Chapter 50

Copyright© 2010 by Michael Wolfam

Liv helped Finn mount the treads to the Grand Cherokee, while sparks from the furious welding and metal work going on around them flew in every direction. The Jeep was quickly transforming from a luxurious SUV to an armored monstrosity that looked more at home in a Mad Max film than in an upscale, gated community. After bolting on the last MATTRACK, Finn pointed to the shrinking wheel well clearance. "We're going to need to beef up the suspension. All that armor is adding a lot of weight."

"Grab some springs from the Hummers," his dad suggested as he examined the problem. "Those should be beefy enough. It'll be a rough ride, but it should keep you from scrapping the treads. While you do that, we can cut out the fender wells and give you more clearance."

Finn nodded, and they got to work. With Liv's help, he turned his attention to a blackened Hummer in the corner. The two of them spent the next hour cutting springs to the right size. Their effort paid off, and the SRT-8 returned to a normal ride height.

"Hope you like black." Finn's mom tossed each of them a can of spray paint.

"Damn, I was really hoping for a nice blue or something," Liv said, looking at the can. Most of the armor was in place, and the vehicle was a hodgepodge of colors. "Ah well, it'll be better than desert camo with burn marks." She shrugged and started spraying.

It was past midnight when Finn's dad called a halt to the work. "If we had more time, we could make the most badass armored vehicle in the world, but we need some energy for rescuing your Grannie. I'll let Derrick show you all the goodies we added, while I clean up."

Derrick dropped his welding mask and eagerly walked up to the front of the Jeep. "Step right up ladies and gents," he said grandly. "If you'll notice, we custom made the front bumper specifically for ramming. It's ugly, but it should be able to go through that front gate without a problem," he said, patting the bumper affectionately. "Now, over here, this is my personal favorite. It's a winch that I've been prototyping in my spare time. See, I put two heavy-duty winch motors together. What I'm trying to say is that it's really powerful. In fact, I bet you could pull this Jeep straight up a skyscraper if you had to. Even with all this armor!"

"He looks so proud of himself," Liv whispered to Finn as Derrick droned on about the technical details of the winch.

"Yeah, you have to be careful when he gets into a zone, or he will talk forever," Finn whispered back. "Hey Derrick, what's next? We don't have all night," Finn interrupted.

"Okay, okay. I'll bore you with the details when you get back," Derrick replied smugly.

"Well, on the bright side, if Mitch kills us, we won't have to get the lecture." Liv joked.

"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, let's say you get stuck in a deep mud puddle and don't want to get out because you'll get all dirty. I built this for me and Dad when we go off-roading. Mom always gets pissed if he comes back covered in mud. So, I built a rocket winch!"

"Is that one of my model rockets?" Finn stared at a sleek projectile mounted to the hood of the SRT-8. "I spent twenty hours building that thing! It's competition grade!"

"Yep!" Derrick replied, ignoring Finn's outrage. "You were gone, and I needed a rocket. Danielle helped me fabricate a super strong grappling hook that fits inside the rocket. When it reaches the end of the line, the grappling hook destroys the rocket and pops open! I've never tried it, but I'm pretty sure it'll work. I expect a full report if you actually use it."

"It destroys the rocket?" exclaimed Finn as he stared at the invention. Secretly, he was proud to know his work might come in handy and help save Liv's Grannie.

"You built this ... just because?" Liv examined the hood-mounted rocket. "You know what would be really helpful? If you turn that rocket into a cute little nuclear bomb."

"Man, he does this all the time. I never had a working game system because Derrick had taken it apart." Finn shook his head.

"I made them better," Derrick replied, pretending to be hurt by Finn's comment.

"And password protected them!"

"Yeah ... well anyway. Tonight you're gonna be happy I like taking stuff apart," Derrick said, gesturing grandly. "Attached to the bottom of the rocket is a heavy-duty, plasma rope. It's stronger than steel and can easily support the full weight of a much heavier vehicle."

"Neat." Liv examined the red rope.

"Yeah, it is neat. Now, this big thing next to the rocket is a camera," Derrick continued. "As you've noticed, there are no windows on the Jeep. Instead, you're going to use cameras to guide you. This way you'll be safe from small arms fire. There are three other cameras, but they are smaller and don't have as many features. One is mounted on each side and one on the rear. The one on the front is so big because it has a really good zoom and it works in normal, infrared, or thermal mode. I've been building this system for one of Dad's concept military vehicles. It has worked really well so far, but we haven't tried it out in a combat situation yet."

"Great, we get to be guinea pigs," Liv groaned

"Hey, are some of these spotlights infrared?" Finn pointed to a row of lights on the grill and roof.

"Yep." Derrick grinned. "With the infrared camera and the spotlights, you can get the drop on anyone at night. It's gonna look like daylight to you, but nighttime to them." He pointed to the armor in front of the grill. "We armored the front end with overlapping slats. You should still get enough airflow to the engine, but your radiator is now protected. Okay, into the cab. Move, Rooster."

The orange tabby, who was now sporting a bandage around his left ear, hopped out of the way as Liv and Finn followed Derrick, who climbed over the driver seat and into the back. He sat next to the cat and started explaining the interior features. "We pulled out the back seat and put your armory back here." He motioned to the long, diamond plate toolbox that Rooster was sitting on. "We welded the back doors shut for stability. Only the two front doors and this hatch open." Derrick stood, unlatched a hatch in the roof, and swung it towards the rear of the Jeep.

"Wow, you guys work fast!" Liv exclaimed. "But do you have one in purple? I changed my mind, black just isn't gonna work for me. I'm really digging the features, but the color is just god awful."

"Ha, last one on the lot. Take it or leave it. Besides, I think you'll be sold by the end of the tour." Derrick laughed. "Now, that big LCD screen in front of the steering wheel is for the main cameras. The biggest part of the display features just one camera, but all of them are shown at the same time, just in smaller boxes off to the side. Touch one of the smaller boxes and it will go to the main screen. If you are looking through the front camera, you can zoom or change from normal to infrared or thermal with the buttons just below the monitor."

"Ooo, can I hook up the Playstation that Finn owes me?" Liv asked.

"Yes, actually, you can. But we didn't have any spare ones lying around. Maybe in next year's model. Now, that other screen on the passenger side is for the gun mounted camera. It's just like the front camera; it zooms, has thermal and infrared, but it also acts as your targeting system. The camera is slaved to the guns. Just use that joystick next to the monitor for control. It rotates 360 degrees and moves up and down. Any questions?"

"How many rounds do we have for the SAWs?" Finn asked.

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