against bullets, but I didn't feel much of an urge to test its limits.

"Haley, can you see anything?"

"Just a hallway. The door's maybe fifty feet away from us. No... Wait. I think I see a hole in the wall. Two. One on each side. They're at waist level in the middle. I wonder if I could just crawl across the wall? Do you think I could?"

"I don't know. It depends on what triggers the guns. Vaughn?"

"Fuck," Vaughn said. "How am I supposed to know how the guns work?"

It felt like I was in the worst Dungeons and Dragons game ever -- no equipment and no one with any skills relevant to the situation.

Finding the guns by the light generated from being shot at sounded like a better and better idea by the moment.

"OK. I guess I've got a plan. You guys back up the stair a bit and I'll take care of it."

"I'll come along," Haley said.

"You don't have armor," I said.

Vaughn said, "Yeah, no matter what happens, Nick's not going to get hurt."

"I'm fast enough to dodge bullets," Haley said, "and my costume's a standard League suit."

Which meant that my grandfather had designed the material. It was probably made from the same stuff as the stealth suit.

"Just let me go first," I said. "That way they'll be firing at me. The armor can take it better than your costume."

"Great," she said, "Let's go."

"First" is a surprisingly fuzzy concept in English. It could mean waiting until I got ten feet ahead and then start to walk. It could mean following just a couple feet behind me. For Haley it apparently meant that she could crawl along the wall from the instant I set off.

Bearing in mind that I couldn't see much of anything, I couldn't know that for sure.

I walked down the hallway blind, wondering when I'd be hit and from what direction. The answer turned out to be "from the left and right simultaneously and at an angle." Bullets will knock me over if I'm not expecting them, but in this case I was. It caught me mid-step and I rocked back, put my foot behind me, and held myself in place. When the bullets failed to stop, I jumped forward, aiming for the flashes of light, and started punching the wall.

It broke under the force of my blows. Chunks of concrete hit me on the helmet, the chest, the legs. My hand finally landed a glancing blow on the barrel of the gun, bending it a little, but not enough to stop the gunfire. Following the barrel back with my hand, I felt the body of the device. Pulling it to my chest, I yanked it free of its mounting and through what was left of the wall.

It stopped firing. I dumped it on the floor, listening to it crash against the ground.

It struck me that I'd just broken down a wall on whim and yanked a weapon that had been mounted to concrete free by myself. That was wild. I'd known that Grandpa could do that kind of thing and I'd known how strong the suit was, but it hadn't ever been real to me.

Then I realized that the other gun had stopped as well.

Something grabbed my arm. From the click of claws on my armor, I guessed who it might be.

"I didn't know I could break concrete," Haley said. "Did you see me punch through that wall?"

"I can't see anything," I said.

She laughed. "Of course you can't. Why didn't you bring a flashlight?"

"When Vaughn said Hardwick House, I assumed there'd be lighting. What I'm wondering is why Vaughn didn't say anything."

Vaughn said, "I never take this way. The other tunnel had lights."

"Well anyway, let's go," I said, and started walking.

Haley grabbed my arm again. "Wrong way," she said, turning me. "The door's over there."

Haley had to help Vaughn through the rubble too, but within a few moments we all stood at the door. Vaughn gave Haley a series of numbers and she typed them into a keypad. The door clicked open.

In a moment, the lights turned on and we saw the cave.

It felt like a cathedral, but a cathedral to what god? Concrete supports arched upward, holding a ceiling of rock. Across from us, the wall showed a mural of Red Lightning's symbol -- jagged lightning under a golden arch with hieroglyphics. Like everything else, the mural had been blackened by fire.

Cells covered the wall to the right, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, everything in them completely visible through the bars. Everyone in the original League had been imprisoned there near the end.

Directly in front of us lay the remains of the last battle -- warped metal machines, the skeletons of Red Lightning's henchmen, and a silver dome, now ragged edged and cracked in two, rising in the middle of it all.
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About the author

zoetewey

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.

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Cestarian @Cestarian ago

What kind of iron man suit doesn't even have fucking nightvision? what's wrong with this guy's grandpa?

    zoetewey
    Author

    zoetewey @zoetewey ago

    The version of the Rocket suit Nick has was supposed to be back to basics version. In retrospect, I'm not sure if Nick was expected to finish it or if his grandfather died before it was done. Either way, I wrote that more than ten years ago and I'm not sure what my rationale was. I'm sure I had a reason.

    EDIT: I'm fairly sure that the original Rocket didn't like the direction his night vision tech had gone and left that unfinished so it could be redesigned. Unfortunately, events overtook the available time for redesigning. Nick does add it later, but I'm not sure this scene is better because it's not available.

    That said, the tech you've got vs. the time you've got is a common tension in this serial--largely because as someone who works in technology, I've often thought it silly to watch someone create new tech that's exactly what they need and always works.

    In my experience, tech created and maintained by a small team always feels half finished. It may not feel as half finished as no night vision, but I've worked with homegrown programs that were missing significant features on a corporate level--so it feels true to experience if not specifics.

      Cestarian @Cestarian ago

      His grandfather had how many years to implement the basics? yeah I agree with you it's silly how in stories people tend to create exactly what they need and it always works, and I do like that nick has his failures in that department as well.

      But what kind of a former soldier doesn't even have any nightvision (or substitute for it) in his superhero suit? That's basic tactical gear and he'd need to use it like all the time when doing superhero things, sometimes it's dark. It's a bit too basic of a feature to be missing in even the most 'basic' version of the suit, or so I thought anyways.

      zoetewey
      Author

      zoetewey @zoetewey ago

      Night vision equipment wasn't common in World War 2 (which is what his grandfather would be using as a baseline). It was regularly used in Vietnam and also in the Rocket's early 80s suits (one of which appears later). So, I'd agree that it should have been in the version that appears here and I'm not completely sure of my rationale for not including it.

      That said, the Rocket suit that Nick wears here would have been a project that his grandfather would have worked on in his spare time with no deadline for fun. When I think about programming projects I've written with the same characteristics, I can't think of any that are 100% finished with no major issues. On that level, it doesn't particularly bother me.