Jessica tapped her mom’s contact on her phone’s touchscreen and held it up to her ear. She glanced over at Adam, who sat next to her on the couch in what had been the Wardens of Tomorrow break room until very recently. He saw her looking and glanced away, not making eye contact.
“Are you sure your parents will be okay with this?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” she replied, with more confidence than she felt. “Mom-” she cut off as her mother answered the phone.
“Hi Jess!” her mom exclaimed. Jessica frowned. “How was your day, sweetheart? Paul and I have been making cookies since he took the day off. They should be coming out of the oven when you get home.”
“Hey mom,” she said. “You doing alright? You’re baking again. You sound pretty manic today.”
“I’ll be fine. I’m doing great. I just need to stay busy. The last time I was like this if I stopped moving it just got worse.”
“Just be careful, okay?”
“Okay. Was there something you wanted? Usually I have to call you. I’m sorry, I’ll try to stop talking.”
“Yeah. I’ve got a friend who needs a place to stay for a while. I figured since we have an extra bedroom-”
“Ooh, is it a boy? Is he cute?” Her mom paused. “I’m sorry, that was wildly inappropriate. Of course they can stay with us. I’ll go tidy up the guest bedroom right now.”
“Could you ask dad-” Jessica stopped when she heard a click, but the line didn’t go dead. A moment later, she heard footsteps, followed by her father’s voice.
“Hi dad. I’ve got a friend who needs a place to stay for a while.”
“Ah. That would explain why Janice is scouring the house for extra sheets. Tell your friend that they can stay here as long as they want, no questions asked. I can understand needing to stay away from home sometimes.”
“Thanks dad. We’ll be over in a bit. Jamisson let us go early today. I’ll give you details when I get home.”
“Love you,” her father said, and Jessica smiled.
“Love you too, dad.” Jessica hung up.
Adam blinked as the light in the corner of his eye flickered. “Did they…”
“Yeah. You can stay with us as long as you need to.”
“Really? Just like that?” Adam let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks.”
Jessica offered him a smile as she pocketed her phone. “Come on.”
Caleb caught up to Luke outside the Wardens’ building. He’d left his costume behind. Caleb and Luke would draw a lot less attention than Jet and Legion.
“Luke, we need to talk,” he said.
“You keep saying that.” Luke picked up his pace.
“And you keep brushing me off,” Caleb said, speeding up to match Luke’s pace. “I’ve seen how you’ve been acting recently. You’ve been erratic, you’ve been isolating yourself, you’ve been self-medicating,” he grabbed Luke’s shoulder to stop him and spun him around. “What’s going on?”
“I want to die,” Luke said, leaning in towards him.
Caleb’s eyes widened. “I-”
“You think I’m still suicidally depressed- I’m not. I’ve got medication for that, I’m dealing with it, I can cope. That’s not the problem.”
“The drugs helped the depression, but I still wanted to die. I didn’t know why, for a long time, and it was terrifying. But now I’ve done my research. When someone dies, the brain releases all its remaining endorphins in one go, ’cause it figures that’s the last chance it’ll get. It’s the best high ever, and I’m a fucking addict.” Luke threw his arms up.
“So the pillspils are like…” Caleb trailed off, searching for an analogy. “Methadone?”
“That was the thought. I do have a problem and I can’t stop whenever I want, but I’m sick of feeling like I should be throwing myself into danger all the time. I want to know that it’s me making that decision and not some chemical dependency.”
“Huh,” Caleb looked down at the sidewalk, then back at Luke. “Why not just quit the team?”
Luke shook his head. “No way. I’m stuck with these powers, so I might as well do some good with it. Doesn’t really matter anymore though.” Luke kicked a wadded-up newspaper lying on the sidewalk.
“Oh! I forgot to tell you. Dr. Mind is planning on keeping the team going. We’ll have to be subtler, let the police handle more stuff, but we can still help people.”
“Good. There’s something I want to try. I don’t know what’ll happen, but I need know if it works.” Luke started walking again, and Caleb followed.
“I’ve seen the power creep enough to know that everybody hits a point where they realize something: the limitations they think they’re constrained to? They don’t exist. You didn’t know you could fly until a few weeks ago, and suddenly you’re a top-tier flier.You took a weekend off to circumnavigate the globe. I’ve thought for the longest time that I can only have two copies at once, but what if that’s not true?”
“If you’re wrong, you could actually die.”
“What, and you jumping off the roof of athe building to see if you could fly wasn’t dangerous? Look, I picked the name ‘Legion’ because of the whole Roman thing where you knock one down and another takes their place- that and ‘Hydra’ was taken. But I feel like there was some kind of subconscious… something going on. Like the name just fit.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it. Where did Kismet get her name? Did you ever hear the word ‘Kismet’ before you met her? I asked her about it and she said it just came to her out of the blue.” Understanding dawned on Caleb’s face.
“Wait, you’re saying the names come with the powers, or vice versa, or something? That doesn’t make sense. I changed my hero name.”
“Nah, not the names, but the ideas, sure, why not? Your name is just a different interpretation of the same idea, right? Plus where do you think Monitor gets the names he comes up with? He’s blind and deaf. And it’s pretty well known that our powers affect our psychology. Not that big a logical leap.”
“That’s… huh. Good point. But still…”
“So if that’s true, wouldn’t it make sense of ‘Legion’ means more than that? Maybe there can be a whole legion of me at once.”
“Seems pretty iffy,” Caleb said. “You sure you’re not just trying to get another fix?”
“I don’t think so. I just have this feeling that I could do more, you know? Be more than just me.”
“I dunno. You said yourself you’re addicted. If that doesn’t mess with your brain, I don’t know what would.”
“Nah, I have drugs for that,” he saw Caleb’s horrified look and clarified. “Not the pillsPils. The doc has me on prescription stuff. It’s why I’ve been so weird lately. The stuff has all kinds of fun side-effects.”
“Oh.” Caleb’s shoulders loosened, and he held his back a bit streighter as they walked side-by-side.
“You know, if our powers affect our psychology that much… yYou still, uh, want to die? I bet that’s your power wanting to be used.” A thought occurred. “If you didn’t have it, you’d probably be better by now.”
“You don’t really get better,” Luke sighed. “You get better at managing it, but it doesn’t go away.”
Adam lay on the bed, awake. The LED in his eye flashed, lighting up the room in green. It felt larger than his room in the Wardens’ building had been. He closed his eyes.
/*The subject has acclimated to the implants remarkably quickly. I should have tried this procedure with children years ago. Would have saved me a good deal of time. At this rate, it looks like it may even survive the rejection process!*/
He sat up and pulled his knees to his chest. His eyes switched modes without conscious effort, lighting the room up in infrared. He glanced around to see what had disturbed him. Beyond the wall, Jessica sat at a desk, working on something that glowed white-hot to his infrared sight. He stood and slipped out, through the door into the dark hall outside. He knocked on her door.
“Yeah?” Jessica said from inside, not looking in his direction.
Adam entered the room. Jessica pressed her soldering iron to part of the circuitry laid out on her desk, creating a thin wisp of smoke.
“What are you working on?” Adam asked.
“I’m trying to miniaturize my plasma emitter. Now that I know it’s my specialty, I should be able to get it even smaller. The current model uses a focused laser to excite the atmosphere, but I think I should be able to use an electromagnetic wave packet to create a more sustained plasma field.”
Adam leaned closer to check out the circuitry. An array of electromagnets was arranged around a dense clump of parts that he couldn’t even pretend to understand. The other components, though…
“That won’t work,” he said, pointing to the loop of wire around the electromagnet array.
“Hm?” Jessica raised an eyebrow.
“It won’t work like this. The resonance of your primary coil is off. You won’t be able to focus the magnetic field to keep the plasma contained. It would be stronger on one side than the other.”
“Oh, I was going to adjust that with trial and error, to see if I can replicate what I did to the Cherubim,” she said as she rested the soldering iron in its stand. “You can tell the resonance of the coil just by looking at it?”
Adam’s gut clenched.
/*Alas, another failure. I had such hopes for this one. It survived the process, but its mind is broken. What shall I do with it? Perhaps I will simply dispose of it like the others. // No, I have a place in my plan for it. I think I’ll call this one Lilith, the first of my new people. Now, the obvious next step is younger children. We shall see if this trend continues.*/
Adam repressed the memory and said, “You were going to do trial and error on the containment mechanism for something which can, if I’m seeing this right, use magnets to create a burning plasma beam in atmosphere?”
With his eyes still seeing infrared, Adam could see the temperature of Jessica’s face rise as she blushed. “I guess.”
“I’ve seen the unfocused destruction this kind of technology can create first hand. You can’t just-” he cut off as the light in the corner of his eye blinked red. He suppressed his emotions and the light went out. “I saw you tinkering with the Disast-O-Beam in Dr. Mind’s lab, and this is too similar to-” he stopped. “I want you to promise me you’re not going to try to emulate Destructo’s work.”
“What? That wasn’t-” Jessica started.
“I know. But… you don’t have to build weapons. You don’t have to fight. Tinkers change the world every day with their inventions.”
“You don’t think I can fight?”
“I don’t want you to get hurt!”
Jessica gave him a look of confusion, then mouthed, “Oh.” She stared at him for a moment, then broke eye contact.
Adam’s heart lurched and he sat down on the floor, defeated. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-”
“No, it’s…” Jessica trailed off and looked back at the circuitry she had been working on. Adam shifted his eyes back to the visible spectrum and noticed for the first time how gloomy the room was, lit only by a desk lamp.
Adam broke the silence. “When Lilith told me that the Cherubim had you and Emily, I realized how much I care about you.” He paused. “I don’t want to lose whatever chance I have of normal human interaction. I’ve never really been good with people- until I was twelve I only knew three others, two of whom were other cyborgs, and the other was Dr. Destructo.”
“I… I can’t even imagine,” Jessica said.
“The worst part is, I have half his work in my head, and I can’t get it out. I know how the Destruct-O-Beam works. If I had the materials, I could build one.” He couldn’t keep the disgust out of his voice.
“But technology is just a tool,” Jessica protested. “It depends on who uses it. Energy weapon technology lead to massive advances in medical scanning and communications. If the Disast-O-Beam can manipulate the nuclear forces like it seems to do, we could create cold fusion, atomic transmutation, any number of useful things. If we could reverse-engineer the underlying principles.”
“The only other time someone used those forces they ended World War Two,” Adam countered.
“I- okay. That’s true. I think you’re still missing the point, but I can respect where you’re coming from. Let’s just drop it for now. I’ll think about it.”
“Thanks.” Adam looked around the room. It decisively lacked any of the popular culture things teenage girls usually associated with. Instead, the room contained heaps of tools, glass lenses, circuit components, and half-finished projects. An image of Dr. Destructo’s lab flashed through his mind.
/*I have isolated the source of the instability in Lilith. It appears that when it experiences strong emotions, it can lose control over the implants and cause internal damage. I have built in a rudimentary system for inhibiting strong emotions and have plans for improving on it in the next models.*/
Adam jerked backwards, caught off guard by the unwelcome memory. Silence reigned again, neither wanting to broach the uncomfortable subject again.
“You couldn’t sleep either?” Jessica asked.
“I don’t need much sleep. Four hours a night, at most.”
“I’m going to try to sleep again.”
“Okay.” Adam stood and left her room, footsteps silent on the carpet.
/*I find myself at a lack for how to store the subjects. I could simply freeze them, but then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to observe their development. // An idea occurs. I shall simply release Lilith, and will observe her development in the outside world. When she is needed, she will return.*/
Adam laid down on the bed, sinking into the soft mattress.
<<Activating growth sequence. Estimated time to completion: 4:06:17>>