Authors: Lucas Flint
Tags: #young adult, #superheroes
“I am aware of that, but you three are all American citizens,” said Cadmus, “and it is my duty, as an agent of the federal government, to protect all American citizens regardless of my personal history with them. The agents under me share that same duty. Right, Shade?”
“Yes, sir,” said Shade, nodding. “We're committed to protecting US citizens no matter who they are or what kind of danger they face.”
“I hope, then, that you can see that you would be wise to join the Program,” said Cadmus. “But ultimately, it is your choice and, if you choose to reject it, then there is nothing I or anyone else in the G-Men can do about it.”
Mom and I looked to Dad, because as the head of the family, he was the one who would make the final decision. Dad didn't look happy about it. He was scowling at Cadmus and seemed to be trying to look for any tricks or hidden deceptions, like he thought Cadmus was trying to scam us.
“Honey, I think we should accept Cadmus's offer,” said Mom, causing Dad to look at her suddenly. She looked worried and concerned. “There really isn't much we or the NHA can do to keep ourselves safe from Robert. I know how you feel about the government, but in this case it might make sense to trust them, if their Program is as good as they say it is.”
Dad then looked at me. “What do you think, Kevin? Do you agree with your mother?”
I bit my lower lip and looked at my hands. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have said no, pulled on my costume, and run out the door to find and beat Robert before he hurt anyone else.
But without my powers, that was a different story. There really wasn't anything I could do against Robert, at least not without getting killed or beaten to within an inch of my life. I couldn't even lead the team properly without my powers; I wasn't a Visionist, so I didn't believe in powerless people being accepted into superhero organizations.
So I said, “I think we should accept it, Dad. It's really the only choice we've got at this point if we want to live.”
For a moment, I thought Dad was going to disregard what Mom and I said and just flat out reject Cadmus's offer. He certainly looked like he was about to and I would have understood, even if I didn't agree with it.
But then Dad sighed and, looking at Cadmus, said, “Okay. We will participate in the Program. If this is what we must do to ensure our safety, then I'm fine with it.”
“Excellent,” said Cadmus. “Shade and I will leave now and prepare the Compound for your arrival. After that, we will send someone to pick you up.”
“How long will that take?” said Dad.
“Just a few days at most,” said Cadmus. “Until then, I suggest you stay here at the House, where you will be much safer than you would be at your actual house.”
With that, Cadmus turned and walked out of the room. Shade gave me another little wave before she followed Cadmus out the door, which slid shut behind them when they left.
Then I looked at Dad and Mom. Dad looked annoyed at the fact that we needed government protection, while Mom looked relieved that we were going to be safe.
As for how I felt, I wasn't sure. If Cadmus was telling the truth, then we would be safe, but it still felt like a loss to me. I felt like a loser, like I was running away.
And what was worse was that I would never get my powers back. Ever.
hen Cadmus and Shade left, I donned my suit and went to the Meeting Room to speak with the rest of the team. I was still tired and probably still needed to rest, but they needed to know what was going on and I had to be the one to tell them, since I was the leader of the Young Neos and everything. Plus, once my parents and I went into hiding, I doubted I would get to see the others again anytime soon.
I had no trouble gathering the others, who were eager to see how I was doing and what was going to happen now. When we were all gathered around the table, I told them what Cadmus had told me, including how I lost my powers. Everyone was horrified by the fact that my powers had been stolen and there was no known way to get them back.
But what seemed to shock and worry them the most was the news that I was going to go away under the protection of the G-Men. I couldn't tell them where I was going or how long I was going to be away, mostly because I didn't know any of that yet either, but they tried to argue with me about staying anyway. I rebutted their arguments and told them that the decision was final, as well as the reasoning behind it, but none of them seemed at all happy about it. And frankly, I couldn't blame them, because it
a pretty embarrassing thing to do, mostly because I hated running and hiding whenever there was a villain out there who I needed to defeat, especially if this villain was a threat to my team.
Because my departure would leave the team without a leader, I appointed Stinger as my temporary replacement until I returned. Of course, his time as my replacement might not be temporary at all, because if I could not get my powers back, then there was a good chance that Stinger would remain as the team leader forever. I didn't say that aloud, because I didn't want to make the others depressed, but I could tell that most of them understood that even if they wouldn't say it themselves.
As for Mecha Knight, he told me that he was going to tell the rest of the Leadership Council about what happened. But he reassured me that the NHA would do everything within its power to stop Robert, which was nice to hear, but I didn't know whether it had any substance to it, considering how no one knew where Robert was or how to stop him.
In any case, my parents and I spent the next few days getting prepared to leave. I packed up my stuff in my room, while Dad briefly returned to our house in Texas to get his and Mom's most valuable possessions. That seemed a little dangerous to me, but apparently Robert hadn't destroyed our house, because when Dad came back, he had his and Mom's possessions in several bags hanging off his arms. Dad was also taking Seeker One and Valerie with us; he even gave me my old earcom back so we could stay in touch, even though we weren’t going to be apart anytime soon.
And even though I didn't have my powers anymore, I continued to wear my costume anyway. It wasn't necessarily because of the practical benefits or anything like that. It was mostly out of habit, but it was also because it made me feel strong, even though I didn't have powers anymore. Even so, I sometimes couldn't look at myself in the mirror while wearing it, even though my physical appearance hadn’t changed.
But I did spend a lot of time in my room, away from the team and my parents. As much as I understood how important it was for us to do this, I just couldn't get over the fact that we were running away and would have to remain in hiding for who knows how long. I had thought that my future career as a superhero was set in stone, but it looked like my career met a premature end.
I lay on my bed, looking up at the ceiling and feeling awful about everything, but my thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a beeping noise from my watch. Looking at it, I saw that it was Malcolm's number, which surprised me. I had almost forgotten about Malcolm completely since Robert beat me, but I was glad to see his number, because I needed someone I trusted to talk to about my problems.
Tapping the screen, I said, “Hey, Mal, what's up?”
“Kevin!” came Malcolm's hurried voice. “How are you? It's been so long since we last spoke. I thought you might be dead or something.”
“Why would I be dead?” I said, tilting my head in confusion. “Robert didn't kill me.”
“Yeah, I know, but you sure looked dead when I saw the medics hauling your body out of that wall,” said Malcolm. “You looked even worse than Robert after you punched him through that cafeteria wall.”
“Sorry for not calling you sooner and telling you what happened,” I said. “I've been … distracted by some recent events, that's all. But I'm doing better.”
“Good to hear,” said Malcolm with a sigh. “But man, things have been crazy around here. Cadmus Smith himself came and talked to me about your fight with Robert. He brought a cute girl with him, too, but I didn't get to talk to her at all.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, nodding. “Cadmus was here a few days ago and he talked with me about Robert, too. But what else has happened since I left? Has Robert been seen in town again?”
“No, but everyone is really tense and scared,” said Malcolm. “G-Men are patrolling the town, along with more police cops. Everyone's keeping an eye out for Robert. Did you know he can create earthquakes now? I just heard that from the news, which was talking about the kind of powers he's got.”
“Yeah, I knew that,” I said. “And I also know that he has the ability to talk to and control animals and turn into oil, plus super strength, super speed, and flight.”
“Dang, Kev, it sounds to me like he won the superpower lottery,” said Malcolm. “How are you going to beat him?”
Even though Malcolm wasn't actually looking at me, I still looked away in embarrassment. “Um … I'm not.”
“You're not?” said Malcolm curiously. “Why not, man? You're basically his archenemy. Shouldn't you be the one to beat him? Oh, do you mean you won't do it by yourself? Like, you'll work with your team to take him down?”
“No,” I said. “I don't think my team is going to be able to do much against him, either.”
“Why not?” said Malcolm. “Are you scared of Robert or something? He's pretty scary sometimes, I'll admit, but if you have the powers—”
“I don't,” I said, though it was more like I mumbled it.
“Huh?” said Malcolm. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I don't have the powers to beat him,” I said. It was hard to say this aloud, but I did it anyway because Malcolm needed to know the truth. “I don't have any powers at all anymore, actually. I'm … powerless.”
“Powerless?” said Malcolm. “What do you mean?”
I explained to Malcolm what happened to me, both during and after my fight with Robert, as well as what my family and I were going to do to stay safe. I hated having to explain it to him, because it just meant going over the fact that I was powerless again, but Malcolm was a good listener and he didn't interrupt me at all. He just let me explain everything until I finished.
When I finished explaining everything to him, he was silent for a few seconds. I wasn't sure if he was just shocked at what happened to me or if he was maybe angry at me for losing my powers. Not that there was much of anything I could have done about it, obviously, since I hadn't intentionally gone out of my way to lose my powers, but I still worried he'd be angry anyway.
Finally, Malcolm said, “Man, that's rough. Is there a way to get your powers back or what?”
“Not that I know of,” I said, shaking my head. “My powers are completely and totally gone. I am just as powerless as you.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said Malcolm. “But you said Robert actually stole them from you? Since when has Robert had a power?”
“I don't know, but his dad was Master Chaos,” I said. “He probably inherited his power from his dad. It just didn't manifest until sometime recently.”
“And he's killed at least three other people already?” said Malcolm. “I always knew that Robert was crazy, but I didn't know he was
crazy. I see why you and your parents are going into hiding. How much contact will you have with the outside world?”
“I don't know,” I said. “I was under the impression that we would be entirely isolated from everyone else. That means that this will probably be the very last time we talk to each other, at least until Robert is stopped.”
Robert is stopped, you mean,” said Malcolm. He shuddered. “If he can steal anyone's powers, I don't know how any neohero is supposed to stop him. Well, maybe if you dropped a nuke on him, that might kill him, but that would probably also destroy the country, so I doubt the G-Men will do it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It's fine. I understand that it's necessary. I want my parents to be safe and this seems like the best way to ensure our safety.”
“Sounds like it,” said Malcolm. “But … I dunno.”
“Dunno about what?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I was just thinking …” Malcolm trailed off, like he wasn't sure if he should be telling me this, before he continued. “When Robert held me hostage, he talked to me a little before you showed up.”
“What did he talk to you about?” I said. “Did he threaten to kill you or something?”
“He didn't really say a whole lot,” said Malcolm. “He basically told me that he had just kidnapped me to lure you into a trap.”
“Yeah, I figured as much,” I said. “Did he say anything else besides that?”
“Yeah,” said Malcolm. “He said it was all part of his plan to avenge his dad. Said he was going to make sure that you suffered just like he did, even worse actually.”
“I pretty much already knew that,” I said with a sigh. “Robert's made his hatred of me pretty well known. I already know he wants to avenge his parents.”
“Right, but there was something else he said that was kind of weird,” said Malcolm. “He said something about making the whole world suffer for what it had done to his family, but he didn't say what he meant by that.”
“The whole world?” I said. “That sounds ominous.”
“Yeah,” said Malcolm. “My mouth was taped shut, so I couldn't ask him what he meant, but it sounded to me like he wants to do more than just kill you. Like he wants to destroy the world or something.”
“How could he do that?” I said. “I know he has a lot of powers under his control, but I think he’d need way more power than he has to destroy the world.”
“Like I said, I don't know, but I thought I should tell you that anyway,” said Malcolm. “I told Cadmus Smith about it when he spoke to me. Didn't he mention it to you, too?”
I shook my head. “No. He didn't mention anything about Robert having grander plans than just trying to kill me.”
“Not surprising,” said Malcolm. “My older brother, James, works under Cadmus Smith and he keeps telling me that Cadmus is a really secretive guy who only tells people what they need to know.”
“I kind of figured that out myself,” I said, thinking about how Shade had been watching me for a long time without me knowing before I fought her in the Cavern, though I didn't know if she was still doing that or not. “Do you know anything about him, by the way? Has your brother ever told you much about him?”