Action Figures - Issue One: Secret Origins (10 page)

Archimedes laughs. “4G. Pathetic. Your socalled 4G phone has a maximum data rate of ten megabits per second. True 4G as defined by the International Telecommunications Union is one hundred megabits per second when the receiver is in motion, one thousand megabits per second when the receiver is stationary. You’re in the technology industry. You should know that.”

Manfred retorts, “And you should know that Kingsport has one of the most advanced wireless infrastructures on the East Coast because of the local tech companies. We’re living in a huge 4G hotspot.”

“Which does no one any good,” Archimedes says airily, “if their devices can’t fully capitalize on that infrastructure. But that’s a moot point. Get me what I need and I can adapt this phone.”

“You can?”

“Yes, Roger, I can,” Archimedes says, tiring of his creator’s insipid questions. “Having a human form allows me to experience the world in ways that were impossible for me as a virtual being, and I plan to take full advantage of that, but I need to be connected. That
is my first priority.
I need to be connected
.”

Archimedes whines like an addict begging for a fix, Manfred thinks, but this is uncharted territory. For him, staying hooked into the Internet could be a legitimate need.

“What do you want?” Manfred asks, and Archimedes thrusts a list into his hand. The printing is meticulous and precise. Machine quality.

“Radio Shack opens at eleven on Sundays,” Archimedes says.

“Hi honey,” Dad says, and right away I’m fighting back tears. “How’re things going?”

Things suck. I hear his voice on the phone and I can’t think of anything good and I want to tell him how much I hate this and want life to go back to the way it was.

“Okay.” If I’m not convincing, and I’m betting I’m not, he doesn’t let on. “You know. Still unpacking. Still settling in,” I say as I look around my bedroom, which doesn’t feel at all like mine.

“How do you like Kingsport High? Have you experienced the joy of the Twilight Zone yet?”

“Jeez, the Twilight Zone was there when you went to school?”

“Oh yeah. They finished the big expansion project the summer before we got there as freshmen, so we were part of the first class to get screwed up by the Zone.”

“Then you’ll be happy to know I’m carrying on the family legacy,” I say, and he laughs.

“That’s my girl,” he says, and it’s like getting stabbed in the heart with an icicle. Game face, Carrie,
forge ahead like nothing’s wrong. Keep calm and carry on.

“I made some new friends.”

“Good. Great.”

“You’d like them; they’re all weird. Especially Matt. He quoted
Goldfinger
at me.”

“I like him already. Is he, uh, an
interest
?”

“A what? Oh! Oh God, no. No,” I say. Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh, but one thing I’ve already learned about Matt is that he’s what you would call, kindly, a very candid person. I’m all for honesty, but the boy needs to learn the art of tact. “Besides, he’s dating someone else, this girl Sara.”

“So, it’ll be a while before I get to greet a date by cleaning my shotgun on the porch, is what you’re saying.”

“Sorry. But hey, this will give you more time to write up a list of uncomfortable questions to ask my prospective beaus.”

“I only plan to ask what his intentions are toward my daughter and what time he’ll have you home by.”

“Sticking with the classics.”

“I’m old-school.”

“Nah. Just old.”

I laugh. He laughs.

I miss him so much.

“I miss you, sweetheart,” he says, and that’s when I lose it.

He doesn’t say anything for a while. He just lets me cry into the phone.

Radio Shack proved all but useless. Many of the
items Archimedes demanded were too high-end for the retail world, and true, they were readily available in ARC’s vast stores of components, but Manfred reckoned a second weekend visit to sneak out expensive electronics was too much of a gamble. He was able to call in a favor or two and secure comparable parts, though he expected Archimedes to gripe that they weren’t exactly what he asked for.

Archimedes sniffs at the components but does not complain, and instead gets right to work on his project, which he declines to explain.

“You’ll see,” he tells Manfred, and he spends the afternoon, the evening, into the next day hunched over the kitchen table with Semler’s gutted iPhone and a soldering iron. He does not call for assistance until morning, and he wisely waits until Manfred has had his first cup of coffee.

“I can’t do this part myself. Not safely,” Archimedes says, presenting to Manfred a thin metal plate with an Infiband jack on one side and an uncomfortably familiar needle on the other. “Same procedure as before.”

Which does not make it any less nerve-wracking or nauseating, but Manfred does as told, soaking the plate with Krazy Glue, inserting the needle (causing Archimedes to declare that he does not like this “pain” thing), and holding the plate against Archimedes’ neck until the glue takes hold. Not a permanent fixture, but good enough.

Archimedes straps the iPhone to his left wrist. A cable snakes out of the phone, and Archimedes plugs this into the socket at the base of his skull. He turns the phone on, and his lips quiver with anticipation.

“Did it work?” Manfred asks.

“Let’s find out,” Archimedes says.

TEN

You know how after you have a good long cry, you feel physically lighter? Like a literal weight has been lifted off of you?

Yeah, that’s not me today. If anything it feels like ten tons of lead have been strapped to my shoulders. Sara and Missy pick up on it the minute they swing by my locker on their way to their next classes.

“You okay?” Missy says.

“I talked to my dad last night,” I say. “It was harder than I thought it would be.”

Missy makes a pouty sympathy face that’s adorable as all-get-out, and without meaning to she cheers me up a little.

“Was it a bad divorce?” Sara asks in an I-don’t mean-to-pry way.

“No, not really,” I say. “As divorces go, I think theirs was pretty mellow. There was no yelling or screaming or anything like that. It was more like—I don’t know. It was more like they were resigned it was happening.”

Maybe even grateful their marriage was finally over.

Missy says, “I sometimes wish my parents would get divorced,” and I’m absolutely floored.

“Why?”

“Oh! Oh God I know that sounds awful and you must think I’m a terrible person and I don’t want you thinking it’s because I hate my parents because I love them both a lot and I don’t want anything bad to happen to them,” she blurts out.

“Then why would you want them to get divorced?” Seriously, I want to know, because I can’t wrap my head around it.

I expect her to bring me back down to earth with some soul-crushing revelation that her mom’s having an affair or her dad’s an abusive drunk, something like that, something that justifies feeling like she does. She only shrugs and says, “My mom and dad don’t ever act like they love each other. They barely talk. Every time we eat dinner they talk to me sometimes but they don’t say anything to each other. It’s like they’re in the room with me but not with each other, you know?”

Now that I can grasp, because that describes perfectly the last few months of my parents’ marriage.

“It’s weird,” Sara says. “I thought it was a Japanese thing first time I saw it, because her dad’s...oh, what’s that word that means someone is boring and stern and doesn’t have a sense of humor?”

“Dour?” I suggest. “Stoic?”

“Yeah, maybe. He’s definitely uptight. I’ve never seen him smile, and he talks to everyone like he’s making a business deal with them.”

“He hates Matt,” Missy says, and I’m somehow not surprised.

“Anyway, yeah,” Sara says, “I used to think that
was how Japanese men were toward people, but then I met her uncle when he visited last year, and he’s a riot. Total opposite of her dad. Hard to believe they share a gene pool.”

Okay, I get it: profound emotional detachment between spouses, loveless marriage, so on. “Missy,” I say, “divorce is a suckfest. You might think it would be the best thing for your parents, and maybe it would be, but believe me, it’s still no fun. My parents’ divorce was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my life, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

Missy wraps her arm around me and rests her head on my shoulder. I’m definitely keeping her.

Sara pretends to work on an essay, because pretending is all she can do; everyone is thinking too loud.

If the other students were concentrating on their schoolwork the noise wouldn’t be so bad. A mind focused on a task is a relatively quiet mind, but the computer lab is little more than a hangout within the school, a place for students to socialize and talk and surf the ‘net within the strict confines of the network’s umpteen-million firewalls and site-block lists. The classroom monitor keeps their voices low, but she can do nothing to keep their mental volumes down. Twenty-four voices only Sara can hear overlap, collide, fade in and out. It’s like being in the middle of a party and catching only bits and pieces of dozens of unconnected conversations happening all at once.

Angus Parr, one of Gerry Yannick’s jock buddies, is thinking about asking Toni Francisco to hook up this weekend. Mary Jensen is trying to figure out a rhyme for
meaningless
so she can finish off her latest
epic emo poem. Keisha Acero is indulging in her recurring fantasy in which her hip-hop-flavored cover of
Bad Romance
wins Best Song of the Year at the Grammys. Del Broome is contemplating faking an upset stomach to get out of English, because he’s convinced Mrs. Rymmer hates him and is out to make his life miserable. Jenn Montague is skimming fashion articles online and wondering if she could bring bell-bottom pants back into fashion.

There is half a pill in Sara’s pocket, wrapped in a scrap of tin foil. Mindforce gave her a prescription for them. Neuroinhibitors, he called them. He explained what they do in extensive detail, but all that mattered to Sara was that they muffled her powers. They’re meant strictly for bedtime use so she can get an uninterrupted night’s sleep, but she wants so badly to take it now and shut out the noise, but she’s scared someone will see her trying to pop a pill in the middle of class—the perfect way to cement her undeserved reputation as a junkie on the verge of a homicidal rampage.

The pill stays where it is. She decides to be good, to instead try one of the meditative techniques Mindforce taught her. It’s a basic visualization exercise. She imagines that a wall is rising up around her, brick by brick, forming a dome over her that shuts out the rest of the world. It’s a little tedious but that’s part of why it works; the deliberate monotony of envisioning each individual brick coming into existence puts her in a calmer, less receptive state.

That calm is shattered when the face appears on her monitor.

It appears on all the monitors, twisting and contorting web pages and documents to form an impress
ionist interpretation of a face, yet it is undeniably a human face. Everyone gawks, gasps,
What the hell
s, looks to one another for an explanation. The classroom monitor demands to know if someone here is doing this but she’s staring right at Josh Duke, aspiring hacker, and telling him he’d had better knock it off if he knows what’s good for him; but he’s shrugging and shaking his head, as confused as anyone.

“Hm,” the face says. “Boring.”

And then it’s gone.

“What in the world?” Sara says.

“What do you mean,
it was someone
?” I ask.

Sara presses the palms of her hands to her temples. Whatever happened in the computer lab caused her to totally drop her defenses, resulting in a headache that’s two steps shy of a migraine. Sitting in the middle of a crowded cafeteria isn’t helping.

“It wasn’t a computer glitch or someone playing a prank,” Sara says patiently. “I felt a presence. I felt someone’s mind. It was faint, but I felt it.”

“You sure it wasn’t—” Stuart begins.

“I know what I felt, Stuart!” Sara snaps. “It wasn’t my imagination! It wasn’t some sort of psionic backlash from all the kids in the room freaking out! The second it popped up on my screen I felt it! It was real, and distinct, and...”

She grinds the rest of her sentence between her teeth. Matt places a hand on her shoulder and her first instinct is to recoil, but she lets it stay, and the tension melts out of her.

“You can’t sense a person when it’s, like, a TV broadcast, right?” I say, treading carefully. I don’t want
to upset her further, but I need to understand her powers if I’m going to help her figure this out. Sara nods. “That would mean someone was actually projecting his consciousness into the computer lab.”

“Except that’s impossible,” Stuart says.

“So sayeth the kid who can overhand pitch a Volvo,” Matt says.

“You think it’s related to the robots?” Missy says. “I know there’s a big difference between robots and computers because robots move around and computers don’t but robots have computers in them so maybe it’s not really that different...except for the moving around part.”

It’s not a strong connection, technology gone wild, but it’s a connection, and as I think this, my cell phone goes off—which is weird because I turned it to silent mode when I got to school, because I’m a diligent student now and I follow school rules.

Mine isn’t the only phone ringing. The entire cafeteria is beeping, buzzing, ringtoning, vibrating, and it looks like I’m not the only good little do-bee; there are a lot of bewildered expressions in the room.

I answer. I’m not supposed to, but I can’t help it. “Hello?”

There’s a pause, then a man’s voice says, “Hmm. This is more interesting,” and then the phone turns off. It doesn’t hang up—it turns itself off.

Sara’s staring at my phone like it made a rude noise.

“It was him again,” she says.

Like I said: once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence...

ELEVEN

“What?” Manfred says. “What’s interesting?”

Archimedes smiles vacantly at nothing in particular. “What?” he says, snapping out of his stupor.

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