Well, I suppose I should pick up where I left off yesterday. Barton was standing outside our cheap motel door. Wearing a cowboy hat. There was a gun in his pocket. "You'd better let me in."
I didn't know what to do. It seemed unlikely that a closed door would stop him. But it might slow him down. We were on the second floor. Could we make it out the window?
"I'm on your side," he said.
What did that mean? "What you mean by that," I asked in my best impression of my grandmother's accent. Hopefully, he would apologize and walk away.
"What I mean, Allegra, is that I don't want to harm you or Gabe or Daniel or Joanne. I want to help you avoid Spectrum."
"Guys," I said. "It's Sam. Barton. He says he's on our side."
"Let him in," Daniel said, immediately.
"Don't let him in," Joanne said, immediately.
"What the hell," Gabe said, immediately.
I guess that left me with the tie-breaking vote. I opened the door.
"Thanks," Sam said.
"You have quite a bit of explaining to do," I said. "You can start with how you found us."
"Well, it looks like you removed the cyanide capsules, thank god. But Joanne still had a tracking chip I implanted before I had those capsules."
Foolish of me. To assume I knew about every safeguard Sam had. I should have scanned all four of us for anything that shouldn't be there.
"Last I heard," I said, "you had been involved in a rather nasty business dispute. What are you doing here?"
"That party was Jackson Romero." Was it too late for me to kick him out of the room? I determined it was. "He said he needed a partner. I thought Joanne might be a good candidate. After conversing with him, I realized that I was very, very wrong. Romero, however, thought that I was obligated to provide at least one MAD to work with him. I disagreed, and there was a bit of a scuffle. I'll be the first to admit I came out the worse for it."
"And you got your freedom by telling Jackson how to find us," I guessed. "Using that Joanne chip. I'll be sure to remove it as soon as possible." How soon could that be? I didn't have any tools, or a safe space in which to operate on her.
"Don't worry," Sam said. "Romero can't access the tracker without me."
"How do you know that," I asked. "Did you use his machine when you did it the first time? Did he watch you do it?"
"No and no," Sam said.
"Did he touch the computer before you used it," Daniel asked.
"Or immediately after," Gabe added.
"Could he have been monitoring you by video camera," I continued.
Sam seemed taken aback. "I..."
"Great," I said. "So now, I need to take that chip out of Joanne, and we need to move." Or... "Do you happen to have the technical specifications on you," I asked Sam. "It might be easier to try to fry it, like we did with the cyanide capsules."
"No... I don't think I have that."
"So, why haven't we heard from Spectrum yet," Joanne asked.
"I think I hurt him pretty bad," I said.
"Based on publicly available information about Spectrum's armor, and some rudimentary calculations, he likely has at least three broken ribs," Daniel added.
"Which means we probably have several hours to disappear," I said.
"I'm not that is a possibility," Daniel said. "Samuel, do you think it is possible to hide from someone like Spectrum."
"I don't know," Sam said. "I've never heard of someone hurting that sort of MAD like you hurt Spectrum, failing to take him out of commission entirely, and not find themselves at the receiving end of a pretty terrifying revenge. People like him or Xingxi or Oberon-"
"Hold on," Gabe said. "Jackson Romero is not in Oberon's league. He's like a Less-Cool-Version-Of-Oberon."
"You understand my point." Sam sounded vaguely irritated.
"So," I said, "it sounds like we need to take Spectrum out of commission. It has already been established that a car is not a powerful enough weapon to accomplish this. Does anyone know how to create a weapon that does significantly more damage than a car?"
We stood in silence for a moment. "You what strategy has been working a lot lately," I suggested. "Electrocution. Do you guys think we could fry Spectrum's armor?"
"Interesting," Gabe said, reaching for a piece of paper.
"Spectrum's armor is primarily metal," Daniel commented, "But there is a layer of carbonide. It provides the black coloration, and is supposed to be resistant to corrosion and whatnot. We would need enough voltage to melt through that."
"That seems doable," I estimated.
Daniel began drawing out plans, first in his head, then on paper. I contributed what I could. "We're going to need some way to insulate everything, or the who system will just start arcing."
"I've got this," I said. "Insulating spray. Easy to whip up."
"How would we handle targeting? You would need excellent image recognition."
"We can use those infrared range finder things."
"Oh. Good idea."
In forty seven minutes, we had a list of parts. "You can't just get this stuff at the grocery store," Gabe said. "They keep track of who buys this sort of thing. I'm not sure if MADs could get their hands on it."
''I can get my hands on it," Sam said. "You guys get some rest. You have a busy day tomorrow."
It was busy. We put together some coils and a magnetic core, hooked them into a wall outlet, and we had ten thousand volts. It took us three tries to measure it. The multimeters kept catching fire.
Now, if we were going to hit Spectrum with the mother of all tasers, we would need somewhere to store up this energy. Gabe and Joanne wired a complicated circuit underneath one of the beds. "This will hold as much energy as a hand grenade," Daniel said. "So be careful with the wiring."
Like a conventional taser, our weapon would fire out two leads, shorting the circuit, sending the energy right through Spectrum's armor.
I worked on targeting. I filled our entire floor with a low-powered laser grid. A computer would track the movement of every person withing twenty feet of our room. Video cameras monitored them, checking if they were a robo-man in black armor, or a normal person. A comparatively normal person, I mean.
"This is some impressive stuff," Sam said.
"That's flattering," Gabe responded. "But you really aren't capable of judging."
"Are you? How many MADs have you seen in action? Because I've watched dozens."
Gabe couldn't think of a comeback.
Sam had wasn't done saying nice things about us. He looked over my shoulder has I mixed half a dozen chemicals into a rubber aerosol. "It's truly amazing what you people can do. It would take me half a year to do what you manage in a single hour."
"Don't be silly," I said. "You could never do what I do in an hour."
Sam took the insult well. He continued watching me. "Beautiful," he said, as I stirred some chemicals. I glanced at the vials again. It was a shade of brown. Sam need to learn what the word beautiful meant.
"You mentioned you had seen dozens of MADs," I said. "How long exactly have you been doing this?"
"Hmm. And how exactly does one break into the kidnapping mentally ill people business."
Sam sighed. "I've always been amazed by your people. A pretty deep fascination. You can do so much, yet it's pretty clear you need help. I don't have the credentials to be a shrink, but I found a job. I worked in an asylum much like J.S. Greenberg. But I didn't help anyone. I started checking in on MADs who were released- this was back in 2009, when they were actually releasing you- and you were all miserable. You were banned from truly expressing yourselves, so you would do you work in crowded, pathetic little basements. I did what I could. I found MADs jobs in the underbellies of large technology companies. I became a sort of MAD agent. Which I still am."
I would've slammed my fist on the table, if I hadn't been worried about knocking over a beaker. "Is that really what you think you are? An agent. Gabe was sixteen years old, and you kidnapped him from his home. Do you really think you would bring him happiness, hauling him off to Iran against his will?"
"Look at him now," Sam said. I glanced at my younger brother. He and Daniel were working out a way of fine-tuning resonance within out circuit. "Look at how productive he is, with mentors, unlimited funding, and clear goals to which he can apply his talents. If he had stayed with your parents, gone to college, he probably-"
"Would have ended up like me?"
"I didn't mean that."
"Yes, you did, and it's a valid point. I worked in a college dorm and my parents' basement. I cut corners because I had nobody to warn me not to. And as a result, everyday I wake up knowing I have more blood on my hands than 99.9% of the world."
We tested our weapon. Not directly, of course. That would probably kill someone. But we checked each of the components separately. It could track where people were. Our code could distinguish videos of Spectrum to videos of civilians. The leads did indeed make contact with Sam when he volunteered for target practice. And, when we opened the channels to let current through the leads for just over a millisecond, there was a flash of light and the room smelled like ozone for half an hour. "Well done," I said. "Very well done."