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?”
“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.
“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.