Aside from having more or less the sort of dirt that we’d been trying to get, I had a reason to be happy. I understood what was going on–at least in abstract.
We had two groups, Magnus and the Cabal, going after Red Lightning’s machine, or, more accurately, the knowledge that created Red Lightning’s machine. Why were they even bothering? It all had to do with powers in the end. From what scientists have discovered so far, it looks like very few people have powers or even the potential for powers. Among those to do, a few get lucky and have them practically from birth, others experience “metahuman expression” at puberty, and the rest need some sort of trigger.
It’s complicated by the fact that the same trigger won’t work on everyone. Expose one guy to the bite of a radioactive giraffe and you’ve got a superhero (Giraffeman?). Expose another and you’ve got a nasty, infected wound.
The “drink of gods” and Red Lightning’s potions had to be basically the same thing–a temporarily effective trigger that provided a low level version of a person’s abilities. Beyond anything else, the hieroglyphic on Red Lightning’s costume and Magnus’ former employee’s ring argued for a connection there.
Between the two of them, my grandfather and Vaughn’s had managed to create a machine that delivered a permanent version of Red Lightning’s powers. If the process they used to discover what that trigger was worked for even a few people, they had something that anybody using the “drink of gods” would want.
Plus, the rampaging gangs in Chicago earlier (that needed heroes from all over the country to control them) vs. Red Lightning’s superpowered, drug addicted gangs back in the 1960’s? Another connection. It couldn’t be coincidental that it took out a bunch of people connected with Magnus. For that matter, I thought, that might have been the riots’ whole point.
I felt like a detective–like I should be getting all the suspects into the parlor and informing them that it was Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick.
Unfortunately, I was alone, in a basement the size of a basketball court with endless cardboard boxes containing forty years worth of memorabilia.
I had a sense that I should be doing something. The problem was, what exactly? Release the conversation to the media? Call Daniel’s dad as he’d probably expect?
None of those were particularly heroic. I couldn’t imagine my grandfather bringing down a politician with dirt–though who knows? I really didn’t know half the stuff the original Heroes League had been involved in. I also didn’t quite feel like passing it off to Daniel’s dad. Some part of me felt stubbornly like it was my life and my case and why shouldn’t I take care of it myself?
Well, mostly because I had no idea what to do next, and also, supper. Mom generally had it ready between 5:30 and 6:00. It was now 5:12, so I walked home.
Mom had made stir fry, a meal that she liked because you could take just about any vegetables you happened to have in the refrigerator, combine them with meat, and have supper in about half an hour. Mom worked as dad’s business manager/publicist and managed his website. Whatever she made had to fit into the time she had available.
Personally, I was a little sick of stir fry, but I wasn’t in the mood to complain either, so I ate.
After supper, I helped load the dishwasher and washed the wok. Then I walked upstairs to Dad’s study. I caught him as he arranged books and papers around the desk. He was working on another book–something about troubled teens undoubtedly.
I decided to give him some practical experience.
Dad looked up from moving the books and papers into comfortable reach.
“Nick,” he said, “how’re things going?”
I found myself thinking about just how much easier this would be if I could actually explain anything to him. As it was I was going to have to cloak everything in generalities to the point that Dad’s advice might end up being useless.
“Okay,” I said, “I was just wondering if I could ask you a question.”
“I’m working on a project with some other kids and I’ve hit something I’m not comfortable with.”
Dad nodded. “What kind of ‘not comfortable?’ Are you saying it makes you nervous or do you mean morally?”
“Well, I don’t think it’s wrong as much as ‘less right’ than some other options,” I said.
“You’ll have to think about how much less right it needs to be before you say something,” he said.
I know we talked for a little while after that, but I don’t remember it. I went to my room and started on my homework, pausing occasionally to think.