Authors: Lucas Flint
Tags: #young adult, #superheroes
“Yes,” said Mom. She gestured at the mashed potatoes. “Would you like some mashed potatoes? We have plenty for all three of you.”
For a moment, Renaissance looked like he was about to accept her offer, but then he shook his head and said, “No, thank you, ma'am. I am here to discuss our next course of action regarding Robert Candle, as well as to inform you about what life in the Compound will be like for the duration of your stay.”
“Okay,” I said. I looked at the fish-faced guy. “And who is that guy?”
“He is Agent Diver,” said Renaissance, nodding at the man. “He is a G-Men agent and the Lieutenant of the Compound. So whenever I am not around, Diver is the one who everyone must report to.”
Diver nodded at me. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Bolt. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your powers, however. Truly tragic for any superhuman.”
“Thanks,” I said. “So what can you do? Breathe underwater?”
“Yes,” said Diver. “I can swim very fast, breathe underwater, and even talk to fish to an extent.”
“So you're like Aquaman,” I said. “Is that why you're stationed in an underwater base?”
Diver suddenly scowled. “Just because I happen to share similar powers with him doesn't mean I'm 'like Aquaman.' For one thing—”
“Agent, you can talk about this with Bolt later,” Renaissance interrupted. “Right now, we have more important things to discuss than whether or not you're like some comic book character.”
“Yes, sir,” said Diver, although he sounded pretty sore about the subject anyway, which I guess meant that he must have been teased about this a lot or something.
“Anyway, we have informed Cadmus Smith about Robert's attack,” said Renaissance to me and my parents. “Director Smith is sending some people to investigate the spot where Robert was knocked out. We should know soon whether he survived being buried alive.”
“I doubt he did,” said Mimic with a snort. “The firepower of the
is second to none. Even Omega Man himself would have a hard time surviving that bombardment.”
“Yes, but Director Smith wanted to confirm Robert's death anyway,” said Renaissance. “Given how powerful he is, it would be wise to make sure that he actually did die. Lots of supervillains have the annoying tendency to survive things that should have otherwise killed them.”
“How long will we have to stay in the Compound, then?” I said. “Do you know yet?”
“Not yet,” said Renaissance. “It depends largely on whether or not Robert survived that attack. If he did, then you will have to stay down here until he is actually killed; if he did not, then you will be free to return to your normal lives on the surface very soon.”
“Okay, but what will we get to do while we're down here?” I said. “Just sit in our rooms all day or what?”
“The Compound has a variety of areas you may visit,” said Renaissance, “including an indoor swimming pool, a gym, and a library. You will be restricted to the areas that I have approved you to visit and will have armed guards with you at all times.”
“Why armed guards?” I said. “There's no one in here who wants to harm us, is there?”
Renaissance shook his head. “You are correct, but it is for your safety that we do this. Though the Compound has never been breached by any supervillain before, that is only because we hold ourselves to the highest standard of excellence. In the unlikely event that someone does somehow make it into here, we want you to be protected by our best men.”
“But we won't be able to go
we want, right?” I said. “Just the 'approved' areas, correct?”
“Correct,” said Renaissance. “Although you may be Guests down here, there are still certain areas off-limits to everyone but government officials and agents. And as the Commander of the Compound, I am the only one with the authority to approve or deny entry to these areas.”
“I see,” I said. “What about communications? How much communication will we have with the outside world?”
“Very little,” said Renaissance. “We do not want any supervillains hacking our communication channels and learning the location of the Compound or how to enter it. The only place in the Compound where you can communicate freely with the outside world is my office in the Control Tower, but even that place is closely watched by communications experts whose job is to ensure that no unknown communications are made with the outside.”
“So we're basically stuck down here,” I said. “Like a prison.”
“It isn't exactly like a prison,” said Renaissance. “All of these measures—and much, much more—are taken to ensure the safety of every person in this place, especially for Guests like yourself. If we did anything less than what we are doing, the Compound would not be safe from supervillains.”
Renaissance was probably telling the truth, but I still felt confined, though I didn't know what else I was supposed to do, because I didn't really want to leave the Compound, knowing that Robert was probably still out there somewhere. Even so, I had this odd feeling that the G-Men were going to keep us down here indefinitely, although that was probably just a baseless fear.
Then Renaissance looked at the canister in my hands and said, “What is that? I was informed by the agent at the metal detector that you brought a canister containing a strange yellow gas into the Compound.”
“It is powerless gas,” said Dad, drawing Renaissance's attention over to him. Dad's mouth was kind of full of mashed potatoes, but then he swallowed them and said, in a clearer voice, “The same gas used by the Pokacu aliens during the invasion of Earth fifteen years ago.”
Renaissance looked back at the canister in surprise. “Really? I've heard about the stuff, but I've never actually seen it in person. I was a kid during the invasion, so I didn't get to participate in it.”
“It's the real deal,” said Dad. “Graleex, the Pokacu alien, gave it to Ashley before he left. We think it could be used to de-power Robert long enough to kill him.”
“Really?” said Renaissance. “Interesting. It would certainly be useful to have it.”
I held the canister closer to my chest, remembering what Dad had said about the government getting their hands on the gas. Renaissance seemed to notice, because his eyes narrowed and he suddenly looked a lot less pleasant and friendly than he had just a moment before.
“We are not going to give it to you,” said Dad, causing Renaissance to look at him. “We would prefer to keep it with us.”
“Why?” said Renaissance. His tone was as calm as ever, but I could tell that he was annoyed at our refusal to give him the canister. “If that canister contains what you say it does, then it could be just what we need to stop Robert Candle once and for all.”
“I know,” said Dad. “And we can use it that way without giving it to you or anyone else from the G-Men.”
“But you clearly don't have the equipment necessary to use it as a weapon,” said Renaissance. He tapped the floor with his foot. “And you are currently hundreds of feet underwater, far from Robert, who doesn't even know the location of this place. How do you intend to use it against him? Are you hoping that he will break into the Compound and give you a chance to de-power him face-to-face?”
“Hardly,” said Dad. “We want to use this gas against him just as much as you do, but that doesn't mean we have to give any of it to the government.”
“Ah, I see,” said Renaissance. “I heard about your attitude toward the government from Director Smith. He told me you don't trust it very much.”
“No sane individual does,” Dad replied, “at least with a weapon they could use to oppress a portion of the population.”
Renaissance's eye twitched, but he said, “I've done my homework, Genius, and I've learned about some of the questionable things that the G-Men have done in the past. I can assure you, however, that Director Smith holds us to the highest standards of conduct and that you can trust us as much as you trust anyone else.”
“In my experience, Cadmus's highest standards are generally just above the standards of your average crook,” said Dad. “But I am willing to give you a very small portion of the gas, enough that you could fit inside a bullet or two or perhaps a rocket you can fire at Robert.”
“Just a portion?” said Renaissance. “Based on what Mimic has told me about Robert Candle, it would take much more than that to take him down.”
“Not unless you're efficient with it,” said Dad, “though 'efficiency' is hardly the word I'd used to describe the federal government, now that I think about it.”
Renaissance stepped forward. Mimic and Diver did not move, but they crossed their arms over their chests and seemed to be blocking off the doorway, which made me nervous.
“Genius, I know that you are supposedly one of the smartest humans on the planet, which is why I find your behavior here so … illogical,” said Renaissance. He gestured at the ceiling. “You are trapped hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean, hundreds of miles from land, inside an underwater mountain with only one exit that is underwater and can only be accessed by ship. There are about one hundred men in this place, not counting me, Diver, and Mimic, each one with specialized combat training against superhumans like yourself.”
Renaissance looked Dad straight in the eye, while Dad returned the look without fear.
“And you … you only have yourself, your powerless wife, and your equally powerless son,” said Renaissance. “If I wanted, I could order every man in this facility to confiscate that canister from you and you would not be able to stop us. You must know this already, so why do you persist in resisting our request?”
I looked at Dad. He had been entirely silent during Renaissance's little speech, but he didn't look even slightly intimidated by it. Of course, Dad could have been hiding his emotions, but Dad was a pretty hard guy to scare most of the time, so I figured that his cool demeanor was the real deal.
“Because if I wanted, Agent Renaissance, I could destroy the canister here and now and cause its contents to dissipate into the air,” said Dad. He gestured at a vent above us. “If I broke the canister here, the powerless gas would probably be sucked into that vent. Then it would be evenly dispersed through the entire Compound, which would be bad for us for a few days, but after it wears off, we'd be back where we started, except without a way to beat Robert Candle, and I know that the G-Men want him dead just as much as we do.”
“You would be willing to break the canister just to keep its contents out of the hands of the government?” said Renaissance in disbelief. “Even if it would mean extending the stay of your family down here?”
Dad nodded. “Yes. I may not be a superhero anymore, but that doesn't mean I should give the government a weapon that they could use to oppress the superhero community.”
A tense silence fell over the entire room as Dad and Renaissance glared at each other. The silence was so heavy that I barely breathed, because I was afraid that if I made a sound, I might cause something to explode. Mom was looking at Dad, a spoonful of mashed potatoes frozen in midair between her mouth and her bowl, while Mimic and Diver looked like they were awaiting an order from Renaissance to attack.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity of silence, Renaissance looked away and said, “Fine. You can keep the canister. We'll accept however much you choose to give us and we will only use the amount you give us to stop Robert Candle and nothing else.”
Dad nodded in satisfaction. “I am glad to hear that. I see that you younger G-Men are much more reasonable than the last generation. Tell Director Smith that I think he made a good choice when he recruited you into the team.”
Renaissance hardly looked happy about that, like he thought Dad was insulting him or something. “We will send someone later this evening to negotiate how much of the gas you will share with us.”
Dad nodded curtly. “That sounds good. We will be looking forward to that negotiation.”
Renaissance nodded again and turned and left the room, with Mimic and Diver following right behind. When the door closed, Mom and I immediately sighed in relief, while Dad returned his attention to the steak and mashed potatoes in front of him.
“I thought for a moment there that we were actually going to have to fight those guys,” I said. I placed the canister back on the table and then sat back in my seat.
“I never did,” said Dad.
“Why not?” I said. “They looked like they were willing to fight us for the canister.”
Dad swallowed a piece of steak and said, “Because Renaissance isn't nearly as tough or serious as Cadmus. He may be the Commander of the Compound, but he clearly doesn't know how to deal with people who don't immediately get down on their knees and obey him as soon as he speaks to them authoritatively.”
Dad sounded amused as he spoke, like he had had a lot of fun standing up to Renaissance.
“So do you think he'll leave us alone?” I said.
“Probably, but mostly because he's a good little soldier who knows that he'd have to answer to Cadmus if he tried to harm us,” said Dad. “Otherwise, he'd probably try to get back at me … and fail miserably.”
Dad chuckled, which caused me to look at Mom, but she didn't seem surprised by Dad's amusement. She just shook her head, a smile on her lips, like she was used to Dad doing things like that, and then returned to eating her lunch as well.
That was when I realized I was still hungry, so I also resumed eating my lunch. I couldn't stop thinking, however, about how annoyed Renaissance had looked. Dad was probably right that Renaissance wasn't going to harm us, but I still didn't like the idea that we were probably going to have to be very careful about how we behaved down here, because if Renaissance wanted, I had no doubt that he could make life a living hell for us, or would if Dad wasn't around, anyway.
But hey, it looked like the G-Men were going to take down Robert, so I figured we’d be out of the Compound in no time.
fter Dad and Renaissance's confrontation, the next week in the Compound was pretty boring. Neither Robert nor any Visionist broke into the Compound to try to get me, nor were there signs of suspicious activity either inside or outside of the Compound. Security guards patrolled the hallways and watched the various rooms via security cameras, but no one reported seeing anything out of the ordinary down here. My guess was that the impressive security systems of the Compound that Renaissance had boasted about were actually working, which impressed me, but I still couldn't get confirmation about whether the exterior was defended by robot sharks with lasers mounted on their heads or not.