Authors: Lucas Flint
Tags: #young adult, #superheroes
A scientist working in the Compound—who called himself Samuel Roger—came to our suite that evening to negotiate the amount of powerless gas that Dad would give to the G-Men. The guy was surprisingly good at negotiation, keeping Dad occupied for at least an hour before they came to an agreement. Roger took the tiny vial of powerless gas Dad gave him and left, promising us that it would be exclusively used to de-power Robert once the G-Men found him.
Because yes, Robert did, in fact, survive the underwater avalanche. According to Mimic, when the team sent by Cadmus arrived at the spot where the probe had been left, they discovered that Robert had dug his way out from underneath the avalanche and crushed the probe itself in his hands, leaving it just barely active on the ocean floor. They had no idea where Robert might have gone, but they assumed that he had probably returned to America, because Robert still didn't know the location of the Compound and thus couldn't kill me. They had G-Men agents all over the country still looking for him, but had not yet found any clues as to his current location.
I had also heard from Mecha Knight, who was allowed to call me once a day to let me know what the NHA was doing. According to him, the NHA was on high alert for Robert, but were just as ignorant of his current location as the G-Men were.
Even the Independent Neoheroes for Justice and the New Heroes were helping in the search for Robert, according to Mecha Knight. He said that the reason they were helping was because the Midnight Menace believed that Robert was a threat to the entire superhero community due to his ability to steal powers. I was surprised to hear that at first, but I supposed it made sense, especially when I remembered what Malcolm had told me before, about Robert saying that he wanted to make the whole world suffer for what had happened to his family. Whatever Robert's plan was, I doubted that it was going to be anything good for anyone except himself.
But I still wondered where Robert kept getting all of his powers from. The NHA and INJ were reporting missing members, but no one knew if any of those disappearances were related to Robert, mostly because none of the bodies turned up. Mecha Knight told me that none of my teammates had yet to disappear (thankfully), but that they were being very carefully watched anyway because it was believed that Robert might try to harm my friends because he couldn't get to me.
Aside from that, nothing much else seemed to have happened so far, but Mecha Knight promised that he would keep me informed about Robert's whereabouts and anything else that happened that might be related to him. That was good to know, but it made me wonder just how much longer my parents and I were going to have to stay down here.
Not that there wasn't anything to do. As Renaissance had said, the Compound had a gym, a swimming pool, a library, and even a large game room with plenty of different kinds of games to play. It seemed strange to me that the government would provide this stuff for us, but I guess they didn't want us to go stir crazy while we’re down here.
Yet even with all of that stuff, I found it hard to stay focused. Whether I was lifting weights, swimming, reading a book, or playing a game, my mind always drifted back to the surface world, where Robert was. Where was Robert? What was he going to do next? When would he strike again? And would the G-Men be able to shoot him with the powerless gas and stop him for good?
But the question that most haunted me during the week was this: Would I ever get my powers back?
According to Dad, the answer was probably no. I asked him if the Pokacu maybe had some kind of gas that could turn powers back on, but Dad told me that they didn't. He said that there was no known way to restore superpowers to a superhuman who lost them, not in the least because this was the very first time it had ever happened to anyone in recent memory.
I wondered whether killing Robert would restore my powers. Like maybe, if I killed him, my powers would fly out of his body and return to mine where they belonged. Of course, that was a pretty silly thought, based more in wishful thinking than anything, but I still wondered if there might be some truth to it anyway.
Because if there wasn't … then even if the G-Men killed Robert, I would no longer be a superhero anymore. I'd have to go back to being a normal human. I mean, I could do that, since I'd spent most of my life without powers, but I didn't
to. I didn't think it would even be possible for me to fully return to normal life, because I'd always remember how it felt to fly through the sky or punch a hole in a stone wall with my fist or run faster than most people can think.
Mom and Dad seemed to be taking the confinement better than me. Mom spent a lot of time either cooking or in the library, which was also where Dad happened to spend a lot of time reading books. I knew they were both just as worried as me about Robert's threat, but they probably weren't as concerned about the fact that I might never get my powers again even if we beat Robert. They wanted me to live a normal life, after all, so they might actually see my power loss as a silver lining of this whole ordeal.
But it wasn't. At least I didn't think it was. I hated the idea of having to go back to normal life. I was going to figure out how to get my powers back no matter what.
But I didn't know where to start. I tried checking out some of the books in the library on neurology and neogenetics, because I figured they might be able to help me understand which part of the brain I could change to get my powers back, but they were big, long, densely-written books that might as well have been written in Pokacu for all the sense they made to me, so I just as often put them back on the shelves after giving up. And without Internet access down here, I couldn't just go online and search for videos or anything that might have helped explain the stuff to me better.
In fact, I was just about to give up entirely on figuring out how to use science to fix my brain when I suddenly remembered someone who could help. It was kind of a long shot, since I was pretty sure that she wasn't that much more knowledgeable about this subject than me, but I was determined to call her when I was given my next chance to make a phone call by the Compound people.
So at the end of the week, rather than call up Mecha Knight, I dialed the phone number of Tara Reynolds, one of my best friends in the world. As I waited for her to pick up, I remembered how Tara had told me not long ago that she was going to study neogenetics in college and how she intended to use that knowledge to figure out how to 'turn off' the powers of superhumans for those who didn’t want to have them anymore. I hadn't been exactly thrilled with that idea at the time, but now I wondered if maybe Tara was onto something. Maybe she knew of a theory or method that could restore superpowers. It was worth a shot.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Tara answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Hey, Tara,” I said, keeping my voice as friendly as possible. “How are you? It's me, Kevin.”
“Kevin?” said Tara in surprise. “Where are you? Are you okay?”
“Um, yes,” I said, taken aback by her sudden interest in my health. “Why wouldn't I be okay?”
“Because I heard that Robert Candle is looking for you,” said Tara. “Malcolm told me. He said that you and your parents had to go into hiding because Robert is trying to kill you. Is that true?”
I had forgotten that Malcolm and Tara probably talked a lot behind my back, so I was temporarily at a loss for words. “Um, well, yeah, that's the truth. The G-Men took me and my parents into hiding because, er, Robert developed powers of his own and is trying to use them to kill me.”
That was the truth. Tara didn't know I was a superhero (or had been one, anyway) and I didn't see any reason for her to know it yet. And I hadn't lied to her; after all, my parents and I
in hiding from Robert, who really had developed superpowers and really was trying to kill us.
“Wow,” said Tara. “That is crazy. Why does Robert want to kill you? I know he hates your guts and he's a big bully and all, but even I never thought he'd try to murder you outright.”
“I know,” I said. “All that power, you know, it's going to his head, makes him crazy. He can actually steal superpowers from other superhumans. Weird, huh?”
“He can?” said Tara. “I heard the rumors, but I didn't think that was true. That makes him more dangerous than most superhumans.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But don't worry about me or my parents. We're perfectly safe here in this place. I can't tell you where we are exactly for security reasons, but we're as safe as can be, so I doubt Robert will ever get us.”
“Good to hear,” said Tara. “I hope they catch him soon, though. I don't even want to know what Robert will do with his new found powers. Knowing him, I bet he's going to get some kid's lunch money or something.”
I wished that was all Robert was planning to do, but I said aloud, “He can be pretty petty sometimes, sure. But I figure the G-Men or NHA will catch him soon. They're looking for him everywhere, so he can't hide forever.”
“I hope so,” said Tara.
Sensing an opportunity to change the subject, I said, “So, er, Tara, are you still going to college to study neogenetics and neurology?”
“Yes!” said Tara, her sudden giddiness a sharp contrast to her earlier worry. “I can't wait. I'm going to visit the campus this weekend and—”
“That's great,” I interrupted. “But what kind of studying are you doing beforehand? Like, have you been reading any books or taking any courses on neogenetics, for example?”
“Sure,” said Tara. “I've had an interest in it even before the school accepted me, so I've already read up on it a lot. But going to this school will open entirely new doorways for me and help me learn and understand neogenetics in a whole new way. Why do you ask?”
I bit my lower lip. I'd have to think carefully about what I wanted to say, because I didn't want Tara to suspect that I was a superhuman or what my actual goals were.
So, leaning against the wall, I said, “Oh, er, I've taken a minor interest in neogenetics myself, since I'm a superhuman fan and all.”
“You have?” said Tara. “That's great! What do you think about the theory of neoneurology?”
“Theory of what?” I said.
“Neoneurology,” Tara repeated. “It's a theory that superhuman brains are the next stage in human evolution. Haven't you heard of it before?”
“Um …” I bit my lower lip again. “Sure, yeah. It's very fascinating. And scientific.”
“I know,” said Tara. “Personally I'm not so sure about it, but Professor Harris—”
“Tara, can I ask you a hypothetical question?” I interrupted when I noticed that I only had ten more minutes to talk with her. “About neogenetics?”
“Sure,” said Tara. “What is it?”
“Let's say there's a guy I know, a guy who happens to be a neohero,” I said. “I mean, hypothetically, of course.”
“Right,” said Tara. “Please continue.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said. “So let's say I have a friend who lost his superpowers. Let's say Robert stole them, hypothetically speaking. What would my friend have to do, hypothetically, to get his powers back? Is there anything he can do to fix his brain? Maybe someone he can go to who could help him out?”
“Hmm …” Tara trailed off. “I really don't know anyone who could fix that. Especially if Robert stole them, since no one really knows how his powers work yet. That's the kind of advanced neogenetics that no one really understands just yet.”
“So you're saying that my friend is screwed, then,” I said, feeling my spirits fall.
“Not necessarily,” said Tara. “There is someone who might be able to help him.”
I perked up. “Who? Do you know him?”
“No, but I've read some of his books and corresponded with him through email,” said Tara. “His name is Professor Nathaniel Hernandez. He is the professor of neogenetics at the University of Fallsville and is considered the foremost expert on neogenetics.”
“Really?” I said. “I've never heard of this guy before.”
“He doesn't like going out and meeting people or making public appearances, so that's probably why,” said Tara. “But he's absolutely brilliant, easily the most intelligent and knowledgeable person about neogenetics in the world.”
“Interesting,” I said. “Has he made any major discoveries that might, say, help my friend who is in this hypothetical situation that’s really hypothetical?”
“I don't know, but it's possible,” said Tara. “He's been studying neogenetics for decades, even before it became an officially recognized field of science. He might be able to help your friend, because he has some interesting theories about how the brains of superhumans work and what might be the cause of their powers.”
“Very interesting,” I said. “So how would my friend contact him to discuss this issue? Hypothetically, of course.”
“Well, I've got his email address and phone number if you want,” said Tara. “I can give it to you so you can give it to your friend.”
“Sure,” I said. “Just give them to me and I'll write them down on my phone.”
Tara spoke his email address and phone number over the phone, which I tapped into my smartphone while she spoke. When I got them down, I said to Tara, “Thanks, Tara. I'll make sure that my friend gets this so he can contact Professor Hernandez himself.”
“Okay,” said Tara. “But is your friend sure that he wants to get his powers back?”
“Well, why should he want to give them up forever?” I said. “If there's even a slight chance that my friend can get his powers back, shouldn't he take it?”
“Not necessarily,” said Tara. “The life of a superhuman, after all, isn't an easy one. Maybe it would be better for your friend if he just moved on and tried to live a normal life. I don't know much about your friend, but I don't think it would be healthy for him to obsess over something he may never be able to get back. It'd be kind of pathetic, actually.”
Tara's words stung me like a wasp, but I said, in a calm voice, “Thanks for the concern, Tara, but I'm sure that my friend will be okay. He knows what he wants and he'll do anything to get it. His powers are just as much a part of him as his eye color or hair color, though a lot more important, obviously.”