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Bayview, Freedom City, New Jersey

Sunday September 6, 2020

1:34 PM

 

During the slightly controlled chaos of the day before, Veronica had reached out to several of her friends from the Senior class at Claremont about wanting to talk with them about a new project she had in the works. So the teenage Danger (well, really Prudence) had arranged for a van to pick up Lulu Beaumont, Micah Roebuck, Davyd Palahniuk and Elizabeth Grey at Campus and bring them down to a small warehouse building a few blocks from Bayview Mall.

 

The parking lot around the warehouse was fenced in, an electronic gate allowing entry in. Veronica was already there, standing near the side of the building and her parked DangerCycle. As might be expected, she was dressed in her typical cargo shorts, T-shirt with light linen shirt over it and the well-worn hiking boots.

 

"Hey, thanks for coming!" Veronica said in greeting as the other four Claremont students exited the van in the parking lot next to the warehouse. "Sorry I have been a bit vague about what I am working on, but I figured it would be much easier to just show you." She added with a small grin as she led the group over toward a door beside a larger garage door.

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Micah had made idle chatter with his friends on the way over. While the quiet young man was still rather reserved, he did seem to have a bit more confidence in his stride this year. The after-effects of the Valentine's Day Incident, the Prom, and the like were still there (more obvious to Lulu than the others, naturally), but as more of a handful of bricks in the ever-expanding house of his mind and experiences. They did not dominate Micah in the same way they had even by the end of the school year. Clearly, he'd gained a bit of perspective over the summer. 

 

As they climbed out of the van, Micah looked around, a slightly confused look on his face. He spoke up as they walked toward the warehouse.

 

"You realize this all feels a bit...sketchy? Please tell me I'm not the only one feeling like this is a bit weird?"

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"Not me!" Elizabeth shot back; she'd dressed in a breezy white shirt and light blue jeans, hands in her pockets as she strode in behind the rest. "I trust her. Besides, I'm not going to begrudge anybody for secrets as long as they're fun secrets."

 

She grinned ear to ear, spinning on her heel to look around at their small group. "Besides," she said, mischief in her eyes, "secrets can be fun - especially if this means we'll all have a secret, right? And any secret in a warehouse must be pretty good, especially if it's all ready for a big reveal! Let me know, Veronica, if you need any fancy lighting." She laughed, tiny spotlights circling her finger as she waved it in the air. "You only get to pull some curtains back once, so you've got to make it good!"

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Horrorshow

 

"Oh, what's the worse that could happen?," Davyd responded.  The young metamorph had changed (ahem) quite a bit over the past year, coming out of his quiet theatre techie shell to... well, still not an extrovert, no, but definitely more comfortable expressing himself.   Being around friends, friends who understood what it was like to have the kinds of problems he'd find himself in, certainly helped loosen his tongue.  (And maybe some of his roommate was rubbing off on him.)  "It's not like Veronica is going to... kidnap us... and harvest our organs... as part of some black book Danger International project!  Or that she has been replaced by an alien shapeshifter, and has taken us to this remote location in order to capture us and send doppelgangers back in our place!  Why, the very idea of that is absurd!"

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"Hey, if it ain't sketchy, ah ain't interested," Lulu said with a shake of her head. She looked deadly serious as she counted off on her fingers. "Ah was told there would be kidnappin', body snatchin' and a general ruckus, and ah am expectin' my friend to deliver!"

 

It was so good to have everyone together again! She was especially happy to see Elizabeth, who she rarely got to hang out with other than big school wide events; she'd have to correct that this year. Seeing it was Veronica, Lulu had chosen to wear light hiking boots, loose denim shorts, a sea green, short sleeve peasant blouse and a wide brimmed straw hat. Oversized sunglasses and a notable smell of cocoanut sunscreen completed her outfit.

Edited by Heritage
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Veronica Danger

 

"Oh, ye of little faith Micah." Veronica said with a good-natured grin, which only widened as Davyd spoke up with conspiracy theories intended to be both exceedingly wild, yet also entirely possible given the unusual situations Claremont students sometimes found themselves in, with Lulu joining in on the ideas.

 

Looking over to Liz, the teenage Danger gave her friend a wide smile. "I will take you up on that offer Elizabeth." Stepping up to the door, Veronica swiped her Danger International ID card on a reader off to the right side and the lock clicked open. Opening the door, the teenager led the others into the warehouse.

 

Stepping into the only dimly lit building, the teens’ eyes took a few moments to try to adjust, only making out some shadowy shapes within the warehouse at first. Veronica stepped off to one side to allow the others to move in. "Whenever you are ready with the lighting Elizabeth." She stated to the other teen.

 

When Liz’s lights sprung up around the room, they reveled that the interior of the warehouse had been set up as a garage, with worktables and various tool boxes spaced throughout. Taking up one part of the space was a mini cooper, or at least what appeared to be a mini cooper. It certainly had the hood symbol and general shape, but it was a bit larger, sleeker, and clearly had been modified in a number of ways.

 

As short distance away was a large heavy duty truck, with a raised cab and what appeared to be cargo space in the back. And nearby a land rover.

 

As the group took in the three vehicles, it became apparent that they were in the process of undergoing some sort of work, as portions of each appeared to be taken apart and there were a number of parts spread out on benches near each of the vehicles. Next to the car was a cart with what appeared to be an engine on it, although it looked rather different than most engines any of the gathered teens had seen before.

 

"So, what do you think?" Veronica asked as she finally switched on the interior lights and then took a few steps forward towards the vehicles and turned back to look at her friends.

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Micah rolled his eyes and chuckled at Davyd's dramatics. He refrained from further commentary until they were inside the warehouse. Once they were, he all but froze for a few moments, offering an unexpected roadblock for Elizabeth; he stepped aside at the last moment with a muttered apology. He continued to take in the room and vehicles for several moments. Finally, he gave out a low whistle of appreciation.

 

"I'm jealous of the garage itself. This is nice. Real nice. I bet you could work on an airplane in this thing."

 

He took a few steps toward the Mini Cooper.

 

"So the 'Rover, that makes sense. They're basically built for off-road work anyway; that kit looks like it's company-made. The big guy, I'm guessing that's some kind of...mobile shop? And you modded it to keep up. I can follow that."

 

He points an almost accusatory finger at the small car.

 

"But who in Sam Hill decided that what you really needed was a souped-up off-road Mini Cooper? Don't get me wrong it's gorgeous work, and that engine, hoo boy, that engine. But...wowzer, Veronica. What are y'all even doin' with all of these?"

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Elizabeth snapped with both hands, great ceiling-mounted spotlights popping into an improbable amount of confetti that didn't quite reach the floor before disappearing. "If we're lucky nothing good," she said, craning her neck to inspect the vehicles, "and everything great. I guess the little car's for speed? I was never a car girl, but I'd bet even with their new bits and bobs the other two aren't as...zippy." She made a hand motion that was apparently supposed to clarify 'zippy'. It did not. "It's probably better in the city than the truck. Which is amazing, by the way."

 

She stood next to the truck for a beat, looking up at it. "I really want to drive the truck," she said without turning around. At 5 feet 5 inches, it dwarfed her. "You should not let me drive the truck, but I really, really hope you let met drive the truck."

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Lulu's eyes went wide at the sight of the three vehicles; she ran around a bit before focusing her attention on the tricked-out Mini. "Oh s###, Veronica; are you lookin' to start an off-road racin' team! Mah dad used to take us to all kinds of white trash sportin' events; one of his few redeemin' features, to be honest." She ran her hand lovingly over the Mini's fenders as she continued. "Monster trucks and demolition derbys, mostly, but we took in some Southern Rock Racin'. You couldn't wear anythin' nice, out of fear of all that splatter."

 

 

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd did the "quizzical head-tilt" when he first saw the vehicles, but his head kept going and going, rotating around a good 270 degrees before it snapped back.  "Well, I'm just a simple city boy," he began, exaggerating his native Freedom-ian accent, "who grew up with access to a robust public transportation system and plentiful pedestrian pathways.  So vehicles were never really my thing.  Main thing I know about them is that the nicer ones are targeted by chop shops."

 

Seeing Elizabeth take to the truck and Lulu to the mini-cooper, he approached the rover, then turned and leaned against it while addressing the others, "so what's the deal with these?  And why us?  I'm no mechanic, and," he glanced around, "I don't think anyone here has a driver's license.  I know I don't."

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Veronica Danger

 

Veronica smiled as she watched her friends' reactions to the contents of the warehouse, the smile widening at Liz's enthusiasm. "That can certainly be arranged Elizabeth." At Lulu's guess at what the she had planned the teenage Danger moved over near the Mini as well a she responded. "That is the general idea Louise, but with a slight twist."

 

"This is actually a Mini All4 Racing Micah, specifically designed for off-road rally competition." She stated as she moved over to the vehicle and put one hand on its roof for a moment before looking over to Micah and then glancing around to the others as she continued. "Every year, thousands of cars like this and their support vehicles" she gestured at the truck and Land Rover "take place in off-road competitions across the world. But they all run on petrol, or diesel."

 

"I have been thinking about what I might want to do for my Senior capstone project at Claremont since last Spring. I figured I should do something in line with the conservation and environmental work Danger International is involved in, but thought I should not just take the easy path of working on an already existing project, but instead create one of my own."

 

The teenager walked over to the engine that was near the Mini as she continued. "So, this is what I came up with. All of these vehicles are being modified with high-performance electric engines, powered by rechargeable energy cells and other modifications. So they will all be operating on sustainable green energy." Veronica continued as she almost absentmindedly picked up a socket wrench from a bench nearby to hold in her hands as she turned back to her friends.

 

"For more than forty years, the Dakar Rally has been viewed as the ultimate test of drivers and their machines, a two week rally run in stages and covering thousands of kilometers over some of the most difficult terrain in the world. DI has entered me in the 2021 Dakar Rally being held this January going from Cairo to Dakar on a seven thousand kilometer course across the Sahara. I would be lying if I said I was not interested in winning, but really, my main objective is just to show that a rally team operating completely green electric vehicles can be competitive. If I can do that, perhaps other teams might consider making the switch to similar vehicles. And perhaps it can help spread greater acceptance of electric vehicles in general." The teenage Danger paused a moment as a sly grin came to her face. "And of course it should be a lot of fun to try."

 

"As for why all of you Davyd, as Louise stated, I will need a team. Not only mechanics and drivers for the support vehicles, but also navigators and others." She continued as she turned and sat the wrench back down. "I could of course just rely on Danger International staff, or even go out and hire people I might need." Veronica turned back towards the others, her grin back in place. "But what is the point of setting off on this type of adventure, if I cannot bring along some of my friends to share in it."

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"Are we enough to help?" Elizabeth had broken her attention away from the big truck, if only just - half-turned toward the rest with a concerned brow. "Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to help! It sounds like an amazing adventure, and I'm really grateful you'd have us along! But also we're, you know, teenagers who haven't done a lot of racing. We have our, you know....'unique talents'," she conjured a set of spectral quotation marks for that one, "but are those going to be allowed?"

 

She frowned, glancing back at the cars for a moment. "....that's actually a question. Is this a really traditional race or is it a little more Wacky Races?" Her parents had had the whole series on video tape. She'd had a lot of time on her hands growing up. "What are we up against?"

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Micah blinked slowly as Veronica explained what these vehicles were specifically intended to participate in. Then Elizabeth asked about the nature of the race, and Micah all but leapt into the conversation.

 

"The Dakar's brutal enough without oil slick sprayers and caltrops. It's one of the premier rough terrain races in the world. If the Cooper really can keep up,  then Veronica's right, this would be a game-changer."

 

Brimming with nervous energy, Micah moved over to the table with the electrical engine. He reached to a nearby box and pulled on a couple of sturdy latex work gloves, left there with the obvious intent to allow people to inspect the engine without streaking or contaminating it. He proceeded to poke and prod various bits while he spoke.

 

"So using electrical's not a bad idea in and of itself. Since you won't need a traditional drive train, I'm guessing you've got the main power system and then the independent motors in the wheels? Lets you store smaller parts, which means more parts. Here's the big question, though. How do you keep them all charged while you're in the field? You said they're rechargeable, but what are you recharging them with? Do you have solar cells on the trucks powerful enough you can hot-swap the batteries?"

 

He hummed for a moment before he continued.

 

"I'm a little surprised you didn't go for some variant of a hydrogen fuel cell. Same end-result of no greenhouse gas, but probably a bit better fuel density. And your only byproduct would be water, which is a net good. Well....hrm, no, the temperature conditions make that less than ideal..."

 

Micah seemed to be drifting off into mechanic-land; someone might need to bring him back to earth. 

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"Yeah, if powers are a no-go, which ah assume they are, ah'd probably have to wear like an inhibitor collar like they first put on me when my TK showed up. Because some of mah powers go off whether ah want 'em to or not. If ah got a vision that the car ahead of us was a goin' to say blow a tire, that's an unfair advantage right there."

 

Turning to Davyd, Lulu smiled mischievously as she lowered her voice a bit. "How soon we forget; don't you recall our little shoppin' trip, 'Olivia'? You seemed pretty comfortable with me behind the wheel." She was teasing, but it was not malicious. Then she turned and raised her hand. "Ah'm a licensed driver; ah could compete."

Edited by Heritage
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Horrorshow

 

"I know that," Davyd replied to Lulu in an equally low voice, then inclined his head ever so slightly towards Veronica, "but I didn't know if she knows that.  And if she didn't, but she had something else in mind already, it could be useful to hear her out."  He winked at her before turning his attention back to the group.

 

"Well, looks like we've got a backup driver," he then nodded to Micah, who was still deep in the guts of the engine, "and our mechanic.  But what about Liz and me?  We can make all sorts of distractions," he smoothly shifted into a double of Veronica, "and feints to throw the racers off, but I don't think that's what you want.  I could take the form of a bird or something, to scout ahead," he shifted into a strange man-bird form, "but that's not how you want to win.  And if powers are off the table," back to the form of Davyd Palahniuk, "then... well, then I'm just a theater kid.  Maybe good for charming some info out of other racers, or making sure the paint job really pops."

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