Chapter 207

               The bang of the door echoed through the warehouse, causing several of its inhabitants to jump in surprise and one to quietly ready himself for bloodshed. In the end, all of it was unnecessary, as the cause for the slammed door quickly made herself known.

                “Sorry!” Joan yelled, her words following after the bang of the door. “I keep forgetting that thing is so touchy.”

                “Please watch it,” Persephone said, stepping out of the makeshift gym to greet her fellow fugitive. “If I know George, he’s probably got a laser canon fully extended and is just waiting for an excuse to use it.”

                “It was a thermal blaster.” George stepped out of the small room where he spent most of his waking, and sleeping, moments. For once he was in his human form, no doubt taking a break from the computer work to deal with his biological necessities.

                “I said I was sorry,” Joan repeated. She hefted up her arms, which were laden with at least a dozen sacks that were nearly full to bursting. “You try easing the thing open when you’re weighed down by this many groceries.”

                “It’s my fault; I’ve been meaning to fix it for days.” Phil stepped out of his room and walked over to Joan, who immediately felt the bags lift off her arms. He paused in front of the door and stared at it for several seconds, then turned and began heading toward the area set up as a kitchen, a parade of bags floating behind him. “Shouldn’t be an issue any more.”

                “Thanks,” Joan said, rubbing her sore arms. “Gerard and Quentin still out?”

                “They should be back by dinner,” Phil informed her. “Though at the speed Quentin keeps growing I’m sure they’ll have to do another clothing run in a few months. I’d forgotten how fast they shoot up at that age.”

                “Careful, if you ask him any clarifying questions he’ll start talking about the days on the road and we won’t be able to shut him up,” Persephone warned. In truth, she enjoyed when Phil went on his rambles about the years raising Vince. Bleak though they could seem, there was also a wholesome warmth to those stories. Things might not have been easy, but they were simple and honest in a way their lives could no longer be.

                “Well then, I suppose I should know my place and start cooking supper,” Phil replied, flashing Persephone the sort of smile she didn’t understand how he was able to still conjure.

                “Actually, before you go there might be something you need to know,” Joan said. “I mean, it might be nothing, but I checked in with a few contacts while I was out, and someone is buying up a ton of muscle in California.”

                Phil’s steps halted, and he slowly turned around to face her. The smile was gone from his lips, in its place a somber expression that the others had learned to interpret as him being serious. It was the face of their leader, their champion, the man they had all placed their hopes in. It also often meant things were going to get dangerous.

                “Please, Joan, go on.”

                “I don’t know that I have a lot more to tell.” Joan fidgeted a bit, more from pent up energy than nerves. Staying confined was harder on her than any of the rest of them. “I just heard that anyone with decent power, especially good muscle, could find work out in California. Someone with deep pockets is bank-rolling something big. Could be just a coincidence, but with your kid out there and all… seemed like something you should know about.”

                Phil gave a short, somber nod. “Thank you, Joan. Would you do me the favor of seeing if you can find out anything else? You’re probably right about it being a coincidence; California is a big state after all, but I’d feel a lot better if I knew that for certain.”

                “No problem.” Joan had been half-hoping for this outcome when she brought up the issue in the first place. Doing digging meant leaving the warehouse, running around, finally getting to stretch her legs.

                “I appreciate your help.” He turned back around and headed into the kitchen, floating grocery bags in tow. Despite his words, Phil didn’t quite believe it was as much of a coincidence as he’d like it to be. He’d spent too many years as a Hero not to know that when there were lots of things happening in the same area, more often than not they were connected. Still, he could hope that this was one of the times where it was an exception.

                Hope, at least, was one of the things he had left.

*             *             *

                The explosion was a small one, and the fire was put out before it could spread thanks to Vince. The smoke, however, was more difficult to mitigate as the various students coughed, choked, and hacked their way through the house and out into the clean night air of the back yard. It took several minutes of clearing their lungs before one of them was finally able to speak, and it was Will’s voice that filled the yard.

                “I told you it wasn’t ready yet!”

                “Oh don’t give me that! You always say your inventions aren’t ready, then when I make you use them things work fine,” Jill said, barely getting her words out between coughing fits.

                “To be fair, his video immersion thingie fizzeled out halfway through the movie freshman year,” Vince reminded her.

                “Exactly, and that was days ahead of this project, not to mention far less ambitious.” Will hacked out a few more wisps of smoke, and realized he could faintly hear sirens in the distance. He dearly hoped those weren’t coming to their house, but logic told him they likely were. “A fully immersive digitally rendered environment in a contained space is something beyond even my capabilities to create in a week.”

                “I honestly still don’t know what he’s talking about,” Alice said.

                “Basically Will was trying to make a prototype of a holodeck, but with very limited projection materials,” Hershel explained.

                “That in no way clarified things,” Alice said. “If anything, I understand what you’re talking about even less.”

                “It doesn’t matter, because as we can clearly see the whole thing was an unmitigated failure,” Will snapped. “Now if you all would be so kind, I’m going to need help tucking away as much of my tech as possible before the fire department gets here.”

                At that, the rest of the group finally noticed the impending sirens, and eyes went wide and realization set in.

                “I could have been waiting on tables that under-tip me tonight,” Mary grumbled. Despite her protests, she and the rest plunged back into the slowly clearing house to help Will hide his pieces of potentially destructive brilliance.

                They would manage to get everything squirreled away before the fire department arrived, however explaining how the fire had been put out would prove to be much more problematic.