Saturday Scenes: Salad Days

We continue our work on The Dismal Tide, our second novel in the East End Irregulars series, with new scenes being written, edited, and illustrated everyday. For #SaturdayScenes, we’re giving you a sneak peek of the book. Here, Alex and Sebastian test out some upgraded crime-fighting equipment.


Sebastian was alone in his garage when Alex stepped through the doorway bearing a bundle wrapped in a plastic bag.

“Yo.”

“Yo,” Sebastian replied without looking up. He was sitting on a bench, leaning back against the vibrating metal case of the big 3D-printer that hummed and sizzled in the background, one leg kicked up on an old cardboard box. He had a pair of needle-nose pliers in his right hand, with which he was trying to tighten the gasket ring on a metal nozzle that he held in his left. “Did they have the elastic tubing?”

Alex slapped the bag against the door frame. “Right here. It was a pain finding it, and it was way more expensive than you said. I had to go to Hawk Mountain for it.”

“Of course they’re going to charge an arm and a leg at the sporting goods store. Why didn’t you just go to the hardware department in Horne’s like I said?” Sebastian shook his head and set the nozzle down on the counter top of the printer, right in the middle of the big “O” in the International Fabricator logo. Long ago, the counter had been roughly the same color as the nozzle, but now the former was covered so thickly in a rainbow-colored dust of plastic shavings, splattered dye, and lumps of dried glue that the gunmetal grey cone looked like a tiny volcano that had just erupted with molten confetti.

“Because they didn’t have it!” Alex said, and tossed the bag to Sebastian. “And don’t think you don’t have to pay the difference.”

Sebastian caught the bag and looked at it for a moment, wondering if he should open it or return it for a refund and try to buy it cheaper elsewhere. Eventually he decided against it, his impatience overcoming his inherent stinginess.

“Speaking of doing what you said, why didn’t you clean this mess up?”

“Bah,” Sebastian replied with a wave of his hand. “I said that because I was looking for something I couldn’t find, but then I found it without cleaning. It’s only going to get messy again anyway.”

“I figured you wanted to put the car in here. Are your parents still going to sell it to you?”

“Yeah, of course,” Sebastian said. He looked thoughtful. “I guess I could put the car in here, couldn’t I?”

“That’s what they usually build garages for,” Alex said as he surveyed the mayhem. In one corner was a pile of old bicycles, some ancient pedal-only model that must have once belonged to Sebastian’s parents, others mud-caked mopeds with their engines and transmissions ripped out. In another corner was a succession of lawn mowers arranged like an evolutionary chain, with a rusting, antediluvian push power anchoring one end and a new, but heavily soiled, Kingston Robomower on the other. Between them were atolls of plastic boxes packed with all manner of junk. Narrow paths cut between them to reach the wall-mounted shelves cluttered with toolboxes and Christmas decorations. The table beside Alex was a graveyard of half-finished projects: dollhouses, customized action figures, even the remnants of their old pneumatic potato gun.

A familiar shape and color caught his eye from beneath the clutter, and he dug through it to retrieve the remains of an old remote-controlled ornithopter. He held it up in front of the window and beamed in admiration. “It’s been years since I’ve seen this bad boy! I remember when you first got it.” The paint was faded and its right wing was sheared off, but angled in ascent and framed against the bright swatch of blue sky outside, it looked like it was ready to soar again. “What happened to it?”

Sebastian looked up. “The ’thopter? It got stuck in the power lines, remember? I didn’t get it back until the next winter when the weight of the ice snapped the wing off. That wing is probably still up there.”

“Ah, that’s right,” Alex said as he set the battered drone down. “We should get a new one. They’re way quieter than the quadcopters, could be good for scouting and tailing people.”

“I was thinking the same thing, only I was never good at flying them,” Sebastian replied. Just then, the fabricator chimed and he hopped to his feet to check on it.

“You can say that again. What are you printing, anyway?”

“Lots of stuff.” Sebastian slammed the lid shut and turned around. In his hands was a dome of plastic shaped like an egg cut in half length-wise. It was the same muted blue as his costume. He lifted it up and slipped it on his head, guiding it around the back of the crown first and then tugging it down to the middle of his forehead. He swiveled his head in a circle quickly, and slapped it just above his ear. “Just about perfect,” he said, then profiled himself for Alex. “What do you think?”

Alex shrugged. “Its OK, I guess. A little bit dorky though. Why not just wear your baseball helmet?”

Sebastian knocked on the front panel with his knuckles. “Because this baby will stop a forty caliber caseless at point-blank. Laminated ballistic polymer, and light as a feather.”

Alex gave a low whistle. “I’ll bet the resin cost a small fortune.”

Sebastian nodded. “It wasn’t cheap. I paid for the schematic, too. I wanted something that would fit right on my big head.”

“Yeah, I know how hard that is for you.”

“It’s worth it, though. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Miasma situation. That might have turned out a lot worse.”

Alex rubbed the back of his head, taken by a painful memory. “You mean how he rang my bell with his shillelagh? Yeah, I noticed. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have kept my braincase on, but with the gas mask…” He still had a lump where the mad gasser had thumped him, but it had shrunk enough over the past week so that it was barely noticeable through his thick chestnut hair. There were still faint red marks on his cheek where the buckles of his gas mask had sliced through his skin.

“We need better gear,” Sebastian said. His eyes swept the room to make sure his parents or his snooping sister weren’t anywhere nearby, and then he added in a hushed voice, “It’s only a matter of time before someone starts shooting at us.”
For a moment, Sebastian thought he saw his friend smile at that, and he wondered at it. But Alex’s expression quickly changed, along with the subject.

“So what are the tubes for?”

“Oh, just for blasting people.” Sebastian spun around, grabbed the metal nozzle from the counter top and fitted it to end of one of the elastic hoses. “You said it was dumb that I didn’t carry around water, and I realized you were onto something. These will get in the way less than normal tubing. I figure on putting the outlet on the back of my hand, like so, and connect it to a wet-pack on my belt.”

Alex moved closer to examine the system. “What is that? A pressure washer nozzle?”

“No, its wide-spray. High pressure’s hard, and it tends to turn to steam when I try it. But I’m not going to fill it with water.”

“Pepper spray,” Alex said.

“That was my first thought. But what if I run into another hydrokinetic and he blows it up on me?” Sebastian replied, though he did not elaborate that this fear was more than a theoretical possibility. He still hadn’t told Alex about his shameful meeting with Cascade and Scald. “No, there’s too much downside in pepper spray. I’m using vinegar.”

Alex snorted derisively.

“I can tell you’ve never gotten vinegar in your eyes,” Sebastian replied. “It hutts like hell, but it won’t permanently maim anybody.”

“Plus, they must suffer the indignity of smelling like a salad for the rest of the night,” quipped Alex.

“I’m telling you, one drop in the eye and you’re blinded. I got the idea from Olivia, actually. She puts it in her ears to prevent infections, but she stores it in an eyedropper. The little witch left it in the medicine cabinet one day and I grabbed it by accident. I thought I was going to die.”

Alex chuckled. “Whatever doesn’t kill you gives you a good idea of how to hurt other people. Do you think you can do it? Hit somebody in the eyes, I mean?”

“I’ve been practicing.” Sebastian pulled something out of the pocket of his sweat shirt and handed it over to his friend. It was a pair of old swimming goggles. “Come at me, bro.”

Alex groaned as he snatched the goggles from Sebastian’s hand. “Oh, cripes. I should have known you were going to do this. I hope you’re using water.”

“Nope,” Sebastian said firmly. “It’s real thing or not at all. Practice with what you shoot, right?”

Alex found he couldn’t argue with that. “Fine, but if you actually get it in my eyes I’m going to kick your ass.” He stomped back about twenty five feet to the far end of the garage and slipped the goggles on.

“If it gets in your eyes, you won’t do anything but cry like a little girl. Or maybe jump in the shower with your clothes on. If you can find it.”

“Alright!” Alex punched his open palm with a loud crack. “Let’s get…” He stopped mid-utterance as the stream of vinegar exploded across the plastic lenses and ran down his face in little stinging rivers.

Across the garage, Sebastian blew on his outstretched finger like a smoking gun. “I think I’ll call them ‘salad shooters.’”

Alex yanked the goggles off, his crooked nose wrinkling at the acrid smell. “Does that mean you’re ready to go back to work tonight, or do you still need time off for skirt chasing?”

“Don’t give me that crap. I was waiting on your concussion to heal.”

“Bull! You’ve never heard me whining about a little bump on the noggin, and you never will. I was ready to go the next night!” Alex shook out his shoulders and cracked his knuckles. “I’ve been sitting around too long. I feel…itchy.”

“You have a problem,” Sebastian accused, pointing at him. “You’re an adrenaline junkie. Any sane person would at least have second thoughts after getting whacked that hard. Let me at least print you a new helmet.”

Alex waved him off. “My boxing helmet is fine.”

“There’s no protection at all on the top of the head!”

“I’ll take my chances. It’s better than looking like Timmy the glue-eater with that new helmet of yours.”
Sebastian shrugged. “All right. It’s your swollen brain. Don’t get mad at me when you’re shaking and slobbering in a few years.”

A crooked smile slanted across Alex’s jaw. “Speaking of shaking and slobbering, did you have a late night with Evangeline or what? Since I didn’t hear from you all evening, I’m guessing she didn’t give you the cold shoulder.”

“No, she didn’t. She actually apologized to me, first.”

“Unreal!” Alex shook his head. “She obviously doesn’t realize how insufferable you’re going to be now.”

“Whatever. I apologized, too. I didn’t tell her I knew she’s a talent though, or that I was. I didn’t want to look like a creepy cyber-stalker, you know? I thought I should feel her up first.” Sebastian blinked and shook his head in embarrassment, quickly correcting himself. “Out. I meant feel her out.

“Sure you did.” Alex grinned.

“Long story short, we had a nice time. Things are back to the way they used to be.”

“So you’re going to tell her?”

“Absolutely, I’m going to tell her.”

“When?”

“The next time we go out,” he answered. “Which will be as soon as I get the car detailed.”

“Good call, my friend. But not tonight, then.”

“No. Tonight,” Sebastian said, pulling on his new helmet. “Tonight we go to work.”

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