Authors: Lucas Flint
Tags: #young adult, #superheroes
“So if I never leave this place, then Robert will never reappear in public,” I said. “Right?”
“If your theory is correct, then yes, that appears to be the case,” said Dad.
I groaned. “But then that will mean we'll be down here forever. It's not like the G-Men are just going to let us go or anything like that, even if we ask nicely.”
“True,” said Dad. He shrugged again. “Oh, well. I prefer staying down here in relative safety versus being on the surface where Robert could get us at any moment.”
Dad had a point, but talking about this subject had gotten the gears in my mind turning. An idea was forming, one that I wasn't sure would work, but which I thought had its merits. Because if it worked, it would solve a whole bunch of problems for us all at once.
So I looked up at Dad again and said, “Dad, I have an idea.”
“Uh oh,” said Dad. “What is it?”
I ignored Dad's 'Uh oh' and said, “It's an idea that we could use to get my powers back and stop Robert once and for all.”
“Really?” said Dad skeptically. “Why don't you tell me about it?”
“I want to share it with Renaissance,” I said. “We need to call him back here and see what he thinks about it, because the plan will only work if we can get the G-Men's help.”
“I see,” said Dad. “All right. I'll see if I can get Renaissance to come back and listen to your idea. You seem very excited about it.”
“Of course I am,” I said. “If it works, it will solve many of our problems at once. There's no time to lose.”
walked down the empty hallways of the University of Fallsville, my backpack hefted over my shoulders and my suit-up watch wrapped securely around my wrist. The college hallways were wide and airy, which made their emptiness seem all the more eerie.
By my side walked Mimic, who had changed his appearance to that of a burly bodyguard with dragon and snake tattoos on his arms. He also had about a dozen guns strapped to every part of his body, most of it hidden underneath his clothing, though some, like the pistol on his hip, were very obvious.
As we walked, I looked out every window that we passed or into the open doorway of every classroom we passed, but I never saw Robert anywhere. I expected him to show up and attack us now, because Robert should have known where I was.
When Mimic and I turned a corner and started walking up a set of stairs to the next floor, I tapped my earcom and muttered, “Valerie, has Robert been spotted yet?”
“Not yet,” came Valerie's matter of fact voice. “The G-Men stationed outside have not yet seen him enter the campus. But they are keeping an eye on the sky and the entrances to the school, so if Robert does show, they will know and will be able to keep him from getting too deep into the school.”
I nodded. “Thanks. Keep me posted.”
I lowered my hand from my ear as Mimic and I reached the second floor and then turned right down a hallway that would lead to Professor Hernandez's office. I thought about our plan as we walked, because I was too nervous to talk about it aloud, especially with Mimic, who seemed even more nervous than me despite all of his weapons.
Three days ago, I had spoken with Renaissance about sending me to the University of Fallsville to not only meet with Professor Hernandez, but also to act as a lure to bring out Robert. We were working off the idea that Robert was just waiting for me to reappear on the surface, which seemed to be the most likely explanation for why he had yet to be found despite the G-Men, NHA, and INJ searching for him. The idea was that I would go to UF on the pretense of meeting with Professor Hernandez while the G-Men would set up an ambush around the school in case Robert showed up.
Renaissance had run this idea by Cadmus, who had approved it almost without hesitation. I was surprised by that, because I thought for sure that Cadmus would consider it an unnecessary risk, but I guess that Cadmus must have thought it would have a chance of working or something. Or maybe he was just getting tired of Robert getting away with killing his agents and was willing to try anything that might help stop Robert once and for all.
In any case, when the plan was approved, Dad, Renaissance, and I had spent the first day or so getting all the details of the plan hammered out.
The most obvious part was making sure that no one was in the school when I went there, aside from Professor Hernandez, who had agreed to be part of the plan when we called him. Luckily for us, it was spring break, so all of the UF students and faculty were away having fun on the beach or going on vacations with their family, two things I wasn't going to be doing today or anytime soon.
Another problem was making sure Robert knew about my trip to the school. It was decided that the 'rumor' of my meeting with Professor Hernandez would be 'leaked' on Neo Ranks, which Robert was believed to use, if only because it was the largest source of superhuman and neohero news on the web and was likely being monitored by Robert or his Visionist allies. Renaissance actually informed me that the G-Men would occasionally 'leak' false or partly true, rumors on Neo Ranks in order to lure out certain supervillains or criminals from hiding, which made me wonder exactly how many of the rumors on there were true and how many were just government plants meant to push a particular agenda.
Anyway, the G-Men put up a 'leak' there two days ago saying that I might be going to visit Professor Hernandez in Fallsville. Of course, they used my superhero name, Bolt, but Robert would know regardless.
With that in play, the thing next for me to do was to go to the University of Fallsville and meet with the professor. That was what Mimic and I were doing right now, walking through the empty hallways of the school, making our way to Professor Hernandez's office. Mimic had come along to protect me in case Robert somehow made it into the school, but I didn't know how Mimic even could protect me. His powers, after all, gave him the ability to shape-shift, which did not include super strength or anything else like that. He had a load of guns, true, but when you can run faster than a bullet and create earthquakes just by thinking, I doubted that a few bullets would be enough to even just slow Robert down.
Even Dad was in on the mission. He had wanted to come along so he could provide more powerless gas to the G-Men in the event that their one shot missed. He had even slipped me a small vial of the stuff, which I carried in my pocket, just in case Robert somehow got past the people outside and came directly for me.
Finally, after walking down the hallway, we reached a door labeled 'OFFICE OF PROFESSOR NATHANIEL HERNANDEZ, PROFESSOR OF NEOGENETICS AND NEUROLOGY.' I knocked on the door and heard a low, somewhat fearful voice on the other side say, “Come in,” so I opened the door and entered, with Mimic following behind me.
Professor Hernandez's office was a small, neat room. Books were placed inside bookshelves neatly and alphabetically, while other books were stacked on top of each other on tables or desks against the walls. The windows were closed, but the light from the ceiling showed that the blinds were almost sparklingly clean. On the back wall was a bunch of different certificates and diplomas framed like pictures, which I assumed were the various certificates and degrees that Professor Hernandez had earned or been awarded over his career. There was also a large diagram of a human brain, which was labeled 'SUPERHUMAN BRAIN' with arrows pointing toward various parts of the brain explaining what each part did.
Sitting behind a desk at the back wall was Professor Hernandez himself. He was an elderly Hispanic man wearing small glasses and an old-fashioned sweater vest. Even while sitting, he looked much smaller than me or Mimic, like he had shrunken over the years. On the desk in front of him was a leather, black box with no labels on it, but I figured it had to have something important, given the large padlock hanging off it. Next to the box was a small, bronze, duck-shaped paperweight on top of a large stack of papers.
“Professor Hernandez?” I said as Mimic and I stopped.
“Why, hello there,” said Professor Hernandez. He smiled somewhat timidly. “Are you Bolt and Mimic?”
“Yes,” I said, nodding. “We're here for the meeting, just as we agreed.”
“Oh, good,” said Professor Hernandez. He glanced at the closed window. “Has Robert Candle been spotted yet?”
“No, Professor,” said Mimic, shaking his head. “Robert Candle has not yet been spotted trying to enter the school. At least, we haven't received any reports from the people outside yet.”
“I see,” said Hernandez. He sounded worried. “And if he comes, you will be able to stop him, yes?”
“Hopefully,” said Mimic. “We have a dozen of our best agents here at various points around the campus. Assuming Robert shows up, he will be in for a nasty surprise.”
“Good, good,” said Hernandez. “But since you two are going to be here for a while, why don't you sit down and we can talk? I think that would be more comfortable than standing.”
“Okay,” I said as I walked over and sat down on one of the chairs in front of the desk. I looked over at Mimic, who had not come over. “Mimic, are you going to sit down?”
“No,” said Mimic. He gestured at the window. “I want to be ready in case Robert attacks.”
“Okay,” I said. I turned my attention back to Hernandez. “It's nice to meet you, Professor. My dad told me about you.”
“Your dad is Genius, correct?” said Hernandez. “I remember him well, because he was your age when we first met. He was very serious and intellectual. Is he still like that? I haven't spoken to him in years.”
I nodded. “Yeah, mostly. But he's developed a sense of humor since then.”
“Really? I almost thought he was incapable of joking,” said Hernandez. “Much like his own father, only …”
Hernandez trailed off, like he had just realized that he was about to walk into a topic he shouldn't have brought up. I was reminded of when Mom had said that she had promised Dad that she would never tell me about Dad's parents, which made me wonder what Hernandez and Mom knew that they didn't want me knowing.
I was just about to ask that when Hernandez suddenly said, “But anyway, that's not what we're here to talk about. You wanted to talk about your lost powers, correct?”
I nodded. “Yes. Robert Candle stole my powers from me about two weeks ago now. I was hoping that you could help me figure out how to get them back. I have a friend who told me that you might be able to do that. Can you?”
Professor Hernandez drummed his fingers against his desk, as if he was unsure what to say next. Or as if he was about to say something that could get him into trouble but which he thought he needed to say anyway.
Finally, Hernandez said, “Your friend wasn't exactly wrong, but he wasn't exactly right, either.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “Can you actually give me back my powers?”
“Well, I need to explain some things first,” said Hernandez. “You see, it is commonly accepted that the powers manifested by superhumans are genetic in origin. More specifically, they originate from somewhere in the human brain.”
“Yeah, but don't tell the Visionists that,” I said. “Otherwise they'll get offended and try to kill you.”
“Funny that you should mention the Visionists,” said Hernandez. “It was the near death of their leader, Barnabas Sagan, that helped me understand better how the brain controls and manifests powers. I managed to look at some MRI scans of his brain after he was shot and I learned some very interesting things from it, though I will still need to do more research to confirm just how brain trauma affects the superhuman brain.”
“So you aren't going to tell me what you've learned, then,” I said.
“Not yet, given that I haven't even published my own theories just yet,” said Hernandez. “Nonetheless, I have used what I learned to figure out whether it is indeed possible to 'turn off' superpowers.”
“So you know how to do that, then?” I said.
“In a way,” said Hernandez. “But not perfectly. I have my theories about how one could, with genetic modification, 'turn off' or 'turn on' superpowers at will, but it is considerably different from what you might be thinking.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“I mean that there is no 'off switch,' as the media sometimes like to say whenever they report on the topic of neogenetic manipulation,” said Hernandez. He sounded disgusted. “Journalists tend to simplify these things, partly because they don't have the time to read and understand the studies, and partly because they just aren't very smart.”
“Okay, if there is no 'off switch' in the brain, then what
there?” I said. “Can you describe it to me?”
“The current evidence seems to suggest that superpowers arise from a complex combination of different areas of the brain working together to create something much larger than their individual parts,” said Hernandez. “It is similar to the way consciousness—another mystery of the brain—works, but still different, if only because I still haven't been able to explain why some certain superhumans shoot fire from their hands and others fly.”
My shoulders slumped. “So are you saying it may be impossible to get my powers back? After all, if there's no off switch, I assume there's no on switch, either.”
“Not exactly,” said Hernandez, shaking his head. “In fact, I don't believe you or any of Robert's other victims have lost your powers at all.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Um, Professor, I can't fly or lift super heavy things or run at the speed of sound anymore. I'm pretty sure I've lost my powers. It's what I've been angsting about this whole time.”
“I know you can't use your powers,” said Hernandez. “We speak of Robert 'stealing' powers, but I think that is nonsensical. It is like talking about 'stealing' someone's eye color or 'stealing' someone's skin color. It's just not possible, based on what we know about how genetics work.”
“But then what is Robert actually doing?” I said. “If he's not stealing my powers, then how come I can't use mine while he can?”
“Simply put, I believe that Robert Candle's actual power is genetic manipulation,” said Hernandez. “Through a way I don't understand completely just yet, I believe that Robert is capable of altering your brain structure to that of a normal human, which essentially puts your superpowers into hibernation. At the same time, his own brain is copying yours so he can use your powers himself.”