Chemistry: Part 3

I was about to explain when the news scanner program started beeping at me. I sent the results to the big screen on the wall.

Titles of articles that linked to websites cascaded down half the screen. The other half showed pictures of ongoing news stories on all major networks. I clicked through them, staying just long enough to get the gist of how each one was reporting the story.

“… breaking news. What if everyone could have superpowers? Our top story–”

“… a story that will bring a chill to the hearts of anyone who remembers the early 60’s when Red Lightning recruited ordinary people into his army of…”

“… our source informs us that the government is searching desperately for the source of the leak…”

“– imagine if the number of metahumans tripled –”

“Tripled?” Haley asked.

“According to this,” I pointed at the document my screen, “there are roughly 10,000 active metahumans. If everyone who could possibly get an effect out of the drugs Red Lightning created actually took them, we might have 30,000. That’s not a lot out of a population of six billion.”

“Wait,” she said, “someone released Red Lightning’s formulas to the general public?”

“Not just his,” I said. “Also the government’s revised and improved versions.”

“Oh no.” She looked up at the screen and the increasing list of headlines. “How different are the formulas?”

“Well, they’re not addictive this time around — probably. So it’s not like anyone has an army of near slaves.”

“Don’t you feel like we ought to help somehow?”

“Yeah, somehow, but, I don’t know how. It’s all out there. Thousands of people have downloaded this thing already and now that it’s on the news even more. I think we’re stuck with this.”

She frowned. “I hope this ends better than it did with Red Lightning. Can you imagine if Sean got his hands on it?”

“That would be bad.” It struck me that if Sean did have the potential for superpowers, I’d better hope he could do something useless like talk to fish. Lake Michigan didn’t have sharks, after all. I could deal with the threat of being attacked by trout.

The words “incoming call” floated across the bottom of the screen. The FBI symbol with the words “Superhuman Affairs Branch” appeared on the screen.

I clicked “answer” on the screen and the face resolved into Isaac Lim.

The picture wasn’t very good. His face seemed a little blurry and got more blurry when he moved. Unlike all the other times he’d called me, he wasn’t in his office. I couldn’t make out the background very well either, but from the blue sky and spots of green, he had to be outside.

“Nick, Haley. You’ve seen the news?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know anything?”

I glanced toward the report on my computer screen.

“Nothing that everybody else doesn’t. I downloaded the torrent just now.”

“The torrent.” Isaac scowled for a moment. “I can’t believe anyone would leak this. Did you know that the Chinese government is already setting up a factory to make power juice? One stupid download is going to affect international relations.”

“Already? How long has the torrent been available?”

“I don’t know. We weren’t watching at first — a couple days on Pirate Bay. At least a week on other websites.”

Isaac looked away from the screen.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve got to go. Don’t mention the Chinese factory to anybody.”

He cut the connection and the screen went black.

I’d thought I might ask him about Vaughn’s book, but…

“Are we still going to do something?”

I wondered for a moment if we had been about to do something. Then I remembered that we’d arranged to meet today before I’d even left for Los Angeles.

“Sure.”

“You completely forgot, didn’t you?”

“Only just now. Not totally. I’m here. We could go for a walk, or, I don’t know… The jet works now.”

She didn’t say anything for a second, but then (I’m assuming) decided to let it go for the moment.

“It might be fun to fly in the jet.” She glanced toward the hangar’s doors. “But, I think I’d rather walk outside. I’ve been cooped up all winter.”

We took the elevator up and walked out the side door.

The temperature was in the sixties so we didn’t need jackets. It felt colder than California, but warmer than the last few months.

“So what happened in Los Angeles? I followed the Double V news for California, but I’m sure I missed most of it.”

I told her the whole story, starting from when I arrived at the airport. I ended up stopping and starting a few times.

It felt good. We walked through the neighborhood holding hands and then over to the playground at Veterans Memorial Park. We sat on the swings and watched the little kids run around on the playground equipment.

I told her about preparing for the prank at Syndicate L’s warehouse.

“So Jenny’s Flame Legion? Jenny from the picnics?”

“Right. I didn’t know she knew Alex. I knew they were both in Los Angeles, but that’s all.”

“Double V had a picture of you practically carrying her after the fight.”

“She was tired. She must have created a couple hundred copies of herself that night. I hope you’re not thinking that we–”

She looked at me. “I’m not, but the forums went crazy speculating. How did the prank turn out?”

“That went like clockwork. Things didn’t go crazy until after that…”

I kept on talking, relieved that she trusted me. If she had been jealous of Jenny, we’d have fought about literally nothing. The only reason she had been touching me at all was because she could barely walk.

She drove herself home in her mom’s car, a 70’s Trans Am. She’d parked on the other side of the street so I hadn’t noticed it before.

“My dad got it out of storage last week. He bought it for her when I was twelve, mostly because he wanted it.”

“Still, it’s cool.”

We kissed before she left. As she let go, she said, “Have you been working out?”

I’d noticed it myself. I didn’t look like a weightlifter, but I was noticeably more defined.

“No. It’s a side effect of hanging around with Alex. Enjoy it while it lasts — which is probably about two weeks by the way.”

She laughed, and then drove off.

After an afternoon like that, you would think that it could only get crazier, but it didn’t. It took a few days before anything odd happened at all.

12 thoughts on “Chemistry: Part 3”

  1. Hmmh. I wonder about the text always staying so dispassionate and detached about the whole Nick/Haley dynamic.
    I suppose it could be a show of how Nick’s a cool, calculating gearhead, but still makes one ponder if there’s any real emotional involvement there.

  2. A good point. I do tend to feel like Nick wouldn’t get too into describing how wonderful his girlfriend is, but I may have gone too far in the other direction here.

  3. I dunno. When earlier installments of the Naley scenes seemed genuinely warm and fuzzy to me.

    I think the issue isn’t that Nick has a Vulcan complex, I think it’s just that most of the time when Haley turns up, there’s usually something dark and foreboding happening in the background.

    The first time they kissed, a superpowered hit man team was in their living room. Not to mention the fact that the sparks started after they bonded while fighting a supervillain.

  4. “Do something useless like talk to fish”, and Aquaman gets bitch slapped again. Ah ha. That really made me chuckle. 🙂

  5. and the sharks in lake Michigan myth gets a tip of the hat, too. you almost have to be from the Great Lakes region to know that one. 🙂

  6. As a kid, I really liked Aquaman. I grew up near water and could really see the use of being able to breath underwater and talk to fish…

    As an adult, I can see the uh… limitations of the character.

    That being said, if this trailer had been made into a show, I’d at least consider watching a show about him.

  7. I always thought that the water-based supers were not treated correctly. Aquaman had basic TK control over water, if I’m remebering my saturday morning cartoons right…. Water is everywhere and in everything. After table salt it ranks as the number #2 top most bizarre molecule out there in terms of its behavior in different temperatures and environments, functions as a near-universal and fast-acting solvent, and it can really wreck your day if it’s applied the right way. A writer who passed his chemistry class with at least a B might have known what to do with an Aquaman, but it seems that one of those creatures hasn’t been hired by DC yet. ^_^

    As far as the Nick/Haley deal, female attraction is… strange. The fact that Nick’s not as in-your-face as her brother, is practical and passionate about his interest, and is encouraging her interest without giving everything away all at once can be a pretty intoxicating combination to some types of girls. Other kinds would get impatient and distant, and still others would never date any man who didn’t actively pursue them and forge on despite repeated discouragement. (This is how stalkers get made, unfortunately. But it’s a fact of life, for every yang a yin exists.) I’m not too worried about Nick and Haley. It’s up to fate and Jim, ultimately.

  8. Or a power almost just as useless, like gets covered in hair. It’s Static Man, or Bad Hair Day. Or maybe even The Hair Ball… ok I think I am done now, just my sense of humor that’s all.
    Not good when a nation is going to make the juice and sell it to everyone. That could be a lot of supers, even only 20k more and some of them would have a nasty power I am sure.

  9. When you triple the amount of supers, statistically you’ll roughly have for each old super two new ones of equal power.
    Some lose in the power lottery, but they can always just go back to their day job and keep mum about their cruddy powers rather than start wearing tights and be the ‘Heart’-user of some C-list group…

  10. So would a container of super juice be considered a concealed weapon?, requiring a license? Maybe dogs could be trained to detect it? I could imagine all sorts of mundane yet potentially effective ways to restrict proliferation amongst most people, but nothing will stop organized crime from having it once the cat’s out of the bag to this degree.

  11. 10,000 seems very low, considering that there were six people, with flying capabilities (which in this universe seems about a 1:3 ratio) in the LA sky at a random time. Let’s assume that LA has 3 times over average active metas. That still what, 20 metas total in the city, given LA population of 4 million.

    1. People with powers aren’t equally spread out. They tend to migrate to the big cities and richer countries. This is especially true for cities like New York and Los Angeles which are centers for the US entertainment industry and thus particularly big draws. Anything that happens there becomes worldwide news and thus the heroes there are extra well known (and therefore extra appealing).

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